When your husband wants to circumcise

One Mom’s Journey to Intactivism

A few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure to meet many of my heroes in intactivism, among them James Loewen.  James has a YouTube channel called Bonobo3D where he interviews real people in intactivism, and this is his interview of me.

In this video, I discuss how my husband and I decided not to circumcise our first child.  It was not a pretty process.  I confronted my husband head-on, announcing that we would not do it.  As you can imagine, a fight ensued.  He claimed that our baby needed to be circumcised to fit in with his family.  I countered that I had never seen my husband and his brothers sit around naked, comparing penises.  In fact, my husband had never even seen his father’s penis.  He said that the baby was his, too, and I couldn’t make all the choices.  I said that my son’s body was not a bargaining chip.  It was tense, and we screamed and fought.  After a while, I read The Vulnerability of Men, about the psychology of why men fight so hard to circumcise their sons, and it gave me enough perspective to be quiet and leave my husband alone.  As Mr. Bach says, “Men who have been circumcised have an extremely difficult dilemma. For them to acknowledge that the practice is unnecessary and harmful means that they must acknowledge a painful personal reality.”

I stopped trying to convince my husband.  I realized that his anger was not mine and it was not directed at me and I didn’t have to do anything to fix it.  I felt terrible for him, but I respected him as an adult and the man I loved to let him have his space to work out his feelings in his own way.  I put a few articles in the bathroom for him to read at his leisure, and eventually he did come back and say that we would not circumcise our son.  It took him three years and two sons for him to stop thinking that their penises looked weird, but now he is intactivist, too.

When parents disagree on circumcision, often the wife gets panicked to change her husband’s mind.  For some, it’s not enough that the baby not be circumcised; they need their husbands to be thrilled about it.  This is not realistic for many men, though.  The truth about circumcision is a bitter pill to swallow.  Not circumcising their sons means that a man has to face that he is missing part of his penis for no good reason.  That’s a horrible thought, and it is natural that a man would not want to face that.

Nevertheless, sparing your husband emotional pain is not a valid reason to inflict physical pain and damage on your child.  Your husband has no right over his son’s body.  He had a right to his own body all those years ago, and that right was denied, but that does not mean he now has the right to hide his pain by having his son circumcised.  As mothers, we need to stand firm, because in this situation, we are the only ones who can stand for the baby’s rights.  If we are trying to keep our husbands swaddled in denial, who will defend our sons?  Our husbands are adult men and they have the ability and the responsibility to face and deal with their own emotions.  This is their process, and we can be supportive, but we cannot rush or force it.  We may have to weather our husband’s misdirected anger while the painful emotions are being worked out in him, but we are strong, and we can do that.  The alternative is to allow our sons to be circumcised, knowing all the while that it is wrong.  If you think this is a viable alternative, read these stories of women who regret allowing their sons to be circumcised.

It is fundamentally unjust for a man to privilege his own denial and raw emotions over his son’s inherent right to bodily autonomy, but they cannot see this yet.  As wives of circumcised men, we have a narrow line to walk: we need to defend our sons because they cannot defend themselves, but we also need to treat our husbands with respect and kindness.  We cannot talk them out of their pain and we cannot force them to think what we want them to think.  This is their journey, and it is not an easy one, but we need to trust our husbands, and be patient, and love them.

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16 Responses to When your husband wants to circumcise

  1. Pingback: Debate, motives and rationalization » Moralogous

  2. Dave says:

    As a victim of circumcision I’d like to say that you mothers are brave protectors of your sons and great women, and that the so-called fathers who advocate genital mutilation for their sons are an absolute disgrace. Every day I think about what I’ve lost as a result of this ritualistic crime and it pisses me off.

  3. Meredith says:

    We are newly pregnant with our 2nd child and we do not know the gender, nor do we know if we will chose to find out. Our only child (so far..) is a girl and I didn’t know much about circumcision when I was pregnant with her, then we found out we were having a girl, so the topic never came up. Now I know how unnecessary and harmful, to say the least, RIC is. The problem is my husband. He doesn’t think it’s an issue. He won’t talk about it. Discuss it. Says I’m only finding people that agree with me, not unbiased studies and accounts. I want this to be discussed before we know if we are having a boy or girl (whether while pregnant OR at our baby’s birth).
    I need advice from a circumcised dad who chose not to circ his son(s).

    Any advice is appreciated!

    • Lilli Cannon says:

      He is reacting very normally for a circumcised man. Since you are newly pregnant, you have time. I know it seems hopeless now, but I’m sure it will be okay. As you can see, I just put my foot down and let him come around on his own time, and that was between 6 and 8 months pregnant. What kind of advice do you need from a circumcised dad who didn’t circumcise his sons?

