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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Bodies » Projecting body feelings onto boyfriend?

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Author Topic: Projecting body feelings onto boyfriend?
-worried-
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Hello everyone. I'm a long time lurker of Scarleteen, but decided to finally post here because I finally have some questions and issues I want to talk about and I don't really have anybody IRL I'd be comfortable discussing them with.

Let me preface my question by saying I'm really interested in human sexuality, sexual practices and related fields of study. I've developed some very strong opinions in these matters and recently one such opinion has kind of "clashed" with real life experience.

About a week ago my boyfriend and I got onto the subject of the role of genital modification and mutilation in various societies, and how they impact individual lives. At some point the topic of circumcision came up, and I mentioned my very strong opposition to it. I said how I found it sickening that any society would condone cutting up anyone's genitals, whether they belong to a male, female or intersex person, because the decision to make medically-unnecessary changes to a person's body should be the choice of the owner of that body and nobody else. After that rather impassioned rant, he told me that he was circumcised and really didn't care, and that it hadn't effected his life in any way.

While it was initially comforting to me to hear that he didn't have regrets about being circumcised, I began to feel a lot of pity toward him - even worse, I started to think of him as being violated, mutilated, damaged, a victim, and become really angry and really sad that this had happened to him. I absolutely hate that I'm having these thoughts and on an intellectual level I realize they're quite stupid (genitals are a tiny part of sexual experience) and degrading (that I put my own opinions on circumcision above my boyfriend's - after all, he's the owner of the circumcised penis in question). But I can't stop myself from thinking this way, and from thinking that he'll have a less satisfying sex life because he's not "intact". I'm also afraid that I'll never be able to stop thinking of him as being damaged and victimized - not in a sexual sense either, I'd be just as upset if he'd had some other sensory body part removed, without his will, for no good reason.

I know this is a complex issue and kind of a long post, I just really needed to get this all off my chest. Thanks for reading and thanks in advance for any advice or opinions.

[ 04-15-2012, 03:19 PM: Message edited by: -worried- ]

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Heather
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So, I wonder if it might not be helpful to you, with this, to have a discussion that's really more general, about how any of us who have had our bodies permanently injured, disabled or modified in any way can tend to feel or think, what "our normal" is like, and why it's really so important that other people respect and accept our feelings and experiences instead of putting their own on us?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Jill2000Plus
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To be clear, I agree with your views on this topic, I oppose medically unecessary genital cutting of legal minors (with the possible exception of gender affirmation surgery close to legal adulthood if chosen by the teenager) I think that it is very much about how he feels about it, ie: if he felt victimised by it that would be perfectly valid, but if he doesn't, then he doesn't. I guess the closest I get to the experience Heather talks about is that I'm fat, and have been for a very long time, and I don't like it when people project their feelings about my body onto me. I am also autistic and have ADHD, but those things are genetic, so I don't really think it is the same issue, I don't like it when people want to cure me, but those conditions aren't something that was done to me.

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Always knock before entering my room when I am in there alone, as I may be doing all sorts of wonderfully thrilling things that I'd rather you didn't see.

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-worried-
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Thank you for replying so quickly ... I agree with what you said, too.

Intellectually, I know I should respect and accept his feelings about being circumcised (which seems to be indifference, or possibly slight positivity - he indicated a belief that, given the choice, most penis-having people would rather be circumcised than not), but I'm having a really difficult time getting my emotions to cooperate.

I also realize that there are as many experiences of "normal" as there are bodies in this world, and that people with permanently disabled, injured or modified bodies have different experiences of normality. I think the thing that makes it difficult for me to accept is the pointlessness or senselessness of it - circumcision being a ethically-questionable practice rooted mostly in superstition and fear of sexuality, and without any benefits and arguably a lot of potentially-unfavorable effects. I think I would have less trouble accepting his "version of normality", so to speak, if he'd willingly modified his body, had a permanent injury from an accident or congenital disability, et cetera.

