"The Torture of Infant Male Circumcision" by Robert Clover Johnson

I am privileged to present health activist Robert Clover Johnson’s post below. According to trauma experts Drs. Louis Tinnin and Linda Gantt, authors of The Instinctual Trauma Response & Dual-Brain Dynamics, “examples of preverbal traumas include complicated birth, surgery (congenital heart malformations, pyloric stenosis), circumcision without anesthesia” (53), among others. I continue to be inspired by Robert’s bravery and dedication in putting his message out in no uncertain terms, and I am awed by his eloquence and clarity. Read on.

“The Torture of Infant Male Circumcision” by Robert Clover Johnson

In her book Reclaiming Your Life (1995), psychotherapist Jean Jenson challenges conventional thinking with the observation that people’s childhoods, including infancy, can and often do contain “horrors” comparable to those that haunt military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In February 2005 I learned firsthand that this is true. During a regressive therapy session, in which I expected other issues to emerge, I suddenly re-experienced the sharp cutting sensations and feelings of helplessness, abandonment, and betrayal I’d endured while being circumcised as an infant, sixty years earlier in Peoria, Illinois’ Methodist Hospital. My forty-year quest to understand why intimacy, for me, had always been associated with some degree of anxiety had finally been answered. How could any man be completely trusting and relaxed with a woman when his first sexual experience involved a stranger ripping his foreskin from the head of his penis, crushing it in a Gomco clamp, then severing it forever from his body?

After that session, in a state of amazement, I quickly did a computer search for “circumcision,” naively hoping to find some reassuring explanation as to why I, and millions of other American baby boys, had undergone such torture at the very beginning of our lives. I did find some medical websites claiming that circumcision had “health benefits,” but none of those struck me as even remotely convincing, particularly when weighed against the trauma involved. Luckily, I then found websites for organizations like Stop Infant Circumcision (SIC), the National Organization to Halt the Abuse and Routine Mutilation of Males (NOHARMM), Doctors Opposing Circumcision (DOC), and the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers (NOCIRC), all of which described routine infant male circumcision as a completely unnecessary, dangerous, and highly traumatic procedure that causes the lifelong, irremediable loss of half of a man’s penile skin, three-fourths of his penile sexual sensation, and all of the natural rolling action that makes sex friction-free for couples lucky enough to experience sex as nature intended it. I learned that American doctors copied the surgery from a Jewish rite in the Victorian age as a measure to prevent masturbation, which at that time, prior to full acceptance of the germ theory of disease, was believed to be the cause of an endless list of physical and mental illnesses (Glick 149-178; Fleiss). It also, tellingly, was believed to be a useful measure to reduce the temptations of sexual promiscuity, known to be a vehicle for the spread of venereal diseases, a problem that now is preventable by limiting oneself to safe sex, condom use, etc. (“The Use of Male Circumcision”).

How can it be, I wondered, that this horrendous surgery has been practiced routinely on millions of infants for so many decades in what American politicians like to call “the indispensable country,” home to the “shining city on a hill,” a nation that prides itself on its keen sensitivity to basic human rights and the “pursuit of happiness”? One answer would be that most male American doctors were circumcised as infants, just like most American men. They naturally want to believe that the surgery is beneficial. Unfortunately, they don’t know what they are missing by not having a foreskin and most American medical textbooks, astonishingly, provide little or no information on this subject. The resulting ignorance among doctors, as well as among the general public, combined with male egos in denial, enables obstetricians and pediatricians to continue torturing baby boys and making a handsome profit from their work.

Works Cited

Glick, Leonard (2005). Marked in Your Flesh: Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern America (Oxford University Press), especially Chapter 6, “Good Sanitarians: Circumcision Medicalized,” 149-178. Print.

 Fleiss, Dr. Paul M. “The Foreskin is Necessary.” The Case Against Circumcision. Web. 7 May 2013. <www.mothersagainstcirc.org/fleiss.html> (originally an article in Mothering: The Magazine of Natural Living, Winter 1997. 36-45. Print.)

