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Consequences of Neonatal Circumcision:
A Preliminary Poll of Circumcised Males
Excerpted from pages 125-129 of...
Edited by G. Denniston
NOTE: Updated findings from this survey were published in a
special circumcision supplement to the January 1999 issue of
BJU International (British Journal of Urology) See: A Preliminary Poll of Men Circumcised in Infancy or Childhood
Male foreskin amputation, euphemistically termed "circumcision," has persisted in various cultures with the unsubstantiated belief that it is a trivial or benign practice. This has been due in part to the silence of the victims. Indeed, when male genital mutilation occurs at puberty, a male's silence during the cutting is a measure of his manhood. Today, men's silence about these mutilations is being broken and they are demanding to be heard.
American medical profession has not yet established an accurate and consistent
method of recording these complications.
Since altering form inevitably alters function, circumcision, at any age, carries distinct physical, sexual and psychological consequences. The earlier the age at which the mutilation occurs, the more profound the physical and psychological damage. The earlier the age at which the mutilation occurs, however, the less likely the victims are able to recognize the damage later. Furthermore, the pain inflicted by the surgery is so great that the conscious mind suppresses memories of the event.
Although estimates of the immediate complication rate of neonatal circumcision have been suggested in the medical literature, the American medical profession has not yet established an accurate and consistent method of recording these complications. The purpose of this study was to inquire into the nature and existence of long-term consequences of neonatal circumcision.
In 1993, The National Organization to Halt the Routine Mutilation of Men (NOHARMM) sent a questionnaire to circumcised males who had contacted either the national office of NOHARMM in San Francisco, California, or various foreskin restoration support services that work closely with NOHARMM. The survey was directed at this particular group of non-intact (circumcised) men because they may be the most aware of the long-term consequences of neonatal circumcision. Three-hundred-thirteen (313) circumcised males participated in the survey.
2.1 Demographic Data
Of the 313 circumcised men participating in the study, 1% were under 19 years of age, 13.1% were between the ages of 20 and 29, 26.8% were between the ages of 30 and 39 years, 33.9% were between the ages of 40 and 49 years, 16% were between the ages of 50 and 59 years, and 9.3% were over 60 years of age. The average age of respondents was 42.
Of the men participating in the study, 89.1% were circumcised in infancy, 6.1% were circumcised between the ages of 1 and 12 years, 1.0% were circumcised between the ages of 13 and 17 years, and 3.8% were circumcised after 18 years of age.
The ethnic and religious backgrounds of the respondents were disproportionate to the percentages of those backgrounds found in the United States. Of the respondents, 96.8% identified themselves as "White," 0.3% were African-American, 1.3% were Hispanic, 0.3% were of unspecified Asian origin, 0.3% were Native Americans, 4.2% were Jews, and 1.0% "other." The religious identification of respondents was equally disproportionate: 77.3% identified themselves as Christian, 4.2% identified themselves as Jews (which is greater than the overall percentage of Jewish males in the United States), and 18.5% identified themselves as Atheist or Buddhist.
2.2 Reported Circumcision-Caused Harm
Of the 313 circumcised men participating in the study, 96.2% suspected or were confident that circumcision had resulted in a reduction of normal male capacity for sexual response and pleasure. The percentage breakdown of categories of circumcision-caused harm are as follows:
Sexual Harm: 84%
Emotional Harm: 83.1%
Physical Harm: 81.5%
Psychological Harm: 75.1%
Low Self-Esteem: 74.4%
Problems with Intimate Relationships: 44.7%
Problems with Addictions/Dependencies: 25.6%
A remaining 13.1% of respondents variously attributed their non-intact state to their problems with masculine identity, self-confidence, and fear of doctors.
Of the 313 circumcised men participating in the study, 55.3% attributed the following physical problems to their circumcision:
Insensitivity of the glans penis: 55.3%
Excess stimulation required to reach orgasm: 38.0%
Prominent scarring: 29.1%
Insufficient residual shaft skin to cover the erect penis: 26.8%
Specific psychological consequences of circumcision were recorded by respondents in the unstructured essay statement requested by surveyors. A statistically significant number of identical responses were recorded. Of the 313 respondents, 69.0% felt general dissatisfaction with their condition, 62.0% felt mutilated, 60.7% felt they were unwhole, 60.4% felt resentment over what had been done to them, 60.1% felt abnormal and unnatural, 60.1%felt their human rights had been violated, 54.3% felt anger about circumcision, 53% felt frustration over their non-intact condition, 49.5% felt violated or raped, 47.3% felt inferior to genitally intact males, 42.5% felt that their circumcised penis was an impediment to sexual relations, and 33.9% felt that they had been betrayed by their parents for allowing them to be circumcised.
