Saturday, February 18, 2012

Circumcision

I have always been fascinated by the act of circumcision. It is one of those acts that, even though I approve of the look of the penis afterward, I find so barbaric and unnecessary an act, that it honestly bewilders me why so many people still decide to circumcise their newborn sons, or to voluntarily submit to circumcision as an adult.

I know there are many arguments for why people say circumcision is a good thing. They say it makes the penis cleaner, reduces infections, reduces the risk of penile cancer, eliminates a problem called phimosis (where the foreskin becomes tight and in some cases painful), may help prevent the contraction of HIV, may reduce the rate of masturbation, may help provide skin for burn victims, may improve sexual longevity, and, as if the list wasn’t long enough already, makes the penis a more beautiful organ.

I dispute, or have issue with, most of these claims. For starters, circumcision as a means to improve cleanliness is so ridiculously absurd that I find it laughable. There is a great little invention called soap, and so long as a person washes with it on a regular basis, having a foreskin should be no problem.

Secondly, circumcision may honestly reduce the rate of infection that can occur under the foreskin, but I fail to see how circumcision is preferable to a small dose of penicillin, a swab of alcohol, or some other form of antibiotic or germ killing agent. And just because you are circumcised, doesn’t mean you will never get an infection—some infections can actually be caused because of the circumcision. And it occurs to me that the logic behind this reason is comparable to cutting off a baby’s ears because at some time in his life he might get ear infection. I don’t see anybody rushing out to cut off a baby’s ears any time soon, but apparently the logic makes sense to some if we’re talking about the penis.

Thirdly, of course, if you remove a part of the body, you eliminate the potential for cancer in that part of the body. But that doesn’t mean we should go chopping off every part of the body that could become cancerous when first born. If we did that, we’d have to remove the lungs, brain, pancreas, liver, and a whole host of other body parts that I’m sure most wouldn’t/couldn’t do without. And besides, we’re only talking about the “potential” for cancer. Just because you have a foreskin doesn’t mean you’re definitely going to get cancer. This reason to circumcise, like those before it, just seems moot to me. Leave the skin until there is cancer. Then, if necessary, circumcise.

Fourthly, as with cancer, circumcision to prevent the possibility of phimosis (or even other such similar problems) just seems extreme. Not all males with foreskins will grow up to have this problem, so why not leave their skin alone unless they do end up having this? And, in some cases, this problem can be solved over a period of time by simply stretching the foreskin over the glans little by little until the tightness is no longer significant.

Fifthly, it is absolutely stupid to believe that circumcision can prevent or in any serious rate reduce the risk of contracting HIV. I hear this argument and I just want to cringe by the misinformation and deceitfulness of it. Safe sex or abstinence is the only real prevention for contracting HIV. Circumcision is no cure, and it is frankly idiotic to be circumcised for this reason. Use a freaking condom and keep your skin—even if you get circumcised, you’ll still need to use a condom or practice abstinence to be any better protected. There is no real benefit here in being circumcised (and yet half of Africa is buying into this notion).

Sixthly, circumcision absolutely does not reduce the rate of or prevent the practice of masturbation. You need only ask those who are circumcised to know that this is true.

Seventhly, foreskins may be used for burn victims, and if so, at least they’re going to some good, but that doesn’t mean a person has no right to make the decision to contribute a part of himself for this reason. If an adult male wishes to have himself circumcised in order to help a burn victim, then I think that’s great. But to circumcise a baby for this reason, just isn’t right. Likewise, this applies to medical research and testing.

Eighthly, circumcision may improve sexual longevity? If this is true, it is probably only because the glans of the penis has become desensitized over a lifetime of being rubbed by clothing. That or the brain has learned to turn off such stimuli. I find either reason a poor excuse for circumcision. If you want longer sexual experiences, just stay in bed longer and try for round two and so forth (or practice holding off orgasm, either way).

