Where Do You Stand on Circumcision?
I wasn’t exactly aware of where I stood on circumcision until late sophomore year, when I confessed to an older friend of mine that I didn’t know whether I was circumcised or not. (In my defense, I was really sheltered; I didn’t even know that being circumcised or having the foreskin that protects the head of the penis removed was a thing.) Anyway, once I figured out I wasn’t circumcised—we won’t mention how—I began exploring the sexual politics behind the foreskin.
…skin (or a lack thereof) on a penis shouldn’t be the sole indicator of sexual desirability, and the idea of one being more “clean” than the other…
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, while male circumcision (a surgical procedure that removes the foreskin of the penis) is the most commonly performed surgical procedure on newborns in the United States, those numbers are declining. Even so, the majority of American male teens are circumcised; thus, for people like Jessie*, 18, of Atlanta being uncircumcised can trigger some insecurity.
“Sometimes, I do feel like it affects more of my sexual confidence rather than my self-esteem,” he says. “I always feel like the foreskin felt more of a hindrance at times especially when it slides around, so I feel like it causes less pleasure, which generally leaves me panicking and wondering if it’s alright with my partner.”
These insecurities about being uncircumcised don’t limit themselves to the physical aspects of sex; there’s also a stigma as well.
Jonathan, 18, of Phelan, CA, says, “There definitely seems to be a stigma against those who aren’t circumcised. Guys who have been circumcised have ‘normal’ penises, yet those who aren’t circumcised get judged.”
Unfortunately, the stigma around uncircumcised penises does exist. Jessie cites smegma, a common phenomenon in uncircumcised penises in which shed skin cells, skin oils and moisture collect under the foreskin, as a key reason why uncircumcised penises are stigmatized. They’re seen as unclean.
“Even more offensive is what most males have termed ‘dick cheese’ in order to refer to smegma, which is an insult to uncircumcised males who certainly pull their foreskin back to wash it,” Jessie writes. “What I don’t understand is why we are shaming the presence of foreskin in the first place.”
Cultural and Religious Reasons for Circumcision
In the U.S., circumcisions are mostly performed for non-religious reasons, but circumcisions can take place for religious reasons; the three major Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) all incorporate circumcision as part of religious ritual. Matthew*, 17, of Bayonne, NJ, was circumcised as part of the Coptic Orthodox Christian faith, but struggles with the idea that he didn’t give consent to be circumcised:
“I’ve heard that circumcision does reduce pleasure from sex, and I just resent the fact that my parents had me circumcised. So it does make me feel a bit insecure.”
On the opposite end of this, however, is Gregory*, an 18-year-old from Spartanburg, SC. He is proud of his circumcision and believes it strengthens his faith.
“Being a religious person, I enjoy having an attribute that indirectly reflects my unique and personal faith and sets me apart from others,” he says. “Of course, being circumcised does not grant religious salvation nor does becoming a person of faith require circumcision. I only support the tradition in that it personally allows for me to feel a more direct connection to God.”
Skin or Lack Thereof
The acceptance and approval of the circumcised penis is something that many uncircumcised males, including myself, have struggled with. We all want to be sexually desired, but when your genitals are seen as “unclean” or “not normal,” it doesn’t do much for our self-esteem or our sexual confidence.
At the end of the day, skin (or a lack thereof) on a penis shouldn’t be the sole indicator of sexual desirability, and the idea of one being more “clean” than the other only does more harm than good.
“I don’t believe being circumcised or not should have an effect on one’s sex life,” says Jonathan. At the end of the day, the penis is still intact, one with less skin than the other. It’s petty for one to reject a sexual partner just on that aspect.”
*Some names have been changed and only first names used to protect the privacy of those who spoke with our writer.