It is often said that circumcision is OK because babies are too young to remember the pain, and men don't know what they are missing, don't mind, or at least don't complain about it. For much of the twentieth century enthusiasts for routine circumcision have echoed the sentiments of William Acton:
Although it is possible that it [the foreskin] may increase the pleasure derived from the act of sexual congress, there is no evidence that Jews, and those who have undergone circumcision, do not enjoy as much pleasure in the copulatory act as the uncircumcised; – at any rate, the former do not complain.
The claims are clear: first, that circumcision makes no difference to a male’s experience of sex; second, that even if it did men do not complain about what they are missing. An obvious point to note is that Acton’s first assertion directly contradicts the medical knowledge of his own day; throughout history and up to the end of the nineteenth century it was generally held by authorities on medical and sexual matters that the foreskin made a significant contribution to the sexual pleasure of both men and their partners. Far from there being “no evidence”, there is so much that the problem becomes one of selection: from many possible sources we may cite the early eighteenth century surgeon John Marten as representing the orthodox position:
This Nut is … cover’d with the preputium or Fore-skin, which is of a loose texture, for the better covering of the Nut, and furling itself up behind the Ring or Hoop, to uncover it; therefore serves as a Cap to the Nut, and to enlarge the pleasure that attends Enjoyment, for in the act of Coition it flips backwards and forwards, being tied together with a membranous String call’d the Fraenum or Bridle, and causes the greater pleasure thereby, both to the Man and the Woman … The cutting of this Preputium or Fore-skin, is done by the Jews, and call’d Circumcision; by having of which taken away, ‘tis said those People lose much of the pleasure in the act of Copulation.
Acton’s statement is even inconsistent with the medical wisdom of the Victorian period, since it was precisely the erotic significance of the foreskin that led the physicians of that “anti-sensual age” to urge its removal. As the prominent surgeon Jonathan Hutchinson expressed it:
The only function which the prepuce can be supposed to have is that of maintaining the penis in a condition susceptible of more acute sensation than would otherwise exist. It may be supposed to increase the pleasure of coition and the impulse to it. These are advantages, however, which in the present state of society can well be spared, and if in their loss some degree of increased sexual control should result, one should be thankful.
Acton himself acknowledged the contribution of the foreskin to sexual pleasure when he denounced it as “a source of serious mischief” and a constant threat to the strict continence he regarded as essential to both morals and health.
Sexual pleasure is a highly subjective thing, and it is doubtful whether it will ever be possible to measure it scientifically. The numerous attempts of the last few years have left such a confusing picture that it is unlikely that a consensus will ever emerge, and inconceivable that the pro- and anti-circumcision forces will ever reach agreement on what are naively called “the facts”. What is clear, however, is that the second of Acton’s claims has been decisively refuted by circumcised men, many of whom have complained loudly about what was done to them. The protests began in Acton’s own lifetime, for when A.E. Housman and his brothers were circumcised in the 1870s their sister recalled that they were not happy about it: "It was severe treatment, mentally and physically, for well-grown boys, and a great mystery at the time to the younger ones who made open complaint, with a mixture of importance and resentment, of the ill-treatment which had befallen them." 
Whatever Mr Acton might claim, it is evident that some men have voiced objections to their circumcised condition, including such prominent figures as the poet W.H. Auden and the surgeon Sir Geoffrey Keynes, who told the biographer of his brother Maynard that he could never forgive his parents for what they did to him. An early critic of circumcision from within the medical profession commented that there could be “little doubt what would be the verdict – could they only give it utterance – upon the immediate results of the operation returned by these inarticulate (if far from mute) victims of hygienic orthodoxy”.
In more recent times, the disappearance of routine circumcision in Britain and its decline in the USA and Australia has increased the opportunities for circumcised men to compare their penises with those of their natural peers; resentment has flared to the point where significant protest movements have emerged, and numbers have sought to recover what was taken. In 1996 the British Medical Journal published a letter from twenty men who believed that “we have been harmed by circumcision carried out in childhood”. They argued that it “cannot be ethical for a doctor to amputate normal tissue from a normal child” and suggested that circumcision without informed consent was a violation of agreed principles of human rights: "The European charter for children in hospital states that every child must be protected from unnecessary medical treatment. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have rights to self determination, dignity, respect, integrity, and non-interference and the right to make informed personal decisions. Unnecessary circumcision of boys violates these rights." The authors emphasise that if circumcision is to be a personal choice, it must be the decision of the person who is to bear the lifelong consequences: “The possible future wishes of the patient should be considered”.
