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(Male) Circumcision

2009 February 25
by Problem Sleuth

Achewood’s Take on the Subject.

I’ve been thinking about this a fair bit in this class, especially since talking about intersex surgeries, and it’s interesting to me that it hasn’t really come up at all. It’s an operation usually performed near birth, it’s definitely cultural, and it’s definitely to do with sex and gender.

I’ll admit to a personal bias: I’m against it. I generally don’t like the idea of lopping off any part of a person’s body against his or her will. I’ve heard a few arguments about reasons TO get a circumcision, some better than others:

1: I want to circumcize my child for religious reasons.

Not enough by itself, to me. People do all kinds of crazy things for religious reasons, including female genital mutilation (which, I want to stress, I’m NOT trying to compare to circumcision; FGM is FAR worse). If you’re going to cut into someone’s body without their consent, I think you need a better reason.

2: Medical complications can occur, including infection.

Again, not enough. Infections can be prevented through proper hygene. Sometimes complications or infections DO occur, and you have to circumcize an older person and (as a friend of mine who has experienced it told me) it hurts like hell. But that won’t necessarily happen, and doesn’t usually happen. Still need a better reason.

3: Circumcized men have a lower risk of catching AIDS during vaginal intercourse.

Cutting off the penis entirely would probably further reduce that risk. There are many other good ways to prevent AIDS transmission, including not sleeping around, using a condom, being informed on your partner’s health, and so forth.

There are reasons that I think children should NOT be circumcised. One reason is reduced sexual pleasure. While many nerves are contained in the glans (head of the penis), there are a lot of nerves that are also present in the foreskin. As this article claims, the penis is really kind of like the vagina, vulva, and clitoris: even though parts of it are certainly more sensitive than others, all of them together contribute to the sexual experience.

I don’t like it also because it hurts the child. I can say that I for one would not want to have any part of my person, PARTICULARLY in the genital region, lopped off at present. Wikipedia suggests that doctors (as of late 20th, early 21st century) didn’t always use anesthesia. I don’t know if it’s a general argument that it’s no big deal because the child won’t remember it when he gets older. But I’ve heard it as an argument, and it’s frankly total bullshit. You don’t arbitrarily cause a child pain just because he won’t remember it. If you did that for any reason other than circumcision, you’d be rightly arrested and dragged away.

And past that, basically, I think it’s kind of lousy to remove working, healthy human tissue because it MIGHT prevent an infection, and particularly to remove it from someone who’s had no say in the matter. Ask someone who’s uncircumcised if he wishes he’d had it done as a child; I suspect there aren’t many.

So that’s my two cents. Granted, I came into this biased, and the only sources I used were mostly biased also. Basically, I wanted to start a discussion on this and offer my own thoughts on it. If anyone has other experiences or wants to tell me why I’m a total moron (preferably with regards to the content of this post), consider this your invitaiton.

Oh, and have one more biased article I consulted while writing this. It’s pretty good.

Also: Here’s are a couple sources with either less of an anti-circumcision bias, or more of a pro-circumcision bias. I thought it might be nice.

6 Responses
  1. Anne Dalke permalink*
    February 25, 2009

    So: 20+ years ago, I did not circumcise my son, for the reasons Solomon catalogues. And then: 5 years ago, my 70+ year old uncle (who, like my father, and most men born in this country in the 1920s/30s/40s, had not been circumcised) was forced, for medical reasons, to have a circumcision. He was in AGONY, thought no adult man should have to undergo this…

    I have to admit, his excruciating experience made me re-think some of my reasoning…

  2. February 25, 2009

    A good post and I agree with you about circumcision being genital mutilation. I’ve included some comments made by the medieval Jewish physician.

    Maimonides, Moses
    The Guide of the Perplexed
    Translated by Shlomo Pines
    The University of Chicago Press, 1963
    (Many scholars consider this to be
    the most authoritative translation to date.)

    Similarly with regard to circumcision, one of the reasons for it is, in my opinion, the wish to bring about a decrease in sexual intercourse and a weakening of the organ in question, so that this activity be diminished and the organ be in as quiet a state as possible. It has been thought that circumcision perfects what is defective congenitally. This gave the possibility to everyone to raise an objection and to say: How can natural things be defective so that they need to be perfected from outside, all the more because we know how useful the foreskin is for that member? In fact this commandment has not been prescribed with a view to perfecting what is defective congenitally, but to perfecting what is defective morally. The bodily pain caused to that member is the real purpose of circumcision. None of the activities necessary for the preservation of the individual is harmed thereby, nor is procreation rendered impossible, but violent concupiscence and lust that goes beyond what is needed are diminished. The fact that circumcision weakens the faculty of sexual excitement and sometimes perhaps diminishes the pleasure is indubitable. For if at birth this member has been made to bleed and has had its covering taken away from it, it must indubitably be weakened. The Sages, may their memory be blessed, have explicitly stated: It is hard for a woman with whom an uncircumcised man has had sexual intercourse to separate from him. In my opinion this is the strongest of the reasons for circumcision.

  3. Solomon Lutze permalink
    February 26, 2009

    I kind of agree with you, Rebecca. The connection between the foreskin and the clitoral hood is one I’ve drawn in my mind frequently. I don’t know if I really think, specifically and explicitly, that circumcision is genital mutilation, or at least necessarily pure evil. Again, it’s certainly not on par with the removal of the entire clitoris; I think that would be more like cutting off the glans of the penis, which, um, I’m not going to think about any more ever again.

