Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma by Ronald Goldman Ph.D., 1997, Vanguard Publications, Boston, MA, $18.95, pp. 302

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma is an exhaustive and well documented study of every possible effect this procedure could have on the lives of the majority of U.S. males. The author is unequivocally against this popular surgery, which during the 1980's reached a peak. During that decade, circumcision was performed on 80% of newborn male infants. The present rate has fallen to 60%. Unlike, in the United States, in the rest of the world, most male circumcisions are done for religious reasons, primarily by Jews and Muslims. World-wide, 80% of men are intact. In this country, circumcisions are justified mostly for supposed reasons of cleanliness and to reduce the incidence of bladder infections, but the author concludes that all reasons enumerated are inadequate to justify the possible impact that circumcision has on its victims. A combination of defective logic, incomplete information and flawed science makes the procedure more serious than any possible benefits, he claims.

The author writes that babies can feel pain and provides much background material to show that the senses of infants are well developed at birth. He concludes that the surgery is simply torture masquerading as a medical procedure. The surgery is commonly performed the second day after birth upon unaesthesized babies. Prior to 1980, anesthesia was not used because it was believed that new-born infants did not feel pain. To this day, anesthetics are still not commonly used since it is believed that their use entails an additional medical risk to the infant. Even when it is used, the effects of the anesthesia wear off quickly which leave the infant in severe pain. Circumcision includes photos of babies obviously in extreme pain during the procedure. Also included are numerous illustrations, charts and graphs.

In discussing the long range effects of circumcision, Dr. Goldman writes that the circumcised adult loses sexual sensitivity in the glans of the penis because of continual rubbing of the unprotected glans against clothing and that the intact penis' foreskin has many nerve endings which contribute to sexual enjoyment. Furthermore, the foreskin minimizes friction during intercourse and thus eliminates the need for supplementary lubrication. Very few individuals who make circumcision decisions are familiar with this information, he claims. The author writes that "Parents do not know what they are choosing, and physicians do not feel what they are doing." Thus both are in denial as to the real effects of this procedure.

But the effects of the operation are not restricted to the sexual sphere, since psychologically, circumcision is a trauma which can result in a great variety of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, as can other traumas. Those include learned helplessness, tendencies towards sado-masochistic behaviors, impotence, lost of trust, avoidance of intimacy due to fear, rage, domestic violence, rape, child sexual abuse, suicide, and a range of psychosomatic disorders. The author admits that he is only suggesting possibilities, but numerous authors have showed that historically, single incidents of trauma have had practically unlimited pernicious effects.

The circumcision procedure can also result in a disruption in the early bonding which occurs between the mother and child. The pain which the infant undergoes can interrupt breast feeding which can be a factor in interfering with bonding as well as causing a lessening of trust of the mother by her infant.

A number of individuals in primal and other body oriented therapies have re-lived their circumcision. Dr. Arthur Janov has references to circumcision trauma in Imprints, The Anatomy of Mental Illness and in The New Primal Scream. Some of the other clinicians who have acknowledged that circumcision can result in repressed trauma leading to neurotic behavior include Stanislav Grof, Leslie Fehrer, Thomas Verny, Richard Schwartzman, David Chamberlain, Rima Laibow and Charles Konia.

If your attitude towards the circumcision issue was one of indifference, Dr. Goldman's book very probably will convince you that the procedure is both medically and psychologically unwarranted.

Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma may be ordered from the publisher, Vanguard Publications by credit card. Their toll free number is: 1(888)445-5199.

Read more about Dr. Goldman's book