[43] Cutting Culture: The Impact of Male Circumcision

Travis Wisdom, a student of Women's Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, organized a daylong conference on male circumcision and the issues surrounding identity and body ownership.

Panelists Michelle Jacobs Hinman, Kathya Delaguila, and Brendon Marotta answer questions about how Intactivism and the issue of circumcision affect people's lives; along with members of the audience, they tell their stories and exchange advice. Here is a recording of the discussion, and a transcript follows.

(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.

John Geisheker

So, we don't have a set series of questions; we're going to fake this as we go along.

I'd like [the] people we're about to interview to give us a little bio of their interest in the issue [of circumcision] and their experience with it, and we can spring off of that.

Michelle Jacobs Hinman

My name is Michelle Hinman.

I'm a mother and just a general human rights activist. I became interested in this issue about 4 years ago, and I've been an Intactivist ever since. [My involvement developed from] just rather personal interest, not so much job interest, but just things that I noticed through friends and experience, talking to other people. That's what led me to educate myself.

Kathya Delaguila

My name is Kathya Delaguila, and I'm a local midwife.

I became an Intactivist when I was pregnant with my daughter; I didn't know what gender she was going to be, and so I started doing my research; I think I was always kind of a common-sense Intactivist, because when I figured out what [circumcision is], I didn't want to do it.

Yeah, I deal with it a lot in my own practice—with parents and seeing the decisions they make—so I'm lucky enough or blessed enough to be in a position where I can talk to them early, and I can talk to them often.

John Geisheker

Excellent. Brendon?

Brendon Marotta

My name is Brendon Marotta. I'm a documentary filmmaker, and for the past 5 months now I've been working on a feature-length film on the topic of circum­cision, which is why we're here filming today.

The issue of circumcision is something that I became aware of after relived a certain portion of the trauma during a meditation in Los Angeles, and since then, I started researching, started educating myself, and through that, started talking to friends, and that's kind of how the documentary project came about. Since [the project began], we have talked to many of the presenters in this room and interviewed them on camera and I've had the opportunity to learn a great deal about this issue, and sort of face some of my own trauma through it.

John Geisheker

Thanks. Would you like to ask a few questions there, co-chair?

Woman #2

Yeah, sure.

I just would like you each to share what the most difficult thing about being an Intactivist is, or maybe just what the most difficult thing [is] about the fact that circumcision still exists in our culture[…] Then, if you want to, you can share a triumph, and what keeps you going against the difficulties.

Michelle Jacobs Hinman

I think the most difficult thing is just the defensiveness when you try [to] talk to somebody about it. I mostly talk to adult men rather than parents, so they bring a lot of defensiveness when you first try [to] approach the topic; they've been led to believe one thing [for their entire lives], and they're not really willing to listen to other information. It's kind of scary when you're dealing with that, because you don't know if that person is somewhat traumatized or if [he is just] embedded in [his] beliefs. I mean, that can be a hard thing to get past.

[As for] a triumph, I think that I have helped a lot of parents; it wasn't my intention in the beginning, but a lot of people have listened and gone on to tell other parents as well. [A lot] of people have told me that they would never do it in the future to future children—even if they aren't parents right now; that's been exciting—

Woman #2

Feels good!

Michelle Jacobs Hinman


Kathya Delaguila

I think that one of the most difficult things is when the maternal bond is severed with the baby, and also when women tend to [defer circumcision] as the father's decision, because that kind of begins that breakage in their bond[;] silence is agreement, and in being silent about it and letting the decision be the father's, [a mother is] not listening to [her] own maternal instincts to protect [her] baby, so I think that's the hardest part.

The most difficult situations have been people [to whom] I've talked and [who circumcise their children] anyway, and I see their babies after the fact—because there's a difference when I meet them when they're born and when I meet them after they've been circumcised; there's a huge difference.

Brendon Marotta

I think the most difficult thing for me is bringing the subject up and talking about it, and the best thing for me has been bringing the subject up and talking about it. [laughter]

So, it's a little paradoxical, because on the one hand, for me, I bring a lot of personal experiences I've had around it, and a lot of my own sort of emotional things I'm working through, and at the same time, I'm not sure—when I bring it up socially—what the reaction is going to be; it ranges from extreme defensiveness to [something] like “Right on! I would never do that to my child.” For me, since I'm working on a film, it comes up very casually, because people will be like:

“Oh, what are you working on?”

