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Stigma, Shame, and Sexuality: Learning To Love Myself and My Foreskin

banana with the tip cut off
Credit: Maddas/Shutterstock

One of the benefits of being gay is that I get to see a lot of penises in person.

Anyone who has seen as many dicks as me — perhaps a urologist? — will tell you, dicks are diverse. I’d say penises are more unique than popular culture would lead you to believe.

I’m not just talking about size, length, or girth — something many of us obsess over and get giggly about when discussing the phallus. I’m guilty as charged here.  

No, I’m talking about the shape and appearance of penises. More specifically, the uncut — or uncircumcised — phallus.

Circumcision As The Standard: The Natural Becomes Taboo

Foreskin has become bizarrely taboo in our society… even though it’s completely natural. 80% of men in America are circumcised, as are about one-third of men worldwide. In some nations, circumcision is encouraged due to the purported health benefits  — increased hygiene, lower risk of cancer, and decreased risk of infections and sexually transmitted diseases. In other nations, circumcision became the standard due to cultural influence and remains as such for aesthetic purposes.

Now, the politics of circumcision are loaded, emotionally charged, and fraught. The practice of circumcision intersects with religion, tradition, and culture. It’s a topic in which I never expected to develop an intense personal interest. 

Alas, I have —  because I am a “particular” type of uncut. I have a little rarely discussed condition called phimosis. In plain English: I have a tight foreskin, which can’t fully retract. 

Phimosis is relatively rare. It’s reported that many people born with the condition naturally grow out of it by adolescence or early adulthood. Studies indicate between 1% and 13% of people with penises may carry the condition into adulthood. However, the condition is little discussed, so nobody definitively knows.

Even I internalized the foreskin taboo, not knowing the name for my condition, or even that I had one, until my thirties. 

Stigma and Shame: Circumcision In Society And Media

When uncut dicks are discussed, some people react with an “ew.” Shaming women’s natural bodies is considered extremely distasteful: from small breasts to body hair. Why is the same principle not applied to men who haven’t been circumcised?

It’s all fun and games to laugh at other’s bodies until you begin to understand the mental toll the “joke” takes. Foreskin-shaming has an impact: particularly on adolescents already struggling with self-esteem. Teenage boys suffer in silence through body issues and changes, feeling isolated as they can’t comfortably talk about it with anyone. I would know. I was one of them. 

Having a foreskin full stop was portrayed as something inferior that’d turn off prospective sexual partners. Thanks to some of my favorite shows like Sex and the City portraying foreskins as repellant, I grew up believing my penis was ugly and disordered. 

My Foreskin, My Identity, And My Choices

As I entered adolescence, I realized my penis didn’t look the same as others. There was more foreskin, and the head wasn’t fully exposed —  only partially, and even that was limited. That realization led to some frantic Googling, a desperate desire to be like everyone else, and a certain amount of self-shame. 

It has taken half a lifetime to shake off that shame. Like many men growing up with perceived embarrassing problems, I dared not speak to anyone about it. Toxic masculinity requires young men to be stoic and silent. Boys are told not to cry or ask for help  —  so I didn’t when I needed the affirmation and information the most.

These feelings of shame surrounding my own body caused me to feel sexually repulsive. It led me to mainly have sex when I was too intoxicated to remember that shame, hiding under a blanket of alcohol or drugs. I’ve since learned that shame was never mine to carry.

I was a neurotic young adult, with two overbearing thoughts: First, popular culture has told me uncircumcised penises are less attractive. Second, my foreskin doesn’t retract, due to my phimosis. I felt dysfunctional and unattractive, which led me to one conclusion: it was time for the chop.

My Relationship With My Foreskin

My life with foreskin, and in turn, my relationship with myself, hadn’t been easy. Nobody taught me the essentials of hygiene: I’d learned I needed to retract my foreskin when soft to effectively clean it on the internet as a teenager. That, alongside my phimosis and the stigma surrounding foreskin,  led me to believe an opt-in circumcision may be the best route for me.

However, the more I learned about foreskins, the more I was dissuaded from getting a circumcision. Part of that learning came from living with and getting to know mine. It came from trusting that my male sexual partners would, for the most part, be gentle, and understanding. I felt affirmed as partners followed my guidance —  and to my surprise —   were turned on by it. 

On Pleasure, Partners, Foreskin, And Sex

Foreskins are magical. No one knows precisely how many nerve endings are in the foreskin, some studies say up to 20,000. From personal experience, I can tell you, that it’s the most sensitive part of me. I’m glad I didn’t get ‘the chop’ and obliterate those nerve endings. The sensitivity I experience due to my foreskin can make sex intensely pleasurable.  

However, that doesn’t mean sex is always automatically pleasurable with my phimosis. I’ve found I need to discuss my needs and desires surrounding my foreskin with my partners, especially if they haven’t been with someone with phimosis before. 

Everyone’s needs are different: from accommodating a tighter foreskin to discussing kinks and comfort. What works for one person may not work for another! All pleasure comes down to good communication with your partner: speak up on what does, or doesn’t, feel good. Explore together and share openly. Discovery is part of the fun!

For example, I’ve found oral sex on a sensitive foreskin is mind-blowing, likely because of those sensitive nerve endings! Ultimately, good sexual partners are good communicators. 

Some men have even shared with me that they prefer men with foreskins, which helped me progress the way I see my own:  from shameful to sexy.

Through my journey of pleasure, partnership, play, and self-love, I’ve come to believe that all penises are beautiful. Hard, soft, small, large, circumcised, or not  —  every penis is worthy of being treated with kindness, tenderness, and respect.

Finding Beauty In Difference, Finding Self Love In Stigma

I chose to forgo circumcision and pursue alternative methods of relief for my phimosis, alongside my doctors. My medical team encouraged stretching techniques and prescribed steroid cream, which has been a huge asset… but I needed to find the courage to ask for it.  

The medical care and guidance I’ve received have allowed me to expand my sexual horizons —  for the first time, I’m able to “top,” or penetrate my partner. It’s a glorious evolution of my sexuality after convincing myself I was “bottom only.” I’m now known in the gay lexicon as “versatile.”

I only made the choices I did because I learned more about the wonder and beauty of the foreskin —  especially with phimosis. Emotionally, I’m arriving at a place where I even think phimosis, rather than a disorder, is actually a gift to me.

Of course, I can only speak for myself here. For some, phimosis may cause genuine discomfort and everyone deserves the autonomy to decide what they want for their bodies. But for others —   like me —  the root of the emotional discomfort surrounding my intact foreskin was mainly caused by stigma and judgment.

Through my journey,  I’ve come to realize that appreciating my foreskin is more than just self-love. In a world that devalues natural bodies of all genders —   saying we’re not “ideal” or “enough”  —  self-love and acceptance is a political act of resistance.