Ninthly, I understand the arguments concerning looks. If you are circumcised and have a son, it may seem only natural to want your son’s penis to look like yours. But, looks shouldn’t really matter in this regard. If your son had your mother-in-law’s detestable green eyes (I’m not saying I dislike green eyes—it’s just an example) instead of your brown, is that a reason to have your son’s eyes removed or dye injected into them to make them brown? Of course not! You’d let them be. So, if your son isn’t born circumcised like you are, why not also just let him be in this regard?

And then for all those who find a circumcised penis more pleasant on the eyes, I can say that I sympathize, because I too prefer the look of a circumcised penis to one that is not circumcised. But I find this a shallow reason to have a newborn baby circumcised. Again, if the boy grows up and decides on his own that he wants his penis to look this way, then that would be great. But not all boys may want to grow up seeing a scar around their penis and the glans exposed all the time. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in this case, each male should be given the choice to decide how his body should look. This should be a personal decision made by no one but the individual himself.

And now, in addition to the reasons I’ve already mentioned, here are some more good reasons not to circumcise. Each year, many newborn males die due to complications of circumcision—usually by bleeding to death. I don’t know about you, but to know that my son died due to an unnecessary procedure would bother me greatly. And then there are always potential problems in the healing process of circumcision. The wounds can become infected, skin bridges can form where the skin didn’t heal together fully, and in some cases the skin can fuse to the glans itself. There is also the potential for too much skin to be removed, causing erections as an adult to be painful due to the skin being tightened too much. And then there is the whole sensitivity issue. Some people believe circumcision causes no decrease in sensitivity, while others believe it does. We can think logically about this for a moment, and if we do, we might at least admit that to some degree circumcision does in fact cause some loss of sensitivity—either physically or perceived. As I mentioned earlier, if clothing is rubbed against the glans all the time, that would have to either numb the glans, or the brain would have to adapt by ignoring the stimuli. Otherwise, you’d always be sexually stimulated with each step you take. And from what research I’ve done, this seems true considering how many uncircumcised men talk about how sensitive the glans is. Most circumcised men don’t talk about their glans being sensitive just to the touch. A lot of uncircumcised men, however, do say this. But to know for any certainty on this issue, we’d have to ask someone who has been circumcised as an adult and experienced both worlds. Again, from what research I’ve done, most men who were circumcised as adults say there wasn’t a lot of decrease, but that there was some decrease in sensitivity after being circumcised. Depending on the person and their needs, however, I suppose loss of sensitivity could be a good thing or bad thing—perhaps someone is just way too sensitive uncircumcised to find pleasure when sexually stimulated. And then there is pain. Not until recent years did doctors do much, if anything, to decrease pain during circumcision—and many still won’t do anything to help prevent this today. Pinch a baby and tell me he can’t feel it. Cut off his foreskin and I’m sure he’ll feel that too (find any video online of infant circumcision and you’ll see a baby squalling). And then there is the healing time. It can take months for a baby to heal from being circumcised, same as with an adult. In both cases, this can bring discomfort, swelling, infection, and, yes, pain. And for a baby, any pain caused by circumcision is needless.

Then we come to the question of religion. Is it acceptable for Jews, Muslims, Christians, or other religious groups to circumcise their male sons? I would say no. I understand why people of faith would want to circumcise their sons if their religion dictates such a thing. However, just because you circumcise your son, doesn’t mean he will grow up to practice or believe in that faith. I hold to this belief, much as I do with infant baptism. I believe both should be a sign of faith on the individual’s part. If a man believes in God and wishes to follow Him in faith, then let him be baptized, or, in this case, circumcised. Either, I believe, should be a personal decision.