“Well, I'm working on this documentary film.”

“What's it about?”

They think they're asking like a casual conversational question [laughter]. They don't realize they've just opened the topic of genital mutilation, and that they've essentially asked:

“What is the Matrix, and can you hand me the red pill?” [laughter].

So, that to me—talking about it in social situations—is a bit difficult, but at the same time, when I initially started researching this subject and having feelings come up around it, I felt like I was the only one who ever felt this way; there was no frame of reference I had, and going around he country and interviewing Intactivists, and in even in my own initial research, I've realized there are a lot of people who have questioned this practice and feel strongly against it and have dealt with a lot of the same [internal struggles].

So, whereas before, I felt sort of isolated and like there wasn't anyone else who sort of dealt with the same thing, now, I know there's a huge network of people [who] are working on this and [to whom] I can turn, and [with whom] I can talk.

So, I'd say, just talking about it with people has been both the worst and best thing.

John Geisheker

We were joking this summer about how if you're a committed Intactivist, you should be able to get to the subject in one step from any other subject, so sometimes at quiet moments at medical conventions when no one is visiting our [Intactivist] booth, we'll practice this game; we'll say “tennis” or “Pacific ocean” or anything, and see who can do it. So, I urge you to give that a try. [laughter]

The other thing I have to say is: You will soon find out who your real friends are; you'll shed some marginal friends that you probably could have done without anyway, if they can't handle your passion for the issue. So, yeah, thanks for a good try!

I had a question I want to ask you. Anecdotally, we hear that single mothers who give birth without the father present for one reason or the other [are less likely to circumcise their sons than] mothers who have a partner who is circumcised; does that meet your clinical experiences?

Kathya Delaguila

I was a single mom when I was pregnant with my daughter, so—

John Geisheker

So, you [were] your own committee and your own veto.

Kathya Delaguila


But, at the same time, her dad did have input; he was trying to convince me—because he didn't know [whether] it was a boy or a girl—he was trying to convince me to go to New York where we're from and schedule a circumcision and everything with his family[;] I did my research, and he had less weight on my decision.

So, I guess that that could be true, because even if I had [had] a son, I wouldn't have done it, even though [the father] really was passionate about [having a son circumcised]:

  • It was a family tradition of his,
  • it was something that he believed was right,
  • and a million other reasons,

but there was nothing on Earth that would convince me to do it after I saw [for myself] what a circumcision [is].

So, I guess that's true.

Woman #2

Have you lost close friends, or have you dealt with [the situation where] a person really close to you has [been given all] the information and [chooses to circumcise a boy] anyway? Have you maintained that relationship? What did you do?

Michelle Jacobs Hinman

I have lost a few close family members; it was more or less [the case that they chose] not to talk to me anymore, not so much that I didn't want to talk to them.

I haven't lost any friends, though; it seems like it's kind of a personal issue, so your family gets offended when you don't agree, whereas your friends can kind of deal with it and move on.

Kathya Delaguila

I haven't lost any friendships or any relationships for it, but I had clients—spec­ifically one client [who] was close to me (and was my friend), and she did [circumcise her son] anyway, and because she knew how adamant I was about [not circumcising], and because she knew how I felt about it, I think [that] is kind of why we drifted; we never really spoke after she did it—we spoke up until she had the circumcision done, and then after she had it done, I didn't hear from her again.

Brendon Marotta

I don't think I've lost any friends over it. I will never go back to my family doctor again, after talking about it with him—[he] wasn't the person who was there at the hospital when I was born; when I intially started researching the topic, I just assumed [the continuation of the practice] was an issue of [laypeople not having] the information. So, I sent him some stuff. I had a conversation with him about it—and initialially I had gone to him earlier[:]

“I feel like the sensitivity I've had is not what it used to be.”

For some reason, I had this intuition that it might have something to do with circumcision, and he said:

“Oh, no, no! That's perfectly fine! If there's anything wrong with that practice, it would have gone away years ago!”

