In Vancouver, BC, Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon interviewed the unique Glen Callender, a performance artist who makes live demonstrations about the wonders of his foreskin. He also founded the pro-foreskin advocacy group CAN-FAP to help usher in a new Sexual Revolution that will give men the confidence to explore their own sexuality. Here is the recording, and a transcript follows.
From the White Letter Productions studios in Los Angeles, California, I'm [Eliyahu] Ungar-Sargon, and this is The Cut Podcast.
Well, welcome back to another special edition of The Cut Podcast. I'm very happy to be sitting here with Glen Callender in Vancouver, British Columbia—that's Canada, for those of you south of the border—
It's Canada for people north of the border, too, actually!
So, Glen, why don't you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about how you [came] to this subject of circumcision and intactivism.
Well, I'm Glen Callender. I'm the founder of:
The Canadian Foreskin Awareness Project[which is] Canada's newest and feistiest pro-foreskin advocacy group. The Canadian Foreskin Awareness Project promotes foreskin education, appreciation, and stimulation, and [it] advocates for the human right of all children—male, female, and intersex—to grow up with intact genitals.
I am intact. Yes, I'm intact, and yes, I've enjoyed my foreskin [since] a very early age; [I] was an orgasmic kid quite young. Anyway, I was [maybe] about 9 or 10 [years old] when I [first] learned of circumcision. I mean, I had seen circumcised penises at the community pool (and places like that); I remember being perplexed at how many of the other men and boys could keep their foreskins “pulled back” [permanently] without using their hands! I didn't know what was going on there.
Eventually, I learned that they had had their foreskins cut off! When I learned of this (and I think I read about it initially), it really made my blood run cold; I was absolutely shocked to the core of my being [by the fact] that many boys [had] had their foreskins cut off—it was an immensely upsetting thing for me to learn, because at the time, I already had a great relationship with my foreskin. So, it was absolutely shocking and upsetting—and frankly, that feeling of shock has never gone away for me; to this day, there's part of me that's absolutely horrified at the thought that this is done to little boys.
In the last few years, that's when [this issue has] really come forward for me. About 2008 was when I started to have the series of ideas that led to what is now the Canadian Foreskin Awareness Project and my current act as a performance artist, where I demonstrate my foreskin to people—to demonstrate why foreskin is fabulous and why circumcision is harmful.
So, one of the things [on which] I really want to get your perspective (and [in which] I think a lot of circumcised men are very interested) is what [it is] that the foreskin contributes to male sexual experience. I think you have a very powerful story on this front, because you're not only intact, but you are [also] aware of your foreskin in a way that maybe [even] some intact men aren't.
Again, this is difficult, of course. We're talking about the content of human experience; it's very difficult to talk about this in purely objective terms, but [it would be great] if you [could] be as explicit as possible—just share with our audience what it is about the foreskin that is so important. I think the cultural belief out there is [that] whether you have a foreskin or not doesn't really make a big difference to male sexual experience.
Well, I'll start by saying [that] one of the reasons why I [educate] people about foreskin is [what] I call my “revenge” on [what was] the sexual education curriculum of British Columbia in the [1980s]; when I went through sex ed in junior high, there wasn't a foreskin on the diagram of the penis that they gave us to study.
Even to this day, you can go to the bookstore [and] get books off the shelves—published this year [or] last year (primarily in the USA, [of course])—that still [don't] have the foreskin on the diagram [of the penis], or [at least] it won't be labeled and it won't be discussed, which is absolutely crazy! It's absolutely insane that there's this incredible level of enforced ignorance about the foreskin.
The truth of the matter is, of course, that the foreskin and the inner foreskin contain most of the nerves of the penis—the most sensitive parts of the penis; the fine-touch nerves, [which are] the most erogenous parts of the penis, are [located] there.
Based on the fact that the cultural emphasis is on the head of the penis, the idea we get is [that] the foreskin is just a cover for the head of the penis. [Folk knowledge states that] the head is really the focus; it's where the action is, and I would say that I—as many intact men—more or less bought into that belief for a really long time.
Looking back on it now, I understand that much of the pleasure that I experienced from my foreskin [was pleasure that] I [erroneously] attributed to the head of my penis; I thought it was coming from the head of my penis, but it wasn't. It was actually coming from my foreskin—my inner foreskin area.