But let’s think about the religious aspects of circumcision a bit further. There are many religions out there. And there are many new religions formed all the time. We have allowed circumcision of infants because it has been practiced for thousands of years. But if one or the other of a more new religion began dictating that newborn males should be tattooed, would we allow this? Or if there was a mandate that the earlobes be cut off, or the right hand be branded, or the left hand pinky finger be removed (after all we can live without that finger), would be really approve or allow such practices? I seriously doubt it. And so, with that in mind, why would we continue to allow circumcision? Just because it’s been allowed for so long? Is that really a good reason? Keeping all of this in mind, I would say that not even religion is a great reason to circumcise.

I honestly don’t see any great reasons to circumcise a baby. There are some reasons to circumcise when a male gets older, but not at birth. And so I suggest that we as a nation begin rethinking this whole circumcision thing. For starters, let’s quit doing it just because it’s been the norm. And let’s stop being misinformed and fooled by people who have their own ulterior motives involved (paid off doctors, sadists, medical researchers/companies, religious groups, governments, and so forth). If we do, we may see a different norm develop in this country. And I’m sure the world wouldn’t fall apart if that were the case. Heck, most to the world’s men are uncircumcised anyway (ever wonder why).

16 comments:

Ash said...

I'm circumcised because it's kind of a family tradition. Not a very good reason, and if I had had a choice, I would've preferred to keep my foreskin.

On the other hand, I think I actually suffered from phimosis, so it all worked out anyway.

Brandon said...

Hey, Ash! Good to hear from you.

The thing about phimosis is that a lot of quacks want to use that as an excuse to circumcise infants who really can't even have this problem. Most all babies and young children are unable to pull back the skin. It's supposed to be somewhat tight when you're younger. But as you get older, it's supposed to loosen up some. If when you're going through puberty and then on the skin doesn't want to retract any or is just really tight, making things painful, then you have phimosis. So, if you were circumcised as an infant, sorry to say you probably had no problems at all. You wouldn't have known until you were older. And I agree, tradition is kind of a dumb reason to circumcise someone. To quote one of my favorite lines from a movie, "Just because you've done something, doesn't mean you have to keep on doing it." There should be a better reason than that.

Again, good to hear from you. I liked your new posts by the way.

naturgesetz said...

I agree with you that circumcision of infants is not generally medically necessary. But I certainly wouldn't try to forbid Jews and Muslims from circumcising in accordance with their religion.

As for "allowing" any of your other hypotheticals, I'd say it's none of our business unless it causes serious harm. Removing a pinky finger is borderline, but the others are pretty harmless.

Brandon said...

When it comes to religion, I admit, I'm somewhat uneven in my thinking on where to side. Maybe circumcision shouldn't be prohibited for religious reasons, but rather discouraged until the person is old enough to make their own decision. My main goal here was to get people to thinking though. So many people have their sons circumcised and it seems like they don't even take the time to figure out why they do it. They just do it, because. And considering that this alters a part of the body that is lifelong, it just seems like no one should be allowed to make such a decision like that for someone else when they can make that decision for themselves later on. Just imagine if all people below the age of 30 were allowed to decide for their parents whether or not their ear lobes were to be cut off. Older people with a voice can speak up about such a thing. Babies can't. It just seems unfair.

naturgesetz said...

My older brother and I were born in the early 1940's, and neither of us was circumcised. I think it became customary after World War II. So we escaped. (BTW I think uncut looks better than circumcised.) I thought the U.S. was beginning to get in line with the rest of the world, so I'm actually a bit surprised that it's still an issue. But I definitely agree that, apart from doing it for religious reasons, it's unnecessary surgery. It makes no sense to perform an operation on all male babies when they don't need it and only some of them ever will. So, if it's still going on, it's worth discussing.

Brandon said...

I actually find it coincidental that circumcision should become so advocated and performed so much after WWII in the Allied countries (Canada, GB, US, Australia, and NZ). I've wondered before if this might have actually been a move to help the Jews. After all, one of the best and least talked about ways the Nazi's identified people they weren't sure about as Jews, was simply to pull down their pants. It kind of fits that the allies may have decided to help prevent some of the discrimination against the Jews by advocating circumcision, thereby making the Jews stand out less and not as easily able to identify should another threat come up against them. If this was the case, I can sympathize to an extent, but I think the times have changed enough to forget about it if that was the reason those governments promoted circumcision so much following that war.

