Beliefs Have Serious Consequences, Part 1
Welcome to part one of my series on "how beliefs have serious consequences." This post's topic is a difficult and sensitive subject: circumcision.
A Little About Me
I was raised in a Christian family (see a short author blurb here) and was circumcised at birth--part of the normal procedure at the time and this was done for "health reasons." I regret that my parents and the doctors present were so misinformed that they did this. That said, I hold no grudge against my parents. I do, however, regret the mutilation of my genitalia. So, going into this topic you will understand my position as "very against circumcision."
Female Genital Mutilation
Let me introduce you to another world of infant genital mutilation: female genital mutilation.
The three most common are:
- Clitoridectomy - amputating all or part of the clitoris
- Excision - amputating all or part of the clitoris and the inner labia, possible even the outer labia (the labia is the flange around the clitoris and vagina that resemble "lips").
- Infibulation - procedure that narrows the opening to the vagina, often by cutting, repositioning and even sewing the labia over the vagina.
The World Health Organization has this to say about female genital mutilation:
Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women. Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths. More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated. FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15. FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
Here is an image of the types of FGM that are possible (NSFW):
If this section has sparked repugnance and disgust--good. Then you understand that there is a problem. The same problem lies in the opposite sex and is deceptively labeled as "circumcision" to euphemize the atrocity.
In the Victorian Era, sexuality was squelched and masturbation was immoral, considered unhealthy, and even treated as a physical and mental disease. All manner of elaborate devices were used to deaden the nerves in the sex organs, and especially circumcision.
Fast forward to the outbreak of sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea and syphilis during the last part of the eighteenth century when doctors prescribed male circumcision to prevent the spread of venereal diseases, theorizing that the hardened head of the penis would be more resistant to microbes. Nineteenth century America was one of sexual repression that continued the trend.
Once circumcision was ingrained in the minds of medical professionals nationwide, theological, rather than scientific reasoning was used to justify this atrocity, even as late as the nineties. As a result, doctors and parents alike were completely oblivious to how the penis worked and why circumcision mangled the body part.
Continuing to today, medical health organizations have invented (yes, invented) numerous ways that circumcision "helps prevent" disease and all other kinds of ailments. The studies are often misplaced, poorly performed, and biased from the start. We don't spend time producing studies of why fingernails should be removed because in one percent of the cases, it reduces skin cancer!
This leads us to the myths behind circumcision and oft given reasons parents and doctors have for performing them. It should be noted, that every reason given for male circumcision could just as easily be applied to female genital mutilation.
- Circumcision makes it easier to keep the head of the penis clean.
- Wrong. This is synonymous to saying that removing your eyelid allows you to better keep your eye clean. The glans (the head of the penis) is naturally a mucous membrane, like other areas of your body that are sensitive and need protection from foreign particles (your eyes, lips, inside your nose, etc.). The foreskin covering the penis does the job of protecting this membrane.
- Doctors have also perpetuated the myth that circumcision makes it easier for the parent to keep their child's penis clean. Wrong again. Just like the vagina or your eyes, the foreskin does the job of protection and the glans produces its own secretions to keep it clean. No evidence has been found to show that such secretions are more likely to host STDs, diseases, etc.
- The foreskin is just a piece of skin and is useless/unnecessary.
- This one is plain ignorance. Investigating how a penis works and how the foreskin acts as a natural lubricant (not in the sense of lubrication, but the foreskin creates a mobile skin barrier during sex and glides along the shaft of the penis with ease, creating a much more natural motion and heightened experience for both partners).
- Also the foreskin is more than just skin. It is also muscle, nerves (upwards of 20,000 nerves, and a third of the nerves in the entire male penis), a frenulum, an inner membrane, and a ridged band of skin. Also, the foreskin contains more nerve endings than a clitoris.
- A circumcised penis looks nicer/is more pleasing to women
- This is a cultural delusion. The same argument can be made about female circumcision in other cultures, yet we wouldn't venture into cutting our daughter's clitoris off, just because "it looks nicer."
- Circumcision is painless and takes only a minute.
- Research shows the exact opposite. The first step for the circumcision involves tying the infant down so he doesn't struggle. There is noticeable increase in heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones, as well as the obvious crying. Studies have also shown there can be post-traumatic stress including but not limited to: decreased appetite, disrupted breastfeeding, sleeping symptoms, and detachment from the mother. In fact, research even suggests the long-standing effects cannot be fully measured, affecting the child's responses to pain even into adulthood.
- Circumcision also negatively affects many men in their adulthood, creating feelings of sexual frustration, anger, remorse, and depression.
- General anesthesia cannot be applied to newborn infants, and as such, typically a local anesthetic shot is used instead. Research shows that this is extremely hard to inject correctly because the needle must hit the dorsal nerve on the shaft of the penis to acquire adequate numbing, and even still the surgery can cause pain.
