Laurie Toby Edison


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Circumcision: Much Ado About Foreskins

  • Laurie and Debbie say:

    We’ve been meaning to blog about circumcision for some time; we were sure the right hook would come along.

    We weren’t expecting a literal hook. (Link shows pictures of cut and uncut dicks.)

    But wait! There’s more!

    Yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle, in a review of The Book of the Penis by Maggie Paley (which looks like an excellent book), focuses on circumcision and quotes Kristen O’Hara, owner of the maniacal anticircumcision (and accompanying book) linked above.

    O’Hara could hardly be more over-the-top. Her website lists “ten ways circumcised sex harms women,” starting with the harpoon-like hook that “scrapes the vaginal walls, causing irritation, redness, discomfort (even pain).”

    O’Hara continues through various repetitions and enhancements of this theme, finally getting to two “proofs” that women can’t achieve orgasm if their lovers have circumcised penises (something both of us were, well, astonished to see) and culminating with the claim that a missing foreskin “deteriorates the relationship,” implying, we suppose, that men not only think with their penises, they also do relationship maintenance with their foreskins.

    O’Hara shows no interest in penis size, which would have to affect the points she’s making (size does matter), penis shape or vagina size and shape. Worst of all, she never mentions a lover’s skill and technique, the things that really do matter.

    Susie Bright is also quoted in the article: “Why can’t people just love their fetishes for what they are?” We couldn’t agree more.

    And it’s no surprise that she doesn’t speak to the real scientific reasons why circumcision is looking more and more like a good idea: “… circumcision reduced the risk of contracting HIV by 70 percent — a level of protection far better than the 30 percent risk reduction set as a target for an AIDS vaccine.” This finding has also been shown to apply to some other STDs.

    So we’ll leave you with a crucial question: if foreskins enhance the woman’s experience so hugely, why aren’t the good sex-toy stores full of dildos with simulated (and stimulating) functional foreskins?

    Thanks to Jonquil for the pointers to the article and O’Hara’s website.

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  • 22 Responses to “Circumcision: Much Ado About Foreskins”

    1. betsyl says:

      my current opinion is that circumcision falls into “ykiok”.

      if i end up with a son, and he wants to get circumcised when he’s old enough to make that decision for himself, i expect that i will be cranky, upset, and there in the waiting room before, during, and after surgery.

      but, assuming that i get a choice in the matter (i’m adopting, and the kid will show up like zie shows up, you know?), i will not do that to a baby.

    2. Lynn Kendall says:

      men not only think with their penises, they also do relationship maintenance with their foreskins.

      That explains so much.

      Snark mode off. The gentlemen with whom I’ve had relationships have included a couple of uncut guys. I haven’t noticed any differences in orgasm level or relationship style attributable to trimmed versus intact.

      As always, the most important sex organ is the one between your ears. No, the one about 4 inches north of the tongue.

    3. Vicki says:

      My experience matches Lynn’s in this regard.

      Also, to expand on her point, while relationship maintenance can be done in part with the tongue, the typing fingers also work.

    4. mayisay says:

      Nearly every major drug company in the world is working on a preventative and/or cure for HIV/AIDS. The reward is billions in profit.

      A baby boy borne today will typically not be sexually active until he is 16. That gives the drug companies 16 more years to find a cure. Odds are that something will emerge. If it does not, the 16 year old boy can always get circ’d at 18, if he decides that’s what he wants.

      More importantly, a baby boy born today could very likely live to 90 or 100 years of age (new scientific breakthroughs that extend life happen regularly). This means he could look forward to 70 or 80 years of sex.

      The book Sex As Nature Intended It presents irrefutable evidence that nature’s intended purpose of the foreskin is to facilitate sex and enhance pleasure, for both the man, and his female partner. The foreskin is a fetish fixation of Nature, for no matter how many we cut off, She still insists that every male be borne with one.


    5. mayisay says:

      Suzie Bright writes books and does talk shows that speak to an audience that is 80 per cent performing circumcised sex.

      What is in it for her to talk about the benefits of having a foreskin and the virtues of natural lovemaking? It would fall on deaf ears and would, no doubt, alienate her readers and listeners.

    6. roses says:

      “Worst of all, she never mentions a lover’s skill and technique, the things that really do matter.”