In the USA the persistence of widespread neonatal circumcision has produced correspondingly more vigorous protest movements. One such organisation distributed questionnaires on the effects of circumcision to some 546 men between 1993 and 1996 and published the findings from the first 313 respondents. Among the most significant physical consequences reported were prominent scarring (33%), insufficient penile skin for comfortable erection (27%), erectile curvature from uneven skin loss (16%), pain and bleeding upon erection/manipulation (17%), painful skin bridges (12%), and other, such as bevelling deformities of the glans, meatal stenosis, recurrent non-specific urethritis (20%).
Reported consequences for sexual function included progressive sensory deficit in the preputial remnant and glans (61%), causing sexual dysfunction (erectile problems, ejaculatory difficulties, and/or anorgasmia); extraordinary stimulation required for orgasm (40%), with many respondents reporting that vaginal sex offered inadequate stimulation for pleasure and/or orgasm; and sexual dysfunction resulting from emotional distress. These findings concur with those of Money and Davidson about the erotogenic consequences of adult circumcision, including loss of proprioceptive stretch receptors of the prepuce and frenulum, diminished eroto-sexual response, increased penile pain, and changes in masturbatory technique.
Psychological consequences included emotional distress, manifesting as intrusive thoughts about one’s circumcision, included feelings of mutilation (60%), low self-esteem/inferiority to intact men (50%), genital dysmorphia (55%), rage (52%), resentment/depression (59%), violation (46%), or parental betrayal (30%). Many respondents (41%) reported that their physical/emotional suffering impeded emotional intimacy with partner(s), resulting in sexual dysfunction. For some, lack of compassion from parents, siblings or friends fostered bitter interpersonal conflict or alienation. Almost a third of respondents (29%) reported dependence on substances or behaviours to relieve their suffering (tobacco, alcohol, drugs, food and/or sexual compulsivity). Few men were able to find an acceptable outlet for serious feelings about circumcision, and 54% of respondents had not sought help. The reasons given included: thinking no recourse was available (43%); embarrassment (19%); fear of ridicule (17%); and mistrust of doctors (11%).
An Australia study conducted study in the mid-1990s reached similar conclusions .
The issue has now been brought out into the open by Unspeakable Mutilations - the remarkable and scarifying collection of personal accounts of circumcision harm compiled by Lindsay Watson. It will no longer be possible for the medical profession and the media to ignore the growing chorus of complaint. Despite his title, the mutilations have at last become speakable.
1. Acton, W. The functions and disorders of the reproductive organs in childhood, youth, adult age and advanced life. 3rd edn. Philadelphia: Lindsay and Blakiston, 1865, p 22
2. Marten, J. Gonosologium novum: Or a new system of all the secret infirmities and diseases natural, accidental and venereal in men and women. London, 1709; Facsimile reprint, New York: Garland Publishing, 1985, p 12
3. Moscucci, O. Clitoridectomy, circumcision and the politics of sexual pleasure in mid-Victorian Britain. In: Miller AH and Adams JE ed. Sexualities in Victorian Britain. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996
4. Hutchinson, J. The advantages of circumcision. Medical Review 1900;3:642
5. Darby, R. A Surgical Temptation: The Demonization of the Foreskin and the Rise of Circumcision in Britain. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. chap 6
13. A recent sample might include:
Fink KS, Carson CC, DeVellis RF. Adult Circumcision Outcomes Study: Effect on Erectile Function, Penile Sensitivity, Sexual Activity and Satisfaction. J Urol 2002;167(5):2113-2116;
Boyle GJ, Goldman R, Svoboda JS, Fernandez E. Male circumcision: pain, trauma and psychosexual sequelae. J Health Psychology 2002;7(3):329-43;
Bleustein CB, Eckholdt H, Arezzo JC, Melman A. Effects of circumcision on male penile sensitivity. Paper read at the American Urological Association 98th Annual Meeting at Chicago Illinois, April 26-May 1, 2003, Abstract ID: 100769;
Bleustein CB, Eckholdt H, Arezzo JC, Melman A. Quantitative somatosensory testing of the penis: optimizing the clinical neurological examination. J Urol 2003;169(6):2266-9.