So, then I started doing my own research, and I sent him some stuff later, and it was just like it [went] in one ear and out the other, and it was just like he couldn't hear me—I don't know how else to put it, and I've noticed this with certain people; when you bring the issue up, they say: “Well, what about [the fact that] there's problems, and sometimes you have to do it” or “There's HIV”, and [I just want to say]:

“You didn't hear me! You're taking a knife to a child's genitals and that's going to have an impact later on; it's insane to think that [the] pain isn't going to have a pyschological effect of some kind.”

There's this sort of shield and programming that people have against [discussing the problems with circumcision], and a lot of [these] sort of one-line [rationales] that I guess parents are presented with—those so-called health “benefits”—are ways that you don't have to actually confront the vulnerability of the child and the way people feel.

So, I think that's sort of what I've noticed in talking about this with people; it's not so much that [people] will [drop] a friendship, but they just won't engage for whatever reason:
  • “I don't want to talk about it.”
  • “I don't want to go there.”
  • “That's too much for me to handle.”

But, at the same time, I would say that there are a lot of people who when I tell them I'm working on a documentary on this subject, inevitably, a few minutes into the conversation, they'll start to say:

  • “You know, I've never told anyone…”
  • “I've always felt this way…”
  • “This might be too much information, [but]…”

and there [are] personal stories that start coming out, [which] people have not shared [before with anyone] or not felt like it was OK to share, and so I would say that on one hand, [while] there [are] people who won't engage, there [are] others who will share a side of themselves that wouldn't come out otherwise.

So, I've kind of found the opposite effect in certain relationships and certain friendships.

John Geisheker

With that in mind, I guess my experience is that there's a whole range of reasons you could use to oppose circumcision and to educate people, but obviously some might appeal to men and some might appeal more to women. So, the question for the 3 of you is:

What is your experience with the arguments that seem to work best?

I mean, you probably have a 90-second elevator pitch, right? And, you probably have a 10-minute mini-lecture, and you have the 45-minute ear-beater, I assume. [laughter]

So what works for you?

Michelle Jacobs Hinman

For me, I actually try [to] deal with the sexual function more than really talking about the surgery itself. That really seems to hit home for a lot of people; they can relate to it in their [relationships]—different side effects that it might cause—and it really gives them the feel that this body part has a purpose, and there's no point in just cutting it off without thinking. It really gets people going and looking for their own research.

Kathya Delaguila

I've tried multiple approaches with my clients, and one of the things that actually works for me is skipping past the side effects and the religion and everything else and just saying [a male] can get it done [to himself] when [he's an adult]—with better medications that can provide better pain relief, and it will be [his] choice.

It's almost like people don't know that their baby could get it done [himself] when [he gets] older (if [he chooses] to [do so]). So, I think that just putting that into light makes them realize that:

  • The baby is a human and has a right to choose.

  • It's not going anywhere. It'll be fine; [the child] can get it done in the future [as an adult].

That has actually made people stop immediately—that's all I needed to say, and the conversation didn't even go on after that. I had a dad actually [tell me]: “Ah! I never even thought of that! Yeah; he can get it done when he's older. That's fine.” That was it.

Brendon Marotta

Since I'm not an activist, I don't have as much experience trying to convince people of things, but I find that when I bring up the subject, there [are] certain tidbits or things that I've found that make people curious and interested and want to talk more about it.

The arguments against circumcision to me are sort of very simple and common sense:

You can say those in one sentence, and it's very clear what's going on. But, a lot of the time, like I said, people don't want to engage, so I find that I will just sort of mention things that I've heard during interviews.

  • I interviewed one guy who can have 5 orgasms in 5 minutes just touching parts of his foreskin; he would not have [this ability] if he [were] circumcised. You tell someone that, and [get a response] like: “Woah! OK, hold on! I'm curious about this!” [laughter]

  • I'll mention that I interviewed a woman who was circumcised in America by the American medical system—that used to be legal, too.

  • I'll mention that you can actually “restore” your foreskin; there [are] methods [for] actually trying to grow that part of your body back; it's not complete, but you can get some of that [lost functionality] back.

  • [I'll] even [mention] that there are people who remember their [circumcisions], or have [had those repressed memories come to consciousness] in psychological therapy.

