Circumcision of male infants and boys: The rising tide of doubt

In recent months there has been a spate of articles in the United States, British and even Australian media on the pros and cons of circumcising non-consenting male infants and boys, but the predominant sentiment in these essays has been doubt and rejection. No matter what "health benefits" circumcision may provide in later life, it is increasingly recognised that such a radical surgical operation is not necessary for the well-being of children, and is not ethically permissible if performed on a person without his informed consent.

Is there such a thing as male circumcision?

It is common to hear the phrase male circumcision (abbreviated to MC by those who do not really want to think about the realities of surgery on the most sensitive part of the male body), but the truth is that there is no such thing as male circumcision. People also speak of circumcision as a "valid procedure" - but what on earth could such an absurd expression mean? It's like saying that sexual intercourse is a valid procedure. I suppose it means that circumcision is a justified or justifiable operation, but the truth of that claim will depend on context: it may be justifiable to perform the operation on adults who have given informed consent, and even on children who cannot give consent in situations of therapeutic necessity (i.e. to correct a pathology that has not responded to conservative treatment); and it is arguable that it is justifiable where the parents are devout, conscientious, practising adherents of a religion that holds that children must be circumcised. Like sexual intercourse, it all depends on the context: with the consent of a person above the legal age of consent, sexual intercourse is justifiable; without consent, or if the person is below the statutory age, it is sexual assault or rape. There is no reason why the rules for permanent bodily alterations, particularly in such a physically and psychologically sensitive area should be less strict than the rules for sexual activity. In fact, the expression "male circumcision" is meaningless: there is no such thing as male circumcision, only circumcision of males in a variety of contexts, some of which are justifiable, some of which may be justifiable, and some of which are definitely not justifiable. Without specifying the context you cannot say whether the operation is "valid" or not.

On this page we reprint a range of recent critiques of "male circumcision" as commonly understood -  that is, medically unnecessary circumcision of male infants or boys. These are humans with inherent human rights, who have not given their consent to such a dramatic alteration of their body.

Unethical and harmful: The case against circumcising baby boys

The Conversation (Australia) 17 August 2011

by Ryan McAllister, Research Assistant Professor of Physics and Oncology at Georgetown University and John W. Travis, Adjunct Professor of Wellbeing at RMIT University

The foreskin is the most sensitive part of the penis. For centuries, children have been subjected to cultural and medicalised practices that were ultimately proven harmful and a violation of basic bodily integrity. Such practices have included foot binding, forehead flattening, scarification and genital cutting. In English-speaking countries, the practice of cutting the genitals of male children was gradually medicalised over a period of 150 years with the benign-sounding label “circumcision.” Today, there is increasing awareness that infant male circumcision – once deemed a “parental choice” – is really an unnecessary, irreversible and harmful bodily modification. With the recently discovered functions of the foreskin and a growth in awareness, we’re fortunately beginning to see the rights and experience of the child become the paramount consideration in discussions about circumcision.

The foreskin: The most alive and sensitive part of the penis

The human foreskin is a contiguous part of the skin system of the clitoris or penis. In infant males, the foreskin is attached to the head of the penis (glans). The outer foreskin protects the more sensitive inner foreskin and the glans from abrasion and injury. The moveable skin facilitates sexual pleasure. In fact, the foreskin is typically the most sensitive area of the penis. When circumcised males lose sensitivity and skin mobility, it’s likely to significantly alter their sexual experience. One recent Danish study concluded that male circumcision was associated with sexual difficulties for men and their female partners.

