Loving and gentle intactivism is the most effective

Source: http://xkcd.com/386/

by Lillian Dell’Aquila Cannon

The question I pose to all intactivists is this: Do you want to be righteously angry, or do you want to save babies?

When I first started learning about choosing to keep my son intact nine years ago, intactivism was not very strong or well-formed, and there was much more actual online debate of circumcision.  It was common for there to be one intactivist against a sea of pro-circumcision debaters.  Now, the situation seems to have reversed: I often see one pro-circumcision parent being attacked by a sea of intactivists.  Though it may seem like progress for us and it may feel nice to be part of a group instead of being alone, we need to reign this in if we want to actually end circumcision.

It may sound heretical, but I can assure you that parents who had their sons circumcised are not actually bad people.  We live in a culture where circumcision was normalized for nearly 80 years, and the intact penis was vilified as dirty, disgusting, unappealing to women, and associated with the lower class.  Though we know these are all untrue, the many people in the U.S. still believe these myths.  There is plenty of (mis)information to support them in this belief, and it is quite possible that an expectant parent could go the entire pregnancy and never hear anyone advocate for keeping their baby intact.  Even if they do hear any intactivist arguments, they are likely to see the decision as a matter of taste, and thus will decide based on their perception of their child “fitting in” to some desirable group, whether that be his father’s family, or social group, or (God forbid) country club.  You see, parents want to do what’s best for their child, and a lot of them think that circumcision is what’s best.  To them, it’s a slam dunk: they believe that circumcised penises are cleaner, prettier and normal.  They have never heard of a man being unhappy to be circumcised, or of a baby dying from it.  Why would they NOT circumcise their child?

Parenting is terrifying, and we are often making it up as we go along.  On top of that, we have our entire society scrutinizing mothers for evidence to pronounce them “good” or “bad” depending on the decisions they have made and their child’s behavior, even if much of the outcome is due to dumb luck.  This is a tremendous amount of pressure to put on a new parent, given that she is hormonally-challenged, perhaps sleep-deprived, and pretty lost and confused.  Some of these mothers even worried about the circumcision causing their babies pain, and felt terrible about it, though they also felt that it was necessary.  Because of our cultural idea that men should be strong and not complain about pain, circumcision neatly fits into this cultural mold as the first in a string or painful experiences a man will have and during which is expected to remain “tough.”

We intactivists have our own difficult emotional journey.  Once you know all the facts about circumcision, it is easy to become very angry.  New intactivists often wonder how can people willfully and unnecessarily hurt their babies, damage their sexual response, and risk their lives for a pack of myths?  If they chose to keep their child intact, they are often mocked and challenged by their friends and family.  This makes new intactivists feel very alone, as though they are living in a crazy society, and they think that everyone is against them.  If the intactivist is a circumcised man who has just learned about all he has lost, his anger is especially intense, and rightly so.  The most sensitive part of his penis was torn from him when he was one day old, and he cannot get it back, and on top of that, he feels that no one cares.  He cannot share his grief, because our culture promotes the idea that to do so would be unmanly, whiny and ridiculous.  His isolation and grief is so intense that it can consume him for a long time.

What happens, then, when a parent who chose circumcision meets an angry intactivist?  Often, nothing good.  I have seen some horribly cruel online attacks on circumcising parents, and this disgusts me.  For the parents who chose circumcision, the new information, if true, means that they inadvertently hurt their children.  This is a very tough pill to swallow.  They were trying to do the right thing, they likely worried about it, and now they are told that they did the wrong thing.  These factors all combine to give the parent a very strong incentive to deny the harm of circumcision and continue to assert that circumcision is not harmful.  This is because it causes cognitive dissonance in their brains, and the human mind always works to resolve cognitive dissonance.  It works like this:

I would never hurt my child.

But they are saying that circumcision did hurt my child. 

I cannot be a person who would hurt my child.

Therefore, circumcision did not hurt my child. 

There is another alternative to resolve the dissonance, and that is to say, “I did not know that circumcision was bad, and had I know that, I would not have chosen it, but I did what I thought was right then, and I regret that, and I would not do that again.”  However, this is a very emotionally and spiritually sophisticated piece of reasoning, and it is the rare circumcising parent who quickly resolves her cognitive dissonance in this honest and difficult way.  We are all human beings, doing our best to cope with life, and we should have empathy for each other in our struggles.

If the intactivist carrying the message doesn’t just give facts about circumcision, but also calls the parent closed-minded or stupid, or calls circumcision child abuse, mutilation or torture, though these words may technically be true, he only makes the circumcising parent’s emotional process harder, and decreases the chances of changing his or her mind.  Lading circumcision with such strong emotional judgments only increases the psychological pressure to resolve the cognitive dissonance in favor of circumcision not being wrong.  Think of it: this parent is now being pressured to admit, “I am a child abusing, close-minded idiot who mutilated and tortured my child.”  How likely do you think it will be for her to accept this?  If it is the father who is himself circumcised, do you think he wants to say, “I am mutilated and sexually deficient and I cannot change it and I did it to my son?”  Absolutely not.

The same process is at work when intactivists angrily confront doctors and religious leaders who perform circumcisions.  Attacking them as serial mutilators who profit from deception and sex crimes only lets them marginalize intactivism as a crazy fringe element.  On top of that, if we expect them to swallow such a statement, they fear being subject to potential lawsuits and ostracism by their colleagues who continue to perform circumcisions.  After all, they have made money from circumcision, but not because they are evil liars.  They, too, are part of our culture, and they think they are helping the children, or at least not harming them terribly.  Doctors are socialized in their training to cut off their empathy for patients lest they become paralyzed and unable to function in emotionally-charged cases.  Their medical training makes them this way – they are not naturally cold and uncaring people.

It is normal to go through a stage of furious anger in one’s journey through intactivism.  I have yet to meet an intactivist who has not.  I had to take a year-long break from intactivism because whenever I tried to advocate for babies’ human rights, I became so angry and bitter that I turned people off.  Bill Moyer, creator of the Movement Action Plan for changing society, says that activists have to continually work on their personal growth in order to be effective in their advocacy.  I have certainly found this to be true, and all the most effective intactivists I know have moved through their anger to a place of loving care for everyone, circumcising parents included.  People will hear our tone before they hear our message, and if our tone is angry, they will ignore the message.

Intactivists, our view is not yet the mainstream view, and if we expect society to adopt our viewpoint, we cannot continually set roadblocks to this process.  Rather, we should do everything we can to make it easy for the mainstream to accept our view.  Expecting them to go instantly and easily from seeing circumcision as positive and normal to seeing it as sexual abuse and mutilation is foolish and naive.  Some of you may have clearly and quickly seen circumcision for what it is, but you are in the minority.  Many of the most dedicated among us took years to see circumcision as fundamentally wrong, and we need to allow others the same time to make this difficult journey.

