A Theory of Changing Moral Sentiments – Circumcision Edition

Kwame Anthony Appiah has a neat thought-provoking piece in the Washington Post that discusses what currently tolerated practices are likely to meet with future moral condemnation.  He argues that there are “three signs that a particular practice is destined for future condemnation”:

First, people have already heard the arguments against the practice. The case against slavery didn’t emerge in a blinding moment of moral clarity, for instance; it had been around for centuries.

Second, defenders of the custom tend not to offer moral counterarguments but instead invoke tradition, human nature or necessity. (As in, “We’ve always had slaves, and how could we grow cotton without them?”)

And third, supporters engage in what one might call strategic ignorance, avoiding truths that might force them to face the evils in which they’re complicit. Those who ate the sugar or wore the cotton that the slaves grew simply didn’t think about what made those goods possible. That’s why abolitionists sought to direct attention toward the conditions of the Middle Passage, through detailed illustrations of slave ships and horrifying stories of the suffering below decks.

Appiah proceeds to argue that the following meet this standard: our prison system, how we treat the elderly and the environment, and industrial meat production.  Ross Douthat and Will Wilkinson respond in kind – Douthat nominates abortion; Wilkinson, the nation-state system.

Tyler Cowen counters by asking “which practices currently considered to be outrageous will make a moral comeback in the court of public opinion.”

My nominee of a currently tolerated practice that will be seen as less and less morally acceptable is voluntary male circumcision.  It is a painful (some might say barbarous) ritual practice that has few proven health benefits (the most important of which, possible reduction of the risk of STD/AIDS acquisition, can be controlled through safe sex practices such as monogamy) and some serious potential medical side-effects.  Thus it is not surprising that the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend routine neonatal and has stated that “the procedure is not essential to the child’s current well-being.”  Moreover, male circumcision may diminish sexual pleasure in adult males and their female partners.  In the West, it is largely a product of the Victorian Era’s misguided sexual puritanism.

Circumcision (btw, Will W., this is not my personal hobby-horse) also fits Appiah’s standards quite well.  First, the arguments against circumcision are out there and growing.  Indeed, according to my wife’s OB/GYN, people on the coasts are engaging in the practice less frequently while the Midwest has been less comfortable with these changing sentiments.  Even more importantly, people are more aware of the barbarism of female genital mutilation (FGM) – and this compels people to think about male circumcision.  Indeed, my growing awareness of FGM was a contributing factor that led me to think seriously and more carefully about our own cultural practices and ultimately to decide not to circumcise my sons.

Second, defenders of the custom certainly use tradition to defend the practice (as in “My Dad is circumcised, I’m circumcised, so I’ll circumcise my kid”) or make a claim to necessity (“we need to do this to prevent the spread of STDs” – even though there are many other avenues to reduce the risk).

Third, supporters certainly engage in “strategic ignorance” – indeed, most people I’ve discussed this with never even give it a thought, and if they do, it is due to the pangs of possible regret as they watch their son go under the knife just after entering the world.

So, I predict that (absent new compelling evidence of serious health benefits) voluntary male circumcision will be seen in the future as a strange ritual of the less enlightened past.

36 thoughts on “A Theory of Changing Moral Sentiments – Circumcision Edition

  1. Circumcision is a great example of this, I think. Didn’t have either of our sons cut, even though we had to have the eldest circumcised when he was about 4, due to really bad adhesions inside the foreskin that were making it almost impossible for him to void. Despite that, we understood how medically rare that is and still opted not to have his younger brother cut when he was born.

    I will say, though, that it can be a tough decision *because* the culture has only started to embrace the possibility. The bottom line for us, though, was that there simply were no real reasons to do it beyond “well, everyone has been circumcised”. Not much of a reason, in our minds.

    1. I’m sorry to be the one to break this to you, but your older son’s foreskin problems were probably avoidable. As someone said below, at birth the foreskin is adhered to the penis like a fingernail is adhered to your finger. It should not be manipulated in ANY way by the parent/caregiver. It will naturally loosen and begin to retract sometime between toddlerhood and adolescence, and then the boy can be taught to clean himself, just like he learns to brush his own teeth and shower on his own. If the foreskin is prematurely retracted, it will rip away from the glans (head of the penis), causing great pain and the very skin adhesions that your son had. Even if you never manipulated or retracted your son’s foreskin, a doctor might have done so without your knowledge or consent during a well-baby visit. It’s critically important that you find a doctor who actually knows something about normal anatomy and will not try to harm, or tell you to harm, your sons. Many doctors are still woefully uninformed about care of the normal penis, and actually tell parents to pull back the foreskin and clean underneath — horrifying advice to those of us who actually know something about the intact penis.

