Our Bodies, Our Choices: Circumcision is Not a Joke

Tom Gualtieri of The Weeklings believes men should advocate for choice when it comes to their bodies.

Originally published at The Weeklings

“My body, my choice.”

I like this phrase, even with its reductionist simplicity. All argument seems pointless in contrast.

In America we may do anything we want with our bodies, barring suicide (a topic for a separate essay) and using illegal substances. There are piercings, tattoos, collagen, sex changes & hormones, breast augmentation…  The list goes on and on, and that’s not counting the non-invasive procedures like diets, beauty regimens, waxing, sugaring, hair styling, the classic cut & color, and even (heavens!) exercise. We may paint ourselves blue, wear nose rings, ear gauges, dress in rubber clothing or use mountains of silicon in an effort to satisfy our need to feel beautiful, unique or to fit in. We fight for the right.

Todd Akin’s recent remarks about abortion (and his bizarre ignorance about rape) only highlight the ongoing debate over the phrase: “My body, my choice.” The subject of reproductive rights and battles to overturn two pro-choice decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 20th Century come around again every election cycle. And even though the 2010 mid-terms were supposed to be a referendum on jobs and economic growth, they resulted in attacks on Planned Parenthood and women’s reproductive choices.

In the pro-choice movement, the most important argument has been a woman’s right to choose. That right to choose involves the whole body and sexual rights are inevitably tied to it. The inability of half our nation to recognize a woman’s right to her own body abuts another issue tied up with that powerful phrase:

“My body, my choice.”

♦◊♦

A decade ago I was walking a Manhattan street with my ex when I spotted a fellow (I assumed this person was a man, though I couldn’t tell for certain!) with neon-blue hair, a studded wardrobe and ear gauges – something I had never seen before. I turned to my ex and snidely remarked that he should remind me to pierce my eyelids when we next visited the mall. He shook his head and said, “I think people can do whatever they want with their bodies.”

With that plain declaration, he unwittingly asked me to look at myself. Why was I so threatened by this person’s self-expression? Why need I be? His choices had no effect on me except to irritate something I preferred to keep hidden: my insecurity. Ever since then, I have been a firm believer in privacy. What you do with your own body and how you do it, so long as it does not interfere with my rights, is perfectly acceptable. Sure, someone may cause a disturbance if he walks down the street with a skull tattooed on his face, but if it disturbs me that’s my problem, not his.

“Suggestive clothing” or “flirtatious behavior” are often used against rape victims — as if either justifies a perpetrator’s violence. If I don’t have the self-control to keep from raping a woman because her short skirt makes me feel a need to dominate her, there’s something wrong with me, not her. She is free to dress and behave as she chooses. Just like a man.

Self-sovereignty is the touchstone of American culture but  is often opposed by those who feel threatened. To the small-minded, independence and the assertion of self somehow diminishes their rights. To feel superior, they must fight back. Rape and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are just two in the panoply of attacks which either aggressively or suggestively attempt to crush a woman’s right to self-hood.

In the fight for male dominion over his sexual self, the foreskin has gotten short shrift.

♦◊♦

Now that’s you’ve stopped laughing long enough to pay attention (because let’s face it, circumcision is almost always treated as a joke, as is any form of violence against male genitals), think for a moment about your instant reaction:

“Eww, foreskin is gross.”
or
“That’s the parent’s choice.”
or
“It’s healthier without it.”
or
“What about religious reasons?”
or
“There is no comparison to Female Genital Mutilation.
or
“What difference does it make?”

For me, it all comes down to one point:

“My body, my choice.”

The foreskin is the only body part we routinely amputate in the absence of an immediate health threat. There are perhaps a dozen reasons cited as to why circumcision is a “benefit,” but none is an immediate threat and all can all be traced back to one of these:

  1. Appearance
  2. Religion
  3. Possibility of medical problems.

Let’s address #3 first, since the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement this month reversing its previously neutral stance on circumcision. The AAP’s endorsement of circumcision cites several medical issues which are, debatably, more prevalent by a few percentage points (sometimes fractions thereof) in the intact male: urinary tract infections, increased chances of STDs including HPV, HIV and others, as well as reduction in penile cancer. None are a direct threat and all are contingent on possibility, not probability. In addition, counter-studies have suggested otherwise.

Dr. Douglas Diekema, a member of the AAP’s circumcision task force, states in a recent  Huffington Post article on the subject, “What remains unchanged is that the AAP still holds that the health benefits are not great enough to recommend routine circumcision for all newborn males.” Nevertheless, the AAP’s statement leans sharply toward cutting. This new stance, coupled with the World Health Organization’s embrace of experiments involving the circumcision of African men in order to reduce HIV transmission risk, has caused more than a bit of controversy.

“Intactivists,” believe that routine infant circumcision is violence — mutilation. The stress on the phrase “routine infant” is notable because while infant circumcision is decried, Intactivists remain dedicated to the grown man’s right to choose.

The sleeve-like structure that is the male foreskin (which, unsheathed, amounts to approximately 12 square inches in the adult male) serves a sexual function. Among those cultures that practice circumcision, medical reasons are heaped onto existing societal and religious custom, even though religious and medical practices have no relationship. American women rarely give a thought to the foreskin unless they are expecting a baby boy OR encounter an intact man during sex. For American men it is the same; there’s no occasion to speak of it unless they are dealing with an infant, have same-sex partners, or joke about it in the locker room. It is largely addressed as a nuisance by the American medical community even though the last 15 years has seen a reduction in the US practice.

The message is, “Cut it off. It’s easier.”

Maligned in the U.S., the foreskin is accepted for what it is by the majority of the world population: a functional part of male sexual anatomy.

When we think about infants, we do not like to think about the sexual beings they will become. We think only of their safety and their protection. But our infant boys do grow up to be men. All adults, men and women alike, deserve their full spectrums of sexual function and pleasure. They are also entitled to make choices for themselves.

Can a man experience sexual pleasure without his foreskin? Well, duh! Millions have, but it is the quality of the sexual experience that serves both psychological and biological functions. (Prolonged periods of heightened sexual pleasure produce stronger orgasms in both men and women, making it more likely conceive. Not only that – it feels better! Duh!) Since the male anatomy can function (and has for centuries) without the foreskin, little thought is given by the general population to the long-term effects of its removal. If the plumbing works from infancy through the teen years, what problems could possibly exist?  But it is often later in life that cut men start to experience problems.