[ 04-15-2012, 04:44 PM: Message edited by: -worried- ]

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Heather
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Okay, so maybe what you need to try and give some thought to is that your feelings about this as a practice -- as something people to to others or themselves -- and his body, and his own feelings about experiences of his body are very different things.

In other words, his body may have been altered by this practice, but his body is NOT this practice. It's just his body, the body he's had for most of his life, which he feels positively about.

It might also help to recognize that the jury is actually still fairly out when it comes to whether or not intact or non-intact men have "more sensitivity." That's a pretty tricky, very board idea/term in general, but we also have studies that show us that when it comes to personal experiences of people with or without a foreskin, however tough it may be to wrap your head around, there aren't usually big differences. In other words, both kids of people express a wide range of sensitivity and sexual satisfaction or not.

One other thing that might help is to bear in mind that when it comes to male circumcision, most people who choose to do that to infants truly do not intend to do harm. I'd also be careful of simplifying it as you are, because I don't think it's that simple. When we're talking about Jewish culture, for instance, it's a pretty huge cultural identity piece, and when we're talking about it having been done because parents were informed it's what's most healthy, it's usually because they truly thought it was best.

And of course, one thing your boyfriend is telling you is that, for him, this is a positive body image piece. I get you feel differently, I get why that is a really complicated, tricky thing to feel and say, but he's saying it and feeling it all the same.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Jill2000Plus
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I don't think he's right that the majority of men would prefer to be circumcised than not.

And infants born to jewish parents should get to decide how they identify themselves and whether they consider circumcision to be something they want to choose as a part of a jewish identity. I mean, yes the severity is different, but the justifications used for male infant circumcision are the same as the ones used for female genital cutting. We're talking about an operation that can lead to the loss of the head or the whole of the penis and/or death from haemorraging, yes these outcomes are rare, but still.

Also, I'm not claiming that all circumcised men have less sensitivity than all intact men, but that doesn't mean that circumcision never has a negative impact on penile sensitivity. Which makes me think about people who suggest that men get circumcised so they can last longer in bed, which I think is really messed up.

[ 04-17-2012, 05:33 AM: Message edited by: Jill2000Plus ]

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Always knock before entering my room when I am in there alone, as I may be doing all sorts of wonderfully thrilling things that I'd rather you didn't see.

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Heather
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Hey Jill: I said what I did to make clear that this whole issue is more complex than just being about fear of sexuality or superstition. For instance, in the case of circumcision for Jews, it's about the idea of preserving a cultural identity, and that's a pretty big issue when we're talking about a group of people who, throughout history, have been slaughtered in the millions in an attempt to literally erase them as a people. That's also a very different thing than the cultural practice of FGM, even though cultural issues are at play there, too.

I don't say any of that to defend circumcision, especially because that's not the discussion we're having in this thread, and this isn't a discussion about anyone who has or might circumcise someone, but about someone's body who has been. I think continuing to focus on the issues of this as a practice are going to be awfully problematic in accepting someone's body and their feelings about it, okay?

Also, in the spirit of respecting everyone's right to bodily autonomy, something it's clear we agree on, I think we have to walk a pretty careful line when talking about what is or isn't messed up about elective procedures people may choose for themselves. I know it's tough, I struggle with that around cosmetic surgeries, for instance, but if we want to be supportive of autonomy, I think we all need to try.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Jill2000Plus
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To be clear, my issue isn't with people choosing the procedure for themselves for that reason, it's that someone else would suggest it to them for that reason in the first place. Particularly considering the way it tends to be suggested, in an offhand manner as a simple, problem-free solution rather than an option to be considered carefully or with any attempt made to question the heteronormative assumptions that often play a part in such anxieties. (and also, there are men who were circumcised in the name of jewish religion and/or culture who are not happy about it, and the way that they get ignored, accused of not being masculine enough or told they must be prejudiced or self-hating is really wrong).