  2. That’s an interesting practice to pick. Really, the only reason it is done is because of tradition. Slavery, as you mentioned, might have been justified by tradition but it was really about low cost labor. I don’t know of any alterer motive to circumcision.

    I was really surprised by the facts around circumcision, once I started reading about them. When my son was born a year ago, it wasn’t one of the 10 thousand or so things I felt the need to educate myself about. Had I known then what I found out about a half a year ago, I never would have had it done. But I think I’d have felt a little strange about it.

    1. If you’d made the decision to keep your son intact, you might have felt weird for about 2 seconds, if someone asked you about it. But after months of taking care of your son, you would know he was born perfect, and you would have been so glad that you let him keep all his body parts and that you didn’t put him through the agony of circumcision. You would have felt weird when you saw your friends change their sons’ diapers, and saw their mutilated penises. But you would know that you did the right thing for your son. Too bad you didn’t give a second thought to having a functional part of his sexual organ removed for no reason.

  3. Another one is probably self-driven cars. Traffic “experts” already want auto-driven cars on highways and, once the technology arrives, will take away our ability to drive for fun on the highways in the name of public safety (similar to helmet laws).

  4. All these medical society quotes can be found at their own websites:

    Canadian Paediatric Society
    “Recommendation: Circumcision of newborns should not be routinely performed.”
    “Circumcision is a ‘non-therapeutic’ procedure, which means it is not medically necessary.”
    “After reviewing the scientific evidence for and against circumcision, the CPS does not recommend routine circumcision for newborn boys. Many paediatricians no longer perform circumcisions.”

    Royal Australasian College of Physicians
    “After extensive review of the literature, the Paediatrics & Child Health Division of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians has concluded that there is no medical reason for routine neonatal circumcision.”
    (almost all the men responsible for this statement will be circumcised themselves, as the male circumcision rate in Australia in 1950 was about 90%. “Routine” circumcision is now *banned* in public hospitals in Australia in all states except one.)

    British Medical Association
    “to circumcise for therapeutic reasons where medical research has shown other techniques to be at least as effective and less invasive would be unethical and inappropriate.”

    The Royal Dutch Medical Association
    “The official viewpoint of KNMG and other related medical/scientific organisations is that non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors is a violation of children’s rights to autonomy and physical integrity. Contrary to popular belief, circumcision can cause complications – bleeding, infection, urethral stricture and panic attacks are particularly common. KNMG is therefore urging a strong policy of deterrence. KNMG is calling upon doctors to actively and insistently inform parents who are considering the procedure of the absence of medical benefits and the danger of complications.”

    drops in male circumcision since 1950:
    USA: from 90% to 57%
    Canada: from 48% to 17%
    UK: from 35% to about 5% (about 1% among non-Muslims)
    Australia: 90% to 12.6% (“routine” circumcision has recently been *banned* in public hospitals in all states except one, so the rate will now be a lot lower)
    New Zealand: 95% to below 3% (mostly Samoans and Tongans)
    South America and Europe: never above 5%

    It’s worth remembering that no-one except for Muslim and Jewish people would even be having this discussion if it weren’t for the fact that 19th century doctors thought that :
    a) masturbation caused various physical and mental problems (including epilepsy, convulsions, paralysis, tuberculosis etc), and
    b) circumcision stopped masturbation.

    Both of those sound ridiculous today I know, but if you don’t believe me, then google this to find out what doctors were saying at the time: “A Short History of Circumcision in North America: In the Physicians’ Own Words”. There were even laws against “self-pollution” as it was called.

    Over a hundred years later, circumcised men keep looking for new ways to defend the practice.

    @JFish: It’s normal for a four-year-old still to have the foreskin fused to the glans. I was about ten before my started to separate. I’ve never heard of a problem like your son had. Don’t try to retract your other son’s foreskin, as all the medical organizations recommend against it.

    1. Its funny that in the same post that you try to persuade by citing Doctor consensus that you explain how utterly wrong Doctor consensus has been historically.