The most effective intactivism meets people where they are, and if their child and spouse are circumcised, where they are is believing circumcision to be normal and beneficial.  Educate them calmly and with facts.  Teach them that circumcision is not painless, is not cleaner, does not prevent disease, and does not make sex better.  Teach them about the babies and men who were harmed by circumcision.  Teach them that most of the rest of the world rejects circumcision.  Show them real people who reject circumcision.  Expect them to get angry with you and even to attack you personally, but realize that they are not actually angry at you.  Though their struggle is all internal, you can either aid or hinder it with your attitude.  If you attack them, they will likely shut down, and you will have created a fervent pro-circumcision parent.  If you support them in their confusion and impending grief, they are more likely to come around.  Let them see how choosing intact is becoming normal, and forgive them for circumcising their children.  No mother sets out to harm her child, and when she learns about circumcision, she will punish herself enough.  Adding to it via shame and ridicule will only keep intactivism on the fringe.


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57 Responses to Loving and gentle intactivism is the most effective

  1. Frank OHara says:

    Lilli, everything you have written is quite true and accurate.

    I did go through the anger stage myself. I realized eventually it was compromising my message and took some difficult steps to quell that anger. It eventually worked.

    “It was common for there to be one intactivist against a sea of pro-circumcision debaters.”

    Yes! I remember 12 years ago, it was me against the multitudes. Now it’s quite the opposite.

    “I often see one pro-circumcision parent being attacked by a sea of intactivists”

    I have often seen this accusation. In my experience, there were no attacks, only the accusation. It leads me to believe the complainer is feeling a bit of remorse and is trying to turn the tables. We don’t like seeing the accurate information if it describes us.

    “We live in a culture where circumcision was normalized for nearly 80 years, and the intact penis was vilified as dirty, disgusting, unappealing to women, and associated with the lower class”

    It goes back way further than 80 years. The Philistines of the New Testament were not circumcised and were accused of being “dirty.” Maybe they were but not because of their genitals. This accusation came into the 20th century from a long way back.

    “and associated with the lower class.”

    There is an element of truth to that. In the late 18th and early 19th century, if the parents were perceived as not able to pay for the procedure, it wasn’t done. If they were perceived as wealthy enough, it was done without asking and included on the physicians bill. This is where the association with lower class came from. To some degree, it still persists today although I have found that better educated parents (access to the internet) are rejecting it. I suspect eventually, intactness will be associated with a higher class.

    “You see, parents want to do what’s best for their child, and a lot of them think that circumcision is what’s best.”

    Thankfully, that is begining to change and it is changing rapidly, far faster than I would have ever imagined just a few years ago.

    “To them, it’s a slam dunk: they believe that circumcised penises are cleaner, prettier and normal.”

    This is the effect of culture. A woman’s vulva is more biologically “dirty” but no one would ever consider cutting it up to make it cleaner.

    “They have never heard of a man being unhappy to be circumcised,”

    Men won’t approach that. It’s a form of self defense.

    “or of a baby dying from it.”

    This is the great hidden secret. If these deaths were made public in the media, the circumcision rate would drop drastically and instantly. Take the recent case of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old black youth shot and killed by a man in the neighborhood he was passing through. It has been front page news for weeks now even though it is not unusual for young blacks to be killed.

    “If the intactivist carrying the message doesn’t just give facts about circumcision, but also calls the parent closed-minded or stupid, or calls circumcision child abuse, mutilation or torture, though these words may technically be true, he only makes the circumcising parent’s emotional process harder, and decreases the chances of changing his or her mind.”

    Yes, and there is always the association with female genital cutting. Typically, this association is not made by intactivists yet we have to deal with it. Few people realize the correlations between the two.

    “Think of it: this parent is now being pressured to admit, “I am a child abusing, close-minded idiot who mutilated and tortured my child.” How likely do you think it will be for her to accept this?”

    We protect ourselves with cognitive dissonance. It is instinctual. It is the normal place to go and we go there.

    “Attacking them as serial mutilators who profit from deception and sex crimes only lets them marginalize intactivism as a crazy fringe element.”

    This is the problem . . . Well meaning uneducated parents + children + sexual organs is a potentially explosive combination.

    “The same process is at work when intactivists angrily confront doctors and religious leaders who perform circumcisions. Attacking them as serial mutilators who profit from deception and sex crimes only lets them marginalize intactivism as a crazy fringe element.”

    Now, I don’t think of this as a problem. Sorry to disagree with you. These people do it over and over again. To me, it’s like a serial criminal. At some point, they’ve got to consider their actions and consider whether what they are doing is ethical. Attacking their beliefs and practices is a form of marginalizing them, of setting them apart from society and calling attention to their failure to really think about what they are doing. Think about how the boys will feel about them taking such liberties with their sexuality.

    “Attacking them as serial mutilators who profit from deception and sex crimes only lets them marginalize intactivism as a crazy fringe element.”

    I remember when these attacks were common. We are no longer a “fringe element.” Our numbers are now legion. We are very close to mainstream now as the statistics show. The circumcision rate has fallen from near 90% just two decades ago to 32.5% or less now. Circumcision was a fad like the leisure suits of the 1970’s. Unfortunately, we could throw the leisure suits away but a circumcision can not be thrown away. It’s permanent and prima facie evidence of another time.

    “Educate them calmly and with facts. Teach them that circumcision is not painless, is not cleaner, does not prevent disease, and does not make sex better. ”

    These are the myths of the 1920’s that were used to make the procedure nearly universal. If it were painless, it is acceptable. We now know it is extraordinarily painful. We also know that only about 6% of babies get any form of pain relief. Those promoting circumcision make all kinds of excuses. Some actually believe that less than a teaspoon of wine will stop the pain. If that’s true, give me a fifth of Jack Daniels the next time I have abdominal surgery and I’ll be OK. The claim is also made that if it is quick, there will be no pain but automobile accidents and the injuries take place in fractions of a second and they are far from painless.

    Likewise, “cleaner” is an American thing. Our (the US) origins were of the Christian faith and the Bible states that “cleaness is next to Godliness.” By all means, we have to be clean! Even if it means we have to cut parts of our children off. About the same time “The Germ Theory” was developed, infant circumcision was really coming into vogue and urine was considered to be “dirty.” What most people don’t know is that urine is sterile unless the person has a urinary tract infection.

    The disease prevention argument only comes from those who know little about biology and immunology. Bacterials, fungals (yeasts) and virals can not discern or discriminate between male and female cells. This means that the exact same infectious agents that affect females also affect and infect males. It also means that the EXACT SAME medications that work for females will be equally effective for males. However, I have often seen reports of males who had “uncurable and repeat infections.” Those don’t exist for males any more than they do for females. It is exceedingly rare for females to have genital surgery as treatment for these infections though quite common for males. I suspect that most are not true, just a justification for circumcision.

    Curcumcision certainly does not make sex better. Some males circumcised as adults make this claim when in fact, they are defending their decision. There is also a tendency of circumcised males to be extremely defensive. Search Aesop’s fable about “The Fox Who Lost His Tail” The psychology behind this defensive position will become obvious.