Bioethics of medically unnecessary (cosmetic) surgery on minors

Surgery without consent is ethical only in cases of: (1) incapacitated patients, in order to save their life; (2) minors, with proxy consent from a parent or guardian, but only for surgery that addresses an underlying pathological condition that has not responded to conservative treatment. Excision of an infant’s foreskin for dubious medical or cultural purposes is an anomaly. Because it removes healthy, typically-developed tissue, the procedure fails to meet either of the above conditions. Circumcision of minors also stands in contradiction to other medical ethics principles, including:

Complications and harm

Circumcision can cause skin bridges, haemorrhaging, infection, as well as major penile damage. Dozens of case studies describe severe complications, including penile amputations and death; several infant deaths have been reported in the past few years. A Canadian Coroner’s report, issued in 2007 following the death of a baby in Ontario, recommended the Canadian Paediatric Society conduct a surveillance study on complications. The most detailed assessment of circumcision complications cites meatitis (affecting 8% to 31% of those circumcised), infection (affecting between 0.4% and 10%, age varying) and many other severe complications. A more recent British literature survey estimates complications, including infection and hemorrhage, at rates as high as 10%. Paediatric urologist David M. Gibbons, commented on “in a two year period, I was referred [more than] 275 newborns and toddlers with complications of neonatal circumcision … 45% required corrective surgery (minor as well as major, especially for amputative injury) …” Another urologist reported repairing over 1,600 botched circumcisions over a three-year period. Official rates of complications are likely to be under reported. But regardless of the actual complication rate, it is unethical to subject a child to these risks.

Insignificant benefits

While some use medical benefits to justify male circumcision, those gains rarely materialise in the real world, and the damage outweighs any gain. For example, there is evidence from some African countries with very high levels of heterosexual HIV prevalence that circumcion may reduce the risk of female-to-male HIV transmission in unprotected sexual intercourse by somewhere between 38% and 66%. But studies of the general population have failed to find any decrease in HIV infection rates among circumcised men compared with uncircumcised men.

HIV rates are three to four times higher in American men (mostly circumcised) than in Europe (rarely circumcised). But factors far more significant than circumcision status determine HIV transmission. While proponents claim circumcision reduces other sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), many other studies, including a 2008 New Zealand birth cohort study, failed to find any such evidence.

Misleading portrayal

Despite potentially severe complications, hospital websites generally portray circumcision as values-neutral and safe. Because most hospitals don’t give parents adequate information on the risks of circumcision to allow for true informed consent, few parents understand the effects their choice will have on their child and the adult he will become.

Parental regret and survivor perspectives

In blogs, vlogs and other online forums, many parents have shared concerns about their child’s circumcision. Experiences range from “If I knew what I know now, I wouldn’t have done it,” to “I will die hearing my baby’s screams”. Many men have also expressed dissatisfaction with their circumcision, including a sense of “being violated,” “being sexually maimed,” and having feelings of anger toward parents or the medico who performed their circumcision. On thousands of websites, Facebook groups and blogs, circumcised men go to share their experiences and support one another.

Society’s role

A cultural framework that considers circumcision ethically neutral and the foreskin “a useless flap of skin” omits important considerations.

Before debating supposed benefits, we need to ask why would we ever even consider cutting our children’s genitals. The medical benefits of male circumcision are insignificant: no evidence to date justifies irreversible surgery on children unable to give consent. Society has recognised the inherent right of minor females to be free from unnecessary genital cutting. In the twenty-first century it is time to recognise the same rights of male children.

For more of Ryan McAllister’s research in infant male circumcision, watch his recent university lecture Circumcision, an Elephant in the Hospital. Watch John W. Travis' video on infant wellness and circumcision.

Click here for original source of article, with links to further information and comments.

One of the links is to an article by Brian Morris which describes circumcision of infants as  "safe, convenient, cheap and fast". All that could be true, but it would not mean that the operation was necessary, desirable, beneficial, or without harmful effects. In a modern surgical setting the same could be said of nearly any operation on children: clitoridectomy, for example, or cutting off toes, fingers or earlobes. The fact that an operation is cheap and can be done "conveniently" (meaning on a person who lacks the power to resist) is not a reason for doing it.