      1. That’s because the previous doctor ‘consensus’ in support of mutilating male babies lacked a solid factual basis – as opposed to the latest consensus.

      2. Fair point, but the original reasons for popularising non-religious circumcision aren’t considered valid by anyone today.

        I’ll take the consensus of today’s doctors over that of 19th century doctors.

    2. Until about 6 months ago, the consensus was homo sapien never mixed genes with neanderthal. Modern, scientific, fact based consensus gets proven wrong all the time.

      Besides, consensus doesn’t seem evident from this post. Circumcision “has few proven health benefits (the most important of which, possible reduction of the risk of STD/AIDS acquisition,” according to our host. In addition to those remaining benefits, circumcision would avoid the painful ripping foreskin from glands.

      As for social acceptance, the highly profitable porn industry seems a fair indication of what a huge chunk of our fellow citizens consider attractive and all the actors are circumcised. (I don’t care that you think it shouldn’t be, I care that people who so think get to decide for themselves and their children).

      And what is the downside? I don’t remember anything when I got clipped. AIDs, ripping glands, disappointed partners, that I would remember, but not the circumcision.

      1. Maybe you’re unaware that the intact penis looks similar to the circumcised penis when erect. Admittedly American pornography featured mostly circumcised men for a few decades but I see fewer and fewer cut men in porn today. To say “all the actors are cut” is crazy. The top grossing studios are in Eastern Europe and don’t employ any circumcised actors since no one there is circumcised. Since the majority of the world/market is intact natural penises are considered the norm. I think you’re watching intact penises without realizing it.

      2. Daniel-

        You could be entirely right on that one point and I wrong. I withdraw my certainty. I’m not going to conduct a study, though.

        I think you’re right about the Eastern European bit, too. My parents arrived here with no circumcised boys, but I was born soon thereafter in a refugee hospital that clipped me. Funnily, and uncomfortably, enough I heard my wife and mama arguing the point, my mama saying it never happened and my wife trying to explain her more empirical opinion. I pretended to read the newspaper and not listen, useful practice for my girls teenage years.

  5. Until the change in cultural attitudes reaches a tipping point (I don’t know what proportion of the people that would mean), one fear I have is the merciless teasing uncircumscised boys would get from their peers. Children look for any way in which one person is different from the group, and they mock it; something as monumental as having a different-looking penis can be a source of considerable, years-long embarrassment and humiliation.

    Once there are lots of boys with uncircumsised penises, this worry would go away. Until that point, however, it can be setting one’s child up for a lot of mocking.

    That does not speak at all to the health argument, and it reflects an aspect only of the “historical” or “cultural” considerations. Grover might well be correct that views about circumcision will one day change in America, and I’d certainly have no objection to the change. But I do think there is a difference between an adult being willing to buck his culture, on the one hand, and an adult deciding his child will have to buck his culture, on the other.

    1. James I have to disagree, kids get teased for whatever reason is handy, name, hair color, freckles, lack of sports ability, the list is virtually endless. So to use a difference in a body part that is hidden 99.9999% of the time is a bit of a cop-out.

      Also the tipping point has been reached and already raced in the other direction, from the CDC at the latest AIDS conference Circ in the US has dropped to 32%.

    2. My son is 18 and intact. I had heard SO many times that he would be teased because he has a foreskin. Guess what? It never happened. Not once. He told me it was never an issue at all. And BTW, we live in the heart of the Midwest where the circ rates are probably among the highest.

    3. The locker room argument is bogus. Children are teased for all manner of things (their ears, their noses, etc.) But we don’t engage in obscene body modification against their will in order to protect them from those (other) forms of teasing.

  6. @Grover: Nothing “voluntary” about infant circumcision. A baby cannot consent, and parents’ proxy rights do not extend to bodily mutilation.

    @A Leap: Ulterior motive = profit for doctors.

    @James: Circ rate has dropped to 32.5% in US in 2009. Circed kids will be the ones getting made fun of these days. Regardless, if you understood the sexual harm from circ, you would never want to “fit in” by being circumcised!

    Last, the idea that male cutting is less harmful than female cutting is a myth. We tell ourselves that to cope with what was done to us. The foreskin contains the “ridged band” of nerve endings, the most sensitive part of the penis, filled with “Meissner’s corpuscles,” just like the female clitoris.