As I [have] become more educated about the anatomy of my penis, I have learned to discern the sensations that I get from different parts of my penis, and focus on them. When I was younger—unaware of really my [own] anatomy and the [subtleties of the] pleasure—it was like there was a [nebulous] haze of pleasure coming from my penis, which I believed was mostly [from] the head of the penis, but now I know [this] isn't the case: [The pleasure originates] mostly from my inner foreskin, [and] the head of the penis is a relatively minor player in my sexual experience.
That's really interesting, because one of the things [which] that suggests—and of course, I think there are many data points that can [corroborate] this insight—that there's a large degree of your psychological expectations playing into your experience of your body [and] your experience of your sexuality (in a sort of feedback mechanism). Can you give a little more detail on that side of things?
The analogy that I use is whiskey tasting: When I was younger, I didn't know much about whiskey; I didn't know how it was made, etc. So, when I tasted whiskey, [my experience] was just WHISKEY! That was the flavor—just this [monolithic] taste.
Then I went to Scotland, and I went to distilleries, and learned about the components of the flavor of whiskey—the grain that they use, how they malt it, what the effect of that is, the type of peat moss that they use (they burn peat moss, so there's [a taste of] smoke), [and] they put the whiskey in wooden barrels of different woods to mature, and [all of these things] flavor the whiskey. You learn these things, and they give you whiskey to taste [as you learn], so that you can actually start to take apart the flavor. Now, I can [discern] these [contributions to the flavor]; I can taste the smoke, for example.
I would say that my sexual experience is the same: Before I had really learned much about the anatomy of the penis, there was [only a nebulous, monolithic] haze of pleasure coming from my penis, [which] I generally assumed was [coming from the] head of my penis. But, as I was researching the anatomy of the penis—[really] just in the last few years—I kept reading over and over in the intactivist literature—in the science of the anatomy of the penis—that most of the [pleasurable] nerves are in the inner foreskin:
- The frenulum.
- The ridged band.
- The soft mucosa.
At the time, I of course knew that my foreskin [feels] good—I was aware [and] never imagined cutting it off—but I thought to myself:
Well, I don't really seem to feel like I'm getting this enormous amount of pleasure from my foreskin. I'm getting plenty, but not as much as the literature would suggest!
If these [parts of the foreskin really] are the specific areas where the nerves are concentrated, [then] if I were to isolate those areas in terms of masturbation and [exploration] of my own body—if I [were] to stimulate them separately from the rest of my penis—then interesting things ought to happen.
So, I started experimenting with that, and Lo and Behold! Interesting things did happen; in fact, I have found now that I am capable of multiple orgasms from stimulating just my ridged band; I have the capacity to do that all along my frenulum, from [where the frenulum meets] the ridged band all the way up to the head of my penis—I [hadn't known] that until I actually stimulated it in isolation from the rest of my penis.
Going back to the whiskey analogy, what this has enabled me to do is take apart the sensations that I feel; now when I have sex, I'm conscious of the different parts of my penis and the different sensations that are coming from it—I can feel [what sensations are coming from] the head of my penis, I can feel the ridged band, I can feel the different sensations; I can take it apart in a way that I previously couldn't, and it has been an incredible experience for me, because it has fundamentally changed my sexual experience and how I enjoy my penis and sex.
Now, when you say “multiple” orgasms, is this sort of the kind of multiple orgasms that people who think off talk about—that's not coupled with ejaculation?—
Like the tantric type [of] thing?
No, this is not [some] New Age—I'm very skeptical of those [ideas]; I've known men [who] have said “Oh, I can orgasm for hours!” and I say:
Yeeeaaaah... sure you can, Mister Rainbow Waterfall Crystal-Up-Your-Ass guy. I don't think so. I think you are committed to this idea that you have mystical sexual energies and blah blah.
No. We're talking about actual orgasms with ejaculations that are readily observable. In fact, I'm right now in the process of creating visual demonstration clips of these different orgasms, so that I can teach intact men their anatomy and what the potential of their anatomy is—this is not something that is taught right now.
My point of view is that this is exactly following the feminist position—which has been stated many times over the last 50 years—that women aren't enjoying sex as much as they should because they weren't taught their anatomy and how to enjoy their bodies; they were [instead] taught shame:
- “Don't touch that!”
- “Don't look at that!”
It wasn't so long ago that the act of taking a mirror and looking at one's own vagina was [considered] a revolutionary concept! Before [that] time, women would live their entire lives without even having a single good look at their own genitals ever. This greater openness has led to women learning about their G-spots, and when a woman learns about her G-spot—learns how to locate [it] and how to stimulate [it and] get to know it—her chances of having G-spot orgasms go up enormously.
