Why Do We Still Circumcise Boys?

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About Chuck Ross

Chuck Ross is a freelance writer living in the Midwest. He blogs daily at Gucci Little Piggy where he writes on economics, social commentary, and men's issues.

Comments

  1. What we focus on, what we find horrible and what we accept is decided by the powerful.
    The reason we left male victims behind is because people in power, as in people that decide and shape our discource of who and what a victim of genital mutilation is, found it convinient to theit goals to leave out males. Why it was convinient?
    dunno really. Can be because male victims doesn’t mesh vhit their over arching filosophy, or any other reason.

    • I think the reason female mutilation is seen as more barbaric than circumcision is that the process is more violent/bloody/harmful- It can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth increased risk of newborn deaths.
      I’m not saying male circumcision is good, but I get a feeling you think men are being ignored by those flaming feminists and I don’t think that’s case.

      • I’m not saying male circumcision is good, but I get a feeling you think men are being ignored by those flaming feminists and I don’t think that’s case.
        I can’t speak for Nistan but I think the problem is that said feminists on one hand say they want rights for men and boys but then turn around and defend circumcision.

        If you bring up cultural and traditional justifications….
        FGM: The culture doesn’t matter, it’s bad.
        MGM: Well there Jewish people and Muslims that practice it…..

        If you bring up sanitation:
        FGM: Look at how unclean the conditions are.
        MGM: At least it’s done under clean conditions.

        It seems that the hardline stance of being for a person’s bodily autonomy seems to change depending on whether we are talking about male or female bodily autonomy…..

    • I would also guess that the reason mutilations only really happen to men in N. America and W. Europe is that this extra discouragement from sex wasn’t necessary for women: In these times women couldn’t access contraception so their dalliances would be obvious and therefore punishable. I also think that women didn’t find so much pleasure in sex in centuries past- at least judging from old literature it seems to me sex was something you let your husband do to you as part of your “duty”, not something to seek out for pleasure.

  2. wellokaythen says:

    The decreased risk of certain medical conditions may be true, but then the question for me is how common are these conditions, and how much of a decrease does circumcision really bring? I suspect that this is a case in which millions are circumcised, but maybe a hundred cancer cases are prevented.

    By this logic, we should immediately take out every newborn’s appendix, a part of the body that is inherently dangerous. It can kill you, after all. Or remove the penis completely, which ought to seriously reduce the transmission of HIV if you did it to all boys….

    • Or perform mastectomies to prevent breast cancer down the road. Goes to show you that once a tradition or ritual is entrenched people will go to great lengths to rationalize its purpose.

      • Or remove one testicle/ovary to reduce the chances of ovarian/testicular cancer by 50%. Sure that means if you develop cancer in the remaining one you better hope you already had kids but what’s that matter when “PREVENTING FUTURE AILMENTS!!!”.

        Or remove the penis completely, which ought to seriously reduce the transmission of HIV if you did it to all boys….
        Don’t joke. There are already people (and not lone nutters as HeatherN like to call them sometimes) that regard the penis as a weapon that has killed more women than anything in history.

        • wellokaythen says:

          I know the ‘slippery slope’ argument can be a logical fallacy, but it sure is tempting. It’s one of my favorites when it comes to the ‘shoe on the other foot’ scenarios.

          Perhaps FGM, in making orgasm more difficult, also reduces the likelihood of sex addiction among young women. I’m sure if some African subcultures made that argument, they would be roundly denounced as barbaric and misogynistic.

          Thought, to be fair, this issue may have very little to do with women whatsoever. I only bring them up as a point of contrast. I bet dollars to donuts that 95% of the male circumcisions in America are performed by men, just as the vast majority of FGM is done by women. The question is why do we do this to our own gender?

          • I bet dollars to donuts that 95% of the male circumcisions in America are performed by men, just as the vast majority of FGM is done by women.
            But the trick there is when talking about women that perform FGM on girls that gets pushed to the side because patriarchy. Seriously how often do you hear about calling those women out as if they actually play a part in it?

            I know the ‘slippery slope’ argument can be a logical fallacy, but it sure is tempting. It’s one of my favorites when it comes to the ‘shoe on the other foot’ scenarios.
            Certainly is. Especially when you have clear examples that the slope implication might be right (here in the States even ceremonial nicking of girls is denounced as wrong but full on foreskin removal can be claimed on insurance).

            • wellokaythen says:

              As I understand it, in the case of some very ancient forms of foreskin removal still practiced in a few subcultures in the U.S., the mohel follows hallowed practice and places his mouth on the bloody penis after the removal of the foreskin. (Admittedly, I’m getting this from Christopher Hitchens, not the most balanced of sources on such topics….) Perhaps this became part of the ritual because human saliva has coagulant properties that would have had few substitutes 3000 years ago. In most cases outside of religious doctrine, I’d call that a form of child abuse.