  7. @James

    Children will tease each other for whatever reason. If it isn’t because he’s circumcised, or not, it’s because he’s too tall. Too short. Too black. Too white. Too hairy. Too smooth. Too fat. Too skinny. Etc., etc. etc.

    How far are you willing to inflict radical physical change so that your child would “fit in?”

    Would you bleach your son’s skin if it was “too dark?” Would you give your daughter an eye operation so that her eyes are rounder and less Asian-looking if, for example, you married an Asian woman and your daughter inherited her eyes? (FYI, it’s been done before; an American father did it to an ADOPTIVE daughter.)

    Conformity is an idiotic reason to mutilate a child. What else are you going to do so that your child “fits in?” If everyone was doing drugs, would you encourage your son to do them so that he’s not “made fun of” or “mocked?”

    Instead of circumcising your child so that he fits in in a potential situation (nowadays, who showers together with other guys anymore?), shouldn’t we be teaching our children to stand up for themselves? Circumcising your child so that he avoids criticism in a hypothetical situation that may not ever even come (as I am aware, boys no longer shower naked at schools; teachers can’t see the boys naked etc. etc…), you could be teaching him to be a strong man.

    Circumcising your child so that he’s “not made fun of” is the most defeatist thing I’ve ever heard of. It tells him from day one that he does not matter; only conforming and pleasing everyone else, even if it means the destruction of your body, matters. But more than that, it says a lot about the PARENT inflicting the mutilation. Is it really the parent “worrying” about his son? Or is it the PARENT worrying about HIMSELF and not wanting to be different than his son?

    “But I do think there is a difference between an adult being willing to buck his culture, on the one hand, and an adult deciding his child will have to buck his culture, on the other.”

    Circumcising a son destroys any possibility that he might want to “buck his culture” as an adult. It’s a vicious cycle. As adults, we need to be adults and let our children make their own decisions, instead of assuming we think we know what THEY’LL want.

    The “health” argument is irrelevant in healthy newborns. Unless the foreskin is actually causing a medical problem that has absolutely no other alternative, doctors have no business performing circumcisions in healthy, non-consenting individuals, let alone pretend like they can even be giving parents any kind of “choice.”

    And that leads to the question that gets more to the point: To perform surgery, don’t doctors need to have a medical indication that commands it first? If there is no medical problem to address, can doctors be performing unwarranted surgery on healthy, non-consenting individuals?

    And how far can doctors be expected to perform needless surgery for “historical” or “cultural” reasons? You might say that (male) circumcision is an important “tradition” for some American families. Well, guess what; we’re getting a lot of families coming into our country where FEMALE circumcision is an important “tradition” too. (IE, Somalian, Sudanese, Malaysian parents etc. etc. etc.) For many parents from these countries, female circumcision is an important “cultural” and “religious tradition.”

    Would American doctors be obliged to perform female circumcision in newborn girls from said families? (In a lot of these countries, the procedure is done in newborns, much like it is done to newborn boys here.) So that the girls “fit in” their families? Their social groups etc.?

    Or is “conformity” only important as far as BOYS go?

    Isn’t a doctor’s duty to MEDICINE and not to “social custom?” How far are they responsible for facilitating “conformity” and “cultural practice?” How far do we respect “cultural relativism?” Do we do so across the board? Or only with those practices with which we are familiar?

  8. “Once there are lots of boys with uncircumsised penises, this worry would go away. Until that point, however, it can be setting one’s child up for a lot of mocking.”

    Fun fact:

    According to the CDC, the rates of infant circumcision have fallen in America from about 56% in 2006, to 33% or so in 2009.

    Circumcising a child can be setting up one’s child up for a lot of mocking in the OTHER direction.

    In defence of circumcision I often hear the “lockerroom” argument, and how we must shelter our children from relentless mocking.

    This is kind of a moot argument in light of the fact that the hypothetical “lockerroom” scene is less likely to happen nowadays, not to mention the falling rate of newborn circumcision is going to leave circumcised boys in the minority.

    But I suppose now that the shoe is on the other foot, we are going to start hearing circumcision advocates use the argument people against circumcision have used all along; that boys need to learn to stand up for themselves.

    Suddenly “non-conformity” is going to be the reason to circumcise.