Circumcision decision is only for consenting grown-ups

by Amanda Windsor, The Times-Standard (USA), 9 September 2011

Genital cutting as a medical procedure rather than as a ritual sacrifice got its start as a Victorian fad treatment for masturbation. They blamed masturbation for many of the serious illnesses they could not understand or treat. A lot of Americans of my generation don't know this, but the foreskin is the most sensitive erogenous zone on the male body, and cutting it off was seen as a convenient “cure” for this problem of pleasure. Other treatments involved chastity belts and burning the head of the penis with hot pokers. I'll quote one of the fathers of medical genital cutting, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg

"A remedy for masturbation which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision, especially when there is any degree of phimosis. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering anesthetic, as the pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases. The soreness which continues for several weeks interrupts the practice, and if it had not previously become too firmly fixed, it may be forgotten and not resumed.”

The same “benefits” were also recommended for girls, and clitoridectomies (removal of the clitoris) were also performed. But even Dr. Kellogg thought circumcision was inappropriate for infants and could lead to problems later. Nevertheless, as more births began happening in

hospitals instead of at home, attended by doctors instead of midwives, the procedure began to be performed on infants more and more often.

After World War II, doctors in all other industrialized nations rejected circumcision as harmful and unnecessary, but the U.S.A. followed a different path. Wartime military policy, the medicalization of childbirth, the adoption of a for-profit medical system instead of a public health service, and the opinions of popular figures such as Dr. Spock all played a role. Today the United States is also beginning to abandon the practice. Circumcision rates in the United States have dropped as low as one-third in recent years. I'm thrilled! Circumcision permanently removes 50 to 75 percent of a person's healthy erogenous tissue, is very painful, and has all of the same human rights issues as cutting girls and all of the risks that come with any surgery. What about those HIV results in Africa? The media likes to talk about a 50 percent risk reduction, and that sounds impressive, until you look at the numbers and discover that the risk was reduced from 3.38 percent to 1.58 percent. Not so exciting, and for each new study the benefit goes down; original studies suggested that cut men were eight times less likely to get HIV. Skeptical scientists suspect that when all the outside factors have been thought of and accounted for, there will be no benefit at all. These sorts of minuscule results are why no medical association in the world, not even in the U.S., recommends the surgery to prevent disease. I'll quote the American Medical Association: ”... behavioral factors are far more important risk factors for acquisition of HIV and other sexually transmissible diseases than circumcision status, and circumcision cannot be responsibly viewed as 'protecting' against such infections.”

Ladies, would you cut off half or more of your happy parts for a reduction in your disease risk that's no better than the risks from the surgery? Would you like someone to surgically alter you to make you look just like your mother? Would you rather amputate your sensitive bits than go to all the work of washing them? Maybe you would. Hey, everybody's different, and I'm down with that. But maybe you wouldn't, and maybe it's time that guys have that freedom of choice too. Let's face it. Genital cutting is only for consenting grown-ups. A 2006 report estimated 100 neonatal circumcision-related deaths occur annually in the United States from anesthesia reaction, stroke, hemorrhage, and infection. A newborn has to be among the worst candidates for an unnecessary surgery. It's true that estimates of the annual number of deaths vary widely, everywhere from 2 to 2,000. Data on the number of injuries and unintentional amputations is also difficult to nail down. I can't wait for the number to certain: zero.

Times Standard (Eureka, California), 9 September 2011

Circumcision: Harm and Psychological Factors Ignored

by Ronald Goldman, Bay Citizen (San Francisco), August 4, 2011

An initiative banning circumcision that was removed from San Francisco's November ballot stimulated a wave of articles related to the topic, but virtually all of them avoid discussing the inherent harm of circumcision. By defending or advocating circumcision, proponents avoid some of the emotional discomfort connected with questioning circumcision and fail to disclose the adverse effects. Consequently, they do not help us to see the whole picture. Psychological factors affect every aspect of the practice, including who chooses to study circumcision, what questions are studied and what questions are ignored; which studies are approved for publication and which studies are rejected; what circumcision information is communicated to parents and what information is withheld from parents; what recommendations are made by policy committees and what recommendations are ignored; and what circumcision information is reported in the media and what information is withheld from the public.

