On Circumcision

I remember very little about being circumcised. It happened just before my fifth birthday, so that will hardly come as a shock. Three fuzzy, freeze-frame images have survived the passage of time:

  • Asking to be sedated with gas, because the needle scared me
  • My dad going to a shop near the hospital and bringing me a toasted cheese sandwich, then sitting next to my bed as I ate it
  • Sitting at the foot of the stairs on my birthday, surrounded by other children and wearing one of my dad’s t-shirts because regular clothes still caused too much pain

I don’t think about that time very often, nor would I say it’s left any mental scars. Not on me, at least. I was a kid – kids bounce back quickly. My dad recalls it in much greater, more graphic detail, as he disclosed last weekend.

“I just felt so helpless. You were running round and round the downstairs of the house, as if you couldn’t bear to stay still. Every time the material touched it, you flinched.”

I sort of shrugged when he said that. The memory is clearly a lot harder for my parents than it is for me, and that’s a difficult thing to process; when your own childhood is responsible for someone else’s trauma, what can you do but listen and try not to get dragged down into it?

It’s maybe important to note that they didn’t have me circumcised for religious or cultural (or aesthetic) reasons. It was only when the doctors told them I’d be at greater risk of UTIs and other infections in future if I kept my poor, too-tight foreskin that they agreed to schedule the operation. They were the ones who had to nurse me through the recovery period, and to deal with the guilt that I suspect we’re genetically programmed to feel when we inflict pain on our children, however indirectly.

I can understand why they felt that way, and why the echoes of that pain now resonate much more strongly for them than they do for me. Nevertheless, I find it hard to imagine a life in which they hadn’t had to make that choice – as far as I’m concerned, I’m circumcised in the same way that I’m ginger, or freckly, or left-handed, or whatever. It’s just a part of who I am, and if I had the chance to go back and undo things, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t take it.

In fact, I’ve only ever felt self-conscious about my lack of foreskin when other people have made a big deal of it. I remember being 9 years old and getting changed at the local leisure centre after a school swimming lesson. Before I could put my pants on, a boy in my class suddenly pointed at my penis and in a loud voice said “What’s that? What’s wrong with your willy?”

It wasn’t an unreasonable question – from the 1980s onwards only around 5% of boys in the UK have been circumcised, and I’ll bet that number was even lower in my sleepy West Oxfordshire hometown. Nevertheless, I wasn’t comfortable in public changing rooms for several years after that – a problem only compounded by the onset of puberty – which was doubly unfortunate, given the innocent nature of his enquiry.

As an adult, it’s rarely been an issue, if only because grown-ups tend to be rather less blunt with their body questions than nine-year-olds. I’ve had the odd sexual partner who hasn’t quite known what to do with a circumcised cock (until I’ve shown them), but none of them have leapt back in revulsion and I’ve never felt like it’s stopped me enjoying a normal, healthy sex life. In fact, as I’ve written before, sex has made me far more confident about my body in all respects, and that includes the size, shape and visual appearance of my dick.

So why write this now? Well it’s a bit of a perfect storm. My Dad’s comment got me thinking about it, and perhaps that was in the back of my mind when I looked at the photo below – one of the very few someone’s taken of me where ‘circumcised cock’ was my first, instinctive response*.

A couple of days later, a TV dating show casually tossed out two circumcision ‘facts’:

  • 70% of British women prefer their dicks uncut
  • Uncircumcised penises are more likely to stimulate the clitoris during sex

When I heard that double-whammy, I knew I had to write something about my own experience – I just wasn’t sure what. In a way that’s still the case, but I’m kind of ok with that. Not everything I post here has to be structured or focused.

Leaving aside the dubious science, it was the second nugget that really irritated me. The first one I actually have no problem with. Maybe 70% of British women do prefer to play with an uncircumcised cock. If so, that’s fine – more power to their elbow. I’m never going to bash anyone for picking one physical attribute over another, or even for expressing that preference. For one thing, if I lived in the US maybe those numbers would be reversed. Even if they weren’t, I often benefit from general physical biases in other ways – I’m 6’1”, I’m in ‘decent shape’, I have blue eyes, etc etc – so it would be churlish of me to grumble at anyone harbouring a bit of a foreskin fetish…or just a fear of the unknown.

The bit about clitoral stimulation touched a nerve because even though I knew it was nonsense, it felt for just a second like I was 9 years old again and watching the rest of the changing room wheel round to stare at me, as Martin Kilpatrick pointed at my dick and asked what was wrong with it. I’m hit by that same combination of embarrassment and anger whenever someone refers to an uncircumcised penis as ‘intact’ – a term which may be medically correct, but which always suggests that the person using it views circumcised cocks as broken or damaged.

