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. Please see the following interview with S.K., who is 27 years old.
David: To start off, I would like to ask you to share your personal experience with circumcision. How has it touched your life or that of your family?
SK: My father was circumcised when he served his military duty in his twenties. I was circumcised at 12 years old. At that time, the surgery was very popular in my country. My friends asked me, “Did you have your foreskin circumcised?” I said no, and they talked about it many times. So, I asked my father and he also agreed to have my foreskin circumcised. So, I thought that it is the ceremony to be an adult man. Yes.
David: It seems that - as is often the case - peer pressure was crucial in your decision to be circumcised. When was it that you first began to question circumcision? What caused this re-evaluation?
SK: When I went to high school in 2006, two South Korean professors made a homepage about harmful effect of the circumcision and I read the homepage at the time. The two professors realized the problem of circumcision, when they studied and took a shower with other professors from a variety of countries in USA. Thanks to the two professors, the percentage of circumcision has been diminishing.
David: You are referring to Professor D. Kim?
SK: Yes, and Bang Myung Geol.
David: Right. I have read much of their work, and it is true that they were the forbearers of a massive change in attitude in your country regarding circumcision. Now with the internet, South Korean citizens also have access to much more research and support on the topic. Do you feel that this has accelerated the decrease we are now seeing in circumcision in South Korea?
SK: Yes, I think so. If I had read the homepage before I had been circumcised I would not have done it. But in 2000 there is little information on the internet. And many Korean men realized that circumcision is unfair via naver, which is like google. And a Korean nurse Koo Seong-Ae talked about the harms in a video.
David: So, the creation of the pop119 website was important. And having access to a valid search engine, Naver, allowed men to further connect the dots.
Let me ask you this. 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?
SK: Yes, I have. At first my father told me few words about that.
David: As in "bad" words? He was not happy?
SK: I remember, “please don’t care about it”.My mother told me that she understood the problem with it and had heard similar things from others. When I restored my foreskin, she said to me, “Don’t do that because it makes your penis worse”. When I told my older sister she searched about it on a popular Korean community site. She told me that you don’t have to restore your foreskin, because there will be stem cell surgery for regenerating your foreskin in the future. She also found this information on the community site. When I told my friends most of them didn't care about it, because they were not uncomfortable after the surgery. But, a few of them agreed with me because they didn't feel pleasure from masturbation.
David: Have your parents and friends changed their views at all over time? Is this lack of pleasure something that many men complained of in your experience?
SK: Unfortunately, I have not talked about the issue recently, but a few of my friends told me that they don't care about restoring foreskin now. After marriage, one of my friend will try to care about the restoring foreskin, but at the time I didn't ask him the reason.
David: And your father has not changed his views?
SK: Unfortunately, I have not talked about it recently. I will try to do it. I think the sexual pleasure depends on the length of the circumcised foreskin. So, the men who have more length of foreskin after circumcision are satisfied. But, the men who have less length of foreskin after the circumcision are not satisfied. I have been talked about foreskin restoration with many men on a chat application Kakao Talk (similar to WhatsApp), and they told me this situation.
David: Does it appear to be more the younger, more than the older, generation that is changing its mind about circumcision?
SK: Yes, I think so because there is a foreskin restoration community site in South Korea and the members' age would be 10 years to 30 years old. I asked some 18 and 19 year olds, and they told me that these days there are less circumcised men than intact men in a class. When I went to high school in 2005 to 2007about 80 to 90 percent of men in our school were circumcised.I think it’s thanks to the internet.
David: In your opinion, how would you say the intact male is currently perceived and treated in South Korea today?
SK: Of the people around me many envy intact men, because many people these days know about the issue. Still many other people insist that circumcision is right. They believe the circumcised penis is cleaner and more comfortable when having sex.
David: It has been said that most South Koreans believe that universal circumcision is practiced around the globe. Do you find that this is indeed the case?
SK: Me and most of people in South Korea believed that it is universal. We thought that Japanese and Chinese also did it. Me and many people know that circumcision is not practiced around globe.
David: Interesting, most countries do not routinely circumcise men.
SK: Most of Korean men don’t know this information. Just some people who care about foreskin restoration know this information.
David: What, if any, history on the practice of circumcision in South Korea is provided for in the literature or in text books in schools?
SK: We mostly learn about it ourselves on the internet. The history on the practice of it in South Korea is due to Korean war. After that many Korean armies followed US armies.They thought that it was cleaner at the time. As you know South Korea was a very poor country in 1950s and 60s. There were not many shower facilities at home. So, they thought that we need to have ours circumcised, because we could get penis infection. These days most of people have shower facilities in their home. So, some people argue that we don’t need circumcision, because of the shower facilities today.
David: Do you feel that most South Koreans are unaware of this history?
SK: I haven't spoken with men older than forty, but many younger men are aware of the history thanks to the internet. Still, I guess around half of younger men are unware of the history. They just think circumcision is a ceremony to be an adult. When I asked some people in their twenties they wanted to skip the issue promptly. They seemed to want to hide the issue.
David: In your opinion do you think there has been a shift in the medical or scientific community on this subject?
SK: No, I don't. I read some articles about circumcision on naver. They asked doctors if they should they do routine circumcision, or only when there is a condition. The doctors said it is not necessary, but it is better for you. Especially if your foreskin would not retract by 20 years old. Then you should do it. The doctors also insist that circumcision will make your penis cleaner and prevent HIV. They also said circumcision would not affect penis sensitivity. I know that many Americans are circumcised when they are baby. In South Korea, they usually do it from 10 to 20 years old.
David: This is a very interesting difference. Many have speculated that this developed as a rite of passage, given the lack of religious or cultural history of circumcision in South Korea. What is your opinion on this?
SK: Yes, it is true. When I was a child many adult told me and my friends if you would not do circumcision now, you have to do it in military service. So, I was scared that.These days some people still ask this issue on the naver. But,it is no longer true. I did military service six years ago.But, when my father did military service, it was true.
David: In the past, South Korean soldiers who were not circumcised were compelled to undergo the procedure? How recently was this true?
SK: Oh, I don't exactly know, but I guess it was practiced until the 1980's or 90's.I watched a TV show some comedian talked about the issue.And they were circumcised in military service, and they are currently in their forties and fifties.
David:Did they have a choice?
SK: It was not forced. Just if they did it they could get the surgery free of charge and taking a break for a few weeks maybe.
David: You mentioned earlier that there has been a surge in men going online to learn about methods of foreskin restoration. To what extent has intactivism caught on in your country?
SK: There are about 2000 members on the foreskin restoration community site. There are about 4000 members on the intactivism community site which is managed by a doctor. Many people know about the problem of circumcision because they talked about it on a Korean popular community site. So,it depends on age.Older people tend not to care about the issue. Younger people seem more opposed to it.
David: Thank you, S.K., for your support for Foregen and for participating in our interview today.
Stay tuned for the upcoming article on circumcision in South Korea, which will be released later this month.
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