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Yeah, what he said.

Posted on 2004.24.06 at 18:49
How I feel about it all: irateirate
Soundtrack: NPR - Marketplace

Modern Circumcision: A Ritual of Ignorance, Abuse and Greed

By John Schneider

April 18, 2004 (boldface mine)

Circumcision in the United States is a cultural phenomenon that has been subject to a lot of recent controversy. There are many facets to the issue; proponents of the procedure use statistical evidence showing some potential benefits of the procedure, however extremists have been known to take advantage of myths and other misinformation that many Americans harbor about the intact foreskin, in order to divert attention from evidence that does not support their theories. Some even use scare tactics to cause people to think emotionally (rather than rationally) and buy into the propaganda which promotes their (often hidden) agenda.

A growing number of people, including parents faced with the decision of whether to circumcise their son, believe that that the routine removal of healthy, sexual responsive tissue for primarily cosmetic reasons (e.g. "I want him to look like his dad") is a violation of the baby's human rights. Not long ago, many Americans were so outraged by the practice of ritual mutilation of a girl's genitals (observed in some African tribes and some other "primitive" societies) that we passed the Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1996. The reasons given for the custom's presence in Africa include honoring customs and traditions, that it is more hygienic, and aesthetics. Ironically, these are some of the same reasons that Americans cite to justify the "necessity" of circumcision.

Although modern male circumcision is not as extreme as some forms of female genital mutilation, the same principles apply. While 20th century human rights conventions guarantee us security of our person, freedom from persecution, and prohibit cruel and inhumane treatment on paper, sadly these standards are not consistently observed. The constitutionality of the 1996 act that affords roughly one half of US citizens protection under the law, the other half is at mercy to "the powers that be." If it is decided that a baby boy's foreskin should be cut off, it is done without a second thought. Until the late 19th century, the male circumcision rate in this country was less than 1%. As our knowledge of medicine at the time was relatively primitive, doctors were unable to cure many of the common problems that plagued the public, including tuberculosis, epilepsy, polio and various mental ailments. Self-appointed reformist John Harvey Kellogg and his cohorts published articles and bestseller books with pseudo-scientific health advice; and blamed afflictions like those mentioned and many more on the "vile habit of masturbation."

Masturbation is now viewed as a normal part of sexuality, but in 1888 Kellogg wrote: "A remedy [for masturbation] which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment." By the end of World War II it was clear that circumcision did not stop men from masturbating, but by then circumcision was a normal procedure for white, middle-class American men. The uncircumcised penis was viewed as unhygienic and unclean, and as "cleanliness is next to godliness" the circumcision rate grew steadily and peaked at near 90% around 1980.

Currently 85% of the world's males are not circumcised including the vast majority of Europeans, Latin Americans, Japanese, and Chinese; whereas 60% of newborn American males are subjected to the procedure annually. It was once thought (and some people still hold the belief) that infants were not able to feel pain; we now know that is not the case. Profound psychological changes in the infant's still developing brain have been proven to occur, the extent and effects of which the have yet to be clearly understood.

Observations of behavioral changes including a disruption in the mother-infant bond, and a lowered pain threshold the support the theories of harm newborn babies suffer when subjected to the procedure. Studies performed at the University of Colorado School of Medicine showed that circumcision is followed by prolonged, unrestful non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. In response to the lengthy bombardment of their neural pathways with unbearable pain, the circumcised babies withdrew into a kind of semi-coma that lasted days or even weeks.

Being born with a foreskin is not a medical condition that needs to be corrected. If it were so advantageous to have a penis with no protective covering, we would not have developed the foreskin in the first place; evolution does not make mistakes. In evolutionary terms, the foreskin is an essential element in the survival of many mammalian species, despite minor anatomical variations. Although the circumcised penis can still perform the basic functions of urination and procreation, this statement is analogous to saying that vision is still possible after the removal of your eyelids. Both parts of the body are there for a good reason, and both provide protection and lubrication to their respective organs.

As the medical industry would stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars a year if circumcisions were outlawed in America, hospitals and other medical professionals have a vested interest in the continuation of the practice. The American Academy of Pediatrics's statement on the topic is ambiguous, not recommending circumcision but not advising against it either. Considering how much valid evidence was ignored when they weighed the pros and cons, their statement reflects political motivations rather than a genuine interest in the health of the patient. When the profitability of a hospital or medical corporation becomes more important than the health of its patients, we are presented with an unmistakable message that we've allowed the situation get out of control.

The belief that a child cannot be trusted to keep himself clean [is] preposterous, and the desire of a caretaker to circumcise so as to avoid cleaning under their incapacited patient's foreskin is disgraceful. It is important for people of all ages to realize the truth, but so much more so for the children of today who will be the parents of tomorrow.

As violence begets more violence, the children who are abused today will become the abusers of tomorrow. Together, with unbiased and free-thinking minds we have the ability to end the self-perpetuating violence that plagues the US and other countries around the world.

For more information on the issues surrounding circumcision, please visit:







Another excellent resource for information on the effects of circumcision is listed below. As the site contains graphic and explicit (non-pornographic) images, only visit the site if you are of legal age to do alone, or with the permission of a parent/guardian. Due to the disturbing nature of some of these pictures, I would recommend that youths view this site together with a parent, teacher, or counselor:


"Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom, in the pursuit of truth as in the endeavour after a worthy manner of life."

- Bertrand Russell, British philosopher and mathematician

Join the March Against Infant Circumcision in Washington, DC during National Men's Health Week, June 14th–20th, 2004. See http://www.sicsociety.org/mhw2004/2004/ for more info.


