Male Genital Mutilation

At Scientific American, Jesse Bering objects to calling circumcision “mutilation”, apparently believing that the word is somehow offensive. What he’s really doing, of course, is trying to rule a line of reasoning, viz. that circumcision is mutilation, off limits by declaring it politically incorrect.

He then goes on to list the reasons that circumcision is a net health benefit for men, with prevention of HIV infection at the top of the list. (Bering is openly gay, but the studies to which he refers mostly concern heterosexuals – in Africa.) Yet HIV infection among exclusively heterosexual, non-drug-abusing men in North America and Europe is so rare as to be non-existent. (Statistics here seem hard to come by; most heterosexual, HIV-positive men appear to be IV drug abusers.)

But of course there are much more effective ways than circumcision of preventing HIV transmission; it’s just that society doesn’t want to consider any of those ways, having declared that gay male sex is a fundamental right.

In any case, there is a list here refuting common arguments used by the American Academy of Pediatrics in their recent declaration on circumcision. Regarding HIV, it states:

Professionals have challenged many studies cited by the AAP report. For example, the AAP report mentions studies that claim reduced HIV transmission in Africa for circumcised men. However, (1) About 60 circumcisions were required to prevent one HIV infection. (2) The studies did not seek to determine the source of the HIV infections. Most HIV infections in Africa are transmitted by contaminated injections and surgical procedures. (3) The studies were not consistent with other evidence. (4) In Europe, where circumcision is rare, there is no increase in the incidence of HIV transmission. (5) Studies of African adults cannot be applicable to American infants.

All that seems beside the point, however. The fact is that this mutilating surgical procedure is performed on non-consenting infants. Parents can consent to medical/surgical treatment of their children, but in the case of circumcision, there is no immediate medical benefit, and the infant boy is in no danger of illness or death from being uncircumcised. Therefore, circumcision on infant boys should be banned, and when a male reaches the age of majority, he can consent to the operation himself should he so desire. (Why he would desire a circumcision I can’t imagine, but some people pierce themselves or have whimsical and vulgar designs permanently engraved on their bodies, so to each his own I guess.)

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5 comments
Johnny Caustic says September 17, 2012

Another relevant fact is that the foreskin is attached to the penis head at infancy, and naturally detaches itself with time–typically by the age of 3, but sometimes not until puberty. Removing the foreskin while it’s still attached leaves permanent scarring on the penis, which is occasionally rather grotesque, and which in some unlucky men causes physical problems. Circumcision should be delayed until the detachment occurs naturally.

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eah says September 17, 2012

Parents can consent to medical/surgical treatment of their children,…

So in your mind circumcision is clearly an elective procedure, i.e. not medically necessary, and therefore should be banned? Should all elective surgery on minor children be banned? How would you formulate that legally? Would you specifically ban circumcision?

Like millions of other American male infants born last century, I was circumsized. And I honestly cannot remember when I actually became aware of the fact that my penis looked the way it did because it was circumsized. Maybe it was when I saw an uncircumsized penis — not at all common — for the first time? In a locker room maybe? I don’t recall it as something that was widely debated, until relatively recently.

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    Paloma says March 11, 2016

    Totally agree with that. My son had a lot of skin on his penis and my family doctor advised me to be extremely careful when visiting other doctors or nurses. She said that he would change naturally and touching this or pulling violently his skin downwards, the usual treatment for excess skin in my country, could lead even to an infection and gave no benefits at all.
    On the other hand, my nephew, who has born with the same condition was “cured” violently by my sister-in-law uncle, a well known urologist 🙁
    Now my son is 5 years old and his penis skin can go backwards easily, and has had no balanitis episodes at all.

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Mangan says September 17, 2012

Well, I doubt that most people would think that parents should be allowed to consent to, say, a nose job for their child. OTOH, there is plastic surgery that isn’t strictly medically necessary that isn’t objectionable, say for cleft palate or other disfigurement. But an intact penis is *normal*.

If circumcision’s benefits could be unequivocally demonstrated to be far greater than the risks, maybe a case could be made for infant circumcision. But the case for it seems highly doubtful, IMO. Therefore it should be done only on an adult with informed consent.

BTW, much the same can be said about fluoridation of water. There’s been a lot of debate about benefits vs. risks, but the real issue is informed consent.

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Anonymous says September 20, 2012

They pushed the procedure prior to AIDS by saying it was better for cleanliness, as though people can’t use soap and water. Later they latched onto the disease angle, using questionable studies on African tribes. They keep changing the reasons. It’s quack medicine, that’s what it is.

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