      Exactly! I enjoy sex so much more with my current (circumcised) partner than with my former (uncircumcised) partner because he’s more skilled, and we’re more in sync in terms of what we enjoy in bed. Compared to that difference, the difference between the circumcised and uncircumcised penises is completely negligible.

    7. Apparently when I was born it was medically fashionable to mutilate male babies, even if they weren’t Jewish. We made the conscious choice not to do so to our son. Nonetheless, uncut penes always look weird to me…

      I found the “ten reasons” website astonishingly educational, but not about what the creator probably wants her readers to be educated about. Mostly I was educated about her particular brand of gender feminism, which is pretty whack even as gender feminisms go.

    8. Lynn Kendall says:

      I know that circumcision carries profound religious significance to many people, and I respect that. Nevertheless, I would never circumcise a son of mine, any more than I would perform a clitoridectomy or any other female genital mutilation on a daughter. I am in no way in favor of this practice.


      Nevertheless, the status of my partner’s foreskin has never determined whether I enjoy intercourse with him. Nor have I noticed any particular irritation from the dreaded Hook, nor any loss of lubrication. I might add that I adore penetrative sex — hours of pounding, intense penetration, or gentle and voluptuous penetration — and have no problems achieving orgasm from vaginal sex alone.

      The vast majority of my male lovers have been circumcised, and I have had a hell of a good time with them. They also seem to have enjoyed themselves.

      I also take issue with the obsessive phallocentrism of the argument. Penis in vagina, blissful as it can be, is by no means the be-all and end-all of sex. Mouth tasting mouth, hand stroking back, teeth nibbling nipple, fingers sliding into asshole, eyes locked on eyes, tongue flicking earlobe, cunt grabbing hand* — all these are powerful sexual experiences that don’t require a penis at all, with or without prepuce.

      The pleasures given by hands, lips, eyes, voice, mind, tongue, heart are all fully capable of building intimacy and creating love, whatever Ms. O’Hara may say.

      I am annoyed by the obsession and the misinformation of that site — as well as the strange popups that appear, demanding that I keep hitting return to get rid of them. (I’m using Safari on a Mac.) My experience is not just invisible there, it’s actively denied.

      There are many good arguments against circumcision, Ms. O’Hara. Such silly exaggerations and outright untruths only damage your argument, alienate potential allies, and tarnish your own reputation.

      *Cunt grabbing hand? Just try inserting your well-lubed fingers into a woman and see how passive a pussy really is. When your whole hand is inside her, you’ll feel an astonishing strength as the hungry cunt gulps you in. Be careful, though — the vagina in orgasm generates enough force to bruise bones.

    9. RFD says:

      Well, it’s always useful to have a woman’s point of view … ;-)

      Many years ago, in the first era of the web, I ran into a series of sites put up by men upset about circumcision – their’s, usually. Endless and heartfelt complaints about loss of sensation, pain, mutilation. The problem was most of them were talking about immediately post-natal circumcision, and nothing they said mapped to my own experience.

      They were extrapolating from the experiences of a few men who had had, mostly for good and sufficient medical reasons, adult circumcisions. Those guys I could really feel for – they’d lost tissue that had grown up with them and been used. But how that experience could be projected to others like myself, whose bodies are notoriously adaptable, I cannot fathom – absent issues that have nothing directly to do with circumcision (as we practice it).

      (Now, l would be fascinated by a study of adolescent circumcision as practiced in many Papuan cultures, but the translation issues alone … ;-)

      Assertion is not proof – especially when it contradicts the direct experience of so many people. A friend of mine has a large chunk of stock in Johnson & Johnson – a direct consequence of her discovery of KY Jelly. A perusal of the 10 damages suggests others could benefit as well.

    10. arkgs says:

      Condoms reduce the risk of contracting HIV at a higher percent than does lack of foreskin. The same applies to “some other STDs”. Data taken from underpriviledged areas of africa with low condom use, multiple diseases, lack of access to clean water and varying sexual practices (preference for dryness) are not necessarily applicable to first world countries.

    11. Lizzie says:

      I have noticed irritation from the Hook, but it depends on the particular penis. Some have a big head, some have a small head, etc etc.

      I think circumcision is barbaric, period. I agree with mayisay up there – it looks like there will be a cure for AIDS/HIV soon, so mutilating a baby boy now isn’t justified. Plus there are, you know, condoms.

