Psychosexual Effects of Circumcision

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Noted FGM researcher Hanny Lightfoot-Klein's male and female genital cutting cultural comparison here:

Circumcision is a euphemism for genital reduction surgery or genital mutilation, performed by medically-licensed or unqualified practitioners for various reasons. It is important to define it honestly, for that is how the mind interprets it, with or without superimposed denials, explanations and intellectualisations.

Many circumcisions are performed on children, who, by definition are not able to give informed consent of the kind available to adults. They are vulnerable to coercion and manipulation and generally have little say in what happens to their bodies medically & surgically. They are not usually allowed to say no to medical procedures because it is deemed that parents & doctors "know best". However, it is unlikely that any child, asked if they would like a person with a knife to cut off part of their penis, would agree to such an action. This would be a normal psychological reaction to the threat of attack and is overruled at some psychological cost.

When one's own natural tendency to protect oneself is rendered ineffective, one loses a sense of one's own power over one's destiny & survival, and a feeling of helplessness ensues. This occurs in situations of rape, torture and sexual abuse. In a situation where a person feels he or she cannot escape physical attack, the mind will "escape" by a process of "dissociation" - it is as if the mind leaves the body temporarily, so that the body can endure the attack, but the mind does not have to. On returning to the body, the mind may then be subject to unconscious repetitions of the traumatic memories in flashbacks or nightmares. These recurring images may be triggered by any situation which reminds the sufferer of the original traumatic event; a child who has been subjected to a painful surgical procedure in hospital may develop a phobia of hospitals or doctors or people in white coats. The child, or later the adult he grows into, may sweat, have palpitations, feel breathless, nauseated, panicky or dizzy at the thought of the trauma situation and try to avoid it happening again. This may lead to difficulty when medical attention is genuinely needed for a subsequent illness.

One man, who had been subjected to circumcision at the age of three years old, vividly recalled at the age of thirty, how he had been undressed and his penis manipulated by a man in a mask pre-operatively, without his consent. The child had experienced an erection about which he was embarrassed, and then, post-operatively found himself with a bleeding, painful penis from which the foreskin had been amputated without his permission. This event had changed his life. He was angry that this had been done to him and humiliated by his powerlessness to protect himself from what felt like sexual manipulation. He felt that he had been sexually abused. In any other context than the medical one, the same sequence of events would be open to an interpretation of sexual abuse. To the child, the psychological impact is the same, whether it is illegal rape or legalised medical activity.

Another man, who was circumcised at the age of seven, asked what was going to happen to him in hospital. He was told that it was "nothing" and he didn't need to worry his head about it. After the operation he was devastated to find that part of his penis was missing and that his trust in his parents' words had been misplaced. It was as if his experience of losing part of his body was not worth a mention or an explanation.

The process of psychological dissociation from trauma, and the subsequent re-experiencing of frightening images, plus avoidance of situations which symbolize the trauma, is called Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD for short. It is a collection of symptoms recognized in some soldiers after combat and in victims of extreme terror. It has been shown to occur in women after gynecological procedures and after circumcision in children of both sexes.

See also