Circumcision is a contentious topic for men. Which makes sense when you consider that every man is inevitably on one side of the debate or the other since infancy, and so has a hard time coming to terms with those facts (or otherwise) which clash with his own beliefs. Such considerations may force him to consider that maybe, just maybe, his parents made a terrible mistake all those years ago, and now his penis is less excellent than it could be. No… better to convince yourself otherwise; either that or resent your parents for the rest of your life.
The debate about circumcision is therefore inherently and unavoidably biased by those who engage in it. I am no exception. I’m proudly el naturale, and considering the fact that I’m about to shit all over the barbaric practice of Infantile Genital Mutilation (IGM) as I like to call it, but more commonly euphemized as ‘circumcision’, I find it necessary to lay bare these potential biases and influences.
Cognitive dissonance, for those of you who, unlike myself, don’t have an arts degree from a substandard regional university, is a term used to describe the conflict one experiences when holding two or more opposing beliefs or values at the same time (if you don’t care for my pedestrian paraphrasing, you can go to wikipedia and read all about it here)
If you do hold an arts degree or higher and/or read the above linked article, you’ll know that the only way to resolve ones cognitive dissonance is to change one of the opposing beliefs or values, or simply ignore it (the ‘head in the sand’ option. Trivializing is another option, but in this case, almost impossible)
Now in this context, for obvious reasons, it’s therefore extremely unlikely that even the most convincing rhetoric will change a circumcised male’s beliefs and values about the fact that his foreskin was severed at birth (by cruel men, under cold lights). As there is no way to ‘resolve’ the fact that his foreskin is irretrievably separated from him, he must instead convince himself of its merits, or simply ignore all facts that argue otherwise.
Still, a man’s gotta’ try, right? Because if you extend that logic further, it stands that this idiotic, obscure act of genital mutilation will be continued through the sheer hubris and blind pride of those men who, having been robbed of not only a part of their own penis themselves, but also the liberty to decide for themselves, should then visit this same sin upon their own innocent children.
The persistently high rate,still to this day, of institutionalized mutilation can be traced back to the Victorian Era, which spanned the years 1837-1901, when there existed an alarmingly common and unhealthy obsession amongst the outraged, middle aged upper-class types, with the idea of putting a stop to curious pubescent boys fiddling with themselves.
The idea was that by snipping off the hood, the penis would both be desensitized, and would no longer offer the ‘natural lubrication’ of the foreskin’s gliding movement during masturbation, robbing would-be jerks of their natural ally in sin, the foreskin. (Uncircumcised males do not need lubricant to masturbate, instead being able to rely on that evolutionary home-run, the foreskin). Of course, they didn’t stop at this, coming up with some draconian and just plain creepy ‘anti-masturbation’ devices.
Seeking justifications other than simply trying stop to stop kids from fapping, before long a raft of diseases and afflictions had been linked to the foreskin including, but not at all limited to; madness, epilepsy, idiocy and cancer (Fleiss 1997). This led to a widespread adoption of the practice across the US in the post war years, and (thankfully) to a lesser extent here, in Australia. (It is interesting, if not unsurprising to note that there was, unfortunately, no correlative drop in idiocy, madness, cancer or epilepsy)
In more modern times, parents have for obvious reasons needed new and more believable, yet equally false reasons (such as decreased chances of contracting Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs), both of which I will thoroughly disprove shortly) to justify mutilating their children. But despite the utter falseness of these claims, convinced they have remained. As of 2007, 51% of newborn males in the USA were being subjected to circumcision (WHO 2007). Here in Australia the figures aren’t as complete, but it’s estimated that around 12.9% of newborns nationally are still getting the snip (it varies state to state, with Queensland the highest at just under 20%). Thankfully, public funding of the practice (which is to say institutionalised, state funded infant genital mutilation, no less) was removed from Medicare some time ago.
It is also worth noting that the earliest examples of male circumcision dates back to over 15,000 years ago, from back in a time when people where infinitely more ignorant than they are now. The foreskin on the other hand, well that only draws on billions of years of evolutionary improvement. Every part of the human anatomy is the product of a long string of gradual but inexorable progress, and the foreskin is no different. It seems like a slap in Darwin’s (and the collective evolutionary progress of humanity’s) face to suggest that we mere mortals can do better than evolution.
So with that said, let’s look at the arguments one by one (albeit from my own biased, yet biologically intact, perspective).