My position is that men are actually significantly behind women in this regard. The actual anatomy of the penis is far more intricate and laden with literally orgasmic organs than is currently known by most people, and I really believe that intactivism will go hand-in-hand with almost a new Sexual Revolution—this time on the male side of the equation—where men will learn the truth about their anatomies.
At the moment, our culture is very shy to talk about the merits of the foreskin and the immense erotic contribution the foreskin makes to both the man and his partner—specifically because it means [facing up to the fact] that a lot of men have had these parts taken away [from them].
I know from direct experience that I have several different ways of orgasming, and most of them would be taken away if I were circumcised. The parts that I have ([and] that circumcised men don't have) are fantastic parts, and one of the reasons I'm an activist is because I really enjoy my foreskin, and when I do, I simply know in my heart that it is a crime to take that experience away from somebody; when people understand the truth about the anatomy of the penis, it will have a massive impact on the circumcision debate.
You were just talking about some of the things that you discovered through masturbatory practices. Can you talk a little bit about the effects that your foreskin has had (especially as you [have] become more aware of it) on sex with women and—in your case, [as] you are bisexual—with men also. What role does the foreskin play?
Well, I would say that in terms of my own experience, a lot of the fun is because I'm in possession of fairly unique knowledge about the anatomy of the penis, and I should say that the concept of foreskin awareness—the title of my group is the Canadian Foreskin Awareness Project—is about more than just circumcision-related issues; it's about actually being aware of your own foreskin and the parts of it.
One thing that happens to me is whenever I have a partner, I have to teach [my partner]; it's very instructional, because I'm dealing with people who don't know this stuff, and so certainly my sex has become a lot more communicative, because I have to really show people:
OK, this is the ridged band; here it is; here's how you can see it; here's how you can feel it; here [are] the different things you can do with it...
and that's just one little area! [Next]:
Here are things you can do with the frenulum, [etc.]
So, sex has become very explorative for me—I'm still learning new things.
In terms of the difference between men and women [as my partners], well, in terms of oral sex, there's not much of a difference!—and oral sex is really where the bulk of [my] information comes in handy, because with your mouth and your fingers, you're capable of manipulating the penis in ways that are more [subtle and specific] than during intercourse.
[Of course], the [information] certainly does make a difference during intercourse. As I said, I can now feel very acutely the component parts of the sensation; a lot of the sensation of penetration is the inner foreskin stretching backwards, and there are nerves there that detect [stretching], so there's a very exquisite sort of sensation of the skin rolling back—which is really most of the experience of penetration for an intact guy: That experience of the inner foreskin moving. A cut guy [can't] have that experience.
One thing I talk about in my show—and bring to women's attention in particular—is that the texture of the shaft of the intact penis is significantly different from [that of] the circumcised penis, in that a circumcised penis is often very tight, [while] in the case of the intact guy, it's wrinkly and soft.
I tell people about the ribbed condom and how [it] is a [partial] simulation of a foreskin. When a circumcised man wears a ribbed condom, he's wearing essentially an artificial foreskin, because for millions and millions of years before anybody started chopping off the foreskin, the vagina [had] evolved to be stimulated by the foreskin and the slack skin of the shaft [of a complete penis].
So, I tell people to pay attention to these things, and once they pay attention to them, it's the same thing as when I can take apart the components of my sexual experience: A woman [can] become [increasingly] aware of the component parts of her experience—the different ways that a penis stimulates the vagina; there are different sensations.
You know, we hear a lot about how the foreskin has this sort of natural back-and-forth motion during intercourse that obviates the need for artificial lubrication. Is that true? Do intact men use lube? Do they use it less than cut men? What's your experience with this?
Well, in terms of masturbation, I certainly do use lubricant when I feel [the need]—there are different things you can do with extra lubrication.
[However], it's certainly not necessary; intact men in general have no difficulty masturbating without lubricant because [of] the sheath of skin—I mean, the penis is supposed to be a self-stimulating organ, and the moving sheath of skin and the various stretchable organs in the foreskin don't require outside lubrication at all to function perfectly.
So, I [hadn't used] lubrication ever until probably my early 20s [when I first] tried it; it was recommended to me by another intact guy [who suggested interesting things could be done with it and that] “It's a whole other thing”—and I did [try it] and thought “Oh! It is!” It's a different experience.
Now adays, [I enjoy] both; I routinely use lubricant, and I routinely don't use lubricant—it's entirely based on [the kind of] orgasm [for which] I'm looking. Now when I spend a little time with myself, I have a menu of orgasms [from which] I can choose, and [for] some of them I use lubricant and [for] others I don't.
