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Is it OK to circumcise baby boys?


Adam was interviewed by Aaron, our Design Editor










Approximately one-third of males worldwide are circumcised, with significant variations in prevalence based on cultural, religious, and geographical factors. Circumcision rates are particularly high in Muslim and Jewish communities due to religious practices, with some countries reporting rates above 99%. The practice is also common in the United States and parts of Southeast Asia and Africa, but much less so in Europe, Latin America, and most of Asia.


Thank you Adam for being open enough to share your feelings about this topic with us. Male circumcision was a mainstream practice in the UK in the past, but now it’s almost exclusively performed for religious purposes. Can you tell us at what age was this done to you, and at what stage in life did you realise you were different?

Well, I was circumcised when I was a baby, and when I was a child, during swimming, changing rooms that sort of thing, I did realise I looked a bit different from other boys, but as a child, I just thought that there was a natural variation. I only realised that an operation had happened when my parents told me as a teenager.


How would you describe your reaction to having this choice made for you?

I was very upset. As soon as I found out about it I looked it up and found out how the penis is meant to work for someone that isn't circumcised, and I felt that I was missing out on that function as well as the aesthetic changes which I don't like.


What would you say are the differences between a penis with a foreskin and yours?

For somebody that has a foreskin they can pull the foreskin back and forth over the head of the penis, and that gives a kind of lubricating effect during penetrative sex and feels good. All of this tissue was removed in my case, as well as the frenulum which, along with the ridged bands on the foreskin (also removed), are meant to be the most sensitive parts of the penis to fine touch. The glans of the penis is also exposed to rubbing against clothing all day long, so it becomes dry and less sensitive.

 

One side effect which can occur when someone is cut as a child is that the scrotum can extend further than normal along the underside of the penis to make up for the lack of skin. This condition is called “webbed penis” and usually happens when the amount of skin removed was particularly aggressive, which was true in my case and can only be fixed with further surgery.


Talk us through the real-life consequences of living without a foreskin.

Well for one thing, if I want to masturbate, I need to use lube. It's almost impossible to do so otherwise. I get chafing if I don't use it. There's a different grip that I have to use that I had to discover by myself when I was a teenager, as the information I had learned about it in sex education in school only really applied to intact penises.


When you became sexually active, from your perspective, how did that feel? Did you have to teach your partner?

So I've only ever had sex with intact men, in that they still had a foreskin. The difference is that they knew how to manipulate themselves and other intact men, but they didn't know how to do that to a man who is circumcised, which is understandable as it’s something I struggle to do. It is quite difficult to stimulate a man who has been circumcised.

 

Would you say this has left things unfulfilled?

In a way. I used to be very upset about it when I was a teenager because physically, I feel I don't get as much from sex as I might otherwise have done. I don't feel I can participate fully. Now I just focus on making my partner feel good and doing things that involve their body. I don’t expect to experience an orgasm during sex. No partner has ever made this happen for me yet, and I’ve come to accept that in a way.

 

Describe your emotional state right now in discussing this?

I would say I'm okay with it. I used to be very upset but I'm not as angry about it now. It’s not because it's not worth being angry about because it is, but I feel I have spent enough time being angry. I would still very much prefer for it to have not been done. If it were a choice between a million pounds lottery win or to be intact, I would choose the latter.


If any men reading this have been similarly affected, there is a practice called foreskin restoration which increases the length of the shaft skin until it covers the glans like a foreskin would, which isn't as good as being intact but it's better than nothing. It takes several years of putting the skin under slight tension so it's not an overnight process, but a lot of men who've tried it have been happy with the results.


If a law was proposed to ban this procedure for men, which side would you say humanists should come down on?

Well Humanists UK already opposes infant male circumcision as it does for FGM, which is a position that I agree with. I want to be clear that I don't think there's any moral reason to ban adult circumcision as long as the man chooses it for himself but doing it to a child takes away their future ability to make that choice for themselves.


Thank you Adam for being so open with us today. So often FGM is raised, rightly so, as an abhorrent thing to do to a child, and yet male circumcision is left undiscussed. Hopefully today we have managed to balance that, demonstrating that there are life changing consequences to this level of abuse. I fully support a ban to this practice globally.



Further information

For more detailed information, visit World Population Review's page on circumcision by country.


This interview first appeared in Humanistically Speaking in July 2021 when the magazine was produced in PDF format. Adam is a pseudonym.


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