- An average circumcision takes between 10 and 12 minutes.
- Circumcision is the common practice/everyone does it.
- Actually, circumcision rates are dropping. It is hard to get an exact number, but estimates are that 55% of newborn infants are circumcised in America today. This does not mean this is a good idea though.
- Circumcision is helpful in preventing penile cancer.
- Penile cancer is very rare, and treatable. Circumcision is a preventative surgery for which we are still trying to find the disease we are preventing.
- Circumcision helps prevent the spread of HIV and STDs
- Studies that showed this are biased for circumcision. There are also studies that show there is no significant difference. (see more here)
- The clincher for me on this point is that Europe has low rates of circumcision and does not have a similar issue with HIV or STDs that the U.S. does. Most studies purporting that STDs are more common in uncircumcised males are conducting the studies in poorer countries of the world--Africa and the Middle East.
Circumcision, in my mind, is not an ethical conundrum. It is inhuman. Here are some reasons why:
- There are many cases where the circumcision has been botched. Now, this is by no means to say that the exception proves the rule, but this is a risk that must be taken into account when deciding to circumcise your child. I can't imagine the emotion the parents must feel after a doctor botches a circumcision. To say that such an emotion elicits the question of whether it was ethical to consent, would not be misplaced.
- Pain. As a parent, you want to protect your child from day one and keep it from experiencing pain he doesn't have to. As such, circumcision is painful (not painless as some advocates would like you to believe). Please watch a YouTube video of an actual circumcision if you doubt it (here for instance).
- Give the choice back to the child. Why not let the child choose, and if he wants to get circumcised in the future, he can? See this website
- Sexual frustration and performance. Many cut males voice their frustration on forums online and to therapists in offices in regards to how they feel bereaved, stolen from, backstabbed, not given a choice. Studies show that an intact penis provides better sexual stimulation for both partners.
Despite all this, male circumcision is still given protection by medical organizations and laws of the U.S.
Medical organizations have been almost mute in their description of the process and how much damage circumcision actually does with statements like this from the World Health Organization:
Male circumcision is one of the oldest and most common surgical procedures worldwide, and is undertaken for many reasons: religious, cultural, social and medical. There is conclusive evidence from observational data and three randomized controlled trials that circumcised men have a significantly lower risk of becoming infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Or this statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics that is purposefully obscure:
Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision. In circumstances in which there are potential benefits and risks, yet the procedure is not essential to the child's current well-being, parents should determine what is in the best interest of the child.
Or the National Institutes of Health which have the following but have also said that circumcision prevents the spread of AIDS:
The merits of circumcision have been debated. Opinions about the need for circumcision in healthy boys vary among health care providers. Some believe there is great value to having an intact foreskin, such as allowing for a more natural sexual response during adulthood. Rather than routinely recommending circumcision for healthy boys, many health care providers allow the parents to make the decision after presenting them with the pros and cons. There is no compelling medical rationale for the procedure in healthy boys, although some boys have a medical condition requiring circumcision.
In stark contrast, we have other world medical organizations that are more in line with what the WHO said about FGM.
From the Danish Medical Association, 2016:
When parents have their male children circumcised, it robs the boys of the ability to make decisions about their own bodies and their own cultural and religious beliefs. Male circumcision carries a risk of complications and should only be performed on children when there is a documented medical need.
Or take the gender equatable statement from the German Pediatric Association, 2012:
Initially, it should be observed that there is no reason from a medical point of view to remove an intact foreskin from underage boys or boys unable to give consent. ... The male foreskin is a part of the skin of the organ and fulfills important functions that protect the very sensitive glans... Circumcision can lead to erectile dysfunction [and] ... considerable limitations to sex life and cause psychological stresses. ... Boys have, according to our sense of justice, the same basic constitutional legal rights to physical integrity as girls, they must not be disadvantaged due to their sex.
And the British Medical Association, 2006:
The BMA does not believe that parental preference alone constitutes sufficient grounds for performing a surgical procedure on a child unable to express his own view. Parental preference must be weighed in terms of the child's interests. ... The BMA considers that the evidence concerning health benefit from non-therapeutic circumcision is insufficient for this alone to be a justification for doing it. ... Some doctors may wish to not perform circumcisions for reasons of conscience. Doctors are under no obligation to comply with a request to circumcise a child.
In addition, the U.S. has routinely ignored or struck down laws initiating a valid medical reason for circumcision, for making circumcision equatable to child abuse or illegal. The culture as a whole is protecting an atrocity and turning a blind eye.
Most of all--and this has been the focal point for this article--religion brought on such a practice. Judaism, Christianity and Islam have all popularized circumcision, as a means to reduce the temptation to masturbate/to sin, to remain "holy before god," and to live under some stone age law. Indeed, beliefs carry huge consequences.
I have hosted an excellent academic article detailing why circumcision is:
- And should be illegal in the United States