Why Don’t We Talk About Circumcision?
Tip for your next date: ask him or her, “What is a normal penis?” Okay, I realize this may not be your ideal pick-up line, but the reality is that once couples have committed and copulated, they must decide for their infant baby boys what their genitals will look like for the rest of their manhood. And when that moment comes, it takes the consent of two parents to decide. Between Britney’s virginal claims boosting record sales, to the public consolation of an overdosed ex-playmate, the standards of sexuality in this country are often confusing. With all of these mixed messages, it is no wonder we’re uncomfortable approaching the subject of sexuality, or the associated anatomical paraphernalia. This may also very well be why we think it’s weird to ask our dates what they think of foreskin (or lack thereof). But even if you’ve no idea what your spouse thinks, or, for that matter, what you think, the question, which will blare at you from the delivery table, stands: to cut or not to cut. How do you decide which fate is best for your child?
First, the facts: circumcision removes fifteen square inches of skin containing tens of thousands of nerve endings from a natural, fully functional, penis shortly after birth. This translates into a total loss of about 50% of the natural penile skin1. And although only about 16% of the world implements this procedure on newborn males2, its prevalence in the United States – at least until very recently – heavily dominated this world percentage. But the trend is shifting. , Whereas the average US rate in 1975 was 85%, in 2003, only 56% of newborn males lost some special skin1.
Wait. You thought circumcision was the norm, right? Although most of the world rejects the practice, public sentiment in this country is slowly shifting in that direction, and as more and more American mothers and fathers opt-out of this surgery on their infants, we have to wonder: why do we circumcise?
Historians allege that the practice has been around for some 4,000 years or more3. Egyptian hieroglyphics show us graphic representations of the procedure, which seemed to be reserved only for young priests-in-training. These young boys, in an effort to please the foreskin-hungry fertility gods, would sacrifice their member for the community. In the earliest forms of the tradition, a young chap might even cut off the whole apparatus, but it seems that a little less drama suited the heavenly throne just fine, reducing the procedure to removing only the protective penile covering we call the foreskin.
Speaking of demanding gods, the Christian god struck a deal with one of his lineage, Abraham, arranging that the human have all his generations circumcised – lest he be cut off from his people4. In the age of Greek and Roman dominance though, cut members were abhorred, and many pre-Christianities (then Jews) attempted to stretch their extra skin back into place. Centuries later, some Christians banded together and called themselves Catholics, and put the anti-cutting law into effect when they constructed the Holy Catechism. Within this Catholic code contains the Respect for Bodily Integrity, section 2297, which states, “directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.5” So next time granny tries to tell you circumcision is part of God’s law, have her read her own code of ethics.
Religion is condemned for many atrocities, but Catholics and Christians the world-over can’t blame it for circumcision. It is extremely rare in Europe today, a region born upon Catholic leadership, and was as such for our English forefathers – who regarded it with repulsion. Something changed when our ancestors left Europe for the promise of splendor and plenty in America. Somehow Puritanism got its sticky clutch upon our society, and it eventually came to admonish such sins as sex and masturbation. In fact, it became such a hysteria that doctors, bent on preventing such “insanity,” conjured a “scientific” preventative for it: circumcision:
Victorian doctors knew very well that circumcision denudes, desensitizes, and disables the penis. Nevertheless, they were soon claiming that circumcision cured epilepsy, convulsions, paralysis, elephantiasis, tuberculosis, eczema, bed-wetting, hip-joint disease, fecal incontinence, rectal prolapse, wet dreams, hernia, headaches, nervousness, hysterias, poor eyesight, idiocy, mental retardation, and insanity… In fact, no procedure in the history of medicine has been claimed to cure and prevent more diseases than circumcision6.
But bear in mind, dear reader, our great-great grandmothers and fathers also cut their baby girls. (Gasp!) Do not be alarmed, for this was considered “normal” to our ancestors.
In America, and indeed other “Western” countries, the female version of this operation is wholly condemned as a violation of civil rights: the UN Human Rights Committee considers the practice unethical 7, as does the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and even the U.S Law, in Section 2, 116 of a Title 18 amendment, implemented in 1995, states:
whoever knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years shall be fined under this ti tle or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both8
New science has advocated the practice on males as beneficial in regards to the prevention of AIDS. If you ask me, there is a better solution to the transmission of sexual diseases: Condoms! What kind of lucid parent would recommend their son cut off some of his god-given penis, rather than use sensible protection? Here’s the latest message from these STD “doctors”: Cut off those genitals, and you won’t get Herpes!
