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Stowell Suit
New York Teenager Sues Hospital

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On this page:
December 2001 Penthouse Article [to be posted]
ABC Good Morning America
Feb. 2001 Newsweek Article

Sex Life Not Good? Sue!
Lawyer David Llewelyn Is the Johnnie Cochran of the Circumcised

  By Gersh Kuntzman

      Feb. 26. 2001 —  William Stowell enjoys sex. But he doesn’t enjoy it as much as he thinks he should. So he’s doing what any red-blooded American male would do when dissatisfied with his sex life: He’s suing the hospital where he was born.

     A COUPLE OF months ago, Stowell filed a civil suit claiming that Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip, N.Y., permanently deprived him and his future bedmates of “the pleasure of natural, normal sexual intercourse” thanks to an “excruciating” 10-minute procedure it conducted on him moments after birth.

        You may have heard of this procedure. It’s called circumcision.

        Now, a lot of lawsuits come across my desk, but this one caught my eye (among other organs). I mean, here was a circumcised guy complaining that he was unable to satisfy his female partners because he lacked his foreskin.

        Well, I lack foreskin, too. And, come to think of it, I’ve always secretly suspected that my sexual partners were just being nice when they told me I was the “greatest” “lover” they ever “had.” Could this circumcision thing be the excuse I’ve sought for years?

        In a word, yes!

[sidebar quote]  “I’m being deprived of my birthright. Studies show that I would be enjoying it more and my partners would be enjoying it more. Every time I have sex, that’s in the back of my head.”— WILLIAM STOWELL

          “I’m being deprived of my birthright,” Stowell told me. “Studies show that I would be enjoying it more and my partners would be enjoying it more. Every time I have sex, that’s in the back of my head.” (Thanks a lot, William; now it’s in the backs of the heads of all my circumcised readers.)

        Stowell is just a test case for a new niche of personal-injury case law being carved out by Atlanta lawyer David Llewelyn, who has become to the anti-circumcision camp what Johnnie Cochran is for celebrities accused of horrendous, made-for-TV crimes. More than a decade since the first “wrongful circumcision” case, Llewelyn has been increasingly successful at winning settlements ($65,000 in a 1995 case, for example) and blocking unwanted circumcisions.

        In the current case, Llewelyn will argue that Stowell’s mother, Linda, was handed a consent form while she was still under the influence of post- caesarean painkillers. Linda Stowell told me that, as an Italian Catholic, she never would’ve agreed to having her son circumcised. It must have been the Demerol speaking.

        But Llewelyn wants his pound of flesh. He’s hoping that the Stowell case goes to trial so he can use it as a pulpit to spread the anti-circumcision gospel. For a circumcised guy like me, talking to Llewelyn for even a few minutes was a remorseful trip through a sex life that might have been.

        For one thing, Llewelyn cites evidence that circumcision—which he claims causes such pain in the infant that “heartbeat and cortisol levels [rise] to levels consistent with torture”—makes kids more susceptible to pain later in life.

        And, naturally, he has studies that indicate that uncircumcised men enjoy sex more than circumcised men do—and, more importantly, more than I do.

        But his most compelling evidence (“evidence” because it appeared in the very fancy British Journal of Urology, “compelling” because it directly relates to me) is the argument that women enjoy sex less when they’re having it with a circumcised male.

        Foreskinologist Kristen O’Hara’s study of 139 women—all of whom had partaken of penises of both varieties—revealed that women were twice as likely to have an orgasm, half as likely to experience pain during sex and nearly twice as likely to enjoy the experience with an uncircumcised man.

        Oh, and by the way, the study also showed that circumcised men were more likely to prematurely ejaculate. (If you’re circumcised, O’Hara’s study is like getting a “Dear John” letter from a girlfriend doing a semester abroad in Spain. Ouch.)

        I could get very graphic here—O’Hara certainly does, which I like in a scientific paper—but the upshot is that there’s a lot of physics, hydraulics, plate tectonics and basic animal biology that results in women’s greater enjoyment of sex with unaltered men.

        She even cites the great Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, who wrote in the 12th century that “circumcision weakens the faculty of sexual excitement and…diminishes the pleasure”—a worthy goal, Maimonides wrote, lest everyone would be having sex all the time.

        “Clearly,” O’Hara concluded, “the anatomically complete penis offers a more rewarding experience for the female partner.”   She even has a just- released book called Sex As Nature Intended It that is sure to do two things: 1) bring a great deal of attention to circumcision and, 2) make me feel worse than I already do.

        Meanwhile, Stowell said he’s had trouble explaining his lawsuit to his circumcised Air Force buddies. “They think that as long as they can have an orgasm, they’re fine,” he said. “But there’s more to sex than that.”

        There is? Now he tells me.


