One in the eye for ferrety bureaucrats »« Ian McEwan on Hitchens

Mutilate the baby tastefully

Parents shouldn’t mutilate their children, amirite? I think that’s a pretty safe claim. But….

But it turns out it’s ok, as long as you make a show of angst about it first. It’s ok as long as you go on and on and on about your feelings on the subject, demonstrating how sensitive you are, and then in the end agree to lopping off a bit of your baby’s penis. The show of angst makes it ok, so it turns out that the mutilation of the baby is actually all about the feelings of the mommy.

Ever outspoken about what I considered the “barbaric” nature of the bris ritual, it is no wonder I was blessed with two sons. Experiencing it once was pure agony. But it was as I stood on the sidelines awaiting my younger son’s circumcision, in pensive conversation with my brother, that I realized I — and women like me — deserved to shed our status as victims and claim our own meaning in this tradition.

And so she does, at great and self-indulgent (or is that “pensive”?) length.

These days, the recent ballot initiative in San Francisco to ban the circumcision of minors (ultimately stricken by a local judge on a technical matter) is the latest manifestation of the growing anti-circumcision movement. Like shirking vaccinations, shedding strollers in favor of “baby wearing,” and embracing co- sleeping, it is increasingly popular to resist subjecting your newborn to such a “barbaric” procedure against his “will,” and to casually throw around terms like “genital mutilation.” Great. Just what I needed to add to my ambivalence over the decision to circumcise my sons — a healthy dose of the liberal guilt I thought I safely had left behind in college.

But I did not find the cries of the hyper-liberal terribly persuasive. Yes, choosing to circumcise your son involves making a difficult and significant decision on his behalf — but what in parenting doesn’t? And, after all, isn’t the irrationality bred of cult-like child-centric parenting ultimately akin to religious zealousness? Just trendier.

Yes, parents have to make many decisions for their children, but no, that doesn’t make it ok to snip off a bit of a baby’s penis for reasons of religion or tradition.

I chose to be awakened from my womb-like slumber, along with my new son, and confront that, while his pain may be my own, I cannot always protect him. Neither from physical discomfort, nor from the weight of the traditions into which he was born. For me, the bris served as an important reminder that there are things larger than me and my quest for rationality. Larger than my son and this brief encounter with pain. As one parent wrote about giving his son over for his bris, “I submit him [for circumcision] because I hope there is more to this than I can see or understand.” There are things I can’t explain, things beyond my control, even — especially — when it comes to this new life.

So she just abdicates responsibility, and lets it happen, because religion is bigger than she is. Therefore what? It’s ok to keep children out of school, to forbid girls to go to school, to hire people to hit children with metal poles, to marry little girls to adult men, to mutilate children’s genitals?

It’s a sad spectacle, someone going to all that trouble to come to a hopeless conclusion.

Update: Stewart did a graphic response so I helped myself to it.

Comments

  1. says

    I have yet to hear a solid argument for having a boy circumcised before he’s old enough to have a say in the matter. If you’re feeling ambivalent, then instead of railing against the “hyper-liberal” who dare to make you feel uncomfortable about going along with tradition, why not let the kid wait until he knows what’s happening?

  2. julian says

    I chose to be awakened from my womb-like slumber, along with my new son, and confront that, while his pain may be my own, I cannot always protect him.

    The pain your son is experiencing, ma’am, is not your pain. It is his pain and his alone.

    And you should try to shield your children from unnecessary pain. Subjecting your children to the severing of body parts because it supposedly teaches them some great truth underpinning reality is wrong.

    There are things I can’t explain, things beyond my control, even — especially — when it comes to this new life.

    *facepalm*

  3. says

    I know, right? Isn’t that piece just maddeningly yuppyish and self-admiring? Oooh look at my deep thoughts and my sensitive feelings, look at me, look at how I just shrug and give up at the end, aren’t I fascinating?

    Don’t miss Janet Heimlich’s comment on the piece. She’s written an excellent book on religious child abuse.

  4. walton says

    I don’t know. I’m very conflicted. Would I have my child circumcised? No. But it’s not an issue for me because (a) I’m not Jewish or Muslim and have no family who are, and (b) I don’t intend to have kids.

    The more important question is whether child circumcision should be banned. And I’m very, very conflicted about that.

    Don’t get me wrong. I certainly don’t buy into the idiotic notion that parents have some kind of inherent “right” to make these decisions: there are many common child-rearing practices that absolutely should be illegal and regarded as abusive, like “spanking” and other forms of “corporal punishment” (these practices being demonstrably psychologically harmful to children, as illustrated by a ton of empirical research, as well as very nasty and authoritarian). Children are individual human beings who should have their own legal rights and freedoms, and their own bodily autonomy; they are not the property of their parents.