Hugh said...

Hi Brandon. Lots of good points there. St Paul was very much against religious circumcision for Christians, notably Gal 5:2 "...if you become circmcised, Christ is of no value to you."

The "to conceal Jews" reason is actually a bit belated. Non-religious circumcision began in the late 19th C, and if anyone did it to conceal Jews after WW2, nobody said so at the time, but it was widely (and falsely) claimed to have been done during the war to many soldiers, and that was used as an excuse on boys born after the war.

@Naturgesetz: there are pleny of other human rights abuses we outlaw regardless of religion, notably even the most minimal nicking of girls' genitals. Don't human rights belong to all humans, regardless of their parents' relligion?

naturgesetz said...

@ Hugh —Of course human rights belong to all. The question is whether this or that item is truly a human right. Beyond that, there is the point that children are not competent to make their own decisions: parents have the duty, and therefore the right, to make decisions for them. The state should interfere with the family only in cases of the most compelling necessity

Brandon said...

Hugh,

I know it all started in that Victorian era of thinking, when people were appauled that boys actually have penises, and there has been one argument raised in favor of circumcision one right after the next since then. First it would prevent masturbation. That wasn't true, so then they said it'd make you cleaner. That wasn't true. Next they said it would prevent all sorts of problems that occur with having a foreskin. That wasn't true. And then we were told it would prevent STD's. That wasn't true. And so now the latest lie is that it will somehow magically prevent or reduce the chances of getting HIV. That also isn't true. It's just been one lie after another, and so I can't help but wonder if the people promoting it are just that stupid, or if there is really some other underlying motive behind it. Originally, when it began, I think it was out of Victorian era ignorance. But in this last century, I really do believe it was promoted to help the Jews. And of course no government would admit that because if they did, virtually all circumcisions would stop. Nobody following WWII would have agreed to circumcise their sons for this reason alone in the first place. I think they knew that. And so, as you mention, they lied.

TLC Tugger said...

Foreskin feels REALLY good.

HIS body, HIS decision.

Mark said...

You might also want to check out the following:

Canadian Paediatric Society
"Recommendation: Circumcision of newborns should not be routinely performed."

http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/pregnancy&babies/circumcision.htm
"Circumcision is a 'non-therapeutic' procedure, which means it is not medically necessary."
"After reviewing the scientific evidence for and against circumcision, the CPS does not recommend routine circumcision for newborn boys. Many paediatricians no longer perform circumcisions.


RACP Policy Statement on Circumcision
" In the absence of evidence of risk of substantial harm, informed parental choice should be respected. Informed parental consent should include the possibility that the ethical principle of autonomy may be better fulfilled by deferring the circumcision to adolescence with the young man consenting on his own behalf."
(almost all the men responsible for this statement will be circumcised themselves, as the male circumcision rate in Australia in 1950 was about 90%. "Routine" circumcision is now *banned* in public hospitals in Australia in all states except one.)

British Medical Association: The law and ethics of male circumcision - guidance for doctors
"to circumcise for therapeutic reasons where medical research has shown other techniques to be at least as effective and less invasive would be unethical and inappropriate."

The Royal Dutch Medical Association
"The official viewpoint of KNMG and other related medical/scientific organisations is that non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors is a violation of children’s rights to autonomy and physical integrity. Contrary to popular belief, circumcision can cause complications – bleeding, infection, urethral stricture and panic attacks are particularly common. KNMG is therefore urging a strong policy of deterrence. KNMG is calling upon doctors to actively and insistently inform parents who are considering the procedure of the absence of medical benefits and the danger of complications."