    You simply can’t win with circumcision advocates.

    Bottom line: Circumcision is radical surgery that alters the appearance, feel and mechanism of normal male anatomy. Unless there is a medical problem necessitating it, the legality of doctors performing it in healthy newborns is in question, and parental “choice” a secondary or tertiary issue.

  9. Great piece. However “voluntary” circumcision is not the correct term. I think you should fix it for clarity. In infants it’s routine, and non-consensual. Adult males can volunteer to have elective surgery, because they can give consent, But circumcision of infants is rape with a scalpel, not “voluntary”

  10. I would question why new evidence of health benefit should change the calculus. Would evidence of dramatic new economic benefit from slavery have changed the moral view that it is wrong to enslave others for the benefit of the few? Infant circumcision imposes beliefs, desires, and fears of one class of people (adults, doctors, parents and relatives, prior victims of infant circumcision) on another with the other bearing the burden of those beliefs, desires and fears. Claimed coincidental benefit, for example to the future partner of the infant (cervical cancer claim), is eerily close to the slavery analogy. Other alleged benefits are often cloaked in public health policy accruing to society at large (the STD/HIV argument). Again, the slavery analogy is too close for comfort. If a practice cannot stand on its own two feet, it cannot stand.

    1. Interesting point, David. In that part of my post, I was making a prediction about how society would react rather than making an “ought” statement. Given the traditional pull of circumcision, combined with a public health campaign to do something for the good of others (even at great costs to our children) in the event of new evidence (say, there is a big spike in cervical cancer for women with uncircumsized partners, and circumcision is found to reduce it substantially), I could see a resurgence of the practice. But to make clear, I doubt that we’ll see something that will dramatically impact the current calculus that it is not worth it.

      As for my view of the “ought” issue in relation to new compelling evidence, I would rethink circumcision if we found new evidence that it was significantly good for THE PERSON who would be circumcised (like, imagine a huge spike in penile cancer and then knowledge surfaces that the risk of it for my child could be radically lowered by circumcision).

      1. @Grover Children virtually never get penile cancer. It is a disease that old smokers who seldom bathe sometimes but rarely get. You can prevent ALL future illness, accident, disease, deformity and heartache in children by cutting out their hearts and brains. POTENTIAL (i.e. SPECULATIVE) future medical benefit, no matter how great and how complete, is not a valid justification for the human human rights violation and crime against humanity of human vivisection. People who chop off other people’s normal, healthy body parts without the adult informed written consent of the victim belong in jail with the Nazi doctors who were jailed after World War II for chopping up Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies and others. You want to chop up sex organs, chop up your own. Leave the rest of us alone or go to jail, go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200 or whatever the going rate is for mutilating defenseless babies these days. At least go pick on somebody your own size. Circumcisers of babies and children are bullies and cowards. Not to mention f-ing idiots. Thank you, Grover, for stating the obvious. As others point out, you are mistaken and 100% wrong calling infant circumcision “voluntary”. It is INVOLUNTARY. Come on. Call a spade a spade.

      2. Grover Cleveland wrote: “say, there is a big spike in cervical cancer for women with uncircumsized partners, and circumcision is found to reduce it substantially”

        This has been tried but didn’t work. The HPV virus is responsible for cervical cancer. It is estimated that 70% of Americans have contracted this virus at one time or another. Most (97%) develop a natural immunity to it and rid themselves of the virus. If circumcision provided any protection at all, a 70% infection rate would be virtually impossible in a population that is 80% circumcised.

        “like, imagine a huge spike in penile cancer and then knowledge surfaces that the risk of it for my child could be radically lowered by circumcision”

        Those who promote circumcision have tried to “float this boat” too but it sank as well. The highest risk of penile cancer is 1:109,000 individuals but the risk of death from the circumcision procedure is about 1:7,000 so that for each potential death averted from circumcision, 15 infants will die as a result of the “cure.”

  11. Before I get people ranting about “how dare I compare male and female circumcision!?!?,” I’d like to take the time to destroy a few myths.

    Closer observation will reveal that male and female circumcision are closer in nature than people will care to realize.

    But before I begin, I need to ask many of whom will no doubt begin slinging mud in my direction, how many of you have actually seen and observed male and female circumcision first hand?

    How many “studies” can you name to substantiate your claims?