Masood S, Patel HRH, Himpson RC, et al. Penile sensitivity and sexual satisfaction after circumcision: Are we informing men correctly? Urol Int 2005;75(1):62-5.
Kim DS and Pang M-G. The effect of male circumcision on sexuality, BJU International 2006;99:619-622
Sorrells ML, Snyder JL, Reiss MD, et al. Fine-touch pressure thresholds in the adult penis. BJU International 2007;99:864-9
14. Graves RP. A.E. Housman: The scholar poet. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979. pp 21-22
15. Darby, [ref 5] pp 298-9
16. Snow, H. The barbarity of circumcision as a remedy for congenital abnormality. London: Churchill, 1890. p 22
17. Warren J et al. Circumcision of children. British Medical Journal 1996;312;377
18. Hammond T. A preliminary poll of men circumcised in infancy or childhood”. BJU International 1999; 83 (Supp 1):85-92
19. Money J, Davidson J. Adult Penile Circumcision: Erotosexual and Cosmetic Sequelae. Journal of Sex Research 1983;19:289-92.
20. Robert Darby and Laurence Cox, “Objections of a sentimental character: The subjective dimension of foreskin loss”, in Chantal Zabus (ed.), Fearful Symmetries: Essays and Testimonies around Excision and Circumcision (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2009). Full text may be downloaded from Academia.
Unspeakable Mutilations: Circumcised Men Speak Out (ed. Lindsay Watson). Create Space Independent
Publishing and Amazon-e-book, 2014.
It is often said that non-therapeutic circumcision of infants and boys is OK because men don’t mind being circumcised. This claim is now disproved by a collection of personal accounts by men who bitterly recent having been circumcised. In a lengthy, fully referenced introduction the compiler, Lindsay Watson, discusses the harms of circumcision and acknowledges that the men who contributed their stories showed great courage in their willingness to admit their loss, not only to themselves but in a public statement that reveals their feelings of violation, betrayal, grief, anger, resentment, shame, humiliation and despair. Just as women are now able to admit the pain of sexual assault and rape, and children can report sexual abuse and molestation without fear of being called a liar or troublemaker, it is now becoming possible for men to admit the pain of having their foreskin taken away from them. As the cover information states:
Circumcision of male infants and boys is a cultural practice that persists within some African, Pacific, Southern Asian and Middle Eastern cultures, and, as a medicalized ritual, in some Anglophone societies, especially the United States. Advocates describe circumcision as a benign snip with religious significance and health benefits. Critics argue that the health benefits are trivial, irrelevant or non-existent, and that parental power over a child's upbringing does not extend to authorizing a procedure that, in other contexts, would be regarded as sexual abuse. Circumcision is painful, causes permanent damage, and violates the right of the child to bodily integrity.
Often overlooked in these debates are the adult men whose lives have been adversely affected because they were circumcised as infants or children. The suffering of these men remains cloaked in silence and unrecognized by the medical profession and society at large. In this book, 50 men, of widely differing ages and from varying walks of life, explain how circumcision has harmed their self-esteem, physical well-being and sexual experience. In analyzing these accounts, the compiler demonstrates that the process of grieving for a lost foreskin closely parallels the experiences of those who have suffered amputation, rape, body dysmorphic disorder, the death of a loved-one, or delayed post-traumatic stress. Circumcision advocates assert that the pain of circumcision is trivial and momentary; these accounts show that the pain of foreskin loss may last a lifetime.
