The Power of Addressing the Hidden Trauma of Circumcision

When I was 10 days old, the doctor took me into a room at the hospital, closed the door on my Mother who was anxious and grieving about what was happening, not allowing her to come in to soothe me and then proceeded to surgically remove my foreskin without anesthetic. Surely it was highly emotionally and physically painful at the time but it happened so young that I have no conscious memory of it. This unnecessary surgery is exceedingly common (about 30% of baby boys globally, higher in North America) so in my culture, I grew up not knowing what I was missing and I didn’t think to question the impacts until recent years as I have studied to become a trauma therapist. It turns out that there is very clear evidence from numerous studies that show neo-natal circumcision in boys leads to long-term physical, sexual, emotional and psychological harm in men. It also turns out that there are several ways for men to mitigate the harm and reclaim the power, emotional intelligence, pleasure and connection that was compromised from this early trauma. I am writing this article in the hopes of empowering other circumcised men to have more fulfilling lives. Here are some of the challenging outcomes caused by circumcision from just a few of the studies on the topic: Men circumcised as babies report lower attachment security with their adult partners, lower emotional stability, higher perceived stress, more experiences of emotionally detached sex and higher sensation-seeking behaviours than their uncut counterparts (Miani et. al 2020). The foreskin contains about ½ of the erogenous tissue of the penis and offers mechanical lubrication, so circumcision inhibits pleasure during sex for both men and women hence circumcized men experience more orgasm issues and spouses of circumcised men report generally lower sexual satisfaction (Frisch, M., Lindholm, M., and Gronbaek, M., 2015). In one study they found that circumcised men are 4.5x times more likely to use an erectile dysfunction drug (Bollinger, D. and Van Howe, R., 2011). Circumcised boys are more impulsive, aggressive, anxious, less motivated, less attentive and have less positive social interactions with peers (Leone-Vespa, T. 2011). In a study of all of the 340,000 Danish boys born between 1994-2003, they found that circumcised boys were 50% more likely than intact boys to develop autism before age 10 (Frisch, M. & Simonsen, J, 2015). Circumcised babies have disrupted eating, sleeping and infant-mother bonding and are more prone to SIDS. Circumcised men have a harder time identifying and describing their feelings (Bollinger, D. and Van Howe, R. 2011). Discovering this research has been highly motivating for me. Although I consider myself a highly reflective person, it was odd to me that I could not get to the root of some persistent issues in my life. I had been stumped by some attachment and sexual issues which showed up in nearly all my intimate relationships and I often sensed that something was lacking in my emotional intelligence despite many efforts to grow in this domain. This research was a missing link, pointing to an unaddressed trauma at the bottom of it. All of these negative impacts have started to lessen since I started therapeutically addressing the lasting impacts of circumcision. It was like there was a buried land mine creating stress in my nervous system that needed to be excavated and with it gone I could relax more fully. All unprocessed trauma such as neo-natal circumcision gets stored deep in the body and the psyche and because the surgery happens at such a young age, a somewhat traumatized experience of life becomes the norm. As babies, there is little capacity to process the intense emotional and physical pain of a surgery like this and so it shifts how the boys’ nervous system develops, which is usually towards avoidance, numbness or agitation. These trauma-driven biological and emotional adaptations are the foundation for most negative impacts relayed in the studies above. The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) study https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adverse_childhood_experiences demonstrates that traumas experienced as children are linked to multifarious negative health and relational outcomes parallel to patterns listed in the studies above; there is currently a movement to have circumcision added to the ACE criteria. On an emotional level, there are huge feelings paired with the non-consensual removal of a major erogenous zone removed as a powerless baby. As men age, they usually repress the painful feelings of anger, terror, rage, grief, disgust or shame of the violation. If they do express feelings, they are often they are not held well; When I first shared my pain about this as an adult I was told to “Just Get over it”. Repression of these feelings and trying to ‘just get over it’ compared to ‘getting through it’ is part of the pattern that perpetuates the sexual, relational, psychological and emotional symptoms associated with circumcision. My experience is that with support these repressed feelings can be processed, lessening the negative symptoms of the circumcision trauma. Accessing the embodied nervous system imprint of the trauma and its correlated emotions is a place where I and others have had the agency to heal from some of the negative impacts of the surgery. Although we can’t change what happened to us, we can change how our bodies hold it. Most talk therapies will do little to address such deep pre-cognitive trauma, however somatic body-based therapies or psychedelic therapies can help access the embodied imprint of the trauma and process it out. After working on my circumcision trauma with somatic therapy support, I am experiencing healthier attachment and happier relating with my fiancee. I have an improved capacity to regulate and sense my emotions and am generally less stressed and tense and more energized. I feel more satisfied and confident sexually, having gained more access to pleasure and ejaculatory control. These are huge wins in my life! If you or someone you love is impacted by unprocessed circumcision trauma and you want to do some healing around the psychological, relational and emotional impacts of it, send me a DM or email me at anam.cara.somatic@gmail.com to book a free discovery call. I’d love to help you work through it and towards healthier relating, better sex and more emotional intelligence. Bollinger, D. and Van Howe, R. , “Alexithymia and Circumcision Trauma: A Preliminary Investigation,” International Journal of Men’s Health (2011);184-195. Bronselaer, G. et al., “Male Circumcision Decreases Penile Sensitivity as Measured in a Large Cohort,” BJU International 111 (2013): 820-827. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23374102?dopt=Abstract Frisch, M., Lindholm, M., and Gronbaek, M., “Male Circumcision and Sexual Function in Men and Women: A Survey-based, Cross-sectional Study in Denmark,” International Journal of Epidemiology (2011);1–15. Frisch, M. & Simonsen, J. “Ritual Circumcision and Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder in 0-to 9-Year-Old Boys: National Cohort Study in Denmark,” 108 (2015); 266-279. https://doi.org/10.1177/0141076814565942 Leone-Vespa, T. “Understanding the Relationship Between Circumcision and Emotional Development in Young Boys: Measuring Aggressiveness and Emotional Expressiveness,” Alliant International University, 2011, 138 pages; 3467063. MIani, A. et al., “Neonatal Male Circumcision is Associated with Altered Adult Socio-Affective Processing,” Heliyon, (2020) 6:11, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e05566. Muller, A. “To Cut or Not to Cut? Personal Factors Influence Primary Care Physicians’ Position on Elective Circumcision.” American Journal of Men’s Health 7 (2010); 227-232. Earp, B., Sardi, L., & Jellison, W., “False Beliefs Predict Increased Circumcision Satisfaction in a Sample of US American Men,” Culture, Health, and Sexuality, 2018 Aug;20(8):945-959. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2017.1400104. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29210334 Van der Kolk, B. The compulsion to repeat the trauma: re-enactment, revictimization, and masochism. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 1989;12(2):389-411.

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