    Myth #1
    “Female circumcision is so much worse because it is meant to subjugate a woman’s sexuality.”

    I urge people to please research the history of circumcision in America. The very purpose of circumcision was to curb a boy/man’s sexuality.

    “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 brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind…In females, the author has found the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement. ”
    ~Dr. John Harvey Kellogg

    “…one of the reasons for [circumcision] is, in my opinion, the wish to bring about a decrease in sexual intercourse and a weakening of the organ in question, so that this activity be diminished and the organ be in as quiet a state as possible.”
    ~Rabbi Maimonides

    So yes, even male circumcision was meant to subjugate males, in case any of you forgot.

    Myth #2
    “Female circumcision is so much worse because it elliminates a woman’s ability to orgasm.”

    Actually, no, no it doesn’t. There are varying degrees of female circumcision, and the kind that male circumcision is often compared to is infibulation, a procedure where a woman’s inner and outer labia are removed, along with the clitoris, and the area is sown together to leave a small hole for menstruation.

    Just so people know, this is actually THE rarest kind of FGM, at 15%, according to the NYTimes (please google “NYTimes” and “a cutting tradition” together and read the article).

    But did you know, that even women who have undergone THE WORST kind of FGM (infibulation) are still able to orgasm? It’s true. This myth was invented for the sole purpose of minimizing, and rationalizing male circumcision. The study can be found right here:

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2007.00620.x/abstract

    Another study shows that women who have undergone labiaplasties (in African countries, the same procedure is also known as FGM) have an INCREASED level of sexual satisfaction.

    Because the study was conducted and is presented by a clinic that offers this service to women, we can conclude that there is absolutely no conflict of interest there.

    http://www.labiaplastysurgeon.com/labiaplasty-clinical-study.html

    Myth #3
    “Female circumcision is worse because it has no health benefits.”

    Actually, at least one study shows a reduced HIV risk:

    http://www.ias-2005.org/planner/Abstracts.aspx?AID=3138

    Another argument that often comes up is “oh the pain!”

    Pain exists in infants too, but this is rationalized with “well they won’t remember it, so it’s OK.” In Malaysia and Somalia, baby girls are circumcised, and they too won’t remember. What do you feel about that?

    In the US, some doctors use a nerve block, and it works until it wears off and the child must endure the burn of urine on their deliberately inflicted wound. But would a nerve block legitimize infant FEMALE circumcision? Why? Why not?

    WHY am I comparing male and female circumcision?

    No, it is not to belittle male circumcision, though this is precisely the point of the whole “FGM is worse” argument.

    No.

    I compare male and female circumcision because it would be SEXIST not to.

    Having a set of rules for one sex, but a different one for the other is deliberate SEXISM and a double-standard.

    You can’t have one without the other:

    As long as we in the West cling to our “traditions” when it comes to male circumcision, our efforts to end FGM in the East will not prosper, because they will cling to THEIR “traditions” for the same reasons.

    We can’t be demanding “cultural relativism” and “parental rights” for the circumcision of one sex, but not the other.

    Unless we resolve to end the genital mutilation in ALL sexes, we can never hope to elliminate FGM.

    “Tolerance” and “cultural relativism” applies across the board, or not at all.

  12. The baby boy growing inside me now will remain intact. Circumcision is cosmetic surgery on babies. It is estimated to kill nearly as many baby boys every year as die from SIDS (about 100). It takes away something wonderful, drastically changes that male’s future sexual life, and causes all sorts of sexual problems as well (ED for one). It is most commonly done without proper pain management, babies are left to pee on an open wound for days, it interferes with breastfeeding success, and recent studies have shown the psychological harm babies experience carry well on into their lives. It’s genital mutilation and unethical. People can do to their own bodies whatever they like, when they are of age. But doing this to non-consenting babies is barbaric, and I agree, people will one day look back aghast.

    And yes, DON’T retract a baby’s foreskin, or let a doctor or caregiver do so. It will do it on its own in childhood and certainly by puberty. To retract is like ripping off a fingernail; it causes pain and problems.

  13. My son is 20 years old and intact, thankfully. I am grateful we happened to stumbled across some information that many years ago, even though it was typed on someone’s typewriter and rather crudely copied. One person’s effort to inform made a huge impact. Now, that same information (and more!) is spreading farther and wider. We reside in the Midwest also. After my son visited Sweden for a month, he came home very thankful that he didn’t “stand out” in the sauna as a “foreigner”. And here in the States? It was never an issue in a locker room or anywhere else when he was growing up, or now. Do boys even take showers in school locker rooms anymore? That’s a ridiculous reason for cutting off a very important part of a baby boy!