According to Ronald Goldman, Ph.D., executive director of the Circumcision Resource Center in Boston, “Medical studies have shown that the foreskin protects the penile head, enhances sexual pleasure, and facilitates intercourse.” Additionally, a study released in the April 2007 British Journal of Urology (BJU) International concluded that the “five locations on the uncircumcised penis that are routinely removed at circumcision had lower pressure thresholds.” Let me translate: The parts that are removed in circumcision are more sensitive than the parts that are left.

The study also notes that “The glans [head] of the uncircumcised men had significantly lower mean pressure thresholds than that of the circumcised men,” which amounts to the same thing. The head of the uncircumcised penis is more sensitive than the head of a cut male.

The study also found that in the circumcised male the circumcision scar is typically the most sensitive spot on the penis.

That’s completely fucked up.

A flicker of logic will draw the same conclusion that led to the above experiment: if the penis is engineered around the biological need to orgasm, and if the orgasm is produced by nervous stimulation, wouldn’t amputation of a part of this complex web of nerves and vascular tissue have some effect? This is no numb, useless flap of skin, though the population of content but naive circumcised men (and repulsed women) may argue otherwise. Whose right is it to tell me that it should be removed at birth? Infants in our care are meant to be protected from harm. But what of the adults they grow up to be?

Parallels to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), seem offensive when a parallel is mistaken for comparison. But let me be clear: I do not compare the two. I draw a parallel related to genital integrity.

Women’s sexual needs have been vilified for centuries. The violence done on women through FGM is done to subjugate women to male desire. By removing pleasure, the male who has been taught to possess, dominate and rule is placated. Her sexual power over him is diminished if he feels that he is dominant. Her pleasure must be secondary – or entirely eliminated.

Genital mutilation, like rape, is an act of violence. Unlike rape, however, FGM represents a bizarre marriage of patriarchal domination and female complicity in the cycle of abuse. Perpetrated and perpetuated by women on women at the behest of men, FGM stifles a woman’s sexual health and pleasure to keep her part of the tribe. No one must step outside the circle – power must be equal among the subjugated. If I suffer, so should you. If a woman does escape this ritual, her pleasure reminds the tribe of the millennia of horror men have forced upon women, and that women have allowed to be done to their daughters: what does it say about women who have, for centuries, perpetuated male dominion by taking on the role of circumciser? There can be no rebellion in these societies. And where there is no rebellion, there is no fear and no self-examination.

If you re-read the above paragraphs with a few substitutions, it is equally ghastly:

Circumcision represents a bizarre marriage of patriarchal domination and female complicity in the cycle of abuse. Perpetrated and perpetuated by men upon men, with the complicity of women, circumcision mutes a man’s sexual health to keep him part of the tribe. No one must step outside the circle – power must be equal among the subjugated. If I suffer, so should you. If a man does escape this ritual, his experience of greater pleasure than his father calls to mind the millennia of horror men have done upon men, and women have allowed to be done to their sons.

Circumcision rituals are performed on males in cultures that include Judaism, Islam and various African tribes like the Kikuyu and Maasai at ages ranging from infancy to adolescence. Unlike modern American circumcision, which is done under medical supervision in private, tribal and religious customs involve public settings in which the child or teenager is on display during this ritual.

Sexual subjugation is about power.

What power, then, do we wield over our boys when the first thing we do to them after birth is to take a knife to the most delicate and sensitive part of their anatomies? What happens to the mother/child bond when she gives him into the arms of a stranger to experience the most excruciating pain of his newborn life, before being returned to her?

♦◊♦

In her August 12 op-ed in the LA Times (“Circumcision: It Was Good Enough For Jesus”) Charlotte Allen says, “Cmon on, guys, man up!”

Did she actually write “Come on guys, man up?!!?!”

My response is: How fucking dare you, madam?

I wonder, does she know anything of the men who are afraid to be called victim or less-than-men because they are not allowed to complain that their circumcisions have left them mutilated, partially damaged, impotent or having to live through a life-time of genital reconstructive surgeries? Men who have suffered from choices made for them in infancy suffer well into adulthood, often remaining silent on the issue, or silenced by other men and women, like Ms. Allen, who think they are “whiners.”

I was permanently damaged by my circumcision. A surgery, badly performed, left me with severe scarring and extreme sensitivity which actually causes unbearable irritation during certain sexual activities. This sensitivity has grown worse as I get older. Basically, too much flesh was removed from one side. I learned as an adult that I came home from the hospital with stitches in my penis. Upon examination, it is clear that a major vein was severed and the cut was too deep.

Compared to the grotesque damage which can be seen in images in various forums and activist groups about circumcision(these images of adult men with severely deformed penises as a result of circumcision are almost unbearable to look at it), mine may be an ungrateful complaint; my sex life has been basically normal. The damage, because Americans are so accustomed to the circumcised penis, wouldn’t register unless you looked closely. I’ve even been asked to pose nude and appear naked onstage. I don’t know anything other than the sex life I’ve had, yet I can’t help but wonder what my sex life could be like had I been allowed to keep the body nature designed.

Ms. Allen, not having a penis herself, should shut up. She has no right to have an opinion on the matter of my genitals. Though there may be argument from the women’s health camp because studies have shown that circumcision reduces the threat of cervical cancer in women by reducing the possibility of HPV transmission. (Although counter studies say otherwise.)

So – just to clarify – you want to cut off a part of your infant son’s sex organ because there is a possibility that he might, as an adult, come in contact with HPV and, subsequently, might have sex with a woman who hasn’t had the HPV vaccine?

Sorry. No. I can’t get on board with a lifetime’s alteration of a man’s body any more than I can a woman being forced to undergo a 20-minute vaginal probe before an abortion.

The case of David Reimer, an example of a worst-case scenario taken to extremes (hyperbole intentional), remained largely unknown until an expose in Rolling Stone Magazine in December of 1997. Reimer and his twin brother were sent to be circumcised several weeks after birth due to phimosis (a tightening of the foreskin). When Reimer’s surgery went horribly wrong, his brother’s surgery was aborted. The brother’s phimosis, a condition often treated through surgery, cleared up on its own without surgical intervention. But Reimer’s penis turned black and fell off.