Circumcision is a very misunderstood subject, and statements by "experts" may be misleading. National medical organizations unanimously find no proven medical benefit for circumcision. The endless search for a medical benefit―from treating epilepsy, irritability, and masturbation in the late 1800s to preventing sexually transmitted diseases today―has always been suspect. Studies show that circumcision is significantly painful and traumatic. Some infants do not cry because they go into shock. After circumcision infants exhibit behavioral changes, and there are disruptions in mother-child bonding. Changes in pain response of circumcised infants have been demonstrated in baby boys at six months of age, evidence of lasting neurological effects and a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. Anesthetics, if used, do not eliminate circumcision pain. Circumcision also has about two dozen surgical risks including, in rare cases, death. Some doctors and nurses refuse to perform or assist with circumcisions because of ethical considerations.

Long-term harm is also a consideration, but circumcised American researchers also typically avoid the discomfort of studying the sexual and psychological harm (e.g., erectile dysfunction) associated with circumcision. This pro-circumcision bias in American medicine reflects the pro-circumcision bias in American culture. The United States is the only country in the world that circumcises many of its male infants for non-religious reasons. Europeans think we’re crazy. Americans generally ignore the fact that the loss of the foreskin matters. Most circumcised American men (and doctors) do not know what they are missing. Based on recent reports, circumcision removes up to one-half of the erogenous tissue on the penile shaft. The adult foreskin is a double layer, a movable sleeve equivalent to approximately twelve square inches. Medical studies have shown that the foreskin protects the penile head, enhances sexual pleasure, and facilitates intercourse.

Cutting off the foreskin removes several kinds of specialized nerves and results in the thickening and progressive desensitization of exposed erogenous tissue as men age. This tissue would normally remain sensitive because it would normally be protected by the foreskin. Some men who are circumcised as adults (usually because they followed the questionable advice of a doctor) report a significant decrease in sexual pleasure as a result. For example, having sex after being circumcised has been compared to "seeing in black and white instead of in color." Some dissatisfied men report wide-ranging psychological consequences of circumcision including anger, a sense of loss and sadness, and sexual anxieties. Reduced emotional expression and the avoidance of intimacy may also be related to circumcision. Most circumcised men may seem satisfied because they accept cultural beliefs about circumcision and may not understand what circumcision is and the benefits of the foreskin, they may suppress certain feelings about circumcision because they are too painful, or they may not disclose these feelings due to fear of being dismissed or ridiculed.

We have not had the courage to admit we are making a very serious mistake by continuing to circumcise. For American society, circumcision is a solution in search of a problem, a social custom disguised as a medical issue. Defending circumcision requires minimizing or ignoring the harm and producing overstated medical claims. Beware of circumcised American medical doctors who defend or advocate circumcision. Instead, watch a circumcision video and trust your feelings, instincts, and common sense. You will certainly want to keep your baby safe and intact.

Ronald Goldman, Ph.D. (psychology) is executive director of the Circumcision Resource Center and author of Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma and Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective.

Source: The Bay Citizen, 4 August 2011

Circumcision: Mutilation or act of love?

by Kathryn Blaze Carlson, National Post (Canada), 19 August 2011

Rebecca Wald is “100% Jewish.” She celebrates the high holidays, her children attend Hebrew school, she lights candles on the sabbath and she was married to a “100% Jewish” man under a chuppah at a traditional Jewish wedding. But unlike most Jews, from the most secular to the ultra-orthodox, she did not circumcise her son. She has never attended — will never attend — a bris, the age-old ceremony where a Jew trained in circumcision (a ‘mohel’) removes the foreskin of an eight-day-old Jewish boy as a sign of his covenant with God. “All of the babies I saw growing up — whether cousins or the kids I babysat — were circumcised, and it seemed like that was the way things were supposed to be,” said Ms. Wald, who in December launched Beyond the Bris, a website for Jews who question circumcision. “It took having a son, who is intact, for me to really accept how normal [the uncircumcised penis] is.”

