*Letter authors are George C. Denniston, MD, MPH, and John V. Geisheker, JD, LL.M
Dear [name removed]:
We physicians who oppose circumcision on ethical and scientific grounds are not surprised that you are content to be circumcised. It is a good that you have adapted to your situation, which you cannot easily change. Indeed, we humans are hard-wired to gradually accept that which we are stuck with, mostly a good thing.
But there are some truths that cannot be evaded, and which modern science has demonstrated objectively. We mention these because our moral obligation is to the next generation –our children and grandchildren. What your culture did to you we cannot repair (though you might Google “non-surgical foreskin restoration” if only for curiosity.)
1.) Children DO actually remember the trauma they suffered as infants, despite being unable to recall the moment in words, as an adult might. A now famous study (Taddio et al) showed that boys who were circumcised at birth are easily identified by their dramatic reaction to immunizations six months later. Intact (not circumcised) boys and girls did not exhibit the same reaction. Does this phenomenon persist into adulthood? Perhaps you were sturdy enough to avoid this effect —but we wonder… Most circumcisions in the past were performed without any anesthesia whatsoever, a situation that continues even in 2015, despite the availability, for decades, of safe and effective pain-control methods.
And a trivia detail for you— U.S. Federal law, 7 United States Code 2143, requires anesthesia for painful procedures to animals. It is a felony to withhold it. There is no such protection for human children anywhere in U.S. law, state or federal.
2.) Researchers (Sorrells et al), using an objective neurological device, the Semmes-Weinstein wand, found that the foreskin contains about 75% of the fine-touch sensation of the male. The researchers concluded, without hesitation: ”Circumcision ablates [destroys] the most sensitive parts of the penis.” To be fair, young males are quick to respond (and equally quick to deny they need additional sensation).
One theory holds that young men have maybe 400% more sensation than they need to function, which makes sense in evolutionary terms. So –do the math— a young man who has lost 75% of his 400% is still OK at 100%. But that might not be as reassuring as it sounds. (The historic point of circumcision was to dull the male’s sexual sensation to prevent ‘sexual excesses.’ Ironically it only ‘sort-of’ works. At least one study found that circumcised men engage in a broader range of sexual activities, which some believe might indicate a restless search for satisfaction.)
3) Adult men circumcised at their request, without medical need, are regularly disappointed. One famous quote from one such patient suggested that intimacy for him afterwards “was like seeing only in black and white.” Here is a working theory that might explain that: Intact men have a wide spectrum, a ‘broadband,’ of sexual nerves to ‘listen to.’ Circumcised men are limited to what is analogous to listening to a distant radio signal, straining to hear it through static. So when an intact man is circumcised as an adult, one who depended on a nearby ‘loud’ signal years before, is forced to strain to hear a weak one, he is disappointed.
Men circumcised at birth learn early-on to pay attention to their weak signal –the only one they will ever know. This theory makes intuitive sense. The proof will come some day when researchers use brain scans, like f-PET, to compare the different electro-neurological response of both groups —the intact and the circumcised. That will be Masters and Johnson, version 2.0.
But most importantly, the proven physical losses of circumcision –which are objectively measurable– raise ethical questions:
A) Is the male entitled to his entire 400% of sensitivity, as his birthright?
B) Is it possible that the intact, natural male has more ‘exquisite’ intimate experiences?
C) What about men who are 50 or 60 years old –or older? Has their future been mortgaged for merely cultural, cosmetic reasons –and the financial benefit of the medical establishment?
D.) What about males born with naturally weak endocrine systems / sexual responses whom we cannot identify at birth?
Here is the inarguable bottom line:
Medical circumcision is a 19th-century invention of English-speaking doctors, whose sole motive was to dull the male’s sexual sensation and diminish his experience. Google the pre-germ theory of disease “reflex-neurosis” to see why. The idea was thought bizarre and cruel everywhere else, and did not catch on outside the English language.
Most developed countries either never adopted medical circumcision (Europe, Asia, South and Central America); wholly abandoned it decades ago (Britain, New Zealand); or are in the steady process of rejecting it (Australia, Canada). Their intact children are as healthy, or healthier, than those in the USA.
Our international physicians’ group believes it will be a good day for everyone when the 19th-century, English-language scourge of non-therapeutic, unnecessary, merely cultural, forced genital amputations upon healthy children –male or female— is fully abandoned, everywhere. These practices were born of ignorance, cruelty, superstition, and misguided prudery. They need to perish in the dustbin of history.
But we are not surprised, [name removed], that you are content with your situation as-is, and we wish you the best.
George C. Denniston, MD, MPH,
John V. Geisheker, JD, LL.M,
Doctors Opposing Circumcision, Seattle
Additional note from Dr. Narvaez: Three additional thoughts. Most memories before age three are not available to the conscious mind. They are engraved in the body though. Second, boys often go into shock with circumcision so making no sound is not indicative of equanimity. Third, just because you are happy with your forced circumcision does not mean that circumcision should be forced on children. Fully-informed adults can make such decisions for themselves but children should be protected from unnecessary bodily harm.