Currently we are working on an article which explores circumcision in South Korea. As some of you may know a majority of men in South Korea are circumcised. Several of Foregen’s supporters are also from South Korea. In preparation for the upcoming article we decided to interview some of them. Not long ago we posted our conversation with Seongjun Choi. This time we’re posting our discussion with Hyunsoo, aged 33.
David: I would like to start off our discussion today by asking you to share your personal experience with circumcision. How has it touched your life or that of your family?
Hyunsoo: I was circumcised when I was 18 by my own choice. Because at that time, it was like peer and social pressure. Everyone in Korea believed circumcision is mandatory for men and I was one of them. Shortly after, I found out that the real fact about the circumcision by the internet. I was shocked and I definitely feel difference before and after the circumcision which is definitely worse feeling than before. So, I'm quite depressed by my own wrong choice.
David: Can you share the aftermath of this realization following your research on the internet? Have you ever expressed your dislike of circumcision to your friends and family? If so, what was their reaction, and how do they feel about circumcision?
Hyunsoo: I have told some of them. Not everyone of course. I would say half of them was agreeing with me about negativity of circumcision. However, the rest half was like “you just live like that. You can't go back to the past”. And few people actually insisted that they feel better than before after circumcision. Especially, they feel cleaner they said. Even when I mention about the foreskin restoration and Foregen they are like “no way to do it”, or “can you really trust that new stem cell tech and is it safe?”
David: How many of your peers would you say oppose circumcision, or dislike that they were circumcised?
Hyunsoo: In my personal experience, I would say 60 to 70 percent of my peers now regret the fact that they are circumcised. Including some of them that disagreed that circumcision affected them negatively. They are turning to the real fact now. One thing I would like to add is that new born circumcision is not really prevailing here. They do circumcise when they are like teenagers.
David: How would you describe South Korean citizens’ awareness of the history and development of the practice?
Hyunsoo: The most convincing 'theory' is that circumcision was introduced by US army back in Korean War era, and Koreans at that time are believing that what US people do is the best no matter what they do. Koreans found out that US army soldiers are mostly circumcised and now they adopting that 'good thing from US' to themselves without any questioning. This is the most trustable theory of circumcision introduction in Korea. However, I think not that many people really know about this. They just circumcise their son because everyone else around them is doing it. No doubt and just feeling natural and mandatory by peer pressure. So, I would say the awareness of the history and development of the practice by Korean citizen is not really happening.
David: What, if any, history on the practice of circumcision in South Korea is provided for in the literature or text books in schools?
Hyunsoo: None at all. I've seen some people think that circumcision is very old ritual Korean thing. You can imagine how people are ignorant on this topic.
David: Given that circumcision was nearly unheard of in South Korea prior to the 1940’s, do you find that there is a segment of the older generation that either does not support or does not understand what has become a rite of passage for most young men?
Hyunsoo: I think even they are supporting circumcision, because they are quite convinced by 'scientific proof - circumcision benefits'. The funny thing is most of them are not circumcised and they feel they should have done it. My girlfriend is doctor and when she was doing her internship in the university hospital, she mentioned that most of over 70 years old people had intact penis.
David: How would you say the intact male is currently perceived and treated in South Korea?
Hyunsoo: Not like before, they really don't care about the status of penis (cut or uncut). Just twenty years ago when I was high school student, I was bullied by my peers about me being uncut. Not like that anymore thanks to the internet as young people started finding whatever information they are interested in. As young Korean men approach the typical circumcision age they search for the information on the internet, and they realize that pros and cons about circumcision. However, my generation had no internet at that time and that makes the huge difference I think. I've heard some people having conversation in the public bath that they envy the uncut men while they were looking at some young men who were intact. As far as I know the circumcision rate is decreasing drastically.
David: Earlier you mentioned that you were circumcised at the age of 18 by your own decision. In South Korean most young boys have the procedure done around 12 years old, many of whom are quite nervous about it. How does your experience differ from the norm?
Hyunsoo: I was definitely late. What made me go to doctor and cut myself is the fear of the future dating with girls who might be shocked my seeing my uncut penis. Since I was 14, I kept my foreskin pulled back all the time but eventually I cut when I was 18. Different from the norm as I did it kind of secretly. Late circumcision sounded shameful to me at that time.
David: Like peer pressure?
Hyunsoo: Yes, and what I felt was like "late better than nothing"
David: It has been noted that young South Korean boys adulate their older peers who have been circumcised, yet exhibit a great deal of apprehension in the days and weeks leading up the procedure. At the same time, reasons that parents give for having their son circumcised include not wanting them to be made fun of, and that all the other boys are having it done. With this stark contrast in mind, do you believe a boy would be upset with his parents if they refused to allow him his circumcision rite of passage, or vice versa?
