For some time there has been an apparent hypocrisy, particularly in the United States, with regard to non-medically-necessary genital operations performed on infants and children, a subject I posted about previously.
This article is a reasonable summary for starters, apart from the perhaps over-emotive first paragraph, but to be honest I’m inclined to find it appropriate.
Girls have long been (at least officially) protected from damaging genital surgery, although along with MGM it used to be common in the developed world – for similar reasons (myths regarding hygiene benefits and the wish to reduce or destroy sexuality). Sadly, while there are laws against FGM (it is illegal in Egypt but the problem has certainly not disappeared), it is still practised not only in the developing world but also in the UK and the US.
Boys have not been afforded the same protection, despite the fact that more than 100 boys die because of circumcision complications every year in the USA. That may not seem like a lot in terms of the population size but that’s 100 families whose lives have been shattered, 100 lives lost needlessly. One is too many.
There is an interesting Wiki article on circumcision-related law, past and present. ‘Cosmetic circumcision’ is banned in Australian public hospitals, it seems in Britain we cannot make a firm decision on the matter despite some encouraging analyses:
Fox and Thomson (2005) argue that consent cannot be given for non-therapeutic circumcision. They say there is “no compelling legal authority for the common view that circumcision is lawful.”
The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) has recently revised its statement on female genital mutilation (FGM). To address the hypocrisy and sexism in the USA regarding genital mutilation of children (where it’s OK to remove healthy, sexual tissue from the penis but not the vulva), instead of doing what would seem like the sensible thing – officially stating that neither FGM nor MGM is recommended – it has actually relaxed its position on FGM. Truly astonishing.
“Ritual cutting and alteration of the genitalia of female infants, children and adolescents, referred to as female genital cutting (FGC)*, has been a tradition in some countries since ancient times and continues today in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
According to a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “Ritual Genital Cutting of Female Minors,” in the May issue of Pediatrics (published online April 26), the AAP opposes all forms of female genital cutting that pose a risk of physical or psychological harm, and encourages its members not to perform such procedures.
In addition, the AAP urges pediatricians and pediatric surgical specialists to actively dissuade parents from carrying out ritual FGC and provide families with education about the lifelong physical harms and psychological suffering associated with the procedure.
Many parents who request FGC do so out of tradition**, and also out of concern for daughters’ marriage ability within their culture, so physicians need to remain sensitive while informing them of the harmful and potentially life-threatening consequences.”
* The ridiculous decision to switch to a more PC-term, ‘genital cutting’, avoiding ‘mutilation’ is analysed well by Jezebel. Mutilation is an apt term for this practice, if one looks up its dictionary definition.
** The tradition argument should NOT be acceptable for this. It’s the 21st century and we’re still accepting the most basic, childish argument as justification for such an act. ‘Well, they did it, why can’t I?’
You’re only free to do whatever you want as long as you’re not harming anyone else. Your freedom to do what you like ends when you start infringing on the freedom of others. I cannot imagine many greater infringements of personal freedom than lopping off bits of a child’s genitals, because you want to or you have some half-baked reasoning behind it (see earlier post for a few of those).
For example, I was recently quite shocked by a girl stating (after someone brought up their reasons for not particularly wanting to convert to Judaism):
Well it can be good for women, so why not! … Makes them last longer
I cannot find this sentiment anything other than disgusting. Increased male pleasure is one of the many ‘reasons’ given for severe FGM. In fact, if you talk to enough women you are likely to find that this is not the consensus opinion (anyone who’s found themselves bored, staring at the ceiling after half a repetitive hour can partly appreciate why), if it even matters; advocating unnecessary and dangerous genital surgery on minors for your own sexual gratification… well, I don’t really have the words for it. Selfish wouldn’t suffice.
For anyone who is interested, http://www.norm.org/comes highly recommended by friends who are restoring; trying to recover something of what was taken from them without their consent. Let me know if you want me to put you in touch with them.
Here are a couple of good videos I saw today:
Dr John Geisheker speaking about American physicians escaping justice after babies die as a result of cirumcision.
Steven Svoboda on the currently popular myth that circumcision is a miracle strategy to prevent HIV spread.