Gersh Kuntzman is also a columnist for The New York Post and the author of “HAIR! Mankind’s Historic Quest to End Baldness” (Random House, March 2001). His e-mail address is


[Comments by Martin--from San Francisco]:

The ABC Good Morning America segment on William Stowell's lawsuit aired here San Francisco  and here are some impressions:

First, I found it both interesting and annoying that Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer used the circumcision suit story as a "teaser" throughout the show.  I watched for 1.5 hours before the story finally came on, and probably every 20 minutes they dropped another little "factoid" about the case, usually in the form of a question, "Can a man sue over a circumcision that happened 20 years ago when he was an infant?"  "Diane, do you know what the most common surgery in America is?"  "It may be surprising to learn that 60% of men in America have been circumcised!"  [not clear whether it's surprising because some American parents thought they were the only ones choosing circumcision or surprising because Americans think circumcision is universal.  What is surprising about 60%?  And among viewers of this show, it's probably more like 80% anyway.]

What was surprising to me was that Good Morning America thought that circumcision was interesting enough to capture their viewers' attention and build interest throughout the first 2 hours of the show.  The common thinking has been that circumcision is a taboo subject.  But now challenging circumcision is apparently seen as another "man bites dog" story and the general public is interested enough that stories about it are a sure draw to audiences.

Finally the segment rolled around at a quarter past 8.  I'd never seen or heard William Stowell before, so I listened very carefully to try to gain impressions of his demeanor and effectiveness.  Overall, I thought he was excellent -- calm, thoughtful, and well-spoken.  His New York accent, despite his living for years in the South, instantly reminded me of my good friend Bernard who lived his whole life in Richmond, Virginia but had a New York accent because his parents are from Brooklyn.

I think William resonated well with the larger TV audience because he does not come across as breathless, bitter or crusading, as many of us do.  He also corrected Gibson, who had asked about this lawsuit "for a diminished sex life."  William did not hesitate to state this this was a lawsuit for fraud, referring to his mother's invalid consent.  He also told the story of his discovery of circumcision in a very methodical way; you could just imagine many heads across America nodding at this very probable approach.

David Llewellyn managed to get a lot of material on the air in a very short time.  He jumped in to answer a question put to William, but which was too technical for William to reasonably tackle.  It provided a good opening for further clarification.

At first, I cringed a little when David launched into a rather graphic discussion of foreskin-tip anatomy and vaginal intercourse.  WTMI!! (way too much information), I thought.  I was just waiting for ABC to cut him off cold. But then David took a breath, and presented some really good information about normal anatomy/sex and how William's mother simply could not have given proper consent.  At this point it looked like David hit his stride and here was something American parents (especially moms) could more easily relate to.

David discussed how cultures throughout history have recognized that circumcision diminishes sexual sensation and function, but US culture has only decided in the last few decades to ignore/dismiss this fact.  He also mentioned the case of a Hindu couple who sued for wrongful circumcision of their son and immediately fretted that the boy would never enjoy normal sex.

The first part of this segment ended with William talking about most Americans getting their information about circumcision anecdotally from friends and family.  He suggested that fewer parents would choose circumcision of they just did as he has done, namely to use libraries and the internet to get a fuller picture of what circumcision really involves.  The ABC show music started before he finished speaking, but they let William finish his thoughts.

The dreadful follow-up with Dr. Timothy Johnson, 15 minutes later, was predictable.  Johnson was visibly uncomfortable, shifting from side to side and smiling wanly.  He came across as smug and annoyed. Johnson defended the AAP's conclusions, saying that there absolutely are medical benefits from circumcision, but they are slight.  He also said that the question of sexual feeling has been looked at many times and it's now decided that there are no discernable differences among circumcised and intact men.

Charles Gibson, the presenter, seemed much less accommodating toward circumcision and pressed the question of why SO MANY American boys get circumcised if the benefits are miniscule.  Johnson had no good answer for that; I was hoping he'd say something like, "We all agree the rate is too high, but it's a question of education."  Instead, he mentioned that the circumcision rate in America is simply the product of our shared values and that parents have the right to do whatever they want.

His first defense was:  "Obviously, some are done for religion, and no one is going to argue that right."  I think Johnson meant "argue WITH that right," but the way he said it was much more favorable to us.  He then went on to mention the lame locker room argument (irrelevant in the 21st century when most boys no longer shower together) and concluded with the utter nonsense that "whichever way parents choose, they have made the right decision."

Johnson relied on an ABC report 2 years ago, when they asked Harvard's head of epidemiology to evaluate all studies and determine whether circumcision had any medical benefits.  Johnson says "both sides" were invited to submit their most compelling material and ABC submitted this to the professor for review and conclusion.  As we all know, his conclusion was that the studies, taken as a whole, indicate that there is a slight benefit from circumcision in 3 areas: reducing UTIs early in life, reducing penile cancer later in life, and reducing STDs/HIV overall.  But he gave the benefit as a "1" on a scale of 1-10, lowest to highest.

Overall, this was a well-presented segment on circumcision.  It was brave of ABC to take on the story of William's lawsuit, which it easily could have ignored.  Picking it up suggested that someone saw substance in this story and that network marketing executives understand that circumcision has become a hot issue in America; Charles Gibson even said as much.

I had hoped for a few sound bites related to ABC's spin on this story, which seems to be that circumcision is much too common given the latest findings of only slight benefit.  It was unfortunate, and somewhat disjointed, that the story started out being about William's future sexuality and then got sidetracked into the quicksand of medical benefits.  And, of course, human rights never came up.

Big Congratulations to William and David for giving Americans something to seriously think about this March morning.



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