I don’t feel broken and I don’t feel damaged. My dick works just fine without a foreskin, and at no point has it stopped me (or my partners) having a happy, fulfilling sex life. Moreover, for most boys (and therefore men) circumcision is not a choice – it’s a fact of life, and none of them deserve to be told that they’re inferior because of something they can’t go back and change.

Look, the ethics of circumcision are not straightforward – my dad’s agonised tone of voice the other night was a perfect demonstration of that. They touch on religion, tradition, medical consent, and a whole bunch of other topics that are perfectly valid to debate in public. I don’t want to see that debate shut down; nor do I think those of us who’ve undergone the procedure should be sheltered from it. However, it’s worth remembering that it’s (literally) a sensitive subject for a lot of men, and the language used around it should reflect that – as it should with any body issue, frankly.

Being circumcised doesn’t make you better or worse in bed, it doesn’t make you objectively more or less attractive, and it definitely doesn’t mean that your penis is deficient in any way. If we could use that as a starting-point, I for one would be a lot happier discussing it in public.

* This was originally taken for August’s Sinful Sunday prompt. I thought I was too late for that, but apparently not!

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9 Responses to On Circumcision

  1. mariasibylla says:

    A beautiful post about a sensitive subject and a gorgeous photo to boot. The dating show stats are 1) country dependant and 2) utterly ridiculous. Cocks are beautiful. Full stop. Yours is especially lovely here.

  2. whistlingwoman says:

    I reiterate what I tweeted: Do they even know where the clitoris is situated? Or rather, do they know that most of the time when people have (vanilla, heterosexual) sex the man doesn’t simply poke the clitoris with his penis? During penetration in missionary, the penis will – at best – touch the clitoris with its base or parts of the shaft. But mostly it’s the pubic mounds that sort of grind together.
    So yeah, whether it’s circumcised or not is almost 100% non-related to female pleasure. It’s all the other things the penis-wearer does that creates stimulation. To be honest, that show just confirmed how heteronormative and penis-centred the programme creators are.

  3. Cara Thereon says:

    I’m American so the large majority of men are circumcised (Though the large majority of my sexual partners have not been. Most are European/non American). I’m a nurse so I’ve seen my share of circs on baby and I think they are unnecessary and barbaric.

    On the topic of pleasure, I’m not sure it’s made a difference. The partners ability mattered more. What his penis looked like didn’t.

  4. sub-Bee says:

    I watched that show too and rolled my eyes at their ‘facts’. I did comment that I would get rid of the cut guys, followed by the smooth chested guys and then the guys with facial hair. My shallowness shocked me but I guess we all have our preferences.

    However, when it actually comes down to it I’m more interested in the guy attached to the cock rather than its aesthetics. So far I’ve never met a longer term partner naked and I think that trend is likely to continue.

    I struggle with circumcision of babies for religious or any other reason. For medical reasons it’s completely understandable, the decision your parents took must’ve caused them great pain and seeing you in pain must’ve torn them apart but it was obviously the right decision to make.

  5. Jo says:

    The numbers would definitely be reversed in the US; most American women I know, having only ever seen circumcised dicks, are *totally freaked out* by foreskin and don’t know what to do with it. I could totally see this written the other way around by an American man about having an uncircumcised penis! Having lived abroad for so long, most of my male-bodied partners have been uncircumcised and I’ve really come to love foreskin, so I’m in the opposite boat. The clitoris comment is ridiculous (Whistling Woman’s retort is spot on), but I wouldn’t say foreskin is completely unrelated to female pleasure; for me, the way the skin rubs against my g-spot / area / whatever you want to call it feels really good. And a bit different than circumcised cocks do. That being said – I’ve had incredible sex with all shapes, sizes, and (un)cut statuses of penises, and there are a LOT more important things than circumcision. I mean… I love all the cocks. As an aside: the UTI study and AIDS studies done decades ago were flawed in their sample sizes and methodology. I know that’s not what the post is about, but it kills me that doctors still use those studies decades after they’ve been refuted as a way to scare parents into circumcising their kids.

