Friday, June 10, 2016

Joe Omundson

Why I oppose circumcision

Warning -- this post is about my penis. If that makes you uncomfortable, you might not want to read it.

I've always thought I had a fairly loose circumcision, because when I'm flaccid, I have folds of skin that rest against my corona, and it seems like there's lots of slack. Great! I'm lucky to have so much skin left! I thought. But I realized that the only reason I have so much slack when flaccid is because my penis is a grower and not a shower; when erect I'm about 5 inches, but when flaccid it's more like 1-3 inches. (For some guys, their length is about the same whether flaccid or erect.) No surprise, when my penis is several inches shorter than its erect length, there's obviously plenty of skin.

Recently I had the idea to trim my pubic hair, which I have only done maybe once or twice before. I took a pair of scissors and cut my hair to about 1cm long. With my long hairs out of the way, I was able to notice that I have hair growing up the base of the penis itself, like 1" of the way up the shaft when erect. What I realized is that I actually have very little loose skin on my penis; that hairy skin should be down by my scrotum rather than on the shaft, but has had to be pulled up onto the shaft because the skin from the glans down is completely tensioned due to my lack of a foreskin. Uncircumcised men (and many who are loosely circumcised) can do a "glide" motion, while erect, where they grab the skin of the shaft and pull it up over the head, which is apparently so pleasurable for them that they can actually orgasm from masturbating that way. For me, the only way that movement can happen (in a very limited fashion) is if the hairy skin at the base of my shaft stretches up when I pull on it; and it doesn't feel very good at all.

I think they actually cut off a lot of skin with my circumcision and because there is no free play around the corona/glans of my penis, and because the head is keratinized and callous from constant exposure rather than the shiny and wet tissue it is supposed to be (like the clitoris protected by its hood), my sensation during sexual activity is nowhere near as sensitive as it could be. In general, sensation in my glans is very vague and half numb. I always have to rely on lubrication when I masturbate because the skin on my shaft doesn't move enough for the glide method. My erect penis is like a rod, with no moving parts, and because my sensitivity is low I have to masturbate with a pretty firm grip, often for longer than I would like to. This is not a very gentle way to experience sexual pleasure. It relies on friction rather than pleasurable sensation.

When I was an adolescent and masturbated more often, it wasn't uncommon for me to develop chafing, or painful cracks that even bled sometimes, from the friction I required in order to feel something. Yet the urge to orgasm was so strong that I would not always give myself adequate time to heal. I would think "oh, it's probably healed enough by now", then halfway through masturbating I would realize it was still painful, but I would somehow trick myself into thinking I could do it gently enough for it not to be a problem (really, I was just horny and didn't want to stop), and then of course the injury would perpetuate. I always blamed myself for this, but I don't think I would have encountered these problems at all with an intact foreskin. It's pretty normal for guys at that age to feel horny a couple times a day.

I've been mad about my circumcision before, but I am just stunned that this is my reality, as opposed to having the body part that nature gave me which would have lubricated and protected my most sensitive bits. Every day when I'm walking around I feel my glans chafing against my shorts and it is uncomfortable. It actually makes me so sad. My parents instructed a doctor to do this to me? Aren't parents and doctors the people we are supposed to trust with our health, especially as children? Yet this happened to me when I was at my most vulnerable?

People say "oh if you're unhappy with your circumcision you must have something wrong, because studies show that there is no difference in sexual experience." As though cutting off 5-10 square inches of my most erogenous tissue has no effect, as though the drying out of my glans does not affect sensitivity, as though the natural movement of the foreskin over the head of the penis is just an evolutionary artifact that medicine and tradition can write off as unnecessary. As though a study which takes the average of some sample of men is guaranteed to apply to my own experience.

