Other Writing by John A. Erickson

Letter from John A. Erickson to Parents Magazine

[This is the longest letter -- by far -- I've ever written.]

March 22, 1992

I'd like to ask you a question about "The Circumcision Decision," by Katherine Karlsrud, MD, and Dodi Schultz, in your January 1990 issue.

It contains no information about many of the thoroughly documented facts about circumcision that are making a growing number of parents -- even Jewish parents -- decide against it.

There's nothing about the protective, sensory, or sexual functions of the foreskin.

Nothing about the trauma of the circumcision operation.

Nothing about the risks of anesthesia.

Nothing about the occasional, inevitable circumcision disasters.

Nothing about the tremendous loss of sensitivity reported by males circumcised as adults.

Nothing about circumcision as a cause of psychological harm and sexual dysfunction.

Nothing about the fact that the vast majority of males who are given the choice prefer to keep their foreskins intact.

Nothing about the resentment many males have expressed about having had part of their penis cut off without their consent.

Nothing about the growing perception of infant circumcision as a violation of human rights.

Nothing about the moral/ethical/legal implications of being aware of these considerations but circumcising babies anyway.

Nothing about the many sources of information about circumcision now available: books, videos and NOCIRC centers throughout the country.

Nothing, even, about the thoroughly documented risk of death.

How can this be?

Are you and the authors of that article unaware of this information? Or are you aware of it but withholding it from your readers?

Which? I can't think of any other possibility.

The article is a virtual encyclopedia of confusing, misleading, deceptively worded, outdated statements: the "prevents problems" scare; the "lifetime commitment to penile hygiene" scare; the "cervical cancer" scare; the "might have to be circumcised later" scare; the "trauma if circumcised later" scare; the "high cost of being circumcised later" scare; the "won't match his father" scare; the recent urinary-tract infections scare.

But I draw your attention specifically to Dr. Karlsrud's horrendous false statement that "nerve pathways are thought to be less developed in newborn babies."

Thought by whom?

Not by Rosemary Romberg, author of Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma. Not by Edward Wallerstein, author of Circumcision: An American Health Fallacy. Not by Anne Briggs, author of Circumcision: What Every Parent Should Know. Not by Billy Boyd, author of Circumcision: What It Does [reprinted as Circumcision Exposed: Rethinking a Medical and Cultural Tradition]. Not by Thomas Ritter, MD, author of Say No to Circumcision: 40 Compelling Reasons. Not by Marilyn Milos, RN, founder and director of the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers. Not by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Not by anyone who has circumcised a baby or seen a baby being circumcised. (Anyone who has ever circumcised a baby or seen a baby being circumcised and says babies don't feel pain, is lying.) Not, in short, by anyone who knows what he or she is talking about.

And certainly not by the screaming, struggling, vomiting, defecating baby having a normal, sensitive, functional part of his penis cut off.

I'm enclosing a copy of "'A Scream We Will Never Forget' and Other Statements Documenting Infant Circumcision Pain."

Please notice that, except for a few anecdotal statements, these statements are from authoritative sources.

I direct your attention to the following statements in particular:

And especially -- in contrast to the statement in Dr. Karlsrud's article -- this statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics' 1989 Report of the Ad Hoc Task Force on Circumcision: I would very much like to know your response to these and the other statements on the enclosed sheet.

It's too late for the babies who will have to go through life without a foreskin because their parents read Dr. Karlsrud's article and therefore thought they were "informed."

But it's not too late for babies yet to be born. It's not too late to tell your readers that the statement about infant circumcision pain in your January 1990 issue is false. It's not too late to tell your readers that, according to the most informed, up-to-date, authoritative sources, babies feel as much pain when their genitals are clamped, slit, torn, crushed, sliced, and burned as anyone else would.

Your readers have the right to know that.

You have an obligation to tell them.

But will you tell them?

That is what I want to know.

Please tell me.


I started researching the subject of circumcision informally about ten years ago after the shock of seeing a baby being circumcised on television.

I almost fainted.

I didn't have to be Sigmund Freud to realize that, regardless what anyone might say, no one who has seen what's done to a baby when he's circumcised and how the baby reacts could possibly be glad -- much less wish -- that anything that violent and gruesome had been done to his own penis, and that anyone who claims otherwise -- for whatever reason -- has to be either lying or in a state of denial.

Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma, by Rosemary Romberg, contains this statement by a circumcised man: "My early recollection around the age of four years was that something was missing -- and with it an intense feeling of loss coupled with a complete lack of understanding as to what had happened. The overwhelming feeling was not that I was simply different, but that something was terribly wrong." (p. 194)

A couple of years ago on Donahue, a woman referred to her circumcised son as a "basket case." Another woman described various morbid symptoms her son had, caused by circumcision. One man talked about his own circumcision-related sexual dysfunction. Marilyn Milos, RN, founder and director of NOCIRC, said on that show that she has received thousands of letters from circumcised men with all sorts of circumcision-related problems.

A NOCIRC newsletter reported that that organization has received more than 1,000 requests for information about "foreskin restoration."

Billy Boyd, author of Circumcision: What It Does, tells about the pain he felt when a woman he was attracted to told him that she preferred uncircumcised men.

The classified section of Issue Number 12 of Foreskin Quarterly contains more than 100 ads placed by circumcised men looking for uncircumcised men.

Another magazine, Skins, is filled with similar ads.

(What goes on in a male's mind between the time he realizes that his foreskin was cut off when he was a baby and the time he places an ad in the hope of finding a man whose foreskin he can share?)

I have seen several photographs of and articles about "docking" (two males masturbating inside one male's foreskin) in gay magazines.

A circumcised heterosexual man told me he'd like to try it just to see how a foreskin feels.

Dozens of men I've talked with have expressed various degrees of discontent about having been circumcised without their consent (regardless of any "benefits" -- they'd rather have a foreskin and take their chances).

A man in his seventies told me that finding out, when he was nine, that he was circumcised and what that meant, was the most traumatic experience of his life, that he never got over it, and that he felt so humiliated when he realized what had been done to him that he could not refer to it, even to his parents, or make himself say the word "circumcised" until he was in his twenties.

Several men circumcised as adults have told me that they would never have had themselves circumcised if they had known what being circumcised was like.

(On the NOCIRC Circumcision Video, a man circumcised as an adult describes sex without a foreskin as "sight without color.")

A friend of mine recently died of AIDS. He told me several years ago that the only reason he was gay was that he was circumcised when he was a baby and felt deprived -- it was only with an uncircumcised man that he could "have" a foreskin.

An uncircumcised male prostitute in New Orleans told me that many of his customers were circumcised males who were turned on by his foreskin.

A man here on the Gulf Coast, whose mother had him circumcised when he was a year old, told me that he thinks about his mother with her ears docked, like a Doberman's, face down in her coffin, facing hell.

One circumcised man I talked with told me that when he thought about what his parents let happen to him, he wanted to "take a razor and slit their throats."

Another man told me he wanted to kill the doctor who circumcised him.

On the other hand, virtually every intact man I've talked with told me he wouldn't want to be circumcised for any reason whatsoever.

Did someone say it's OK to circumcise babies for "religious" reasons?

Some of the ways circumcision has affected the lives of some males I've encountered circumcised for religious reasons are so extreme that I could not comfortably sign my name to a letter in which I related them.

(I wonder how many Jewish women would let their baby sons be circumcised if they knew how many circumcised Jewish males go through life psychosexually enslaved to foreskins.)

One man told me about a Jewish friend of his who travels to Germany and pays uncircumcised neo-Nazi street punks -- they must be uncircumcised -- to urinate in his face and call him dirty names while he kneels before them and masturbates.

Yes -- these examples are "just anecdotal."

But why are they just anecdotal?

If I, with my limited experience and resources, am aware of these ways circumcision can affect a child's life, why aren't sex researchers, sex educators, sex psychologists, sex counselors, sex therapists, and the experts parents trust to give them the facts about circumcision, also aware of them?

If they are aware of these ways circumcision can affect a child's life, why don't they speak up and help bring all this torment and suffering to an end?

(Is it because the circumcision experience -- the operation itself and later the realization that the one thing most males fear most -- losing their penis or any part of it -- has already happened to them -- is so traumatic for most circumcised males that they just can't face it -- much less accept or acknowledge it -- and the only way they can deal with it -- the closest they can come to seeming "normal" -- is for as many other males as possible to be circumcised too, and so circumcision is perpetuated from one generation to the next as circumcised males make sure that their sons -- and as many other males as possible -- are circumcised too?)

(If true, shouldn't that be made known?)

The great difficulty, it seems to me -- and the main reason babies are still being circumcised -- is that there is apparently no way to make mothers aware of the facts about circumcision that would make them refuse absolutely to let their baby sons be circumcised -- regardless how strongly the circumcised father or anyone else insisted on it -- without exposing the circumcised father and any sons already circumcised as victims of a physically and psychologically crippling, disfiguring mutilation.

But I digress.

I await your reply.

[No answer received. However, if I remember correctly, a few months later Parents Magazine mentioned -- I don't remember the context -- that babies do feel pain when they are circumcised.]