“The Use of Male Circumcision to Prevent HIV Infection.” Doctors Opposing Circumcision HIV Statement. Jan. 2008. Web. 8 May 2013. <www.doctorsopposingcircumcision.org/info/HIVStatement.html>.


0 Responses to "The Torture of Infant Male Circumcision" by Robert Clover Johnson

  1. Thank you, Wendy, for passing on this post by Robert Clover Johnson.
    As you say, he does not hold back on the many horrible facts around male circumcision. And they certainly need to be talked about and publicized without end and (yes) mercilessly.
    Johnson asks why “this horrendous surgery” has become so established in the U.S. Indeed, there are many aspects about the USA which outsiders find enigmatic to say the least: the gun culture, the growing disparity between rich and poor in so many aspects of life, and yes, the wide acceptance of circumcision.
    Yes, we know: history, tradition and the unbridled power of vested interests each play a part in continuing to circumcise.
    But in Australia we have seen a major change over the past few decades: doctors and fathers increasingly question it, so that what was in my childhood regarded as normal is now very much the exception.
    I hope this change is also developing in the USA.

    • Thank you, Fred!
      I believe change is happening in the USA, though it is much slower than I wish it were. If immigration laws enable more hispanics to become citizens here, that will probably reduce the percentage of infant circumcisions below fifty percent each year. That should precipitate a more rapid decline, since Americans are swayed by the need to conform, perhaps more than by the persuasiveness of information, videos of circumcision, arguments against the pain and sexual consequences of circumcision, etc. Also, many states are deciding not to provide Medicaid money to help pay for infant circumcisions. Great Britain’s circumcision rates dropped down to miniscule when the government decided not to include that surgery in its government funded health plan after WWII. The rates are not likely to plummet quickly though in the US, since so many male doctors and fathers are circumcised and resist thinking negatively about the practice. It is very hard for most men to accept that they were sexually damaged in infancy and that this is hampering their sex lives as adults. It will take many years for infant circumcision to disappear in America, but I believe it will eventually. It is very encouraging to hear about Australia’s enlightenment, though Brian Morris is doing his best to counter that trend.

  2. So good to hear of the change in Australia! Enlightenment does happen! I wonder if there’s a connection between painful circumcision and violence. I certainly had anger issues due to the painful infant surgery I endured; I acted out against others and myself BIG time in my adolescence and in my twenties, mostly against myself. I envy Australia in so many ways, one being the stance it’s taken about gun control. About the USA, wish us well–we need it!

    • Hi, Wendy!
      Yes, I became aware of my own circumcision trauma while doing regressive, emotional therapy work. I was always a compulsively “well-behaved” little boy, but in my adulthood I gradually discovered that I had lots of underlying rage. After I found therapies in which cathartic expression was allowed under controlled circumstances, I and my therapists were amazed by how intensely I expressed fury that had been bottled up since infancy. It took several decades to unearth the source in my infant circumcision and more years to find ways to channel that anger constructively. My work as an anti-circumcision activist has given me a constructive outlet and has helped me get my message out in a positive way. Thanks for letting me “vent” some of my anger on your website! I agree with you about violence undoubtedly being associated with circumcision. Just consider where violence is most prevalent these days: The middle east, Africa, and the USA. America has exported circumcision to Africa as a so-called prophylactic against HIV, but the consequences in violence and feelings of betrayal are already apparent. In Africa, it is already clear that as adult males are allowing themselves to be circumcised, they are deciding to circumcise their sons.
      Sorry it has taken me awhile to respond here. I had computer issues that kept me away for months. I’m glad to be back!

      • Thanks, Robert! Very interesting connection regarding where in the world the violence is and the practice of circumcision. I also found fascinating the point you made in your comment to Fred about Americans needing to conform.

  3. Thank you Robert, for your response to my Comment on your post here. I found your outline of how circumcisions were so greatly reduced in the UK very telling: tradition and the money, eh? I’m sure that post-WW2 immigration has helped Australia to change its ways with regard to circumcision and hope that the US sees a similar recognition of several realities in this regard. Thanks again for your advocacy for the voiceless and powerless newborns.

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