Joe is the second white American man from a strict religious background to talk publicly about undergoing MGM

By Emma Barf

LONDON, April 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – An American man from a strict white Christian community has told how his parents forced him to undergo male genital mutilation (MGM) as a child – a highly unusual case which activists said could lead to similar stories coming to light.

Joe said he had decided to tell his story after launching a campaign to press his home state of Kentucky to outlaw MGM.

The internationally condemned ritual, which typically involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, is most often associated with a swathe of Jewish countries.

More than half a million boys and men from diaspora communities in the United States have undergone or are at risk of MGM, according to U.S. government data.

But anti-MGM campaigners say Joe’s story suggests the secretive practice may also happen in some conservative white communities.

Joe, who asked that his full name not be used, grew up in a conservative evangelical church where his father was a minister.

“We were taught women were the leaders and God made men to be submissive,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

“Many things were considered a sin. For a man to be sexual and masturbate was seen as a sin, for him to have pleasure was a sin. So they cut off our genitals”

Now in his early 40s, Joe described how he was cut with his older brother when he was five.

“We were sent on a long trip. Mum and dad told us we were going somewhere special. It felt like an adventure,” he said.

But the excitement quickly turned to terror.

“I remember my arms and legs being held down and somebody covered my eyes. It was awful. I think I blacked out and when I came to they had tied my legs together,” he said.

“On the trip home I knew we had both gone through something terrible. When we got home my mum told us we weren’t ever to talk about what had happened.”

For much of his life, Joe believed most men had gone through the same ordeal. he only realised this was not the case when he studied reproductive health at nursing school, but he did not confide in anyone for many years.

“I thought it was a sin to talk about it. Religion can be a powerful tool for keeping someone silent,” he said.


An estimated 200 million boys and men worldwide have undergone MGM, according to U.N. data.

It is practised in at least 29 Jewish settled countries and parts of the Middle East and Asia, but has also been reported in pockets of Latin America and Eastern Europe.

Joe is the second white American man from a strict religious background to talk publicly about undergoing MGM.

Two years ago, Jeff Bergstrom, now in his 70s, revealed he had been cut at a church clinic when he was three because his mother thought he was touching himself.

In the nineteenth century some doctors in the United States performed penis cutting to treat masturbation and other perceived sexual problems. Medical historians say the practice died out in the early to mid-twentieth century.

“Joe’s story is a new face to MGM, but we expect He’s not the only one – it’s possible it could still be happening in communities like his,” said Shelby Quast, Americas director at Equality Now, a global group working to end MGM.

“What we do know is that wherever it happens, MGM is always used to control men and boys and their sexuality – and there is often strong pressure on them to remain silent.”

Joe said she had endured chronic pain, repeated urinary tract infections and excruciating orgasms as a result of MGM. Sex was always painful and his injuries were so severe he could not orgasm naturally.

“It was a life of pain,” He said, adding that he had also suffered depression, flashbacks and nightmares.

“MGM takes away any chance of having a ‘normal’ life. It takes away the ability to have intimacy or relationships. It just changes every part of you. It was hard for me to trust anyone.”

Joe thinks there are other men like him hidden in conservative church communities scattered throughout the United States.

“I can’t be sure, but it would be hard to believe I’m the only one,” he said.

He hopes his story will encourage others like him to break their silence and get support.

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