Sometimes kids have the best way of making sense of the nonsense (or visa versa, as is appropriate). When one kid asked his mommy why we circumcise, she told him it was cleaner. “Well that’s dumb mom! What are they gonna do? Cut their butts off too?” retorted the tot9. Point taken. If it’s cleaner to cut off foreskin, well, it’s also cleaner to cut off the labia. Heck, while we’re at it, let’s remove our teeth so we don’t get cavities, remove breasts to eliminate chances of breast cancer, and instead of quitting smoking, let’s just remove our lungs. Simple, right?
Well look, simple-ness is for simpletons. If we want to back up our decisions with hogwash and hysteria, we would not only inflict the danger upon ourselves, but our future generations. Revolutionizing thought is what brings us progress, for if we still believed that the world is flat, or that skin color determined intelligence, we would still be stuck in the dark ages. Foreskin is meant to be a protective barrier for the penis, or as the Circumcision information and Resource Page (CIRP) asserts: Nature intends the glans penis (head) to be an internal organ before puberty and a covered, protected organ after puberty.” 11Just because we are improperly educated about how to care for the natural penis, doesn’t mean we have to cut it off. We invented bathing for a reason, as it cleanses away the bacteria and grime that we all accumulate throughout the day.
If you decide to go ahead and cut, because you believe it to be cleaner, or aesthetically pleasing, check out the procedure first-hand at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6584757516627632617&q=circumcision&hl=en. It is absolutely gut wrenching. Watch the baby being strapped down, observe the fear in his trembling body and untrusting eyes, and listen to the blood-curdling screams of pain. And if you don’t care about all of those shrill death-cries from that innocent pup, if you think, “Well, babies don’t remember,” because you really want son to “look like pops,” be sure to tell him everything you learned about that foreskin you lopped off. Inform him that you painfully ripped away half of the penile flesh he was rightfully born with – skin that protects him and adds to his sensual pleasure, all for the sake of unproven science and visual preference. Because you did educate yourself before forever altering his anatomy, right?
A recent ruling by a Chicago judge barred a mother from having her nine year old son circumcised for “medical reasons.” The ruling stated that “Male circumcision is an irreversible amputation of functional tissue,” and that by giving the mother a red-light on the procedure, “the boy’s legal right to bodily integrity” is protected10. And recently, an Ethipoian man convicted of cutting off his baby girl’s clitoris with a pair of scissors caused quite the media stir. According to the Associated Press, the man claims he did this so that his baby girl “will not be promiscusous,” and that if he had not done it, he would have “brought shame to the family.” This is the same stone-age rationale that afflicts the male population in this country. For, as prosecutor marty Frist stated, “circumcision is just a nice way of saying mutilation.”
So before you cut off something that was rightfully and naturally a part of your baby’s anatomy, consider this: physical acts, once performed, can never be undone. Like adultery and murder, they are irreprehensible. So if you think you want to cut, why don’t you let the little guy decide for himself? I’m sure glad my parents didn’t cut me up without asking, and I’m betting your kids will be too.
1) Circumcision Prevalence. Wikipedia. 13 Nov 2006. http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circumcision#Prevalence_of_Circumcision.com>
2) Williams, Kapila L. Complications of circumcision. British Journal of Surgery. 1993; 80:1231-6. http://www.cirp.org/library/complications/williams-kapila/>
3) Ancient Egyptian Circumcision & Modern Day Practices in Males. Circlist.com. 23 Nov, 2006.http://www.circlist.com/rites/egypt.html>
4) The Harper Collins Study Bible. San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006
5) Catechism of the Catholic Church. Respect for Bodily Integrity. 12 November 2006. http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s2c2a5.htm>
6) Fleiss, Paul M, M.D. The Case Against Circumcision. Mothers against Circumcision.org. 1997. http://www.cirp.org/news/Mothering1997.htm>
7) Reproductive Rights. Legislation on Female Genital Cutting in the United States. 28 November 2006. http://www.reproductiverights.org/pdf/pub_bp_fgmlawsusa.pdf>
8)Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Cutting Act. The Female Genital Cutting Education and Networking Project. July 13, 1995. 22 November 2006. http://www.fgmnetwork.org/legisl/US/federal.html>
10) NZ Herald: “US Judge Rules 9-yr old need not be circumcised”. The New Zealand Herald. 25 October 2006. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/category/story.cfm?c_id=204&objectid=10407539>