Foreskin Fixation

Okay, so I know I’d be wiser not to even go here.  Discretion being the better part of valor and all that.

But when circumcision becomes a political issue, how can I resist?  Not the ghastly ritual of female genital mutilation, mind you, but male circumcision – the snip done within a week of birth.

The foreskin may be California’s newest fixation.  A San Francisco group has collected enough signatures to get a measure to ban circumcision within the city limits on the fall ballot.  A similar measure may be on the way for Santa Monica next year.  And San Diego may not be far behind.  If they have their way, everyone gets to vote on the state of everyone else’s penis.  (Strictly speaking, of course, make that half of everyone else’s penis.)

My first thought on finding out about this was that it’d be a great opportunity for Jews and Muslims to work together.  Not because I have any affinity for the ritual of circumcision, which seems to me to be a primordial holdover with discomforting Freudian undertones — an adaptation of the ancient rite of blood sacrifice.  No, the fact is that I simply appreciate the absence of a foreskin.  From the point of view of an experienced user, you might say, I can testify that the prevailing medical opinion in the US is correct:  a circumcised penis really is more hygienic.  And far more esthetic.

The foreskin is another of those oddities of human physiology that‘s way outlasted any function it might once have had, along with the appendix, the hymen, and tonsils.  I can understand how it might be a useful thing to have if you’re still swinging naked from tree to tree in the jungle – a bit of natural protection.  But since it’s been a couple of million years since our ancestors last swung, as it were (with the exception of Tarzan), I fail to see why anyone should be any more attached to a foreskin than they are to an appendix.  Or, come to that, to a hymen.

As it happens, circumcision rates are down in the United States.  Since hospital doctors once performed the procedure automatically in the delivery room, irrespective of religious affiliation, most American men over a certain age are circumcised.   Now parents are consulted, and only 30-50% say yes.  Which is precisely why this anti-circumcision campaign is so weird.  Since it’s already a matter of choice – albeit not the infant’s — the question becomes why the foreskinners are protesting a procedure that most directly affects believing Jews and Muslims.

Note, for instance, that they’re using the phrase “male genital mutilation,” thus trying to make male circumcision the equivalent of female genital mutilation, which is widely — and incorrectly — believed to be an Islamic tradition.  (In fact it’s North African, and derided in Islam at the very beginning, when Muhammad’s uncle Hamza taunted a pagan opponent by calling him “son of a clitoris-cutter”).

It’s a nasty little tactic, this conflation of male circumcision and female genital mutilation.  The former really is just a snip, and from the reaction of newborns I’ve seen undergo it, not much worse than a (pardon me) pinprick.  The latter really is mutilation:  a savage cutting away of the genitalia, leaving its 12-year-old victim in extraordinary pain and at risk of death from infection.  Moreover, where the former tends to increase sexual pleasure, the latter aims specifically to destroy it.

So is there a hidden point here?  The activist in the NYT photo below says she’s “just a mom trying to save the little babies” (I guess the big ones be damned).  I find it interesting, though, that she uses the word “intact” in her “baby on board” sign — as in virgo intacta, or virgin.  Is that what this is really about?  The blond and surely blue-eyed mother protecting the purity of all the little American babies?  The caption gives her name as Jena.  Am I being a paranoid Jew, or does this sound oddly, ah, Germanic…?

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23 Responses

  1. I’ve come from an Islamic upbringing and believe the male version is as traumatic as the female.

    Your personal preference is respected but if nature intended males to be without foreskin, I wouldn’t have to endure that sadistic ritual before I had a chance to decide for myself.

    • Haroun — educate me here, if you will: it doesn’t sound as though you were just a few days old. How old were you? where were you? and was this the normal age? Thanks — Lesley

      • These are the people who will later come infected with STD and learn the cause of it being the foreskin. I ask haroun…should his parents have waited for his decision before giving him the polio vaccine or other doses?

      • I agree with Haroun that it is traumatic. In Turkey, the typical circumcision age is around 6 to 10 years. I am against the practice because I see it as a permanent religious brand. No one should have the right to leave a religious mark on their children before they reach a certain age.

      • Hi Lesly,

        Since Haroun hasn’t been back to answer your question, I will guess and try to elaborate. Islamic circumcision, as you probably know, can happen between 7/8 days and well into childhood.

        To reply to your comments in the original article, I, as a woman, have had a very different experience with my pleasure with intact and cut men. (though hardly enough experience to be considered scientific). My intrinsic pleasure was better with my intact partner (of six years), however husband (islamic and cut as a child) can pleasure me by putting more attention and effort into it. He thinks it’s just fine. I know I would prefer it if he had at least been given the choice as an adult…

        As for hygienic, I completely disagree and know that if a man washes, like a woman, there is no question of hygiene. In this particular viewpoint, I think your opinion might be coloured by your background and religion and what norms you were raised with.