    • hsextant says:

      Meredith, I don’t exactly fall into your category, I am a circumcised dad who deeply regrets circumcising my son. When my son was born, 1983, I was neither pro or anti circ. I never thought about it either way at the time. It was something one did for ah, well ah, health or hygiene reasons or something…I was 34 and had seen one uncircumcised penis in my life (6 years of gym class and 4 years of military service).

      In the late 90s, I ran into an anti-circ site on the internet and the full impact of circumcision hit me. So if my son had been born in 1997 instead of 1983, he would have never been circumcised…I would not permit it. Why?

      — I have no religious beliefs regarding circumcision and sincerely doubt that God sees this as anything but what it is: a brutal tribal custom dating back 2500 or so years.

      –The arguments for reduction in STD transfer are absurd, even if they are true–which I sincerely doubt. One can argue the worth of the African tests until they are blue in the face, but unless they can prove 100% efficacy against all STDs of what value is circumcision? You can be circumcised and have to wear a condom 100% of the time, or you can be uncircumcised and have to wear a condom 100% of the time. Anyone who thinks circumcision will save them from an STD is sadly and dangerously misinformed. Compare STD rates of Europe where circumcision is rare to North America where it is common.

      –The roots of circumcision in North America are an anti-masturbation and anti-sex campaign from Victorian moralists such as Dr. John Kellogg (of cornflake fame). Here is Kellogg’s recommendations for those young people practicing the dark art.
      “A remedy which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision, especially when there is any degree of phimosis. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases. The soreness which continues for several weeks interrupts the practice, and if it had not previously become too firmly fixed, it may be forgotten and not resumed.”
      For girls:
      “In females, the author has found the application of pure carbolic acid [phenol] to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement.”


      So there are the roots of circumcision in North America. In Britain apparently upper class mothers did not like teaching their sons proper cleaning of the penis as well as the beliefs that masturbation was going to reduce the world to a generation of hairy palmed, blind, idiots.

      –The Victorians were right about one thing, circumcision reduces sexual function. Again I can care less about all these claims of normal sexual function. If one destroys 15000 nerve endings common sense (something that we have lost to the experts) would suggest that there is going to be a difference. Removal of the foreskin also affects the quality of the interaction of the penis with the vaginal wall resulting in more vigorous thrusting and abrasion to the penis and vaginal walls.

      –I have always been a pre-mature ejaculator. The Masters and Johnson exercises were not effective. For me to give my wife an orgasm before I ejaculate I must take her to the edge of orgasm with oral sex (a delight in its own right but not something I believe that I should be forced to do because John Kellogg didn’t like masturbation). Perhaps your husband does not have this problem…but how can he guarantee that your son will not.

      –I have read that the US and Israel are the biggest consumers of Viagra. There is some thought that circumcision may lead to impairment of the penis starting as early as the 40s.

      –All this brouhaha about a son should look like his father, hmmm. I have no idea if my father was circumcised. I haven’t seen my son’s penis since he was 5 years old and I don’t think he ever saw mine. I have yet to see a family holiday where all the men unzipped, pulled out their schlongs, had a good look, and reveled in the similarity and artistry of their circumcisions. Perhaps I lead a provincial family life.

      –Once you put the steak through the meat grinder, all you have is ground meat–you can’t get your steak back. Despite the efforts of restoration, one will never get a fully functioning restored penis. 15,000 nerve endings and the mucuosa layer are gone and will not be restored. (There is some effort using stem cells–but I think that is a long way down the road and will be very expensive.)

      –Circumcision is violation of the infant’s human rights. If your son wants to be circumcised, he can alway choose to do so (my guess is that will most likely never happen–despite being the odd man out at the above mentioned holiday gatherings). I never had the choice of circumcision for myself, and I denied that choice to my son.

      –Circumcision is losing commonality. Fears about gym class and female rejection have less bearing in today’s society. Depending on where you reside, circumcision could be in the minority.

      I feel that I have a damaged penis. Yes it still functions but at some fraction of efficiency of what it would be if I were intact. I feel that the quality of my wife and my sex life has been substandard and when I realize that this is due to predominantly the bizarre ideas of moralistic Victorian prudes, it pisses me off…and to realize that I allowed the same savagery to occur to my son without a moments thought is a source of deep shame to me.

      I do not understand fathers who insist that their sons should be circumcised. I suffered corporeal punishment at school and was drafted into the military to potentially die in a meaningless war conducted by politicians who had no idea of what the hell they were doing. Do I want those things for my son just because I had to live through them? Do I want my son circumcised because I was circumcised by a society that did not know what the hell it was doing or why? No, but too late, that ship has already sailed for me due to my own ignorance and the ignorance of the times. You have been given the gift of enlightenment regarding this issue. Don’t let it be in vain. As Lily said stick to your guns. Parental rights are secondary to the rights of the child.