    Nor is it because of reflexive deference to religion or cultural tradition. I obviously don’t think, in itself, that the labelling of something as a traditional religious obligation automatically means it should be legal. After all, there are people out there who think that female genital mutilation, human sacrifice, or depriving one’s children of lifesaving medical treatment are religious and/or cultural obligations; that doesn’t, and shouldn’t, stop us outlawing those practices. Religious, moral and cultural beliefs tend to be treated with more deference by society than mere personal preferences, but this isn’t, and obviously shouldn’t be, absolute; there are practices which are so abusive and harmful that they cannot be permitted, ever, whatever people’s reasons for wanting to do them. So “it’s my religion!!!!” is not, and shouldn’t be, a conclusive argument on this point.

    Rather, I think the issue is simply one of weighing the harm of allowing the practice to continue against the harm of banning it. In my understanding, there’s a great deal of debate in the medical profession about whether male circumcision is medically helpful or harmful. (I’m not a physician, so please correct me if I’m wrong about this.) Now, of course, in an ideal world, parents would leave it to their children to make that decision for themselves when they reach full age. But that isn’t the question: we’re not talking about ideal parenting practice, but about the minimum standards that the law should enforce. The question is whether the state should arrest and prosecute parents for having their children circumcised as infants. And that’s a very different proposition. I think it’s indisputable that there are plenty of generally decent, loving parents who, for religious or traditional reasons, have their children circumcised. Do I wish they wouldn’t? Yes. Do I think they should be treated as criminals, subjected to criminal sanctions, or threatened with losing custody of their children because of it? I’m not sure. It seems to me that the harm of that kind of state intrusion, both to the parents and to the children, would outweigh the benefit.

    This is a difficult issue because I’m very, very strongly opposed to “corporal punishment” of children, having been interested in that issue for some time, and think it should be outlawed; so I have to think carefully about whether I can justify banning one kind of intrusion on bodily autonomy and not another. But the difference is that “corporal punishment” is inherently and demonstrably harmful to children’s best interests, whereas it is very much disputed whether male circumcision is harmful or not. And so there’s a much stronger case for banning the former than the latter.

  5. walton says

    (I should add that I’m open to changing my mind. I wasn’t circumcised, and I’ve never seen it done, so I’m aware that I don’t have personal experience to rely on here. Rather, I’m judging the extent of the harm according to the reported medical opinion on the issue, and I know that it’s an extremely controversial issue in the medical profession – with, as I understand it, some saying that circumcision assists hygiene and reduces the danger of certain infections, and others saying that it leads to reduced sexual pleasure and functionality.)

  6. Bruce S. Springsteen says

    Product liability litigator, eh? I know you don’t have to be a lawyer to make these kinds of tortured, hand waving, morally aimless and misdirecting arguments, but I suspect her professional acquaintance with ex post facto rationalization, excusing acts of harmful negligence that injure blameless victims, helps out in a case like this.

    She should have substituted the word “culpability” for “meaning” in the first excerpt above. Women should shed their victim status in this “tradition” and own up to their role as enablers and accomplices in the mutilation of their little boys.

  7. julian says

    @Walton

    Suppose the part being cut off was something like the pinkie toe. Removing the parents from the child’s life would clearly cause more harm than the act itself. We can live and live well without a pinkie toe. So why should parents who remove their child’s pinkie toe suffer anymore severe a consequence than the parents of a child who had theirs circumcised?

  8. julian says

    I’ve never seen it done, so I’m aware that I don’t have personal experience to rely on here.

    Likewise but my mother tells me I screamed a great deal. So much that it convinced her not to have my brother done.

  9. Stacy says

    What julian and Ophelia said. In particular this

    I realized I — and women like me — deserved to shed our status as victims

    –made me throw up in my mouth a little.

    She considers/considered herself the victim. Of course.

  10. JennieL says

    Ugh. How incredibly self-absorbed.

    Yes, honey. The important thing about this is how you are made the victim in having your son circumcised, and how much pain you (vicariously) feel, and how you can feel all righteously humble about sacrificing your “quest for rationality” in the hope that there might, against all evidence, be any reason for what you’re doing.