I just finished reading one of the newest books, “Unspeakable Mutilations — Circumcised Men Speak Out” by New Zealand researcher Lindsay Watson. Fifty men from nine countries individually and candidly tell how their circumcisions were botched or left them with skin tags or left indelible damage to their neural wiring and destroyed their sexual wholeness. They can’t forgive parents, loathe doctors and hospitals and live with distrust. Such independent analysis of their own regrets of being circumcised speak volumes for other males who are bitter or yet unwilling to self-address what was done to them.
I am reading a new book: Unspeakable Mutilations: Circumcised Men Speak Out. This book is for all those men who were circumcised as an infant or child. It is also for all those who need to know that many men do not like that they were circumcised.
Men are coerced by society to keep silent if they feel damaged by circumcision. A man complaining about what is essentially a sexual assault will be greeted with statements like “Oh you’ve just got a problem” or “You’ve got a bee in your bonnet”. Almost never will they be greeted with sympathy or any understanding. Watson’s book does an enormous amount to break the silence and to encourage a compassionate view of men who have had an unnecessary procedure forced on them.
Watson’s introduction to the book is a neat summary of the well documented harms caused by male circumcision. The papers published by various academics and scientists working in the fields covered by human biology have all concluded that the foreskin which is removed by the act of circumcision is a functional and specialised component of the male anatomy. Academic papers can be a challenge to digest, Watson’s introduction is easy to comprehend and gives excellent references if the reader wants to study the subject of physical harm further.
The heart of the book is the light it shines onto the psychological damage caused by non-therapeutic male circumcision. Watson examines what little evidence there is in the the academic sphere and goes on to provide the stories of 50 men, from a wide range of cultures and ages, who tell us about their journeys from the discovery of what has been done to them, to the harm it has caused, and their reaction to that harm. Often men who have taken this path arrive at a positive or at least optimistic place.
What can no longer be in doubt, thanks to Watson’s book and the brave men who tell their stories, is that some men do suffer a significant amount of damage as a result of an anachronistic and inappropriate medical practice. Some men may claim to be unharmed and even be happy with their circumcision but the question lingers about how comfortable you are knowing that a large number of men do suffer in silence from the misguided parenting and the unnecessary medical treatment they have received. Surely the prudent course of action is to let the child mature and then make his own decision.
The following letter signed by twenty English men was published in the British Medical Journal in 1996.
Circumcision of children
We are all adult men who believe that we have been harmed by circumcision carried out in childhood by doctors in Britain. We are concerned about the ethics of this surgery on children and that it is commonly carried out when it is not essential. We have read the BMA’s ethical guidelines, which give no guidance to practitioners who are faced with a boy who has been referred for circumcision.  The possible future wishes of the patient should be considered. Although it was shown 28 years ago that preputial development continues to the age of 17 and that only three of 1968 boys needed surgery,  many British doctors still seem to be ignorant of this research.  The European charter for children in hospital states that every child must be protected from unnecessary medical treatment. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have rights to self determination, dignity, respect, integrity, and non-interference and the right to make informed personal decisions. Unnecessary circumcision of boys violates these rights.
A non-retractile foreskin in a boy can be managed conservatively. [4, 5] Circumcision should therefore rarely be necessary. It would be helpful if paediatric urologists could produce guidelines to advise doctors how foreskin problems in boys can be managed. Preferably, circumcision should not be done until the patient is adult or at least old enough to understand what is intended; then he has a right to a full, illustrated explanation of the nature of the operation and the reasons for it in advance, with the opportunity to ask questions, and help in coming to terms with the alteration of his anatomy afterwards. If the patient is not satisfied with the explanations his views should be taken into consideration. It cannot be ethical for a doctor to amputate normal tissue from a normal child. In the case of disease, circumcision should be used only when there is evidence that conservative treatment is unlikely to be effective or when it has failed. Avoiding surgery may even be cheaper for purchasers of health care. Doctors should approach the child's foreskin with a combination of good ethics, a recognition of the rights of children, and advice based on evidence.