What about with a partner? Is [lubricant] something that you find yourself using?
In my life, I've only had one female partner who required additional lubrication for unprotected sex, and she did certainly have medically deficient lubrication of her own body.
[Other than her], I've never had any problem with [not using lubricant during intercourse]. In fact, I've certainly had cases where I [am] with [a woman], [we] have [been doing] the foreplay and I want to get into it—you know, penetrate—and she say[s]:
Well, you know, I don't think I'm ready!
and I say:
Don't worry about it!
and [then proceed to insert myself] and she [goes]:
[because she's realizing how easily my intact penis is able to enter her due to the gliding action of the foreskin.] This is one of the problems with circumcised sex: It requires more foreplay; you've got to get the vagina really lubricated in order to stick a dry penis in there.
[This is not really a problem with] an intact guy. Penetration is easier if you actually push the foreskin over the [head of the] penis (not pull it back) before you penetrate, because the foreskin leading the way allows you to pump inside: If there's any [dryness], [it is] the foreskin [that comes into] contact [with it], and then the moist and slippery head of the penis can travel [back and forth] inside without any issues; [the foreskin acts as a buffer between the sliding shaft and the vaginal walls, which avoids irritating friction—the vagina is mainly stimulated by pressure, not friction.]
So, [the foreskin] really aids in penetration; the bottom line is that certainly the [gliding, rolling action] of the foreskin contributes a great deal to sex. I've certainly been with many women for whom I was the first or one of the first intact men [with whom] they [had sex], and they certainly noticed the [benefit].
Is that also the case with homosexual encounters?
Well, I would say queer men are already ahead on the issue of circumcision by virtue of the fact that queer men do interact with penises other than their own; they do find out pretty quickly that the guy with a foreskin has more fun, so they're conscious of that.
[As far as penetration is concerned], [the foreskin] certainly [provides the same benefits] for anal intercourse, as well—especially because the anus doesn't self-lubricate in the same way that a vagina does. [Yes, the foreskin] certainly makes a significant contribution there, as well, [regarding] the ease of penetration—and stimulation [too]: The anal ring [is] stimulated by the wrinkles on the intact shaft just like a vagina is.
Now, you've had experience with men who were circumcised. So, in a way, you're in this very unique position of understanding also what it takes to stimulate a circumcised man versus what it takes to stimulate an intact man.
A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with Aubrey Taylor, who was talking about this from the heterosexual female perspective. What has your experience been, and has this contributed to your understanding of the effects of circumcision?
Well, at least in terms of oral sex—fellatio—a straight female's perspective and mine [are] going to be very similar. Obviously, you know [immediately] that on a circumcised male, you do [have to] work harder, and he feels significantly less in terms of a hand job, for example.
Again, you can easily get an intact guy off without lubrication. Of course, during fellatio, there's usually a certain amount of hand activity (you know, moving around the shaft), so the immobility of the skin of a circumcised penis is a real drag compared to [the gliding, rolling action] you have with an intact penis.
You can do so much more with [the foreskin] just by yourself—without recourse to lubrication or even your mouth. Just by moving the foreskin back and forth on the penis of an intact guy, you're [already] giving him a lot of pleasure right there; you're simply facilitating the penis's self-stimulating function, and you provide essentially the stimulation of having your mouth on the penis without having your mouth on the penis [because] of the enclosure of the foreskin—it's warm, it's moist, it's slippery, and it stimulates the [pressure-sensitive] head.
You just don't have that in the case of a circumcised guy. You [could] lubricate your hand and [then] massage the head of the circumcised penis with the palm of your hand (of course, you can do that with an intact guy, as well), but you certainly notice with an intact guy that he [feels] much more [subtle stimulation]; you can do much more gentle things with an intact male, and you immediately see that he is affected by that—he enjoys it.
So, yeah, there's a lot less that you can do with a circumcised penis. Yeah, you do work harder—you're more likely to get a jaw cramp going down on a circumcised guy than an intact guy. [Sexual interaction with a circumcised man] tends to be more violent, and I find it interesting that one of the [justifications] that people give for circumcision is:
[Sex with a circumcised man] lasts longer.
Well, that's not necessarily a good thing!—not if your vagina is sore because you finished and he still hasn't had his fun yet, and certainly not for oral, [which] is [definitely] not necessarily better [when it lasts] longer. You want [sexual interaction] to be good [and] enjoyable, [not just some extended] mechanical, [violent] process—working and working and working just to get him off!