So, you know, I just [tell] them certain things about research that I've found that make them want to engage a little bit more; that's kind of the goal that I have.

Woman #2

What do you hope to see in the next year [or] the next 5 years? What do you think is going to happen? We see the monster tipping over; we're chopping off a head at a time. Where should we concentrate, and what do you see happening in the next year [or] 5 years?

Michelle Jacobs Hinman

Actually, [I'm inspired by] just all the [Intactivists] who are out there, even if they're not doing a lot, but they're just talking to one friend—knowledge spreads; it's kind of a pay-it-forward [thing]: If you talk to one person, and that person talks to 2 people, it spreads very quickly!

I've seen that a lot in just the few years that I've been talking to people. I think [this] will continue to happen; [the Intactivist Movement] will just continue to get bigger and bigger, and eventually [the practice of circumcision] will halt completely. I think education is the key to really getting [the practice] to come to an end.

Kathya Delaguila

I hope for [the practice] to be eradicated completely in my lifetime, and hopefully soon; what I see happening in the next few years is just that, because there has been so much of a push forward [in the Intactivist Movement], and there's so much accessibility to information now, and I think that's key—that we can just log onto our phones and google [“circumcision”] and get a million different articles. I think that people are becoming more intelligent and are starting to figure out how to read studies, and I think that's also helpful. Yeah. I guess, basically, just [by] passing on the knoweldge, it's going to stop soon.

Brendon Marotta

I have no idea! [laughter]

I have a friend who likes to say the odds are always 50–50: Either it will happen or it won't.

We interviewed William Stowell, who's a man who sued over his newborn infant circumcision, and one of the things he talked about was [the fact that] there was a spread in the Saturday Evening Post like in the [1980s] that had a lot of the photos ([similar to what] you might have seen [here] today) of just babies screaming in pain during the circumcision, and a lot of Intactivists at the time thought that [this signalled] the end of [the practice]—when that came out, people would get the message and they would see it!

[However], that didn't happen, and [the same thing happened] when “Whose body? Whose Rights?” came out [and] when the San Francisco ballot initiative thing took off.

I don't know what the the tipping point will be; it seems like it takes a certain number of impressions of this message for someone to get it. I know for me personally, I had heard the Intactivist message and run across some of those websites before I had my own epiphany—similar to some of the people [to whom] I've talked, I couldn't engage[;] I was just [thinking to myself]: “Well, there's nothing I can do about it, so I kind of don't want to know.” I just didn't want to go there, the same as [for] people [to whom] I've talked.

So, I think it's going to be different for each person at what point [he or she] is ready to confront that [issue] and examine it, because the moment you see the harm [circumcision] does, there's going to be an emotional response and a certain healing process [through which] people have to go, and that's different for each person.

So, I have no idea at what point the culture as a whole will be ready for that.

John Geisheker

Does anybody have what I like to call the obsessive epiphany, where all of a sudden you're on the Internet and its 3 AM and you go:

“Oh, my god! I've been doing this for 5 hours! Non-stop! I haven't even gone to the loo!”

and, you're reading article after article and getting more and more and more and more appalled? Anybody?

Michelle Jacobs Hinman

Me, yes. Definitely.

When I first started, I was just kind of lamely interested in [the topic]; I would spend an hour on the computer here and there, and I would always bring it back to question in my mind, but after I actually saw a video of [a circumcision], then I became compulsive; I mean, I wanted every [bit of] information on every subject that I could find that led me back to [circumcision].

Every time I told myself I've learned everything I can learn, it seemed like I would find something new, and I still continue to learn now. I mean, I can still get [into] the subject with somebody and talk with [that person] for hours or do research for hours. I'll find a new book, and I really just keep learning every day.

Kathya Delaguila

I think I'm still like that now as well. If you go on my Facebook page, you'll see that I have post after post after post of stuff that I found that I think everybody should know [and about which I think to myself]: “Why don't they know this?” [laughter]

I tend to be that way with a lot of things, but specifically this, you know? It just seems like something that everybody should know, and like you were saying earlier: It's like The Matrix. Why don't you know we're in The Matrix? [laughter]

Brendon Marotta

Well, I definitely had an obsessive epiphany, and I guess I can just go through that story since I've touched on it briefly.