But, I'm sorry for derailing, I do stand my statement that I don't think the majority of men would prefer to be circumcised than not, but however -worried-'s boyfriend seems to have positive feelings about being circumcised, and both of you are right that working on accepting how he feels about his own body is an important and positive step. I don't want to stop you from working on that, -worried-, so I will keep broader discussions of medically unnecessary male infant circumcision and the ethical issues involved to other, more appropriate threads. If it helps, I don't see a contradiction between objecting to the procedure on ethical grounds, and accepting that some people are fine with that having been done to them. As far as I'm concerned, so long as it's accepted that person X not having been hurt by it doesn't mean that nobody else has been, then all's well and good. It is important to accept the way someone feels about their own body with things like this (I say with things like this because if someone hated their body, for instance, you'd probably want to help them work on that, though obviously you can't force someone to change the way they feel about themself), I've long had a knuckle-cracking habit (my own knuckles, not anybody else's) and my mum would always whimper and get upset every time I did it and it really didn't help, I told her repeatedly to stop going on about it and she wouldn't, and it didn't change anything, it just made me feel even more depressed and helpless. That feels kind of relevant to this, though it's not the exact same situation.

EDIT: I was trying to think how to word this before, but (and I hope this doesn't come off wrong): even if someone doesn't appreciate that not everyone else is happy about something like this having been done to them, it's still important to accept their feelings about it having been done to them, how they feel about their own body, and the reverse is true as well (unhappy person who can't accept that some people are fine with something that they aren't).

[ 04-17-2012, 10:03 AM: Message edited by: Jill2000Plus ]

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Always knock before entering my room when I am in there alone, as I may be doing all sorts of wonderfully thrilling things that I'd rather you didn't see.

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Heather
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Maybe a parallel would help here: for instance, what if, as is the case with some of us, this was about injuries done to someone, in a way that changed how their body looks or functions, due to rape?

And what if the person with those injuries or changes accepted and felt okay about them, or even felt that they liked those changes, even if they don't like how they happened? Heck, for that matter, what if on top of all of that, said person felt that there were ways that their sexual assault ultimately resulted in things in their life they valued?

How might you approach someone, a partner like that, and how do you think you might be able to get to that same kind of acceptance they feel and experience, while still being able to hold your own line and ethics that sexual assault is something unacceptable and unethical for a person to do to someone?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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-worried-
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Sorry for not replying sooner, and apologies for not commenting on the broader conversation of the ethics of circumcision that this thread has started. I've read through all the posts here, but honestly I'm not emotionally up to voicing my own feelings on the subjects you've touched (beyond what I've said already).

I'll just add that neither my boyfriend nor his family belong to a religion where circumcision is practiced as a religious rite, so that sort of adds to the senselessness of it IMO.

Anyway, yesterday I finally got around to telling my boyfriend how I felt about him being circumcised, that I couldn't help but view him as somehow damaged or victimized because of it. He took it surprisingly well but at the same time seemed bothered that I'd make such a "big deal" out of this and once again asserted that he was entirely untroubled by being circumcised. I told him that I couldn't understand how he could be okay with it but that I'd try to respect his feelings, which he agreed I should do.

I was still feeling bothered by it, though. On one hand, I felt very guilty because of how I view circumcised penises - honestly, I think they look strange, mutilated, injured, like they're missing a really important part. This makes me feel terrible because I've always advocated body positivity in all its forms, and I've always been a strong believer that everyone, regardless of genital type, should be able to be comfortable and happy with their genitals. So the internal hypocrisy of looking at circumcised penises as being deformed or damaged was killing me.

Also, all along I'd been thinking of how I would have reacted to being circumcised if I were a penis-having person, which probably would include a lot of anger, regret and attempting some form of foreskin restoration (and asking my parents to pay for it - and involving a lawyer if they refused). This just made me more upset however, and it's kind of an alien thing for me to imagine as a mostly female-identifying, vulva-having person.

