Circumcision: The double standard of genital mutilation
Posted on 12/05/2018
The debate on circumcision, male genital mutilation, is once again gaining attention. On August 1, on behalf of their wives, 12 men were ambushed and forced to undergo male genital mutilation without anesthesia. The men were stripped naked, smeared with mud, and paraded around the town of Moi’s Bridge in Western Kenya. Their crime? Apparently they lacked hygiene and were not sexually satisfying to their women.
Besides the barbaric nature of the attack, equally disturbing but predictable is the mainstream media’s lack of coverage of the crime. Had this been done to women … ah yes, we would have heard about it. But for males, circumcision has evolved from a cultural ritual to a routinely practiced procedure. Debate brings out strong opponents both for and against the procedure. I can understand the “against” proponents since the procedure is rooted in ancient rituals and the science behind the practice is at best quackery, but the “for circumcision” group really stumped me until I began researching.
My mom was a “for circumcision” advocate but had later changed her position. I had been circumcised—and I was the only one in my family. My mom told me that the doctors convinced her to have it done (neither my dad or brothers were circumcised). She regretted it after I developed an infection and had to go back to the Montreal Children’s Hospital several times over the course of a month. But before regretting the decision (which came years later), she told me that she often took a stand to strongly defend the procedure when discussing it with her circle of friends. As I probed her stand, she stated it had more to do with avoiding guilt than anything else. She had made the decision to have me circumcised and couldn’t live with the idea that her decision was in retrospect wrong and would result in actual harm to her child. There had to be some “benefit” to justify the ordeal.
My mom’s position could be the reason a lot of dissenting voices come out at the calls for abolishing circumcision. After being coached into making the decision—which is easier done if the father is circumcised—they justify their actions (because frankly there is no going back). If the mutilation takes a turn for the worse (i.e., infection, complication)—or more commonly after witnessing the pain experienced by the boy—parents feel it even more necessary to back up their original decision. It has more to do with lessening their own guilt than validating the purported benefits of circumcision.
The Benefits of Circumcision
Then there are those out there who will vehemently argue with you that male genital mutilation (circumcision) IS NOTHING like female genital mutilation. They (usually feminist who don’t like to share the victim podium) will quote that male circumcision is a benefit. I am here to tell you that they are correct! There is a tremendous benefit—but NOT TO THE MALE. The real benefit goes to the institutions that gain to profit from this barbaric procedure.
In the fall of 1989, I was a graduate student at a prominent Montreal university. I was heading back to my tissue cell culture lab when I stumbled upon Dr. G. After exchanging greetings, she asked me how things were going with my research. I told her “not so good.” I had been having challenges getting my V79 human fibroblast cells to work for a series of experiments. And that’s when she told me. She gets her cells from the [redacted] hospital—from circumcised boys! And how exactly does she do that? Well, [redacted] conducts a huge number of circumcisions each year and yes the foreskin … they sell them! They make excellent cell cultures, she said enthusiastically.
This revelation on the whereabouts of discarded foreskin rubbed me the wrong way. There was an ethical component, but on a more personal level there was an intuitive feeling that somehow perhaps the whole procedure was a sham. But like most people I shifted attention to other issues, and had it not been for the recent red pill revelation I most likely would never have given a shit.
Besides guilt-ridden parents or religious zealots, why would anyone else want to ensure that male genital mutilation continues unhindered?
Could it be because circumcision is a BILLION-DOLLAR industry!
The foreskin of a Caucasian newborn male will set you back $431. That’s if you’re buying it for profit (i.e., cosmetics); if you’re buying it for research, then it’s $359.17.
Human male foreskin is the latest sick trend in the cosmetics world. For instance, facial cream from SkinMedica is a cream that contains boys’ foreskin. It is a product that is promoted by Oprah Winfrey. One of the side benefits of using human foreskin is that it doesn’t have to undergo animal testing!
The circumcision procedure itself is a valuable cash cow as well. Each year, 55% of the approximately 2 million men in the US are circumcised. This number has decreased recently and has the medical establishment fuming mad. But the reasons they are upset of course isn’t because they fear revenue lost … no … it’s because of their concern for the health of men. Yeah right! Because we care so much for men that we have national commissions set up for their welfare! We’ll look at the so-called benefits a little later on and dispel any reason these so-called intellectuals have. Back to the question, What does eliminating circumcision mean? Well, in the US, a circumcision could cost you about $250. When you multiply that out, it comes to about $275 million (in the US alone) each year.
As for the rest of the world—consider that one-third of all males are circumcised!
But Circumcision Is NOTHING Like Female Genital Mutilation, Right?
The foreskin is a specialized, functional organ designed for enhancing pleasure. Nature has designed it with a GREATER variety and concentration of nerve receptors THAN ANY PART OF THE PENIS. Those who condemn female genital mutilation say it’s because it removes part of the girl intended to enhance sexual pleasure. Well, the same could be said for the foreskin. An average circumcision will remove as much as 240 feet of nerves, and more than 20,000 nerve endings! Without the foreskin, the glans (tip of the penis) also becomes desensitized to touch—further robbing the male of sexual pleasure. A circumcised male’s glans becomes keratinized (addition of successive layers of skin), becoming much tougher and dryer as a result.