I was in a meditation group in Los Angeles. [For] the type of meditation I do, you're just sort of sitting with whatever is there; you're not trying to reach any state, and you're just sort of being present with whatever is in your body.

During that meditation, I had the word “circumcision” come into my mind—just seemingly out of nowhere, and I felt all of my energy drain down my body to my belt, and I had this like sort of cold shake that happened. This happened more than once, and I just [thought to myself]: “I have no idea where that came from!”

Since it happened more than once, I felt like I had to investigate it and start researching, and I came across the fact that doctors used to think that babies [do] not feel pain, so they would perform the circumcision without anesthesia. [NOTE: Even though the American Academy of Pediatrics finally acknowledged in 1999 that circumcision is significantly painful and requires at least some kind of local anesthetic, many (if not most) American physicians still perform infant circumcision without any such pain mitigation.]

I had been reading Alice Miller's works at the time, and Alice Miller is the first psychologist to really put forth the idea that early childhood trauma has a major effect on people later on in life; [indeed], I had had a friend [whose] mom was working when she was [a baby], [so my friend] wasn't held a lot as a child, and she would have anxiety attacks because of that, and dealt with that in her own therapy. [So], I thought:

“Well, if that's what you experienced just from not being held as a child, what's got to be the effect of having someone take a knife to the most sensitive part of your body at one-day old?”

That, to me, that was sort of the obsessive epiphany that I had—that started my researching, because I knew what a deep effect just a simple neglect had on my friend, [so] I thought:

“This [trauma of circumcision] is obviously stored in me in some way, and I need to examine this.”

I had been on sort of a spiritual path at the time[,] looking at things that happened in my past, and what patterns and attitudes they had given me. So, that was my obsessive epiphany—and I should add: One of the things that I found when I was just doing my initial research was an interview with Van Lewis, who [was] this Intactivist who [was] like 60-years old; he's this very sort of old, sweet man—

John Geisheker

Wait a minute! I'm 65! [laughter]

Brendon Marotta

I'm sorry! I'm sorry, John!

He has gray hair; you are young at heart, I'm sure.

John Geisheker

We can take this out in post-production. [laughter]

Brendon Marotta

“We'll fix it in post!” That's my job!

[Anyway, Van Lewis] was talking about how when he was in his 20s, he had had this sort of… mental breakdown that he attributed to trauma around his circumcision, and it was listening to that [story], [which made me think]: “Oh! I'm not the first person to feel this way! There is someone else who has gone through this!”

It was funny, because, you know, I talk about this documentary connecting me with a lot of people; I went and interviewed James Loewen in Canada, who is a photographer, and it wasn't until halfway through the interview that I realized he had shot the clip [of Van Lewis] that I had been watching that had helped with my initial epiphany. I was like: “Wait a second! You were the guy behind the camera on that!”

Connecting with all the people in this movement has been incredibly helpful (for me, at least) and I imagine it would be helpful for others who are going through the same thing.

John Geisheker

Can I break the rules of chairpersonship for a second and tell about my personal epiphany?

Woman #2

Yup! And, then we can maybe get questions from the audience after that.

John Geisheker

Good idea.

I don't know if I should tell this, because quite frankly, I think it's distracting and gets off of the issue, and dealing with the issue in a direct, academic way.

I was born in New Zealand in 1946 and not circumcised. I came to the United States in 1951 and was circumcised without anesthesia, strapped down.

Now, I actually have no memory of it—it's curious—and George Denniston, who is the head of DOC [(Doctors Opposing Circumcision)], and for whom I work directly, said:

“John, we got to get you fixed up! We'll get you some really good counseling, and we'll get that memory out there and you'll deal with it—”

“George! You're crazy!

When I was 5 years old, I was a very cagey lad. I packed that memory away really, really nicely. It's way in there somewhere, and it's the opposite of Brendon's experience: I have absolutely no interest in ever going there, ever finding out—whatever happened happened. I can't undo it, for a start.

