Richard Duncker is one of the UK’s leading campaigners against medically unnecessary male circumcision. Here he explains why circumcision is such a big issue.
—This is article #19 in our series of #100Voices4Men and boys
There are about three billion men alive in the world today. Approximately two billion of them are allowed to grow up with their genitals intact. The remaining one billion have their genitals cut; they are circumcised without their consent, usually when they are children.
Physical harm and loss of sensation
The removal of about 90 square centimetres of specialised erogenous tissue is clearly physical harm. The anatomy of the penis and the foreskin in particular has been studied by Cold and Taylor  and a fair summary is that fine touch nerves and stretch receptors are removed during a circumcision. These are the types of nerves that let you locate a splinter in your finger and create good feelings when you smile. At the junction of the inner and outer foreskin is an extension of the frenulum (banjo string) that is the ridged band of nerves that runs around the opening of the foreskin.
In their 2007 study Sorrells et al  identified the ridged band as the most sensitive area of the penis. This area is always lost to circumcision. There is also the fact that nerves that are cut do not join up as they heal and the brain will map the sensation from the affected area unpredictably. It is probably fair to say that a man without a foreskin experiences sex in a similar manner to a person trying to speak after the dentist has numbed their lip .
Such a loss compromises the sex life of the man concerned. Frisch et al in their study  conclude that “Circumcision was associated with frequent orgasm difficulties in Danish men and with a range of frequent sexual difficulties in women” They also go on to say that a “Thorough examination of these matters in areas where male circumcision is more common is warranted.” So far no one has been willing to fund such a study.
Hospitals regularly care for boys who have suffered complications as a result of circumcision, FOI (freedom of information) requests are pending. It seems from previous FOI requests that an almost equal proportion of casualties resulting from circumcision come from medical and lay operators. Some of these injuries are life threatening as this report of complications in one Birmingham hospital shows .
That boys have died as a result of genital cutting is now widely known, news stories from London, Manchester, Africa and hospitals in America show that deaths are not rare and represent the most extreme form of physical harm.
After circumcision there are a number of possible psychological outcomes. Some men, an unknown proportion of those circumcised, will go on to live happy lives oblivious to any adverse effects their circumcision may have had on them. Lindsay Watson in his excellent book “Unspeakable Mutilations”  describes this state as the “circumcision coma” and that such men are in denial or are genuinely happy with their status but no one knows the proportions, it seems that no one wants to know or study the answer.
Some of the men circumcised will have a negative reaction to their circumcision and may be described as suffering from Post Circumcision Syndrome referred to by Dr John Warren in his video interview with James Loewen.
There has been work done on the psychological damage caused by circumcision and a good place to start is – Circumcision and Resources Information Page – where you will find links into a lot of work on this subject. There is a spectrum of psychological, economic and social damage that remains to be studied. Some men report depression, inability to form relationships and shame about their bodies.
I have been told, by impeccable sources, of at least two suicides where a note showed that circumcision was a significant contributory factor for the suicide.
So to conclude – of about a billion men that is 1,000,000,000, some live possibly in ignorance and unaffected by the damage they have been caused. A proportion of that billion live only too aware and resentful of what has been done to them and others may feel damaged but unable to identify or admit the cause. The numbers of men in each category are unknown and the dead are uncounted. What is certain is that male circumcision is a big problem. Even if only a small fraction of that billion are damaged it is still a large amount of suffering. It is surely time that non-therapeutic male circumcision followed the path identified by the sociologist C Wright Mills and moved from being a private trouble to becoming a public issue.
 “The prepuce: specialized mucosa of the penis and its loss to circumcision” J .R. Taylor, A.P . Lockwood and A. J. Taylor Department of Pathology, Health Sciences Centre, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
 “Fine-touch pressure thresholds in the adult penis” Morris L. Sorrells, James L. Snyder, Mark D. Reiss, Christopher Eden*, Marilyn F. Milos†,Norma Wilcox and Robert S. Van Howe
 “Male circumcision and sexual function in men and women: a survey-based, cross-sectional study in Denmark” International Journal of Epidemiology 2011
 “Unspeakable Mutilations Circumcised Men Speak Out” Lindsay R Watson
 C. Wright Mills: power, craftsmanship, and private troubles and public issues
—Picture credit: Men Do Complain website
You can find all of the #100Voices4Men articles that will be published in the run up to International Men’s Day 2014 by clicking on this link—#100Voices4Men—and follow the discussion on twitter by searching for #100Voices4Men.
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