    I like the idea of drawing parallels between the male and female sex organs. The idea of the penis as Out There, visible, loudly proclaiming itself, is diminished a bit, and it appeals to me to think about both sets of organs as having similar elements of mystery.

  4. Mark Lyndon permalink
    February 26, 2009

    Anne: In the UK, only 1 in 140 males is circumcised for medical reasons. That means you’d have to circumcise 139 baby boys unnecessarily to prevent one circumcision later. Why do you regard adult circumcision as worse than neonatal circumcision anyway though? It’s actually safer, hurts less, and the results are cosmetically better.

    “no adult man should have to undergo this”
    Why should a newborn baby have to undergo it? Your uncle’s experience sounds very unusual btw. Most people who’ve had adult circumcision say it’s no big deal, though many of them do complain about sex not being as good afterwards.

    Apparently we can’t post links, but you can find all the medical society quotes at their own websites:

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

    Royal Australasian College of Physicians
    “After extensive review of the literature the Royal Australasian College of Physicians reaffirms that there is no medical indication for routine neonatal circumcision.”
    (those last nine words are in bold on their website, and 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
    “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.”

    National Health Service (UK)
    “Many people have strong views about whether circumcision should be carried out or not. It is not routinely performed in the UK because there is no clear clinical evidence to suggest it has any medical benefit.”

    Canadian Children’s Rights Council
    “It is the position of the Canadian Children’s Rights Council that ‘circumcision’ of male or female children is genital mutilation of children.”

    drops in male circumcision:
    USA: from 90% to 57%
    Canada: from 47% to 14%
    UK: from 35% to about 5% (less than 1% among non-Muslims)
    Australia: 90% to 12.6% (“routine” circumcision has recently been *banned* in public hospitals in all states except one, so the rate will now be a lot lower)
    New Zealand: 95% to below 3% (mostly Samoans and Tongans)
    South America and Europe: never above 5%

    It’s worth remembering that we wouldn’t 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 google this to find out what doctors were saying at the time: “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.

    The record payout for a botched circumcision is $22.8 million. It was said at the time that the victim “will never be able to function sexually as a normal male and will require extensive reconstructive surgery and psychological counseling as well as lifelong urological care and treatment by infectious disease specialists.”
    Sure, cases like that are very rare, but why should they happen at all? If you look up the galleries of botched jobs, one thing that may surprise you is just how many jobs were botched cosmetically, rather than medically. Skin tags and skin bridges and hair growing half way up the shaft are not normal, but would not be counted as medical complications.

  5. Paul permalink
    February 26, 2009

    As more and more information is coming to light, especially for Americans who have been kept in the dark regarding the foreskin and its functions, it is really interesting to see the similarities between male and female genitalia. I know that was just mentioned but I want to agree. The clitoral hood covers the clitoris just as the foreskin covers the glans. We wouldn’t think of clipping the clitoral hood off of newborn baby girls nor would be tolerate people clipping off labia, not even a little bit. The whole foreskin removal idea (only currently being practiced on newborns in the USA) needs a total re-evaluation. It has no place in a civilized, advanced country.

  6. James_T permalink
    February 26, 2009

    Let us understand what circumcision actually is. many people make decisions on the validity of circumcision without knowing the full picture.

    A boy is born with a layer of skin covering a part of the penis underneath called the glans. In circumcision they cut it off.

    The foreskin is an important part of the penis. It contains many nerves on it’s underside. When the foreskin is moved up and down it is very pleasurable. Circumcised men have lost this ability as there is no gliding effect. So they have to use artificial lubrication to masturbate or even in sex.

    Without the foreskin protecting the glans, circumcised men lose further sensitivity. The glans dries out. It also brushes on underwear causing the skin to toughen.

    The foreskin also has a role in sex. Women and men enjoy sex more when the man still has his foreskin.

    Why is it done? Thousands of years ago as a coming of age ritual and to test the boy’s strength as he entered adulthood, they cut this piece of skin off. the Jews were one such people although they transferred the time to infancy – 8 days to be precise.

    Once Jesus Christ came along all the old laws including circumcision were not needed any more.

    Circumcision began to become popular among non-Jews in the late 1800’s – only in English-speaking countries though. The main reason was to prevent masturbation. In Britain it died out in the 1950’s. less than 1% of boys are circumcised there. In Australia it died out in the 70’s and 80’s. Now less than 10% of newborn boys are circumcised.
    In the USA a lot of parents don’t know the dangers of circumcision or the function of the foreskin and so the rate is a little higher there – the current rate is 57%. Though it is declining. Worldwide only 25% of men are circumcised, with the vast majority of these being Muslim.

    There are a lot of myths about circumcision, (saying it is cleaner etc). This is not true as men in Britain, France and Germany all do fine.

    It is not easier to keep a circumcised boy clean , it is harder. Especially if things go wrong.

    There is no care at all for an intact boy. A few things you need to remember:
    The foreskin is attached to the glans at birth (they have to break this seel to perform the circumcision – this is excruciatingly painful – not that the pain is the worst part of circumcision )
    You should never pull back the foreskin or try to clean under it. It requires no care.
    The foreskin should be left to become retractable on it’s own , it should not be forced. The ability to retract it occurs any time up until the end of puberty.
    Once it becomes retractable, there is little care – just wash it like any other body part. It is not dirty – if it was then women would be a lot dirtier. Most men worldwide are intact and have no problems.

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