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The Unkindest Cut

My daughter, who is six, has an eye infection. Unlike other eye infections she’s had, this one is under her upper eye-lid. The doctor prescribed a course of antibiotics for her and she’ll be grand in a few days. It never occurred to me to ask to have her eye-lid sliced off. That would be beyond barbaric, and totally unnecessary, right?

Yet, millions of parents throughout the world choose to have an equally barbaric and unnecessary procedure performed on their children – circumcision.  Specifically, male infant circumcision – a procedure that removes a piece of skin, one of whose functions is to protect the organ beneath it. In much the same way as an eye-lid protects and lubricates the organ beneath it.

For some reason, while many people are appalled by the notion of female genital mutilation, its male counterpart raises not nearly as many eyebrows. Circumcision is routinely carried out on millions of little boys worldwide and it truly is the unkindest cut. Unkind not just because it is medically unnecessary in the vast majority of cases, but also because it ‘removes one-third to one-half of the skin on the penile shaft,’  according to Ronald Goldman, Ph.D., executive director of the Circumcision Resource Center in Boston and author of Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma. ‘The average circumcision cuts off what would grow into about 12 square inches of sexually sensitive skin.’ According to Canadian pathologist John Taylor, M.B., the foreskin is one of the key erogenous zones of the male body. Its 240 feet of nerves and 1,000 nerve endings are similar to those on the fingers and lips.

Douglas MacArthur, a 55-year-old  who was circumcised as an adult has this to say about his pre- and post- circumcision sexual experiences: ‘Sex before circumcision was like driving a luxury car with automatic transmission,’ he explains. ‘I used to just glide along. Sex now is like driving a tiny, powerless compact with a manual transmission. It takes a lot of work to get anywhere. My penis has lost 90 percent of its sensitivity.’

Some people use religion – whether it’s Judaism or Islam – as an argument for circumcision. That argument makes my head spin. Mutilating the genitals of a baby or young boy on religious grounds would be funny if it weren’t so sad. If we take that argument apart, what it says is ‘I believe in God. I believe in God as a supreme being who never makes a mistake. Yet I believe that I know better than God how a male human body should be constructed.’ Wow. That’s some powerful arrogance.

As it happens, neither Judaism nor Islam prescribes circumcision. If you don’t believe me, you can see for yourself here and here. Circumcision is not even mentioned in the Qura’an and both religions expressly forbid disfiguring the body. Can anyone honestly say that mutilating a penis is not disfiguring it?

No medical argument for routine circumcision is valid, either. There have been plenty of them, mind you, and all of them equally bizarre; from the notion that circumcising black men would prevent them raping white women to the belief that it cures all manner of ailments from epilepsy to mental illness. In the 1940s, circumcision of males was recommended to eliminate sensitivity of the penis and prevent boys and men from masturbating!

Some doctors have had the balls – if you’ll pardon the dreadful pun that I should have been able to resist – to recant their early espousal of circumcision. Most notably, Dr Benjamin Spock now holds the position that ‘My own preference, if I had the good fortune to have another son, would be to leave his little penis alone.’

I’m not saying that circumcision is never medically necessary; congenital phimosis – a condition where the foreskin cannot be fully retracted from the head of the penis – is not always treatable by measures other than circumcision. It’s a rare occurrence though, and to remove a foreskin prophalactically is akin to removing the breast buds of a newborn girl in order to prevent her from getting breast cancer.

Some advocates of MGM say that babies don’t feel pain and that they don’t remember the procedure, in order to justify the fact that day old babies are subjected to this brutal abuse which is usually performed without anaesthetic (a graphic account of what exactly happens to these baby boys can be found here). Those babies are  screaming in agony – making an absolute mockery of Hippocrates’s  primum non nocere (first do no harm). And I find it an insult to my intelligence to suggest that such a traumatic experience does not imprint itself on the brain of a young baby. Think, for a moment, how awful it must be to have your first sexual experience such a sadistic one.