  6. Devastated Mother says:

    This is the single most useful article I have read on the Internet and I believe it may be the start of my healing process. I had my son circumcised at birth due to all of the benefits doctors give in the US for this procedure. This was before Facebook became popular, before Twitter, when people were using flip phones. I never thought anything of it, until one day I read something online about how barbaric it was and I entered the horrible horrible hole on the Internet and was bullied second hand by intactivists. I watched as they called out men who are “happily circumcised” and broke them down until they felt mutilated and less than a man. Telling men that they are mutilated and can never please a woman properly and will have ED and a numb penis for the rest of their lives. Told to look at their scars everyday and realize that their parents mutilated them for no reason. Warning that when their child grows up, that they will inform them how damaged they are and their children will hate them forever for the horrible mutilation you have subjected them to. Sending clearly edited pictures of penises showing how you damaged the natural look of the penis. Showing an intact penis clearly having baby oil on it next to a circumcised penis in black and white “dried out, ruined, keratinized, ugly, mutilated”. I could go on and on about the ugliness I have been subjected to online. Intactivists should use their most powerful argument they have, yet they rarely do. The single most thing that changes people’s mind on this subject is one of “it’s not a necessary procedure and can be done when your son is older if he chooses to do it and you can support him through it at that time”. Period. Done. But no, they aren’t happy until you have seen a diaper FULL of blood or a child screaming while strapped down.
    This all sent me into a spiral of depression. I cried every day for a year over this. My precious boy, ruined. The boy I love most in the world, never speaking to me again. It has been devastating and no one I have spoken to has been able to help me. Your post has been the first thing I have read online that has really spoken to me and given me hope. I hope you know how much your words and honesty have helped me. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Sincerely and truly. I don’t think I will ever get over what I did to my son, even though it was a decision made because I was made to believe it was beneficial. I will never get over the intactivist bullying I have endured. They are also destroying lives, and they need to realize that. They are destroying parents and destroying the men who have been circumcised by forcefully making them believe they are less than a man, when they are not. Someday, my son will encounter these intactivists online. I can only hope he comes to me to talk honestly about the subject, and I can only hope he comes across your blog post.

    Again, thank you.

  7. Molly says:

    I have had to take some time to try and write my comment but here goes. Without offending anyone with a foreskin I have to say that I hugely prefer circumcised cock. Something I only discovered in my 30’s when I encountered my first one (an American, not my current American *laughs) After that my next main partner ( a Brit) was like you circumcised for medical reasons) I was rather delighted when he took his pants off to discover he was cut having discovered my love for it. Now Michael, an American of a certain age, pretty much routine for him to be cut. However, having said all that not being cut would not be a deal breaker, it just a preference that I discovered. There is something about the way they look that I just find really incredibly sexy and in my mouth that lack of foreskin is lovely.

    For another angle I am also a Mother of a boy child and it never even crossed my mind to have him circumcised but I can totally relate to your parents pain at the memory of what happened. My son had a small lump removed from behind his ear and holding him in my arms while they put him to sleep was horrific and then seeing him afterwards confused and scared was really tough. It was the right thing, obviously, to do but your whole instinct is not to let them near your precious child.


  8. Firstly, that is a gorgeous photo.

    I had to take my son to see the consultant when he was 4 because his foreskin was too tight. I was scared and horrified that he might need a circumcision – not because of the end results but because I would do anything to protect my children from pain. The idea of making that decision, holding him while they prepped him, knowing that all the lain was something I agreed to made me feel sick to my stomach. Luckily, he didn’t need an operation. Teaching him to move it backwards and forwards in the bath loosened it up enough. I totally empathise with how your dad feels about being your parent while you went through it. I doubt that it is really a reaction to you having a circumcised cock. I imagine it is more to do with the experience.

    Personally, I love cock (what a surprise). Each cock is different. Each cock owner loves and responds to different nuances of attention. Foreskin means that some techniques work better. No foreskin means that some others work better. For me, I love each cock as a unique delight and whether they have foreskin or not does not matter to me.

    One thing that does upset me though, is all the emotionally charged arguments over it. In the vast majority of cases, the cock owner did not have a choice. It is rare for an adult male to choose circumcision without a medical need. So, as circumcised or not is a matter of circumstance for the cock owner, can’t we all just get on with loving bodies positively including all those beautiful wonderful cocks. Oh, and that foreskin-clit stim BS made me splutter my tea. Now *that* is a problem!

    I will just have another look at that photo to finish on a positively good note.

  9. Jess says:

    As a Canadian, this is an interesting article. While Americans seem to be more pro-circumsion, in Canada, I think its more split between circumcision or not. In fact, its never been an issue even discussed amongst my female friends. Some guys are and some guys are not. It’s never occurred the me to think that it might matter one way or another as far as sexual pleasure goes.

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