The glans was never designed to be an “external organ.” The circumcision process requires tearing foreskin from the glans and “pieces” of the glans could be torn off as well. Sometimes “shreds” of skin left over from the mutilation will hang from the glans.
Depending on how much foreskin is removed during circumcision, as much as 80 percent or more of a boy’s penile skin could be removed. This results in a significantly SMALLER PENIS—as much as 25% shorter.
Removing the “extra skin” also prevents penile skin from moving freely over the shaft and glans of the penis. This results in destroying the process that normally works to stimulate the glans. A circumcised male also lacks sebaceous glands, which were designed to lubricate the penis during coitus. Without the lubrication, the dry penis dries out, making it susceptible to cracking and bleeding.
Circumcision Is Illegal
Doctors’ Hippocratic Oath: “First, do no harm.”
EVERY doctor that has performed a circumcision procedure on a healthy boy has in fact broken the Hippocratic Oath they were sworn upon. Removing otherwise healthy skin is doing harm to the boy. In addition, in some countries, the existing laws make it unlawful to circumcise healthy boys. As Jacqueline Hooman stated in her recent article, circumcision in Canada violates the law and medical ethics. Despite this, Canadian practitioners continue to circumcise boys. Where are the legal advocates? Why hasn’t the law been addressed?
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” (Section 15-1.) While females are protected from even a prick of their foreskin, males continue to be subjected to ancient barbaric practices with no medical or legal basis. The Canadian Medical Association’s Code Of Ethics maintains that medical personnel have a duty to “consider first the well-being of the patient” and “refuse to participate in or support practices that violate basic human rights.”
Furthermore, the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons deems that for consent to be valid it must be “related to treatment, informed, voluntary, not be obtained through fraud or misrepresentation.” In Layman’s terms, the Physician is obligated to inform the patient of all potential risks associated with a procedure, along with the risks of not performing said procedure. But infants are incapable of giving consent. In the instance of proxy consent (parental consent) to treatment, the O.C.P.S. states, “A physician must provide the substitute decision-maker with the information that would otherwise have been given to the patient to enable him or her to make an informed decision as to consent.” (18.) and that “A physician must consider whether the substitute decision-maker is complying with the principles set out in the HCCA. If a physician is of the view that the substitute decision-maker is not acting in accordance with the HCCA, he or she can call the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee.” In other words, doctors are not allowed to amputate healthy, functional body parts just because the parents request them to do so.
In addition, the circumcised foreskin sold actually violates (at least in Canada) The Human Tissue Act: “A person shall not buy, sell or otherwise deal in, directly or indirectly, for a valuable consideration, tissue for a transplant or a body or part of a body, other than blood or a blood constituent for therapeutic purposes, medical education or scientific research.”
So What Are the So-called “Benefits” of Circumcision?
- Fighting Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
According to the latest information, approximately 1% of boys will develop a UTI within the first years of life. However, there is absolutely NO evidence (in the form of random controlled trials) that links circumcision to a reduction in UTIs. If anything, an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)—one of the instigators pushing for male genital mutilation—showed scant evidence that 100 circumcisions would have to be conducted to prevent only one case of UTI. And what about a MORE SERIOUS infection resulting from circumcision? Well, as we’ll see in a minute, no one’s bothered to collect data!
In reality, the “urban legend” arose from an extremely flawed study back in 1985 (Wiswell 1985). The study didn’t even accurately count whether the boys were circumcised or not!
- Penile Cancer
You hear this one a lot. Circumcision prevents penile cancer. Penile cancer is perhaps one of the rarest forms of cancer—occurring in only 1 out of a 100,000 males. And when diagnosed early it has a good survival rate. But let’s face it, who wants to get penile cancer? So how effective is circumcision against preventing penile cancer? Well, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) study,you would need to conduct up to 322,000 circumcisions to prevent one case of penile cancer! In addition, penile cancer is thought to be linked to infection with human papillomaviruses, which is contracted during sex. If you were really concerned about it, you could use a condom!
One conclusion we should consider: since penile cancer associated with human papillomaviruses is such a concern, then why not let the boy reach adulthood (and hence age of sexual activity) and after reviewing the evidence decide for himself whether the surgery is necessary? Given the choice to use a condom or have an irreversible penile mutilation, I would expect that would help the young adult come to a decision rather quickly.
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV
The next argument for circumcision put forward by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is that circumcision prevents two common viral STDs (genital herpes and genital warts). The studyfor this is based on a hardly relevant sub-population of adult men in sub-Saharan Africa.
With regards to HIV, again the science is sketchy. Evidence purports that circumcision prevents HIV in heterosexual men. In particular, the data seems to support a reduction of HIV in black men. However, the data shows that the effects of preventing HIV is MOST NOTABLE in men having the procedure AFTER THE AGE OF 35!
Again, with regards to STDs and HIV, if there is any concern, then the boy could decide for himself at an age of consent. If anything, at least with regards to HIV, it would actually be a benefit to wait until after the man turned 35.
