[09] The Cut Podcast: The Effects of Circumcision on Sexuality

On Tuesday, September 13, 2011, this recording was made of a conversation between Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon and Aubrey Taylor, whose intactivist work can be viewed at the YouTube channel whatUneverknew.

(slightly modified)

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon:

From the White Letter Productions studios in Los Angeles, California, I'm [Eliyahu] Ungar-Sargon, and this is The Cut Podcast.

I'm sitting here with Aubrey Taylor in Atlanta, Georgia. Aubrey was responsible for organizing the Atlanta leg of The Cut Tour, and she's a very prominent intactivist in her own right.

So, I just thought it would be a really good opportunity to talk to you about some aspects of this issue that don't often get talked about, and I think you're a very interesting person to provide that perspective.

So, why don't we start with you explain[ing] to our audience how you came [to be involved in] this issue, because I find your story to be very interesting and different.

Aubrey Taylor

Of course, you can watch my video (I Love Foreskin), and hear my story there.

I just always intuitively knew [that something about circumcision is bizarre], and then one day when I was about 20 [years old], I found out how [boys actually get circumcised] and the whole reality came crashing in.

I didn't even know how to use a web browser, [but I managed to happen upon information about] circumcision [by] searching; the first thing that came up on the screen was [something like]:

Find out if [the screen name] you want is taken [already]…

or some weird thing like that, so I was like “Circumcision?” I just didn't even know what I was doing, [but] I found circumcision quotes through some [circuitous] back way. My connection was [very slow] dial-up, and [while] I had no access to the video [of a circumcision provided by one site], the audio came through, and [it was just horrendous]—I cried all night. It was horrible and sad.

So, literally, I was [determined] to end [this injustice] before I even knew that there was anybody else out there who cared—[the Intactivist Movement]. I remember talking on the phone with a girlfriend of mine [about it]; I [was] acting on my instinct, telling people:

Yeah, [this circumcision thing is] not really cool; I mean, it's a normal body part! Why do you want to cut that off?

[Unfortunately], I didn't have any [powerful knowledge] or anything to back me up, and people [just disregarded me].

One guy early on told me [foreskin is] just dead skin, [which I found to be just a baffling and obviously ridiculous response]. So, I was really passionate about it before I had any experience or education or anything; [my activism has] always been just because I am that kind of person—I see something that's messed up, and I'm all about fixing it.

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon

Now, you talk in your video about how your experience of men—both with foreskin and circumcised—helped to reinforce your views on this. Can you talk a little bit about that and how that came about and what that meant.

Aubrey Taylor

Yeah, [the first intact man I experienced] might have been my third penis exposure, [and] it was literally like all the pieces of the [sexual] puzzle just [fell] into place—the realization was immediate; I stroked his penis and I thought:

Oh my god! I know why I [have been] uncomfortable—[what has been missing from sex]!

It was just so natural and so exactly what needed to be there that there was no question to me [that circumcision is damaging]; it was amazing at the same time to think:

How can anybody else not see the obvious?

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon

Yeah. I mean, the reason I'm sort of bringing this up is there's a perception out there—especially [in American] culture—that women prefer circumcised men. So, it's just striking to hear testimony from a woman who really doesn't have that view.

So, I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about that. Now, of course, it's sort of on a [lower] order than the sorts of [detrimental effects] that people talk about from a male perspective, but it does seem to be a peripheral effect that [circumcision does negatively] affect the sexual experience of [a circumcised man's] partner—

Aubrey Taylor

Right. Definitely. I think it does.

I mean, I understand that I am a particularly sensitive person, and I'm a particularly attentive person, and not everybody is that way and that's fine, but I do get a little baffled when women say that they have experienced both and either they think it's fine either way or whatever.

Of course, I've met lots of women who say they prefer foreskin, but for your average woman who's like:

Ewww! [Foreskins are] nasty!

I think that's really just [a matter of] experience—for a lot of people, what's considered to be normal has kind of a hold on them and the way that they allow themselves maybe to think about things. So, [that kind of reaction is really] just a mix of inexperience and the way that our society is; [people] fit into the [existing] groove and go with what's there.