(Signed) John P Warren, P David Smith, John D Dalton, Graham R Edwards, Marc Foden, Robert Preston, Philip Stewart, Adam Roberts, Philip C Cookson, Joseph Elliott, J S Phillips, James Williams, Matthew Mallinson-Read, Ian Morris, John Bowring, Rob Warburton, James Blazeby, Tony Peters, John Moore, John Stevens
1. BMA. Medical ethics today: its practice and philosophy. London: BMJ Publishing Group, 1993. [Note: This has now been superseded by British Medical Association, Medical Ethics Committee, The law and ethics of male circumcision: Guidance for Doctors, June 2006.]
2. Oster J. Further fate of the foreskin. Arch Dis Child 1968;43:200-3.
3. Griffiths D, Frank JD. Inappropriate circumcision referrals by GPs. J R Soc Med 1992;85:324-5.
4. Wright JE. The treatment of childhood phimosis with topical steroid. Aust NZ J Surg 1994;64:327-8.
5. Cuckow PM, Rix G, Mouriquand PDE. Preputial plasty: a good alternative to circumcision. J Pediatr Surg 1994;29:561-3.
On 29 October 2005 the British Guardian ran a major feature article, “Sore Point”, on the resentment felt by men who had been circumcised as children: "Circumcision – beloved by the Victorians … can be a cause of great anguish. Richard Johnson meets men finding ways to reverse a cut they wish they’d never had."
In response to a letter agreeing that circumcision was immoral but questioning the comparison with female genital mutilation, the Guardian published the following letter from John Dalton:
As a victim of male circumcision and a subject of Richard Johnson’s article (Sore Point, October 29), I have no wish to belittle the suffering of circumcised girls. I would, however, like to respond to Catherine Long’s objection to male circumcision being compared to female genital mutilation (Letters, November 5). Male and female circumcision both remove normal tissue from normal children without therapeutic need or personal consent. The time has come for children to be protected from non-therapeutic circumcision without prejudice in respect of race, religion or gender.
John D Dalton
UI [University of Iowa] freshman Neil Peterson grew up convinced that he was no different from other boys even though he spent much of those years in excruciating pain.
The Missouri native experienced uncomfortable erections from early childhood until two years ago, when the 24-year-old anthropology student discovered that he suffered from a rare complication after being circumcised too tightly. Since then, he's spoken out about the procedure and formed a local chapter of Students for Genital Integrity, a nationwide support group. "I had to recognize that I was unhappy the way I was," he said. "[Forming the group] was a very un-American thing for me to do, because society normalcy calls for circumcision in men. It has healed me to talk about it." Peterson said his complication was healed after he learned to stretch his foreskin out to alleviate his condition. Although he no longer experiences pain, he is dedicated to speaking out against genital mutilation. Circumcision and other types of bodily mutilation are crimes against human rights, Peterson said. His group contends that children should not be forcibly circumcised, as they now are as infants at their parents' request. The group is dedicated to educating the public and doctors that circumcision is not necessary, in addition to highlighting the dangers of sex-reassignment surgery to distinguish hermaphrodites as male or female.The group will be formally recognized as a UI student organization next week, Peterson said. Peterson is planning to hold fund-raisers and host speakers at the university and write to representatives, expressing the need for a law barring circumcision in the United States. The Circumcision Information and Resource Pages reports that approximately 60 percent of American males are circumcised, down from nearly 90 percent in the 1960s.
Edward Bell, a UI professor of pediatrics, said complications such as Peterson's are rare. The American Academy of Pediatrics says 0.2 to 0.6 percent of circumcisions end with complications. Bleeding and infection are two problems that can occur when a boy is circumcised, as well as scarring if the doctor removes too much foreskin. Bell said that circumcision has become an unnecessary procedure for most males. "Circumcision is more of a cultural issue than a medical one," he said. "It would be nice if parents didn't insist upon having their boys circumcised." Many parents don't want their boys to look different from their brothers, peers, or fathers, Bell said. "Circumcision has become cosmetic surgery, and it's really just a matter of personal preference," Bell said.