The South Florida mom is among a growing and vocal minority of Jewish “intactivists” who are challenging the 4,000-year-old ritual because, they say, the procedure inflicts unnecessary pain without any health gains, causes long-term psychological harm, hinders sexual function and pleasure, and strikes at the core of consent. They say there are Jewish women who silently pray they will not bear a son, and that the question, ‘When’s the bris?’ is too presumptive. Ms. Wald has not yet told her young son about her decision — she did not want to disclose his age. “Like many Jewish parents of intact sons, we’re not thrilled to publicly discuss the status of our own children’s sex organs,” she said — but said she assumes he will “at some point” learn about it. “I imagine he’s going to be thankful that we spared him from this mutilation,” said Ms. Wald, adding that had she been born a boy, her “forward-thinking” parents would not have circumcised her.

Beyond the Bris has attracted more than 9,000 visitors from 89 countries in the past eight months, chiming into the burgeoning chorus of like-minded Jewish groups such as Jews Against Circumcision, the Jewish Circumcision Resource Center, the Israeli Association Against Genital Mutilation, and the Israel-based group Kahal. Intactivist organizations like these have existed for years — one of which was criticized as anti-Semitic for its comic series called Foreskin Man, with characters such as Dr. Mutilator and Monster Mohel. But this latest slew of opponents is unique in that they are led by people whose own religion demands circumcision.

In the Book of Genesis, God told Abraham he would provide him with children, land, and a promise to be his God forever. In return, God said: “Every manchild among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.” Jews today know circumcision as Mitzvah 612, the second-most important of 613 commandments behind procreation. Even the least observant of Jews — even those who do not keep kosher, obey the sabbath, go to synagogue on Saturdays, or those who marry a gentile — still obey commandment 612. In accordance with Jewish law, they publicly appoint a shaliach, or agent, to perform the surgery. Some do so because they believe it is integral to the boy’s covenant with God, some do so out of tradition, some do so without question. Some do it because it is a physical marker in a private place that symbolizes their Jewish identity. Still others do so for what they consider health or esthetic benefits.

For Susanna Garfein and her husband, Ross Goldstein, circumcising their son Bram in Baltimore, Md., this summer was first and foremost a matter of faith. It was also a matter of religion, tradition, and health — there are studies, they pointed out, that show circumcision lowers the chances of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. “Our practice and our love of Judaism is something we want to pass along to Bram, and this is the first ritual to begin that process,” Ms. Garfein said in a telephone interview with her husband on the line, too. "It’s not an act of violence,” Mr. Goldstein added, before his wife finished his sentence: “It’s an act of love.”

Fewer and fewer American sand Canadians are joining Bram in being circumcised: Canada’s Public Health Agency says the rate of infant circumcision had dropped to 32% in 2006 from 47% in 1973. In three short years in the United States, hospital circumcision reportedly fell to 32% in 2009 from 56% in 2006, although the Centers for Disease Control said that number was not definitive. The latter rate does not include Jewish bris ceremonies, which are often done in the home, making it difficult to know whether the number of Jews who circumcise is shrinking. Beyond that, the discussion around circumcision is still mostly taboo within the community.