    “Let them see how choosing intact is becoming normal”

    Absolutely! Explain that 80% of the men in the world are not circumcised and those countries are not rushing to adopt circumcision. Europe has a circumcision rate around 1% to 2% or less. The 1 or 2 percent are those like Jews or Muslims that do it as a religious obligation that has nothing to do with health. If there were health benefits, these developed nations would be rushing to adopt it. They are not. As a matter of fact, Great Britian once had a high circumcision rate and now it is neglible and they have no plans to go back to where they were.


    • psandz says:

      Hi Frank, in your comment you say:
      “Curcumcision certainly does not make sex better. Some males circumcised as adults make this claim when in fact, they are defending their decision. There is also a tendency of circumcised males to be extremely defensive.”
      I think you and other intactivists who argue in this vein are missing the point, which is that the great majority of men who get circumcised in adulthood do so for a foreskin problem (most commonly phimosis). If you go to “sexual effects of circumcision” in Wiki, you will find about a dozen studies listed and referenced; in many of them, the result is that circumcised men do NOT report diminished sexuality. But if you open those studies, you will perceive the real reason for this oddity; about 90% of the men represesented in those studies elected CORRECTIVE (therapeutic) circumcision, i.e. they had a dysfunctional foreskin. You need to look at the study design and evidence, since many of these studies are given dubious/false titles, so you don’t initially realise that they consist of mostly corrective circumcisions.
      Because they consisted of therapeutic surgeries, their results have absolutely no predictive value or relevance to the effects of non-therapeutic circumcision of minors. This fact does not stop “pro-circers” from exploiting those studies, to attempt to justify the removal of healthy foreskin from minors.
      Removing dysfunctional or painful foreskin could of course enhance sex, by at least making it bearable, but it does not allow us to predict the sexual effect of non-therapeutic surgery. That should be our chief argument, not the opinion (most often uttered by intactivists) that circumcised men are probably in denial about sexual loss. The reason that intactivists usually fall into this “denialist” mode is that they can’t be bothered to read the studies exploited by pro-circers, and so fail to provide a convincing refutation. Let’s get this right!

      • Lilli Cannon says:

        Thank you for your comment. In reading many studies of men circumcised in adulthood, I came to the conclusion that it is pointless to try to group all such men into one group that was satisfied with their circumcisions and one that was not, and then to predict outcomes in the future. In reality, some men chose to be circumcised because they had taken the old anti-foreskin view of our society to heart, and thus circumcision made them feel normal and they perceived it to be a good thing. Some men had problems, like you said, and perceived circumcision to be a positive thing. Some men had problems, yet were unhappy with their circumcisions because of the sexual loss, and perceived it to be a bad thing. Some men didn’t really need to be circumcised, and on and on and on.

        The real conclusion we intactivists should draw and trumpet is that we don’t know how any given man will feel about being circumcised, so we should not force it on a child. As he is the one who will live with the outcome, he should make the decision.

        • psandz says:

          I agree with your viewpoint and analysis. I made my comment to put intactivists on guard against the sophistry or dishonest reasoning so typical of “pro-circers” (or people who argue that the circumcision of minors should be a parental choice). As I said, the studies investigating the sexual effects of circumcision in developed nations are all based on the therapeutic (corrective) circumcision of adults. Most of those studies found that sexual pleasure was not diminished significantly following circumcision. Brian Morris, Edgar Schoen and Jake W. (amongst others) have frequently used those study indings to justify non-therapeutic infant circumcision, by claiming that the evidence indicates there is no sexual loss associated with circumcision. The CDC and AAP have also fallen into the trap of misapplication of studies in order to trivialise infant circumcision.
          We need to roundly refute them by pointing out that the studies they rely on are irrelevant to the non-therapeutic circumcision of minors, since this removes HEALTHY foreskin.
          An analogy would be patients who have undergone eye laser therapy to correct myopia. Many of those patients may be satisified with the outcome. But imagine an ophthalmologist using those anecdotal patient findings to recommend eye laser therapy for EVERYONE, regardless of their vision! Just as that therapy is only likely to help people with myopia, circumcision can only be expected potentially to help men with a foreskin dysfunction.
          I advise intactivists to open the studies referenced in Wiki’s “sexual effects of circumcison” to understand my argument fully. In those studies, about 90% of the men who elected circumcision had a foreskin problem. Really, their anecdotal evidence could be considered to be a disaster for circumcision, since in most cases the result was no better than “neutral”. A corrective surgery that fails to produce a clear positive result is a poor result. So even the studies that the pro-circumcision lobby want to use to bolster their position backfires. More importantly, though, it is irrelevant to the routine or non-therapeutic circumcision of minors.

  2. Lilli Cannon says:

    Thank you for your comments, Frank. I appreciate all your support through the years. I would not have made it through my angry phase without you.

    I follow many circumcision discussions on Facebook, and you would not believe the level of nastiness that I see. I, too, used to think that these were false accusations put forth by defensive circumcising parents, but having seen enough of them happen, I know they really happen. The fact that “the enemy” may be nasty does not excuse responding in kind, because as you always said, “We are not arguing to change the mind of the person attacking us; we are arguing to change the minds of the lurkers.”

  3. PianoChick says:

    I learned this lesson the hard way. I talked to my husband about circumcision, years before we had a son, or even before children. He got angry and upset and stated that our children WOULD be circumcised. I argued and got upset too. I am thankful when I did get pregnant with a boy, I was able to find the article The Vulnerability of Men by Vincent Bach. It changed my entire outlook on approaching my husband, and later on intactivism. My husband didn’t come around before our son was born, but he did “give in” and “allow” me to keep our son intact. He’s 2 now, and my husband has actually said a few anti-circumcision things recently. Gentle intactivism has worked wonderfully for my family.

  4. Judith says:

    While you are absolutely correct that you get more bees with honey than vinegar, it is VERY hard to be nice to people who refuse to listen. I’m as stubborn as they come, but it only took a conversation with two other people and following a few of their links to convince me I was wrong. So I find it nearly impossible to stomach someone calling my son gross and ugly because I left him as he was born, or being told he has a bulls-eye on his forehead because of his foreskin in his pants, or being told that my son will probably either commit suicide because of the bullying or be a 40 year old virgin due to bimbos not wanting his “unclean” penis. So no, I can’t practice intactivism in a nice way, since I’m beyond disgusted by these ignorant and stupid people who refuse to listen and learn.

    Do I have sympathy for parents who did it and then regret it because they finally realize it was wrong? Yes, but only if they truly were uninformed before they let their son go under the scalpel. Because if they were told by another intactivist about all the harm circumcision does, but they did it anyway, shame on them, and I hope they regret it the rest of their lives. Yes, that is harsh, but I’ve lost real life friends over this, and I was NICE about it. So no, I’m no longer nice, unless it’s with someone who genuinely wants to learn about this barbaric practice, and listen with an open mind.

