Germany: Circumcision is “Bodily Harm”

(Hey, guys, today is National HIV Testing Day! If you’re sexually active outside of a long-term relationship that you’re certain is monogamous, you should get tested for STIs regularly. If you’re in the US, you can find a testing site here. Nagging over.)

A German court has declared that penile circumcision for religious reasons is bodily harm and conflicts with the interests of the child later on to decide what religion they would like to participate in. This ruling is not binding, which means it has no effect on actual circumcisions performed on men, but may be used as precedent in the future.

I have to say, I’m uncomfortable with making religious male circumcision outright illegal. (I have similar discomfort with making illegal religiously-motivated female circumcision that causes an equally small amount of actual harm. (The vast majority of female circumcision does not fall into this category, instead falling in the category “horrific human rights violation.”)) People take their religions very seriously; many people will be willing to have circumcisions performed on their babies, perhaps in unsafe conditions, in order to satisfy their religious demands. In Germany, almost all circumcisions performed are performed for religious reasons, not for the cultural reasons that most circumcisions are performed in America. Therefore, reducing the rate of circumcision in Germany would involve the religion factor a lot more than it does in the United States, and actually forbidding it would be very concerning.


However, since this circumcision ruling is nonbinding, I have to hail it as a step forward. People should not make permanent changes to their children’s genitals for no health reason; if the children want to be circumcised, they may do so as adults. After all, what if they don’t want to be members of the religion? What if they’d prefer to keep their genitals unaltered, all things considered? Bodily autonomy is incredibly important; the right to control one’s own body is fundamental.

Ideally, I think, religions that have penile circumcision as a ritual would change and have only a symbolic ceremony with the infant. When the child gets older, they can decide for themselves whether they want to be circumcised in accordance with the religion’s dictates. (Some rabbis, mostly Reform, already perform a brit shalom, a naming ceremony that doesn’t involve circumcision.) After all, religions have changed in accordance with social mores for thousands of years– Christians no longer require that women’s heads be covered in church, the Mormons allow black men to be priests, and nearly all religions condemn slavery. The decline of circumcision would simply have to be another one they’d become accustomed to.

About ozyfrantz

Ozy Frantz is a student at a well-respected Hippie College in the United States. Zie bases most of zir life decisions on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and identifies more closely with Pinkie Pie than is probably necessary. Ozy can be contacted at or on Twitter as @ozyfrantz. Writing is presently Ozy's primary means of support, so to tip the blogger, click here.


  1. Historically, banning circumcision has been one of the main ways of attacking Judaism that has been used by governments that wanted to oppress/eradicate Judaism/Jews. There are a lot of stories praising Jews who circumcised their sons despite heavy persecution and personal risk, so religious Jews are likely to be extremely sensitive to any attempt to ban religious circumcision and see it as motivated by antisemitism and a red line that must not be crossed under any circumstances. I don’t think that religious Jews are going to “evolve beyond” male circumcision any time soon, even if there was a complete worldwide ban on infant circumcision for non-medical reasons (unfortunately).

  2. They may not remember the procedure, but they will remeber seeing the results and that may be bad enough.

    I’ve never understood the argument about how MGM get preformed in hospitals so it’s ok. If FGM was legal it would be getting done in hospitals too, that’s not a real difference between the two.

  3. Jesus_marley says:

    I’ve heard a lot of argument concerning the apparent qualitative differences between FGM and MGM and using the differences in “severity” as some kind of justification to allow MGM. In actuality the severity of the cut is irrelevant to the discussion. It is simply a diversionary tactic to steer away from the true argument. That argument is about choice and the absolute denial of choice for male infants. In terms of the act of circumcision, I have no dog in that fight. If you are of legal age, male or female, and able to consent, then I say do whatever you want to your body. whether it is for religious reasons or purely aesthetic. Where I absolutely draw the line is with the lack of consent. Infants and children are not legally able to consent. Therefore, unless in a medically necessary capacity, where their parents are given the rights to consent in their stead, the act of circumcision is nothing less than a physical and arguably a sexual assault on the person who is suffering the procedure. Any other argument falls flat in the face of this. Consent and bodily autonomy are of paramount importance. Just as with girls, her body, her choice, the same for boys, HIS body, HIS choice.