But, it's interesting: 15 years ago, I was the director of a sailing school, which was a summer time career; I practiced law in winter, and I sailed in the summer—let me tell you, it was a pretty good deal. One of my sailing instructors (who now lives in Hawaii and became very wealthy; he's the guy who invented the Bucket Boss, that cloth thing [into which] you [can] put tools [and hang around] a 5-gallon pale. That made him 11-million dollars, by the way, and then I couldn't get him to teach sailing after that! He [just became] kind of [uninterested for some reason…] [laughter]). [Anyway], he asked me about circumcising his son, and I hadn't even thought about the issue [since] forever. I said: “Bah! Save the money! He'll buy a car with it when he's 16; don't do it.”—just [some reply] off the top of my head.

When he announced a month or so later that he had in fact circumcised his son, I had this terrible rush of guilt. I felt like a lawyer who had missed a filing deadline in a capital case, whose client was now going to the gas chamber for my procrastination. I just was bothered by it, so I went to my mother, and she said:

“Well, maybe it's time for me to tell you your story.”

So, she told me the story, and she said:

"You know, I brought you home, and you hid under the bed for 3 days, refused food or adults, and just hid. Curiously enough, on the 3rd day, you walked out and never mentioned it again."

I packed it away nicely, and it's still packed away, and it's gonna stay there. [uneasy laughter]

Brendon Marotta

Well, I can add: I don't think everyone needs to go through the experience I did, or dig the memory up. To me, the point of going through something like that is not to make yourself feel bad about something in the past; it's to just handle whatever patterns [it] left in you, so that you can let go of those and go on and find joy in your life.

I'd add that if it hadn't found me, I probably would not have found it.

Marilyn Milos

[NOTE: Marilyn Milos previously threatened legal action for transcribing her words. Therefore, they have not been reproduced here.]

John Geisheker

I certainly don't want to think of myself as this sort of trap that's going to get sprung one day—that I'll become a serial murderer [laughter], you know what I mean?

I prefer to think of myself as a functional adult who had a bad deal that he worked his way through in quick order. Some people have good filing cabinets, some people don't, and we're all different.

Marilyn Milos

[NOTE: Marilyn Milos previously threatened legal action for transcribing her words. Therefore, they have not been reproduced here.]

Gillian Longley

I wanted to ask [you] 2 women about your take on the trauma [aspect] in the work you do, because I think pretty much anybody who becomes an Intactivist is reacting out of some sense that this is a traumatic thing.

  • It's either a man who's had it done to [him],

  • a mother, who has had it done to [her] children,

  • a health professional [who] has been around it and seen it or has blood on [his or her] hands and [has] recognized [this fact].

The men have talked about it, but I wonder if you could speak to where the trauma [aspect] fits with you if that's correct.

Kathya Delaguila

Where the trauma fits with me… I've never experienced [circumcision], obviously, and [in] my family, both my kids are whole. But, I think it was just the amount of empathy that I have; I've just always been a very empathetic person to a fault, and in seeing the baby in the movie that I saw—that I can still remember to this day [since] 2006—it stayed with me, and I couldn't finish watching the movie—and the sounds, you know, stayed with me. So, I think that—I felt for that specific baby, and that's where it stayed with me, with that baby.

Michelle Jacobs Hinman

Personally, I find if I'm talking to an older man, it's impossible to tell [him] the truth without actually hurting [his] feelings. You can [sense] at which point you've broken [his] belief, and it's very personal to [him]. [He feels] like [he's] lacking in some way. So, you can definitely see [the trauma] when you [discuss this issue].

It's very sad for me, because I actually feel like [it's the case that] just to educate someone, I have to break [his or her] heart, and that is when I really started to realize how much [circumcision] affects people, even if they don't automatically realize it.

John Geisheker

Can I reply to that for just a second a little?

One of the things you should consider is this: [One thing] I mentioned in my presentation is that cutting begets cutting; the [people who are] cut become cutters. So, what you should think about is not just that boy of that family. Think about all the children of that family for the next thousand years. You have severed a cultural connection; the next generation, the father will be intact, and he'll have nothing to do with this [practice], and that father, and the [same for the following] father, and the father, and the father, [and so on].

So, when you sever the cultural cutting tradition of a family in 2011, you've done thousands and thousands of good deeds; that's worth remembering.

Woman #6

[A question] for the men: How or when do you think it's appropriate for a parent that has circumcised [a] son to—I'm sorry [teary]—to talk to [him] about what [he or she] did to [him]?

