Circumcision should be outlawed

Regarding the Aug. 31 Observer story “High hopes for victims of female genital mutilation“: This story reminded once again of the sad realization that there is no hope at all in the world for the many more victims of male genital mutilation. Male circumcision advocates might say there is no comparison since male circumcision, if done properly, neither robs adult men of sexual pleasure nor poses a significant health risk. But I say that arguing that removal of the prepuce does no significant harm is not an argument at all. Nor is the apology that it has a long and noble cultural heritage that places it above disrepute. That’s rubbish.

There are even some lunatics among us who argue that male circumcision should be universally mandated as a public health measure. What advocates of male circumcision ought to be telling us instead is how the procedure is not a mutilation to begin with, and how lack of consent by infantile subjects to a procedure carried out on an intimate body part can conscientiously be dismissed. Claims of health benefits are unconvincing and exaggerated.

The regional court in Cologne, Germany, was absolutely in the right when it ruled that “circumcising babies on religious grounds amounts to grievous bodily harm” (“Circumcision is assault, court rules,” June 29, 2012). One might challenge the “grievousness” of it, but the accusation of assault is foolproof. Naturally, domestic and international pressure (“German circumcision ban slammed,” July 11, 2012) forced the German parliament to step in for the sake of the religious lobby (“German panel backs circumcision,” Aug. 25, 2012, “Germany OKs law on circumcision,” Dec. 14, 2012).

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is terrible and easily conjures more outrage than male genital mutilation. But the depravity of it means that people can’t see the forest for the trees. Outlawing genital mutilation means outlawing all of it, and anti-FGM workers would only gain credibility if they come out equally against male genital mutilation as well. Meanwhile, doctors, nurses, teachers, counselors, rabbis and parents involved in lining up young boys as sacrifices should themselves all be lined up for long prison sentences.

grant piper

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

  • joseph4gi

    Whenever male circumcision is challenged, advocates of it always want to turn it into a game of who the “worst victim” is, and they try to establish a number of tacit rules that determine if an act is “mutilation” or not.

    When a male circumcision advocate argues “female circumcision is worse,” the tacit rule seems to be “severity determines which act is mutilation, and who the real victim is,” but this is erroneous. If a person loses a finger, and another person loses their whole hand, perhaps one may be “worse” than the other, but they are both mutilation. Just because one is “worse” does not render the other one “harmless.”

    “Children are circumcised by doctors, at a hospital, using clean utensils, when they are newborns, when they are least likely to remember the pain,” another argument goes. “Women must undergo female circumcision rituals in the crude environment of the bush, by amateurs, using rusty blades or glass shards, at an age when they are likely to remember,” the argument continues.

    There are two problems with the above arguments. For one, the implication seems to be that if female circumcision were performed by doctors, at hospitals, using pristine utensils, on female neonates, then the act stops being “mutilation.” In fact, this is precisely what happens in many countries, such as Egypt, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and other South East Asian countries.

    And secondly, nothing is said about the African boys and men who undergo circumcision as a right of passage in pretty much the same way as women. In places like South Africa, scores of young men die as a direct result of their circumcision initiation rites that happen yearly, and many more lose their penises to gangrene.

    “Female circumcision ablates the clitoris, which renders a woman unable to experience orgasm for the rest of her life,” another argument goes.

    Actually, this argument is pure fabricated myth in many ways; there are actually many levels of severity of female genital cutting, and not all of them remove the clitoris. It is actually, physically not possible to remove the clitoris in its entirety as it embedded deeply in the woman’s body; what is removed, if it is removed, is the tip.

    And secondly, researchers, namely one Sarah Johnsdotter, has found that even women who have undergone the worst forms of female genital cutting are still able to experience orgasm and enjoy fulfilling sexual lives.

    In other words, the argument that female genital cutting destroys a woman’s libido is pure bunk.

    Lastly, as a last resort, male circumcision advocates cling to the argument that circumcision has “medical benefits.” The rule seems to be that the genital cutting of males is justified as long as there is a number of written “studies” that says male circumcision protects against some sort of disease, however questionable and farfetched the claims may be.

    Lately, male circumcision advocates have latched on to the idea that circumcision “protects against HIV.” This claim is based on the results of three dubious African “studies,” which found slightly lower incidence of HIV transmission in a group of circumcised men vs. a slightly higher incidence of HIV in a group of intact men.