            • I seem to recall that there was a case a few years back where one mohel had transmitted a sexually transmitted disease (Herpes Type I)to a child while doing this practice. There was talk about a prosecution against him, but apparently it didn’t go anywhere.

              And a quick google confirmed my memory. A report from CDC ( http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6122a2.htm ) found that 11 newborn boys were diagnosed with an HSV infection from November 2010 to December 2011. 10 of them were hospitalized and 2 of them died. In 6 of these cases it was confirmed that the practice wellykaythen mentioned (metzitzah b’peh) had been performed. The remaining 5 cases also most likely were caused by some orogenital contact/suction. The parents of one of the deceased boys declined to identify the mohel who had performed the metzitzah b’peh. I can only assume that this mohel continues to put infant boy’s lives at risk.

              To sum it up; some orthodox people are using religion to support, defend and perform the practice of orally sucking the bleeding wounds on the penises of 8 days old infant poys. The government seem to be powerless to forbid this. If that is not proof that religious exemptions should NOT be off the table I just don’t know what to think of humanity.

              Today I learned that the Talmud states an clear exception for circumcision. If TWO (not one!) brothers have died from complications from circumcision then the third brother should not be circumcised. I guess they discovered the hereditary forms of hemophilia the hard way.

            • I seem to recall that there was a case a few years back where one mohel had transmitted a sexually transmitted disease (Herpes Type I)to a child while doing this practice. There was talk about a prosecution against him, but apparently it didn’t go anywhere.
              Yeah I remember a few times hearing moms complaining about not being able to have it covered by med insurance anymore. So it may not be covered by as many companies as was in the past. But still, it’s pretty sad that you can possibly claim a violation of a boy’s body on med insurance.

  3. given that judaism managed to survive and even sometimes thrive in hostile environments for many thousands of years, perhaps circumcision is less effective at weakening sex drives and fertility than you imply.

    • Men slaving away 72+ hours a week in mines also survived usually long enough to sire children. Does this mean we should undo union’s work and make 72 hour weeks mandatory and remove sanitary and security requirements because it doesn’t kill entire populations?

    • ditto what Schala wrote. people can survive *despite* such conditions. it becomes a more meta question of whether they are being treated properly in a system that takes something away from them without their consent.

      • wellokaythen says:

        I think dhex’s point was that the “weakening sex drive” idea may not really work in the first place, so not only is the anti-male-sexuality motivation immoral and outdated, it doesn’t work anyway. I suspect she agrees with you about circumcision?

        • The hormonally-driven libido is unlikely to change. The “not in the mood for it” and “would prefer better conditions for it” might have higher standards, maybe due to pains when erect and such.

          But never doing it? I doubt. Unless complications make it completely impossible.

          How often do you need to have sex to sire a child? Once if at the right time.

          • my point was that the dancing around decreased fecundity – much less sex drive – is a red herring. whether circumcision is a good idea or a bad idea, this particular line of argumentation is complete bunk.

            • You are misunderstanding the argument. The problem with weakened sex drive is not reduced fecundity. I am sure you can see the difference between the two.

              Even in a polygynous arrangement not a lot of male sex drive is necessary to keep all the wives pregnant, so that is not the issue.

    • cosmopolite says:

      Moslems circumcise, and Moslem nations have the highest birth rates on earth. The effect of circumcision on the male sex drive is highly variable in extent and age of onset. In most cases, the problem is not evident until a man is past his reproductive prime. The variability I speak of is so high that few of us are aware of the nature and extent of the problem. The signal to noise ratio is too small.
      I remain astounded that there has never been a study in an English speaking country of the possible correlation between circumcision and ED/PE. This despite the fact that urban middle class American families began circumcising around 1890. To assert that circumcision has no effect on sexual pleasure and functionality is a huge leap of faith, devoid of all evidence.

  4. cosmopolite says:

    “First and last,” says Frisch, “whether childhood circumcision is acceptable or not is an ethical question, not a medical one.”
    The AAP will never agree, and put Diekema on the panel as a bulwark against ever having to admit this. If American admits that circumcision is primarily an ethical issue, that puts Jews all around the world in an extremely delicate position, and we can’t have that. It would also complicate the USA’s dealings with the Moslem world.
    I agree with Frisch when he asserts that cultural bias is to blame for the AAP’s new stance. I also believe that the AAP misinterpreted and cherry picked the “evidence” so-called. But proving these beyond a reasonable doubt will be very difficult.

  5. Is this possibly a reason behind the scenes in the US? [On Germany's ban]

    “Women’s rights groups and social policy makers also condemned the decision, but for the reason that it would have the effect of putting male and female circumcision on the same footing, when they were “in no way comparable”, said Katrin Altpeter, social minister in the state of Baden-Württemberg. Female circumcision she said, was a far more drastic act. It is already outlawed in Germany.”