One thing, though, is clear: The Jewish anti-circumcision movement is growing louder. Three Jews were on the committee that led the recent (failed) bid to have circumcision banned in San Francisco, CA. It was a Jewish filmmaker, who moved with his orthodox family to Israel when he was 13 and is now married to an orthodox convert, who created the controversial 2007 film Cut: Slicing Through The Myths of Circumcision. Now that the subject has traction, he was contacted by Abe Haim, a coordinator with intactivist group The Whole Network, to collaborate on a 30-city North American screening tour. It was a Washington D.C.-based rabbi, who considers himself a secular humanist, who said he has never been busier with alternative ceremonies for newborn boys, which are called a Brit Shalom or ‘covenant of peace’ and which is similar to the baby-naming ceremony for infant girls. “There is a growing number of people who have a cultural sense of Jewish identity,” Rabbi Binyamin Biber said. “There is also a growing movement to focus on the body as something good and natural, and therefore not in need of alteration.” And it was a Jewish author, who circumcised her two sons simply because she never thought not to, who last fall published the first fiction book on the controversial question: To circumcise, or not to circumcise? “I wanted to argue against circumcision in a way that couldn’t be dismissed as overly emotional, incendiary, or anti-Jewish,” author Lisa Braver Moss said, referring to her research of Jewish texts for the book The Measure of His Grief. “It was through railing against circumcision that I found deeper meaning in being Jewish.”

They say neither they nor their sons are any less connected to God — or any less Jewish — than Jews who choose to circumcise. “If the Jewish identity comes down to whether or not you have a piece of skin on your penis, then that’s a very sad thing for the Jewish people,” Ms. Wald said, pointing out that a child is Jewish if he or she is born to a Jewish mother.

“There are no religious consequences of not being circumcised — the boy could still have a bar mitzvah, for example,” echoed Eli Ungar-Sargon, the Jewish filmmaker whose tour starts in Los Angeles in September, with stops in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver in October. “The consequences are imagined and invented. They’re not actual.” He said there has been a “cultural shift” since his film launched four years ago, and said the issue “caught fire” with Lloyd Schofield’s attempt to ban circumcision in San Francisco this year — a ban he supports in principle. “I can’t oppose legislation against this because I think it’s a travesty that so many kids are being harmed on a regular basis with the complicity of the medical establishment,” said Mr. Ungar-Sargon, who is himself circumcised but says he does not blame his parents for partaking in what he calls a form of “social violence.”

Actor Mario Lopez last fall became an accidental champion of the intactivist cause when, on his reality show about becoming a father, he said he would not circumcise his child if he happened to have a boy. “I don’t think God makes mistakes, and it’s not an optional part,” the intact Catholic star later said on the Wendy Williams show. Plus, he said, he would want his son to “be like” him.

Mr. Goldstein, Bram’s father, scoffed at the suggestion put forth by some intactivists that Jewish fathers selfishly want their son to have the ‘same equipment’ as them, and said neither he nor his wife ever questioned whether or not little Bram would have a bris. The bris, also known as a brit milah, was on July 4, eight days after Bram’s birth on June 27. They, like many Jews, chose a physician-trained mohel to do the circumcision. Dr. Steven Adashek had come highly recommended in the Baltimore community for his personality and demeanour. It was an added bonus that the doctor used a local anesthetic, they said. Bram did not cry and the procedure took 40 seconds. But for other babies, whose circumcision is performed by a rabbi mohel, the base of the foreskin is not frozen. Dr. Adashek has done upward of 5,000 circumcisions, 1,500 of which were performed on Jewish babies at a bris. The rest of the circumcisions were done on Jews and non-Jews alike in the hospital. “I am often asked whether I circumcised my two boys, and what I say is, ‘I have many chances to scar my children as they age, so I’ll pass on this one and appoint an agent,’ ” he said of his two sons, now 19 and 22. He explained that a circumcision alone, in the absence of a brit milah ceremony, does not fulfill the religious requirements of Mitzvah 612. That poses a problem for a circumcised man looking to convert or for a circumcised man planning to marry into an orthodox family. And so mohels like Dr. Adashek perform what is called a hatafat dam brit — a covenant ceremony where a small 30-gauge needle is used to make a mark on the remnants of the old foreskin. Just three months ago, Dr. Adashek performed a hatafat dam brit on a 79-year-old man who is in the process of converting so he can someday join his daughter in the Jewish cemetery, where she was buried after she herself converted.

