Long-Term Effects Reported at International Symposium on Circumcision

Medical, Cultural, Psychological, Legal and Sexual Aspects of Genital Mutilation Explored

The adverse long-term effects of infant circumcision were reported
Monday (May 23, 1994) in a press conference at the Third International
Symposium on Circumcision held at the University of Maryland College
Conference Center in College Park, Maryland. The physical, sexual
and psychological effects were compiled in 1993 in a national survey
of over 300 men who are aware of being harmed to some degree by
the surgery.

The report, entitled "Awakenings: A Preliminary Poll of Circumcised
Men", is the result of the first year of an ongoing national poll
of men and is the first known survey of its kind. According to
National Organization to Halt the Abuse and Routine Mutilation of
Males (NOHARMM) founder and survey coordinator Tim Hammond, "The
male prepuce (foreskin) is a functional and valuable genital organ
that provides lifelong protection and enhances sexual pleasure for
the male and his partner. It is astounding that there have been no
formal, scientific studies of the negative effects on men of this
needless violation of their natural genital integrity."

Mr. Hammond further commented that "The forcible amputation of a
part of an unconsenting child's healthy and functional genitalia,
regardless of gender, clearly has consequences on healthy sexual
and emotional functioning later in life. Many men are living with
these consequences and may not connect these problems to their
circumcision or are too embarrassed to talk about such issues," he

Some of the harmful effects reported by survey respondents included
prominent scarring, skin tags and bridges, meatal stenosis (constricted
urinary opening), recurrent non-specific urethritis, progressive
sensitivity loss from keratinization (callusing) of the glans,
tight or painful erections from excessive skin loss, various degrees
of sexual dysfunction, and feeling of parental violation, mutilation,
betrayal, or low-self esteem from lack of natural wholeness. The
survey found that over 60% of respondents had not sought professional
help for their harm due to fear of ridicule. Half the respondents
were involved in uncircumcision (foreskin restoration) methods.

The report does not claim to be a random sampling. Hammond states
that it would be difficult under current conditions to get such a
sampling in a culture where many men are led to believe infant
circumcision may be beneficial, do not yet know how to indentify
such harm, believe such adverse effects may be "normal," or otherwise
deny that harm exists. Using birth and circumcision data, the group
conservatively estimates that between 1940 and 1990, well over 66
million male infants were circumcised in the U.S. It also notes
that while the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that the
circumcision complication rate is 0.06%, the AAP acknowledges that
"the exact incidence of postoperative complications is unknown."
A recent British Journal of Surgery article however, noted that a
realistic figure is 2%-10%. According to Hammond, "This means
between 1.3 and 6.6 million American males born in that period
carry some form of circumcision complication, with an as yet
unstudied incidence of related sexual or psyc[hological consequences.]

Hammond hopes the NOHARMM survey will provide a foundation for
further research. He also noted that an independent body image
survey conducted in 1992 by the men's quarterly "Journeymen," found
that 20% of its circumcised male respondents expressed dissatisfaction
with their circumcision, versus only 3% of intact men describing
dissatisfaction. The as yet unpublished study also found that 78%
of intact male respondents were happy with their intact status
against only 38% of satisfied circumcised males, leaving a sizable
41% of circumcised men indecisive about how they view the procedure.
Hammond says this lends credibility to the NOHARMM survey and the
need to study long-term consequences to men of infant circumcision.

In addition to a report of the survey findings, other speakers at
the press conference addressed wider issues related to infant male
circumcision. Cultural anthropologist James DeMeo, PhD, spoke on
the global incidence of childhood genital mutilations of both sexes,
noting that in almost all cultures which practice female circumcision,
males are also subjected to circumcision.

DeMeo estimates that over 500 million of the world's males, or 20%,
have been subjected to some form of genital mutilation ranging from
simple incision, to the more harsh practices of circumcision and
subincision. Subincision was primarily practiced by aboriginal
peoples and is the cutting open of the underside of the penis.
According to DeMeo, both male and female circumcisions are euphemisms
for genital mutilations; since both amputate healthy genital organs
of an unconsenting child in an attempt to enforce social conformity.
He also stated that both reflect adult anxieties over children's
sexuality, although they are often rationalized with specious
arguments of improved health, family tradition or cultural ritual.

