Circumcision and Psychological Harm

Last updated 12/23/2022

Genital reduction surgery may be carried out by qualified practitioners for a variety of reasons and is referred to as full or partial circumcision. It is crucial to define it accurately because that is how the mind interprets it, whether or not there are additional denials or justifications.

Circumcision Consent

Babies who, by definition, cannot give informed consent of the kind available to adults are frequently subjected to circumcision procedures.

They typically have little control over the medical and surgical procedures performed on their bodies, making them susceptible to coercion and manipulation. Because it is assumed that parents and doctors “know best,” they are typically not allowed to object to medical procedures.

A child being asked if they would consent to having a portion of their penis amputated is not likely to give their consent. This is suppressed at some psychological cost because it would be a typical psychological response to the threat of attack.


One loses a sense of control over their fate and life when their natural tendency to defend themselves is rendered useless, and a sense of helplessness results. This happens in rape, torture, and sexual assault circumstances.

The mind will “escape” by a process called “dissociation” in a scenario where a person feels he or she cannot escape a physical attack; it is as if the mind temporarily leaves the body so that the body may withstand the attack but the mind does not have to.

The mind may then unconsciously replay the painful memories in flashbacks or nightmares after returning to the body. Any circumstance that brings back the initial traumatic occurrence may cause the patient to experience these reoccurring pictures.

For example, a youngster who has undergone a traumatic surgical operation in a hospital may develop a phobia of hospitals, physicians, or individuals in white coats.

When thinking about the traumatic situation and trying to prevent it from happening again, the youngster, or later the adult he develops into, may start to sweat, experience palpitations, feel out of breath, queasy, anxious, or dizzy. When following disease requires legitimate medical attention, this could become problematic.

Early Childhood Experiences

One man, who had undergone circumcision at the age of three, vividly remembered, at the age of thirty, how he had been stripped and had his penis handled preoperatively, without his will, by a man in a mask. The little boy had an embarrassing erection, and after the operation, he was left with a painful, bleeding penis from which the foreskin had been removed without his will.

His life had been altered by this incident. The fact that he couldn’t defend himself against what felt like sexual manipulation infuriated him and made him feel ashamed. He believed he had experienced sexual abuse. The identical series of actions could be seen as sexual abuse in any situation other than a medical one. Whether an act of rape is legal or not, it has the same psychological effect on the child.

Late Childhood Experiences

Another man, who had been circumcised at seven years old, inquired as to what would occur to him at the hospital. He was informed that it was “nothing,” and that he didn’t need to stress over it.

He was devastated to discover that his penis was missing after the operation and that his faith in his parents’ assurances had been misplaced. It appeared as though his experience of losing a portion of his body was unimportant or not worth mentioning.


Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD for short, is the psychological process of dissociating from a terrible event, the subsequent reliving of frightful pictures, as well as the avoidance of settings that represent the horrific event.

It is a group of signs that are recognized in some combatants and in those who have experienced great panic. It has been demonstrated to happen in females following gynecological treatments and in both sexes of children following circumcision.

Some elements that make the experience traumatic include:

  • the sensation of losing control of one’s own body or of being powerless;
  • the lack of information provided, the examiner’s apparent lack of empathy,
  • the feeling of physical pain, and the refusal to consent to the procedure.


Whatever the justification, a youngster who has a part of his body amputated is likely to experience all of these things. Additionally, there is a loss of trust in the caregivers and possibly all forms of authority if the youngster believes that his parents, for whatever reason, did not shield him from a surgical “attack.”

Many men claim they have erectile dysfunction as a result of circumcision, and say the only thing that helped them cope with the problem were penis pumps. This inability to trust others can result in conflict with authorities and the avoidance of relationships, which can last a lifetime. Again, sometimes for the rest of one’s life, sexual relationship avoidance can be caused by shame over one’s damaged penis and embarrassment over having been mutilated.

Directly After Birth

Particularly if it was performed soon after birth and if his friends were likewise circumcised, the youngster may grow up with no knowledge of his or her own circumcision. However, there is a loss reaction to circumcision akin to mourning when it is learned that a portion of his genitalia has been removed without his consent, frequently for no apparent cause.

To avoid subjecting the mind to excessive psychic pain, the loss may be minimized and made insignificant. However, the pain of loss is great. It may be downplayed in importance and idealized as a “good thing” that parents should do to their kids if they love them in order to uphold the image of the parent as “good.”

Thus, the practice of circumcision is passed on from father to son. At least one generation would need to confront the true nature of the practice and acknowledge the harm and sorrow inflicted for the cycle of mutilation to be halted.

This is a brave deed because it makes one feel as though their own parents have betrayed and abandoned them; rather than defending their child’s body from damage, they have placed their child in a stranger’s hands so that they might take a piece of his body.

Psychological Bad vs Good

Intellectualizing a harmful act is a way to turn it from “bad” to “good.” For example, one might think, “My parents cut off part of my body and even though I didn’t like it, my parents are good – so cutting off part of my body was good – therefore, to be a good parent myself, I must do the same to my son.” The cycle of abuse so goes on. In the medical field, it is similar: “I was circumcised/have done circumcisions – I was not harmed/have not harmed my patients – therefore to circumcise is trivial, harmless, and necessary.”

The doctor may feel psychologically forced to repeat the procedure on his patients in an effort to “prove” that circumcision is “harmless” if he is trying to deny that the procedure caused him harm. Additionally, when a victim of circumcision turns into a circumciser, he no longer has to defend himself; instead, he is the strong assailant, redressing some of the balance in terms of his own fear of experiencing his own pain again.

We all attempt to recreate terrible events in order to alleviate the anxiety that caused them, such as when battered women marry violent spouses, alcoholics’ children marry alcoholics, and compulsive circumcisers who have lost their foreskins and have been forced to pursue foreskin restoration. Freud referred to it as “the desire to repeat,” and Alice Miller explained how those who are unable to see the source of their own suffering will frequently express it by harming others.

Therefore, it is psychologically vital to recognize the harm caused by circumcision and to grieve its consequence in order to heal losses of any kind and to prevent harm from being perpetuated on the next generation. This entails a difficult and drawn-out process that starts with denial, is followed by anger and blame, followed by anxiety and searching, sadness and depression, and finally acceptance and reinvestment in the future.


The most crucial thing is to put yourself in the child’s shoes and recognize circumcision for what it is from their point of view. Nobody other than him, as an adult, may properly provide permission for its removal because it is a forcible larceny of a prized part of his body.


Freud,S.(1991) Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis; Penguin Books.

Goldman,R.(1997) Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma; Vanguard Publications.

Miller,A. (1990) The Untouched Key: Tracing Childhood Trauma in Creativity and Destructiveness; Virago Press.

Miller,A.(1990) Banished Knowledge: Facing Childhood Injuries; Virago Press.

Murray-Parkes,Colin: Bereavement; Tavistock Press

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