Faith crime

Eight circumcised men are meeting in Watford, north of London. They want new foreskins. Laurie is sharing his experience of restoration, as foreskin renewal is called, with members of the National Organisation of Restoring Men UK (Norm-UK).

The meetings are small and intimate. There is little in the way of physical display. ‘People are always worried we’re going to drop our trousers,” says general manager David Smith. Laurie wouldn’t be averse to the idea. Women stretch skin for reconstruction after a mastectomy, so why shouldn’t men stretch a foreskin?

Some men can’t restore. They are too tightly circumcised and have no tissue left to grow. But others can and are availing themselves of products such as the TLC Tugger, Tug Ahoy and the Your-Skin cone. Some have found their own DIY solutions, using funnels and gaskets to stretch the foreskin, and sash-window weights to provide traction.

The whole idea sounds funny, but it isn’t. Not if it’s happening to you. Laurie, nearing 60, was rapidly losing the sensation in his circumcised penis. ‘I just could not feel a thing.” His glans was so desensitised that he could have an orgasm and not even feel it. During heterosexual intercourse with a circumcised man, the penis removes natural lubrication as it moves in and out of the vagina. ‘So my poor wife was buying artificial lubricant by the gallon,” says Laurie. Now, he says, after restoration, sensation has returned and ‘We’re delighted.”

John D’s circumcision was unnecessary; a course of antibiotics had already cleared up his urinary infection. ‘But my father agreed with the doctor, and told me I was going to have a minor operation,” he says. ‘I remember the nurses giggling as I was taken off to theatre … I was eight … I remember waking up after the general anaesthetic had worn off, and looking down. My beloved penis had been replaced with wrinkled skin, a collar of thorns — the black stitches — and an ugly great dome on top. I experienced shock at first, later deep anger and resentment. The stitches disappeared, but the mutilation didn’t. My father said, ‘I didn’t think it would look like that.’ It was misinformed consent.” John D has never been able to reach orgasm through sexual intercourse.

John E hates the word ‘circumcision”: ‘I prefer ‘foreskin amputation’. There’s no medical benefit. It’s a rite. A faith crime.”

In the Bible, circumcision was God’s covenant with the Jewish people. Circumcision isn’t mentioned in the Qur’an, but it is in other Islamic texts, and most Muslims believe it’s fundamental. Asked if Norm-UK has Jewish and Muslim members, Smith replies, ‘Yes we do, but if someone joins us, we do not ask their religion.”

Religious circumcisions are frequently performed without anaesthetic, even on newborn babies. Adults can testify to the pain and can give their informed consent — but children can’t. Norm-UK points out that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child declares that violence to children cannot be justified on grounds of ‘religion, culture or tradition”.

Circumcision on females was made illegal in Britain in 1985. The same protection is not extended to males because it would mean taking on two of the world’s great religions. Most forms of female circumcision are, certainly, more damaging than male circumcision, but the distinction in law can’t be justified objectively.

Circumcision only gained popularity in the 19th century, after claims that it stopped the vile habit of masturbation, which, the Victorians thought, caused everything from epilepsy to asthma and alcoholism.

A recent paper in the British Medical Journal found a link between an intact foreskin and HIV infection — but a paper in the British Journal of Urology found exactly the opposite. Norm-UK argues that a lack of cleanliness is more important to the trans- mission of disease than the lack of a foreskin.

The organisation accepts there are medical conditions where it is necessary, but, says Smith, doctors often ‘seem unaware of the alternatives”.

‘And you cannot cut off normal, healthy, sexually functioning tissue without cutting off normal, healthy, sexual functioning,” says Marilyn Milos, a nurse and director of the National Organisation of Circumcision Information Resource Centres in the United States. ‘It’s a sexual issue, and it’s a human rights issue.”

The foreskin isn’t a useless flap that evolution should have got rid of long ago — it is rich with blood vessels and nerves. These contribute greatly to the sexual response. There’s no escaping it — the foreskin is sexual tissue.

In time, campaigners such as Norm-UK hope that routine circumcision will come to be seen as yet another deluded fad, along with bleeding, electro-convulsive therapy and the frontal lobotomy. —

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