George Denniston, MD, a University of Washington School of Medicine
professor, spoke about the life-long protective function of the
male prepuce, its value in facilitating coitus, and its role in
enhancing sexual pleasure for the male and his partner. According
to Denniston, recent research by Dr, John Taylor, reveals the
foreskin is a more complex and erogenous organ than the glans (head)
of the penis. He stated the amount of inner and outer foreskin a
man loses to the "little snip" in infancy grows to an area of about
12 to 15 square inches, or one-third of the adult male's total
penile skin.

Personal testimony of circumcision hard was offered by Scott Kremer
and Jed Diamond. Kremer is a 42 year old building contractor from
California who has had penile complications since being circumcised
at birth. Diamond is a licensed clinical social worker and author
of the newly released book "The Warrior's Journey Home: Healing
Men, Healing The Planet." Diamond gave personal testimony of the
adverse effects of circumcision and as a man who happens to be
Jewish. He went on to speak about how circumcision functions in
dominator cultures to disrupt the maternal-infant bond and to
desensitize males to pain and emotion. He further stated that
circumcision teaches men that their bodies and lives are subservient
to the culture, an essential element he says, to societies that
view men as "expendable."

Jim Bigelow, PhD, the author of "The Joy of Uncircumcising! Restore
your Birthright and Maximize Sexual Pleasure," a book on foreskin
restoration, spoke about the psychological mechanisms that blind
men to the effects of circumcision and inhibit them from revealing
such harm. He stated that many men who are ignorant of the foreskin's
function and value are culturally indoctrinated with the mythical
benefits of circumcision so that few ever question the practice.
Never having experienced being "intact," such men are not unlike
circumcised females who find it hard to believe that they've been
sexually deprived. He added that masculine self-image, as well as
shame, denial, repression, and fear of ridicule are factors that
inhibit men from acknowledging their circumcision harm to themselves
and discussing it with other men. Bigelow noted that after this
awareness is confronted, one way by which many men begin the process
of healing is the regaining of their body integrity through
uncircumcision methods.

Internationally known surgeon, obstetrician and researcher, Dr.
Michel Odent, then spoke about the recent controversy of using
infant circumcision to prevent urinary tract infections (UTI) and
he questioned American birthing practices. Dr. Odent says that
natural vaginal birth, as well as rooming-in and breastfeeding,
innoculate newborns with bacteria of maternal origin, thereby
preventing UTI and making circumcision unnecessary. He noted that
because of an increase in Caesarian births and a decline in
breastfeeding in the U.S., hospital strains of E. Coli bacteria
are winning the race to colonize the newborn's gastrointestinal
tract, resulting in a higher incidence of UTI. Dr. Odent also cited
infant circumcision trauma as being counter-productive to a healthy,
nurturing newborn environment. He stated that such early genital
trauma has undoubtedly damaging, but as yet unstudied, lifelong

At the end of the press conference, two maternal-child nurses from
St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe, NM, explained why they joined 22
other nurses at their hospital to form the nation's first group of
R.N. Conscientious Objectors to Infant Male Circumcision. Betty
Katz Sperlich and Mary Conant descirbed the infant circumcision
surgery as painful, medically unnecessary, and a violation of the
unconsenting child's human right of body ownership. They stated
their actions are consistent with the nurse's role as patient
advocate. Instead of assisting with the surgery, they now educate
parents about the value of their son's intact genitalia. Both
expressed increased peace of mind through "living their ethics."

Sponsored by the National Organization of Circumcision Information
Resource Centers, the May 22-25 symposium convened international
experts from medical, psychological, legal and anthropological
fields to discuss effects of global genital mutilation practices
on male and female infants and children.

Contact: Tim Hammond 415.826.9351

(File created 5 January 2005)