I don't blame [such] women for their attitude, because it's just like, you know, if you saw somebody walking down the street without eyebrows, you'd be like “What the [heck]?” You know, you'd kind of be taken aback, and it would be abnormal to you. So, that's what [a complete penis] is to them.

Of course, I [speak] out against allowing that reaction [to justify cutting] a part off of somebody else's body—that's just not acceptable.

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon

So, you think [such women's attitude is] just a matter of there [being] fewer intact men than circumcised men [in the United States], and it's just a matter of familiarity?

Aubrey Taylor

I think it's totally all about that—exposure. Mona Lisa was beautiful in her time—[but she] had no eyebrows! So, you know, it's just what you know and what you're comfortable with. [While this aspect] may be something that people [bring up] right away when they are defending circumcision, I don't think [that it's] the real stronghold for when it comes right down to the decision making.

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon

Right, but it may actually affect a man's decision when [he knows] that there are women out there who actually do prefer the foreskin and that there are sexual benefits to having sex with a foreskin.

Can you talk a little bit about that. You know, you say you love the foreskin—

Aubrey Taylor

I do. I love the foreskin—

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon

So, just talk a little bit in more detail about [that]—we'll earn our explicit tag on this podcast!

Aubrey Taylor

I love foreskin for a lot of really subtle, intimate reasons.

I'm sure it's physical, but a lot of it is psychological. Of course, so much about sex is psychological; I was listening to your other podcast, and you said something that [you found to be an amazing thought is the notion of] the internalization of the penis—that [a complete penis is] more feminine, and that circumcision really externalizes and masculinizes [the penis]. [Well], there is this soft, subtle [aspect to] the intact penis.

  • It's more intimate
  • it's almost vulnerable.
  • It's softer.
  • It has a more organic smell.

It's knowing that it's an internal structure—and of course, I'm the kind of person who totally dissects [her] psychology, so maybe other people will not know what I'm talking about (or maybe never recognized it), but [sexual intimacy with an intact penis makes it] like you're dealing with a very fragile thing; to me, intimacy is a delicate thing—not to say that it can't be wild and crazy! but an intact man is just a little more subtle—you can't be rough [with his penis] the way you are with [a man who was circumcised]—the way you [almost] have to be sometimes with a circumcised penis—because [a complete penis has] more delicate tissue; it hasn't been keratinized, so you can't just take your dry fingers and rub on an intact glans, because [the man would respond with]:

Aaahh! What are you doing? Stop!

It's like you have to treat an intact penis the way you would treat your clitoris—you don't just go on with dry fingers and start rubbing on it; you treat it softer.

Truly, I think, in my experience, intact men are a lot more responsive; the [subtlest] things that you do make him respond, whereas with a circumcised man, you kind of have to really do something to kind of get a reaction. So, what [having a complete penis] does, I think, is it slows everything down—and of course, you've heard that [sexual] advice “to do everything half as fast and twice as soft” or something; so, [having a complete penis] slows everything down. It's just softer, more subtle—

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon

Well, if I can just jump in here, it's really something I've always wondered about: You circumcise most of the guys in a country, and then there's this [artifically imposed difference] between male sexuality and female sexuality—

Aubrey Taylor


Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon

And, again, we're in a realm that science has yet to really dissect properly—and I want to be very clear about that: We're not on firm empirical ground here; we're speculating, [and] that's all right, because this is a podcast, and that's what podcasts are meant for!

Aubrey Taylor

Right, and this is my personal experience.

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon

That's right; exactly.

I've always wondered [whether] a lot of the differences between male and female sexuality that you see in popular culture—that are sort of assumed [to be the natural dynamic]—are actually the difference between circumcised sexuality and intact sexuality.

Aubrey Taylor

Absolutely! I agree with that 100%.

In my opinion, if you cut off part of someone's sexual organ, you're going to create a sexual dysfunction. The underlying automatic assumptions that we have [in our society] about what men prefer [sexually] and what women prefer [sexually], I think, are really just reactions [to the consequences of circumcision]. Maybe [men] don't like different things [just] “because they're men”; maybe they like different things because they are circumcised.