    Great blog though! :)

  5. Heather Green says:

    “So I find it nearly impossible to stomach someone calling my son gross and ugly because I left him as he was born, or being told he has a bulls-eye on his forehead because of his foreskin in his pants, or being told that my son will probably either commit suicide because of the bullying or be a 40 year old virgin due to bimbos not wanting his “unclean” penis.”

    I am currently taking a break from “debating” about circumcision myself, and the quote above is the exact reason that I needed to step back. I just go completely nuts when some close-minded, uneducated person implies that my wonderful, intelligent sons will be unable to clean their own normal, healthy body parts or will be rejected or teased someday for having a whole body. It was actually keeping me up at night thinking about it, and I realized that it probably was not healthy. I agree with the article, but sometimes gentle education is easier said than done when you are provoked in this manner. I hope that I am able to do it someday.

    • Lilli Cannon says:

      In these situations, realize that to those reading and following the debate, that nastiness will be obvious, and it will turn them off. That is why we must always remain kind and calm, even in the face of such provocation. Those accusations are not true, and she is being a horrible person, so don’t join her in the nastiness. Develop a list of links that you keep on your desktop, or use the CIRP library (http://www.cirp.org/library/), and calmly rebut her statements. Much of the time, people respond to a person’s tone, and what they say is not as important. When they see two people debating, and one is nasty and cruel, and the other one has calm facts, they will give more weight to the calm person. I get that it is incredibly hard, but bear in mind that all that bad humor is *her* issue and makes her life unpleasant. Be grateful you are not her.

  6. roger desmoulins says:

    Ms Cannon, you are simply correct through and through. May your wisdom prevail. You also write unusually well.

    That quite a few men are coarse and immature when they argue on the internet is a regrettable fact of life — ladies beware of arguing with such men. I too have been horrified at the way intactivism can lead some women to reveal a coarse bullying side. The whole point is that American infant circumcision without anesthesia cannot be a way of love. That rules out using unloving methods to coax people back onto the right path.

    I never use any form of the verb “to mutilate.” Routine circ harms a child SOMETIMES, not ALWAYS. The people who should know better are not parents, and often not even doctors, but medical school professors. And the objective of intactivism should not be one of “forbidding” RIC, but rather one of completing the sex ed of the typical American parent, so that a large majority of them will come to see circumcision as undesirable. Once the rate falls to 20-30%, the desire of parents to have children that conform will take care of the rest. For me, the prime objective is to grant doctors the freedom to refuse to do it because it violates their professional judgement.

    • Lilli Cannon says:

      Thank you, Roger. You are always so kind. You hit the nail on the head when you said, “The whole point is that American infant circumcision without anesthesia cannot be a way of love. That rules out using unloving methods to coax people back onto the right path.” That is exactly my point, and I wish I had made it better and more explicit. There will always be jerks and nasty people, but it should be obvious based on how bad it makes us feel to be on the receiving end that we absolutely do not want to engage similar tactics. As the bumper stickers say, “Love wins.” Indeed, this verges on spiritual exercise.

  7. Robin Karasinski says:

    You posts are always so enlightening to me and so amazingly well-written. Though you personally know of the issues that I have faced with my own son (and I will not open that up here for debate) you always seem to open my eyes a little wider with your posts! And though the majority of them make me cry, I am looking forward to reading the next =)

  8. Maria says:

    Thank you for normalising the anger of intactivists. I too learned the hard way, and brought my fiery red-headed opinions to the debate – in the beginning. After falling flat on my face, and really hurting people I care about, I learned very quickly that it’s how you present the message, more than the message itself. After all, anger is always a secondary emotion, usually hiding very deep pain.

    I think most intactivists go through the stages of grief when they learn about circumcision: denial, anger, blame, depression, and finally acceptance. We must expect our culture to go through this same cycle. Denial and anger are the first two stages, and the ones we so often encounter on the interwebs. And as cathartic as being a total asshole can be, it’s not productive.

    Thank you for your wisdom and gentle way of speaking to intactivists about how WE should be communicating this message to the people in our lives.

    • hsextant says:

      @ Maria

      You said: “And as cathartic as being a total asshole can be, it’s not productive.”

      I should have sampler with that quote hanging on my wall. It is cathartic though!

  9. Jennifer says:

    I’m sorry, but I cannot just read this and not comment. I am a firm believer that we are all entitled to our own feelings and beliefs. However, I am not a believer that people need to conform to my views just because I think they are better than everyone else’s. I applaud you in your confidence towards what you believe, but I think it is 110% wrong of you to push your beliefs on others and to tell others that they are wrong for doing something that you don’t agree with. Please, get off your soapbox.

    I had my son circumcised and, if I ever have another son, I will get him circumcised as well. Pro-circumcision is what I am, but I would NEVER tell another parent that they are wrong for not circumcising their child. I would NEVER tell another parent how to parent THEIR child. I’m sorry, but not every parent feels this “guilt” that you claim we all feel once we learn the “truth” about the procedure we had done to our sons. I did not mutilate my son. Did it hurt him?? I’m sure it did. Was it the best thing for him?? Who really knows… He is a happy, energetic 2 year old and that is what is important.

    I respect your views, but all you “intactivists” need to stop trying to control the world. Your views aren’t any better than mine or anyone else’s; just different. Please, stop assuming what us pro-circumcisioners think and feel and we won’t assume to know what you think and feel.

    • Maria says:

      I understand your defensiveness and the compulsion to say, ‘stop telling me how to parent, it’s my decision.’ After all, as parents we are constantly faced with decisions and criticism concerning our children, and we all want to believe what we are doing for them is the best. I don’t believe any parent’s choice to circumcise their child comes from a place other than love and wanting what is best.

      What ‘Intactivists’ like Lillian and others aim to do, and the point of this post, is to educate. The foreskin is erogenous tissue, it’s a healthy and important part of male sexuality. This truth has been lost to Americans, and the pervasive demonising and misinformation about the foreskin is medical fraud. I mean, I was taught in SCHOOL that the foreskin was a useless flap of skin.

      What it comes down to then, is the ethics of cutting healthy erogenous tissue from a healthy child. Is that ethical? Is that moral? The tag of this blog is ‘where morality meets culture.’ So no one is criticising your choices, and no one is talking about you specifically. When we discuss the prickly issue of circumcision, we are discussing the human rights issue in general.

      I hope that you will not take such offence, but will instead look into what the foreskin is, how it works, why men have one, whose idea it was to start cutting it off, and all the reasons ever given to do so. This blog alone has some excellent information.

      This country is full of amazing, wonderful, loving parents (like mine) who circumcised their sons because they wanted what was best for them. In 2012 we know more than we did in 1980, and when our children are 20, 30, 50 years old, imagine how much more they will know about their sexuality. Things that have been lost to our generation. Let’s educate ourselves so we can empower them.

      • Shteln says:

        ‘I don’t believe any parent’s choice to circumcise their child comes from a place other than love and wanting what is best.’
        And how can you know this, Maria?

