I wrote the following article the other day, and opted out of publishing it in favour of a less-debate-like, more diplomatic article. Hypocritically, I called it: Why Circumcision Debates Matter. I’ve been regretting that choice! So, in honour of of the debates I was encouraging yesterday, I’m firing off the version I wrote originally:
Looks like it’s time for another circumcision article. JUST when I’d developed a non-sexual crush on a dad-blogger on who recently wrote a hilarious article called “I Challenge you to a Doula!”, he turns around and pumps out a circumcision-is-okay post that obeys all the laws of How to write convincingly about circumcision (check it out!). Seems our blogger-relationship has hit a small hurdle. Sigh. We’re working on things though… trying to use thoughtful communication skills here as a means for discussing our differences.
I thought I’d take a moment to address some of the points he made in his article here on my own blog. I want to do this because he makes some really common arguments for circumcision that you might have heard before. This is a great opportunity for me to clear up some of these common misconceptions.
Luckily, he previously gave me permission to excerpt from his posts as long as I link back to his original article.
Shall we begin?
Birth Takes a Village responds to Making the Cut
“Oh man. People get so snippy on the topic of circumcision. I personally don’t understand why there’s such a big flap. It’s binary after all: your foreskin is either on or off, and it doesn’t particularly matter which.”*
Circumcision is an important issue, and deciding whether or not to circumcise your child DOES matter. Quite a lot, in my opinion!
Here are some reasons deciding whether or not to circumcise matters:
- Genital integrity is an International Human Rights issue
- According to governing bodies such as Health Canada and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia, modern evidence does not support performing circumcision for prophylactic health reasons
- There are medical risks outlined by Health Canada associated with circumcision
- Even though babies are inarticulate, they are still conscious beings who have experiences and form memories, and it is important to consider the psychological impact a potentially painful or unnecessary surgery may have on a newborn child
- Foreskin has a purpose, and removing it has functional repercussions
“The foreskin is highly receptive to viruses and infection – not an issue when good hygiene is practiced. But the operative word in that sentence is “when”… [Man Law dictates I not disclose how many of us don’t wash their hands in public restrooms. And half of us who do just flick their fingers under the faucet, like they were shaking loose a statically charged piece of styrofoam.]”*
Gosh, at this epidemic rate of poor male hygeine, it’s a miracle clinic waiting rooms aren’t swarming with men needing their intact penises rescued because of raging foreskin infections.
Here is a statement from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia on the health impact of circumcision:
“Infant male circumcision was once considered a preventive health measure and was therefore adopted extensively in Western countries. Current understanding of the benefits, risks and potential harm of this procedure, however, no longer supports this practice for prophylactic health benefit. Routine infant male circumcision performed on a healthy infant is now considered a non‐therapeutic and medically unnecessary intervention.”
“On occasion, the decision to not circumcise can be perilous. I know of at least two boys who, because of “complications,” had to be circumcised around age 11. Not an auspicious start to puberty.”*
True. This happens. Just like surgery to remove one of those annoying extra kidneys or the barely-useful appendix. But we don’t send our newborns off to surgery to get those piddly organs removed right away, just in case they develop a medical problem later on. Generally speaking, we wait for the kidney or appendix to show signs of distress before surgically removing them. This is because, although we can go on mostly fine without them, we accept that it’s better to have most of your organs intact when possible.
I suppose one could make the argument that the removal of these internal organs is more invasive and therefor not as serious as circumcision. Less invasive, maybe. Although, based on what I know about men, if there is ONE of their organs they take seriously…
‘The latest studies show a modest health benefit from being circumcised. This benefit is exaggerated in Africa, where circumcision lowers HIV infection among hetero men by 60%. (International health organizations have a goal of circumcising 20 million African men by 2015.”*
The study that’s being quoted here is an extremely controversial one. There are methodological, ethical and legal factors that make its outcomes questionable. In fact, Another research paper, from the Journal of Public Health in Africa, actually shows that promoting circumcision as a tool for fighting HIV may actually increase HIV infections. For a detailed look at my opinion on this circumcision campaign, please see my first article on circumcision, Cutting Edge Science as an Excuse for Circumcision on World AIDs Day.
“Opponents of circumcision claim it is a barbaric, painful practice. Some even draw a comparison to female genital mutilation. This is a poor analogy, given that the latter is a) without medical benefit, b) performed on pubescent girls using rusty tools and c) do you really need a third reason?”*
a) define medical benefit. If the argument here is that cutting off foreskin has the prophylactic medical benefit of preventing disease, I encourage you to look at some more research before jumping to that conclusion. Again, I refer you to the governing body in my province, which states that “Current understanding of the benefits, risks and potential harm of this procedure, however, no longer supports this practice for prophylactic health benefit. ” So,the truth is, neither female nor male circumcision have a supported medical benefit.
b) if female circumcision were being performed with the finest stainless steel equipment money could buy, would the practice then be acceptable? And if prebuscent girls in third world countries deserve protection, why don’t newborn boys? Don’t all children have rights, regardless of which country they live in, or which tools are used to modify their genitals? The United Nations, in fact, lists several universal rights which routine infant circumcision is arguably in direct violation of.
c)Yes. I still would love a third reason, because I’m not convinced “a” and “b” are sound arguments.