        Is male circumcision really as bad as female circumcision? I think it can be. There are four major types of female circumcision (ranging from cutting the clitoral hood to the most horrific which you are thinking of: including even sewing up the vagina).

        My viewpoint is that people have, for millenia, had all sorts of justifications for mutilating their children and each other. some tribes in Africa put plates in their lips, in China, footbinding was still practised in the 20th century. These and others always had their justifications. What I find interesting about circumcision is that when one reason is disproved, another one pops up to take it’s place.

        The latest claim that male circumcision prevents F-M transmission of aids is not only disproved by real-world statistics, but misleading and dangerous. I am dismayed that people are circumcising their children giving the reason that it will prevent them from catching a disease that they will most likely contract only if they are not careful and likely promiscuous. Why not teach your child to put on a condom or be very selective of who they sleep with? And as far as the covenant with God is concerned, shouldn’t children have the right to grow up and decide for themselves what they believe? Certainly, we have to raise them with our traditions, whether it be praying to Mecca five-six times per day to affirm one’s connection with the Divine, or eating unleavened bread during Passover to drive home the story of the Exodus. This is not the same as drawing blood from my child and making him hurt, when I, as his parent, am obliged to protect him from harm. I would not give him ash-scars, tattoos, put a plate in his lip, pierce his ears or make any other mark on his body. When he is old enough to decide what he wants and thinks is important, then he can take steps to do it.

        Having seen interviews with men who were circumcised as adults (Russian Jews in Israel) It think it’s safe to say that their experiences contradict your claim that it increases pleasure. How can a man know if he were cut as a baby?

        As for your comments on the photo you included: Yes, I know there are some anti-semitics in the anti-circ movement, but please don’t attach such a label to the entire movement.

        I think it’s the wrong thing to do, but you are the guardian of your child. I will uphold other parent’s rights to continue to do this barbaric and unnecessary act on their children in order to preserve my right as a parent to do with my children what I think is right… though if parents were removing their children’s earlobes, they might be arrested for child abuse. Funny, as they are completely unnecessary and, as you called it: just a little flap of skin.

        By the way, the appendix has a use: to preserve the balance of the flora in the gut. Yet the myth remains that it has no purpose.

        Just some food for thought.

        I enjoy your blog immensely and will continue ‘tuning in’.

  2. What next, ear piercing?! This is silly. It is personal choice. There are more than enough studies that show that the rates of infections and other maladies are reduced with circumcision.

    If you look at it from a strictly, strictly religious point of view – please do not interpret this as thumping or conspiracy theory – it makes sense in terms of covenants and things the devil would want to do to throw mankind off of “the right path.” Making circumcision illegal makes it difficult for Jews, Christians and Muslims to honor the covenant Abraham made with God / Allah / Yahweh. Granted, Christ became the new covenant, but still …

  3. Lesley, I must say I’m very disappointed at your article, as I see there lots of prejudices.
    First of all, as an uncut male, I can tell you that an uncut penis can be as hygienic as a circumcised one (and so far – 42 years-old), all of my partners have recognized it. It’s a matter of education, and probably also of a change of habits in public policies in our Western countries: one should always wash one’s penis after every… use (and by the way, the same goes for the anus, but nobody seems to care about it…).
    As a gay living in France and well travelled, and thus as much (if not more) of an experienced user as you are, I can tell also that I have very often been somewhat repelled by unwelcome smells from circumcised penises (urine, to name it).
    As a man with a lot of experience with other men, I am absolutely baffled and scandalized when you dare say “where the former tends to increase sexual pleasure”!!! How on Earth can you allow yourself to make such an unscientific statement as if it were plain truth? My experience tells exactly the opposite! Of the, say, tens of men I’ve had sexual relationships with in my life, I can tell you that the sensitivity of an uncut penis has always stricken me as vastly superior to that of a circumcised one. I wouldn’t dare say it’s a scientific truth, but my sample is wide enough for me to consider it valuable.
    Frankly, I don’t like this kind of measures being taken, and campaigns to emphasized the lack of logic behind circumcision in Western countries at least, would be in my opinion much better than legal procedures.
    But that you could write such a prejudiced post is really like discovering an intelligent person falling downhill…

    • this gay is challenging a proven scientific truth with his gay experience. with all due respect mr.bruno hanquier…but u r not persuading anyone with ur personal gay experience. get diagnosed.

      • It is customary with prejudiced people to state their own opinions as backed by “scientific proofs”. Yet, when you ask them for corresponding sources -I mean, if you know it’s a scientific proof, you must have read it somewhere scientific, no?-, you never hear of them anymore.
        It reminds me of that story that goes on and on about a said scientific proof that halal meat would be better for the health than non-halal. No one has ever been capable of giving me a hint towards the corresponding research. Weird, no?
        So, Mr Mohammed Siddiqui, I will kindly ask you scientific sources (and by that I mean a scientific publication, one that is considered by scientists as reliable, evaluated by peers, etc., not an obscure provincial newspaper…) for your assertions before I feel persuaded myself. And anyone with a brain will do the same.
        Get diagnosed.