A lot of circumcised men say to me that they don't feel a lot until they orgasm; they don't really enjoy the [journey] so much. I've certainly had the experience where I [had to be] concerned more with keeping [my circumcised partner] hard and getting him off [rather] than so many of the other things that you can do with an intact penis.
If the [man has a] foreskin [that] is long enough to cover the head of the penis when erect, there's a whole [bunch] of really fun stuff you can do with the [overhanging portion of] the foreskin, [playing] with your fingers, with your lips, with your tongue—and it's exquisite! It feels fantastic! I love it when it's done to me, and it's impossible to do that for a circumcised guy.
This brings us to the catch-22 about sharing this information with the world, and it also comes back to some of the things we were talking about at the beginning, where psychological expectations play such an important role in your experience of sex. I think a lot of circumcised guys are going to hear this conversation and they're going to be—first of all, they're going to be pissed off about what they don't have—
They should be!
That might have a negative impact then on the way they experience their sex lives. So, what advice could you give to a circumcised man who is listening to this, feeling immensely jealous and starting to get maybe a little angry about what [was taken from him], and maybe despairing even of the future?
This is the thing: For a man, your psychological expectations or your confidence could well have more impact on your sex performance than whether or not [you were] circumcised.
I can easily [believe] that a man who [was] circumcised and [who] has a superiority complex ([who] believes that he's better as a result of [having been circumcised]) could actually perform better and have better sex and enjoy himself more than a man who has a foreskin ([who has] got everything) but [who] is ashamed of his foreskin—he has an inferiority complex—because he's been shamed or bullied or taught that he should be unhappy with his foreskin or that his penis is less pleasing to women because of the fact that he has a foreskin, [etc.].
[In this sense], it's really ultimately the [man's] confidence that [determines] whether he gets an erection and enjoys himself sexually, rather than whether he has foreskin. [After all], it's true that most circumcised men do have satisfying sex lives; [I mean], they've lost out on an enormous amount of [pleasurable] experience, but most of them are satisfied. So the question is:
Will learning about the fact that they lost most of the nerves of their penises—lost out on these various [experiences]—actually cause them to lose confidence? to become unhappy with their sex?
I can certainly say I know men for whom this has been the case, [and] I would say [that an] important [safeguard against that outcome] is not to ruminate excessively about it, because ruminating about the fact that you [were] circumcised and that [it] sucks won't just ruin your sex life; it can ruin your entire life if you do it too much. [it's] not constructive to ruminate continuously about it.
The reality is that everybody has [his own] bag of hammers—bad things have happened to all of us in various ways, and yeah, if you [were] circumcised, yeah, your penis was irreparably damaged when you were a kid and you have limited options as to what you can do, but the truth of the matter is: You can still be OK!
You can have a good sex life and enjoy yourself—[I mean], my penis has taken some damage! I'm intact, but mine's taken a little damage over the years! That's life. It's just something you shouldn't dwell on too much; it's better to get a little angry about it and [then] focus that on something constructive like working towards making sure this doesn't happen to anybody else.
[Nevertheless], circumcision is an extremely bad thing; it does a lot of damage to the penis—that is a bad thing, and it's ridiculous that it's happening today in the time of modern medicine, and [men who were circumcised] should be pissed off about it! They should do something about it.
If you give circumcised men a false assurance that [having been circumcised] is great, [then] that [only] leads to more kids being cut, and that is unacceptable—we can't have that! This BS idea that it doesn't make a difference [whether] you have a foreskin or not is extraordinarily harmful.
I would like to think that men can handle [facing these facts]—especially [men] as [a group]—as this issue becomes [increasingly] mainstream, [and] as people realize [the seriousness of this issue]. [Of course], I don't have the answers to this because [I wasn't] circumcised. I think circumcised men are the ones who are really going to determine for themselves what the optimal way to address the issue is in a way that isn't harmful to their sexual enjoyment or their sexual confidence, but at the same time leads them to contribute in a meaningful way to changing our social attitude towards this [issue].
What do you think about foreskin restoration—
I find as soon as circumcised men realize that they're missing something [valuable], they immediately wonder about what they can do to get it back, and [foreskin restoration] is a very healthy thing to consider.
Glen Callender, thank you so much for joining us on The Cut Podcast. Where can people learn more about your work?
Well, you can go to the Canadian Foreskin Awareness Project's website:
The site is pretty bare-bones right now, but in early 2012, it's going to be blossoming with some pretty interesting [content]. So, do keep an eye on it. Check the events page; the Foreskin Awareness Booth may be coming to a city near you!
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