I am in a weekly Nonviolent Communication practice group with Mark, our guest author, and offered to have him share his experience of circumcision on our blog. This is a topic we haven’t discussed in our community yet, and I anticipate it may be controversial. I was raised in a Jewish home, and my brothers were all circumcised. My father was a urologist and beyond our Jewish tradition, I think the predominant belief in those days was that it was simply more sanitary to circumcise. I don’t think my parents ever considered the alternative, which would be to leave my brother’s penises intact. We also never considered whether or not margarine would nourish us – we simply ate margarine instead of butter because that was the standard recommendation of the time. Since Nourishing Our Children is all about reconsidering the standard recommendations we are given, I wanted to create a forum by which to explore this topic. I look forward to reading your opinions in the comments and ask that we collectively keep a focus on expressing our point-of-views without blame directed toward those who may have a differing one. I am deeply committed to having a discussion that honors each voice.
Circumcision: A Very Personal Choice By Mark Daniel McQuillen
I have a great deal of pain around circumcision. I wish I was not circumcised, and I wish I had been given a choice about this alteration of my sexual anatomy. When I first became aware as a child that my penis did not have all the parts that some other boys had, I was really confused. As I grew to manhood and became more aware of what had been cut away, I was increasingly upset about it. I am grateful to share my experience with you and what I have learned.
After researching and exploring this topic extensively, I believe circumcision is often extremely painful and results in decreased sexual function, sensitivity, and pleasure. This is supported by much of the recent scientific research I have read. But this is not breaking news. Almost a thousand years ago, the Jewish scribe and physician Maimonides wrote that circumcision decreases sexual pleasure for a man and the woman with whom he makes love. This is consistent with the conversations I have had with women and men who have been intimate with both circumcised and intact men. They told me that receiving an intact penis is more comfortable and stimulating. Artificial lubricant is not needed during intercourse because the shaft of the penis moves up and down inside its own outer layer.
I have been able to get a small sense of what it is like to have whole sexual anatomy by gradually restoring coverage to my penis by regularly stretching the outer layer that remains. This is a long process that takes determination and patience. After several years of doing this, I can say from experience that having a retractable layer makes a big difference to sexual function and sensation. Also, having coverage is much more comfortable in my daily life, especially when I exercise because the head of my penis does not rub against the inside of my pants.
If you are a circumcised male, you can feel what it is like to have coverage by pulling the outer layer that remains over the head of your penis and taping it together. The first time I did this, it was very tight but I also felt more comfortable and protected than I ever had before. This is the first step in restoring coverage.
Unfortunately, you cannot restore the 10,000+ nerve endings that were cut away as well as a number of important structures, including the frenulum, the ridged band, and the frenar band. A natural foreskin is much more than skin. It is also dartos muscle (similar to an eyelid), mucous membrane (like the inside of your nose), and a lot of nerves (more sensitive than your lips).
For me the health benefits claimed by the American Academy of Pediatrics for cutting off foreskins do not outweigh what is lost. I think it is worth considering that even the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend routine circumcision. It is also worth considering that almost all of the medical associations around the world strongly advocate for the genital autonomy of children, whether they be boys or girls.
I realize that circumcision is a tradition that is important to many Muslims and Jews. Circumcision meets the needs for community, celebration, and meaning. I hope you will understand that I support circumcision when it is consensual. I have a great need to protect a man’s freedom to make his own choice about his sexual anatomy. In the Bible, Abraham and Moses both had a choice about being circumcised. As you may know, Moses did not always do as God commanded. Many biblical scholars agree that Moses was never circumcised. My interpretation of Exodus 4:24-26 is that the God was satisfied with the symbolic circumcision of Moses performed as an act of protection by his wife, Zipporah. I would like to see mothers offer the same protection to their little boys today.
I am passionate about ensuring the freedom for future generations that I did not have. I am asking you with all my heart, please encourage parents to meet their needs for community and meaning by celebrating the wholeness of a child’s body. Encourage them to welcome a child without cutting off an extremely sensitive and useful part of his sexual anatomy. Please protect a child’s freedom and choice regarding circumcision for when he becomes a man.
I have great hope that you will consider what I am requesting with compassion and an open heart.
We would love to hear what you think about circumcision?!
There is a robust discussion on Facebook in response to this post that is open the public as well.