    • hsextant says:

      I ran into an article today published in Pediatrics, which is the official journal of the American Academy of Peditricians. It is about the cultural bias in the Academy’s position on circumcision. It is relatively short, well reasoned, and I think explains the argument against infant circumcision rather well. It is written by a panel of mostly European pediatricians, pediatric surgeons and sexologists. All the authors are MDs.


      I hope this article may provide some basis for an intelligent discussion between you and your husband regarding circumcision.

    • emmegebe says:

      Meredith, I’m the mother of three intact boys. Their father is circumcised. He was surprised at first when I said I didn’t want our firstborn circumcised, because he had never really thought much about it, but came around pretty quickly when I laid out the arguments. It sounds as if your husband is more reluctant to change his mind. I really like Lilli’s approach of sharing information in a low-key way and backing off, allowing the man to process it in his own time. I think that would have worked with my husband. One of the better points, to him, was that the foreskin does have a purpose for sexual function and pleasure. He agreed that it wasn’t right or fair to take that away from our sons without their having any say in the matter.

  4. Shteln says:

    This is a brilliant, compassionate post. Thank you so much.

  5. Jamie says:

    My wife is adamant that our son should be circumcised because she believes that it is a very important part of being Muslim. I was not born into a Muslim family, and was not unfortunate enough to have been mutilated without my consent. I am therefore adamant that my son remain intact until he chooses to be otherwise.

    Nobody on this earth is going to protect my son from this senseless barbarism except me. I will not sign a consent form for this, but I don’t expect that this will stop my wife from finding someone equally brainwashed to carry out the procedure without my consent. She saw no issue with secretly arranging for my daughter’s ears to be pierced against my wishes.

    Despite my objections, my wife has begun the process of making an appointment. If she does not change her plans when I tell her that I will not consent, I am willing to do anything – I’ll even threaten divorce.

    Can anybody reading this suggest how I can protect my son without having to do something that damages the rest of our lives?

    • Lilli Cannon says:

      Divorce won’t stop it from happening, though it would involve the courts in making decisions for your children. I would find an attorney (http://arclaw.org/ might be able to help) and pursue a restraining order against this happening.

      In addition, though I don’t know if arguing religion with her is a good idea, circumcision is NOT in the Quran itself. It’s actually only in some of the Hadith (sayings attributed to the Prophet), and there are many conflicting Hadith traditions. Perhaps you could pitch it as letting him find his own way in faith?

    • hsextant says:

      I agree with Lily, a restraining order is the only way you can proceed. The problem with a restraining order is that it will not be common knowledge. You can’t tattoo the restraining on your son. She could find some one that will do the procedure with out knowledge of the order if she has custody of your son. So the restraining order must have enough teeth in it that she is not going to blow it off, and you have to have enough willpower to convince her beyond a doubt that you will prosecute her to the fullest extent of the law with the restraining order. This is going to take some intestinal fortitude. Are you willing to send your wife to jail? And most likely, bitterly, after the fact? If the restraining order is a fine for $500 and a slap on the wrist, you are wasting your time.

      The other thing I could see coming out of this is a battle over religious freedom. Are you violating her religious rights? Does she have the right to practice her religion when it flies in the face of your parental rights? I am not close enough to Philadelphia to even hazard a guess. I would like to think that your son is the ultimate consideration in any such battle, but the only thing I am sure of is your son under US law has no right to intact genitals even though your daughter does. Good luck on this and I hope you will keep us informed of how this proceeds.

    • roger desmoulins says:

      The law should read that the circumcision of a boy should require the signature of both parents. This will not happen soon. I live in a country where a child can get a passport without his father’s signature.

      I am very surprised to read that your wife feels so strongly about Islam as to insist that your son be circumcised, yet she willingly married an intact infidel. To be very blunt, your wife’s entire sex life is with an intact penis, and yet she is adamant about your son having a bald penis??

      Infant circumcision is not the Moslem norm, which is doing it between the age of 5 and 10, when your son is old enough to express an opinion, which a court should take into account.
      Remind your wife that your son is always free to go under the scalpel later in life, when the act will have far more religious and existential meaning.

      My father and his mother wanted me circumcised. My mother did not. My grandmother began talking about taking me to a doctor and having me done without my mother’s involvement. My mother then put her feet down. If I were circumcised without her prior knowledge and consent, she would leave my father and return to her family of origin in Europe, taking me with her. In those days, had my mother done what she threatened to do, it would have meant that it was likely that my father would not see me again until I was an adult. All this happened in the 1940s.

  6. Pingback: Real Stories: I changed my mind about circumcision and left my second son intact. » Moralogous

  7. tricia says:

    I’m leaving the choice up to my husband. He isn’t circumcised. I told him I don’t have a penis I don’t have a right to make that choice.

  8. GregH says:

    This is an excellent description of the biggest obstacle facing intactivism. I know several parents who cut their son because the fathers claim that theiraltered genitalia “works great.” I explain that they have no basis for comparison, but the psychological hurdle is too high.

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