Ms. Wald, for her part, said the decision of whether or not to circumcise should be left with men themselves. She said it should not be up to the parent to prescribe a procedure that, she believes, would have diminished her son’s sexual sensitivity. “I want my son to have a fully functioning penis,” she said. “If he ever decides that — for whatever reason — he wants to be circumcised, then that will be his choice.”

National Post (Ontario, Canada), 19 August 2011

The case against circumcision

by Matthew Taylor, Mondoweiss blog, August 4, 2011

Alan Dershowitz's flippant, dismissive remarks about male genital mutilation (aka circumcision) are infuriating, but an apropos Freudian slip. From where I sit, military Zionism shares a lot in common with this barbaric practice. Both involve inflicting violence against an oppressed victim without regard to his/their wishes, rendering the oppressed a voiceless object, an 'It' as opposed to a 'Thou.' I'm 37, and have been sitting on a mountain of grief and rage for 17 years, since I discovered what was stolen from me while reading a critique of circumcision in a hip, underground, alternative Jewish newspaper I found at a campus Hillel, of all places.

Most circumcision advocates don't know the first thing about what a foreskin is and what its purpose is in human sexuality. Did you know that a foreskin increases pleasure for both a man and his partner? Did you know that a foreskin contains tens of thousands of fine touch nerve receptors found nowhere else in the male genitalia, covers and protects the head (glans) of the penis, and creates a pleasure-inducing gliding mechanism? Did you know that circumcision removes the most sensitive and pleasurable parts of the male penis?

Most adult circumcised men I've spoken to are reluctant to discuss this topic and get highly defensive about it, saying, "Hey, my penis is perfectly fine. My sex life is great." If you don't have a foreskin, you don't know what you're missing, Tricking yourself into thinking your sex life is all it could be (when it's not) is a very bad reason to continue inflicting this cruelty on future generations. Think of it this way: if there was a ritual surgery performed at birth that removed a child's ability to see in color, the world would still be beautiful in black-and-white. But why should your son's ability to see in color be taken away just because yours was? Sex in black-and-white is good, but sex in color is much better.  It's well documented that one of the primary drives for circumcision, in both Jewish and gentile communities, was to dampen sexual pleasure. Moses Maimonides, the famed medieval Jewish rabbi, physician and philosopher, wrote, "One of the reasons for circumcision is to bring about a decrease in sexual intercourse and a weakening of the organ in question." Shouldn't that choice be left to the man whose body it is, not inflicted upon him when he's a defenseless baby?

Much like military Zionism, circumcision is promoted on the back of a load of bald faced lies. Consider "a land without a people for a people without a land." Its analogs are "circumcision makes the penis cleaner," "circumcision reduces your chance of catching an STD," and the shopworn "God commands us to do this" (just like God allegedly promised us this land exclusively, and ordered us to ethnically cleanse it of non-Jews.) None of these statements are true, and I shudder at the necessity of debunking them, but debunk them I must, as I can only assume many readers of this blog have been brainwashed about circumcision as I was as a child, and are perhaps reading a rebuttal of the myths for the first time.

"Circumcision makes the penis cleaner" - Let's apply some common sense here. Virtually no European men are circumcised. Is there rampant gangrene in Europe? No. Intact male genitals are as easy to clean as a female's.

"Circumcision reduces your chance of catching an STD" - Again, Europe and common sense are our allies. Why is it that in uncut Europe, STD rates are lower than in circumcised America? Regardless, are infants at risk of catching STDs? Shouldn't decisions about how to practice safe sex be left to grown men? Condoms and responsible sexual choices prevent STDs, not genital mutilation.

"God commands us to perform circumcision" - In the Torah, God also commands us to stone people to death, burn animal sacrifices, and take slaves from neighboring nations. Jews have given up those unholy practices, why shouldn't we give this one up too? The majority of Swedish Jews are intact, and guess what? They're still Jewish! Judaism, whether a cultural, ethnic, or religious identity, does not require circumcision. Jewishness is solely defined by parental lineage or conversion, not by genital cutting. Today, there are Jewish baby welcoming ceremonies for all genders free from genital cutting.