[We hear about how] women always want [men] to slow the hell down [during sex], but [that's not an issue] when you're with an intact man; I mean, [an intact man has] probably never been barked at about that kind [of thing]—I don't mean to say [that's] 100% [true], but yeah, I think when you do [something like circumcision to most of the men in a society], you have these problems—not only do you have the problems, but then you have the assumptions that come after the problems, and then you have the assumed proper solution to the problem; it's just layer upon layer of effect that you have. [For instance]:

  • We've got an automatic assumption that the woman is supposed to supply the lubrication—not necessarily so! Intact men supply a lot of [liquid and mechanical] lubrication, something people [in our culture] really don't know about.

  • [We] have the automatic assumption that men are always going to want rougher sex, and because of that, women have grown this sort of psychological [coping mechanism]: [They] feel like they're being the pleaser—you know, they're stepping up to the plate—if they're the kind of girl [who] likes rough sex—I'm not saying [such an attitude is necessarily] disingenuous, but I'm saying there's an automatic underlying response that to be a [sexy] kind of chick, you [must be interested in various fetishes] or you [must like] your sex a little rougher, and [somehow] that makes you the more sexually attractive kind of woman.

So, there [are effects], and then there's the woman's response to all of these effects. I think [circumcision] really does draw us further and further away from what might really be making us happier as far as our sexual relationships go.

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon

That's really interesting; what we're talking about essentially right now are the ripple-effects of what culturally we might think is a very small change to [the] form [of the penis]—of course, those of us who are familiar with the effects of circumcision on the penis know that it's not (it's a pretty radical change)—but what [cultural attitudes tell us should be] a small change [in fact] has a [very] large ripple-effect.

You're getting now into some very interesting territory: What are the cultural impacts of that [ripple-effect]? I think this point that you bring up about women and what they think they need to be in order to be sexually attractive—

Aubrey Taylor

Whereas normal sex is here, circumcised sex is [there], and so women feel like:

OK, I'm gravitating as if this were normal sex; I'm going to be this way [in order to be sexually pleasing].

It has an effect on everybody's perception, because sex is kind of a public [topic]—I mean, there are some public awarenesses and underlying assumptions that everybody has [about sex], [which] come from conversation or whatever. So, if a woman is used to treating a [circumcised] penis a certain way, and then she goes and interacts with an intact man, she might be too aggressive or something.

I had to learn that myself. Well, it didn't take me much to learn it—I kind of knew it instinctively—but there was definitely an adjustment to be made in the way that [I handled] the two different [types of penis].

[Also]—and it's not a guarantee, [as] everbody is different—[an intact man], too, I think, has a subtle understanding about the way that he needs to treat a woman's genitals, because he does have internal genitals himself. [In contrast], a circumcised man treats his genitals rougher, so he's [maybe] not really realizing [that, for example, using dry fingers is] not really the best [for a woman]. An intact man knows you don't put dry skin on mucosal tissue, because it's irritating. So, it's just a tiny, subtle, thing; maybe they don't even realize that they're aware of it, but—

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon

That's very interesting too, because it would seem then [that] you're suggesting that a lot of what happens in sex comes from a sort of reflection on what feels good to [oneself]—

Aubrey Taylor

Yeah, totally—

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon

and if you're a person who has altered genitals, what feels good to you is not what's going to be the same thing as what feels good to someone who has unaltered—intact—genitals.

Aubrey Taylor


Of course, like I said, I think a large part of sex is psychological. So, [there's] not just the [worry about the] ripple-effect of the physical action and how [sex] changes, but [also] I truly believe that causing a very young infant to go through an extremely traumatizing experience has a real effect on his abilities:

  • to trust.
  • to be open.
  • to be vulnerable.

There's a certain connection—not [with] your basic one-night-stand that is all about the physical pleasure, of course, but I mean a real connection with your lover that is supposed to occur, because you're putting your internal, vulnerable body part inside the other person—their internal, vulnerable place. So, I think it's supposed to be a place where you let everything go, and you let down your guards, and you connect with that person in a place where you don't have fronts and whatever.