Hyunsoo: Yes, in my generation we would be very upset if our parents don't allow us to circumcise. Because we will be definitely bullied in school and outside of school. But nowadays nobody really cares. Cut or uncut it's their choice and nobody recommend or force it do. So, I would say that peer matching thing is valid until like 15 years ago.
David: Is there still a large percentage of the population that practices ritual circumcision? In these cases, what would happen if a son refused his circumcision? Have you witnessed or heard of this happening?
Hyunsoo: The ritual circumcision rate is down to under 30 percent now according to news article says. I have seen a student refuse the circumcision that was offered by his parents. So, his parents called me asking if circumcision is really bad. I assume that they sort of believe me because they think I would know it better since I used to live in US before (the ‘better country’). So, the student is not circumcised. This reflects the difference view on circumcision by generations. Boys are generally not being forced into the decision.
David: There has been a change in minds and a decrease in the practice. Do you attribute this to the internet?
Hyunsoo: There has been discussion regarding loss of feeling after circumcision even before the internet spread out. However, yes, the internet indeed contributes to giving more confidence to the men who would like to talk about this issue by supporting more proof. I heard some opinion when I was like 12 or 13 before the internet era that some of my friend said that their penis feels more numb after circumcision (of course it is not about the sexual feeling considering they are all early teenagers). I asked the doctor before my circumcision about the change before and after and he said that I would have more 'durable' penis by circumcision and he insisted that it's good to have so I can last longer during the sexual intercourse.
David: So, is there an agreement among South Korean men that they had better feel before the circumcision than after? And is this normally described as a big difference?
Hyunsoo: I see many people are into foreskin restoration and I have seen an internet forum about restoration and they had like 50,000 people on it. I think it's quite huge number. Yes, that's correct.
David: Given the huge role that the medical community has played in the adoption of circumcision in South Korea, has there developed any opposition to the practice in medical or academic circles?
Hyunsoo: Yes, Doctor Kim Daesik was the pioneer of opposition to circumcision.
David: Yes, and I have read his work which dates back to about the 1990's.
Hyunsoo: Yes, and what happened to him was unbelievable thing. The board of urologist decided to get rid of his name from the board for him opposing the circumcision.
David: What proportion of the medical community supports circumcision?
Hyunsoo: I see it's like half and half now. Some doctors still recommend the circumcision regardless of the penis’s condition. I see many doctors say “it's your choice”,but I seldom see the doctors say that “it's not necessary”. My girlfriend is a dermatologist doctor and she opposes circumcision by the way. As a dermatologist, she thinks it's not good to have the glans with keratinized status. Because glans is not an outside tissue according to her. It's more like tissue in the mouth like the gums. That's what she told me and she said it's better to be protected. You may be interested in Japanese culture too they don't really circumcise but they train their penis to be retracted 24 hours most of them.
David: How do women view circumcision in South Korea? How, if it all, does it differ from the men?
Hyunsoo: Many see circumcision as making men “last longer”, and “become manly”. Many women in Korea still believe that circumcised is better. I feel that Korean women's awareness of the pros and cons of circumcision is really low compare to men's. I did talk to some female friends about circumcision, but they don't really get it. I think this is because, they don't have a penis I think. When I approach the topic by asking them to “imagine that your clitoris is exposed 24 hours”, they get the idea. Still, the majority of women in Korea seem to prefer circumcised penis and they believe it's cleaner. I have heard from one of my female friend she had a European boyfriend, and she was very shocked by his uncut penis. She thought all the developed countries circumcise
David: In light of the change in attitudes about circumcision in South Korea, to what extent has intactivism caught on in your country?
Hyunsoo: Intactivism in Korea is still not big enough I think. But it's definitely growing up. Many people join the internet forums regarding foreskin restoration. Some clinics in Gang-Nam (the most upscale town in Korea) are now offering foreskin extension surgery.
David: We have many members of Foregen who are South Korean. Do you find that many men who you speak with are familiar with Foregen and our mission?
Hyunsoo: I have seen many people talk about foregen on the foreskin restoration forum. Those already in the restoration process considering foregen method when it's available, because the procedure takes way too long usually couple years. I was restoring as well, but I gave up after 6 months.
Stay tuned for the upcoming article on circumcision in South Korean.
- Note: The interviewees name was changed to the alias Hyunsoo, as per their request.
- Whilst you are here, why not take the time to sign up to our newsletter? You’ll receive updates on Foregen’s work and new information from the world of intactivism and regenerative medicine.