To Pediatrics (8/31/84):
There is one category of men circumcised in infancy that most books, articles, and studies about circumcision don't mention and whose existence most experts have not yet acknowledged: men who see themselves as victims of a mutilation but are silenced by humiliation, who would rather have their foreskins intact but cannot face the added humiliation of calling attention to the fact that part of their penis has been cut off.
They often think they are alone, and pretend contentment or indifference to save face, unaware that there are other circumcised men who have the same feelings and are pretending too.
Because they keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves, they are easy to be unaware of -- and easy to ignore.
That's one of the reasons circumcision can seem so harmless -- you rarely hear from or about the babies it eventually hurts the most.
To Forum (published in an early 1984 issue):
In his letter, "Circumcision Debate," in your October issue, Mr. P.G. states that "it would seem that men prefer to be circumcised."
According to Circumcision: An American Health Fallacy, by Edward Wallerstein, the circumcision rate among uncircumcised adult males in the U.S., where four out of five male babies are circumcised, is less than 1 in 100. In countries where babies are not circumcised, adult circumcision is rarer still. Wallerstein estimates that the adult circumcision rate in Finland, for instance, is less than 1 in 15,000.
Clearly, uncircumcised men prefer to remain uncircumcised.
Perhaps Mr. P.G. means that circumcised men prefer to be circumcised.
But do they?
The apparent contentment of men with their circumcised state is often an illusion. Many circumcised men live with two secret fears: that they are sexually impaired and that they will be exposed as sexually impaired. As they become aware of the facts about the foreskin and circumcision, their fear that they are impaired is confirmed. As they realize that others are becoming aware of the same facts, their fear that they will be exposed as impaired comes true. The result is often a paralyzing mixture of feelings few men would care to acknowledge: shock, humiliation, anxiety, frustration, anguish, bitterness, resentment, rage, depression, despair, and envy of males whose foreskins are intact.
It's not that men prefer to be circumcised; it's just that once they are, they often keep their real thoughts and feelings about it to themselves and pretend contentment or indifference in an attempt to make the best of it.
Mr. P.G. is very lucky to be glad he has no foreskin. Millions of circumcised American men aren't.
To Ann Landers (6/8/82):
The list of infant circumcision risks in your book, The Ann Landers Encyclopedia, doesn't mention what is perhaps the likeliest risk of all -- the one risk that makes the so-called "benefits" of circumcision irrelevant.
I refer to the paralyzing horror and crushing humiliation some children feel -- and then secretly live with -- when they realize that part of their penis has been cut off.
A few years ago on television, David Susskind asked you if you had some last advice, some parting counsel, some final message for the world.
I remember your answer. You said, "Be kind."