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At last, now it can be told, is that First Cut really the deepest? Andy Darlington explores the phenomenon of skin versus skinless when it comes to living with genital mutilation.

Andy Darlington, 24 Jun 1998

At last, now it can be told, is that First Cut really the deepest? Andy Darlington explores the phenomenon of skin versus skinless when it comes to living with genital mutilation.

The First Cut Is The Deepest

Look at my penis. No, really look at it. What's the first thing you notice?

Right. I'm circumcised. That means the foreskin has been surgically removed.

That's never really bothered me. In fact I can't remember a time when it wasn't that way. But elsewhere penile encounters with the surgeon's blade can be the cause of social concern and anguish. For a man, your relationship with your cock is the closest and most intimate relationship you'll ever have. Closer and more permanent than the relationship you have with your car, your video, your CD collection, your football team, your books. Closer than any woman you'll ever know. Me and my cock have been through a lot together. Some good times in which it was a vital component. Some bad times too. But it's always been there. A reassuring solidity between my legs, a source of solace and comfort. A goad and provocation. It's always there when you need it. It's never let me down. Yet.

Your penis is your umbilical to the world of sensation. You plug it in, and it turns you on.

In fact, such is the level of self-image and self-identification that exists between man and penis that an act as fundamental as chopping off a bit of it, drastically altering its appearance, functional dynamics, and streamlining, is bound to be a cause for concern.

As penises go, mine is nothing particularly special. According to most of the texts and Agony Aunt letters I've seen it's more-or-less average in just about every way. We've been together a long time. In fact we've been together for as long as I can remember. We've both altered some over the course of the years, and hey, y'know, we've shared a few women too.

But there are pros and cons about circumcision. Supposedly there's more risk of infection with a foreskin, and greater hygiene without. A girlfriend once told me she'd only ever do oral to 'clean' dicks, 'cos you never know what hides beneath the hood. Something nasty lurketh there. Something to do with foul-tasting deposits of what she calls 'cock-cheese'. That made me euphoric with gratitude to that unknown and unrecognised NHS surgeon who, decades earlier, was now responsible for that deliciously mouth-watering gob-job she was immaculately bestowing upon the delicately nerve-rich tissue of my poor mutilated but blissfully happy dick. There's supposedly a greater sensitivity too with an exposed and more naked glans. The skinless variety, that is. The down-side of greater sensitivity can be a hair-trigger, a tendency to premature ejaculation. But that's a supposition not borne out by experience. At least, not in my case. I'm not bragging now, y'understand? - this is stated purely in the interests of scientific research. And as that same girlfriend pets and coos over my cock affectionately, "aesthetically too" she murmurs, "the clean penis poised sleek and tapering like a Spaceship on a 1950's comic-book cover - it just looks better. Tidier." So, Hey, if the girl's happy, the boy's happy too. Know what I mean?

There are, of course, dissenting voices. In Arthur C Clarke's novel 3001: The Final Odyssey (Voyager 1997) astronaut Frank Poole wakes up a thousand years into the future following a long sleep in cryogenic-stasis. In the brave new future in which he finds himself, his sleeveless dick is seen as a bizarre and repugnant anachronism. His first attempt at Fourth Millennium sex results in his potential partner in carnal lust shrieking in shock at the very sight of his 'mutilation'. "Circumcision made a lot of sense in primitive times, and even in your century," explains the Doctor to poor confused Frank, "as a defence against some unpleasant even fatal, diseases in backward countries with poor hygiene. But otherwise there was absolutely no excuse for it."

According to Clarke the practise of circumcision will die out in the mid-21st century with a consensus both economic and spiritual. Economic, when a blizzard of malpractice Law Suits are brought against the American Medical Association by mature adult males mourning the loss of their infant foreskins. And spiritual, with a cross-denominational religious diktat that says that "God designed us: circumcision is blasphemy"

So much for that then . . .

Learning to live with Genital Mutilation ...

