Sadly, this seems to be a common experience. Other followers in medical programs have told me basically the same thing: that their teacher was ignorant about foreskin and promoted circumcision, and most if not all of their classmates agreed with the teacher. It must be such a frustrating situation to be in, to be the lone intactivist in a room full of people who support circumcision and will possibly wind up performing them in the future.
I was at the library and I saw this book called “Surgery and Its Alternatives” that was published about a decade ago. Naturally, I skimmed the section on reproductive health, to see if there was anything interesting there. In the intro to male anatomy, they said something along the lines of “The glans is the ultra-sensitive tip of the penis, covered by the retractable foreskin at birth.”
I have mixed feelings. I’m glad they acknowledge the foreskin (the illustration had it, too), as I’ve heard that some medical books act like it doesn’t even exist. But the fact that they mentioned the glans’ sensitivity but not the foreskin’s is disappointing. And the “at birth” wording kind of gives me a vibe that they’re basically saying “but yeah you don’t really need it afterwards.”
It’s also a little misleading because the foreskin, while retractable later in childhood, is NOT retractable (and should NEVER be forced) at birth. The glans and the foreskin are fused together in the early years of life.
The Philippines and South Korea are two other countries that practice non-religious circumcision as routinely as the US does. One big difference, however, is that they generally practice it at the onset of puberty, rather than at birth. Although medical myths regarding circumcision are commonly believed (particularly in South Korea), it’s more frequently thought of as a rite of passage in these countries. The prevalence is thought to be around 75% in South Korea, and a whopping 92% in the Philippines.
For the record, I believe that forcing non-necessary circumcision onto a child is just as bad as doing it to an infant. Given how routinized circumcision is in these countries, It’s very unlikely that a kid who doesn’t want it will be able to convince his parents not to do it. Even if he is lucky enough to avoid it, shaming of foreskin is even more common in these countries than it is in the US.
Some related reading:
“Babies will be held down by a parent or assistant or strapped down into a Circumstraint. This device has Velcro straps to restrain the baby’s arms and legs so that he cannot move. The area is prepared with an antiseptic.
Some doctors will use local anaesthesia, but this is by no means common. Anaesthetic injections will cause the penis to swell, causing pain and making the surgery more difficult. Both injections and topical anaesthetic creams can be dangerous. General anaesthesia is never used on young babies because of the risk of breathing problems.
The foreskin opening in a newborn is normally very small, to prevent the entry of foreign matter (eg. fecal matter). The first stage of circumcision is to grasp the foreskin with forceps, and widen the opening.
The foreskin is normally attached to the glans by a membrane called the synechia. The glans and inner lining of the foreskin are still developing in the young child. During circumcision, the synechia must be torn apart. Naturally, this is painful.
The foreskin is clamped. A slit is made in the dorsal side of the foreskin.
The slit is separated and the foreskin is laid back, exposing the raw and bleeding glans.
A PlastiBell of appropriate size is slipped over the glans, and the foreskin is laid over it.
A ligature is tied in the ridge of the bell, as tightly as possible around the foreskin. Oozing will occur if the ligature is loose.
After one or two minutes to allow for crush, the foreskin is sliced off at the distal edge of the ligature using a knife or scissors. The surgeon trims as much tissue as possible to reduce the amount of necrotic tissue and the possibility of infection. The handle of the bell is snapped off at this time.
The rim of tissue will become necrotic (dead) and separate with the bell in 5 to 10 days. Occasionally, edema (swelling) will trap the plastic ring on the shaft of the penis. In this case it’s usually necessary to cut off the ring, using a guide and ring cutter, although application of ice will sometimes reduce edema enough to remove the ring.
Circumcision removes (on average) one third of the penile skin system (sensitive inner and outer preputial layers), including the peripenic dartos muscle, the frenar band, and part of the frenulum.”
Current understanding of the benefits, risks and potential harm of this procedure, however, no longer supports this practice for prophylactic health benefit. Routine infant male circumcision performed on a healthy infant is now considered a non‐therapeutic and medically unnecessary intervention. Parental preference alone does not justify a non‐therapeutic procedure.
Circumcision is painful, and puts the patient at risk for complications ranging from minor, as in mild local infections, to more serious such as injury to the penis, meatal stenosis, urinary retention, urinary tract infection and, rarely, even haemorrhage leading to death.
Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an infant has rights that include security of person, life, freedom and bodily integrity. Routine infant male circumcision is an unnecessary and irreversible procedure.
This procedure should be delayed to a later date when the child can make his own informed decision.
|—||-College of Physicians and Surgeons, British Columbia, September 2009|
Once it was carefully and correctly in place, I started turning the clamp handle. I had been told that newborns didn’t feel pain which I scarcely believed, when all of a sudden came screams which loosened the paint on the wall.
What an eye-opening, eardrum damaging event. I had heard and seen battle injured soldiers before but this screaming raised the hair on my neck.
|—||Dr. Phil Levesque, on circumcision|
That certainly wouldn’t surprise me, though I do think that some doctors’ genuine ignorance (rather than intentionally lying) regarding the foreskin also plays a role in much of this.
It’s worth pointing out that circumcision is a varied procedure, which can remove differing amounts of skin from different people. But the fact remains that highly sensitive tissue is always lost in the process.