In addition to significantly reducing a grown man's capacity for sexual pleasure, circumcision is a highly risky, unnecessary surgery that results in over 100 infant fatalities every year in the U.S., and leaves countless others with highly disfigured genitals in so-called "botched" circumcisions. In one famous case, David Reimer committed suicide because of his grief over his lack of a penis, the result of a botched circumcision.

My entire argument boils down to one thing: It should have been my choice, and it should be the choice of every man/boy whose body it is -- not the parents. I have no objection to a man who's reached the age of consent choosing circumcision or any other permanent body modification for himself. But that choice must be preserved, not stolen. Parents who defend circumcision by saying "It's a personal choice" – I encounter that argument all the time in my work as an intactivist – are quite delusional to think they should have the right to choose to amputate healthy tissue from a non-consenting minor. They wouldn't do that to their daughters, why should they have the right to inflict such a human rights violation on their sons?

I stand against sexual abuse, child abuse, genital mutilation, and torture, all of which are accurate – and I meant that logically, according to the precise dictionary definitions of those terms – descriptors of the anachronistic practice euphemestically called 'circumcision.' The very fact that our culture is so proud of judging African tribes as barbaric for practicing 'female genital mutilation,' while the mainstream media never uses the term 'male genital mutilation' to describe what routinely happens here, says a lot. Hint: In Europe, they think we're as twisted and barbaric as we think the tribes in Africa are. Fortunately, circumcision rates are falling in the U.S., from a peak of higher than 80% in the 1970s to around 33% today.

According to a 1996 U.S. federal law, it is illegal to perform any act of genital cutting on a non-consenting minor female, even variants of circumcision that are far less invasive and damaging than the typical male circumcision. It's illegal in this country to even prick a clitoral hood and draw a tiny drop of blood from a baby girl for religious purposes, or for any purpsose! I want to see the same legal protections extended to baby boys. In San Francisco, efforts are underway to ban circumcision within city limits, although unfortunately a judge struck it from the ballot - I hope that an appeal will be successful. I see the anti-circumcision movement as being where the gay rights movement was 40 years ago, and I hope it doesn't take that long to catch up. The organized Jewish community presents a significant barrier to this effort, just as they do in the quest for Palestinian rights.

Back to Mr. Dershowitz. He said: "And the first thing you have to do is have all these guys who are circumcized demand it back, go to the hospital, and have it sewn back on. That’ll make them complete pricks, instead of the pricks that they are, O.K.?"

If I could sue the doctor who cut me (unfortunately I'm past the statute of limitations), or wave a magic wand and regenerate what I lost, believe me I would. But since I can't do either of those things, I'm restoring. It doesn't give me back everything that your allies in the penis mutilation industry stole from me, and it doesn't provide justice for the crime, but it does make a big difference. And I'll tell you what Mr. Dershowitz, circumcision has something in common with military, apartheid Zionism: both belong in the dustbin of history. Someday – someday! – Palestinians and Israelis will live together as equals, and someday baby boys will enjoy the same human rights baby girls already do in this country, namely, freedom from non-consensual genital cutting. I wonder if your fear that we'll ask for our foreskins back is an analogue to your fear of ethnically cleansed Palestinians demanding their right of return. (An aside: The fact that circumcision is widely practiced by Muslims, American gentiles, and others doesn't let Dershowitz and his pro-mutilation allies off the hook. Worldwide, 75% of men are intact, putting the circumcision camp in a dwindling minority.)

For more info, check out my resources page.

P.S. - Mr. Dershowitz, if you're reading this, I challenge you to a public debate about circumcision. I'll win. All I need is one legal, constitutional argument: it's called Equal Protection. Thus, if this law were ever challenged at the Supreme Court level, it would have to be amended to outlaw male genital mutilation, too. Maybe you'd get used to Brit Shaloms instead, I hear they're quite enjoyable for everyone involved - especially the baby.

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