Bereavement. Divorce. Moving House. Supposedly these are the three most traumatic events to happen to the adult male. Wrong. The most traumatic event that can happen to the adult male is bringing your new girlfriend home to meet your Mother for the first time. It might be supposed that as you get older such occasions get easier. Wrong again. As your Mother gets older and more dotty it can be even more scarifying than those teenage parental confrontations over strange stains on your bedsheets and the discovery of those nudey Jazz magazines hidden at the back of your wardrobe.

"You're probably wondering why I had Andrew circumcised," she begins conversationally.

I sit on the sofa with a china cup of decaff, a wedge of Battenberg, and a stupid fixed grin on my face while my Mother and my new girlfriend discuss my most naked genital mutilation. Such revelations of post-war NHS policy on infant penile hygiene and severed foreskins over tea must be what the poet Philip Larkin meant by the parental tendency to "fuck up their young". No etiquette has yet been invented for such situations.

It all only comes right later, when we're alone and my new girlfriend puts her hand deep inside my trousers, searches out my grateful cock with warm intimate fingers, and tells me "hey, if ever you feel the need for an extra layer of tissue around your most naked genital mutilation, I'm here to provide it ..." and my heartbeat, matching the pulse-rate of my glans, goes off the Richter Scale.

Do women have a preference? Do they really care? C'mon, tell me what you want, what you really really want. As a sexually active woman or a gay man you can be a serial cock-fondler and no-one thinks any less of you. As a more-or-less straight male, the only penis you're ever likely to have anything like an intimate working knowledge of is your own. You're reduced to using your own as a yardstick - well, OK, a six-and-a-half-inch stick anyway. And coming face to face with your own dick is not always easy, so it's difficult to get a detached perspective on it.

During adolescence I tried to suck mine, purely in the interests of experiment you understand. And although I succeeded on occasions, the concentration required and the physical contortion necessary to achieve penis-to-mouth docking tends to detract from any potential erotic or sensual benefits the exercise is intended to produce. But it seemed OK. Perhaps if I were cloned I could consensually Sixty-Nine myself? Or perhaps not. Would a foreskin make any difference? Would I gag on it, fearing the dreaded cock-cheese? Even my own? It's impossible to say.

I had a piece of my sex organs surgically severed at an early age, in infancy. A chip was taken off the old block, off the 'manhood' at its most vulnerable state. Chances are something like 40% to 50% of men reading this will be similarly afflicted, less to the younger end of the age-range than towards the higher. Because the operation is carried out less routinely now than it was then. Today your dick goes under the knife only if there's a genuine medical reason, if foreskin tightness is interfering with the free flow of urine, or if its restriction causes pain or discomfort during erection.

The Gay contact ads say "cut" or "un-cut".

Perhaps to understand either state, you must experience both? But that's not easy. John Lennon, on the famous nude sleeve of his Two Virgins album, has evidently escaped the attentions of the scalpel. By contrast, the excellent SF novelist Brian Aldiss has not. In his semi-autobiographical novel The Hand-Reared Boy (Corgi - 1970) the discovery of physical differences - i.e. "ful" or "skinless", came about very early while "roaming through the fields with a couple of my pals one day, and stopping for a pee, I saw that one of them had the other kind of prick the kind with skin!" Upon later more rigorous investigation "it seemed a very strange object, somewhat long and pale, with the skin coming right over the red knob and ending pink and pursed almost like the bud of a small flower." He takes his experiments further with a plump boy called William, "his penis felt pulpy and peculiar and was covered by a very thick skin, which I touched. It became erect in my grasp and he let me draw the skin back, to reveal his glistening knob brightly coloured. I had the notion, before his grew too large, of inserting my knob under his foreskin. In this unusual position we proceeded to wank ourselves off . . ."

One-skin. Two-skin. Three-skin. No-skin

Does the fact of circumcision matter? The actual tissue-loss is not significant. The affect on total bodyweight is negligible. Perhaps, as feminists have been known to accuse, men are merely being over Penis-O-Centric. That's probably just a phallusy (phallic fallacy! - geddit?).