This page has some very good educational videos on the functions of the foreskin and consequences of circumcision (not safe for work, obviously)
Finally, the following is from Guggie Daly; a fairly comprehensive run-down of foreskin functions (for all the ‘It’s just a useless bit of skin!’ people).
All of the following comprise the foreskin and are removed in the typical American circumcision:
(1) The Foreskin
comprises up to 50% (sometimes more) of the mobile skin system of the penis . If unfolded and spread out flat the average adult foreskin would measure about 15 square inches( the size of a 3×5 inch index card). This highly specialised tissue normally covers the glans and protects it from abrasion, drying, callousing (keratinisation), and contaminants of all kinds.The effect of glans keratinisation has never been studied.
(2) The Frenar Ridged Band
The primary erogenous zone of the male body. Loss of this delicate belt of densely innervated, sexually responsive tissue reduces the fullness and intensity of sexual response.
(3) The Foreskin’s ‘Gliding Action’
- the hallmark mechanical feature of the normal natural, intact penis. This non-abrasive gliding of the penis in and out of itself within the vagina facilitates smooth , comfortable, pleasurable intercourse for both partners. Without this gliding action, the corona of the circumcised penis can function as a one-way valve, scraping vaginal lubricants out into the drying air and making artificial lubricants essential for pleasurable intercourse.
(4) Nerve Endings
Nerve Endings transmit sensations to the brain – fewer Nerve Endings means fewer sensations; circumcision removes the most important sensory component of the foreskin – thousands of coiled fine-touch receptors called Meissner’s corpuscles. Also lost are branches of the dorsal nerve, and between 10,000 and 20,000 specialized erotogenic nerve endings of several types. Together these detect subtle changes in motion and temperature, as well as fine gradations in texture.
(5) The Frenulum
The highly erogenous V-shaped web-like tethering structure on the underside of the glans; frequently amputated along with the foreskin, or severed, either of which destroys its function and potential for pleasure.
(6) Muscle Sheath
Circumcision removes approximately half of the temperature-sensitive smooth muscle sheath which lies between the outer layer of skin and the corpus cavernosa. This is called the dartos fascia.
(7) The Immunological Defense System of the soft mucosa.
This produces both plasma cells that secrete immunoglobulin antibodies and antibacterial and antiviral proteins such as the pathogen-killing enzyme lysozyme.
(click ‘more’ below the links for references)
This page with illustrations demonstrates the functions of the male prepuce:
Dr. Peter Ball on the function of the foreskin:
Video showing a computer generated model of the function of the foreskin during sexual activity.
Contrast and compare pictures of cut and intact penises:
What is lost due to circumcision?
The three zones of penile skin:
The functions of the foreskin:
(1) M. M. Lander, “The Human Prepuce,” in G. C. Denniston and M. F. Milos, eds., Sexual Mutilations: A Human Tragedy (New York: Plenum Press, 1997), 79-81.
M. Davenport, “Problems with the Penis and Prepuce: Natural History of the Foreskin,” British Medical Journal 312 (1996): 299-301.
(2) Taylor, J. R. et al., “The Prepuce: Specialized Mucosa of the Penis and Its Loss to Circumcision,” British Journal of Urology 77 (1996): 291-295.
(3) P. M. Fleiss, MD, MPH, “The Case Against Circumcision,” Mothering: The Magazine of Natural Family Living (Winter 1997): 36-45.
(4) R. K. Winkelmann, “The Erogenous Zones: Their Nerve Supply and Its Significance,” Proceedings of the Staff Meetings of the Mayo Clinic 34 (1959): 39-47.
R. K. Winkelmann, “The Cutaneous Innervation of Human Newborn Prepuce,” Journal of Investigative Dermatology 26 (1956): 53-67.
(5) Cold, C, Taylor, J, “The Prepuce,” BJU International 83, Suppl. 1, (1999): 34-44. 2. Kaplan, G.W., “Complications of Circumcision,” Urologic Clinics of North America 10, 1983.
(6) Netter, F.H., “Atlas of Human Anatomy,” Second Edition (Novartis, 1997): Plates 234, 329, 338, 354, 355.