IT FEELS BETTER (for me)
The subjectivity of this statement makes it hard to properly address, but let’s take a shot anyway. For obvious reasons it’s practically impossible to say conclusively what feels ‘better’, as not only the term itself, but the experiences upon which it is based is subjective in the most pure sense of the word. Sex feels great for me, but who is to say it couldn’t feel better? Without a large sample population of people who transcend the circumcision divide (that is, people who have experienced sex as both circumcised and circumcised, a relatively rare experience one would expect), there is no real way to address this question from a quantitative perspective
The cold, hard science however tells us this – the foreskin removed during a typical circumcision contains, on average, 20,000-22,000 nerve endings (those little things that give us the joy of pleasure and/or the anguish of pain), and when you cut this off, well, they don’t just hop over to the scrotum that’s for sure (as awesome as that would be). Studies have shown a reported loss of sensation among circumcised men, and let’s not forget that the modern resurgence of circumcision, as mentioned earlier, traces it’s roots back to a concerted, Victorian effort to desensitize the penis and thus discourage masturbation.
IT FEELS BETTER (for her)
Again, this is a very subjective statement, and one that relies on subjective interpretation of ‘better’ (read through a couple of these submissions about ‘cut’ vs ‘un-cut’ on debate.org and you’ll get a feel for just how subjective. It’s interesting to note that, at the time of writing, the field was pretty evenly split, with a slight majority, 52% of women stating that they prefer circumcised men. Silly women).
Yet regardless of which side of the ‘foreskin-fence’ you are on, the overwhelming anecdotal evidence always seems to be in your favour. I’ve argued this countless times both with guys who got the snip, and guys who remain intact, and time and time again hear them say “It (meaning, circumcised or uncircumcised depending on the context) feels better for women”. Now, without taking a shot at their masculinity by calling every woman they have ever slept with a liar, it is perhaps worth noting that the methods used to gather this ‘data’ is in almost all cases unempirical, subjective and anecdotal; that is, haphazardly asking women, who are probably too nice to tell you either way anyway, whether your dick measures up to the (only god knows how many) other dicks she’s experienced, is probably pretty inconclusive. I’ll go even further; it should be blindingly obvious that the results will be skewed, and that as such this kind of ‘data’ needs to be unequivocally mopped up with Kleenex and thrown in the wastepaper bin.
Even results on user-generated submission sites, such as debate.org, should be taken with a grain of salt, as the methodology here is in many ways just as bad as that gathered by individuals (For instance there are no prerequisites for stating an opinion and taking part in the vote, prerequisites likes, say, having experienced both. It’s more of a opinionated free-for all than a systematic study)
So let’s try to look at it from a woman’s perspective, as best we can. A sexual educator with Your Tango, a women’s health, beauty, sex, and fifty-shades-of-grey-aficionado website, sums up her experience with the issue:
“As a sex educator, I have spoken with thousands of women about their experience of intercourse with circumcised and uncircumcised men, and a clear pattern has emerged. It seems that circumcision not only affects male pleasure, it changes how they make love. Circumcised men tend to penetrate much more vigorously, in the jackhammer style that is so familiar from our cultural depiction of intercourse. This style of penetration comes from a desperate search for more stimulation and the need to concentrate sensations on the tip of the penis.”
She goes on to say, of the unmutilated/uncircumcised penis:
“Uncircumcised men, on the other hand, often penetrate with more finesse, using a slower rhythm and more of an undulating motion. The intact foreskin acts as a sheath that glides over the penis with every thrust, creating more pleasure and reducing the need to thrust with as much force to create sensation”
So to re-iterate, it’s hard to find objective and quantitative answers to such a subjective and qualitative issue, and for all intents and purposes the field is pretty evenly split.
But at the end of the day, is this even an argument? I mean, as long as I get off, who cares about her? Amirite?
I CAN’T GET AIDS
The argument that circumcised men enjoy a lower chance of contracting STIs has been proven to be circumstantial at best, and damaging to public health outcomes at worst. Imagine a generation of young men, arrogant and proud, prodding their dicks into every available orifice with impunity, fearless in the knowledge that early in their life, those who cared for them made a wise and prudent decision which has and will protect them forever against that bane to sexual freedom and promiscuity, the STI.
OK, so no one really thinks circumcision is AIDS-proof, but even if only a minimal level of protection from circumcision is merely implied, this could lead to a more lax approach to sexual health and contraception, which, needless to say, is probably a bad thing.
The only situation in which this argument has any possible credence is in places like sub-saharan Africa, where studies have shown a correlation between high rates of circumcision and lower rates of HIV/AIDs infection rates, in some cases reducing the chance of contracting HIV by 50% (Auvert 2005, 2006). These studies, while obviously very exciting to the world’s circumcised community (you mean I only have to wear a condom half the time now???), hold little relevance in the West, where access to contraception is almost universal, and instead of the existential problems faced by those living on or below the poverty line, we spend our time writing blogs about first-world problems like “Would I be so lonely if my cock was intact?”.
