by Amy Odell
An uncircumcised penis is significantly more sensitive than a circumcised penis, a new study reveals. The study, published in the British Journal of Urology International (BJU), found an uncircumcised penis possesses five locations that are far more sensitive than the most sensitive spot on an uncircumcised penis.
Jewish tradition dictates a male undergo circumcision to signify his participation in Israel’s covenant with God and to signify that the Jewish people will perpetuate through him. However, the practice has been the norm across people of all faiths in the United States, where most newborn males today are circumcised. This is in contrast to the world’s male population, 80 percent of whom are uncircumcised. In the 1970s, the circumcision rate in the U.S. peaked, hovering around 90 percent of newborn males. The 30 percent decline in that rate to today signifies a considerable attitudinal shift toward this seldom-pondered practice.
Any woman, Jewish or not, planning to have children may face the circumcision decision someday. With the new studies on circumcision and HIV pouring out of Africa and the piles of others on its negative psychological effects, it’s important to be informed.
For the non baby-minded sect, like my early-20-something girlfriends and I, cut versus uncut isn’t thought about unless we’re met with the rare (and usually intimidating) uncut partner. But considering studies that detail the heightened sexual sensitivity in an uncut penis and that highlight the tendency of women who have been with both cut and uncut partners to prefer uncut, circumcision is something women whose thoughts are about as far from child-rearing as possible, should know about (even if for purely hedonistic purposes). I spoke to Dr. Ronald Goldman of the Circumcision Resource Center to find out more about increasing opposition to the practice. By the end of our conversation, Dr. Goldman was asking me questions. And he wasn’t afraid to get personal.
Tell me about your organization.
We are a nonprofit educational organization. We have an advisory board of professionals in medicine, medical health and social science. And we take the position that circumcision is not advisable, that it is a harmful practice.
Why is circumcision a harmful practice?
It causes extreme pain and trauma and behavioral changes in infants. There is confirmed evidence of sexual harm—circumcision removes highly sensitive protective tissue on the penile shaft. On the adult male the foreskin is about twelve square inches of highly erogenous tissue. There’s a study coming out next month in BJU International which compares sensitivity of men who have not been circumcised to men who have been circumcised, and they found there are five locations on an uncircumcised penis that are more sensitive than a circumcised penis.
There are also psychological effects based on surveys of circumcised men. The consequences can include strong feelings of anger, shame, distrust, grief, sexual anxieties, reduced emotional expression. At some point in a male’s life he’s likely to discover that he’s missing something that other boys have—a natural body part on the penis—and when he discovers that he’s missing part of his penis—well, that’s a sensitive thing for men.
I feel like this is a relatively underground issue, if you will. Most of us hardly ever think about circumcision.
We don’t hear about it because of lack of knowledge, lack of awareness
Most men may not be aware of certain feelings and connections to circumcision. If a man feels shame or distrust he may not connect those feelings to being circumcised.
I’d say inform yourself about this because it’s a very misunderstood issue. Simply because the father may be circumcised is not a good enough reason. The father may be missing an ear or a toe, but it wouldn’t make sense to cut off the same body part on an infant.
Now, what are we to make of all the new studies about HIV/AIDS that say a circumcised man is far less likely to contract the virus?
Even if we accept the studies as valid, the claims about preventing HIV have been made for 20 years. So the claim is nothing new. The American Medical Association says that behavioral factors are far more important factors for acquisition of HIV than circumcision status. I would add that babies are not sexually active. There’s no reason to force circumcision on a child. If a person wants to circumcise himself let him do it when he’s older. It would be less traumatic because he would be given proper anesthetics, and most babies are not given proper anesthetics.
All the folks making these HIV claims are not considering the harm of circumcision. One should consider the benefits and the harms and risks. And all we hear about in this country are the benefits.
Because circumcision is the norm here.
There’s a whole cultural environment here that wants to think that circumcision is the right thing. Most Americans want to think that circumcision is a good thing.
I have written an article about bias in circumcision policy development. If doctors who are studying the advisability of circumcision are themselves circumcised, they’re more likely to have a favorable view of the practice because they want to believe they’re ok and they want to believe their sons who have had it are ok. Also if they belong to cultural or religion that supports it, that adds bias.
How is circumcision handled in hospitals?
Circumcision is solicited. In other words the hospital staff gives parents a form to sign if they want to consent for circumcision. The signature of one parent is enough. They do not provide consent forms for cutting off any other healthy part.
How long do they wait before performing the procedure on the newborn?
It’s usually done on the second day.
The U.S. is the only country in the world that circumcises its male infants for non- medical reasons. Eighty percent of the world’s males are not circumcised. The other 20 percent, except the U.S., is for religious regions, mostly Muslims and then Jews.
Why should women care about this?