    • Lilli Cannon says:

      Hi Jennifer,

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my blog. It is unfortunate that this post is where you came to it, as this post was really meant for other intactivists. If you are new to all this, I would recommend you start by reading some of the reasons why we choose to not circumcise our sons:
      You were very brave to post your comment. I hope you will continue to be so brave in reading and investigating more about circumcision. In the end, we all love our children and want to do what’s best for them, and parenting is difficult. It’s not about “being better,” it’s about sharing information so that we can make the most informed decision possible.


      Lillian Cannon

      • Hugh7 says:

        “it’s about sharing information so that we can make the most informed decision possible.” … while a decision still has to be made. In most of the developed world, it doesn’t. Outside the English-speaking world, it never did. Circumcision isn’t offered and hardly ever asked for, and most doctors refuse to do it. Speed the day when it is like that in the USA too. The whole mindset that “circumcision is an important decision for parents” is a hangover from “all boys must be circumcised”.

        • Purist says:

          Yup, it’s like arguing over the “decision” whether or not to poke out your kid’s left eye.

          You can delete this. I have a hard time knowing what’s appropriate.

    • Hugh7 says:

      “Was it the best thing for him?? Who really knows…”
      Well, some day HE will know – especially if it wasn’t.

    • Jay T says:

      Jennifer,I would love to know your reasons for circumcising your baby.
      He was born perfectly,his body is his,regardless of who gave birth to him he should have been given the right to an intact body.I understand the long standing paranoia ingrained into the American psyche regarding circumcision,but am still amazed that it obviously seems to be the only choice for parents like yourself.
      I cannot put into words how angry this attitude towards this totally unneccesary and ridiculous practice makes me feel,as a man,and more importantly,a Human Being.
      You have robbed your son of an important part of his anatomy,he didn’t ask you to do that to him,
      If you have another son,do him a favour,leave him alone.

    • hsextant says:


      Well I am sorry as well but I can’t read your comment and not comment.

      You said:

      I am a firm believer that we are all entitled to our own feelings and beliefs. However, I am not a believer that people need to conform to my views just because I think they are better than everyone else’s.

      Jennifer who is the most important person in this discussion? I believe it to be your son. So do tell, how is it that your son is not being forced to “conform to your views”?

      Lilly is not handing out pamphlets on a street corner. This is anti-circumcision blog. As such it will tend to state uncomfortable things about circumcision and parental rights to decide for infants. It is Lilly’s soapbox and she has every right to get on it and state her beliefs. You are welcome to state counter beliefs and explain the reasons for them and an intelligent conversation can ensue. You are not forced to visit this site–so please do not ask people to get off their soapboxes.

      “Pro-circumcision is what I am.” You state that as though you are a Dallas Cowboy’s fan or you like Nascar. So if you want all the “intactivists” to stop controlling the world perhaps you should tell us why pro-circumcision is what you are, and not simply insist that we get off our soap boxes and not tell people what to do.

      “I would NEVER tell another parent how to parent THEIR child.”

      OK, I am pro-tattoo. I have a tattoo of a naked girl on a Harley and I want my son to look just like his daddy. You would be OK with that? There would be no question in your mind that MY child is MINE to do a I see fit? As I strap JR on the back of the Harley, and head off to the tattoo shop, you would not be the least tempted to call authorities? Hey tattoos when done by a expert are harmless, oh they hurt, but hell he is an infant, and some people prefer the appearance of tattoos. He is MY son.

      Sorry but children are yours in the limited right of parents. They are not YOURS, you do not own them. They are not possessions and you do not have the right to treat them as possessions. Circumcision once performed can not be undone. So this has a bit more gravity than should he use a fluoride toothpaste, or take advanced standing classes. You, as a parent, have the right and the obligation to do what is best for the child. Yes, it is an imprecise art. There is no doubt in my mind that you felt that you met those obligations with your son. What intactivists are stating is that American society and the medical establishment are not acting with your or your child’s best interest at heart in regards to circumcision. Is it an evil plot? No, but I believe that we have allowed an absurd custom to overrule judgement in common sense and medical efficacy. Intactivists are trying to make people aware that infant circumcision has a very troubling root history, is medically questionable, and is ethically wrong–not questionable–wrong.

      Jennifer, let’s imagine you were sitting in a surgeon’s office discussing a procedure, one that will change the appearance of your body, could affect your ability to enjoy normal sexuality, and would entail some pain in recovery. So you ask the surgeon “Doctor, is this the best thing for me?” The surgeon replies “Well, Who really knows…” Are you going to sign the consent form? It is OK for this surgeon to perform a procedure on you without knowing if the procedure has any medical efficacy? I don’t know about you but I would be parting company with such a surgeon rather quickly.

      “He is a happy, energetic 2 year old and that is what is important.” Excellent! I am glad that your son happy and energetic. But when he is 12 and he finds that masturbation is painful or when he is 22 and he finds that he suffers from pre-ejaculation, or when he is 32 and finds that he cannot bring his wife to orgasm through normal coitus, he may not be quite so happy. Will these things happen? Who really knows? They can happen, I am living proof of it. Is it the end of the world? No. There are ways around some of the difficulties presented by circumcision. But will I ever know the joy of making love to my wife the way nature intended? Nope! That is NEVER going to happen. Nor will it happen for my son. When my son was born in 1983, I signed the consent form and grumbled about having to pay for it. Why? Why wouldn’t I? In my boyhood adventures, six years of gym classes and four years of the military, I saw exactly one uncut penis. Nobody was standing on a soapbox saying “Hey you don’t have to cut your son’s penis.” I wished they had been. I would not have done it, and now I suffer shame and guilt because I did not possess enough basic curiosity to ask “Why the hell am I doing this to my baby boy?” If someone suggested any kind of procedure to be done on me, you are damned tootin’ that I would have been questioning it. But like all good parents at that time, I turned over my son without a question, shuddered for an instant, and went about life as usual. If you asked me at the time why we were doing this and why I was willing to pay $485 for it, I would have mumbled something on the order of ” ahhh, well errrrr, cleanliness, ahh I am not sure, appearance, gym class, I don’t know, it’s done.” But it was OK because everyone had their son circumcised. You cut grass in the summer, and you circumcise your sons. Why would anyone even question that?

      “Your views aren’t any better than mine or anyone else’s; just different.”

      Well I am sorry Jennifer, but I disagree. You are saying that you have the right to modify irreversibly your son’s penis without his knowledge and consent because you are his parent.

      I am circumcised, because my parents knew what was best for me. They are long dead and buried but I am still here trying to make love with my wife with a somewhat dysfunctional penis. Had my parents not circumcised me, and had I not circumcised my son, he and I would be free to counter our parent’s decisions on circumcision at any time we chose. But well, you know what they say–once through the meat grinder, you can never get your steak back, it remains hamburger.

      Stalin once said something to the effect that one death is a tragedy, a million deaths–a statistic.

      Don’t confuse commonality and social acceptance with morality or ethics.