John Geisheker

Mmm. I've got a thought if no one else does, but I feel like I've been a bug in the [microphone] here.

Brendon Marotta

I have no idea in answer to that question. As far as timing, I don't know. I don't have kids; I haven't had to go through that, but as far as how, I would say: [Tell him] lovingly. I can't really tell you anything beyond that.

I think that if the son knows that you love him, and that what was done was done out of ignorance and not neglect, [then] that relationship will still be there.

I can speak from my own personal story: When I started working on this film, I got a call from my dad, and he's like:

“So, I was just calling to apologize for making that decision for you.”

and it just like came out of nowhere—I was very surprised by it. That has gone a long way for our relationship, whereas before, I might have wanted to keep my distance from him, and [there] might have been a rift; for him to have the ability to admit [his mistake] shows that he is absolutely the kind of person that I would still want a relationship with and keep in my life.

So, as far as when [to talk about it], I have no idea, but I can just say, whatever you do, let your son know that you love him.

John Geisheker

I think that's an excellent answer. Very good.

I completely second that. [Do] it lovingly. I had the tearful meeting with my son over Thai food 10 years ago, when he was 30, and about to have a son of his own—my grandson is intact, by the way.

To answer your question:

I think the earliest you should ever really discuss [this] with a boy would be maybe[—]without mentioning the sexual aspects—well before 14 [years of age], but I think at 14, 15, 16, you'll get your highest level of forgiveness, because [sexually], the boy will function well at that age, so you'll get a certain degree of forgiveness, [just] for the fact that he [won't] believe in the damage anyway—and you probably shouldn't even tell him.

But, you could tell him—and I've done this to good effect—you could tell him about restoration: Non-surgical foreskin “restoration”. Kids before the age of 16 don't have the discipline to actually do that, but the pitch is that you can actually “restore” a good bit of sensation and the look of an intact male if you assiduously stick with the task for only a couple of years at the age of 16, 17, 18, [and] 19.

I try not to count some men under 18 for legal reasons, but over 18, it's all guns blazing; I tell them how it works, and I tell them that they'll get more benefit if they do it young when they don't think they need it, [rather] than if they try to do it at [age] 50, when they will need it but it'll take longer.

Does that make sense?

Woman #6


John Geisheker

It's actually a certain practical little thing you can say to your child, and then I second once again the notion that you can say: “I was told this was the best thing for you, frankly, and I did what I thought was the best thing based on the information I had.”

Brendon Marotta

I can add something on that actually: When we interviewed the head of NORM, he mentioned that there was actually a father and son who were restoring together [laughter]; the dad found out when he was 40 [years old] the harm that was done, and he was like: “Well, we didn't know [better] when we made that decision for you”, so he just talked about it with the son, so it's like a father–son project now, which I don't know if that's a great idea—for me, that would be really weird. [laughter]

Woman #1

I kind of have, in a way, an opposite dilemma: I have 2 intact sons, and[…] I guess I've not really talked to them about why they're intact. My 25-year old feels like he wants to have a circumcision, and he hasn't really done any research or anything; it's just kind of a peer-pressure thing—

Gillian Longley

I have 2 intact sons who are now in their 20s, as well. When the younger one was 15, he came to me and said he thought he wanted to get circumcised, so my jaw dropped on the floor.

I didn't know enough—I realized I needed to do some research; that's what actually kicked me into becoming an Intactivist, because before, it was just sort of like: “Well, we didn't do this, and I'm fine with it.” But, now I had to explain to him why it wasn't a good idea, so I went off and did 4 months of [research], and then I was an Intactivist after that.

At any rate, I think boys in our culture—some men—are going to take on that [culture]: “I'm different. Maybe this will fix the concerns that I have about 'being different'.” But, they need to be educated, and if they're not educated about what the functions of their foreskin [are], then they're going to make mistakes.

So, you do need to make sure that he has that kind of adequate information about what he would be losing irrevocably by doing so, and then just look at the practical aspects. I've heard these [kinds] of [story] many times where the girlfriend insists on [her boyfriend getting] circumcised, and the man gets circumcised, and then they break up, and that's it. [laughter] It's over with.

So, he has to respect his own body, and stand up for that, and he needs education in order to do that.