I think it’s certainly a women’s issue because mothers have the responsibility. When there’s a disagreement in a couple, it’s mostly mothers calling our office who want to come to agreement on this with their partners. Mothers are also shown by research to be more sensitive to infants’ needs and feelings. And mothers are not circumcised themselves; by not being cut themselves the mothers can evaluate this issue more objectively. The other very significant factor here is that most of the time that consent form is signed by the mother.
How do you think attitudes toward circumcision are changing?
The rate has come down. The peak rate in the U.S. was in the 1970s so it’s dropped roughly 30 percent. Fathers, say in their 30s or 40s, think circumcision is as popular today as it was when they were kids. It’s not as common as it was 30 years ago. But a father who was circumcised then is likely to have lots of company.
We encourage parents to make a decision like this on the merits. Even if everyone else in a boys’ class is circumcised and one is not, he’s still capable of felling good about himself. I talked to a boy, who was maybe 8 years old, and he told me about how he was sorry for the other boys in his class who had their foreskin cut off. And he understood it because his mother explained it to him when he was very young.
If you tell a 5- or 8-year-old, ‘This is what happens to little boys,’ they would not want that done to them. And the bottom line on the medical claims is that no national medical organization in the world recommends circumcision.
The other thing that’s interesting is some of the policy committees are starting to write about human rights and legal issues connected to circumcision. That will be getting more attention in the future. A newborn baby—or a human being of any age—has an inherent right to his or her body. And there are people in the human rights field who have come out strongly against cutting body parts off of females. This is not the same severity but we’re talking principle here. So if it’s not ok to cut off three or four fingers, then it’s not ok to cut off one finger. If someone wants to alter his or her body later in life let it be that person’s choice. A lot of distress we hear from men is they’re upset they didn’t have a choice. They were young and it wasn’t up to them.
So the psychological effects are significant in adulthood.
Those who want to believe circumcision is not a big deal—that the foreskin is not a very important body part—they should educate themselves. How would they feel today if someone forcefully restrained them and cut off some of their sexual anatomy?
During circumcision a baby is strapped down on his back and part of his sexual anatomy is removed. And he screams. Or he may go into shock and not cry—the baby is in psychological withdrawal from extreme pain and trauma. And that shows up in studies based on stress hormone in the blood. Just because he’s not screaming doesn’t mean he’s not in pain.
Are you getting more calls lately from people who are having trouble making a decision?
We do get a fare amount of calls and emails. A lot of people have been contacting us, asking for more information that can help people get better informed. And we send them materials to read or videos. It’s a lot easier to send people information than talk to them for an hour on the phone.
Do you see any change in overall attitudes toward this procedure in the near future?
It’s a tough issue to change. Change is probably going to come from the parents who choose not to do it. But it’s hard to say. I mean, the medical profession tends, like many fields, to be conservative about things, and change comes very slowly. I did mention—there is this new sexual sensitivity study and that might swing it. I certainly hope so. But we don’t know until they do the next round of policy review and come up with an updated statement. They come up for a day, and people forget about it because it’s not a prominent issue on the minds of most people. So that means the education has to be an ongoing thing.
There are some doctors and nurses who refuse to participate in circumcision right now for ethical reasons. It’s a minority to be sure. But the fact that they’re out there and make their positions is good. The medical profession has this principal, which is first, ‘Do no harm.’
I remember a news report on a TV station in Maine some years ago where they interviewed a doctor and asked this doctor on camera, ‘What about your personal and professional ethics that say first, “Do no harm,” ’ and the doctor was speechless for a long period of time, and didn’t know how to answer the question. Clearly he hadn’t thought about it before. So it’s a matter of raising awareness for doctors to think about. And parents and others.
Have you been getting more calls in the recent past?
We get calls from people who have informed their friends and when those folks did not choose circumcision they are very pleased and feel like they’ve done something. So it’s important for people who care about children.
A psychiatrist said a long time ago, ‘What’s done to children, they will do to society.’ And in the case of circumcision, those circumcised baby boys grow up and find ways that are socially acceptable to perpetuate the practices. So if we stop doing it to the babies we’ll take a big step toward reducing perhaps some other things that are socially and culturally harmful. We don’t know all the harm that circumcision causes. It hasn’t been studied. It’s difficult to support studies on that side of the issue. A lot of studies are to find the benefit.
Let me ask you—would you circumcise your baby?
Ummm… I want to say I wouldn’t.
And have you always felt that way?
Well I think in the past I would have said, ‘Yes,’ and wanted the procedure done. But now I want to say I wouldn’t.
Any particular reasaon?
Just because I don’t see a need I suppose.
What changed your attitude on that?
Since I’m, uh, seeing someone now who isn’t.
You know there’s a study out there that women who have sexual experience with both circumcised and uncircumcised men prefer those who are not circumcised six to one.
Really. That’s very interesting.
Does that sound in line to you?
Yes. Yes it does.
So personal experience supports the survey result.
As far as I’m concerned, without a doubt.
Posted on March 28th, 2007 Filed under: Uncategorized |