So, who benefits from routine male genital mutilation? Not the boys and men it’s done to, that’s for sure. Not their sexual partners, either. At the risk of sounding cynical, only those who are paid to carry out the procedure benefit. Oh! And the manufacturers of lubricants, gels and ointments that there would be no need for if penises were left intact.

Contrary to what circumcised men will try to tell you – their penises are not more sensitive than their uncut brothers’; in fact, it’s the exact opposite. A penis without the protection of a foreskin needs to toughen up, which results in diminished sensitivity. At the risk of imparting too much information, I can tell you that men who are circumcised tend to use their penises as pestles (because they need to pound more in order to orgasm). Also, as far as foreplay is concerned, there’s a huge amount more you can do with a complete penis. A huge amount.

My basic point is this: I believe – passionately – in genital integrity. That is the principle that all human beings—whether male, female or intersexed—have a right to the genitalia they were born with.  If an adult decides they would like to chop off a perfectly functioning and important part of their anatomy and they can find a doctor to oblige – then fair play to them. But it is not fair to do the same to a defenceless baby.

(Thanks to  @janetravers, @Chadwickauthor and @Danoosha for our conversation on Twitter this morning which prompted this post)

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23 thoughts on “The Unkindest Cut

  1. Mrs Embers says:

    Well said! Thank you for posting this well-thought-out and perfectly expressed piece. You’ve said what I always want to, but you’ve said it better. 🙂

    • Lady Scribbles says:

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting on this piece. It’s something that – like you – I feel very strongly about. ~ Hazel

    • Lady Scribbles says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting. Routine, non-therapeutic circumcision is child sexual abuse, but not everyone sees it that way. I’d like to see it outlawed – and the laws enforced.

      • Jennifer says:

        I ABSOLUELY agree with you 100%, and have reposted this on my FB. It SHOULD be illegal, and I will be fighting with you until the day it is!!

      • Lady Scribbles says:

        Thanks for reposting this on your FB page, Jennifer. And thanks for your support. ~ Hazel

    • Lady Scribbles says:

      Thank you. It’s an important issue and I feel that little boys are circumcised without parents giving it proper consideration – or even any at all. It’s a terrible thing to do to a child of either sex.

  2. Kimberley says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. I like how you touch on all the different aspects of MGM.
    When I first started learning more, I was really hung up on how painful it is. My first-born son was circumcised 20 years ago and I had a very difficult time learning the truth about what he’d been through. It still hurts, and always will.
    Focusing on the pain lead me to think that if the best possible pain-reducing measures were used, then maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
    But it is – because it is still taking away part of someone else’s body without that person’s consent.
    I continue to be amazed that in our modern *civilized* society, that this torture, mutilation and sexual abuse is not just tolerated, but embraced by the medical establishment and parents. Both groups have a moral duty to protect babies, not harm them!

    • Lady Scribbles says:

      Kimberley – thanks so much for stopping by to read and comment on this post. I think you’re very brave to have probed your previously-held beliefs and taken the responsibility to educate yourself. Not everyone has that courage. Twenty years ago, people were more inclined to automatically do what doctors told them – only in recent years have people realised that they have a right, and a responsibility, to question doctors and ask them for the references to back up what they’re saying. Let’s hope that more parents start to question ‘routine’ procedures and step up to protect their children. ~ Hazel

  3. cosmopolite says:

    Once again, a quiet everyday woman and mother can think this through far far better than most men and most doctors. Funny how having a penis in no way makes one capable to think about it sensibly.

    You also had the courage to write as follows:

    “At the risk of imparting too much information, I can tell you that men who are circumcised tend to use their penises as pestles (because they need to pound more in order to orgasm). Also, as far as foreplay is concerned, there’s a huge amount more you can do with a complete penis. A huge amount.”

    You did not flinch from crossing the Final Frontier of intactivism: the damage circ can do to marital pleasure. Some cut young men thrust too hard, too fast, and too deep, in a way that leaves their partners feeling that they’ve been date raped. This is horrible and disgusting.