    • Mark Neil says:

      “I’ve heard a lot of argument concerning the apparent qualitative differences between FGM and MGM and using the differences in “severity” as some kind of justification to allow MGM. In actuality the severity of the cut is irrelevant to the discussion.”

      Exactly. It’s like claiming it’s ok to cut off 3 fingers so long as you don’t take the whole hand.

      • Here’s where I think the feminists go wrong on this one. It’s all wrong. No one should have their bits taken way, altered, cut on. I want to state emphatically prior to listing this theory that I think all circing is wrong, don’t agree but am reframing where this ranking about severity comes from.

        The difference I see is that one version of the really bad thing is performed in a hospital, potentially with local anesthetic, the care of physician (sterility, wound care etc), and done at an age with no conscious memory (though we have NO idea what the inner subconscious remembers), and the caretaking of parents afterwards and (most, and I’m NOT denying sexual function would be limited) men grow up to be able to orgasm, masturbate etc. and the other really bad thing is often done in a house, no anesthetic, by people who don’t have medical training, surgical implements, sterility, done by the maternal relatives themselves when the child is quite conscious of what’s happening and can often leave the woman unable to orgasm or experiencing lifetime vulvar pain, if not the worst case bad thing of sewing up the labia.

        i’m not even gonna get into the reasons either are done cause how do you possibly rank “for looks” and “to keep her pure” as anything but really evil both of them.

        Or, to use your example Mark, it’s like it’s ok to cut off three fingers in a hospital with trained staff, meds, antibiotics and physical therapy as opposed to triage surgery in the woods with no support at all. both are bad, I suppose if I had to lose three fingers I’d take the first option, but that either are considered reasonable is beyond me.

        So the feminists who argue this, of which I’m not one but disagree with them here, look at apples and oranges and don’t realize that both fruits are toxic, and do this dumb apples to apples thing which is the “how the procedures are done and severity of pain meds, sterility etc” without taking in that both are just wrong from the beginnings up.

        I have boys and it was no question from either of us that there would be no circ’ing for them.

        • And I wonder if MGM was done at 9 years of age, if people would reject it viscerally as with FGM because many people seem to think that infants don’t experience pain or something. Like…well, it’s just a newborn, he won’t remember etc. I wonder, culturally if FGM is done at 9 so that the girl WILL remember it, like…look what we can do to you, and we love you, imagine what those who don’t love you could do, or something like that.

          Because I think there are some other frames going on here and I don’t think any of them lead to anything good.

          • 1. A lot of male circumcisions are done outside of a hospital setting in the world. It’s not like all fgm in Africa is done in the bush while all mgm in Africa is done in a hospital.
            2. A lot of male circumcision is done at ages 7-11. For instance Muslims who account for about 70% of male circumcisions do so when the boy is no longer an infant or toddler.

            So people either (w/d)on’t know this or don’t care. Either way, the answer to your speculation as to how bad people would consider MGM if it was done to 9 years old can be observed in all its predictably depressingness.

        • katzentier says:

          Actually doctors in germany were advised to not perform religious (or cultural) motivated circumcions on people, who lack the ability to consent (children), even before this courtruling, due to the unclear legal situation. Of course it’s a different case for medical/health related reasons (like the foreskin being too thight), and if the patient is able to consent.

          So I think this ruling is great. There’s some debate left about wether reducing the risk of penile cancer should be a reason for widespread circumcision (I think the WHO advices this?), but penile cancer doesn’t occur very often, so I personally doubt if the benefits are worth the harm. And men should just decide this issue for themselves.