  14. I hope your analysis is correct. Male infant circumcision seems to be following the path outlined. And, the decreasing infant circumcision rate seems to prove the point.

    I wish infant circumcision had become disfavored years ago. I might still be intact instead of being circumcised shortly after birth. I sure wish my parents had stopped the doctors from cutting off part of my sex organ.

  15. What amazes me is that few parents who opt to circumcise their son will stop for one second to wonder what he might prefer. How do they plan to answer the, very possible, question : “Why did you let the doctor cut off the most sensitive part of my penis ???”
    The end of this barbaric custom can’t come soon enough. We have a pretty good idea of the physical problems that it causes, but little thought has been given to the damage that may be perpetrated on the fragile psyches of days old infants. Damage that quite likely lasts a lifetime.

  16. Roger, your point about the damage done to babies from circumcision pain is more true than you realise… Leading edge British neurological research has shown that newborns feel pain to a degree no one else does… And they’ve proven that it leaves a permanent neurological scar, making them more susceptible to pain in that area for life. Given that we already knew that baby boys were more susceptible to pain than baby girls I think it’s therefore safe to say there is no one who feels pain to a greater degree than a newborn boy.

    Here’s a link which explains the neurological research.
    It’s enough to make you weep.

    http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/News/2009/Features/WTX054083.htm

    And re the slavery analogy, it’s important to remember that those Victorians who invented the myth that a child doesn’t feel pain as you and I do also thought animals and those they called ‘savages’ didn’t either.

    The history of forced circumcision is a perfect example of prejudice and brutality. It’s utterly astonishing that we still allow it…. but this has something to do with the fact it’s a favoured white practice. If people in developed countries were the only ones to do this we’d have banned it long ago.
    We have a plank in our caucasian eyes.

  17. Annonymous @ October 1, 2010 at 12:55 am: It is virtually impossible to tell if an actor in a porn movie is circumcised or not because generally, they are only seen in the erect state when the difference is virtually nil. The foreskin retracts from the head of the penis and the visual differences disappear for the untrained eye. The only difference to be seen in the intact penis and the circumcised penis is the angle of the juncture between the residual inner foreskin and the epidermal outter foreskin.

    In a circumcised man, this juncture will usually be perpendicular to the penile shaft while in the intact man, it will be at an angle to the penile shaft replicating the angle of the glans. Since porn movies typically do not show close enough shots to discern this difference, it is virtually impossible to tell the difference. Porn movies rarely show the penis in a flaccid state sufficient for the foreskin to return over the head or glans, it is difficult at best to correctly determine if the man is circumcised or not. It is also likely that the vast majority of viewers would be sufficiently educated to catch this distinction and the vast majority of American viewers will incorrectly assume that a man with a bare glans is circumcised.

    In fact, if you are watching a porn movie made in Europe, the chances that the man is circumcised is virtually zero.

    Frank

  18. I read the posts of those supporting infant circumcision and my mind races to another blog forum where a mother apparently consciously ignored the bell ringing of intactivists and had her son circumcised. The child bled to death some 24 hours later. Now, she is asking for people to not criticize her!

    I struggle to understand why we cling to this practice so desperately. We are not alone in this. Several years ago, the government of South Africa banned the circumcision of boys under the age of 16 yet the carnage goes on and on. Prior to the ban, between 40 and 100 boys were dieing every year. In the last year, at least 119 boys have died and several cirucmcisers have been imprisoned. What exactly is the lure of this practice that people will risk imprisonment to continue it?

    Research has shown (three studies conducted over a 20 year time span) that 229 – 230 infants die every year in The US from circumcision. Even when parents are confronted with this fact, they go ahead and have their sons circumcised! What degree of culpability should they have? How culpable should the doctors that kill those children be? In my state alone, doctors have been sued for a total exceeding $13 million yet the practice goes on unabated. I once thought depriving them of their profits would spell an end to the practice but apparently not! This must be some kind of mental illness that drives it on and on. With the best of my reasoning powers, I can come to no other conclusion.

    .

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