      The reason your view is not as good as ours is that the penis in question belongs to your son, not you. He and he alone should decide if it needs circumcised. So I am not sure how we should accomplish you request that “all you “intactivists” need to stop trying to control the world.” World domination? I think most of us would be happy with the mere notion of allowing a man to decide for himself, the life long status of his penis. I don’t know, it seems a fairly modest proposal. I am sure you would confer the same right to your daughters. Should we bury our heads in the sand because you find our views wrong?

      Jennifer, if you don’t like the soap box speech just move on down the street. After all pro-circumcision is what you are. Your comments on why you are pro-circ are welcome. But don’t ask Lilly and others to get off their soap boxes. There are many of us who would have rather made the decision regarding circumcision for ourselves, and there are many parents who now regret making the decision for their sons through ignorance and misinformation. I happen to be in both camps, and if you don’t mind, I think I will stick around and hear what Lilly has to say. I wished somebody had been on the soapbox back in 1983 and 1949. Through theses soap boxes, I have come to the realization that in 1983 it is my SON’s penis not mine, and in 1949 it was MY penis not my parent’s. A realization that came too late.

  10. Dana K says:

    Thank you so much for this! Becoming friends with parents who regret circumcising their sons has helped me temper my methods for discussing circumcsion online and in person. Like you, I don’t believe it helps the cause if/when I lose my temper in a debate or discussion. I have been personally insulted by people I know in real life and (barely) kept my cool. I’m not going to let a stranger on the Internet push me that far.

    I have had many people contact me privately after very heated discussions to get more information…even people who circumcised their sons. People, “lurkers,” definitely respond to the level head, in my experience.

    I’ve never convinced a parent to leave their child whole by belittling them, name calling, or attacking them. I will continue to do what has actually worked for me.

  11. erin says:

    I think the blog article is great and very important — we need to meet people where they are and tailor our message whenever possible. IMO, we need to have empathy and understanding and share information in a loving way without attacks. That said, I get a little lost at the end with regard to what we should teach. I just don’t know if that’s enough information to get people to have that paradigm shift. I feel strongly that I should not be afraid to give someone all the info, even the info that is hard to take. Because it’s the hard to take info that changed my mind. I can totally see how someone could learn all of the information suggested and still allow their child to be cut. Because it is so entrenched in our culture and women often do receive a lot of pressure to do it, they need to be armed with strong reasons not to cave. And the truth about RIC is strong enough to to do that. I think parents need to know that RIC changes the function of the penis and permanently effects sex in a negative way. I think they need to know the functions of the foreskin. I think they need to consider the rights of their child. Otherwise, when their spouse is willing to make cutting his hill to die on, the mother can think, “well, I’ll make sure good anesthesia is used” and “I’ll use a good dr that has done 1,000s of circumcisions without any bad outcomes”.

    FWIW, I am an intactivist with 2 circumcised sons. I never experienced the ugly side of intactivism when I was pregnant with them. I only experienced the loving kind when I was pregnant with my second and I feel like they lead me right to the cutting, hugging me all the way. I learned from them that it’s unnecessary, that there’s no medical reason and that it’s easy to clean and care for. I learned that there are a lot of myths that aren’t true. For me, that was plenty enough of a reason! But it wasn’t for my husband. Because none of that mattered. His reasons were personal to him, as a victim of circumcision as well. I don’t even think he really understood why he felt so strongly about it and I certainly didn’t. And in the end, I didn’t have enough of a reason to win the battle with him. Every step of the way, I was told that all parents love their children and that we are all only trying to do what is best for them. That allowed me to allow my son to be cut. My husband only loved him and wanted what he felt was best. It was unnecessary, yes….but it wasn’t going to effect him in the long run so why fight it any longer? Boy was I upset when I found out the truth. I had no idea what the foreskin was, what it’s functions were and how it would effect him permanently to be without it. No idea. I never once considered that my son might have a right to his genital integrity. Looking back, I feel so foolish that it never occurred to me to consider those things. I was essentially brain washed by my culture. If even one person hadn’t been afraid to hurt my feelings and told me the hard truths, I wouldn’t have allowed my son to be cut. I know this for sure b/c as soon as someone did tell me, that became fact. And I didn’t allow my third son to be cut. It was the hardcore, in-your-face intactivist that got me to stop the cycle in a very short period of time.

    Sorry to ramble on….I guess my point is that the message of gentle, loving, empathetic intactivism is so important but I think we should make sure not to dilute the facts.

    • gerald says:

      Thank you for this comment. I agree, we should speak passionately and some people confuse passion with an attack. I don’t know if we should shame or demonize people, but we need to speak strongly in order that the information penetrates their skulls. Remember we are doing this to save children, and save the mother from future guilt as well. Thank you for your testimonial.
      I personally believe we are often in our culture too soft and sensitive. I don’t say I judge anybody. I say “the lord judge you’ if you do something knowingly. I want people to feel they will be held accountable- and I feel I am also accountable. I must do my job, my moral duty to speak out. I can’t always be so soft. Now if the person has a circumcised heart, then I can be softer with them and just give them the critical missing information. But often they don’t have circumcised hearts.. they have bigoted or selfish hearts, narcissistic or self absorbed or uncaring hearts, or fearful cowardly hearts. This needs to be circumcised and it takes firey words to do it. We need more men in this culture, and more righteous anger from women. Anger has a place when properly directed. Mothers- your children are not your children as property. They are their own. They are yours as one entrusted to you, but they are not objects to play with.

      I give them loving gentle communication first and if they don’t receive it I turn up the heat. Also I speak the truth about what I feel and how much grief I have, how much it has robbed me. For sure this has been a journey into my soul and it’s continuing

    • Jay T says:

      Good for you.

  12. Brian Hayden says:

    Agree fully. I’m circumcised, as were at least a few generations of men in my family before me. After discussion with my wife and reading up a bit (and seeing that the research agrees with some of my own experiences of being overly-sensitive to certain kinds of contact), I’m with her on the no-circumcision stance for any boys we might have.


    Some of my wife’s friends, all women, are very emphatic about this issue. And I find their rhetoric angering on three levels:

    1. They try to refute the “foreskins are ugly!” talk by simply reversing it to “circumcised penises are ugly!” “Only lower classes have foreskins” is reversed to “Only uncut men have their true manhood and confidence!” Etc. Well, thanks. I’m glad that because my parents made a decision to get me circumcised, as did 2/3 of the population of the U.S. at that time, I can never be a man, and my genitals are disgusting. It’s just as shallow and offensive as the arguments *for* circumcision.

    2. The demonization, as you point out. My parents weren’t bad people, they were just doing what most people did. Going on and on about how you’d have to be an awful brute to cut your son doesn’t help your argument. Stick to the facts, and leave the judgment out of it. As much as we all want to think we’re enlightened, we do things every day that hurt ourselves and other just because we don’t know any better. We look back on common practices of 50 years ago and think, “how could they?” Well, because they were people and people get strange ideas in their heads when you put them together in large groups. Fifty years from now, people will be looking down their noses at plenty of things that we’re doing. Get some perspective before lashing out.