Well, What About the Risks of Circumcision?
Again, uninformed trolls—and guilt-ridden parents—throughout the Internet will let you know that the risks with circumcision are minuscule … that the benefits outweigh the risks.
In reality, the risks are very real: infections (for one, I can attest to that), hemorrhaging, meatal strictures, and even incidental deaths and partial amputations of the penis. But incredibly, probably to the benefit of the institution, the EXACT NUMBERS FOR THE RISKS HAVE NEVER BEEN MADE AVAILABLE. That’s correct. We cannot say for sure what the incident rates are for circumcision complications because there are none to be referenced. Why would such a vastly routine procedure like circumcision not have any statistics? When AAP’s eight-member team recently decided that circumcision is a “good thing,” they hardly had enough data to determine the relative magnitude of the risk involved. Anyone versed in risk management will tell you that risk = severity x probability. Without probability, the level of risk is unattainable, and by default the regulators only ASSUME that it is low.
Let’s Look at the Risks in More Detail
We’ve already looked at the very real desensitization of the penis to sensual touch. As I’ve indicated, we have no idea exactly how much “damage” is attributed to circumcision—because frankly I don’t think they want us to know. But there have been numerous accounts of boys losing their glans … or having their entire penis cut off usually without anesthesia!
Let’s look in more detail to the harm circumcision results in.
- Meatal Stenosis
A condition known as “meatal stenosis” can occur as a result of circumcision. Normally blood flows from the extra skin to the penis. Without the circumcised skin, blood flow is disrupted and causes a back flow of blood, resulting in an obstruction of urine flow. This condition is almost always associated with circumcised boys.
- Severed Lymph Vessels
Circumcision results in the severing of lymph vessels. Lymph is a colorless fluid containing blood cells that is intended to bathe the tissues. When lymph circulation is hampered, it could result in lymphedema, a very painful and disfiguring condition that results in lymph not draining from the penis. This fluid becomes trapped and begins to swell.
- Effects on the Brain
Wonder why men have lower pain thresholds than women? Studies (Taddio 1997; Anand 2000) published in leading medical journals have shown that circumcised boys have lower pain thresholds than girls or intact boys. Dr. James Prescott, a researcher in this area, suggested that circumcision could result in disturbing levels of brain damage (to the developing boy).
- Effect on Women
The free-flowing skin of an intact penis allows the penis to move easily inside a woman in a much more pleasurable fashion. The sebaceous glands also aids in lubricating the inside of the vagina. Is it any wonder why most couples (where a man is circumcised) require an artificial lubricant?
Another effect of circumcision on moms (as well as dads) is the disruption that circumcision has on the parent-infant bonding that occurs during this crucial time following birth. Studies at the Washington University School of Medicine found that most boys would not nurse right after they were circumcised and most would not look into their mother’s eyes!
- Painful Procedure
Before a boy can be circumcised, his foreskin must be removed from his glans. He is literally being skinned alive! In most cases, the procedure is done without anesthesia. But even when it is, studies performed at the University of Colorado School of Medicine showed that circumcised boys usually had unrestful non-REM sleep. This is in response to the boy’s bombardment of neural pathways, resulting in unbearable pain. The boys sometimes fall into a “semicoma” that can last days if not weeks. Think about it: Why do boys cry during and after a circumcision? It’s disingenuous to suggest that they DON’T FEEL ANYTHING!
Moreover, in the civilized West, only 45% of doctors (and even fewer obstetricians, 25%) use anesthesia. The reason they don’t is because it takes too much time!
Studies have shown that circumcision results in post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, lower self-esteem, and issues related to intimacy (Goldman 1999; Hammond 1999; Boyle 2002).
But Doesn’t Circumcision Make It More Hygienic?
Perhaps the biggest myth about circumcision is that it aids in hygiene. That’s like saying cutting off a boy’s eyelid makes it more hygienic in caring for his eye! In healthy boys, the foreskin is COMPLETELY FUSED to the glans. It is designed to keep feces off the head of the penis. Circumcision causes the glans to be more susceptible to infection and more likely to bring invading germs in closer proximity to the urinary tract.
But what about the production of smelly smegma? Doesn’t circumcision prevent this?
Smegma is produced by both boys and girls equally. It is washed off easily during bathing. And NO, it doesn’t cause cancer. PERIOD!
In conclusion, we already know the outcry a single case of female genital mutilation would bring … nothing less than a candlelight vigil and 24/7 coverage on CNN. But because men and boys are disposable, their genital mutilation comes with benefits to society … the reduction of fine lines and wrinkles. Isn’t it time that we revisit why it is that we continue to do this … and perhaps even more importantly why we continue to pretend nothing is wrong? Circumcision should not only be less prevalent, but I would suggest it should be outlawed the way female genital mutilation is.
About Joe Wilson
Joe Wilson is a healthcare executive living in Toronto. In his spare time he runs a blog on men’s rights issues. He is particularly concerned with the challenges boys face, especially with regards to education. Today’s men’s movement is giving him new hope in humanity.