There you are, floating freely in the amniotic fluid of your mother’s womb, your existence a blissful state between consciousness and dreaming. Her soothing presence surrounds and envelopes you with the peace and safety of absolute love. There is no measure of time except the ceaseless pulse of her reassuring heart. Suddenly, between one beat of her heart and the next you are expelled from this paradisaical environment. You feel an uncomfortable pressure against the soft crown of your head as it’s thrust into the cold exposed air. Your eyes squint directly into a harsh, fluorescent light as your tiny, helpless body is wrenched by enormous, uncaring hands into a world of pain.
You cling to the memory of pleasant sensation even as they are cleaved from you forever. You undertake the only options available you. Your squalling is meant to announce your discomfort yes, but also to make it clear you do not consent to what is taking place.
But your birth nightmare has only just begun. What’s coming next will make these traumas pale in comparison. No sooner have you found some small comfort in the bosom of the mother who carried you to term than you are once again taken up by the hairy, rubber-gloved arms. They take you to another room. There, your infant body is strapped down at the head, wrists, and ankles to the unforgiving surface of a hard plastic backboard. The huge, clumsy fingers on the hands pinch and tug at the sensitive piece of anatomy between your legs. The first awareness of the existence of your penis is a result of these violations.
Unable to come to terms with the cruelty of your predicament you scream even louder, exhausted from the effort, hopelessly frustrated by the futility of it. The hands now wield steel forceps and a scalpel. While the forceps pull the sensitive foreskin away from the glans of your penis, the doctor uses the scalpel to hack away the protective natural sheathe of skin estimated to contain between twenty to seventy thousand nerve endings. Blood and screams result. Congratulations, you’re a boy.
This is how the majority of American men were introduced to this world, which is to say by the non-consensual removal of a vital part of their sexual anatomy. Despite no proven medical benefit there is no law against male neonatal circumcision, and its prevalence in the United States is encouraged by the tacit endorsement of medical bodies like the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The rate of male neonatal circumcision in the United States is estimated to be around fifty five percent. This puts it at roughly the same level as Muslim countries in Africa and the Middle East, where the practice is performed for religious reasons. It begs the questions why there is similarly high prevalence of male circumcision in a secular country like the United States.
Cultural bias for circumcision in the United States obscures understanding of the issue and aids in the continuation of male genital mutilation on a national level. The term ‘circumcision’ itself demonstrates this bias. When the procedure is performed on women, it is accurately referred to as female genital mutilation. Meanwhile, the male equivalent is described by a more innocuous term with medical connotations. This example is one of many which demonstrate a widespread cultural bias and partially explain the lack of discussion and awareness surrounding the topic.
The North American bias for circumcision is also evident in the position of the country’s medical associations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics. The AAP’s position on circumcision, released in a 2007 technical report, amounts to tacit endorsement. While it admits that the “health benefits are not great enough to recommend routine circumcision for all male newborns,” it somehow concludes that “preventive health benefits of elective circumcision of male newborns outweigh the risks of the procedure.”
The report utilized a number of complex scientific studies to justify its position, the most important of which were performed in Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda from 2005 to 2007. These studies showed male circumcision provided an average 55% reduction in the transmission of the HIV virus through heterosexual sex. The AAP report concluded that, because of its potential for reducing risk of STIs (especially HIV), UTI’s, and penile cancer, the benefits of male neonatal circumcision outweigh the risks.
This position is not unanimously shared by the international medical community. Many Western medical bodies outside of the United States, including the Royal Dutch Medical Association, find the AAP’s position weak, and its conclusions the result of cultural bias. The RDMA, responding directly to the AAP’s 2007 statement, had this to say:
There are no compelling health arguments in favor of circumcision, while it can have serious long-term urological, psychological and sexual consequences. And performing medically unwarranted circumcision of underage boys conflicts with good medical practice. Male infant circumcision conflicts with children’s rights and the doctors’ oath not to do harm. Source
Debunking the Circumcision/HIV Myth
The AAP’s use of the African studies to support circumcision in American males is dubious for a number of reasons. First, the studies have been directly contradicted by others, leaving the truth of their findings in doubt. Second, they were conducted in African countries where HIV rates are hyperendemic (over 15% of the general population). This is a far different situation than the one which exists in the United States–a country which, according to statistics released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2007, has an HIV rate around .0001%. The efficacy of circumcision in reducing HIV transmission in a first world country with such relatively low rates of HIV based on the results of the African studies can only be speculated. The same can be said of the lowered transmission of other sexually transmitted diseases, for which the data is similarly week.