    Over the past 50 years, you woman have done a lot of “homework” about sex and anatomy. Starting with your own bodies. But the resulting vast self-education has resulted in a growing sophistication about the male body as well. I would argue that intactivism is in some part an unintended consequence of sex-positive feminism.

    • Lady Scribbles says:

      Thank you so much for your positive and thoughtful response to my post. I adhere to the maxim ‘what you permit, you promote’ and so felt I had to put to finger to keyboard to express (some of ) my thoughts on circumcision. Thanks for stopping by to read my blog – I hope to see you again soon! ~ Hazel

  4. Thank you. Please support MGMbill.org.
    Circumcision cuts off an average 75% of the erogenous sexual receptors and all of the most sensitive areas: the ridged band and part to all the frenulum. For many then, the glans thus becomes the most sensitive part (which has to fight the most populace pain receptors).

    I chose circumcision at age 5 because I like the more interesting look of the exposed glans. Biggest mistake of my life! Because sexual receptors were not yet mature, I didn’t notice loss of sensation until keratinization (callousing) caught up yo me during puberty. Ironic, the more I masturbated, the more I lost sensitivity. There is a Turkish study done suggesting when circ is done at age 5, it increases them to be gay. Is this why I am Gay?

    On PAIN: Nelson Mandela said his circumcision was blinding white light of electrical fire burning throughout all his veins.
    Also: http://bit.ly/mMoZR 3,928 island villagers males&females all ages forced circ’d into Islam by Muslim clerics
    REDUCES male FERTILITY: http://healthvene.com/factors-affecting-male-fertility/
    http://tinyurl.com/yfl54cu Brain Visualization Research during Male Infant Circumcision by Dr. Paul D. Tinari Ph.D.
    KILLS PARTS of the BRAIN becuase cells atrophy and die when no longer receiving neural impulses from the missing foreskin. Adjacent cells grow into this dead space chaotically.
    HARMS including PSTD: The Royal Dutch Medical Association on Circumcision http://www.circumcisionandhiv.com/2010/05/royal-dutch-medical-association-issues-statement-on-male-circumcision-of-infants-and-children-aap-no.html

    • Lady Scribbles says:

      Thanks for your long and thoughtful comments. I notice you say that you ‘chose’ circumcision at age 5. I wonder how many five year olds can really make any kind of informed decision of such magnitude. Laws in this country (and many others) hold that those under 18 can’t be tattooed because they are not deemed mature enough to make such an irreversible decision. Even those under 16 can’t be pierced without a parent or guardian present. I also note what you say regarding Jewish teachings. The holy books of many (all?) religions have been interpreted and rewritten to suit the wishes of those who interpreted/rewrote them.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my blog. ~ Hazel

  5. Interesting read from Glick’s “Marked in Your Flesh” (full history of Jewish Circumcision): “that the Lord’s covenant and his two definitive promises (prodigious reproduction success and a lavish land grant (all of Canaanite land) appears first in Genesis 15, an earlier J text but with one crucial difference, there is no mention of circumcision.” “To seal this covenant the only requirement is that Abram offer several sacrificial animals- a heifer, goat, ram, dove, and one other bird. Here we find no mention of circumcision, no change of name, no mention of Isaac or Ishmael.” “Like a number of their neighbors, the ancient Israelites had practiced circumcision, but not as a mandatory rite and probable seldom on infants; nor did they associate it with the idea of covenant.”

    It was the Judean Priests who wrote Genesis 17 (P text) 13 centuries after Abraham’s putative lifetime that called for male circumcision of infants. A initiation rite not so much for the infant but of the father who must circumcise his son himself for he is cognizant of the event whereas the infant is not. These type of circ.s were the cutting off the acroposthion (the part that hangs past the glans). No damage of tearing the foreskin from the glans (thus results scarring from the cut up to the tip of the glans) and no amputating the part covering the glans. The radical circ., also medically known as penile reduction, as we do happens centuries later. The Torah says not to mark the body, the original Covenant jives with the earliest Judea.