But when you're with a new lover for the first time, that first revelation of nakedness is the ultimate honesty. That's the moment when women are most conscious of their saggy tits or their Pinch-An-Inch waistline. And it's also in that moment of revelation that men are most aware of their imagined genital shortcomings. Or mutilations. Do women really have a preference? Perhaps they prefer to try both? No - not necessarily simultaneously. Or then again, they just might. But no, I mean serially. The rough with the smooth. Compare and contrast. After all, having the opportunity of both and just trying one is like having a television and restricting yourself to a single channel. Isn't it?

But men don't necessarily have that option. There's a 1971 movie called Percy concerning a penis transplant following a hideous accident with a cut-glass chandelier. The Kinks provide the soundtrack. Perhaps with something like that level of surgical intervention, it's not impossible for a man to experience both sleeved and sleeveless states. I've also heard of men in mid-life marrying into the Muslim religion who agree to undergo voluntary circumcision as a condition of their spiritual conversion. That's a tough one. Meanwhile a Jewish, but non-Orthodox new father tried working out his moral quandaries over circumcision in a recent Observer essay, his gut-feelings for ethnic continuity and the "snip" coming into direct conflict with his more pragmatic rational tendencies to live and let live intact. And at stake was an inch or so of his infant son's foreskin. In the feature, at least, he reaches no definite conclusion. So I can neither confirm or deny the continuing status of that tiny penis.

"With Jews the evidence is only circumstantial," says Ronnie Barker's TV convict Fletch observing fellow inmates of Slade Prison in the shower (in Porridge). "They've been circumstantialed!"

Elvis Presley, with engaging modesty, called his penis "Little Elvis". At least one reliable biographer claims that "Little Elvis" was intact. Good Ole Boys from the Deep South don't mess with fancy citified notions such as penile encounters with the surgeon's knife. President John F Kennedy named his penis "Lay More" after its alleged sexual prowess. Oddly, after circumcision at the relatively advanced age of 21 (in 1938) - he changed its name to "JJ". I haven't worked out the full implications of that one yet.

"You look funny down there. You really look funny." A multi-racial group of New York kids, Pedro, Maria, and the unnamed narrator, also compare genitalia in the sexually-charged novel Hogg (Black Ice Books - 1995) by Gay Black writer Samuel Delany. But this time the pertinent penis-aimed observation comes from the girl.

"She looked at my cock and sucked in her bottom lip.

'What you doing?' Pedro asked.

'It don't look like yours.' she said.

'A lot of guys, Polacks and Jews and stuff, they cut off the front parts. He's circumcised, is what they call it'."


Look at my penis. No, really look at it. What's the first thing you notice?

Right, I'm circumcised. That means the foreskin has been surgically removed. They "cut off the front parts". It's left a scar on the underside, just beneath the head of the glans, but that's no big deal, and it's virtually undetectable to anyone but the most diligent researcher. Apparently, as my Mother explained to my new girlfriend, it was post-war NHS policy to sever infant foreskins as a routine precaution and as a matter of basic infant penile hygiene. Does it matter? Probably not. Me and my cock have been through a lot together. The fact of its skinless state has never bothered me. And as separate bodies dissolve into merged flesh Philip Larkin's equation about your parents "fucking you up" seems less and less important

But elsewhere it can be the cause of social concern and anguish. And as for the hideous atrocity of what they term 'female circumcision' - the brutal amputation of the clitoris and much else, designed as a form of male control over female sexuality - that is another matter entirely. It is not to be confused with male circumcision, and is no subject for a teasingly lightweight feature such as this.

My rambling and inconclusive journey around the unkindest cut is not intended to be a detached and clinical sociological, medical, or psycho-sexual dissertation. It's just a personal and anecdotal history. A collection of random thoughts about what it's like learning to live with genital mutilation. About To-Be or Not-To-Be foreskins.

Is the first cut really the deepest? I'm still not sure. Further research is obviously required. I'll keep you posted . . . n

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