If you have a wound imposed on you in that place at a very developmentally sensitive time—I mean, I'm no science major or whatever; I'm no psychologist, but it just seems [obvious] to me that [something like forcible, traumatic, destructive genital surgery often without any pain control] is going to interfere with that natural process of bonding and letting go when it's there in the back [of your mind], in a place you can't even reach—that real subconscious place, where you [don't] even know how your patterns have been set and altered.

I don't know about divorce rates in other countries, but to me, it seems like [circumcision] would make it harder [for 2 people] to connect, and I've found that I have had a harder time connecting in that real intimate way with men who [were] circumcised.

[Of course], sure it could be my predisposed ideas about how circumcision ruins everything, but you know, I've spent a lot of time thinking about it, and honestly, I have had that experience. So, I don't think it's just me wanting to blame everything on circumcision.

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon

Do you have any advice for intact men in [the United States]? From your perspective, [do you have] any advice for them on how they should go about going through life as what is an anomaly in our society?

Aubrey Taylor

Yeah. I think it's unfortunate that a lot of intact men feel shy; [often], they've kind of prepared for women to say something nasty about their genitals, and that's terrible. It may very well happen, so be prepared, but I think confidence is, as usual, the best advice for anybody—be confident!

Really, I think, if you are the one to decide how the woman is going to perceive your genitals, I think she will respond [positively]; I think if you're confident about your foreskin and you know why [you can be confident], it's good. You come across a woman, and whatever her reaction might be, she's going to perceive your level of confidence there and respond [accordingly], [so] come to the [bed] with:

I've got the best!

which is difficult, but [it's important to know] that there's [really] a reason why you've biologically evolved to be this way, and [to understand] that her [preconceived] perspective is one that's been given to her essentially because she's been denied [exposure to a complete penis] and she's been fed these ideas from society—that she's going to respond in some way to your genitals, but [that] you set the tone. You decide that you know why things are the way they are and that it is good, and I think things will be smoother.

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon

A lot of guys are going to be listening to this who [were] cut—circumcised men—and some of them may not be completely in touch with the anger that some feel about this [issue], but as they become exposed to this information, they may become [angrier]—become more despondent and feel sexually inadequate as a result of it. Do you have any advice for those men?

Aubrey Taylor

I do. Take your time. Don't feel like you're being pressured to feel any particular way about your personal situation; everybody has a different reaction, everybody absorbs the information in their own way, in their own time. Some men get mad right away. Some men understand and are a little more stoic.

Intactivism is full of angry people—and rightly so—but it's unfortunate that anger can kind of get in the way, and it kind of makes people feel like they're being pressured to feel a certain way. So, just absorb [the information] the way that you can, and be prepared that you might have a negative reaction once you accept the facts.

[However], I truly was saved that night when I was crying and totally distraught because I actually found a web page about foreskin restoration that same night, [which gave me hope]—just knowing that men have the option to take some action [and] to make something different. Even if [restoration doesn't] affect their sensitivity in any way, it's still just for their psychological state:

  • I can have my body the way I want it.

  • I can do something about this.

  • I can at least have a physical covering over my penis the way it was intended.

I mean, [this hope] just saved me—I mean, I was just so distraught, and that was like one tiny little glimmer of light, and so if it does that for me, I would imagine that it would do that for a lot of men. So, even if you think it's hokey—even if you think it's something that only the crazy fringe do, or whatever—have a poke around the Internet. Google “foreskin restoration” and just read what other men have had to say about it, because it's not just the physical thing, I think; it's truly about saying:

It's my body, and it will be the way I want it (or it will be the way I was born, etc.).

Maybe you'll look and decide that you don't want it, but at least you've been there and you know that [you may still have some kind of choice].

The reason that foreskin amputation is wrong is not necessarily about everybody's opinion of what's good or what's bad or whatever; it's that you ought to have the choice [over your own body.]

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon

Aubrey Taylor, thank you so much for joining us on The Cut Podcast.

Where can people find your work?

Aubrey Taylor

Well, I am Aubrey Taylor on Facebook, [and] I do have a YouTube channel, whatUneverknew.

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon

That's our show; if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please email them to us at:

cutdocumentary AT gmail (.) com

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