Reimer’s penis turned black and fell off.

The darkest irony, to me, is that the condition for which they were both being treated cleared up on its own in Reimer’s brother.

The loss of Mr. Reimer’s penis resulted in a series of tragic decisions. First, his parents were convinced by a Johns Hopkins scientist to choose sexual reassignment for David. What followed was an orchiectomy (the complete removal of Reimer’s testicles) and an attempt to raise him as a girl via hormones and dozens of genital surgeries throughout his life. In his teen years, Reimer’s father disclosed what had happened and Reimer attempted to live his life as a man until his suicide in 2004.

Reimer’s story went unreported for three decades. Other stories like it are available to those who will listen, told by horrified nurses, doctors and O.R. staff. One nurse, who spoke  on the condition of anonymity, told me:

“I had a baby who, shortly after his circ, his penis turned black and necrotic. He was transferred to our hospital for evaluation and died within two weeks.

“Then several months ago, we had a partial amputation with urethral involvement. That baby had to be transferred to a tertiary care hospital for repair and will have lifetime urologic complications. The father was inconsolable.”

And those are just two of her stories. And those stories are just the observations of one nurse. This week alone I have read three articles on botched circumcisions. One story reports the loss of the penises of twin infants after botched circumcisions. Another, the partial amputation of the glans penis (the head) during a bris. There are hundreds of stories like this. What will it be like for those boys to grow into adults?

There are countless men who say, “Hey, my dick is fine,” but there are just as many who can verify a loss of sensitivity. The removal of healthy erogenous tissue, whether or not its loss is recognized, is more to the point than, “My dick works.” Can you miss something you never had? I do.

♦◊♦

Christopher Guest, M.D, co-founder of the Children’s Health & Human Rights Partnership (CHHRP) calls the AAP’s statement “seriously flawed.” In a press release picked up by Reuters and other online publications, Guest states:

“‘Circumcision alters the structure of the penis, which inevitably alters function. Long term harm to men from infant circumcision has never been studied.’  He referred to a growing body of anecdotal evidence collected by the Canadian-based Global Survey of Circumcision Harm. Guest said that in the past 12 months over 900 men have answered the online survey to document their harm.”

The type of circumcision performed on Reimer was an unusual method and though there are various methods available today, they each bear a different set of risks. Stories of damage are not urban myths.

I came across a extraordinarily moving video on YouTube in which a devout Jewish mother expresses her personal feelings about the ritual bris:

“…the trauma that I felt as a mother having witnessed this rite on my babies… I didn’t know how to even formulate the questions because they were in total contradiction with everything that I believed and trusted.  And it wasn’t until… many years later that I finally took a step to start learning about circumcision and I was devastated. And my heart has never been whole since.” – Miriam Pollack on Circumcision.

There is no empirical data to justify her feelings so her emotional response can be easily dismissed. But Intactivist boards are filled with stories like this by women who listened to their child’s screams or who watched their boys go into shock and whose protective instincts caught fire in that instant of “too late.” What regret must a parent live with to know that she has subject her child to even the most momentary pain or, worse, to a lifetime of anger predicated by a decision in which her son had no part?

Whether or not you believe that the foreskin has any function; whether or not you have researched its function; whether or not you believe an infant is traumatized by this bizarre custom, the fact remains: the man your son will grow to be is left without a choice when you choose for him.

Hugh Young, the founder of www.circumstitions.com, speaking at a debate on religious circumcision, said,

“No matter how ancient, no matter how beautiful the ceremony … no matter how much it is perceived as binding people to their ancestors, no matter how divinely commanded – what is happening at the centre of this is that a baby is held down and part of his or her genitals are cut off, and they stay cut off for the rest of that person’s life…”

♦◊♦

The revised statement by the American Association of Pediatrics fails to address both the sexual function of our children’s genitals and statements by the medical organizations of other civilized nations which oppose routine infant circumcision on the basis of its barbarity and uselessness. The problem we step into with all matters sexual is the embarrassment caused by having to think about sexual pleasure and, more specifically, the quality of that pleasure. It tears at our puritanical scabs to consider that our infant sons will grow up to be sexual beings, yet the foreskin must serve a man in adulthood, for the most refined sexual pleasure possible. Not just for sexual pleasure that is “good enough.” So how can we avoid talking about it? It may be easier to “cut it off” — but easier for whom?

Even if circumcision were not violence, and even if the foreskin were not a functional part of the male sexual anatomy, why would it be anyone else’s right to decide to remove it? When we make a permanent choice that affects the adult sexuality of our infant boys, how do we justify the phrase “My body, my choice?”

 

 

Tom Gualtieri

About Tom Gualtieri

Tom Gualtieri is a performer, playwright, lyricist and director who maintains an ongoing collaboration with composer David Sisco. He is the recipient of the Best Actor award from the National Gay & Lesbian Theatre Festival for BAIT. He lives in New York.

 

Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

About The Weeklings

"The Weeklings' mission is this: a single essay a day, every single day. Their core company of seven contributors—one for each day of the week—covers politics, sex, music, art, literature, film, truth, justice and the American way. Save the day with @TheWeeklings !

Comments

  1. I was mortified when I learned as a preteen that boys were circumcised. None of the males in my family were. What a horrible first experience for someone who has just entered the world. A previous commenter posted links to publications on the resulting psychological trauma. It begs the question… if in the US, for example, a majority of baby boys are routinely circumcised, are we as a society manufacturing recurring generations of psychologically damaged people?