Instead I tried imagining what my life would be like if I had some sort of modification of my female genitals as a baby. I tried to imagine what it would be like knowing that I was born with a clitoris and labia deemed "too big", "too indecent", "too masculinised", and what it would be like knowing that my genitals had been cut down, without my consent, in way that made them smaller and more "feminine"-looking.

But instead of having the mindset I have now, I tried to imagine what it would be like if I were okay with those changes or actually liked them. What if were perfectly capable of orgasm and frequently got off? What if I had a fine sex life? What if I actually liked the way my vulva looked, and got a small, albeit guilty, sense of satisfaction in having compact and tidy-looking genitals?

(Let me just digress for a moment here and say that I loathe all the female genital-shaming circulating in the media nowadays, and the cultural messages that labia aren't "right" if they aren't a certain color, shape or size. I think all labia are beautiful and it's sad any woman would feel otherwise or resort to plastic surgery to fix a non-existent problem.)

As I was saying before that digression, if that was the body I had all my life and it always functioned well, would I choose to lament the loss of all that tissue and all those nerves, would I allow myself to constantly "what-if" about whether or not I'd have a better sex life or better body image if doctors had left me alone? I'm not sure I would.

Carrying this thought experiment further, I tried to imagine what it would be like if I had a significant other who I cared very much about. Let's assume that I'd never mentioned having modified genitals until the topic came up in conversation one day, with my SO voicing a passionate belief that all forms of non-consensual genital modification are wrong. How would I feel if I mentioned being one of those people who had been modified without giving consent, and had my SO turn around and tell me that they viewed me as being violated, victimized, damaged or physically-degraded because of it? What if they asserted by genitals were strange, undesirable or disturbing-looking because they weren't natural - in spite of the fact that they functioned fine, looked fine to me and had given us both pleasure? Upset and insulted probably wouldn't be able to describe my feelings in such a situation.

Yet that was pretty much what I did to him. I'm relieved he's not as emotionally-sensitive as I am, but really guilty all the same.

Apologies for this huge post, it took a lot longer than I expected to write all this down. I know these comparisons aren't perfect, and I don't mean to make light of any form of genital modification on a person who can't consent to the procedure, but thinking this way has really helped me come to terms with understanding how my boyfriend (or any person) can be okay with being circumcised. Even if I have quite a ways to go on overcoming my knee-jerk reaction to thinking of circumcised penises as strange or troubling-looking.

[ 04-17-2012, 12:50 PM: Message edited by: -worried- ]

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Heather
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No worries for the wait: it sounds like during that relatively brief time, you've made a lot of progress in working this more through in your head.

Where do you feel like you're at with it now? Do you feel like you're able to handle being intimately involved with your partner with his body as it is, and him feeling like he does about it, which is obviously still quite different from how you feel?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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-worried-
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I feel like I'm closer to accepting and respecting his feelings about being circumcised than I was before, but I know it'll be awhile before I get over my own personal repulsion toward circumcised penises, his in particular.

That being said, we're in a mutually-affectionate relationship, we have great physical, intellectual and emotional chemistry together and I find his body beautiful/attractive in almost every respect. (He also seems to have good body image in spite of not being "traditionally attractive" and undoubtedly being exposed to a fair share of lookist messages over the years.) For the most part, I feel that I'd be comfortable being intimately involved with him and his body the way it is - though it's going to take time and mental effort to get to a point where I feel as positive about his genitals as he does. (Or at least closer to that point than I am now.)

[ 04-17-2012, 06:13 PM: Message edited by: -worried- ]

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Jill2000Plus
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Wanted to say that I wasn't saying her boyfriend felt depressed or helpless, just making a point about how hard it can be when someone keeps on going on about how terrible something about your body or what you do with it is that you can't change or can't change for now, whether it's a permanent modification or a habit that you are well aware may not be good for you but really need as a coping mechanism right now, hope that made sense.

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Always knock before entering my room when I am in there alone, as I may be doing all sorts of wonderfully thrilling things that I'd rather you didn't see.

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