      I think this woman is a little obsessed by the subject, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true for some configurations of bodies.

    12. janet lafler says:

      The foreskin is a fetish fixation of Nature, for no matter how many we cut off, She still insists that every male be borne with one.

      You could say the same thing about the hymen.

    13. aag says:

      I didn’t have my baby son circumcised, but I will help him set things up for the procedure if he decides to have it when he’s a teenager.

      During many years of having sex with (so far) only circumcised men, I would have to say that pleasure or lack thereof comes from our connection and skill more than from the presence of a “hook.”

      If the “hook” dries you out, use lube.

    14. Michael says:

      In my not-so-humble opinion, this entire debate is absurd. OF COURSE circumcision should be banned–male AND female! The reasons are obvious.

      I don’t care what the religious or cultural origins are; faith-healing has cultural origins too, but parents who endanger their children that way are punished. Likewise, parents who forcefully remove the most sensitive piece of their helpless child’s body should be punished.

      The last time I checked, ignorance was no excuse; I am disgusted by the number of parents who still buy into the thin rationale used by proponents of circumcision. Let me give you an analogy; what if I suggested we remove all women’s breasts in order to prevent breast cancer?

      If we have enough morality not to cut off our baby’s fingertips “just because”, or dock the tails of our pets, why on earth would we even consider circumcision?!

      Sorry to rant, but the more I read up on both sides of this issue, the more I think this is one example of our society’s moral ignorance.

    15. royce says:

      It’s not FORESKIN ==> STD, but NO CONDOM ==> STD.

      There is less AIDS in circumcised West Africa than in intact East and Southern Africa. Moreover, AIDS has yet to become a big deal in any Moslem culture. At the same time, AIDS has been far worse in the cut USA than in intact Europe. Moral: where AIDS is primarily heterosexual, and where men won’t use condoms scrupulously when they stray off the ranch, the snip may blunt the AIDS epidemic. But where AIDS afflicts gay men and drug users, circ is pointless.

      A 2007 study confirmed to my satisfaction that circ removes the most sensitive parts of the penis. A medical school prof confirmed 15 years ago that the tip and inner lining of the foreskin and the frenulum are very rich in nerve endings, much more so than the glans. It is definitely possible that intact men enjoy sex more.

      O’Hara’s website is strident and fanatical, and I suspect that the videos are mostly porn (the women are all shaved). She collected her data by advertising in newsletters for anti-circ organisations. In other words, she studied faith by interviewing only members of the choir. I read her questionnaire and it was tendentious. She, along with 100-150 women who filled out her questionnaire, has difficulty enjoying vaginal intercourse with her cut partner. She did not enquire whether some women with uncut husbands are sexually dissatisfied for other reasons, such as, e.g., frenulum breve.

      A few years ago, the sex columnist for the UCLA student paper asked a number of her fellow women students what they thought about sex with cut and uncut partners. (A lot of California boys boirn after 1985 are uncut.) Most women had not noticed any difference, and could care less.

      I also agree that O’Hara has a very 1950s phallocentric perspective on marital sexual pleasure. At the same time, she says almost nothing about how the foreskin makes it very easy for a woman to do foreplay on a man. This foreplay can be crucial when a man slows down with age. Have your man stand up naked with his legs a foot apart. Then approach him naked and press your breasts into his chest. Gently take his penis in hand and slide his foreskin up and down. If he is not rock hard in 15 second, he’s a lush or dying.

      For my spouse, the main value of my foreskin is how it spreads precum in a way that improves sex for her, rather than having it go to waste in my shorts. When I meet and chat with a cool woman at a party, then later roll back my foreskin to pee, I often discover a very juicy tool…

    16. mayisay says:

      O’Hara states in her book: “…that 45% of the survey respondents were solicited through an ad in an anti-circumcision newsletter. However, when their responses were compared with the other 55% of the respondents who came from ads in ordinary magazines and newspapers, there were no significant differences.

      “Furthermore, at no time were the sexual subjects of this book ever discussed in any anti-circumcision newsletter. In addition, virtually all the information contained in Sex As Nature Intended It concerning circumcision’s effects on adult sexuality is NEW information and was virtually unknown to even the most avid anti-circumcisionist back in 1993, which is when these particular women took part in the survey (well before the popularity of the internet). Therefore, respondents could not have collaborated or merely repeat the thoughts they heard from others.”