By Paula Mavroudis - The Daily Iowan (USA) 12/5/02
"Yes, we had it done" - Juliette Van Outen
"We decided to have our son, Jonas, circumcised, because my husband, Conrad, wanted to. He's circumcised, so it's a case of like father like son. We researched it before we had it done, and nothing really bothered me for or against it. However, Conrad's family are doctors and nurses, and they all encouraged us to have it done. "If I had another boy, I would have to have him circumcised too, because you can't have one boy done and not the other. But it was a horrible experience. Jonas was three weeks old when we took him to a doctor's surgery for the procedure. Apparently that's all this doctor does and all you could hear in the surgery was babies screaming. Now, I hear that doctors are doing it later, but I wouldn't have it done that way. At three weeks, Jonas screamed for about 20 minutes -- if they're older, they're more aware that it's hurting. I would recommend having it done earlier.
"After the circumcision, his penis was wrapped in gauze while it healed, and it was just so painful for me. We had to bath him in salt water to help the healing process and slowly pull the gauze away. As we were unwrapping it, some of the gauze was stuck to the skin and it was just horrible - hard and heartbreaking. Unless you've got the guts for it, I wouldn't do it. But I don't regret it. There are a lot of people saying to me now that less children are now being circumcised, so I don't know how that's going to effect Jonas as he's growing up. It's starting to worry me that he won't be like everybody else."
"No, we didn't have it done" - Vicki Redlich
"I always thought I would circumcise any sons I had, because I think a circumcised penis looks nicer, and because my husband, Anton, is circumcised. But when I had Saxon, I realised there was no way I was going to inflict unnecessary pain on my little boy. "Every time I thought about the actual procedure, I'd feel physically sick. When my husband brought up the subject -- he wanted Saxon to be done -- I'd say let's wait until he's six months, which is when babies can be anaesthetised. It was my way of buying time. Saxon turned six months and the subject was casually broached again. I said I didn't want to do it; that I couldn't see the pros outweighing the cons. Anton still said he wanted it done. We left it at that. Just before Saxon turned one, I read an article that confirmed my feelings against getting it done. The article described the pain of the procedure and the fact that uncircumcised men experience greater pleasure during sex. I told my husband that now I was adamantly against circumcision. He just said 'Well, I figured out pretty quickly that, when we didn't do it straight away, we wouldn't do it at all.' It wasn't a big issue between us, thankfully."
"I wish I had my old willy back" - Ginni Anderson
"Jon was circumcised when he was four. I deliberately chose not to have him (and my other boys) done as babies, but then when he was nearly four, Jon started to scream when he went to the toilet and I knew something was wrong. It turned out that his foreskin wouldn't retract and this was causing him pain when he did a wee. Our doctor convinced me that circumcision was the best option.
Jon had a general anaesthetic for the operation and came out of it quite quickly, but he was in lots of pain for weeks after. He screamed whenever he did a wee and he screamed the first time I put him in the bath after the operation. After that he wouldn't go near the bath for two weeks. His penis got infected and he needed antibiotics to clear it up. He kept crying and saying, "I wish I had my old willy back". It was really rough on Jon and created several weeks, if not a couple of months, of crying and pain, but we've had no problems since."
Source: "Circumcision: Fore(skin) and against" , Practical Parenting, June 2002
NOTE: It is not unusual for boys to go through a phase during which the foreskin balloons out when they urinate. This is nothing to worry about: it can actually help gently stretch the foreskin and detach it from the glans. Phimosis can now nearly always be successfully treated with steroid cream. It's pretty obvious that the parents who got their boys circumcised inflicted needless suffering and harm: the first case for no good reason at all, the third on the basis of bad medical advice. If your GP tells you that your boy "needs" to be circumcised, make sure you get a second opinion, preferably from a competent paediatrician, before you agree.
"I am an English atheist and my husband is an Egyptian Muslim. My son was born with undescended testicles and at the age of two and a half had an operation to bring them down permanently. Even though I was completely against it as a form of mutilation, my husband was adamant that our son would be circumcised one day - definitely in Egypt when he was older and without anaesthetic. As I thought it would be safer for him in England, under anaesthetic, and to avoid any further family conflict in the future, I thought it better to get it over and done with while he was having his other operation.