          Nothing has really been decided yet though. Our supreme court has yet to look at the issue and they’re rather conservative when it comes to religious and parental rights. But on the other side… we’re not letting jehovas witnesses kill off their children by refusing bloodtranfusions either. Bodily harm for religious reasons is bodily harm for religious reasons, no matter how severe and no matter which religion, and should not be allowed.

    • John Anderson says:

      That’s standard operating procedure for many feminists. If the impact on women is more severe, it is the severity that matters not the prevalence like in DV. Because men and women commit DV at about the same rate, feminists look at severity because 70% of severe DV is committed by men (3rd party DV, usually engaged in by women, is not counted nor is rape or forced to penetrate to my knowledge so it should be closer). Men commit suicides at about 4 times the rate of women. Since men are victimized more severely, feminists look at prevalence. Women attempt suicide at twice the rate of men. See how it works.

      What makes it worse is that these feminists are also highly dishonest. They won’t tell you that they are looking at instances of severe DV leaving the impression that they are talking about all DV. I’ve challenged that and they’ve been forced to clarify, but what if someone like me wasn’t around?

  4. I have to say, I’m uncomfortable with making religious male circumcision outright illegal. (I have similar discomfort with making illegal religiously-motivated female circumcision that causes an equally small amount of actual harm. (The vast majority of female circumcision does not fall into this category, instead falling in the category “horrific human rights violation.”))

    In a later comment you expanded:

    Some, however, are a single nick, which does not cause permanent harm. I am uncomfortable with making that illegal.

    It is far from the most common female circumcision, but Type 1a (removal of the clitorial hood)* are the exact anatomical analogue to male circumcision. I would not describe it as a single nick (neither would I describe male cirumcision as a single nick). Are you saying that that would be an acceptable form of FGM for religious purposes? Or do you consider type 1a to be not of equal small amount of harm as male circumcision despite it being an anatomical analogue?

    As a correction/addendum to a commenter who earlier said:

    5% of FGC is type 4 or simply a single nick

    I’ll just point out that type IV is not just a sinle nick, type IV includes “all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization.”. In short it also include burning and scarring the genitals and Gishiri cutting.


  5. The “harm reduction” justification for keeping male circumcision legal is an equally good argument for legalizing female circumcision, including the more extreme forms of it. Hell, especially the more extreme forms of it; the damage and bleeding and potential for infection, the better it is to have it done by medical professionals in a sanitary hospital rather than by god-knows-who in a back alley or somewhere in the Third World. If the idea of some back-alley butcher cutting off foreskins is bad- so bad that making the practice legal is the lesser evil- surely that same back-alley butcher performing infibulations is even worse.

  6. I love how you only ever see the “religious justification” arguments when it comes to MALE genital cutting. Even something comparatively minor as “nicking” is seen as a gross human rights violation… because it happens to girls.

    But, okay, you’ve stated that you don’t have a problem with “minor” FGM for religious purposes, so you’ve at least passed that test of the non-hypocrite.

    So: Now all we have to do is figure out how far does it go before it’s considered “not minor” any more. Exactly how much sensation can be lost before it’s considered “too much.”

    Personally, I’m a fan of “keep sharp objects away from children’s genitals unless actually medically neccessary.” There’s less chance of coming across as a hypocrite that way.

  7. “I have to say, I’m uncomfortable with making religious male circumcision outright illegal.”

    It’s not illegal. It’s just now illegal to do it on people without their consent.

    People make a song and dance about the difference between female and male genital mutilation. It seems to come down to severity, but I’m more concerned with the principle of the matter which is that people don’t have a right to cut bits of their new borns’ genitals out because they can’t consent.

    Yes it will lead to some tourism but not many people are upset about that possibility in Britain where FGM is done back alley style. Women get arrested and sentenced for that crime so will practitioners in Germany for doing male circumcision without medical justification.