When I was born, the rate of circumcision in the U.S. was around 90%. Now it is roughly 50% and flagging. The medical establishment doesn’t officially endorse either decision, which means parents can be guided by their aesthetic preferences, for now.* With so little at stake, undecided parents may opt to poll the real experts: women. Specifically, slutty women.”*
I think I better work on getting laid more, or I will never be achieve expert status in this field! Damn. If only I were sluttier….
I’m sure our dad-blogger here knew he was going to ruffle some feathers with this statement! I hope I am misunderstanding something, but to me it sounds like he’s saying that parents who choose not to circumcise their sons are doing so based on coffee-shop chats they have with women who are sipping java while recovering from their night of slutty activity and debating the sexual merits of foreskin.
I am quite confident that most mothers don’t become sold on genital integrity solely because the wild-girl in her friend group raves about how much easier it is to give a hand-job to an intact dude. (It is).
Parents who have chosen not to circumcise are generally people who took the time to learn about today’s accurate research and weigh the risks and benefits of circumcision. They may even have consulted, in my country, Health Canada’s position on circumcision before coming to their final conclusions: Health Canada’s position is that, “The overall evidence of the benefits and harms of circumcision is so evenly balanced that it does not support recommending circumcision as a routine procedure for newborns”.
Although I will admit I’ve never heard this slutty-woman expert argument anywhere else before, it is a common argument that parents who choose not to circumcise are ill-informed or not being responsible. I would argue that people who are choosing to do something outside of the status-quo in their social group are likely to try to arm themselves with good information before making a decision that goes against everything they previously were taught or is the norm in their circles.
“Puzzingly, many of the most vocal “intactivists,” as they style themselves, are women. I personally disapprove of women taking a hard stance on how a nation handles its penises; anyone that attached to the foreskin should really be a dude.”*
This is an interesting phenomenon indeed. I was talking about this with a fellow “intactivist” a few months ago. I say “fellow” because he’s a dude. Although it might seem that there are more women getting riled up about the issue, there are definitely fellas our there who think this is an extremely important issue and want circumcision to stop.
He reflected that perhaps more women seem to vocalize the problems with circumcision because women have such a protective instinct built in to care for the baby they’ve been growing inside of them for the last 40+ weeks. I think this is a good point. Dad’s are important; my own dad is one of my favorite people in the whole world, and he definitely make a huge positive impact on my childhood and who I am today. However, let’s face it. In general, women are the nuturers, the caregivers and the ones who were responsible for baby’s health since the moment of conception! They have a mothering, natural, innate and vested interest in their son’s physical and mental health, including the impact of parental choices on his foreskin.
Should women have a say over what adult men do with their foreskin? Absolutely not. Should they have a say over what happens to the bodies of their newborn children? I think yes, of course they should!
Also, for circumcised guys to embrace the idea that cutting off foreskin is wrong, they might think it means accepting that something “wrong” happened to them, that their own genitals are somehow not-quite-right. It can be much easier to say “Well, this is just what we do. I seem fine. We might as well keep doing it.” Like many things in life, often people are much more comfortable with status quo than really digging into an issue and forming an opinion based on facts, particularly when the issue involves their own personal experiences or their current belief system. This is not to say that circumcised men are inherently incapable of coming to intelligent conclusions that just happen to be contrary to my own. I’m just saying there is potential for emotional bias.
“The only room for heated debate is between expecting parents with opposing preferences for their son. But even there I’m hard pressed to imagine a scenario where the father’s wishes don’t prevail. If only because, one day both father and son will be alone outdoors when they both experience the urge to whiz. Like firemen, they might focus their streams on an agreed target. Or in keeping with ancient tradition, they may instead elect to “cross swords.” In that moment, the overriding principle is not one of religion or hygiene or misplaced compassion, but of heritage. Pass it on.”*
I definitely can embrace the romantic power of tradition as being something that’s valuable. But I find it difficult to believe that sons will have this ancient, manly practice of pee-competing with their fathers ripped away from their innocent lives because they still have their foreskin intact. Intact men can still pee standing up, I assure you. Like the “slut” comment, this explicit example is another argument which is not exactly common. But referring to tradition certainly is a common one. I think as a species, we’ve always been in a position to choose which traditions to pass on and which ones to let go of. My personal belief is that this is one that is better left behind.
“Worry about your son’s pecker and no one else’s.”*
Time for another sigh. I really wish our world was more into the greater good, looking out for one another, and learning from each other in an effort to create the best situations possible for ourselves, our communities and our planet. A none-of-your business attitude, to me, seems like a sad one.
If you are deciding whether or not to circumcise your son, I urge you to take the time to really learn about the process and its risks, impact, and the truth about its supposed benefits. Take some time to start re-evaluating your opinion on the subject! I encourage you to do some research. Talk about the subject with your doctors, your peers and other parents, including those who’s opinions differ from yours. If you don’t have a son, talk about it anyway! Watch a circumcision video, and really take it upon yourself to understand the psychological, immunological and sexual impact circumcision has.
It’s by discussing our opposing views with one another that our own beliefs get challenged and we have to really take some time to evaluate if we want to hang on to our current beliefs and traditions or make space for some new ideas.
*All above quotes in italics are from Making The Cut at daddyconfidential.com . Please visit the original article if you would like to read it in it’s full and original context… I don’t want to be misrepresentin’ anyone here! Also, his other posts on fatherhood, doulas and pregnancy are still worth a read, despite our circumcision differences!