To cut or not to cut? This divisive issue is coming to a head.
By Linda Kirkham
[Linda Kirkham is a freelance writer and Internet consultant in western Canada. Her areas of expertise include music, literature, and how the arts reflect society.]
Circumcision, the surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis, is a controversial issue and has been for quite a while. Many are opposed to this operation, which is usually done in infancy, feeling it a breach of a person's right to choose, as well as an unnecessary procedure. Others, however, are strongly in favor of circumcision, either for religious or cultural reasons, or for medical ones.
Here's a JackinWorld page that shows the difference between circumcised and "intact" penises. Circumcision statistics among JackinWorld readers can be seen in our Survey #2, question #4.
When it comes to masturbation, feelings and opinions are equally as mixed. Some men accept the state of their genitals and their parents' decision, believing they have as good a time masturbating as anyone. Some, however, are curious about the "other side," and some "uncut" (uncircumcised or intact) men feel that their foreskin is an integral part of their masturbatory experiences.
In North America, most young men born since about 1960 have been circumcised, usually at their parents' request. Do they feel their rights were violated? Chris, 30, says not at all. "The attitudes towards circumcision seem to change with the times. In my day, it was the style. Most of the guys in the locker room were circumcised – believe me, guys look and compare, although they don't often talk about it. And no one wants to be different, especially when they are young." The tide has definitely shifted in that area: No longer are circumcised American males worried they will be different in the locker room, Ã la Woody Allen. In fact, Doug, 21, wishes his parents had gone that route with him. "I don't like being different," he says bluntly. "I realize they thought it was unnecessary, and since we are not Jewish they saw no point. But I always worry I am going to freak out a woman when she sees it!"
– Brian, age 36
Besides "being different" is the very real issue of sexual pleasure. "When I'm masturbating, the last thing I am thinking about is the fact I am cut," says Brian, 36. "I was circumcised when I was a baby – this is all I know, and what I don't know doesn't really matter." It matters to Jason, however. The 25-year-old converted to Orthodox Judaism as an adult and was required to undergo a full circumcision. In Judaism, circumcision is usually performed on the eighth day of a boy's life and represents the sign of the covenant God made with Abraham, marking the beginning of the Jewish people. "Don't get me wrong – converting to Judaism was the most important, meaningful thing I have ever done with my life. I would not be satisfied as a person without this. But wow – did it hurt!" As far as masturbation goes, Jason has another dilemma. "Yes, it feels different now. But the way I feel about masturbation in general has changed also. Observant Jews are not supposed to masturbate – we view the spilling of semen in vain, as the Rabbis say, as a form of death. So while I still do it from time to time, it's something I am trying to work my way out of."
Warren, 37, also was circumcised while undergoing a Jewish conversion. "It does feel different. I notice it every time I masturbate or have sex. It isn't bad – just different. If I did not become a Jew, I definitely would have never had any intention of doing this."
Terry's before-and-after experiences were not as dramatic. After a series of urinary-tract infections ("It burned so badly when I peed, I thought I had VD!"), his urologist recommended circumcision. The doctor reasoned that the area around Terry's urethra (the opening at the head of the penis) would be easier to keep clean, reducing the chance of bacteria entering his body. "At first I thought, No way – I am not doing this. But I realized I had to do it because of my problem. I was expecting the worst; I expected to have no sexual pleasure anymore, whatsoever. I am so glad I was wrong!" It's difficult to describe something so personal and individual as sexual feelings, but Terry says it did not take long to adjust. He masturbates as often now as he did before the surgery.
– Alan, age 40
While cases like Terry's do happen from time to time, in today's world keeping the uncircumcised penis clean is not difficult. It requires pulling back the foreskin and some extra scrubbing to the area, but otherwise it is no different to care for then a circumcised penis. Some men find the whole experience rather erotic. "I really enjoy playing with my foreskin, especially in the shower when I am pulling it back and putting it back in place," says Alan, 40. "I feel a lot of sensation when I masturbate, and touching the foreskin is a really easy way to get myself aroused."
Alan has a good point – the foreskin has a lot of touch-sensitive nerve endings. However, when the penis becomes erect, the foreskin often automatically retracts, giving the penis a "circumcised" look. "After I have an erection, I don't think masturbation is any different than if I were cut," he adds. "Then again, I guess I really wouldn't know!"
Brad wishes he knew what Alan did. "I love my parents and respect them, but I really, really wish they did not have me circumcised. There was no reason – we aren't Jewish or Muslim, and there really aren't any health benefits as far as I can see. Don't get me wrong – sex and masturbating are wonderful – but I feel as though my body isn't whole. I'm not 'perfect.' And I am reminded of this every time I go to the bathroom, take a shower, or play with myself." Brad has gone so far as to look into plastic-surgery procedures that restore or create a new foreskin, but he admits that would be rather extreme.
Women also have strong opinions about male circumcision. "As a Jewish woman it's always been a fantasy of mine to be with an uncut guy," says Amy, 24. "It's sort of a major taboo." Amy's last intimate partner was, in fact, uncircumcised. "I was very excited! I had only seen uncut penises in magazines, not live and in person. But just like when you finally have sex for the first time, I ended up wondering what the big deal was. When he was inside me it felt exactly the same as a cut penis." While Amy did not know what she was really expecting, she did notice that touching her partner's foreskin caused a big reaction in him. "We did that in foreplay quite a lot. It really got him going, and I can imagine that when he masturbated – when I was not there, of course – that he would feel that part of himself also."
Susan could care less if a boyfriend were circumcised, although she admits she finds circumcised penises more attractive. "It looks cleaner, more tidy, for lack of better words. But I certainly would not discriminate on that basis. It's something you don't really know about a man until you have been intimate, and by then you should be so attached to the person emotionally that it shouldn't matter. I think a woman would have to be pretty shallow to go running out of the bedroom screaming upon discovering her boyfriend is uncut."
Some anti-circumcision activists go so far as lobbying their government representatives to introduce legislation outlawing the practice, even for religious and cultural reasons. In fact, there is a growing vocal minority of Jews in the United States who refuse to circumcise their children. Because it's a very sensitive issue about a very sensitive and personal area of the body, the circumcision opinions are divided and emotional, and it's unlikely they'll ever be totally resolved. However, one constant remains throughout this debate: whether circumcised or not, men still enjoy masturbating.