      Pro-circumcision literature always devotes about two sentences to the subject of the foreskin’s function, if they address it at all. Usually they’ll state that the foreskin is a “useless flap of skin” or “a protective covering in primitive man that’s unnecessary today” or just that any male can easily get along without it, and then they go on to explain all the “goodies” about circumcision from there.

      O’Hara’s book and website show conclusively that nature’s intended purpose for the foreskin is sexual–to enhance sexual gratification and comfort for both the man and his female partner. To what extent can be debated. However, considering what the medical profession has been telling us for for years, O’Hara’s revelations are a major step forward for humanity.

      And if you surf the internet nowadays, it’s clearly evident that the message of the sexual importance of the foreskin is entering into the public’s consciousness.

    17. mayisay says:

      On Jan. 16, 2009, The prominent American female sex educator, Betty Dodson, openly declared at her website that she concurs with Kristen O’Hara that Infant Circumcision Harms Adult Sexuality, for Both the Man and his Female Partner:

      Betty Dodson, author and PhD sexologist, has been a principal voice for women’s sexuality, braving new ground in women’s sexual pleasure, for over 30 years. She is a frequent spokesperson in the media: TV, radio, and print. Her biography appears at Wikipedia:

    18. Bryan says:

      I find it incredibly interesting that virtually all of the anti-circumicision “Intactavists” have no experience with having a foreskin: they are all either women or men circumcised at birth.

      I have a unique perspective on this issue, having been left uncircumcised at birth (my parents are European immigrants) but having had the snip in my early 30’s for purely cosmetic reasons. There certainly is a slight decrease of tacticle sensitivity in the head of the penis (from rubbing against underwear, etc.) but it is not a loss of *sexual* sensitivity. All those wonderful, tingly sensations from masterbation, oral sex and intercourse remain undiminished.

      Last year, my wife became pregnant with our first child, a son, and she left the decision up to meI had always thought I would leave any son of mine uncircumcised so that he could make that choice himself… until I read the information about it reducing the risk of HIV by as much as 70%. Is it as good as a vaccine? No. Is it a replacement for safe sex practices? Heck no. But 70%?

      Look, when my son reaches puberty and starts getting the urge to put his penis in other people he is getting condoms. He is going to be taught how to use them. Condoms, however, do sometimes *break*. If snipping a little piece of skin off the end of his dick meant that he’ll be 50%-70% less likely to get HIV from an infected partner, you can be DAMN sure I was going to say, “Off with his foreskin!”

      We decided not to have it done at the hospital (where it’s often done by inexperienced interns!) and opted instead for a “holisitic circumcision”, which is essentially a Jewish Bris minus all the ceremonial trappings. The man who did it, a certified Jewish mohel who does secular snippings on the side, did an absolutely beautiful job. It was an incredibly quick, simple procedure, and although our little guy cried and fussed and was definitely in some pain, he calmed down as soon as it was over and my wife was nursing him. The tiny wound healed in less than a week (as opposed to over a month for me as an adult!).

      So, while I respect Betty Dodson immensely, I’m with you on this one Laurie!

    19. royce says:

      I am an intact inactive intactivist :D We exist.

      Mohels work faster and use a method that probably causes less pain. He should still have have administered some lidocaine beforehand.

      I suspect that condoms are more likely to break on a cut penis than on an intact one. I write as someone who has used a condom 100-200 times in my life.

      What changed your mind is the African clinical trials, whose evidence has no relevance to HIV around the North Atlantic. HIV is heterosexual in Africa, homosexual in Europe and the USA. A daily shower is the norm in the USA, not in Africa. Africans have chronic sores and STDs on the penis; most Americans do not.
      African men have a strange taste for “dry sex,”; no American male thinks this way about intercourse.

      The African clinical trials did not run long enough. We cannot rule out that circed men are less likely to contract HIV in a given period of time, but if they continue to practice unsafe sex year after year, they will catch HIV at rates comparable to their intact peers.

      The heavily cut USA has the highest rate of HIV positivity in the OECD, by a lot. HIV is quite rare in Australia and New Zealand, even though most young men there are now intact. The USA is the only country where public health authority figures have claimed that the results of the African clinical trials justify routine infant circ in advanced countries.