    And yes, the objection we silly ‘liberals’ have to circumcision is nothing more than the fact that the baby can’t consent for himself. Good thing, too, because that objection is handily rebutted by the observation that babies can’t consent to anything. Unlike, say, the objection that there’s absolutely no reason in favour of doing it, quite a few reasons against it, and that while you do have to make some decisions on your child’s behalf, those should be – as far as practical – in that child’s best interests. Utterly pointless, painful, and barbaric religious rituals performed in order to soothe parental neuroses don’t qualify.

    Methinks her “quest for rationality” has consisted, so far, in a short amble from her front door to the sidewalk, a quick glance down the street, followed by a hasty retreat indoors for a nice comforting hot chocolate, all snuggled up in a blanket with the blinds drawn.

  11. walton says

    Suppose the part being cut off was something like the pinkie toe. Removing the parents from the child’s life would clearly cause more harm than the act itself. We can live and live well without a pinkie toe. So why should parents who remove their child’s pinkie toe suffer anymore severe a consequence than the parents of a child who had theirs circumcised?

    That’s a good question. But I think the answer has to be, at least in part, cultural and contextual. No one in our society has been socialized into thinking of chopping off pinkie-toes as a normal or healthy practice; there is no ethno-cultural group and no mainstream religion in which people are taught from an early age that one should chop off one’s children’s pinkie-toes, or in which every child and her parents and grandparents before her have had their pinkie-toes chopped off.

    Because of this, if a parent did suddenly chop off hir child’s pinkie-toe for no apparent reason, there wouldn’t be an obvious socio-cultural explanation for hir behaviour. Rather, we’d have good reason to think that that parent is either mentally unbalanced or driven by some very strange self-created beliefs, and this would probably suggest that xe is abusing hir child in some other and more serious way, or is at risk of doing so.

    By contrast, this is certainly not true of every parent who has hir child circumcised; plenty of normal, loving, sane parents have their children circumcised, simply because it’s customary and normal in their culture, and they’re socialized from an early age into thinking of it as normal. (In the same way that people in many cultures are socialized into thinking of “corporal punishment” as normal, which is why I expressly acknowledged that parallel.) In other words, the fact that a parent has hir children circumcised does not indicate that xe is a mentally unstable or dangerous person, or that xe is unfit in general to raise children. Socialization is very powerful, and plenty of decent, kind, loving, not-generally-irrational people can do apparently-irrational things because they’ve been socialized into doing so by a strong cultural norm. (After all, religion in general provides evidence of this: plenty of mainstream religions profess doctrines which would sound pretty wacky, if we were not socialized from an early age into accepting these beliefs as normal and reasonable.)

    We also have to bear in mind the status of Jews and Muslims in Western society as oppressed minority groups. That obviously doesn’t mean they should get carte blanche as far as adherence to religious custom is concerned, and you won’t see me suggesting that. But it does mean we have to be especially careful about intrusive measures which target those groups in particular.

  12. JennieL says

    Walton:
    I don’t know anything about the nature of this proposed San Francisco ban. Is it really true that having your son circumcised would result in criminal sanctions and removal of children from your custody?

    Because banning infant circumcision need not involve any of those things. It could instead involve a fine. Even if criminal penalties were applied, it need not mandate removal of children from custody. I’d actually be surprised if a ban in this form were proposed.

    On the other hand, a ban on certain practices can be very useful even if never enforced – mainly in giving an unequivocal statement of societal attitudes. Parents who want to refuse to circumcise their boys, but who are being pressured by family, friends, or community, can appeal to the ban to support their decision. Parents who are genuinely ambivalent, and therefore prone to being swayed by others’ opinions, would be swayed the other way by a ban. And even those who support circumcision will have to think about it and justify themselves, rather than being able to go on as usual in the assumption that everyone else shares their attitude.

  13. says

    Walton, legality isn’t the only issue anyway. It’s a bit boring to limit the discussion to what the state should or shouldn’t do. I’m not really interested in just “Law: yes or no.” I’m interested, for one thing, in the narcissism of the woman who wrote this piece.

  14. Bruce S. Springsteen says

    Isn’t filtering all discussion of a child’s welfare through your own domineering, narcissistic, image-conscious neuroses the exact stereotype of a Jewish mother? Here’s a nice ethical rule for the rabbis to consider: If a medical procedure is not necessary to ensure the survival and/or essential health of your child, then no amputations, puncturings, bindings, tattooings, or other screwing around with their bodily integrity is justified. Simple enough for even the most pensive mommy to understand.

  15. walton says

    I’m interested, for one thing, in the narcissism of the woman who wrote this piece.

