It’s rare that I read something providing both confirmation and frustration. Such is the case with this interview with Aaron Calloway, a man who chose circumcision for himself as an adult. Some of Mr. Calloway’s thinking precedes the Q&A in the interview:
“I have been in a couple of social circles where people would be talking and say, ‘Ugh, yeah. He was uncut,’ and I, like, didn’t want that,’” Calloway told me, when we spoke a second time about his circumcision. “And I’m sitting there with an uncut penis. People don’t really assume you may not be [cut]. They just assume that you’re cut and if you’re not, it’s kind of like this abomination.”
I’ll assume everyone is familiar with this because it certainly matches my experience. Americans generally assume every male is – and should be – circumcised. It’s what we do. It’s “good”. I take a different view on what to do with society’s perception. Of course I don’t have the same experience Mr. Calloway does. Mine is people assuming I’m happy with being circumcised, because why wouldn’t I be? It’s strange, and annoying because I don’t care what other people think about my preference. I’d rather have my normal body, which I had until my parents made my choice.
Early in the interview, Jenny Kutner, asks a question that expands on this:
How would you say it’s perceived to be uncircumcised [sic]?
It’s strange because it really depends on being asked. If you are someone who prefers a cut penis, or to be circumcised, it’s weird because the preference — they automatically associate it with cleanliness. It’s considered a more proper penis and uncircumcised is like, weird. But it makes me think, it’s weird to actually be born and have your penis hacked at. I am glad that I made the decision on my own to do it. There’s something empowering about that.
I’m glad Mr. Calloway had his choice, even though I don’t (emotionally) understand – and wouldn’t make – the choice he made. He’s correct that it’s weird to be born and have your (healthy) penis hacked at. That weirdness is why I dreaded this excellent, necessary question:
Since you found it empowering to decide yourself, what do you think you would do for your son if you had one?
I would probably get him circumcised, only because I wouldn’t want him to deal with the social embarrassment of [not being circumcised], because it can come off that way. I’ve been in situations where if I let myself, I could’ve felt embarrassed, but I chose to own it. I think I had enough resilience where it didn’t get to me, but I think that some people in that situation, it does get to them.
I wanted to turn off my monitor, unplug it, and throw it in the garbage when I read this, just so I’d never be able to read that answer again. Because the obvious question is obvious: What if that hypothetical son wouldn’t be embarrassed by social pressure to be circumcised? Or, what if the social pressure is no longer the same 15+ years after that hypothetical son is born in the future? And, I still remember, “I am glad that I made the decision on my own to do it” from the previous question. Is there a reason to assume a hypothetical son wouldn’t want his choice, too?
My frustration with Mr. Calloway’s answer grew later in the interview when the question turned to Mr. Calloway’s results:
Aside from not being able to ejaculate for a while, were there any other negative side effects?
Besides the desensitization –
So you do have less sensation now?
Yes, and that is something that I’m a little bit sour about. I used to have very intense orgasms–my legs would curl and my head would go back. It was cool. I was very into it. Now, I’ll cum or whatever, and it’s just more calm. It’ll feel good, but it’s not as dramatic as before, which was nice, because it felt sexual and passionate, and now it’s just like, get out.
Is it worth it?
Is it worth it? I would say, in my situation, and my experiences, yes, it is to me, because I just personally feel better about it. I was with some friends who were talking about the word “smegma” and making jokes about it, and now I don’t have to feel uncomfortable in that situation, and that’s really nice. I think for me and my personal psyche, it is worth it. I’m not saying that when I cum I don’t feel anything. No. That’s not the situation either. I still get horny. I want to have sex. It still feels great and I still have an orgasm. Is it to a lesser degree? Yes. Is it an orgasm nonetheless? Definitely.
It’s consistent to say “I’m a little bit sour about” it and “in my situation, and my experiences, yes, it is [worth it] to me.” All preferences are unique to the individual. Mr. Calloway values the aesthetic and social benefits more than the healing process and diminished sensitivity. Given that I only advocate for each person to make his own choice, not that no one be circumcised, I’d be a hypocrite to criticize his conclusion. I criticize his current thinking that he would circumcise a future son. There’s also time for him to see the error in his thinking there.
To the possible objection with this interview, of course Mr. Calloway’s claim is subjective and anecdotal. This does not prove that adult or infant circumcision leads to desensitization. I think the inference is logical, given how circumcision changes the normal penis. Still. No, this isn’t proof.
It does support my focus on individuals rather than groups. We must remember how critical this is when reading generalized garbage such as what the CDC offers on page 26 of a detailed supporting document for its proposed recommendations to teens, adults, and parents of newborns.
… However, in one survey of 123 men following medical circumcision in the United States, men reported no change in sexual activity and improved sexual satisfaction, despite decreased erectile function and penile sensation. [Abstract and study]…
From the results section of the study’s abstract:
A total of 123 men were circumcised as adults. Indications for circumcision included phimosis in 64% of cases, balanitis in 17%, condyloma in 10%, redundant foreskin in 9% and elective in 7%. The response rate was 44% among potential responders. Mean age of responders was 42 years at circumcision and 46 years at survey. Adult circumcision appears to result in worsened erectile function (p = 0.01), decreased penile sensitivity (p = 0.08), no change in sexual activity (p = 0.22) and improved satisfaction (p = 0.04). Of the men 50% reported benefits and 38% reported harm. Overall, 62% of men were satisfied with having been circumcised.
As the study concluded, and the CDC’s use failed to understand, “adult circumcision appears to result in worsened erectile function, decreased penile sensitivity and improved satisfaction.” Again, those don’t have to be inconsistent for an individual. But it’s indefensible to assume infant circumcision results in a different outcome, or that results one and two ethically coexist with result three for healthy children.
Even in this study supposedly supporting the CDC’s recommendation, only 62% of men were satisfied. The other 38% matter, too. In the absence of need, the only relevant issue is always individual choice. And looking at the math, the results show that far fewer than 100% of men circumcised for (probable) need were satisfied. Remember this every time someone implies every male should¹ be satisfied with non-therapeutic circumcision because some males are satisfied with therapeutic circumcision.
I appreciate what Mr. Calloway has done with his interview. His honesty is informative in both its insights and its flaw. We need more honest, focused discussion like that. I don’t assume all men circumcised as adults would report reduced sensitivity. I know there are enough that it might help break through the societal barriers we maintain against ethical protections for the normal bodies of male children.
¹ Consider Mr. Calloway’s results in the context of a recent silly lifestyle trend piece. It concludes with a man from Staten Island named Boris who had himself circumcised at 33. Okay, fine, good for him. Even though he said that “[t]he next six months weren’t normal,” everything is apparently okay with circumcision because now “[w]e’re expecting a baby next month — everything works just fine!” Clap, clap, except no one is making the argument that circumcision prevents ejaculation or climax (Except in those rare cases of death where it prevents that). “Sex still feels good” is the most persistent and most pernicious straw man in the circumcision debate.
Read this response instead.