  6. Adam says:

    My wife and I were talking about this issue recently after a friend mentioned she was considering not circumcising if she has a boy. My personal experience was not being circumcised as an infant. The first time I pulled my foreskin back to clean under it in the bath tub, my foreskin swelled up and wouldn’t go forward, constricting the head of my penis. We had to go to the emergency room where it took them about fifteen minutes of shots and pulling with forceps to put my foreskin back over the head.
    After that trip I was always washing under my foreskin with soap and water, but in college I got a yeast infection under my foreskin which also resulted in tearing the frenulum which attaches to the foreskin. The doctor said that the foreskin creates a moist, warm environment where bacteria can easily grow. I ended up being circumcised in college to prevent any more infections.

  7. Thank you so much for writing this!

    My son was born last night via C-section, and here you have succinctly and eloquently laid out so many of the reasons my husband and I decided NOT to circumcise him!

    Hubby has shared this on facebook, and I hope we can help further the cause of intactivism by linking to this post!

  8. cosmopolite says:

    Circumcision can adversely affect sexual pleasure and functionality, in ways that American research has not been honest about. Nearly all sex research is American, and the vast majority of educated American women are married to circumcised husbands. Hence sex research has not really explored the connection between circumcision status and the sexual pleasure of women.

    The way forward here lies in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, where not all men between the ages of 25 and 50 are circumcised, and hence where women free spirits of the same age are more likely to have experience of both kinds of partners.

    Let me first say that most of the sexual advantages of the intact penis are eliminated when a condom is present. For an unmarried woman to learn by experience what I say below requires that she engage is some very risky behaviour. Incidentally, there are women who have had one cut and one intact partner, and who have compared and contrasted their experiences with each in blog and forum posts. Let me interject here that in my opinion, the boldest intactivist gesture is for a woman to use the internet to reveal to the world that she has been with both kinds of men and definitely prefers intact. The circumcision lobby (CDC, Brian Morris) cannot top that!

    When you circumcise a child, his future adult penis enters a lottery. Most circumcised adult men are doing OK, at least until age 40 or 50. But some men circumcised as infants have damaged penises. Often the damage is not evident until their 20s and 30s. Some circumcised men suffer from ED and PE. At the risk of imparting TMI, my wife had many partners before meeting me. All those who suffered from PE were cut. Infant circ begins a lifetime of gradual loss of sensation, which can result in the inability to enjoy vaginal intercourse after a certain age.

    The foreskin interacts with his and her natural lubrication in ways that are hard to describe but that I can assure you, from long married experience, are wonderful.

    Circumcision can facilitate highly dysfunctional approaches to vaginal intercourse. One is called “power f***ing” on YouTube: hard, fast, deep from the first stroke, with a minimum of preliminaries. This is a form of date rape. Intact men are less attracted to this, because they get plenty of pleasure from a more gentle and civilised approach to vaginal intercourse. The other is outright rape. Keep in mind that rapists never bother with KY. Unlubricated intercourse is painful for an intact man, because his foreskin snags on her dry vaginal wall which, in turn, puts unpleasant tension on his frenulum.

    When I learned what vaginal intercourse was, and observed how my foreskin vanished during erections, I assumed that my foreskin played no role in intercourse. Imagine my consternation when I encountered a diagram in Wallerstein (1980), claiming that the foreskin is pushed back when he pushes in and is pulled forward when he pulls out, and that this “gliding action” makes vaginal intercourse more pleasant for her. I read French, and do my best to acquaint myself with the sexual cultures of Latin America and northern Europe. As best as I can determine, the only place where this gliding action is mentioned is in American intactivist writing. The USA is in the ironic position of being the society most obsessed with routine circ and also the society that is most sophisticated about the sexual virtues of the foreskin. Many of you younger readers out there will live long enough to see the USA become the most foreskin friendly culture on earth.

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