  2. Okay, lots of things here.
    1) FGM has absolutely no place, whatever, in this article. MOST men who are “mutilated” (circumcised) are still fully functional sexually (read: able to achieve orgasm) where women who are “mutilated” (mutilated) are not as the clitoris is the only way for MOST women to achieve an orgasm. I know it said that the author was not comparing them, fine. But if he’s not then there is no reason to even bring it up because they are NOT EVEN CLOSE TO BEING THE SAME THING.
    2) Telling me to “shut up,” that since I don’t have a penis I don’t have an opinion? Um, what? Considering the fact that a penis occasionally enters my vagina and that I might one day have a baby that just MIGHT have a penis, I believe I have every right to an opinion. Further, this post was tagged with “abortion” and “pro-choice” so I’m assuming that the author, or whoever, has an opinion about abortion, regardless of their lack of a uterus. Never mind their STANCE, the fact that they don’t have a uterus means they need to “shut up” and they shouldn’t have an opinion (if the infographic shown is upheld to all decisions that have to do with strictly male or female parts.)
    3) Do your research; circumcisions performed in hospitals use a local antiseptic. Like, you know when you get stitches and you can’t feel the pain of being repeatedly stabbed with a needle? Also, as far as I could tell most of these horror stories are from a long time ago. How many botched circumcisions are there now days? All the images I’ve seen are old and so is the data.
    4) This article said that uncircumcised men have more sensitive penises. To me, this would just make me not want to sleep with an uncircumcised man because that means he’s going to orgasm quickly, which means I probably wouldn’t get to, and what’s the fun in that? In a comment a woman (C. Williams) said that it’s better to have sex with an uncircumcised man “Because of the increased sensitivity of the head of the penis, the motions of love making are much gentler from a circumcised man.” Huh? Snore…. She goes on “Circumcised men must thrust deeply in and pull almost all the way out in order to feel.” Uh, most women I know like/love this… “This exaggerated motion, with the exposed coronal ridge voids the vagina of moisture making lovemaking painful for a woman.” Maybe for you sister, but I do not have this problem. You should look into lube. They sell it everywhere
    5) Can you PLEASE stop saying “intact” in place of “uncircumcised”??? I mean, a man’s pride is apparently in his pants and to go around saying that a circumcised man is not “intact” you are saying that he is “incomplete” “incapable” “inadequate” etc, which, dearies, is FAR from the truth.
    6) All this being said, while some things we don’t get a say in, like our names, I DO think that circumcision should be a choice left up to the owner of the foreskin. However, people are going to do what they want regardless of my opinions…

    • Agreed

    • Not to mention, I am not going to listen to the whole “you don’t have one, so shut up” argument until the mostly male government gets the hell out of my reproductive system. I would never vote for or stand with a party that was trying to make circumcision a law, so do your part and get on the right side of this very real fight that is occurring right now regarding women’s reproductive rights.

      And anyone that is ignorant enough to compare circumcision to female genital mutilation needs to see if they can stomach a video or two. Cutting off a toe and severing a leg is not the same thing.

      • So you’re just going to give an eye for an eye until they stop telling you what to do with your reproductive system? I don’t think that’s helpful. He’s got a penis. You don’t (I assume, at least, from your comment). He has a right to tell you that your opinion on his penis/circumcision isn’t relevant, just like you have the right to tell him that his opinions on your vagina/reproductive choices/etc aren’t relevant.

        If either of you do run into a sexual partner with or without an intact penis (and it is intact, ladies, not “uncircumcised” – just like our vaginas are intact and not “un-mutilated”), you have the right to have a conversation with that partner. If you have a son, you have the right to have that conversation with his father, to make that circumcision decision based on the best knowledge you have. But you don’t have a right to tell all males, or this male, to man up, to stop bitching, that he’s being over dramatic. You have no right to minimize his experience. His penis was damaged. To write that off as “a man’s pride is in his pants” is a sexist comment and it infuriates me that as women we go around saying things like that when we’ve been written off for far to long with statements that are just as moronic. There are far more men being damaged by this than we know about, and even if they aren’t, they have a right to speak up and say they don’t want to be circumcised as infants.

        I do think the comparison to FGM is a little over the top – but he straight up says he knows they aren’t the same. He’s trying to elicit a response. It’s a technique used to get your attention, and it worked…though I think a lot of women here got really defensive about it instead of hearing him out. He’s talking about someone forcibly doing something violent to his penis. How is that different than someone doing something violent to a baby girl’s vagina? We’d never tolerate that, and we’d be the first ones making comparisons to rape and FGM. The writer takes circumcision very seriously and wants others to know how he feels about it. There is no need to get defensive. We can all agree that FGM is horrific and needs to stop – and that circumcision being left to a grown man to choose might be a completely rational and sensible thing to do.

      • Gaius Baltar says:

        But cutting a toe isn’t allowed either.

        Most intactivists are also vocally pro-choice. You can count on that. But you don’t seriously think that patriarchal cultures came up with this by accident, do you?

        It’s designed to ‘weaponize’ the organ so it’s never satisfied and can be used more roughly (foreskin being a sort of ‘safety brake’ that prevents that). It’s designed to restrict men to intercourse for their pleasure and discourage any partner of a male from being able to stimulate him any other way. It’s also used to justify FGM and always will be for as long as it exists.

        They wouldn’t have thought of it if it didn’t also harm women. I will keep sticking up for your rights. I’d appreciate the same.

    • PREACH!

      I’m no fan of routine circumcision, but the hyperbolic comparisons to FGM, rape, and forced birth are ludicrously offensive and counterproductive. Counterproductive because everyone with a lick of sense knows they’re moronic, which is why using them serves only to undermine credibility. Have these people learned nothing from Reefer Madness?

      • Tom Gualtieri says:

        You should probably read the article before commenting.

      • wow….is this “the good men project”, a place where men can talk about being harmed by having parts of their penises cut off…or a place where women can come and shame men into silence???? Im confused.

    • 1. I can agree. However both are violations of the body of a person who can’t consent to the procedure. Pointing that is not a comparison (even though it is sometimes accused of being so).

      2. Yeah its not cool to be told that is it? In regards to abortion the sentiment of “If you don’t ovulate, stay out of the debate” has been around for a long time (even to the point where some guys have been told they shouldn’t even feel any sadness over the child that never will be). I know I’ve been told the “you don’t have one, shut up” line on abortion before even when I agreeing that it should be a woman’s final decision (it turns out she believed that men shouldn’t even have an opinion on the topic much less final say). I think that given the fact that we are all in this together we MUST be able to talk to each other and have thoughts and opinions regardless of who makes the final choice.

      3. Regardless of how many are botched, where they are botched, or how long ago they were botched they were still botched. I’m sure if FGM were done under cleaner conditions there would be a much less risk of infection and things going wrong. But I’m pretty sure making FGM more sterile wouldn’t suddenly make it okay. I’ve always found it odd when people argue “but circumcision is done under clean and sterile conditions” as if that makes altering a person’s body without there consent.