    • John Schtoll says:

      OMFG: Did that person just say that “Women have it worse” and we can’t allow boys to receive any kind of acknowledgement of pain and suffering because it might take the focus off women and girls. Wow, we really do live in one screwed up world don’t we. People really do believe this is all a zero sum game.

      “Women’s rights groups and social policy makers also condemned the decision, but for the reason that it would have the effect of putting male and female circumcision on the same footing, when they were “in no way comparable”, said Katrin Altpeter, social minister in the state of Baden-Württemberg. Female circumcision she said, was a far more drastic act. It is already outlawed in Germany.”

      • Agree 1000% John. Especially considering that the quoted pundit admits that female circ is already illegal. How does making forcible circ illegal for *both* genders constitutes stealing thunder from women.

        Apparently, if we give men full human rights then women will have to share the stage and this devalues women’s human rights??

        • I’m a feminist but I agree that giving women rights does not rely on taking men’s rights to good health away.

  6. Peter Houlihan says:

    “Male genital mutilation—including circumcision—stems from a historical desire to control the sexuality of males.”

    I can think of one (modern) example where this is true, but ancient MGM and FGM exist in a wider pool of body modifications which were used as a rite of passage and a badge of ethnicity. If it were as simple as controlling sexuality then wouldn’t it be limited to genitalia?

    • If it were as simple as controlling sexuality then wouldn’t it be limited to genitalia?

      Um….do you really mean to say you don’t consider the foreskin to be part of the genitalia?

      • He’s saying there were other modifications too. For instance scarring the face or putting those big plates/hoops in the ears, lips or nose.
        They might have had a different function though, unrelated to sex. Some clothes are very thin and see-through- that doesn’t prove that no clothes are intended to keep you warm and covered up.

  7. An important point about polygamy that some may be missing here — in polygamous societies, there is always the problem of large numbers of unattached males with no access to women. Polygamous cultures deal with the problem in various ways: (1) develop customs that permit a certain amount of sexual promiscuity to married women (this is apparently common in some subsaharan African cultures), (2) prostitution (forms of which have existed for centuries in Africa, e.g. independent women or widows selling their sexual services), (3) send the boys off to war where they can steal women from enemy tribes (a very common strategy historically around the globe), (4) kick excess young males out (practiced by the Mormon polygamists to this day; in other cultures, young men live apart from the community until marriage), (5) segregate the women and guard them constantly (Middle East), and finally (6) reduce male sex drive through genital mutilation.

    • That’s 100% mythical and in fact hysterical. In fact, you can’t point to any such society, citing actual facts where wars were waged due to shortages of women because of polygamy, as one example.

      The reason you can’t point to any such society is that there are more female than males, almost always. Hence, men marrying multiple women actually serves to keep there from being large numbers of unattached women. Further, you can only marry as many spouses as you can deal with and afford. Therefore, even people who are born poly, even where it’s legal, are limited to how many spouses they can handle and/or afford.

      • sorry, but please show me statstics that there are more available women than men in polygamous societies where the men with resources all have 3 or more wives. What do you do with the extra men? And although I agree wars are about wsy more than women, in tribal societies, attacking neighboring tribes for women was quite common, the Bible even talks about how to treat women csptured in war — you have to wait 30 days or something before you can rape them, which I guess was supposed to be civilized and godly.

        • I repeat:your claim that (and I quote), “in polygamous societies, there is always the problem of large numbers of unattached males with no access to women” is mythical. There is 0% truth to that statement.

          “sorry, but please show me statstics that there are more available women than men in polygamous societies where the men with resources all have 3 or more wives.”

          As for this statement, It is YOUR claim that here are “ALWAYS LARGE NUMBERS of unattached males with NO access to women, so YOU must show ME statistics to support it.”

          Thus, you are the one that must backup your claim. Anybody can Google population statistics. You won’t find LARGE NUMBERS of women with NO access to women.

          Furthermore, show wars or attacks that were committed because of there being “large numbers of unattached males with no access to women”, including Bible accounts.

          Your theory is complete and total fantasy. If people are born poly, they (men AND women) should have the right to live as they are, not as you want to force them to live.

          Show me historical information that wars were fought to get women since there was a shortage. Never happened.

  8. Christopher Young says:

    Sorry to be a grumbling outsider (it’s not an issue in the UK), but this issue gets me more and more annoyed the more I read about it. It’s bad science and bad argument.

    IF there’s any higher risk of contraction of infections, then it’s only if you’re exposing yourself to these infections in the first place. It’s utterly misguiding the issue. It’s hiding under a genuine issue to pardon a what I would argue is a socially accepted physical abuse.

    The foreskin performs at least two functions – the removal of something functional when there is no problem with it is mulitation, plain and simple.

