Therapy and Male Circumcision Grief
“Currently I am collecting information from men who have experienced difficulty coping with their circumcision grief and have sought professional help from psychiatrists, psychotherapists etc. Preliminary findings are that often therapists treat such grieving men flippantly and dismissively.”
Genital cutting societies such as that of North America deny that male circumcision is a human rights violation and that men in particular suffer physically and psychologically from the procedure, and this is often reflected in therapist attitudes. As more male teenagers and adults find out from the Internet that they have lost out sexually and enter a circumcision grief process, there is a greater need for therapists to be educated that this grief is very real and should be accepted and treated seriously. (The author knows cases of attempted and actual suicide as a result of circumcision grief.)
While some therapists are empathetic and appreciate why the man is upset, more typically men report being called “nuts” or “crazy,” the therapist joking about their own son’s circumcision, “some men are happy” [so you should be too], “you cannot say lack of an orgasm is due to circumcision,” “piercing ears is just as damaging,” “some girls prefer it” or “you should be grateful” and that circumcision prevents STIs and cancer [which is unproven]. Surprisingly some therapists thought it was “just a psychological problem and not a physical one” and that “the foreskin is not a part of the penis.’
To understand how inappropriate and misandrist such reactions are, consider what would happen to a woman patient grieving over her childhood genital mutilation. A therapist would support this woman to work through her grief and there are World Health Organization guidelines published to support the therapist. A therapist would not joke about circumcision, say she is “nuts,” justify her circumcision using health reasons or tell her she should be grateful for what was done to her.
This sexual bias arises from the North American social construct that female circumcision is far more physically and psychologically damaging than medical male infant circumcision. Some forms of female circumcision are more damaging, but some are less damaging in terms of amount of tissue removed, reduction in erogenous tissue, effect on mechanical and protective functions and damage to the development of sensory pathways in the nervous system.
This sexual bias is further confounded by the belief that the foreskin is a non-functional structure and is often the source of disease, a concept promoted by the North American mainstream medical profession. On the contrary, the foreskin is, like any body part, usually healthy and is a connected part of the normal penile skin, blood, muscular and nervous systems. The foreskin: provides a major part of the sensory input during sexual activities; protects the sensitivity of the head of the penis by acting as a barrier to abrasion from clothes, low air or water temperatures and desiccation; provides enough skin to accommodate the increased penile volume during erection without tears and bleeding; reduces of the force needed to penetrate the vagina; reduces friction by acting as a linear bearing between the penile shaft and the vaginal walls; and helps retain vaginal fluids during intercourse. For circumcised men, some of these functions can be regained through nonsurgical foreskin restoration.
It is hardly surprising that in response to negative therapist responses, men report feeling “terrible’, “sick”, “frustrated” and “not understood.” Men report therapists were “not helpful” and “refused to listen”. Diagnoses included obsessive compulsive disorder, dysmorphia and “obsessive thoughts,” “You’re blaming circumcision for sexual issues,” “You’re fixated on what is missing; lack of sexual feeling is just in your head,’ and “You’re obsessive about restoration.”
Strategies did not usually follow the normal treatment for grief because most therapists could not believe a man would ever grieve over a missing foreskin. Example strategies included: further evaluation, meditation, refrain from visiting restoration websites, “roll with it” and further digging to find the real cause of the problem. It is hardly surprising that men did to make follow up appointments.
Men have suggested that therapists should consider: investigating post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and intrusive thoughts; empathizing and validating the man’s feelings; trying to “help sort out those feelings to reach solutions”; and being “logical and not in denial”.
On entering circumcision grief men feel isolated and lonely, because they are unable to share their grief with peers, parents, partners and medical professionals for fear of ridicule. Men must be seen as being strong and in control. What works best for men who are working through circumcision grief, is non-surgical foreskin restoration and the support given to them by similarly grieving men on restoration websites. Such websites often recommend that men do not visit professional therapists for obvious reasons.
If you have experiences of professional therapy for circumcision grief please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org and I will supply a list of 16 questions most of which require brief answers.
- Lindsay R. Watson, A Voice For Men