      4. So that woman’s preference and opinion isn’t valid? As for “She goes on “Circumcised men must thrust deeply in and pull almost all the way out in order to feel.” Uh, most women I know like/love this…” She may be talking about guys that go overcompensate and thrust too hard or go too deep (I’m assuming that not every woman is the same depth).

      5. That one I agree with.

      6. Agreed.

    • Thank you. This is an important in its own right but even with the caveat’s offered in this article, there is NOTHING to be gained from comparing male circumcision to FGM or the reproductive justice debate. This stuff smacks of the bullish*t “men’s rights” rhetoric that consistently diminishes the real impact of gender inequality in our society. What I like about this site is that it largely avoids that type of rhetoric, though I’ve seen it creep in on more than a few occasions recently.

      The arguments around male circumcision are compelling enough without comparing the issue to a 10 yr. old girls having her clitoral hood, clitoris, labia, etc. removed or her vagina sewn together. Make the case and let it stand. Don’t conflate the issue.

      • John Anderson says:

        @ Chrissy

        “there is NOTHING to be gained from comparing male circumcision to FGM or the reproductive justice debate.”

        I disagree. The article was not written for those who already disagree with routine male infant circumcision. It was written for those who have not yet taken a position on it. Some of these people may already believe in a woman’s right to choose and oppose people’s attempts to curtail this right despite their religious conviction. It’s simple. If you don’t believe that someone has the right to tell a woman what she can or can’t do or must do with her body because of your religious conviction, why should anyone including a parent, be able to dictate what a boy must do to his penis. Unless you believe in parental consent for minors to get an abortion, it should be an easy enough connection to make.

      • Gaius Baltar says:

        It’s not a comparison. It’s a correlation. Female circumcision started with male circumcision and as long as one version exists it will be used as an excuse for the other. When you talk about human rights issues there is no choice but to compare different violations of the same right. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is cut herself and makes the comparison.

        Any degree of cutting done on a girl, as she points out, should never be tolerated even if it’s the ritual ‘nick’ proposed as a compromise. A ‘nick’ that removes zero tissue is illegal on a girl, but a boy can have entire structures removed entirely. The question isn’t one of degree. This is about honing your own arguments against FGM too. NO form of mutilation no matter how mild should be performed on anyone. If the severity is the problem, that leaves a loophole for some FGM supporter to say, “We only removed this much.”

        This is a patriarchal practice forced on people’s genitals surgically. You’ve got to see that this is intended to harm women too.

    • ATYPICAL: I’m sorry but the magnitude of your ignorance confounds me.

      1) Many men, myself included suffer painful erections due to circumcision, so while I may still ejaculate, I often don’t orgasm (yes, look it up, there’s a difference).

      So is it your belief that the genital mutilation of others is acceptable if it doesn’t eliminate the ability to orgasm?

      2) You don’t have a penis so you don’t have a clue, period. And occasionally having a penis in your vagina does not give you a say.

      3) they still mess up circumcisions, but more importantly. We are born with it for a reason. It’s not stamped, “remove at birth” nor does it fall of on its own. I can’t think of another body part we arbitrarily remove at birth.

      4) You do understand that this statement indicates that you think it is acceptable to mutilate men’s genitals for your potential sexual satisfaction right? This is simply barbaric and I’m sure it’s exactly the type of thinking that results in FGM.

      5) INTACT – def; not altered, broken, or impaired; remaining uninjured, sound, or whole; untouched; unblemished…enough said.

      • can men come here to “the good men project” and share their concerns about having parts of their genitals cut off…or is it just a place where women can shame men into silence???

        Is the “Good men project”…. a voice for men, or a voice to shame men into silence???

    • Well, Atypical – this deserves a couple of responses.
      1) Incorrect. FGM, both type I and II, only seldomly causes loss of ability to have an orgasm. A high percentage of women, even type III FGM victims after defibulation, reported being able to have orgasms, consistently. (http://www.womenonwaves.org/en/page/4715/sexual-pleasure-after-female-genital-mutilation – refers to ‘Pleasure and orgasm in women with female genital mutilation/cutting, L. Catania, O. Abdulcadir, et al, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17970975 ). Feel free to google around a bit, you can find plenty of other research about this.

      2) Oh, most definitely, you are entitled to an opinion. Question is, in a hypothetical situation where you are pregnant with someone’s child – does the father of that child have a right to an opinion on whether you should have an abortion or not, or should they shut up too?

      3) I will assume you meant local analgesic. Said analgesic is by the way not effective in blocking the pain levels involved during circumcision. Studies show long-lingering psychological effects of the procedure for as much as weeks afterward, and during the neonatal stage, it takes a lot to cause that.
      There is plenty of recent data on male circumcision, especially for the US. The CDC reported in 2011 that, following an earlier increase in neonatal circumcision rates, rates decreased in the period 1999 to 2010. Citing three different data sources, most recent rates were 56.9% in 2008 (NHDS) 56.3% in 2008 (NIS), and 54.7% in 2010 (CDM). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prevalence_of_circumcision).
      As for complications from circumcision, it depends on what you’re talking about. If we’re talking ‘penis turns black and falls off’ level, then yes – the severe complication statistic in the US is around median 0-0.2%. Any complication falls around the 1.5% median. But if you’re looking at later complications in the form of changes to sensation of sexual pleasure, deformation, scar sensitivity or psychological effect? Upwards of 30%.

      Mull on that for a bit. 30% of the little over 50% of male americans born in 2010 that were circumcised, will grow up with their alteration complicating their sex life. That is a rather large number of people. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23374102?dopt=Abstract , Frisch, M., Lindholm, M., and Grønbæk, M., “Male Circumcision and Sexual Function in Men and Women: A Survey-based, Cross-sectional Study in Denmark,” International Journal of Epidemiology (2011);1–15.)

      As for the lack of pictures, the reason most medical pictures of intimate parts are old is because of changes in the legislation, protecting the privacy of patients, and copyright law. You find the greatest number of available images from the medical community in the public domain from 1960-1980. After that, studies often did not release images used in that study as public domain, but retained copyright of those images. Buy access to the studies if you really want recent images of malformed penises.