    [that's my internet grumble for the day]

    A little side question out of curiosity: Is this something that has to be paid for by the parents? Is it covered under health insurance? Maybe if it had to be paid for out of pocket then it could begin an incentive in abandoning the practice – just a thought.

    • My understanding is that most health insurances stopped covering it after 1999 when AAP in it’s previous statement on circumcision stated that it’s not necessary. That increase in non-coverage is considered a major contributor to the decrease in circumcision one has seen in the US the last decade or so.

      The new statement from 1999 will perhaps change this as this statement from Dr. Douglas Diekema (who is a not exactly neutral member of the academy’s circumcision task force) states:

      The tone of the policy certainly shifts somewhat in favor of circumcision in that it recognizes that there are clear medical benefits that outweigh the risks of the procedure, and that those benefits are sufficient to justify coverage by insurance.

      It’ll be interesting to see if greed is a strong enough factor for insurance companies to continue keep circumcision outside their health insurance coverage.

  9. El Profe Chicano says:

    Bravo!!! Excellent piece and great analysis…and thank you for looking for GLOBAL facts and evidence…it is only when you read info outside the US do you realize that we circumcise because so many decision makers are in fact circumcised…so it must be good. Most of the world’s men are natural and intact and the sky HAS NOT FALLEN!!!

  10. cosmopolite says:

    The party line coming out of the Harvard and Johns Hopkins Schools of Public Health is that the USA underclass is undergoing an exponential increase in heterosexually transmitted AIDS. Young men and women at the bottom of American society are assumed to be either too poor or too demoralised to use condoms, and too lecherous to give up casual sex. The AAP has endorsed the position that a way forward is to make sure that boys born to underclass mothers are circumcised at birth, with Medicaid covering the cost. None of this can be stated on the record, under pain of being denounced
    for racist and elitist thinking.

    The AAP’s main goal was to make it hard for private health insurers and Medicaid to decline to cover the cost of RIC. American medicine believes that it always knows what is best for patients, and find it galling when third parties refuse to cover the cost. The AAP privately realises that changes in the way educated parents think about sexual pleasure and functionality doom RIC in the white middle class. But hey that’s OK, because boys raised in such families don’t deserve much of the blame for the STI explosion around us. American medicine wants to be free to twist the arms of underclass mothers, until they agree to let their boys be circumcised. This can succeed only if the impoverished mother is not out of pocket if she says yes.

    50-100 years from now, having a bald penis will signal “I was born to a single mother on welfare, and society did not trust me to learn sexual morals.”

  11. J.G. te Molder says:

    The study in Africa that “showed” that circumcision reduces the chance of HIV-infection flies flatly in the face of common sense as well as statistics. It is also a flat-out, fraudulent and incomplete study performed by not a biologist but a women’s studies/social studies major as well as man-hating radical feminist.

    What’s the country with the most male circumcisions? The US. What the country with the most HIV infections? You guessed it.

    And now the UN is going around circumcising 18 million African men because it prevents HIV, lying to them that they can no have unprotected sex without having to worry about AIDS.

    Wonder why?

    Well, the removed foreskins are processed into women’s facial creams, and with circumcision on the decline in the west and especially in the US, pharmaceutical companies need a new supply. Presto, 18 million African men, a good portion of which, along with the women they will infect, will be killed off in the next couple of years.

    Oh, enjoy watching a video of circumcision here: http://www.can-fap.net/

Trackbacks

  1. [...] have a post up at GMP about circumcision and the Association of American Pediatrics’ switch towards [...]

  2. [...] For more on this controversial issue, read “Neonatal Circumcision: A Matter of Personal Choice or Public Health?” and Chuck Ross’s “Why Do We Still Circumcise Boys?” [...]

  3. [...] Read more on Health, Psych & Addiction [...]

  4. [...] Why Do We Still Circumcise Boys? - Chuck Ross points out that as gender discussions of the past few decades have focused on female sexuality, we have lost sight on how society places limits on male sexuality, the removal of the foreskin serving both functional and symbolic purposes. [...]

  5. [...] Sexual Pleasure At Birth Posted at 1:46 on September 5, 2012 by Andrew Sullivan Chuck Ross corralls the research against circumcision. Numbers worth emphasizing: In research recently published in the [...]

  6. [...] that the child is unable to provide consent at the time of the procedure, however, many argue that circumcision is an unethical practice that robs boys of their right to make decisions about their own [...]

  7. [...] Ignoring these genetic differences causes health organizations to freak out and call for policies like universal male circumcision that might benefit Africans and other blacks but are less effective for other [...]

  8. [...] my decision, the arguments against it are more convincing. Some believe circumcision is a form of genital mutilation. Others have told of circumcisions gone wrong. These stories confirmed that we made the right [...]

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