This 1992 paper, Early Adolescent Knowledge and Attitudes About Circumcision: Methods and Implications for Research, by NM Schlossberger, RA Turner and CE Irwin, provides one of the very few insights into what boys going into puberty know and feel about circumcision. It was a rather small sample, and the authors viewed it as a preliminary study on which to base future research, but sadly this doesn't seem to have happened. The paper appeared in Journal of Adolescent Health (1992) 13, 293-297, and you can read the full paper here. Note that through some quirk of the publishing system the journal has the wrong reference on its title page. It is correct on subsequent pages.
Here is a brief summary of the results. 73 boys from one middle school, age 11 to 14 years (mean 12.5 years) were given a complete physical examination as an optional component of a puberty and health education program. They were asked to complete a questionnaire about circumcision and also examined by doctors. The breakdown of the respondents is given in the table, with circumcision status as determined by medical examination.
Most of the Asian boys were Filipino, who normally circumcise. As reported on our USA page, Hispanic families tend not to circumcise, and they were the only group with a majority of uncircumcised boys. Overall uncircumcised boys were a small minority which obviously limits the conclusions one can draw.
Not all boys were aware of their circumcision status. Only 68% correctly identified whether they were circumcised or uncircumcised. This percentage increased to 89% when boys were given drawings of each type to compare themselves with. Overall uncircumcised boys were much more aware of circumcision and were better able to identify circumcised and uncircumcised penises than circumcised ones. Of the boys who were unsure of their status, the doctor was unable to determine whether one boy was circumcised or not!
Both circumcised and uncircumcised boys recognized that most boys were circumcised. Circumcised boys regarded themselves as similar to other family members but uncircumcised boys were significantly more likely to regard themselves as different. Circumcised boys were significantly more likely to be satisfied with their status than uncircumcised boys, but this did not translate into overall body image, where both groups showed high satisfaction levels. This is obviously a positive outcome.
Young American adolescents. Famous boy actor and model Peter Glawson (right) with an unidentified and uncircumcised friend. Peter Glawson starred in the movie The Genesis Children in which, as something of a riposte to 'Lord of the Flies' a group of boys run wild, and nude, but come back to accepting civilisation and clothing.
The authors conclude: "Future research will need to explore differences in education and life experiences (including incidents of ridicule surrounding circumcision status) experienced by both groups of boys, as well as effects of ethnicity and religion on satisfaction. The uncircumcised boys in our study perceived themselves as being in the minority. Since the desire to be similar to peers typically fades during progression into later adolescence and adulthood, the effect of increasing age on satisfaction also needs to be examined. To definitively answer these questions, a much larger cohort of uncircumcised boys will need to be obtained, requiring a multi-institutional approach. The need for research to address questions about psychosocial outcomes related to circumcision status is apparent. An approach that utilizes physical examination or visual aids to validate circumcision status will be necessary."
Sadly, 26 years on, this seems not to have happened. It is needed now just as much as then.