An Italian Perspective on Circumcision



My name is Francesco. I am Italian. I’m from the city of Padova, near Venice, and I am 20 years old. I’ve finished high school and am now in a gap year, working as an au pair in England. After this experience, I plan to study human rights at an Italian university. My father is an orthopedic pediatrician and my mother is the director of my father’s clinic, so I have some knowledge of how our health system works.

I recall many embarrassing doctor visits; being naked in front of another person you don’t know very well is not really comfortable for a kid. However, no doctor ever tried to manipulate my foreskin, even when I was really little and I wasn’t able to speak about any problem that might have been occurring with my genitals. Doctors in Italy know that a newborn’s foreskin is stuck to the glans (head of the penis). With normal growth, the foreskin separates itself from the glans, often aided by the formation of "bubbles" filled with smegma beneath the surface of the foreskin. No doctor ever expressed any concern for my genital health and circumcision was never recommended. To say the truth, I don’t have any memory of when I was first able to retract my foreskin.

The first time I heard about circumcision was in middle school. We were learning about different religions and when we arrived at Judaism, the word “circumcision” was mentioned, with perhaps a single sentence of explanation. The teacher did not encourage discussion; it was a dead end. Circumcision wasn’t even mentioned during our sexual education class.

The second time I heard about circumcision was two years ago; the cousin of some kids I used to take care of could not retract his foreskin at age 10. The doctor diagnosed him with phimosis — even though I now know that the average age of retractability is 10.4 years of age, and a sizable number of healthy boys are not retractable until they’re through with puberty. Even in Italy there can be a degree of confusion about the normal penis! They gave him an ointment to put on his penis, and if it didn’t work they were going to proceed with surgery. Luckily the cream worked. I was quite worried for the kid, and he didn’t like the idea of the operation, either.

The third time I heard about circumcision was the most traumatic for me. As I said at the beginning, I work for a family as an au pair in England and part of my job is to take care of the kids. I am working for a South African family and I care for three kids, two boys and a girl. On my second day I had to bathe the two boys and I saw that they were both circumcised. In the first moment I was quite disappointed and disgusted, but then my brain tried to made an excuse to justify it. I started thinking maybe it was a genetic mutation — quite stupid, but I was in a shock and trying to make sense of it. I spoke with their previous au pair and learned that circumcision is a “cultural practice” in South Africa. I was totally shocked and I immediately tried to understand more about this “practice.” In two days I read about 200 articles on circumcision and they described many things that I had never heard about. I read only two reassuring things: in 2013, the European Union defined circumcision without medical reason a “violation of human rights,” and in Italy you can only have a circumcision if the medical reason is not contestable. Then I asked two of my friends what they knew about circumcision; one didn’t know anything about it and the second didn’t even know about the existence of this word.

Reading about circumcised genitals made me understand that I am quite lucky with my sexual life. I totally don’t need lubricant. It’s optional; if I want I can use it, but there’s little difference for me. I never keep any lube on hand because is not something I need.

On my genitals I have two sensitive parts: the foreskin tip and the glans. I personally wouldn’t want to change anything about this arrangement. With a circumcised penis, I think that all my sexual life would be different. For one thing, masturbation would be more difficult because the foreskin is one of the main points of stimulation. I would need some type of lubricant because I think that my penis would be drier than it is now. I think the experience of sex would be less enjoyable for the same reasons and the sensation would be reduced. We don’t have many circumcised people, maybe 1 or 2 percent, and mostly for medical reasons. No partner has ever turned me down for sex due to the appearance of my genitals.

If I ever have a son I would never consider circumcision and here’s why: it is not ethical — my son’s body belongs to him. I would do nothing unless he required medication or surgery. Routine circumcision is useless. And if there are no medical reasons, you don’t have any choice, it’s just not done here.

 Published June 28, 2018