I know some of you roll your eyes when I say “Circumcision isn’t vegan.” But hear me out.
On a recent weekend, I represented Intact Vegan Network at Texas Vegan MayFest, a spring festival hosted by Rowdy Girl Sanctuary. If you haven’t heard of it already, it’s a vegan-owned and operated farm animal sanctuary in the heart of Texas cattle country. In fact, one of the owners used to be a cattle rancher himself before turning vegan.
“Intact Vegan Network is here to talk about… why it isn’t a good thing to cut off your baby’s foreskin,” announced Rowdy Girl Sanctuary founder Renee King-Sonnen during vendor introductions.
Cue me in the back behind my table, waving.
If bodybuilding, skincare, and musical artists can have a presence at vegan events, and we accept that it just makes sense, it can make sense for a circumcision education table to be there too.
One reason why infant circumcision isn’t vegan: there’s no such thing as a vegan circumcision of an infant. Harm of vulnerable beings cannot be veganized. Just as there’s no such thing as a ‘holistic’ or ‘natural’ circumcision, there’s no such thing as a cruelty-free one.
Did you know a particular circumcision tool was first tested on dogs? This makes it (the tool and its usage at least) decidedly not vegan. (Asian Journal of Andrology, Volume 15, Issue 1 [January 2013] 15, 93–96).
Unfortunately, there are many circumcision tools. Begs one to wonder which others may have been tested on animals. (I haven’t found information to confirm this, but as animal rights advocates know, there tends to be a limited paper trail when it comes to animal testing). Should we err on the side of caution here, as we tend toward with any product or service that doesn’t carry that certified vegan label? Or is this one of those things we continue to give a pass?
Whether it’s the first time you’ve heard of ‘vegans for foreskin’ or not, it’s a good time to notice the advocacy overlap. Intersectional veganism it may be, but there is valuable purpose in broadening the expectations of veganism and keeping its standards firm. Compassion for all really should mean just that. Veganism is a lifestyle, not a series of plant-based food and fashion choices, anyhow.
Of course, you don’t have to agree with my aligning of circumcision in the explicitly non-vegan category to understand it’s not ethical to cut newborns for aesthetic, cultural, or religious reasons. I’ve found most vegans don’t struggle too much with this concept and are especially open to learning about the injustices we’re otherwise discouraged from questioning.
There are so many babies to save, so many parents and grandparents and friends of expecting mothers who would appreciate an honest discourse about circumcision. I prefer to devote energy to these people because this is where circumcision regret is most easily prevented.
We can talk about circumcision. I promise, we really can talk about it.
One man said he kept his son intact because he thought “It wouldn’t be right” to circumcise him. At the time, his wife was mad and thought their son should be circumcised. He said he sees where I’m coming from that empathy should be extended to all, and that it’s easier to extend compassion to humans after he became vegan. He has been vegan for five years and is a great example that it’s never too late to change — whether that be your diet and lifestyle, or your understanding of long-held traditions in raising children.
After talking about the common complications caused by circumcision, the thousands of men who are trying to restore what circumcision took, and the under-publicized fact that more than 100 U.S. baby boys die every year from circumcision… a young Hispanic man said, “I’m glad I was born in another country!”
A young father of a 7-month-old boy admitted being a parent has been really rough so far. One decision was easy: he kept his son intact because circumcision is “really not right,” even though he himself was circumcised. He recently went vegan with his partner, and it caused him to rethink all the things he was doing in his life. He didn’t want to continue traditions that aren’t necessary, like eating and exploiting animals and cutting babies’ genitalia just because that’s what was always done.
A middle-aged couple asked what the table was all about. I said I was here to share information about raising children peacefully, and different topics like babywearing, breastfeeding, cosleeping, circumcision and intact care, gentle discipline, vegan pregnancy, and so on. They said they were past their baby days, but I encouraged them to take info to keep for the grandbaby days.
The man said he was mad at his pediatrician because he kept his son intact, and the doctor brought up HPV and HIV/AIDS as though circumcision would prevent these diseases. But he was glad he didn’t go through with it because his son has since thanked him for letting him keep his whole body.
Another older woman kept her son intact, but he chose to be circumcised at age 15. She said it was good that he had the choice and could make his own decision, because it must be so horrible for babies to endure it when they have no idea what’s happening.
I met a couple in their late 20s. The woman was a nanny but had never learned about intact care so I educated her about what to do (and more importantly, what not to do). The man was very interested in the restoration materials after I explained what it was. He was quiet and serious as he read the related cards and took a few minutes to flip through the Restoration binder, especially after I mentioned the described methods are all non-surgical.
A childless middle-aged woman almost moved along to the next vendor when she realized the table was about babies, children and parenting.