    3. This is sort of related to #1. It’s all about projecting what *women* think about men’s genitals onto little boys that can’t speak for themselves. That sort of thing is gross when old white men do it to women’s uteruses, and it’s gross when young white women do it to their baby’s penises. You can and should have an opinion in the context of it being a “medical” procedure being done on your child, but keep the “I think foreskins are great, so I want my son to have one for the pleasure of his future lovers!” stuff out of it. That’s really not your business.

  13. We designed an iPhone/iPod/iPad app called i4SkinHealth – on iTunes Store –
    It begins with what the foreskin is and what the absence of it causes. Apple is rigorous about the language it permits so we worked very hard on keeping it simple, discreet and modest.
    Interestingly, I think it was this requirement that formed it into a strictly factual (objective without giving nanometer to pro-circ garbage) and somewhat less oppositional than many approaches and when working with it I find it gets people’s backs up less.
    Let us know what you think – there is a comment/blog spot on the last FarReach page and also at farreach4@hotmail.com

  14. Purist says:

    Do you want to be righteously angry, or do you want to save babies?

    Primarily, I want my feelings validated

    • Lilli Cannon says:

      Interesting reply. If you want your feelings validated, then you have to go to other intactivists. There is a saying, “Don’t go to a hardware shop looking for bread.” Men who are angry about their circumcisions should not expect to get their feelings validated by people who are pro-circumcision. They will only be mocked. Sad, but true. You see, to the pro-circumcision people, there can be no angry circumcised men, because that would interfere with their whole illusory mental construct of circumcision.

      • Purist says:

        Well, I realize now should have added saving babies validates my feelings. That that’s my primary motivation. I didn’t mean to necessarily imply a conflict with your (well thought out) strategy.

        Wise words and on a side note, it sucks that preaching to the choir (of intactivists) isn’t nearly as validating of one’s feelings as getting validation from the non-intactivist world (NOT pro-mutilators, cause I realize the futility in that). One of the many sucky things about having been mutilated I suppose.

  15. Greg says:

    though i agree that this would be most helpful to the movement/s, i cannot be forgiving. ive had painful erections, frequently torn tissue, and can count the number of partner induced ejaculations on one hand, and have lost every girl ive been with because of sex problems. this wasn’t some kind of motor accident, or a lightening strike. someone deliberately diminished my sex life, and daily comfort. i sometimes have to take weeks off from cycling because of painful repetitious movement in the crotch. upwards of 100 baby boys die each year in the united states alone, in the name of religion and charlatanism. so, if i have to be vengeful and hateful to help myself blow off some steam to keep from killing people, i think its better for everyone. i wished i was a minority of this movement, but there are 1000s of other victims just like me who see the urgency of human rights as cause for more aggressive motion…. sometimes its counterproductive. most of the time. just another side effect of a world that hates you so much, they have to re-purpose your body at the earliest time possible. mutilation is mutilation. torture is torture. murder is murder. slavery is slavery. rape is rape. i cannot sugar coat any of these facts…. but i am glad you can. thanks.


  16. Pingback: The purpose of circumcision is to ruin male sexuality » Moralogous

  17. Forensicgirl says:

    Thank you for this. I will admit that I sometimes fail at being a gentle intactivist. I have difficulty balancing my need to do this:
    I am the voice of the voiceless
    Through me the dumb shall speak
    Till the deaf world’s ear
    Be made to hear
    The wrongs of the wordless weak.

    And I am my brother’s keeper
    And I shall fight his fight
    And speak the word
    For beast and bird
    Till the world shall set things right.
    -Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919)

    with a gentle approach. I will try better to do so.

    • Lilli Cannon says:

      Thank you for the lovely poem. It is really hard to remain nice when you think of the baby (and man he will become.) I still get angry, too, but only at those who are willfully ignorant, or who know better but value more their own tender feelings or some idea of “fitting in.”

  18. Pingback: Good blog post on circumcision | coffee and kids

  19. Minyassa says:

    Thank you very much for writing this article. I realized while reading that I am going to need to take a break, because I am smack dab in the middle of the angry phase and even reading about the thought processes that make people behave so stubbornly does not alleviate my fury at them. I’d really rather come off as right rather than a frothing lunatic, so clearly I need to cool off before I can be of any real help to anyone. I should probably try to concentrate on finding out what causes other intactivists to calm down, though such selective research is difficult in the venue I typically use to keep up with intactivist issues (Facebook). Most of what I see is inflammatory, and I get the sense that many people feel that only by waving gruesome photos and anguished stories in the faces of the public will they have a chance of getting their feet into doors, but this means that there is little to no sharing of gentler methods for relative newbies like myself. Your article is a very good start. I wish there was a whole course to take.

    • Lilli Cannon says:

      I get it. I think the biggest cure for anger is time. Also, like you realized, FB intactivism is full of anger and not really good for the soul. I still get angry (especially at family members who circumcised) but it both makes me more angry and less “hot” than it used to. I don’t think it will ever not make me angry, but now I have a choice to stop and take a break.

  20. Kari says:

    AMAZING article. I love it. I think you said it perfectly. The thing that makes me the maddest is when pro-circumsicion people try to use bible verses on me to support their opinion. I am a Christian, and I know my bible. And it says OVER and OVER in the New Testament that we now need a circumscion of the heart not the penis, lol. Thank you, I am going to share your article. :)

  21. Pingback: Choose Intact » Blog Archive » Same-Side Advocacy

  22. Jay T says:

    I love the fact that this page encourages peaceful and informed debate about circumcision,although inside I am bloody screaming when I see some of the comments from parents who are absolutely ignorant to what they are doing to their children.
    I want to shout at them,educate them,make them see the harm they are unneccesarily inflicting on babies.
    I hope the gentle touch will prevail.
    But,I’m not gonna hold my breath!

  23. Mel says:

    Lillian, do you happen to know LatumWay’s youtube channel? You both have been raising several quite similar points, and they’re among the sanest arguments I’ve so far encountered. I think he’s smart/adorable/funny and his vids, especially the ones about circumcision are imho well worth checking out, eg. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dO1rtmOW0M

  24. Nickelle says:

    “It is normal to go through a stage of furious anger in one’s journey through intactivism. I have yet to meet an intactivist who has not.”

    The above line made me take a little breath of relief, I will admit. For so many years I believed in cricumcision. I never even really looked very deeply into it. I believed the oft-parroted nonsense about it being cleaner, better looking, non-painful (it was always made to sound like just a little, itty-bitty cut) no big deal really, most slept right through it. And more importantly, it was just what was DONE. There was no reason to find it objectionable whatsoever.

