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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Intactivists Are a Thing


So "Intactivist" Evan Roman is this resentful young man who still can't forgive his mother for circumcising him as an infant, despite her abject, public apology for having put him through the trauma. Because parents should respect their children's bodily autonomy.

You know, Evan, I feel your pain: Nobody asked my permission when my mother, alarmed by my growing resemblance to Alfred E. Neuman, hauled me in to Dr. Cohn at the age of twelve to have my teeth forcibly straightened. God, I hated wearing that headgear (almost as much as my dad hated paying those orthodontia bills)! And Dr. Cohn was so incompetent he managed to kill one of my incisors by applying too much pressure when he tightened the braces during my monthly torture session, later necessitating a costly root canal. Sure, the whole ordeal corrected my overbite, but look at this permanently discolored tooth! My mother's good intentions were no excuse!*

Of course, the evil of male circumcision is one of the Men's Rights Movement's hobby horses. I am inclined to agree that parents should be discouraged from having their sons circumcised (unless their religion requires it), since it appears to be a medical procedure with some (small) risk and dubious benefit. However, a generation ago, people were taught by medical authorities that male circumcision not only helped men maintain good hygiene, but also reduced the risk of cervical cancer and a host of other potential maladies. It was such standard medical practice that infants were often circumcised without the parents' permission. 

I was surprised when a friend elected to circumcise his own infant son several years ago, but I expect he was operating along the lines "like father, like son." 

I am of that same generation as my friend, so I'll admit I didn't get up-close-and-personal with an uncut cock intact penis until I went to Italy. And frankly, I found it to be -- how can I put this delicately? -- an acquired taste. (Of course, I didn't care for raw oysters the first time I tried them either, but I came around soon enough.)

So, no, I am not defending a practice that is gradually, and perhaps rightfully, falling out of favor in the U.S. And I also don't approve of piercing babies' ears. Or of docking dogs' ears or tails and de-clawing cats, for that matter.

On the other hand, I haven't met any circumcised men who complained their penises weren't sensitive enough, despite lacking a protective shroud of foreskin. Hell, I had a Turkish boyfriend whose circumcision was delayed until he was eleven (the family waited until they had a batch of boys ready since the party accompanying these rituals can be quite expensive), and then it was done without any anesthesia by a dirty old man with a rusty razor blade (and he had the scars to prove it). Still, he did all right...

 Evan Roman needs to get a grip, accept his mother's heartfelt apology, and get on with his life.  

And nothing jacks my jaw more than MRAs that equate male circumcision with female genital mutilation (FGM). The masculine equivalent to FGM, in terms of sensory function, would not be the removal of the foreskin; it would be the removal of the glans (head) of the penis itself.

When I was in the middle east, I met a number of Egyptian and Somali women who had been "circumcised" (that is to say, their clitorises excised) as children. Although the practice is not prevalent in Saudi Arabia, and most Muslims abhor it, there are regions where the tradition persists. I vividly recall one of my students (at 27, already the mother of ten) confiding that, try as they might, her husband could never bring her to orgasm because that vital bit of sensory tissue had been carved out of her at the age of seven at the behest of her own grandmother. Although she enjoyed a very loving relationship with her husband, they were both frustrated and saddened they could not share equally in the physical pleasure of sex. As a result, they were firmly united in their resolve to resist family pressure to "circumcise" their own daughters. But even she didn't blame her mother for allowing her to be mutilated in such a devastating manner. She understood that traditions die hard, and it often takes at least one generation of education to implement social change.

If I could meet that former student now, I would urge her to consult with Marci Bowers, one of the few surgeons who performs clitoral restoration.  Dr. Bowers is a renowned authority on "sexual reassignment" surgery, is a trans woman herself, and is reported to enjoy great success in restoring not only form but also function to realigned genitalia.

* My older sister had it even worse, being one of the last generation to undergo a routine "prophylactic" tonsillectomy.

8 comments:

  1. I'm struck both by how the son can't forgive the mother and how she really tries to get his forgiveness. If he were my kid, I'd have told him to grow the hell up already.

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    1. The body language in the video is telling, isn't it? He's icily withholding, she's pleading. There's a helluva lot of dysfunction in this mother-son relationship, and I think circumcision has little to do with it. Where's Dad, or do we even want to know?

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  2. I'd absolutely consider myself to be an intactivist and am aware that I'm in the minority here and elsewhere. A generation ago doctors might have said that circumcision was about good hygiene, but do all the labial folds that most women have interfere with good feminine hygiene? No, and anyone who suggested cutting labia off to make it easier to keep genitals clean would be laughed at as the idiot they are. And no, I'm not equating FGM with RIC, but the reality is that cutting healthy tissue off to make something easier to clean is ignorant. Furthermore, intact penises are also not responsible for cervical cancer. HPV is. And men can reduce their risk of HPV not by cutting off their foreskins but by practicing safer sex habits. If a parent wants to circumcise their kid for cultural or religious reasons (or cosmetic, but I've never heard of a parent getting a kid a rhinoplasty so that their nose matches dad's), that's fine, but OWN that choice.

    There's nothing weird or abnormal about an intact penis any more than there's anything weird about female genitals. After having a few intact partners, I can say that there IS a difference, but it is not in any way a negative one and can even be a quite positive and enjoyable experience.

    "Evan Roman needs to get a grip, accept his mother's heartfelt apology, and get on with his life."

    Now this I can agree with. She messed up, owns her errors and has asked his forgiveness. There's nothing more that she can do. He needs to find a way to make peace with the past and move on, making better choices for his own kids in the future.

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    1. He's having too much fun making mom grovel.

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    2. A. I certainly can't disagree with you. If I had a son now, I'm sure I wouldn't circumcise him; if I had had a son thirty years ago, I'm sure I would have done so. My point was that parents generally try to do what's best for their children based on what they "know" even though much of what we "know" proves later to be complete hooey. Adult children have an obligation to examine their parents' decisions in the context of the time & place they were made. If we didn't, none of us would be on speaking terms with our parents!

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    3. "f we didn't, none of us would be on speaking terms with our parents!"

      lol, probably in the minority here, too, but I'm not. :D

      His is an interesting response because as my husband and I were researching RIC, he was literally sickened by it and horrified that it'd been done to him. But he never once confronted his parent nor did he go off the rails in misery. It was one of those things -- you can't change what happened to you as a baby. You can only make choices based on the here and now, as you said.



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    4. My question is: What the eff are they doing rehashing this online for public consumption? If people think that airing their dirty laundry will help them or their families in any way, they soon learn how mistaken that belief was.

      There is absolutely nothing to be gained from going public with this or any familial issue, and plenty to lose.

      That said, I consider circumcision to be a barbaric custom and one that should be outlawed across the world. I come from a culture where men are not cut, and thank heavens for that.

      In my experience, the most persistent drivers of this custom are men: fathers and grandfathers (in Jewish communities, for example) who insist on doing to their sons what was done to them in the name of religion and other superstitions, often despite (very vocal) objections of the mothers (such was a case of a couple of my close friends).

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    5. Cinzia La StregaAugust 15, 2014 at 9:49 AM

      This.

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Thanks for commenting!