Drops in male circumcision since 1950:
USA: from 90% to 54%
Canada: from 48% to 17%
UK: from 35% to about 5% (about 1-2% among non-Muslims)
Australia: 90% to 12.4% ("routine" circumcision has recently been *banned* in public hospitals in all states)
New Zealand: 95% to below 3% (mostly Samoans and Tongans)
South America and Europe: never above 5%

It's worth remembering that no-one except for Muslim and Jewish people would even be having this discussion if it weren't for the fact that 19th century doctors thought that :
a) masturbation caused various physical and mental problems (including epilepsy, convulsions, paralysis, tuberculosis etc), and
b) circumcision stopped masturbation.

Both of those sound ridiculous today I know, but if you don't believe me, then check out this link:
A Short History of Circumcision in North America In the Physicians' Own Words

Over a hundred years later, circumcised men keep looking for new ways to defend the practice.

Brandon said...

A guy named Mark sent me the following information. I'm not sure if it was meant to be as an email only, but it appeared in my email as a direct comment on this blog. Not seeing the comment here, though, I'm not sure what happened. So, I hope he doesn't mind, I decided to make sure what he sent me got posted.


You might also want to check out the following:

Canadian Paediatric Society
"Recommendation: Circumcision of newborns should not be routinely performed."

http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/pregnancy&babies/circumcision.htm
"Circumcision is a 'non-therapeutic' procedure, which means it is not medically necessary."

"After reviewing the scientific evidence for and against circumcision, the CPS does not recommend routine circumcision for newborn boys. Many paediatricians no longer perform circumcisions.

RACP Policy Statement on Circumcision
" In the absence of evidence of risk of substantial harm, informed parental choice should be respected. Informed parental consent should include the possibility that the ethical principle of autonomy may be better fulfilled by deferring the circumcision to adolescence with the young man consenting on his own behalf."

(almost all the men responsible for this statement will be circumcised themselves, as the male circumcision rate in Australia in 1950 was about 90%. "Routine" circumcision is now *banned* in public hospitals in Australia in all states except one.)

British Medical Association: The law and ethics of male circumcision - guidance for doctors
"to circumcise for therapeutic reasons where medical research has shown other techniques to be at least as effective and less invasive would be unethical and inappropriate."

The Royal Dutch Medical Association
"The official viewpoint of KNMG and other related medical/scientific organisations is that non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors is a violation of children’s rights to autonomy and physical integrity. Contrary to popular belief, circumcision can cause complications – bleeding, infection, urethral stricture and panic attacks are particularly common. KNMG is therefore urging a strong policy of deterrence. KNMG is calling upon doctors to actively and insistently inform parents who are considering the procedure of the absence of medical benefits and the danger of complications."

Drops in male circumcision since 1950:
USA: from 90% to 54%
Canada: from 48% to 17%
UK: from 35% to about 5% (about 1-2% among non-Muslims)
Australia: 90% to 12.4% ("routine" circumcision has recently been *banned* in public hospitals in all states)
New Zealand: 95% to below 3% (mostly Samoans and Tongans)
South America and Europe: never above 5%

It's worth remembering that no-one except for Muslim and Jewish people would even be having this discussion if it weren't for the fact that 19th century doctors thought that :

a) masturbation caused various physical and mental problems (including epilepsy, convulsions, paralysis, tuberculosis etc), and
b) circumcision stopped masturbation.

Both of those sound ridiculous today I know, but if you don't believe me, then check out this link:

A Short History of Circumcision in North America In the Physicians' Own Words

Over a hundred years later, circumcised men keep looking for new ways to defend the practice.


Based on what Mark sent me, it sounds as though the majority of doctors in these other countries have concluded circumcision is stupid. Wonder if the doctors in this country will ever wisen up, or become honest enough not to be so concerned with making a buck off of a useless procedure.

Mark said...

I thought I'd posted it as a blog comment, but maybe it got diverted to your email because of the links. Thanks for reposting it anyway!

concerned cynic said...