However we ended up talking for a while anyway, because the topic is relevant to all people. We were all babies and children once. We all know parents. We all care about human rights, because we are all human. And as vegans, we all know compassion is needed even for those who aren’t like us — be they animals, babies, parents, or what have you.
She started out saying, “You really need to be talking to pregnant women. People really don’t think about any of this.”
I explained how our network hosts events all year across the country at baby fairs, pregnancy and birth classes and so on. I said I wanted to be here today to reach the vegan audience who could easily concur with our message about protecting vulnerable beings from harm.
She said, “But this really doesn’t have anything to do with vegan…”
“Actually it’s all connected!” I said. Then I explained how these experiences we have at birth and early childhood follow us throughout life and shape us. By respecting our children’s bodies at birth, we teach them their first lesson about consent and bodily autonomy. We can’t expect people to understand compassion later on when they’re learning about injustice toward animals if they were not shown compassion at certain critical points in their own life. Likewise we can’t expect non-vegans to take vegans seriously if certain vegans refuse to harm animals but don’t treat humans with respect and nurturing (especially children, whether ours or others’).
Then it seemed something clicked.
“It’s kind of like when you’re being fed meat in childhood without your consent,” she said. “You can make a choice to be vegan later at least. But with this [circumcision], it can’t be taken back.”
Her eyes scanned the table display and stopped momentarily on the circumcision tools.
“I feel sorry for all these men,” she added, frowning. “ We need to STOP this.”
I agreed and said this is why I’m here, to empower others with knowledge so they can help spread awareness.
“This really gave me something to think about… Thank you!”
A young local animal rights activist said she has family in the medical field and they all say circumcision isn’t necessary.
“Why do you think we can’t talk about this?” she asked, visibly concerned.
I said I think it’s hard when men don’t want to confront their true feelings about what happened to them, especially when it’s all they know. So the cycle of violence continues because of this painful silence. It’s hard to talk about because it’s hard to think about, and it’s hard to think about because it’s hard to endure, and it’s hard to endure because it’s brutal, and it’s brutal because it was never meant to benefit its victims.
We all know, on some level even if we’ve never ‘gone there,’ that it’s quite the dark rabbit hole to explore. When we talk about it, we unintentionally raise a light to the trauma endured by our friends, family, countless strangers we’ve passed in the street. It doesn’t feel like our place to do so. But for some of us, there’s also this stirring feeling of needing to openly question. And for those like me, there’s a feeling of obligation to let people know: “We CAN talk about this.”
Welling up with tears, she said, “I want to help.”
A young man kept getting pulled away from the table, but asked to put our discussion “on pause” so we could continue when he returned several times.
He said the pain he had at age 10/11 “makes sense now.” He had told his mom that his penis hurt and she said “There’s nothing there” when she checked it out. He said she probably didn’t know circumcision caused the pain that presented near puberty, at a time when the penis goes through a lot of growth and change and needs all the skin nature intended for it.
I gave him a foreskin restoration card and he said it could be a fun experiment.
A man from Nicaragua and his wife took pictures of our signs and banner. I invited them over to talk. The woman said she has children, one of whom is a girl who gave her grandsons, both of whom were kept intact.
“We don’t believe in that where I’m from,” the man said. “It’s cruel.”
I asked the woman what led her to keep her children intact. She said she thinks circumcision is “barbaric, akin to declawing cats,” and her daughter learned about it from her. She took an Intact Celebs card and intact care card to show her daughter.
A postpartum nurse from St. David’s Hospital in Austin said she wishes they did more “natural stuff” there like essential oils and lactation teas (she noticed my goodie bags full of vegan nursing tea). She said her hospital does encourage exclusive breastfeeding and clients are requesting more natural options.
She seemed to want to only hover around the end of the table with peaceful birth and parenting information, and did not mention circumcision or stray near that side of the table. I offered her lactation tea goodie bags for her clients, and she was hesitant to take the intact info bags but I made sure she had a few in hand to look over later. This is one way to spread awareness among those who aren’t quite ready to talk about it.
A fellow vendor representing an animal rescue group seemed uncomfortable with the primary table topic, circumcision and foreskin. She did mention she had a lot of pregnant friends so I gave her cards to pass along.
“I agree with this!” said one of the first visitors to the table, a woman who worked as a nurse 40 years ago. She had to watch circumcisions multiple times back then and she hated doing so.
“It was horrible to watch the babies strapped to the boards, screaming. Their screams were blood-curdling. They [the performing surgeons] said the babies didn’t feel anything, but it was clear they did. They lied about it to the parents.”
I said that must have been terribly difficult and I have seen the outright lying myself, but I don’t know that they always intentionally lie. I think that over time, doing these surgeries on many baby boys every week, they become numb to the cries for help, the wails of pain. At some point they stop hearing the babies.