Not a day has passed since (it's been five years now) that I have not regretted giving in to my dominant husband. The pain my little boy went through with his penis weeping and covered in stitches for days afterwards, the thoughts of how it would affect him psychologically, how he would feel about being different from other boys, how it would affect his sexual pleasure when he grows up, how he might hate me one day for agreeing to this barbaric mutilation, and all these thoughts and more haunt me every day since. To have it done when there was no medical reason, no reason whatsoever for it having to be done - I just cannot live with my conscience without knowing there is any advantage whatsoever. If only I had said no, wait until he's older and can decide for himself - of course he never would have decided 'yes', who would agree to having the most sensitive part of their body mutilated?"
New York engineer Jonathan Friedman writes that he became aware of the damaged condition of his penis from an early age: “The unsightly scar around the shaft of my penis, halfway along its length. The discolored flesh above the scar which used to be the inside of my foreskin. The scar tissue where my frenulum used to attach to my glans. When I reached puberty, my erections were tight and painful. When I started masturbating, I didn’t understand that I needed to use lubrication, and as a consequence I seriously damaged my penis. The skin was bleeding, chaffed and flaking off. I was in pain. At this point I realized that the skin should be gliding back and forth over the shaft, but this was very difficult to do because my circumcision was so tight. I could only move the skin up towards my glans, pulling more hair-baring skin from my groin up onto my shaft. I couldn’t move my shaft skin downward at all. When I became sexually active, I realized I had virtually no touch-sensitivity. I felt devastated. Not much has changed since.
“I also frequently experience lymphedema, where the top of my penis above my circumcision scar fills up with fluid and swells. This happens spontaneously and during arousal. Recently I experienced a lymphedema episode where my penis didn't return to its normal size for over twelve hours. Due to all my issues with pain and swelling, I can only masturbate once or twice per month. Even with copious lubrication, my shaft skin becomes chaffed and bleeds. If I had the choice, I would not be circumcised.”
Source: Jonathan Friedman, On Circumcision, Authority and the Perpetuation of Abuse
by Elwyn Moir
I was in kindergarten when I first realised parts of my penis were missing - and it felt horrible. My parents were forthright in explaining my body to me as a child; I have clear early memories of bathing with my Dad and I can’t recall a time when I didn’t know I was circumcised. However, when I saw other preschool boys who had “the whole package” I was taken aback by the contrasts – their penises had interesting parts mine lacked, and the glans (head) of an intact penis looked glossier, smoother, moister and far healthier than mine.
Excessive removal of skin and mucosa is one of the most common results of neonatal circumcision, yet the true frequency of this injury and its adverse effects on physical and psychological development have never been adequately documented. In this account, Shane Peterson tells his own story of the lifelong trauma he has suffered as a result of the “routine neonatal circumcision” to which he was subjected soon after birth – an operation in which nearly all the skin of the penis shaft was removed in addition to the skin and mucosa of the foreskin.
The horrific results and damaging long term sequelae of this iatrogenic injury distorted Shane’s physical and psychological development, his sexuality, his perceived place in society, and his career. Doctors and psychiatrists were unsympathetic when he complained of pain and disfigurement. Reconstructive surgery to resolve the physical injury yielded such disappointing results that he attempted suicide. Eventually, Shane was able to achieve partial resolution of the psychological trauma through a combination of ongoing counselling, successful litigation against the operator, and an active commitment to public education about the detrimental effects of circumcision.
Alex was circumcised at 25 during an operation to correct a bend in his penis. The surgeon decided - without Alex's consent - to remove the foreskin, an action that other surgeons have subsequently confirmed as unnecessary. "There was a huge reduction in erogenous tissue," says Alex, now 29, a systems analyst from Oxfordshire. "The feeling of pleasure has changed so much that I haven't been able to achieve orgasm since the operation. It had a disastrous effect on my relationship: my partner wondered whether it was her fault, and that contributed to the end of our relationship. Since then I've found it hard to get into a new relationship. I am conscious of how I look, and girlfriends have given me quizzical looks. They are not used to seeing circumcised men. I haven't had the confidence to go into a public changing room since the operation."