I grew up intact in Kentucky during the 1950s and 60s. I felt very weird and lonely, if only because my parents and doctor never explained anything about me. In those days, there was NO support in print for leaving a boy intact. My mother, not knowing what to say, said nothing.

I have been married nearly 25 years. My children are all daughters. I am well aware that gay men are much more passionately against circumcision than str8 men are. Most intactivists I talk to are concerned mothers; some are even lesbians. The shrewdest commentators about the sexual virtues of the natural penis are women who have been intimate with both kinds of men.

A major turning point in my journey toward sexual self-understanding was my reading Wallerstein (1980) and Romberg (1985) in the mid 1980s. But I did not begin understanding the sexual advantages of being intact until the 1990s. I am still learning a lot my male body, primarily by reading posts and comments by women.

Routine circ began in the late 19th century among the English speaking people. This has been well documented by Gollaher and other scholars. But in my view they do not explain why the practice caught on. My proposed explanation is that circumcision was seen as solving the following dilemma. The germ theory of disease required that a mother or nanny pay attention to the hygiene of a boy's preputial sack. However looking at, talking about, and handling a boy's penis was seen as highly distasteful, if not downright immoral: this focus on a son's penis might put inappropriate thoughts in a caregiver's mind, even an adult woman. Circumcision was seen as a way to assure subpreputial hygiene without caregivers having to do anything more than give a boy a bath 1-3x a week.

concerned cynic said...

Doctors openly advocated circumcision because it eliminated the need to retract the foreskin before washing the penis. This retraction was seen as intensely sexual, and as leading boys to masturbation, then seen as very unhealthy and very immoral. But when the anti-masturbation hysteria died down in the 1920s and 30s, routine circ did not go away but became even more common. By the 1950s, a daily shower was part of every man's life in western countries. But the %age of baby boys cut at birth rose even more. Military doctors from WWI to Vietnam often believed that circucmised soldiers were less likely to catch STDs from sex workers. Barracks life made it clear to farm and working class boys that men from comfortable urban middle class origins had bald penises. But I cannot recall any talk in my boyhood that circumcision protected a man from STDs.

The unspoken motive you speculate about is that sex with a natural penis is seen as revolting to women, especially oral. Men with PhDs have said this to my face, even after I told them that I was intact!

I do not agree that RIC diffused after WWII to make it easier for Jews to melt into the crowd. Individual Jewish doctors may have advocated RIC for this reason, but there is no reason why their opinions would have prevailed. The English speaking people most acutely aware of the Third Reich were the British. But the NHS there defunded RIC in 1950 and the practice smoothly marched to extinction. New Zealand followed the UK in 1969. In Australia and Canada, RIC is now a minority practice and the rate is falling.

Because of last century's American Foreskin Holocaust, the maniacal removal of the foreskin when a child is 1-2 days old, and the removal of the foreskin from diagrams in sex ed and health texts, tens of millions of American parents have never seen an intact penis in the flesh. The natural penis strikes them as very weird, and as a major source of psychosexual difficulties. A boy with a natural dick will be bullied in high school and rejected in the bedroom. American boys are circumcised because their parents fear that if they don't, their sons will become social failures. Parents also don't want to be reminded of foreskin every time they change a son's diaper or give him a bath. Given these psychosexual obsessions, I am pleasantly surprised that the American circ rate has fallen from 90%+ to about 50%, despite the fact that the AAP insists that American parents have the right to circumcise their infant sons for any nonmedical reason.

Brandon said...

Mark, you're welcome. I thought it looked like it got to the wrong place. :)

Concerned Cynic, I don't think "gay men are much more passionately against circumcision than str8 men are" as much as I believe gay men are probably more vocal about it than straight men. Most straight men I've known won't talk about their penis or another guys either unless to compare sizes. Gay men, however, don't seem to mind talking beyond that. Besides, for so many other countries to be turning against the practice of circumcision, there must be at least some straight guys willing to discuss the issue.