    Fair enough. But I have no disagreement with you on that subject. The question that seems to me to be important, and difficult to answer, is whether it should be illegal.

    Because banning infant circumcision need not involve any of those things. It could instead involve a fine. Even if criminal penalties were applied, it need not mandate removal of children from custody. I’d actually be surprised if a ban in this form were proposed.

    I don’t know the specifics of the law either. But a fine is also a coercive sanction, especially for a lower-income family. Bear in mind that criminal fines (though not civil penalties) are backed ultimately by the threat of imprisonment for those who won’t pay. And how does it do the child any good to punish hir parents – and probably the child hirself – by taking a part of the family’s income away?

    And if the law does entail criminal penalties, bear in mind that any criminal conviction involves a stigma, may create problems in gaining employment, and, for parents who are not citizens, may also jeopardize their immigration status.

    I can’t think of any context in which banning infant circumcision wouldn’t involve coercive consequences. Now, it may be that coercive consequences are justified because circumcision is so abusive that it has to be stopped. (I do feel that way about “corporal punishment” of children, which is why I advocate outlawing that practice.) But I’m not convinced that the harm of male infant circumcision is so severe that it merits that kind of response. I could be wrong about that, which is why I said I’m open to correction if it turns out that there’s relevant medical evidence of which I wasn’t aware.

  16. walton says

    Isn’t filtering all discussion of a child’s welfare through your own domineering, narcissistic, image-conscious neuroses the exact stereotype of a Jewish mother?

    Oh, what a lovely racist comment. Fuck off.

    (I’m more used to seeing bigotry like this in threads about Islam, but I guess anti-semitism in the non-theist community isn’t dead either.)

  17. walton says

    As an addendum:

    It’s a bit boring to limit the discussion to what the state should or shouldn’t do. I’m not really interested in just “Law: yes or no.”

    Of course, and I’m sorry if it seems like I was trying to derail the thread. But I suspect most of us agree in principle that we wouldn’t have our own children (hypothetical, in my case) circumcised as infants. I can’t think of any compelling non-religious reason to do so, unless the child has some particular medical condition that necessitates it.

    But the article you quoted talked explicitly about the San Francisco ballot measure; and if we’re going to use terms like “mutilate the baby” in regard to infant circumcision, we need to confront the currently-active and controversial issue of whether infant circumcision should be legal. Calling it “mutilation” certainly suggests (rightly or wrongly) that you think it shouldn’t be.

  18. John Morales says

    [semi-OT]

    Walton:

    The question that seems to me to be important, and difficult to answer, is whether it should be illegal.

    Whether lopping bits off people without their consent should be legal is difficult to answer. Gotcha.

    (Also, it ain’t skin! It’s enervated tissue.)

    In my understanding, there’s a great deal of debate in the medical profession about whether male circumcision is medically helpful or harmful. (I’m not a physician, so please correct me if I’m wrong about this.)

    Well, then, there’s no clear case for it, by your own admission!

    (The best case is for sub-Saharan Africa, FWIW — on the assumption applicable circumstances won’t change)

    More to the point, try asking any uncircumcised male (who is not suffering from phimosis or similar) whether they’d be willing to be circumcised). Betcha I know what answer they would give!

  19. John Morales says

    Walton:

    By contrast, this is certainly not true of every parent who has hir child circumcised; plenty of normal, loving, sane parents have their children circumcised, simply because it’s customary and normal in their culture, and they’re socialized from an early age into thinking of it as normal.

    That’s offensive; there is no real comparison between female circumcision and male circumcision.

  20. walton says

    Well, then, there’s no clear case for it, by your own admission!

    Did you actually pay attention to what I said, rather than quote-mining?

    Is it a great idea to circumcise one’s infant male children? No. Would I do so if I were a parent? No.

    But should parents who do circumcise their infant male children be arrested and subjected to penal sanctions? That’s a much more difficult question. It’s one thing to assert that any medically-unjustified interference with a person’s bodily autonomy should be illegal, and that sounds like a reasonable principle in itself. But how do you enforce that prohibition? And how do you enforce it in such a way that the harm of enforcement will not outweigh the harm of circumcision itself? (Especially given that many parents, believing themselves to be religiously obliged to do so, will probably continue to circumcise their children in defiance of the law.)

    I’ve often been confronted with this very question when I’ve argued, as I often have, that “corporal punishment” of children should be outlawed as an abusive practice: since the exact same issue arises. The distinction I would draw is that “corporal punishment” is extremely harmful to children’s long-term mental and emotional health, and no reputable child psychologist (leaving right-wing cranks aside) seriously argues today that “spanking” one’s children is a good idea. By contrast, there doesn’t seem to be such clear evidence of actual significant harm when it comes to male circumcision. As I said, if there is evidence of harm that I’m not aware of, I will change my mind; I don’t have any kind of ideological stance on this either way.