  8. Hey, Ozy, quick question: Do you have a penis? No? Maybe then don’t consider regulating them (or in this case, don’t consider defending people deciding to cut bits off of infants).

    Or, at least, this is the exact argument used by many to say that cis men oughtn’t the be involved in anything related to women’s health.

    How about we don’t cut off parts of baby’s genitals, unless its medically necessary? How about that?

  9. ZimbaZumba says:

    RE:- ” The vast majority of female circumcision does not fall into this category, instead falling in the category “horrific human rights violation.” ”

    Do you have evidence for that? How prevalent is FGM anyway? My bet is circumcision is more prevalent by many orders of magnitude.

    • sannanina says:

      From Wikipedia:
      “Estimates of the proportion of males that are circumcised worldwide vary from one-sixth[66] to a third.[123] The WHO has estimated that 664,500,000 males aged 15 and over are circumcised (30% global prevalence), with almost 70% of these being Muslim.”

      “According to the WHO, 100–140 million women and girls are living with FGM, including 92 million girls over the age of 10 in Africa.[1] The practice persists in 28 African countries, as well as in the Arabian Peninsula, where Types I and II are more common. It is known to exist in northern Saudi Arabia, southern Jordan, northern Iraq (Kurdistan), and Nicholas Birch of the The Christian Science Monitor claims there is circumstantial evidence for its existence in Syria, western Iran, and southern Turkey.”

  10. @Ozy:

    I have to say, I’m uncomfortable with making religious male circumcision outright illegal.

    I’m all for circumcision–religious or not–being legal. Both male and female.

    What I’m against is involuntary circumcision–religiously motivated or not–being legal. Both male and female. Nontherapeutic infant circumcision falls under this category, since the person being circumcised cannot consent, and it serves no significant medical purpose. Also, the foreskin contains the large majority of the nerve endings of the penis, so it is not just a cosmetic operation.

    Part of my penis–specifically my foreskin–was cut off without my consent, and I want it back. But I can never, ever, ever get it back. No one had the right to do that to me, and my bodily rights should have been protected under law. And that should have been the case even if I had born jewish. My family is christian, but I’m atheist–as you noted in your post, just because a parent follows a religion, doesn’t mean their children will.

    If you are uncomfortable with the law protecting male infants… I don’t know what to say to you. I have a knot in my stomach.

    • “My family is christian, but I’m atheist”

      Then your circumciser wasn’t religious. Firstly because the bible says Gentiles (ie. non-Jewish Christians) shouldn’t be circumcised. The practice was introduced to the Christian West by Kellogg (yes, the cornflakes guy) because back then people believed masturbation was bad for you (remember the jokes about blindness from wanking?) and Kellogg advised circumcision to discourage masturbation.

      So not only is it not religious, and not only is there nothing wrong with masturbating, but it doesn’t even discourage it. The whole thing is crazy.

      • Then your circumciser wasn’t religious.


        The point I was making with that bit you quoted, however, was that just because a parent follows a religion, doesn’t mean that their children will as well once given the choice. And that applies to infant children of jewish parents just as much as infant children of christian parents. I was simply using myself as an illustrative example.

        In any case, it sounds like we’re in agreement. I just wanted to clarify.

        • Mike K. says:

          Saying your parents were Christian but you were atheist I thought you were implying that there was religious reasoning there. But ok I hear ya.

  11. I think if something is bad, it’s bad regardless of whether it’s done for religious reasons or not. I particularly don’t see why a cultural belief that something is OK is not acceptable, but a religious belief that something is OK is acceptable (or at least to be tolerated).

  12. Douglas Kirk says:

    I’m entirely against making religious male circumcision illegal, however I’m entirely for making religious childhood male circumcision illegal. I think priority for cosmetically altering genitals goes person who owns the genitals>everybody fucking else.