They may have been horrified by the sounds when they first heard them, just like her. For some it may have started as a lie they told themselves to be able to continue hurting babies like this, for whatever reason that seemed valid (client request, medical field pressure, belief in the myths of benefit, religion…). And it was expressed over and over again as a lie to parents, because it turns out no reason is a valid reason to unnecessarily hurt babies.
“I just wish someone had told me before,” she said. And she was glad I was here telling many other someones.
Several agreeable people brought up “they say they don’t remember it at least,” but they weren’t expecting to learn about how we certainly do remember early traumas, and circumcision is no exception. I showed them studies in a binder that observed marked, permanent changes to a baby’s brain after undergoing circumcision. I also mentioned the study that showed circumcised boys had more dramatic emotional reactions to childhood vaccines than intact boys.
Some men have come forward to admit having nightmares about their circumcision; phobias about surgery, sharp tools, and being held down; a deep mistrust of or hatred toward females (to a newborn, the mother is his entire world and he associates all first good and bad experiences with her).
Even if boys became men who didn’t remember being circumcised — in easily recalled thoughts, deeper psyche or muscle memory — it would still not be okay to cut into them without medical necessity or consent. Is it okay to rape a person if they are drugged first, because they won’t remember it? Is it okay to hit a toddler in the face, because they won’t remember it?
- The Brain Altered by Circumcision
Infant Pain Impacts Adult Sensitivity
- Boys cut at birth move their bodies differently
- Circumcision: How Much Does it Hurt?
I met a representative for the publication Natural Awakenings.
“I don’t understand why people think this is necessary,” she said. “Maybe one day a long time ago it was needed for hygiene or to keep clean, like how people used to not eat pork because it was seen as dirty.”
“Actually, do you know why male circumcision started in America?” I asked.
I told her about Dr. Harvey Kellogg’s campaign to promote circumcision as a cure for masturbation. He advocated the surgery equally for boys and girls, but it didn’t quite catch on with the latter. She was shocked.
“So you see it really had more to do with what was considered moral hygiene when it came to American circumcision.”
“What is THAT?!” she exclaimed, pointing at an image of a Circumstraint.
“That’s the board that babies are restrained onto during circumcision.”
“That doctor [Kellogg] must have been CRAZY!”
A nearby vendor said she agreed with everything at the table. As she perused the Intact Celebs binder, she told me how she once dated a man from the Philippines who was circumcised as a junior high schooler and he said it was absolutely horrible.
Most people would say circumcising an older child against their will (or after misleading them) is deplorable, but don’t stop to think how newborns are always circumcised against their will. Most people would say cutting a female newborn’s natural, normal genitals is despicable, but don’t stop to think how male and intersex newborns have natural, normal genitals too (if they can pee, let it be).
Birth workers from a local birth center said they’d love to have a class presented to their clients. We have separate presentations geared toward different audiences: expecting parents, birth/medical workers, and men interested in foreskin restoration. We definitely have a little something for anyone and always feel honored to have the opportunity to present facts and research to whoever wishes to learn.
I said I don’t come from a position of “anti-circumcision” as I fully support any informed adult who chooses modifications for their own body. For example, a popular cosmetic surgery these days among women called ‘labiaplasty’ is actually a form of genital cutting, but it isn’t genital mutilation because the owner of the body willingly chose this aesthetic and functional change. Other body modifications like tattoos, plastic surgery, and so on should be considered acceptable so long as the body’s owner happily consented.
So, with this in mind, I prefer a position of “pro-intact” to help normalize natural genitals (after a long history of anti-foreskin propaganda in America), and I let the facts about circumcision speak for themselves. A fully-informed parent with a child’s best personal interests at heart will keep him intact. No need for sales pitches or sharing an opinion of my own personal preference.
One of the birth workers said she’d convinced her husband to keep their young son intact. When he learned there’s no valid medical reason to circumcise, the decision was made. Her husband said his circumcised brother wasn’t cut — he had a ring instead, and it actually pierced through him in the healing period.
“Was this the ring?” I asked, picking up a Plastibell device and holding it out for him to see.
I explained how the ring method does involve cutting, it just employs a different tool to excise the remaining skin. With a pen in place of a blunt surgical probe and a crochet penis with functional foreskin, I demonstrated how a newborn’s skin is normally tightly adhered to the glans (head of) penis and it’s meant to be a single unit through childhood; the probe is shoved down and around the tear apart these structures. Now the foreskin is separate and more easily manipulated for amputation. Surgical scissors are used to cut downward, a ring is placed around the base of the glans to clamp the skin, ‘excess’ skin is cut away (notice how many times I’ve said “cut” thus far), and the remaining tissue becomes necrotic under the pressure of the ring and eventually falls off.
