I don't want you to get the idea that I took Myra Breckinridge's scornful assessment of the circumcised penis at face value. No, almost immediately I went looking for a second opinion. And a third opinion, and a fourth opinion, and who knows how many opinions. There were lots of opinions out there.
The year I read Myra Breckinridge was 1980, the same year Edward Wallerstein's book about circumcision came out, Circumcision: An American Health Fallacy. (The book is out of print, but you can read an excerpt on circumstitons.com.) This was also a time when medical associations were starting to question routine infant circumcision, so occasionally I'd see stories about circumcision in the news, and very often I'd read about this idea that circumcision removed all kinds of nerve endings that contributed to sexual pleasure.
1980 was also the time in my life when I was starting to have sex, and one frustration that I had with sex was that my penis didn't seem to have any response to light touch. I'll try not to get too graphic here, but there were times when I would think to myself, "All my friends say this part is supposed to feel so great, and I don't feel a thing. What in the heck?!"
Yes, I know there are things you can do to try to improve your response to light touch. I tried them. They didn't work for me.
But I worked things out. I had a sex life. I continue to have a sex life. It's just a sex life with a penis that doesn't respond well to light touch.
Had circumcision compromised my ability to respond to light touch? I tried to find out. I read about the experiences of men circumcised as children. I read about the experiences of men circumcised as adults. I read about men who had it a lot worse than I did, whose penises were no more sensitive to touch than your big toe. I read about men who had no motility.
Do you know what motility is? It's like the difference between the skin on a Basset Hound's neck and the skin on a dolphin's tail. If you're a man with no motility, that means the skin on your erect penis is like the skin on a dolphin's tail. "Things could be worse," I often thought to myself when I read about men with no motility. "At least I'm a Basset Hound and not a dolphin."
This went on for years. It became kind of a hobby of mine, measuring my own sexual function and satisfaction against those of other circumcised men. I was especially interested in the stories of men circumcised as adults, because they could speak with an authority that the rest of us couldn't. Of course, when the Internet came along, that made things that much easier. There are all kinds of forums you can read out there. Men circumcised as adults, men circumcised as infants, men who like being circumcised, men who hate it.
I started thinking all these experiences of circumcised men fit into a broad spectrum. I started calling it the Satisfaction Spectrum, because I needed to call it something, and I thought if I could plot out the Satisfaction Spectrum on a graph, then I could figure out exactly where I fit on the graph. Then that would answer The Big Question for me, right? To what extent and in what ways has my sex life suffered because of circumcision?
It all sounds very scientific doesn't it?
Well, no I guess it doesn't.
My Satisfaction Spectrum wasn't science at all, was it? You know what I think it was? I think it was bargaining, the kind of bargaining you engage in when you lose something from your life permanently, irrevocably. It was the kind of bargaining that you experience as a natural part of grief.