Even though another series of studies suggests otherwise, and we can only infer circumcision’s effect on reducing HIV transmission rates in an American male population based on studies from an African one, let’s imagine circumcision does indeed have the same effect of reducing HIV transmission in American men as it does on Africans. The net positive effect would still not be enough to warrant the procedure.
If you are lucky enough to have been born in the United States, the likelihood of you contracting HIV is less than one one hundredth of one percent. This number is even less if you are a heterosexual male. In 2017, gay and bisexual men accounted for sixty six percent of all HIV cases in the United States, and an overwhelming 82% of HIV diagnosis among males (Source). Basically, if you’re a heterosexual American male, you have a snowball’s chance in hell of contracting HIV, whether or not you’ve had your dick cut.
In deciding whether or not to allow circumcision the US should perform an objective cost/ benefit analysis. One could only make the case for circumcision if, and only if, the benefits of the procedure outweighed its negative effects. Not only have the positive effects of circumcision not been proven, even if they were it wouldn’t be enough to justify the practice.
Other Alleged Benefits of Circumcision
The other alleged benefits of circumcision included in the AAP’s report are that it reduces the risk of penile cancer and urinary tract infections. RDMA’s paper debunks both these assertions.
When it comes to penile cancer, one of the rarest forms of cancer in the Western world, rates are roughly the same as in Europe, where less than ten percent of the male population is circumcised. This indicates circumcision has little to no effect on penile cancer rates.
As for urinary tract infections, evidence linking circumcision with lower rates is once again very weak.
UTI incidence does not seem to be lower in the United States, with high circumcision rates compared with Europe with low circumcision rates, and the AAP report suggests it will take ∼100 circumcisions to prevent 1 case of UTI. Using reasonable European estimates cited in the AAP report for the frequency of surgical and postoperative complications (∼2%), for every 100 circumcisions, 1 case of UTI may be prevented at the cost of 2 cases of hemorrhage, infection, or, in rare instances, more severe outcomes or even death.”Source
So, in order to possibly stop one urinary tract infection which can easily be treated with antibiotics, doctors will on average perform two botched circumcisions that result in either hemorrhage, infection, or even more potentially serious consequences. Does that sound like a good trade off?
Still undecided? Here’s a novel idea: why don’t we wait until the boy is old enough to decide for himself whether or not he should have part of his penis surgically removed?
Speaking of risks, while the benefits of circumcision are at best negligible, and at worst non-existent, the potential negative effects of the procedure are anything but. While data on complications caused by circumcisions is not good, even the AAP recognizes a number of studies which report the rate of complications from the procedure to be anywhere from .19% to 25%. Yes, the AAP, who officially supports male neonatal circumcision, included in their report a study in which a quarter of male infants experienced complications due to the procedure. Complications here means a number of possible negative consequences, including skin adhesions, balanitis (infection and inflammation of the glans of the penis), skin bridge, and meatal stenosis (a narrowing of the opening of the urethra).
Data on the long term negative effects of circumcision is even more lacking, but some studies suggest it can lead to a host of psychological and sexual problems. Common sense would indicate that foreskin serves a purpose, otherwise it wouldn’t be there. This highly innervated natural sheathe protects the glans of the penis and works as a natural lubricant. Beyond these functions, foreskin is densely packed with Meisnner’s corpuscles, specialized nerve endings involved in fine touch sensitivity.
If arguments for circumcision like the AAP’s do not withstand logical scrutiny, they sure as hell don’t pass the gut check. Male neonatal circumcision is a violation of the sovereignty of the male infant and is a breach of physician non-maleficence. These facts should be blatantly obvious to anyone with the nerve to watch the procedure take place.
The unnecessary, potentially harmful procedure of male neonatal genital mutilation has no place in a modern society. As the RDMA’s paper puts it, the
“nontherapeutic circumcision of underage boys in Western societies has no compelling health benefits, causes postoperative pain, can have serious long-term consequences, constitutes a violation of the United Nations’ Declaration of the Rights of the Child, and conflicts with the Hippocratic oath: primum non nocere: First, do no harm.” Source
This should be obvious to any individual capable of looking at the issue outside of their cultural bias.
For many men in the United States, the damage caused by this bias has already been done, but we can do our part to prevent the future mutilation of our male descendants by spreading awareness of this unnecessary and unethical practice.