This is the intended best-case scenario. No one expects the ring to then pierce through their child’s penis, but it happens. And parents who wish to circumcise should be told honestly about these risks. Unfortunately, it’s usually not the performing surgeons who hear about complications that arise in the ‘healing’ period and beyond, but urologists and pediatricians — both categories of health care workers who don’t typically perform non-religious infant circumcision, certainly not at the rate of OB/Gyns and medical students.
The other birth worker said her son was circumcised but she was a 19-year-old new mother and didn’t know anything. She said she wishes she hadn’t vaccinated him either.
- Break The Ice About Circumcision: For Birth/Medical Workers & Their Clients
- Plastibell Infant Circumcision
Parents with two boys (a toddler and baby) wanted information about breastfeeding. Despite their boys being intact, it turned out they’d never been taught about proper intact care so they went home with information on that topic too.
I met an older woman with 9 grandkids whose daughter was having a baby in the hospital in two weeks. She kept her boys intact. I gave her breastfeeding resources to pass along to her daughter, as well as intact care info in case she had a boy.
“I’m confused,” one woman said. “What is your stance?”
“All beings deserve compassion during pregnancy and onward, so these are different ways to begin life as gently as possible.”
“How is this” — waving a hand over the circumcision section — “related to veganism?”
I flipped through a binder full of Intact Vegan Network graphics and she didn’t say much but seemed to be digesting what she was seeing. She said thank you and took an Intact Celebs card.
An older woman smiled as she looked over our table materials.
“This is different,” she said. “This is great!”
I had already packed up half the table at the festival’s end when a couple stopped by, saying they had been waiting to come over and get information about peaceful parenting. They had been together for 7 or 8 years and were thinking about starting a family. They had talked about gentle discipline before but hadn’t thought about anything else yet — it turned out, least of all that had crossed their minds was infant circumcision.
I’m not sure at what point in our dialogue they made up their minds about it, but after the mention of risk of death they verbalized a consensus: Infant circumcision is not part of peaceful parenting.
See more photos from the event here.
It’s understood that cropping a dog’s ears or docking his tail (among other cosmetic surgeries on animals) are inhumane and abusive practices. We protect our animal companions from needless body modifications like these, and we wouldn’t think to have them circumcised. Still, many Americans find themselves conflicted about whether to circumcise their own babies.
Circumcision may be an ancient practice, but modern humans know it’s not a healthy, compassionate, or ethical one. In fact, it is an unnecessary, harmful surgery — so why do we continue to put our baby boys through the procedure?
Did you know: 146 years ago, only 1% of the U.S. male population was circumcised? Over time, circumcision became associated with an illusion of benefit, necessity, and desirability. The circumcised population steadily increased in number and the inherent cruelty in forcing the surgery upon our vulnerable babies was largely forgotten.
The history of this practice shows it caught on due to myths and propaganda, much like the kind that kept the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus alive — incidentally, also for 146 years.
In both cases, many continued to follow the traditions without questioning their ethics. The traveling circus recently shuttered its shows for good as greater awareness of unethical performer abuses led to dropping attendance rates. Infant circumcision rates are dropping every year, too — especially as new generations educate themselves about what really happens behind the closed door of a circumcision room.
Did you also know: in countries where Female Genital Cutting (FGC/FGM) is prevalent there are similar attitudes and misconceptions regarding the female foreskin/genitals as Americans have regarding male foreskin/genitals? And their reasons for validating FGC are the same ones we use to validate Male Genital Cutting (male circumcision).
FGC has only been illegal in the U.S. since 1997. It’s time we grant this deserved protection to boys as well.
As you can see with the banana, orange, and apple, nature uses a protective cover to keep things safe from debris, dirt, and damage from chafing and the elements. Foreskin is nature’s protective cover for the glans and urinary opening of the penis.
The majority of the world’s men enjoy what nature intended for them without any health issues. Just as a banana peel doesn’t cause bacteria overgrowth or other problems in a banana, likewise foreskin does not cause infection in humans.
Improper intact care in childhood can cause infection, however, so cultures that aren’t accustomed to the natural body must be taught about how retracting foreskin exposes the inner penis to bacteria and damages the adhered membranes. When intact, don’t retract!
All sentient beings deserve a life free from cosmetic surgeries they cannot possibly consent to. The most vulnerable among us are those without a voice, and they need us to speak up for them when it’s clear that a widespread tradition is failing us all.
Intact is the natural, holistic, peaceful choice.
Intact Vegan Network is a non-profit chapter of The Intact Network / Saving Our Sons, run by a small number of volunteers who work daily to save babies from the many harms of genital cutting, in every state and across the globe.
If you have a heart for the life-changing work we do, please consider giving a small monthly donation, which will help ensure that educational materials continue to reach the families who request them.