Despite the severity of the psychological and physical harm attributed by respondents to their circumcision, 61.1% had not sought treatment at the time of the survey. Of the respondents who had not sought treatment, 39.3% believed that there was no recourse available, 19.8% were too embarrassed, 15.7% feared ridicule, 12.5% cited mistrust of doctors, and 3.5% felt that it was not important enough.
The disproportionate participation of men between the ages of 30 and 49 may be due in large part to two important factors. First, this is the time of life when men, in general, begin to reassess their lives and to question past experiences and assumptions. Second, this is also the time when non-intact men begin to become more aware of progressive sensitivity loss of the glans.
60% of respondents who had gained knowledge about the functions of
intact male genitalia recognized that circumcision had harmed them.
The results of this survey document that circumcision can adversely impact the overall psychological well-being of non-intact males. This survey demonstrates that neonatal circumcision can have negative consequences on the future sexual well-being of non-intact males. More than 60% of respondents who had gained knowledge about the functions of intact male genitalia recognized that circumcision had harmed them. Circumcised males reported that they had to resort to extraordinary or violent thrusting to stimulate the residual nerve endings in the penis to trigger orgasm. These men reported that the unnatural dryness of their circumcised penis often made coitus painful for them and their partners.
silence may be due to the widespread societal ignorance of natural genital anatomy
and normal male genital functions.
Most circumcised men in the United States have not discussed or reported the inevitable damage inherently caused by this amputative genital surgery. Their silence may be due to the widespread societal ignorance of natural genital anatomy and normal male genital functions. This ignorance is undoubtedly a result of the massive circumcision campaigns of the past. The results of this survey suggest that, before the damage of genital alteration can be recognized as such, the natural genital anatomy and function must be understood. The physical defects and sexual dysfunctions of which many non-intact males may be aware are often misperceived as a "birth defect" or part of the aging process, rather than as a direct consequence of their circumcision. Since many circumcised men in the United States have never seen a naturally intact human penis, they may wrongly perceive the dark circumferential circumcision scar on the remnant of their penis to be a feature of "normal" anatomy.
While the overall complication rate for neonatal circumcision is unknown, the estimated rates of 0.02% to 1.07% alleged by some authors(1) stands in sharp contrast to the long-term psychological and physical complication rate of 92.7% reported by respondents. The medical profession has not addressed this issue.
Most non-intact males, erroneously believing circumcision is a universal practice, may not feel that circumcision has left them with a diminished penis because they have no means by which to compare their experience. Among respondents, however, the heightened awareness of the adverse consequences of neonatal circumcision led to a firm conviction that the practice was a violation of their human rights to physical integrity, and self-determination, i.e., body ownership. Nearly half (49.5%) of respondents indicated feelings of violation. Over 60% of respondents felt their human rights had been violated by neonatal circumcision. Such feeling increased with the age of the respondent.
Despite their strong feelings and intense focus on circumcision as a central issue in their lives, most respondents felt pressured to remain silent. In the United States, males are not encouraged to verbalize their feelings, in general, but, additionally, there is a very strong taboo against verbalizing feelings about the penis. This can arouse suspicion in other males that the person discussing his penis may be homosexual. The powerful taboos against homosexuality present in many cultures, including the United States, silences most men. They fear that violation of the taboo will lead to social ostracism, imprisonment, or violence. In some cultures, it may lead to government authorized torture or death.
these pressures, many circumcised men are breaking these taboos and...
are finding the courage to begin verbalizing their feelings
Despite these pressures, many circumcised men are breaking these taboos and are finding the courage to begin verbalizing their feelings and seeking ways to heal psychological damage caused by circumcision. To address the feelings of body dysmorphia caused by recognition that the penis has been damaged, a growing number of non-intact men are engaging in the process of foreskin restoration. Those who feel that circumcision represents a violation of individual sovereignty find therapeutic benefit in working for social change. A significant minority seek justice through litigation. The psychological healing, social activism and foreskin restoration now being undertaken in the United States by men are documented in the award-winning film, Whose Body, Whose Rights?(2)
The results of this survey demonstrate that neonatal circumcision has profound psychological and sexual consequences for a significant number of men. The types of physical harm caused by neonatal circumcision remain largely unrecognized by the general population of non-intact males due to society-wide ignorance of the normal anatomy and functions of the intact human penis. Becoming aware of normal human male genital anatomy and function was the most important factor in recognizing the types of physical harm caused by neonatal circumcision. From this survey, it appears that subsequent to this recognition it is common for circumcised men to acknowledge that family members and respected people in the community, for example, doctors or religious leaders, are responsible for permitting this harm to occur. Many circumcised men fail to seek professional assistance because of their well-found mistrust of the medical profession, or because they are unaware of the existence of the many peer resources now available. Others are reluctant to verbalize their feelings for fear of ridicule. Some non-intact men who have sought psychological counseling have been subjected to ridicule or misunderstanding from mental health workers. Until recently, men who understood that they had been psychologically and sexually damaged by circumcision suffered in silence. Those who have verbalized their dissatisfaction with circumcision have risked violating cultural taboos about discussing the penis or questioning their society's traditional practices. The psychological impact of recognizing one's harm, as well as the potential social disapproval from disclosing one's feelings, can be managed successfully through personal foreskin restoration, peer support groups, and altruistic activism to end the practice of neonatal circumcision and spare future generations of males from experiencing the same types of harm.
