by Lillian Dell’Aquila Cannon
Today I saw a request on a Facebook page: “I am looking for an unbiased scientific site with arguments against circumcision.”
I suppose the request was made in order to convince a friend who thinks that all sites against circumcision are biased. I don’t blame that person or his unknown interlocutor. Experience in politics and matters of taste has taught us that there are always two sides to any debate. In addition, the human psychological tendency to side with the underdog and the desire to have free choice or just be contrary lead many people to mistrust or dismiss any strong argument. The thing is, though, that there isn’t really any debate about infant circumcision. It’s just wrong no matter how you look at it.
No medical association in the world recommends circumcision. None. Here is what they have to say about it:
The British Medical Association says:
“[P]arental preference alone is not sufficient justification for performing a surgical procedure on a child.” (BMA 2006)
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians says:
“After reviewing the currently available evidence, the RACP believes that the frequency of diseases modifiable by circumcision, the level of protection offered by circumcision and the complication rates of circumcision do not warrant routine infant circumcision in Australia and New Zealand.” (RACP 2010)
The Canadian Paediatric Society says:
“Circumcision of newborns should not be routinely performed.” (CPS 1996)
The Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG – Netherlands) policy statement is wonderfully clear:
“There is no convincing evidence that circumcision is useful or necessary in terms of prevention or hygiene… circumcision entails the risk of medical and psychological complications… Non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors conflicts with the child’s right to autonomy and physical integrity.” (KNMG 2010)
The American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on Circumcision says:
“Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision.” (AAP 1999)
Why is the U.S. position slightly different? Simple: those usual human motivators of money, ego and self-deceptive rationalization. Here’s a joke for you:
What’s more important: sex or rationalization?
Rationalization, because you don’t need to have sex every day.
In the circumcision “debate,” on the Pro-Circumcision side, we have the following groups of people:
- Doctors who make money from it.
- Doctors who think it is wrong but don’t want to offend their colleagues who make money from it, or risk being ostracized from the guild.
- People who are themselves circumcised and have a strong psychological incentive to believe that the parts of their genitals that were taken from them were unimportant.
- People who circumcised their children and have a strong psychological incentive to believe that cutting their children’s genitals was important and beneficial, whether that be physically, morally, sexually, or religiously.
- Religious people who are afraid their religious practice will be banned. (See the irony: they don’t want their religious practice curtailed, but they see no need to preserve their children’s religious freedom.)
- Perverts who get off by discussing genital cutting.
On the Anti-Circumcision side, we have these people:
- Parents who circumcised one or more children and came to regret it.
- People who are circumcised and have suffered negative consequences from it.
- People who have investigated the claims of benefit and found them lacking and/or achievable without cutting an infant’s genitals.
I think this is why the pro-circumcision camp thinks intactivists are mean: the pro-circumcision claims are so easily dismissed, and so patently stupid or immoral and based on ignorance, that it is nearly impossible to “debate” them or discuss the topic without quickly refuting every statement they make. This is too much for the average person, who takes the anti-circumcision facts as a personal attack, and they often need to blame the intactivist in order to rationalize some way to not feel bad. Such conversations often go like this:
Pro: I circumcised my children because it’s cleaner.
Anti: Actually, the foreskin requires no special cleaning and you cannot even retract the skin anyway. Just wipe it off like a finger.
Pro: Well, you have less chance of getting a disease.
Anti: Or, you could wear a condom, and those studies were flawed.
Pro: Boys need to match their daddies!
Anti: They won’t match either way, because daddy’s penis is larger and surrounded by hair. Intact sons of circumcised fathers never want to be circumcised to match daddy. It’s actually daddy who needs the baby to be circumcised to match him.
Pro: My husband insisted we circumcise our son.
Anti: Your husband cannot be rational about it because he is himself circumcised. It is your job as mom to protect the baby.
Pro: My religion requires it.
Pro: He’ll be made fun of in the locker room.
Anti: The rate in the U.S. is now about 50/50 or even lower, 32%, depending on which data you see, so half of boys will not be mocked, and anyway, what other cosmetic surgeries will you perform on your child to avoid him being teased?
Pro: Foreskins are so gross that he’ll never get a date/blowjob/etc.
Anti: 70-80% of the men in the world are intact, and the foreskin is the most sensitive part of the penis and very important for satisfying sex.
Pro: I’m/My husband is circumcised and sex is great!
Anti: Well, logically, there is no way to know what you are missing since you’ve never experienced it, but this is how the intact penis functions in sex…
Pro: Well, I’ve never heard of any man who was angry he was circumcised!
Anti: Actually, there are a lot of them. You can hear their stories here, here, here and here. Also, men aren’t going to run around telling their acquaintances, “I have a hard time reaching orgasm because my penis goes numb during sex. Oh, and how ’bout those Mets?”
Pro: Why do you care so much about my son’s penis?
Anti: I care about your son’s rights to his whole body. Why do you care so much to cut your son’s penis?
Pro: My son is perfectly healthy and happy! He’s fine!
Anti: Most of the negative results of circumcision are not apparent until middle or late adulthood when the inherent desensitization of circumcision causes sex problems that many people erroneously blame on normal aging, female frigidity, etc. You don’t know how it will turn out for your son.
Pro: It’s my choice! It’s a free country!
Anti: You do not own his body or his penis or his sexuality. You have no authority to mutilate him.
That’s it. That’s why you rarely see a “balanced” site about circumcision – there is no balanced view of it. People are for circumcision because they have unquestioningly accepted cultural myths, or are making money from circumcision, or don’t want to disturb their colleagues’ making money from it, or are perverts who fetishize circumcision. Other people are against circumcision because they are fully informed on the ethical, moral, physical, psychological and sexual reasons why infant circumcision is wrong. See which group you fit in, and then check your motives. If your reasons fit into the Pro-Circumcision group, face reality with honesty and maturity. Are you rationalizing and defending a decision you made in ignorance so that you don’t have to feel bad about yourself, your spouse, or what you did to your child? Then it’s not that circumcision is good – it’s that you don’t want to feel bad. Those who are against circumcision are not trying to offend or hurt your feelings, but the facts don’t lie. There is no reason good enough to cut off part of an infant’s healthy penis.