      4) So if I find that a woman orgasms too quickly for my tastes, I should insist she get circumcised?
      Endurance is something that is achieved by ‘training’, not by changing your body’s ability to feel stimuli. We men are not hardwired so that X nerveendings firing Y times results in an orgasm, it is a product of the mind as much as it is the body. To suggest we are so base we are ruled utterly by what our penis tells us is, frankly, quite offensive.

      5) This one… You are so far out of bounds you hopefully look back at this with a little perspective and feel ashamed for uttering it. After bringing up female genital mutilation as the abhorrence of complete loss of pleasure in point 2, you DARE to claim that a male’s foreskin has less value to their identity? Take your misandry elsewhere.

      6) Thank you. So your opinion in point 2 about your right to have an opinion even though you lack a penis should be given the same weight as you give everyone else’s, then?

    • Your wrong with # 3 Im and RN have been for over 35 years. Cercs are done with the infant strapped in a devise that places all four limbs out . a hemostat is used to crush the line to be cut then scissors is used to cut along the line, no pain killer is used at any time. Doc say they don’t feel it. infant screams the whole time. some have a bleed with has to be burned to stop it no suture are used There are other ways like the band witch is place around the foreskin until it fall off painless right. You don’t have a clue!

    • Wow that is really disturbing of you to argue.

    • Anonymous says:

      my foury’s so big i can use it as a tent when i go camping? yewww gotta luv it

    • Hi there. Oxford University compares female genital mutilation with circumcision. http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2013/03/announcement-journal-of-medical-ethics-special-issue-on-circumcision/

      Enjoy

  3. It is up to the owner of the penis, I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Circumcision has done me no favors! I have had bleeding abrasions from intercourse that a foreskin would have prevented. These abrasions have made me leery of having sex with my wife. Without the mechanical lubrication provided by a foreskin, I have to use artificial lubricant or sex would be painful for my wife and I. My parent’s chose this painful and unsatisfactory sex life for me and my wife and I simply cannot fathom why. I would never have chosen to have my foreskin removed. Only 1/16,667 intact males will have a problem with their foreskin, 99% of which can be treated with medicine not surgery. 117 babies die from circumcision a year in the US that is 9/100,000 babies that die each year from a cosmetic surgery. Men have lost their penis, glans, and suffered from deformity caused by the operation. It isn’t right that these children pay the price for a decision their parents made, a decision that should be left up to the owner of the penis. Even those who survive still have problems like mine, though they are seldom discussed. 

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ceht-3xu84I&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    http://Www.sexasnatureintendedit.com

    They didn’t tell you the functions of the foreskin, but they did lie to you and said it had health benefits. Did they also tell you it pays for their house, their cars, and their children’s college? FYI It is illegal to sell an organ taken from a patient but they still do it.

    Foreskin for sale: $155/500µg = $310,000/g = $8,788,345/oz.

    http://www.rockland-inc.com/Product.aspx?id=40484

    My numbers and claims are supported by these studies: 
    Dutch Medical society and their stance on RIC
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/dhipa1ei2rqj12q/KNMG-viewpoint-Non-therapeutic-circumcision-of-male-minors-27-05-2010-v2%20%281%29.pdf

    Meta-analysis of circumcision research 
    http://www.hindawi.com/isrn/urology/2013/109846/

    This document outlines the deaths caused by circumcision in the US.
    http://db.tt/0LW1FHVy

    All the myths about circumcision and how they are dispelled.
    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201109/myths-about-circumcision-you-likely-believe

    Boy wants to be a girl after botched circumcision
    http://www.courthousenews.com/2012/11/09/52144.htm

    Cost benefit analysis of circumcision. 
    http://mdm.sagepub.com/content/24/6/584.abstract

    US Navy Study that shows circumcision has no effect on HIV or STI infection rates.
    http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA458066

    Doctors around the world critique AAP’s circumcision opinion.
    http://www.circumstitions.com/Docs/aap-12-europe.pdf

    All the statements made by medical organizations about circumcision, and they are cited.
    http://www.cirp.org/library/statements/

    Men complaining about being circumcised against their will.
    http://www.mendocomplain.com

    Three Videos of Circumcisions they are very graphic.
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xjkd30_infant-circumcision-injection-and-procedure_news#.UYWGx7Vn7pI

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXVFFI76ff0&feature=player_embedded

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=MDuDhkiDdns

  4. *hugs you and doesn’t let go*
    Thank you for writing this article.

  5. I genuinely applaud the writer of this piece. It’s a very sensitive, delicate issue. Whilst I can see why comparing it to FGM can really ruffle a few feathers (and before anyone asks, I’m a woman with a doctorate on gender and politics) – I think the author has done a beautiful job. Not mentioning it will raise the question of ‘WELL WHY ISN’T IT THERE? IT’S IMPORTANT TOO? PATRIARCHY!!!!’ Saying it’s ‘even worse’, or ‘more important’ than FGM will get it shot down by most sane people.

    I really like what’s been done here:

    “Parallels to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), seem offensive when a parallel is mistaken for comparison. But let me be clear: I do not compare the two. I draw a parallel related to genital integrity”

    The way this article is written is one that both men and women (and everyone who is both/in between/neither) can relate to. I empathized at a visceral level at the author’s personal narrative, whereas the science he cited (on how the removed parts are the most sensitive) just sent shivers down my spine. Yes. Clear overlaps to the ways in which women are abused. Different, but parallel.

    By acknowledging both forms of pain, and the different ways in which they affect the well-being of a person, I feel as though the author provides a balanced treatment of the subject – and one all those who support the idea ‘my body, my choice’ can get behind. We can even ask more structural questions as to Who? Why? and What do we do about it?

    I am so grateful to have read this. Thank you for writing it.

    • “Parallels to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), seem offensive when a parallel is mistaken for comparison. But let me be clear: I do not compare the two. I draw a parallel related to genital integrity”
      While there are those that try the direct comparison at the same time there are more than a few folks that take nearly any instance of cutting both boys and girls in the same article as a comparison by default and then launch into “girls have it worse” mode.

      Both procedures are serious violations of a person’s bodily autonomy in the form their bodies being altered without their consent. Full stop (as the kids say these days.)