Marilyn Milos

[NOTE: Marilyn Milos previously threatened legal action for transcribing her words. Therefore, they have not been reproduced here.]

Kathya Delaguila

It's also like: Would she ask him to get plastic surgery to get his nose done? Or, would he be OK telling her to get her breasts augmented?

John Geisheker

There's a ring you can't return—

Kathya Delaguila

Yeah. [laughter]

Woman #1

Well, you know, kind of the problem is he's at that stage where he doesn't want to listen to Mom's “crazy ideas”. So, it's hard to educate him when he's [saying]:

  • “Well, Mom, this is different.”
  • “I don't want to hear it from you.”

I know that he doesn't really know what he's asking; he has no idea.

Brendon Marotta

There [are] ways if you're intact [that] you can sort of try [being circumcised] out.

I know there was one researcher who was intact, who had access to topical anesthesia, so he just applied that to his foreskin and the parts that he would not have, and then tried masturbating and having sex with the anesthesia still in effect, and I'll bet if your son tried that, he would have a noticeable difference, and that might make him reconsider the decision.

The other thing he could do is [he could] just retract the foreskin and let [it] keratinize over time; he'll feel the sensitivity difference. So, you know, that might be something he's open to: “Before you make a permanent decision, try it out.”

Travis Wisdom

I have a question and a comment:

  • [As] a comment to you, [Woman #1]: There are resources online. [Specifically], there's a Students for Genital Integrity page, and then Intact America has a blog that's directed specifically [at] students.

    He's not going to listen to you, because you're the mother, and you're never right, especially right now. But, if you can get the information that's been published by students in his age group saying this information, that would probably sink in better than [if it comes] from you. I would agree [that it would be a good idea] to watch the DVD that's in the packet.

  • When I attempted to put this panel together, I wanted to have 2 men and 2 women talking about the impacts of circumcision in their lives. It's very obvious how male circumcision affects men, obviously. But, it's far less obvious how it affects women, but we know that it affects women as mothers, we know that it affects them as sexual beings.

    Can you comment on how it has affected you in your lives as either one of those roles?

Kathya Delaguila

As a mother, not really, because my sons are whole.

As a sexual person, not really.

Taking away those 2, it's affected me in another way as a woman, because of violence: Violence begets violence; the cuttees become the cutters, and that perpetuates the cycle of violence that then gets to women later on in different forms. So, I think that once we start healing our men and healing our babies and our families, that will eventually stop the violence towards women as well.

Michelle Jacobs Hinman

As far as myself and a lot of people I know, most women just complain of pain, and that's what really got me looking for information: Women were saying that sex [is] painful, and that didn't seem like something I'd ever heard before, but I got curious, and it doesn't seem like women are really taking that and thinking maybe something is wrong with him; it seems like they are [attributing it to] themselves and saying maybe something is wrong with me.

I think that the sex is just completely different, and I think a lot of people unfortunately will never know that. So, with us all having similar experiences, it's hard to compare, but I definitely hear things all the time, [about which] I think:

“Well, that wouldn't be happening [if the man weren't circumcised].”

I just can't help but wonder—like you said about the physical violence—[whether] some of the violence is just past experience and trauma and just general lack of sensitivity and just being forceful and aggressive—

Kathya Delaguila

And the reason I said a lack of sexuality is because usually with those [types] of [encounter], that's not really sex; that's not anything sexual.

Michelle Jacobs Hinman

I also noticed that a lot of people complain that men are not interested in regular sex; they're looking for other types that would provide more stimulation, and a lot of people are upset about that.

Woman #1

I have experience and perspective on that:

  • My first husband was intact.
  • My second is circumcised.

and [sex] is different. [With] the first husband, [lubrication] was not really a consideration, and now [with my circumcised husband], any time [we] start getting a little physical, [the first thing we have to think about is]: “Where's the lube?”

So, that's made a big difference there—what you were saying about [sex] being painful. A lot of times[,] we thought it was my fault: “Did I change some how? Did I somehow start getting dry?”, or something like that, and the more I learned about how [circumcision] changes sex for both [partners], the more I figured out that's not what's going on.

John Geisheker

I want to thank the panelists for taking their grilling [gracefully].

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon

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