Source: Simon Crompton, "The unkindest of cuts", Times (London), 13 January 2003
Dr David Nunn - Worst mistake of my life"
I was circumcised when I was 19 because I wanted to be "normal" like other young men. I am now many years down the track from 19 and I consider it to be the biggest and worst mistake of my whole life. The first time I masturbated after being circumcised it was an absolute let-down because the feeling was about one third the intensity of my pre-circumcision and has been ever since. By removal of the prepuce (foreskin) quite a large amount of nerve tissue is destroyed, and hence the wonderful feeling associated with the glans moving in and out of the prepuce. All doctors should be compelled to explain to the parents of innocent baby boys and to adults seeking circumcision the destructive effects of such a mutilation. (Sent to Canadian site offering special underwear to help protect penis and restore sensitivity in circumcised men: http://www.manhood.mb.ca/nunn.jpg)
David Louis, a 37 year old Aussie man living on the Gold Coast, got the idea that circumcision would improve his sex life. He had the operation, but the result was a disaster: "I had disgust with the surgeon for failing to warn me, and disgust with myself for letting this happen, and an overall feeling of bitter bitter disappointment of the loss of sexual feeling. Now, 30 months on, the foreskin removal is a horrendous loss to me and my sexual enjoyment."
I’m a 24-year-old man, originally from the former Soviet Union (Ukraine), where circumcision was not practiced (and was discouraged for that matter). When I was a toddler, I had a severe case of phimosis. My mother asked Soviet surgeons to remove my foreskin to cure the condition, but they refused, insisting on topical treatments. Eventually, treatments helped. And so the foreskin stayed. But he got circumcised in his twenties, after he had moved to the United States, and soon realised that it was the biggest mistake of his life.
British judge recalls horror of his double circumcision
On the first page of his autobiography the eminent British judge Lord Hailsham reports his birth in 1907 and what happened next:
My mother, who had strong views on certain subjects, saw to it that I was immediately circumcised. One would think that even then  this was a fairly simple operation, but for some reason it was not completely or immediately successful. It had to be done again when I was nearly ready for my private school. I was not told that it was going to be done; no anaesthetic was administered; I was just laid across the doctor’s knees and recircumcised. … I can still remember the pain, the blood, and my sense of total betrayal by the adult world.
Lord Hailsham, A Sparrow’s Flight: The Memoirs of Lord Hailsham (London: Collins 1990) p. 17.
The fact that, writing 80 years later, Hailsham opens his memoirs with the agony and shame of his circumcision drives home how deeply he was wounded by this “betrayal”. It is clear that his mind, as much as his body, was indelibly scarred by the experience.
Australian historian Russell Ward reports his distress at finding that his childhood playmates had something that he lacked
As a boy in rural north Queensland in the 1910s, “we spent many happy hours playing an outdoors game, unknown to grown-ups and, as far as I know, to the whole world outside Queensland. It was a kind of treasure hunt having at its core an additional, exciting, sexual element. A dozen or so boys of all shapes and ages would pick sides and then toss up a coin to decide which team would be the hunters and which the hunted. As with hide-and-seek the former group had to close their eyes for quite a time while the latter hid themselves and the treasure or talisman which the hunters must seek. The cardinal rule was that one member of the hunted side, which one being a closely guarded secret, had to secrete on his person a note giving directions for finding the treasure. The note was written in as small writing as possible on a tiny scrap of folded paper which could be secreted anywhere - in the lining if its bearer’s trousers, in his hair or even a nostril. Thus, every boy on the hunted team, when discovered, was subjected to a body search by all the hunters of the other side until the note was found. Then it changed hands and the hunters became the hunted. Usually, though not always, the clue was hidden under the captured boy’s foreskin. Much handling and minute examination of the genitals, strangely enough, seldom produced an erection; though with me it always did. As i was one of the very few boys in the whole World who had been circumcised, I was never entrusted with the note.
Russell Ward, A Radical Life: The Autobiography of Russell Ward (Melbourne: MacMillan 1988), p. 9.
Which goes to show that the foreskin has many valuable uses beyond the old cliche of “protecting the glans”, even in childhood.