      • Whoa, Mohammed! If Bruno disagrees with me, that’s his right. That he’s gay is neither the issue nor an issue. I talked from my personal experience, he talked from his. Period.

  4. As to “the prevailing medical opinion in the U.S.”–neither the American Academy of Pediatrics nor the AMA recommend the routine circumcision of infant males

  5. Lesley, I’m an independent researcher and have co-authored an article in American Journal of Preventive Medicine on circumcision and HIV prevention. There is no sufficient data to recommend routine circumcision of neonates for any disease prevention, including HIV. Circumcision has more risks than benefits, it is extremely painful for infants (the word that you use “snip” is not accurate to describe circumcision). Circumcision is costly too, and may have devastating side-effects, including bleeding, sepsis and death. We just lost a baby in our community of hemorrhage followed by hospital circumcision. My master’s thesis in medical anthropology was on circumcision. I had looked at the medical history of circumcision and reviewed 1000s of papers. All I have seen is researchers’ cultural and religious bias. Leslie, from your article I can only conclude – lack of knowledge. For those of you, who still think that it is just a snip please watch a video of circumcision. Forget all the studies, they can be biased this way or the other. I may be biased too, against circumcision. We know that science and statistics can be easily manipulated. Watch a procedure and have your own judgment lead you on this subject. There are plenty of videos on youtube. For example this one:

    or choose another. Please come back and express what you feel.
    PS. I gave a 3 hour seminar on circumcision yesterday.

  6. Lesley, I don’t know who got the CDC to post information conflicting the majority of the research out there, but how could you not respond to her video? Do you continue to claim that it is ‘just a snip’?

  7. This in the New York Times of 9/27/11: circumcision is the equivalent of a 60% effective HIV vaccine for men — http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/27/health/27circumcision.html?ref=health

  8. Male circumcision is just as ghastly as female circumcision, it’s time both are called by their true name: genital mutilation, and nobody should be allowed to make the decision on whether the procedure should be done except the person it’s being done on, so yes, it should be banned until the person is of age so they can decide themselves if they want to be physically mutilated.

  9. Ms. Hazelton I admire your writings, but here you have touched the sensitive views of the extreme liberal, whose worldview is solely based on perceived harm to individuals. Tradition is an alien concept, Religion obviously a cancer and individual choice (or rather, desire) is supreme.

    By these marks, groups assert themselves and remain cohesive. These differences from others provably (I recommend the work of Jonathan Haidt in particular for detail) strengthen sense of community. Adherence, difference and hierarchy are emphasized. That it may be sensible otherwise is not really that important in terms of effect.

    That a person could be a part of a tradition, a continuity, is essentially taboo in the modern era. The forced comparison with female genital mutilation should be telling. To any reasonable person, the two are not comparable regardless of what your religious or political affiliations are.

    When one blinds themselves to every concern except harm to individuals, they lose touch with reality no matter how much their claims are seemingly grounded in empirical data. One will only look at it from that perspective and justify their reactions accordingly. All other benefit is ignored or conveniently incidental.

    • When tradition is at the expense of one’s personal, or yes, individual, decision and integrity, one doesn’t have to be an “extreme liberal” to consider a practice should be banished.
      Considering your post, I still wonder where your acceptance of tradition can lead you. Where are the limits, and who should decide of this limit? You? The group that follows said traditions? So, if I’m not part of this group, should I let you do what your traditions command you, even if it’s against my own morals? You give the example of female genital mutilation, which a heavily traditional practice in some areas, and following your “logic” I don’t see how and why it could or should be stopped.
      As for “groups assert themselves and remain cohesive” you fail to express why this is desirable in the modern world in which -to give myself as a very low-key example- I have friends all over Europe, the Middle East (Lebanon and Israel mainly), Latin America and South East Asia. Another organization of the society has replaced or complemented tradition and religion in all modern countries: it’s called democracy, a system in which each individual has his voice and yet abides to the decisions of others. That men corrupt this idea too often doesn’t hinder its vast superiority over any older systems that may have prevailed in the past.
      And yes, for me tradition and religion are just a way some people try to force their limited views of the world on me. It’s not just a limit to my person as an individual but to my free will… “Free will”, interestingly enough a concept that even the three main monotheistic religions consider essential to the individual…

  10. It wasn’t that long ago in the USA when a newly drafted trooper, entering the service, was examined very closely. If there was a foreskin he was taken to the base medical facility to undergo circumcision. I’m talking about men from 18 to their 30s, not babies. There was no individual choice in the matter, it was military orders. No chaplains complained either since they preached that “all authority comes from God.”

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