    20. sirius says:

      No doubt safe and effective neonatal vulvectomy also affords protection from sexual diseases, and virtually eliminates cancer of the vulva. Sure, there’s some loss of sensation, but there’s no medical study to prove that women who have had the benefit of this operation enjoy sex less than uncircumcised women. It’s best done in the first few days of life when the pain won’t be remembered. I’m sick of people saying that millions of parents are torturing their daughters. What bunk! It’s a parental right, just like cutting off part of your son’s penis.

    21. royce says:

      Mayisay, thank you for drawing the attention of readers of this blog, to the work of Betty Dodson. Dodson, who is now 80, was a radical lesbian feminist in the 1970s. She has gone back to straight. She was giving public lectures in the early 1970s, illustrated by slides of color photographs, revealing the power and glory of pussy. I propose that Dodson be honoured as the foremother of sex and body positive feminism. The evidence is overwhelming that her cause is advancing.

      That said, it was irritation with the tone and content of Kristen O’Hara’s website that started this thread. A number of posters, including me, have echoed that annoyance. But I am firmly in the camp of those who say that O’Hara is a distasteful extremist, and that routine infant circumcision is equally distasteful, especially when done without a prior injection of lidocaine, which is still common in the USA.

      In medically advanced nations, where a daily shower is the norm and condoms are readily available and affordable, where the dangers of anal and casual sex are now well-understood, there is no evidence that circumcision blunts the STD epidemic going on around us.

      The tissues that circumcision discards are highly ennervated. Hence they should enjoy the benefit of the doubt, when their sexual value is being considered. It is quite possible that the foreskin contributes little or nothing to the pleasure of most women. Women who have had a wide and carefree sex life have told me that they cannot comment on the circumcision status of their many lovers. They have only seen penises erect, and distinguishing cut from uncut when both are erect requires a very expert eye. But the research methods to investigate this do not exist yet.

      I have noticed a growing trend among lesbian couples who bear or adopt children, to take the circumcision decision seriously, should it be a boy. This I can only applaud.

    22. virginiamr says:

      I started researching this topic just before my son was born 8 months ago. I come from England and is not in my family’s tradition to have boys circumcised. However, my husband is. His mother was Jewish (his father wasn’t) and he had this done as a baby, I assume for religious reasons on his mother’s part. They both died in an accident when he was very young so I cannot ask her for the reasons. My husband is not actively religious himself and we decided in favour of letting our boy decide for himself. Still, I was never 100% convinced one way or the other. I have read about various benefits, although yes, of course the use of condoms is certainly the best protection against STD.

      In terms of sexual pleasure, well, I think I might be bias because I have had both circumcised and uncut partners and my husband is so far the best, but this is probably due to the fact that we are very in tune with each other bodies and massively attracted to each other and in love (I know it sounds corny but it’s just how I see it). I have never found him particularly rough but and I enjoy the fact that circumcised men tend to take longer ejaculating.

      Like many of you have pointed out O’Hara knew what conclusions she wanted to reach before she started her study and a lot of her statements don’t make sense to me. However, circumcision is not the only topic that people debate with ferocious passion. I have come across all manners of books regarding health issues which seem outlandish to me. There is this lady for instance who claims that women only feel labour pain because they are scared and that all would be well if you have a completely unassisted birth (meaning no midwife or doctor present at any stage) and there are some conspiracy theories (or so they seem in my humble opinion) involving doctors being intent on giving women c-sections for the heck of it. I had one with my son but there were medical reasons, i.e. he was in a breech position. After that, I experienced that a number of pro-all-natural methods pretty much looked down on me. Similarly, I have encountered websites who promote alternative medicine remedies for potentially lethal conditions such as appendicitis. Whilst the last two examples in my mind are dangerous things to preach to people and there is no danger in leaving boys uncut I still feel strongly that there is a fashionable obsession with natural ways and than a lot of the people (surely not all) who promote these at all costs seem very unwilling to listen to the other side of the argument.

      I’m still sitting on the fence on the circumcision argument (sorry about digressing a bit) and am still trying to read a bit more about the pros and cons but what I was in essence trying to say is that it seems to me than there is a lot of lobbying going around keeping everything natural and I’m open to the possibility that the advantages of circumcision may outweight the disadvantages. The argument about the hymen is an interesting one. Yes, of course, all girls are born with one and this doesn’t mean that we wish to keep things that way. lol