    Then two years ago I started TTC as a SMBC (I have yet to be blessed but I am still hopeful) and along my journey met many wonderful women who were also SMBC. One of them mentioned some of the trouble she in the hospital with nurses and doctors whispering about her bad parenting, for decisions she had made, one of which was not cutting her son. I don’t even remember what made me go look deeper into it. I had just never heard of anyone not circumcising and I was curious. It took a very short amount of time to realize the horror of real circumcision. The facts were trying so difficult I wanted to go into hiding, like a turtle into its shell. I hated to aknowledge that people I KNEW (my own mother even) did this to their sons. But then someone linked a video and there was no way to deny that. It made me sick and I couldn’t even finish watching it. I cried for an hour after. I would NEVER do that to my son, I promised myself right there. I would NEVER do that. In the months since that discovery I have plunged headlong into Intactivism and I am SO angry sometimes I can feel the physical pressure of it weighing on my chest. Why don’t these people see what they’re doing! How can they believe this is for the best?

    I stand on my side of the line, watching in horror and yes, righteous anger pointing and saying “how can you mutilate your sons genitals like that!? Would you let someone make the decision to circumcise you with no anesthesia?” I had hardly noticed the line I had drawn in the sand and the uncomprimising way I was trying to yank people over onto my side of it. At least now I know it is normal to feel this sort of anger and horror and disgust but I hate the thought that my tone is overwhelming my message so I wanted to thank you for the notice that it is okay to take a break and find your loving center.

    • hsextant says:

      For other ancients such as myself (I was circumcised in 1949) SMBC and TTC are Single Mother By Choice Try To Conceive. Now there is a world of acronyms that just amazed me. Googling those acronyms, I found sites with entire sentences with nothing but acronyms. I had no idea of what they were trying to convey.

      As a person who was circumcised and who circumcised my son for the very same reasons that you mentioned in your first paragraph let me thank you for your commitment not to circumcise your future sons. It is amazing, when we stop and really think about what is going on with this practice, it goes from a custom that no one thinks about too much to something truly horrific. And yes, it can make you very angry that we as a society have bought the hook, line, and sinker.

  25. Bill says:

    I have to say that I am ecstatic that so many women are taking up this cause! My heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you, both male and female!

    I have a question, for those of you with children, preferably adult children. I’m 37 and like most guys born in 1970’s America I’m circumcised. I’ve thought about asking my parents what motivated them in a non-confrontational manner. I’m kind of in the angry stage, though I have to say I DO NOT blame them or harbor ill feelings towards them.

    My question is how would you as a parent react to your adult child questioning your decision?

    • Bill says:

      An addition to my previous question. My father’s sex talk with me was, ‘if you knock a girl up I’m not paying for it’ and my mother’s sex talk was giving me a copy of ‘The What’s Happening to My Body Book for Boys’. Obviously my family isn’t very open about sex, however I am, just not with my family.

      • hsextant says:

        Your miles ahead of me. If I had to rely on sex talk my parents gave me, I would think either the stork brings babies or a crow shits them out of a fence post (my mother’s explanation).

        Quick answer. I am circumcised and I had my son circumcised in 1983. Why? Why not? In 19 years of seeing male members as a little kid, school and the military I saw exactly one uncut penis. When it snows, you shovel snow. In the summer you cut grass. When a male baby is born you get him circumcised. Hell I don’t why. Ahh cleanliness, um ah gym class. Why do ask? Its what we do. Doesn’t everybody?

        Well I am talking like I thought in 1983. Never give it a thought, I wasn’t pro-circ or anti-circ it was just something you did. I never for a moment give any consideration as to why the hell are we doing this? I didn’t become aware of circumcision until the late 90’s on the internet.

        Be forgiving to your parents, it was the ignorance of the times and there was no internet. Your sex education is pretty much reflective of a lot of thinking at that time. The late 60s and early 70s may have had a sexual revolution going on, but don’t forget revolutions are usually limited to the wealthy and highly educated, and students at the more liberal schools. Believe me, most people in my demographic–blue collar–were not experiencing a sexual revolution.

        To me the Internet is the big difference. You didn’t have information at your finger tips like you do now. Our thinking has been radically changed by the Internet, we are far more aware of things today. I wrote up a blog entry on this very subject. You may find it interesting:


        Again be forgiving of your parents, for they knew not what they did. If you want to be pissed, and I am, be pissed at a society that brutalizes their children and doesn’t have the god damnedest notion why.

        If you want to chew out an ass, chew mine, for I feel I deserve it. Your parents might be awfully confused at your anger.

        • Bill says:

          Thankfully I have no anger towards my parents. I just feel it might be a bit cathartic to hear their reasoning. What’s done is done at this point, so being angry at my parents would do no good.

          Where my anger lies currently is with the medical community continuing to perpetuate it’s misinformation rather than providing truth to expectant parents.

          Thank you for your reply hsextant.

          • hsextant says:


            I doubt they had a reason. It is something you do. People can be totally clueless about it. It had the approval of the medical community and ergo it got done.

            Anyhow, seeing as you are not pissed at them, ask them sometime. I bet you will hear some real mumbo jumbo, that boils down to “we have no idea”.

  26. Will says:

    Interesting article, I’m not sure where I stand on the issue, probably more on the “intactivist” side.

    Just a note, however (keeping in mind I haven’t read the rest of your blog where this is doubtless discussed): you dramatically say that a circumcised male “cannot get it back”, when in fact a number of methods exist to restore a circumcised foreskin, that has the attributes of the original tissue: http://www.wikihow.com/Re-Grow-a-Foreskin


  27. Shteln says:

    I think this topic of ‘gentleness’ is far, far more complex than this one blog. Intactivism must address adult survivors’ needs as well as sparing the next generation of sons. ‘Tone down the argument’ can come across as patronising, too. I do believe adults should be treated as adults- and that does entail, sometimes, criticism and challenging. Thoughtful and intelligent to be sure- but to check the emotions below a ‘2’ on a scale of 10 doesn’t always work.
    Men have no safe places to unleash what can be murderous rage over the sexual violence they’ve experienced from cutting, so- what? You want cupcakes and tea to persuade? Well I can do that, and I can also call someone’s bullshit when I need to, and would suggest that everyone get in touch with their inner ‘bulldog’ if that’s needed too.
    And I think the issue of anger could be something intactivists support each other on, as frightening as that seems.
    Lastly, do we easily ‘forgive’ parents who mutilate their daughters’ genitals? I just ask for consistency.

  28. Shteln says:

    Thought provoking post. People also think the white boiler suit with bloody crotch is too graphic, too.
    Cry me a river, already.

  29. D says:

    “If the intactivist is a circumcised man who has just learned about all he has lost, his anger is especially intense, and rightly so. … His isolation and grief is so intense that it can consume him for a long time.”

    Well you have just described me. But I wish you would have explored it a bit more. I’ve been to several mental health professionals, some of whom diagnosed me with “something like” PTSD, none of whom were able to help me. I talk about it with caring friends, but it is really a personal struggle to move past it. I have been struggling with this for nearly a decade. I’m still angry. It still makes me depressed. I don’t care to feel love towards people who circumcise. I don’t care how they feel. So fine, I am an ineffective intactivist. But I wish that, just once, I would hear someone tell me that it’s okay, rather than that, despite my legitimate grief, my anger means I am doing something wrong.

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