They say, "your odds of contracting STDs are 60% lower, you should be grateful!" As though I am too stupid to manage my own STD risk without having my genitals mutilated at birth against my will. They should have removed my toenails too -- don't need 'em, and they might get ugly fungus infections anyway. Tonsils, appendix, gallbladder, these are just problematic body parts so we ought to perform painful surgeries on newborns to reduce hassle later in life. They aren't able to complain about the pain, they'll just forget anyway so no big deal right? Hell, 12% of breasts will get breast cancer, we should remove all breast tissue at adolescence too right? (My understanding is that the lowered risk of STDs is a myth in the first place, or at least quite controversial.)

They say, "you can last longer in bed though since you're less sensitive! Isn't that great?" Yeah, because I really want to have to work extra hard to feel something when I'm having sex. Because I wouldn't have been capable of learning how to gain endurance without an irreversible surgery performed on my infant body. Because my partner likes getting worn out by my thrusting attempts to orgasm, which often fail, leaving me embarrassed and ashamed.

Circumcision is viewed as the accepted medical approach in the USA, to the point that people get angry at the idea of not mutilating the penises of newborn boys. Most men in the world are intact. We hardly ever talk about this. These are real people, these are parts of our bodies, sensitive nerve endings we can never get back.

It wasn't until at least my mid-twenties that it dawned on me: the distinct change in color halfway up my penis is a scar from a surgery I had when I was days old, on my most intimate body part, that I never asked to be done to me. I feel so violated. How dare they modify boys' genitals at birth? It is absolutely not OK. We have no trouble grasping the fact that female genital mutilation is an abomination, even if it were to somehow reduce STDs or make things more hygienic. The same applies to males. Would you let a doctor cut off your newborn daughter's clitoral hood so that she grows up with her clitoris constantly exposed to the outside world, tough and dry, insensitive?

A lot of this stuff is not news to me. I've felt this way about circumcision for a long time. But I hadn't quite realized how much skin I was missing, how tight it is when I'm erect, and how different it is from a natural experience. Many of my sexual difficulties make more sense now that I have this understanding. I had to look up a lot of information online to make this realization; it's completely absent from our education system, and society doesn't talk about it. It makes me sad that I am just now understanding this aspect of myself, at 28 years old.

But, there is good news too. I decided I definitely want to start restoring my foreskin! With daily effort, applying gentle tension, the skin can be prompted to create new cells, permanently growing and lengthening into some semblance of a functional foreskin. My glans can be protected again, and the tough surface can slough off to reveal the shiny, smooth, sensitive membrane that nature intended. I seem to have a lot of inner foreskin left, above my scar, and that's good news because it should help with moisturizing the glans once it's long enough to cover it. It takes a lot of commitment, is slow progress, and can take years to achieve something like a full restoration. But I think it would be amazingly healing, both physically and emotionally, for me to spend the time on myself in that way, and make the most of my body's capacity to change for the better.

So, yesterday I looked up some tugging techniques, and took some photos to document myself, and I am going to figure this thing out and do everything that's in my power to help my body function well. In general in my life these days I am trying to find productive, happy solutions to the things that have kept me feeling powerless and angry. I have deeply held trauma regarding my penis from a lot of different angles: the hostility surrounding sex in Christianity, the cultural shame of having a shorter-than-average penis in our society, my own dissatisfaction with the way it feels when I'm masturbating or having sex, my difficult history with intimacy. It feels like my enemy sometimes. I tend to resent this part of me which feels broken and doesn't work well for me, which lets me down when I want to feel intimate, and also prevents my loved ones from sharing a full experience with me, physically and emotionally. By showing my body some love and helping it to have what it needs, I can start to reverse this painful reality.

I can never get my foreskin back, but I can grow something that will be similar and improve my experience of my body. I can speak out about this tragedy that is still happening to thousands of people every day in our country, and hopefully save some innocent boys from the pain I've gone through. I can learn to be vulnerable, work within my reality, be open about it, and encourage other men to accept their reality, too, with all the anger and bitterness it often entails, opening up a path to restoration and healing.

This is the most vulnerable thing I have ever written and I appreciate your kind understanding. If you want to share your thoughts or your story, you're welcome to do so in the comments below, or write me an email.

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