Despair, embarrassment, grief and survival: A personal account of the impact of infant circumcision

In this special guest post, one of our members talks about the impact that circumcision has had on his life. He wishes to remain anonymous but he hopes that sharing his story will have two main impacts. First, he hopes that expectant parents who read his story will think long and hard before they subject any male offspring to genital cutting and, second, he hopes that adolescent and adult males who have been negatively affected by circumcision will read his story and be reassured that they are not alone in their experience and that there are steps they can take to lead happier, more productive lives. Here is ‘Richard’s’ story:

The first time I ever saw an intact (uncircumcised) penis was in the change rooms at Primary School. I remember thinking ‘that’s weird, I don’t look like that’. I had no idea why he looked different, I just thought that maybe he looked different because he was from England. All the Australian boys looked the same as I did. I didn’t really think much more about it until I was around 8 or 9 when, for reasons unknown, I asked my mother what circumcision meant. I think the word got mentioned on television. She didn’t really explain it. All she said was, ‘you know what Chris (the intact boy who lived next door) looks like…that’s because he hasn’t been circumcised’. I didn’t really think that much about it at the time. Shortly after that, I remember my father saying to me ‘you are circumcised, just like your dad’. I said to him ‘why daddy?’ and his response was ‘oh, just because it is nice and neat’. Once again, I didn’t really think that much about it at the time but my world was about to come crashing down around me.

Like most of us, my sexual awareness really kicked in around the time that I reached puberty. I had been having something resembling sexual relations with another boy since we were around six years old. I remember him saying to me ‘we’re poofs you know’. I had heard the word ‘poof’ before and knew what it meant but that was the first time that I even considered the idea that it applied to me. Having sexual contact with another boy seemed like the most natural thing in the world to me and I couldn’t reconcile that with the negative connotations which I knew that the word ‘poof’ had.

At this time I became racked with guilt and confusion but much worse was to come. Not long after all of that came the first time that I really inspected my penis and the grim reality hit me instantly. I suddenly realised what had happened to me. I suddenly realised what circumcision really meant. I had a dark band of scar tissue that went all the way around the shaft of my penis and there was also a ‘gap’, a second band of much lighter ‘depressed’ scar tissue. I was instantly devastated, instantly enraged and my whole outlook on the world instantly changed. (Thanks to the internet, I later discovered that the second band of ‘depressed’ scar tissue had been caused by an ‘improper closure’. The wound had not been stitched together tightly enough and had to be re-sutured. I almost certainly suffered severe blood-loss and I probably went into shock).

Almost overnight, my whole personality changed. I became extremely depressed and I became anti-social. Looking back at it now, I think that I had something akin to a mental break-down. I became increasingly dependant on alcohol and cannabis, in order to maintain something that resembled happiness. I had been an outstanding student in Primary School but over the next couple of years my academic results went badly downhill, to the point where I began failing subjects. I became an introvert. My childhood friends fell by the wayside and the small group of friends that I had made at High School couldn’t understand why it appeared that I was sabotaging myself so badly. I remember one of them saying to me, ‘you are smart, you are funny and you are a good-looking guy, so why are you behaving like such a twat?’

There was no way that I could provide an honest response to that question. My faith and trust in my fellow human beings had evaporated. I had become wracked with despair, embarrassment and grief and I hated myself. Instead of going on to complete High School and studying law at university, as I had always wanted to do, I dropped out and became a full-on ‘party animal’. I took loads of drugs. I didn’t recognise it at the time but I had gone into self-preservation mode. I tried to ‘do the right thing’ and stay employed but I couldn’t. I had developed a severe anxiety disorder. I couldn’t even do the basic things in life properly. I couldn’t feed myself properly. I couldn’t keep my clothes or my house clean.

During those especially dark years, my negative self-image also resulted in me avoiding having sex, even though I really desired it. I suppose my homosexuality complicated the situation in this regard because I feared that any male partner would see my penis and reject me. Eventually, a guy came along who I really liked. We had built up a good friendship and so I thought I could trust him. I was wrong. When we got naked I noticed that he had an intact (and I must add rather large) penis. When he saw my penis his behaviour changed immediately. He kept staring at it and wouldn’t touch it. At that point, I put my clothes on and walked the 5km to my home. After that experience, I didn’t even attempt to have sex for over ten years and, when I eventually did so, I felt the need to be in absolute control of the situation, in order to avoid a repeat of the humiliation.

My quality of life has improved somewhat over the last few years. To some extent, distraction ended up being a positive factor. I finally made it to university and completed an Honours Degree in International Relations. That achievement (and the recognition from others that it created) has helped me realise that there is more to my existence and my identity than just my status as a circumcised man.

On a different level, the internet has been a great resource for me. All of a sudden and ‘out of the blue’, I realised that I was not alone in the way that I felt. I discovered that there is an international ‘brotherhood’ of circumcised men whose life experiences have been as traumatic as my own. I also discovered that there are a large number of intact men (and also some women) who empathise with me and respect me for who I am. These people do not judge. These people inspire. These people are my friends. I no longer perceive myself as being a victim. I now perceive myself as being a survivor

Thanks to the internet, I have also discovered foreskin restoration. I know that I can never completely reverse the damage that was done to me by circumcision but I know that I can reverse some of it. It provides me with some comfort to know that, eventually, I will have more or less the same sexual appearance that I would have had if I had not been subjected to genital mutilation. That, for me, is the main benefit of foreskin restoration, although regaining some of the normal sexual function that I have been deprived of is also important.

So here I am, a 43 year old man who feels that he has been through hell (which is pretty weird considering that I am an atheist) and lived to tell the story. I now believe that my quality of life will continue to improve, even if it means sometimes taking two steps forward and one step back. I no longer judge myself in the way that I once did. In the end though, I know that I will always have to live with the burden of something that occurred in only a short few minutes of my life and which was imposed upon me without my consent.

Whoever reads this will no doubt sense that I still retain some self pity, however I consider it to be a great virtue that I am now able to use some of my psychological and emotional energy to help prevent as many boys and men as possible from experiencing problems similar to my own, as a result of being circumcised as an infant. I live in hope.

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