The study’s findings went on to find that “Offering circumcision would have a very small effect on reducing HIV transmission rates among gay and bisexual men in the United States”, stating that the findings were for female-to-male transmission, did not relate to male-to-male transmission, and that the high prevalence of contraception and safe sex in the West made the effects of such a (un)natural advantage minimal. What’s more, further studies have found these original results to be incomplete and incorrect (Connolly 2008).
So just to be clear, circumcision does not offer any significant advantage in terms of STIs, unless you happen to be living on less than $2 a day in West-Africa, or you simply don’t give a fuck.
This argument takes a couple of different approaches to motivate parents to mutilate their children, which include:
- Keeping a baby’s uncircumcised penis clean is difficult, and young boys will not keep theirs clean, leading to infections
This is simply not true. Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D. (2011) says “in babies, the foreskin is completely fused to the head of the penis. You cannot and should not retract it to clean it, as this would cause the child pain, and is akin to trying to clean the inside of a baby girl’s vagina”. What’s more, she states that “It is harder to keep circumcised baby’s penis clean because you have to carefully clean around the wound, make sure no feces got into the wound, and apply ointment”.
Of her own experiences, Narvaez says that as the boys grow up “there is nothing special that the parents need to do. Most little boys have absolutely no problem playing with their penises in the shower or anywhere else! It was harder to teach my boys to wash their hair than it was to care for their penises” (Narvaez 2011)
- Uncircumcised penises get smelly smegma.
Smegma is produced in both men and women, and is made up primarily of sebum, a natural lubricant, and a sprinkling of skin cells for good measure. When this mixture is left uncleaned for a long period of time, it thickens into that lovely dick-cheese known as smegma.
Again, in the modern Western context, where only a small minority of people (which is to say, mongrels) bathe infrequently, this argument is irrelevant. (If you’ve gotten to the point of smelling such a person’s smegma, there’s no hope for you anyway, so just give up now).
- Uncircumcised males have a higher chance of urinary tract infections (UTIs.)
Firstly, this myth is based on a flawed study from the ‘80s (a heady time to be sure), which failed to take into account a whole range of qualifying variables, such as whether the subjects were breast-fed (which provides natural protection against UTIs), or whether the children had been born prematurely (which increases the risk of UTIs). What’s more, UTIs are somewhat uncommon and not a very serious problem, requiring a short course of antibiotic. So mutilating your children’s genitals on these grounds, considering the counter-arguments against it, seems to me like just a bit of an overkill.
Circumcision is out-dated, useless at best, and harmful at worst. Entrenched ignorance have perpetuated what is, if viewed objectively and in full view of the facts, a barbaric custom long since bereft of medical or scientific justification, and have led to perpetuating situation whereby by those who, having not being given the choice themselves, then rob their own children of the liberty to decide on the shape their penis should take.
More alarming than any of the evidence against circumcision is the fact that parents feel the right to make this decision for their children, long before said child has the ability to make his own mind up and long before he has weighed up the pro’s and cons. Because even if one day down the track someone does find some empirical, indisputable proof that circumcision is for the best, I can always pop into day surgery and, with about a week of healing, enjoy those benefits.
Reverse this scenario, and it’s pretty hard for circumcised guys to say the same.
Auvert, B. et al., Randomized, controlled intervention trial of male circumcision for reduction of HIV infection risk: the ANRS 1265 Trial, PLoS Med. 2005 Nov;2(11):e298. Epub 2005 Oct 25.
Camille CJ, Kuo RL, Wiener JS. Caring for the uncircumcised penis: What parents (and you) need to know. Contemp Pediatr 2002;11:61.
Connolly, C. et al., Male circumcision and its relationship to HIV infection in South Africa: Results of a national survey in 2002, South African Medical Journal, October 2008, Vol. 98, No. 10.
Fleiss, P. The foreskin is necessary, Mothering: The Magazine of Natural Family Living, Winter 1997, pp. 36–45
Narvaez, D. More Circumcision Myths You May Believe: Hygiene and STDs, Published in ‘Moral Landscapes, Psychology Today, Sept. 12 2011 accessed via http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201109/more-circumcision-myths-you-may-believe-hygiene-and-stds at 2:10pm 20/5/14
World Health Organization, Male Circumcision; Global Trends and Determinants of Prevalence, Safety and Acceptability, UNAIDS, 2007 accessed via http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2007/9789241596169_eng.pdf at 2:28pm 20/5/14