    • GSS, I’m also a woman with a doctorate relating to gender, and I couldn’t agree with you more. This is an important conversation to be having. Tom, thanks for writing this. My sympathy goes out tho the boys and men who have suffered as a result of their circumcisions…

    • ihavequestions says:

      – And some forms of FGM are vastly less invasive and traumatic than the typical American circumcision surgery.

  6. Stephanie says:

    I fought my husband, even conceded my sons’ first name, to keep him intact! Mothers DO have a lot of influence on circumcision, so instead of. ‘Shut up’ encourage them to keep their babies intact. My son will one day have his own sex life who can then decide if he’d like to alter his body. The mothers of these babies could be your greatest ally!!!

  7. The argument for circumcision really only comes down to two things, religion or hygiene.

    Religion: If you are a religious person I simply ask that you consider that if your god put it there, there was a reason for doing so. Otherwise your god made an error and I want you to consider the implications of that. How many people have had tonsils or appendixes removed because they were believed unnecessary?

    Hygiene: We don’t cut off peoples hands because some people don’t wash then effectively, we teach them to wash. The fact is, a penis has decidedly less nooks, crannies and folds to care for than a vagina. Is anyone suggesting that vaginas needs to be altered to make them easier to clean? I certainly hope not.

    The fact is, it is by very definition, genital mutilation. And, while you can spend all day arguing which is more severe there is one simple undeniable fact. Only ONE of these procedures happens daily in our hospitals in western civilized nations! This is a tragedy that needs to stop. ALL FORMS OF GENITAL MUTILATION ARE BARBARIC!

    • Hygiene: We don’t cut off peoples hands because some people don’t wash then effectively, we teach them to wash. The fact is, a penis has decidedly less nooks, crannies and folds to care for than a vagina. Is anyone suggesting that vaginas needs to be altered to make them easier to clean? I certainly hope not.
      Pretty much. Its amazing that people bring up the hygiene argument. And even the heavily contested “It decreases the risk of catching STDs/Is. Has it come to that now? Instead of teaching boys/men proper hygience and safe sex practices its better to just remove it to make things easier?

      What other body part, male female or otherwise, do we remove at that early of age for the sake of preventative maintenance?

  8. I am so thankful whenever I think of it that my parents decided to have me circumcised. I couldn’t imagine having to go through life without being cut. I don’t think woman should have any say in the discussion whatsoever. This is something that affects men and should be decided by men,

    • ihavequestions says:

      Let’s see how “thankful” you are after you are older, and begin to suffer from erectile dysfunction due to having been circumcised. Let’s see how “thankful” you are after your lady (assuming you are hetero) goes through menopause, and the pounding that you have to do because of your lack of penile sensitivity causes her pain.

      Your “thankfulness” does not justify the continued routine genital mutilation of baby boys.

    • Theorema Egregium says:

      Except that your mother certainly had a lot of say in the discussion.

      But now that an empathic supporter of genital cutting is here, I want to ask you a question, because there’s something I want to understand:
      I understand how anybody can have a deep emotional investment in staying intact and wanting others to stay intact. What I do not understant is how anybody can have an emotional investment in being cut as a child. I mean, it’s not like a on-the-balance-of-reasoning decision for you, the idea of being intact is actually abhorrent to you. Barring religious reasons, why could that be? Hygiene is a spurious reason, but even if you accept it it does not give a fervent conviction, does it?

      The only possible such reason I ever could come up with is that maybe people (like you) subconsciously feel that everything is not alright at all, and try to drown out that nagging suspicion (with the corresponding self-esteem issues) by loudly proclaiming that everything is more than alright. And as for the proselityzing, after all we often strive to convince others in order to convice ourselves.

      • Anonymous says:

        wow, give it a rest will ya, some people just like one thing over another, you don’t have to analyze the shit outta everything. a deep emotional investment, wow, it’s just appearance, most people won’t have any problems at all, you’re putting way to much thought into other peoples dicks. get a life.

  9. wallywood says:

    According to the author’s flowchart HE himself has no right or interest expressing his opinion.

    According to his flowchart the only person entitled to such opinion is a fresh-born infant.

    Oddly the word in-fant means “can’t speak.”

  10. Please don’t say “if you don’t have one, you have no say”. While I was still pregnant, I made the decision not to circumcise should my child be born a boy. I believe it is an outdated and barbaric practice. This despite family religious pressure to conform.

    I did indeed have a son & expect to discuss this with him when he’s older. My mother said my son wouldn’t be accepted into our religion. A close male friend (of the same religion, who is also against routine circumcision) assured me that nobody has ever requested to see his lack of foreskin!

  11. Wow. Some of you ladies are so over the top its pretty nuts. Reasonable women are recoiling in horror all over this article.

    The article states quite clearly that circumcision and FGM are not the same thing.

    I agree. But as a circumcised male, I can tell you I am REALLY NOT HAPPY that 90% of the nerve tissue in my penis was removed for no good reason.

    Thats all it says.

    In the future, when a woman tells me I have no right to an opinion on reproductive law (I am Pro-Choice) because I don’t have a vagina and uterus, I would like to thank you for providing me with the perfect refutation.

    For a bunch of people without penisis…you sure have opinions on what should and should be done to them on infant, innocent boys.

    But you don’t have a penis. So by your own rules…you are a total hypocrite.

    • Theorema Egregium says:

      It’s not quite as simple. Apparently you have a right to an opinion on abortion as long as that opinion is pro-choice. Likewise a woman is allowed to be pro-choice on this matter (being against infant genital cutting is nothing than being pro-choice — after all a man is entitled to have it done on his own volition anytime later). And that makes a lot of sense. You cannot have an opinion that forces an irreversible decision on others, but an opinion that grants the other person autonomy over themselves is always alright.

    • Wow. Some of you ladies are so over the top its pretty nuts. Reasonable women are recoiling in horror all over this article. The article states quite clearly that circumcision and FGM are not the same thing.

      Which is exactly why I said this above:
      While there are those that try the direct comparison at the same time there are more than a few folks that take nearly any instance of cutting both boys and girls in the same article as a comparison by default and then launch into “girls have it worse” mode.

  12. Why FGM and MGM are not the same thing?

    Most FGM is of the nick, pinprick, hood or labia removal variety, which are either not worse or similar to mgm.