    There are a few problems with this “research,” namely that the “researchers” fail to provide a causal link; without it the claims are pure conjecture based on statistics. Additionally, the claimed percentage of protection (60%) fails to manifest itself in the real world. HIV transmission was more prevalent among the CIRCUMCISED male population in 10 out of 18 African countries. Despite 80% of the male population being circumcised from birth, the United States has a higher HIV transmission rate than 53 countries where circumcision falls below 20%, according to the CIA fact book. Japan is one of these countries.

    But there is a huge problem with trolling out “research” and claims of “medical benefits.” The tacit rule here seems to imply that, if female genital cutting could be proven to afford “medical benefits,” then it would stop being called “mutilation.”

    Actually, research shows that not only is female genital cutting not as catastrophic as male circumcision advocates claim it to be, but also that circumcision may provide some sort of protection against HIV. (Stallings et al)

    Is whether or not an act is “mutilation” really determined by its severity in comparison with other acts? By whether it is detrimental to enhancing to the sexual experience? By how many “benefits” it may have?

    Or is the act of taking a healthy, non-consenting individual and forcibly cutting off part of that person’s genitals “mutilation” on principle? Regardless of age, sex, who performs the cutting and where?

    • Johnnie Walker

      Very well said. You just demolished the pro-circumcision arguments.

  • Keith

    As a man whose foreskin was stolen by a greedy doctor, my enjoyment of sex was always compromised, and now in later life is non-existent. Genital cutting of children is always wrong, and although it is specifically banned in most countries, boys do not have the same protection. Protect them NOW! Are the politicians so spineless? You can get the legislation through quickly, simply modify the wording of the Anti-FGM laws to include the protection of male children. Adults can do as they wish to their own body, but leave the child intact.

  • Keith

    As a man whose foreskin was stolen by a greedy doctor, my enjoyment of sex was always compromised, and now in later life is non-existent. Genital cutting of children is always wrong, and although it is specifically banned in most countries, boys do not have the same protection. Protect them NOW! Are the politicians so spineless? You can get the legislation through quickly, simply modify the wording of the Anti-FGM laws to include the protection of male children. Adults can do as they wish to their own body, but leave the child intact.

  • I appreciate this article. Thank you, Grant, for writing it. I am an American woman who was circumcised by doctors in the 1950s. The fact that U.S. medical doctors used to circumcise little girls is a dirty little secret.

    As a circumcised woman, I am not as concerned with the loss of skin, tho it does impair the sensation – but am more concerned with the loss of peace of mind, trust in the goodness of life, and symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that I carry and that everyone I have met who was circumcised against their will, carries. Overpowering a child teaches many unfortunate lessons. Powerlessness is one; feeling unloved is another; unprotected, vulnerable, angry, sad, afraid. It is no wonder that so many Americans are so troubled.

    To me, the psychological effects of circumcision are even worse than the physical. I extend my condolences to all my brothers and sisters on the planet who were hurt in this way… and I urge you to do what you can to release the fear that circumcision instilled in your bones. There are many helpful people and techniques available these days. My heart is with you in your healing.

    • Tanya

      Patricia, thank you for having the courage to speak out. I find it so sad that most Americans can sympathize with a story like yours if the victim is a woman, but if a man tries to say the same thing he’s belittled and mocked. Gender bias goes both ways.

  • beeblebrox

    Maybe performing circumcision either on a male or a female should be considered a capital crime as a crime against humanity. That should make parents and physicians think twice, and maybe boost discussion of the procedure’s merits to a new level.

  • TLCTugger

    Circumcision alters sex dramatically. Foreskin feels REALLY good.

    The only person with the ethical standing to offer consent for cosmetic amputation of healthy normal body parts is the informed rational adult owner of the genitals.

    Circumcision of infants has extraordinarily haphazard outcomes. You can see images of common horrid cosmetic and functional effects if you Google “circumcision damage.”

  • ceruleanblue777

    Hear! Hear!

  • Jackno

    Well said. The parts cut off baby boys are some of the most highly innervated parts of the human. A whole range of sensation and sexual and protective function are lost. The lips, fingertips and nipples have similar touch sense. To take this away from another person without their consent is heinous. To do this to a newborn baby is creepy, child abuse and a human rights VIOLATION.

  • Richard Lis

    Any other surgery or drug requires stages of testing before it becomes legal. The act of circumcision seems to have been able to skip this because it has been carried on since people lived in caves.

    Since we are living in an otherwise “civilized society,” perhaps it’s about time to see the effects of this act on the human brain and the male body. Of course, this would lead to the act being outlawed.

  • Keith

    The letter-writer is absolutely correct that the ban on FGM should also mean an automatic ban on male genital mutilation. Babies and children of either sex must have the same protection against genital cutting, whether caused by ignorance, vindictiveness, or greed.