    If you can’t handle that your kids have to wait until they’re old enough to make decisions for themselves to have this religious ritual (that you’re going to brainwash them into believing they need anyway, the deck is stacked way in your favor) then you should not only not have kids, but depending on how many times you have it done and how safely it was performed, you should probably have your kids taken away from you and maybe do a little stint in the pen for child abuse.

    • It would fly in the face of all due process for legal repercussions to happen with the current set of laws. However with a good set of laws, that’s pretty much the thing to do.

  13. John Anderson says:

    Ze said

    “I have similar discomfort with making illegal religiously-motivated female circumcision that causes an equally small amount of actual harm.”

    Type 4 FGC involves a ceremonial prick of the vagina and causes significantly LESS trauma than a normal, successful, male circumcision. It also DOES NOT PERMANENTLY alter the female genitals like MGC.

  14. Did you really mean to say that female circumcision causes only a small amount of harm? What an irresponsible and uniformed thing to say!

    • No, I said “THAT causes an equally small amount of actual harm.” Most FGC is incredibly dangerous to the woman and permanently eliminates many sources of sexual pleasure; I would never deny that. Some, however, are a single nick, which does not cause permanent harm. I am uncomfortable with making that illegal.

      • The World Health Organization reports that maybe 5% of FGC is type 4 or simply a single nick that does not cause permanent harm. Roughly 85% of FGC is the dangerous kind where they remove parts of the labia and clitoris, the kind that has disastrous long term effects. I think it is irresponsible for you to imply that it has a small effect without acknowledging that the vast majority of FGC is mutilation of the genitals.

        • Uh, I did what now?

          I’m pretty sure most of my readers are aware that most FGC is an incredibly horrific human rights violation. But I’ll edit to make it clearer.

        • Ozy was pretty clear that zhe’s aware that the harmless form is pretty rare.

        • Mark Neil says:

          You seriously need to reread his post instead of kneejerk attacking. He was referring to the FGM that is not harmful, you know, that 5% you even acknowledge. He then proceeded to acknowledge in brackets that most FGM is harmful, ironically using terms also applicable to MGM)

          • He added that after my comment. Maybe you should have read his replies Where he said he would clarify before commenting.

      • Most FGC is incredibly dangerous to the woman and permanently eliminates many sources of sexual pleasure; I would never deny that. Some, however, are a single nick, which does not cause permanent harm. I am uncomfortable with making that illegal.

        Male circumcision is decidedly worse than “a single nick”. It removes roughly 20,000 nerve endings (compared to roughly 4000 in the glans penis). Depending on the man, these nerve-endings may not be important to sexual pleasure. But for some men their nipples are not important to sexual pleasure either, but that doesn’t mean it should be legal for people to cut off their infant boy’s nipples. Besides which, both nipples and foreskins can be fun to play with regardless of actual physical experience of pleasure, and removing them is denying their owner the chance to enjoy them.

        Typical male circumcision certainly isn’t as severe as the forms of FGC that prevent orgasm or create significant medical issues. But it is definitely more severe than the FGC of the “just a nick” variety. It is somewhere inbetween. It is absolutely severe enough that it ought to be illegal when it is involuntary and nontherapeutic.

        • To put it another way:
          If male circumcision on non-consenting minors is legal, then major labiaplasty on non-consenting minors should be legal too. The fact that there is currently a huge legal disparity here is ridiculous. They should both be illegal.

          • what are you kidding me? first of all, labiaplasty is physically analogous to scrotal removal. the “just a nick” thing is also worse than circumcision. it’d be like “just nicking” the head of the actual penis. it’s not likely to cause permanent harm, but still worse than prepuce removal. FGM type 1a (the a part is very important here) is the analogous procedure, but they aren’t done in sterile conditions (or even very clean ones), and it’s way less than the 5 percent she listed, as it is “invariably” followed by 1b (total or partial removal of the clitoris).


  1. […] These are comments by Douglas Kirk, Jesus_Marley, katzentier and Julie Gillis on the post “Germany: Circumcision is ‘Bodily Harm’“. […]

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