    Wherever rusty blades are being used on women they are also being used on men.

    The same rationales are used for both.

    We have been deceived into believe they are not the same thing, by comparing the worst forms of FGM with the best forms of MGM.

  13. wellokaythen says:

    It’s like FGM. It’s not like FGM. What difference does that really make to the larger point? Whatever the similarities and differences, the basic argument sounds pretty valid and pretty gender-neutral:

    Don’t mutilate a baby’s genitals because it’s traditional or because it’s just what you do in your culture, country, hospital, whatever. You better have a damn good medical reason, and so far a lot of the so-called medical reasons are dubious.

    I cut my baby boy’s foreskin because the voices in my head told me to — lock me away.
    I cut my baby boy’s foreskin because someone 3000 years ago heard voices — no problem.

    If a person as an adult consents to being mutilated, then I have no problem with that. Snip away.

    If the vast majority of circumcised people would never volunteer for that as an adult, then that ought to tell you something. If if HAS to happen when the person is a baby or a child, then that ought to be a clue….

  14. wellokaythen says:

    People without penises are not allowed to have an opinion about male circumcision?

    If they’re against it, I bet you’d be okay with them having an opinion….

    If a female doctor was in the position being asked to perform one, I would like her to have an opinion, preferably deep scepticism about the medical benefits of doing so. If there are women on a hospital governing board examining the evidence about medical benefits, I want them to have an opinion based on good evidence. If there are women in the forefront of putting a stop to this barbarity, then good.

  15. The central question is why are we doing this to BABIES? People who can’t consent who are completely at the mercy of other people. Forget about the penises of grown men for a moment or how you feel about this as an adult. Forget for the moment that this is even about genitals at all.

    This is cutting something that (virtually) every boy is born with. We’re not talking about fixing a clept palate or a club foot. This is basically cutting a baby because you want to. Dress it up in tradition or religion or culture or aesthetics, but it’s basically “because I want to and you can’t stop me.”

  16. Well said Steve and Wellokaythen. Argue the severity ask you want. Any mutilation of any unwilling person is barbaric. It’s ok to do to a boy because girls have it worse its rediculous. Anyone can have an opinion, but, no one should be allowed to mutilate anyone without their express written consent, as an adult.

  17. I think the “Horror” of circumcision is being greatly over played here. I’m aware there are cases where being circumcised has led to health problems and a loss of feeling/pleasure for some. But speaking as someone who was circumcised later in life (10 years old) due to my foreskin being too tight and getting stuck. I wouldn’t say the experience was traumatic, it wasn’t pleasant but no operation is. I have a healthy and robust sex life which I enjoy immensely. I agree it should be your choice when it comes to your body. Nobody should make that decision for you but let’s not vilify a procedure for the sake of human rights.

    • Gaius Baltar says:

      Then what are human rights worth? One side argues that you shouldn’t have been cut unnecessarily. The other says you should have been cut whether there was a problem or not. And chances are your cutting wasn’t necessary either. A 10-year-old often isn’t retractable at all.

      Yes, let’s vilify a procedure (done by people who have no right, for the sake of profit and to alter human behavior) for the sake of human rights. You have a good sex life. What does that have to do with other people? Since you’re happy nobody else can complain? Lots of cut women say sex is great too. Adult women have been cut voluntarily. That’s not the point. The point is that each person should have a choice and the lies about human anatomy have to stop. Yes, let’s vilify medical fraud.

  18. Wow. This article really made me shiver.

    As a young adult living in Israel, having grown up in a modern Orthodox Jewish community, I have given the matter of circumcision a great deal of thought (despite your helpful chart above.) I envision myself becoming a mother and I am so torn between the immense pressure of the religious tradition and my own personal abhorring of the ritual. I recently polled my group of friends in favor or against circumcision, and those who are religious could so easily say they would obviously do it to their sons, while those who are secular can so easily say they would never do such a thing. To me I feel torn between the two worlds, and while I can’t imagine ever subjecting a child of mine to such a procedure, I also can’t be entirely certain of my ability to stand up to the societal pressures, and what kind of message I would give my children by doing or not doing it. Either decision is a statement. I would much rather make a statement that I believe in my child’s right to choose, but that also involves giving a finger to the religious rituals and values I was raised with. In short, I wish religion wasn’t so fucked up.

    I’ve read through the comments and I have to say, I was disappointed by the amount of people who insisted so harshly on correcting tiny little facts here and there. This article is so obviously not about facts, or whether the parallel to FGM and rape is legitimate or not. The point is crystal clear: circumcision, forgetting all health benefits and religious reasons and excuses we tell ourselves, is a violation of another person’s body and strips them of their freedom to make their own choices. Despite what I said in my previous paragraph, I agree with you one hundred percent and I think the phrase “routine infant” is just wrong on so many levels. I hope your message continues to spread and reach as many readers like me, who are stuck between a rock and a hard place, the pull of religion playing against their own morality. Please keep writing.

    • Have you read Maimonides’ Guide for the perplexed? It contains some reasoning for circumsision, like “It is hard for a woman with whom an uncircumcised man has had sexual intercourse to separate from him” or claims that it is done to weaken sexual stimulation and cause pain.
      The religious texts actually show that circumcision is done for the very same reasons as FGM, with the same justification. Please stay strong and don’t do it to your son(s) :)

  19. The “good men project” gets millions of dollars in federal funding to operate……so why don’t we let men share their concerns about being sexually mutilated as young boys…instead of having women shame them into silence????

  20. I’m confused as to why people are getting up in arms about comparing male circumcision to female circumcision- they are two sides of the same coin! The same way that those girls are having part of their healthy genitals forceibly removed (yes there are different kinds and different amounts removed: it’s still removal)- so are those male babies who are being circumcised. What’s so hard to grasp?

    Good article, it’s all true. Do your research. The foreskin is meant to be there- all mammals (male and female) have one. Look at the physical visible damage done *linked*~ there is an obvious difference between intact and circ’d penises. When circ’d the head becomes keratinizes and loses sensation. That’s a fact. What man would want that??. Routine male Circumcision should be banned the same way it is for females in the US. Equality anyone?

    http://Www.sexasnatureintendedit.com

    http://www.circumcisionharm.org/gallery%20intact.htm

Speak Your Mind

*