Susan the Neon Nurse
neonnurse at 2004-06-24 17:20 (UTC) ()
Right there with you 100%! If I knew then what I know now, there's not enough money on this earth to get me to agree to doing that to one of my babies. But happily, at least I found out and could tell my daughter, so my grandson is happy and whole.
try to catch the deluge in a paper cup
primroseburrows at 2004-06-24 17:36 (UTC) ()
My oldest son (age 19) was cut, after two weeks of arguing discussion with his grandparents. I was young and uncertain and that's no bloody excuse. I was also in the next room when they did it (They wouldn't let me in when it was going on, wonder why?). I heard him cry. No, I heard him scream. I vowed then and there that nobody would ever touch any other son of mine.

My youngest son (who'll be 15 on 14 July) is intact, mostly because of what happened with his brother.

When I did my nursing clinicals I was offered the chance to watch a circ. I said yes, because I figured how could I be an activist against the practice if I'd never witnessed it? It was horrible. I wanted to physically knock the doctor out of the way and prevent the circ...the baby was spread-eagled, arms and legs, and screaming. The doc said it was because he was being strapped down and wasn't about the pain at all, although all that was done to prevent pain was to swab the baby's penis with a numbing agent. I was with another student from Scotland, where they just. don't. do this. She and I literally clung to each other and cried. I still *wibble* when I think of it.
way2 at 2004-06-24 19:36 (UTC) ()
Wow! The bit about using circumsision to punish boys for masturbating was an eye opener. Sometimes it's just hard to believe the cruelty people are capable of.

phoenixw at 2004-06-24 23:34 (UTC) ()
I didn't take a lot of convincing to choose no circumcision for my little guy. We had no religious compunctions, and the so-called 'health' arguments are laughable.

It's really hard though when your family holds to the very strong cultural directive that says 'remove that foreskin!' We're irrational and unaware about so many things.
robinhoo at 2004-06-25 15:20 (UTC) ()
Prim, thanks so much for posting this. I admit this is an issue I've been really struggling with. I don't have kids yet, as you know, but whenever I do have them, I really want a boy or three. The question of circumcision weighs on me for two reasons:
1) Aesthetic. I have to admit, I think a circumcised penis is more attractive. I've seen some perfectly beautiful men who were uncut, but I've also seen some truly gross uncircumcised penises. But then, the same can be said for circumcised ones! Reading this article has definitely fixed my decision that this factor is a completely unsatisfactory reason to consider putting my baby through such torment. He will be as perfect and beautiful with a foreskin as without. And my aesthetic opinions regarding penises have extremely little to do with my son's body, anyway. Buh-bye, Reason #1.
2) Religious. I'm not Jewish (yet), but I am a student of the Hebrew Bible. Circumcision is, for better or for worse, the mark of the covenant. It's a huge, huge deal in Judaism, past and present -- unless they've studied Judaism, non-Jews can't imagine how big a deal. To not circumcise a Jewish boy would be akin -- but more so -- to not baptizing a Catholic baby. This is the one sticking point for me. Even though I'm not Jewish, it's the Adamic, Noacan, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Jeremiac covenants that I find most applicable to my life. The question I have to ask myself is, How much pain and suffering (physical or otherwise) would I be willing to undergo for my faith? And then, how much would I be willing to inflict on my son, with the knowledge that he has every right not to ascribe to his mother's religious views?

Once upon a time I would have added the Peer Pressure Factor to the list -- you know, the old saw that uncircumcised boys in America will be considered "different" by their friends, because circumcision is so commonplace in our society. But with all the growing awareness of the ills of circumcision, and with the growth of the "global community" -- whereby Americans are slowly coming to realize that most people on this earth don't actually subject their tiny boys to this torture -- I don't think such an argument is any longer viable. More and more of my son's peers will be uncut. But even if they weren't, I'd want my child to have the strength of character and the self-confidence to be himself in every way, and what's more, I'd want my child to know that his mother loves him so much that she would never do anything to hurt him on purpose.

I'd love to hear what you guys think about Reason #2. It's probably pretty clear that I'm looking for a way past it -- I'd like to be able to say "No way will I ever circumcise my son" and not feel that I'm doing something that flies in the face of a faith-tradition I hold dear.....
try to catch the deluge in a paper cup
primroseburrows at 2004-06-27 00:47 (UTC) ()
It's probably pretty clear that I'm looking for a way past it -- I'd like to be able to say "No way will I ever circumcise my son" and not feel that I'm doing something that flies in the face of a faith-tradition I hold dear.....

Have you heard about this?. It sounds like a possible alternative.
One damn minute, Admiral.
trempnvt at 2004-06-26 19:10 (UTC) ()
On the other hand, there are other factors at play--for some people, it's a religious issue. Circumcision is part of Jewish law--if America were to outlaw it, religious Jews would have to take it to court as violating freedom of religion. On the other (or first?) hand, the problem that people go around circumcising their kids without a second thought can (and should) be worked on...after all, why else did they invent freedom of speech?
try to catch the deluge in a paper cup
primroseburrows at 2004-06-27 00:40 (UTC) ()
On the other hand, there are other factors at play--for some people, it's a religious issue. Circumcision is part of Jewish law--if America were to outlaw it, religious Jews would have to take it to court as violating freedom of religion.

I think the article was just referring to secular circumcision that's practised for no good reason other than to continue some kind of odd medical tradition.
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