I find it interesting that for many of us, one of the aspects of life that we know so very little about is the human body. You would think that living in a body, for like our whole life, we should really know tons about how it works and why. But I think it’s true that most of us take it for granted and don’t do too much investigation into it until it goes wrong (and sometimes not even then).
In 2005 I read a book that changed my life: ‘Taking Charge of your Fertility’ by Toni Weschler. At the time I wanted to learn about natural fertility awareness methods and how to prevent pregnancy without a bunch of hormones and latex. What I got in reading this book was a complete awakening into the magnificence of my female body, a deep understanding of my monthly cycles and a supreme trust in the intelligence of human design. I couldn’t believe why I and every other woman hadn’t been taught this stuff in school!
Fast forward a few years when I am pregnant and I delve into a whole heap more research about how this baby growing thing works, what it’s actually doing in my womb and the best way to deliver it. Well again I was completely fascinated in this study, amazed at the miracle of it all, soaking up new arenas of anatomy and physiology, uncovering myths, gaining more awareness of mind-body-spirit connections and ultimately putting what I was learning into practice for me to enjoy completely natural and beautiful births. But did I know about post-partum recovery? No, like many women, I had to experience it first-hand to know about the details and there was a whole lot to learn. Again.
So what does all this personal self-awareness have to do with my post title about a boy’s penis? Well it may be pretty obvious that I have had to learn about my own body through deliberate choice. I researched each subject for a specific reason to sometimes gain even basic knowledge. I may have had a little intuitive awareness about my body but I like to get my facts assembled in order to make important choices. So when it came to my son’s penis, I knew I had no right to go near it until I was totally clued up.
I actually had no intention of ever circumcising my son as it is outrageous to me that a perfectly, healthy and whole child would have a vital part of their bodies removed without their consent for NO justifiable reason. (Yeah I’m passionate about this subject can you tell?) However it took an encounter with a child mutilated by this operation for me to do a little more investigation and then write my post advocating that we leave our boys intact. To write that piece I once again delved into the research and realized that, other than in practical sense (*ahem*), I really didn’t know all that much about the foreskin at all.
Well after heading into the wonderful world of the Internet, I pulled up articles, research papers, doctor’s reports, videos, facebook pages and blogs on intactivism and I got to learn more about this very interesting part of the human body. Facts like:
The prepuce (foreskin) makes up as much as half of the skin system of the penis. It is an extension of the shaft skin that folds over onto itself, completely covering and protecting the glans (an internal organ) and provides the mobility of the shaft skin necessary for frictionless intercourse and masturbation. The foreskin has three known functions: protective, immunological, and sexual. It contains about 10,000 highly specialized nerve endings and several feet of blood vessels. An adult male foreskin, if unfolded and spread out, would be about the size of index card (3 x 5 inches), much more than a “little piece of skin.” Many sexually active men circumcised in adulthood report a significant decrease in sexual pleasure and comfort because of the loss of sensitive nerve endings, skin mobility and natural lubrication. ~ NOCIRC OF PENNSYLVANIA
Thankfully all this research into a procedure I was never going to do anyway held me in good stead for another issue that was coming up – whether or not to retract the foreskin.
Honestly, I can admit my ignorance again here, I had no idea that when baby boys were born that the foreskin is fused to the glans of the penis and they do not have a retractable foreskin. I didn’t know until I read things like:
‘The prepuce [foreskin] is normally not retractile at birth. The ventral [lower] surface of the foreskin is naturally fused to the glans of the penis. At age 6 years, 80 percent of boys still do not have a fully retractile foreskin. By age 17 years, however, 97 to 99 percent of uncircumcised males have a fully retractile foreskin.’ – Pediatrics reference text Rudolph, AM, and Hoffman, MD. Pediatrics, Appleton and Lange, 1987, 18th ed. p1205.
The attachment of the foreskin and glans is nature’s way of protecting the undeveloped glans from premature exposure. Detachment is a normal physiological process that can take up to two decades to complete. By the end of puberty, the foreskin will have detached from the glans because hormones that are produced in great quantities at puberty help with the process. There is no age by which a child’s foreskin must be fully separated from the glans. ~ Dr Fleiss
In the book What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Circumcision written by Dr. Fleiss and Dr. Hodges they say:
No attempt should be made to retract the foreskin before the penis has fully developed. Premature retraction causes the glans to become dry, hard, and scarred. The foreskin protects the glans from injury simply by covering it. The first person to retract the foreskin and expose the glans should be the child himself, and only when the child is ready to do so. It is best that parents avoid concerning themselves with this natural process. All by themselves, little boys will make the discovery that their foreskin can be retracted.
(Read a larger excerpt from this fascinating book at DrMomma.org)
But the word on the street was different. ‘Pull it back’ I was advised by older women with sons. ‘Pull it back everyday’ a senior nurse told me. Family and friends told me that their family, friends and medical providers had also said the same thing. Yet the more I read about the true nature of the foreskin the more I am concerned with this advice which seems to abound unquestioned. Pulling back a child’s foreskin, also known as ‘premature, forcible foreskin retraction’ can result in pain, tearing, scarring, infections, swelling and PERMANENT DAMAGE. Yikes, I want to shout this from rooftops but I don’t like long ladders too much so I decided to stay on the ground and write about here it instead.
An intact penis requires no special care other than being washed like every other part of the body. I also read this incredible article ‘Only Clean What Is Seen: Reversing the Epidemic of Forcible Retraction’ by John V. Geisheker, JD, LLM and John W. Travis, MD, MPH. These doctors are part of the group ‘Doctors Opposing Circumcision’ and present a toe-curling case study, the history of forced retraction, clear scientific guidelines of care for a child’s penis, medical myths, first-aid for prematurely retracted foreskins and loads more fascinating information. It’s a must read!
Some further resources that I found particularly valuable are:
Pamphlets from the organization No Circ which were clear and practical:
Answers To Your Questions About Premature (Forcible) Retraction of Your Young Son’s Foreskin
The article ‘Care of the Intact Penis’ on the Intactivist site is also a great read with great emphasis on the ‘leave it alone’ instruction.
Wikipedia’s article on forcible foreskin retraction has some well explained information on the subject which might be valuable if you have to send someone the information from a ‘neutral source’.
So now in the face of people telling me ‘you must retract your son’s foreskin otherwise it will remain forever attached and he will need to be circumcised by aged 7’ (another medical professionals opinion), I am armed with knowledge, awareness, science as well as my fierce mother bear instinct to protect my child. I feel we may all need to do a whole lot more self-education on our amazing human body and it’s important not to let anyone else make a choice for our own body or that of our children until we have researched the facts and all sides of a story. For my beautiful, perfect intact son I will make sure everyone knows to LEAVE DE BOY PENIS ALONE!