NOHARMM Note: The following related observations were not published in the above Plenum article.
The results of a circumcision questionnaire published in a 1989 issue of Australian Forum discovered that "Quite a lot of circumcised men (20%) were dissatisfied with the way they had been cut" while "18% of the circumcised men would rather not have been." An independent body image survey of almost 200 men in 1992 by the U.S. men's magazine Journeymen found 20% of circumcised respondents expressed dissatisfaction with their circumcision, versus only 3% of intact men registering dissatisfaction. The survey also found that 78% of intact male respondents were happy with their intact status against only 38% of satisfied circumcised males, leaving a sizable 41% of circumcised men indecisive about how they view the procedure. Another U.S. survey in 1996 in Men's Confidential revealed that 50% of respondents circumcised as infants were unhappy about it, versus only 3% of intact respondents unhappy about their intact foreskin. Intact respondents registered higher levels of satisfaction with their status (97%) than circumcised respondents (50%). Neither survey solicited details concerning factors affecting dissatisfaction. As more non-intact men learn about foreskin functions, begin to explore their circumcision damage, and adopt foreskin restoration methods, dissatisfaction levels among this population are expected to increase. See Body Image Surveys Examine Men's (Dis)Satisfaction with Circumcision
comments from respondents to the Awakenings survey
[Comments followed by respondent's state of residence and birth year]
(These were not published in the Plenum book, but are provided here for information purposes.)
"I've been mutilated and denied full functioning of my penis due to an unnecessary and ignorant procedure." CA/1951
"My penis is unnatural this way!" OH/1956
"Constant chafing and desensitization of the glans." OR/1953
"I enjoy no sensations on the shaft or glans; orgasm requires painful thrusting. My sexual life is ruined!" OH/1966
"Painful erections, scar tissue and it makes me feel insecure (I don't feel complete)." NY/1966
My penis has two skin shades; the scar is much lighter than the shaft." MA/1956
"Taking away part of my body without my permission is a violation of my body and my rights." OH/1954
"The physical scar is hideous, but the emotional scar equates to rape." CA/1947
have to be to the point of abuse and pain to my penis in order to reach orgasm,
it is so desensitized from circumcision." WA/1954
"I am angry and bitter and depressed by being circumcised and I resent that it was done to me." MA/1950
mutilation happened when I was developing close bonds with my mother.
Since then, I feared closeness and believed pain would follow." MN/1958
"I'm left with a sense of
impotence and powerlessness and a fear
about the power of others to hurt me grievously." NY/1930
experienced continuous decline in sensitivity and sexual pleasure, to the point of not
being able to orgasm
in a time comfortable to my wife. Fortunately, this has been reversed by my foreskin recovery.
I again have the sexual performance of a teenager!" CA/1945
"My scar still bleeds to this day. It takes too long to orgasm due to desensitizing of the head." MI/1958
"I have always suffered great irritation and redness to the meatus of my penis due to lack of foreskin protection." NJ/1962
"My penis curves to the left from an uneven circumcision." MA/1953
"My glans is callused and numb to subtle sensations." UT/1950
"It hurts too much and sometimes bleeds from being cut so tight." NE/1943
"I'm missing needlessly a vital part of my sexual anatomy, the only moving part." OK/1923
"I have a large skin bridge around 25% of the glans and shaft." NJ/1930
"I have a deep longing to be complete and intact." GA/1953
Tim Hammond, is the co-founder, with Wayne Griffiths, of a national network of men's foreskin restoration support groups, the National Organization of Restoring Men (NORM). In 1992, Hammond founded the National Organization to Halt the Abuse and Routine Mutilation of Males (NOHARMM), a national nonviolent, direct-action organization of men opposed to infant circumcision. He has produced many educational tools relevant to male genital mutilation in the United States, including the award-winning documentary Whose Body, Whose Rights?
1. Gee, W.F., Ansell, J.S., Neonatal circumcision: a ten-year overview: with comparison of the Gomco clamp and Plastibell device. Pediatrics 1976: 58:824-7.
2. Whose Body, Whose Rights? Produced by Tim Hammond and directed by Lawrence Dillon. 56 min., Dillonwood Productions, 1995. Videocassette. [Institutional distribution: University of California Extension Center for Media and Independent Learning, 2000 Center Street, Fourth Floor, Berkeley, CA 94704 USA. Catalog # 38342.]
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Last updated: 20 February, 2004
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