  21. walton says

    That’s offensive; there is no real comparison between female circumcision and male circumcision.

    Wait, what the fuck? I was talking exclusively about male circumcision, which is the topic of the thread. I was not talking about female genital mutilation (which I refuse to call “circumcision”), which is an extremely dangerous and abusive practice that is very dangerous to women’s health.

    How exactly did you conclude that I was talking about female “circumcision”? I agree with you that it would be grossly offensive if I had been, but I rather obviously wasn’t.

  22. Dalillama says

    There’s a very obvious similarity, John. Both processes involve mutilating a helpless, nonconsenting infant, after all.

  23. Bruce S. Springsteen says

    Walton – What a pious, hysterical, vulgar, presumptuous over-reaction to a mild cultural (not racial) jest, common – and affectionately recycled – throughout Jewish humor and lore. Most comedy, based as it generally is in stereotypes, must leave you quivering with self-righteous outrage. Screaming “racism” at the slightest provocation doesn’t even have the virtue of good humor, let alone persuasive force, so I guess it’s just a smear without redeeming social, intellectual or cultural value — just a rhetorical stunt to avoid engaging a related argument. I’ll bet lawyer jokes are deeply offensive too? You’re gonna kill a lot of comedy at this rate. We’ll be left with knock-knock jokes by the time you’re done with your PC pogrom against imaginary slights. One thing that doesn’t fit your instant stereotype of me you may be interested to hear: I seem to have a long record of sympathy and quick rapport with every Jew I meet, at a fundamental, ironic level, am deeply immersed in the history of the Jewish people and society, and keep thinking I’d like to be a member if it weren’t for the God nonsense. Can I convert to cultural, atheistic Judaism? How does that yearning square with your superficial, hasty, damning diagnosis of my meaning? Oy ve, fake liberals and low-rent cultural know-nothings like you give me gas.

    And yet, for all your cheap outrage at a mild ethnic joke, you equivocate and temporize on penis chopping, a serious matter, and are apparently soft on pinky-toe removal as well. Your moral superiority fails to impress on so many levels!

    Anyway, here’s an prescription for that sphincter affliction of yours:
    http://oldjewstellingjokes.com/

  24. walton says

    For the avoidance of any further doubt, every time I have used the word “circumcision” without modifiers on this thread or anywhere else, I am talking exclusively about male circumcision.

    I would never defend the violent, abusive and seriously-damaging practice of female genital mutilation, which is, quite rightly, outlawed already in many countries.

  25. walton says

    “Bruce S. Springsteen”:

    Any time someone responds to being called out on bigotry by accusing hir critics of being “PC”, I know the argument is over. (I have yet to see any evidence that “political correctness” exists; it seems to me to be an imagined phenomenon invented by bigots in order to paint themselves as being “persecuted” by “PC liberals” for making bigoted comments.)

    Fuck off.

  26. julian says

    I think my biggest objection to your argument, walton, is that the law (in my opinion) shouldn’t facilitate any practice that hurts or maims an individual who can’t give consent. It may disproportionately target a group but that’s what any law looking to right a wrong or prevent harm does. It targets the groups that most often commit these crimes in order to stop them.

    This may be a custom or a time honored tradition but that doesn’t preclude the government from getting involved. Especially if the tradition directly impacts the well being of an individual who is unable to give consent. The lack of their own voice should make us even more cautious in how we treat them.

  27. julian says

    Anyway, here’s an prescription for that sphincter affliction of yours:

    A better solution would be for you to stop speaking out of yours.

  28. walton says

    I think my biggest objection to your argument, walton, is that the law (in my opinion) shouldn’t facilitate any practice that hurts or maims an individual who can’t give consent.

    Sure, but there’s a difference between “shouldn’t facilitate” and “should actively punish”. The law, rightly, tolerates things it does not condone; because trying to end a practice by criminalizing it often creates new problems of its own.

    As I said, I totally agree with you that, in a perfect world, there would be no infant male circumcision; and I would not endorse or recommend the practice. But the question is whether it’s harmful enough to children’s interests to justify the heavy-handed measure of criminalization, and all the problems it would create. Given that there’s so much dispute over whether circumcision is actually medically harmful or not, I’m just not sure.

  29. julian says

    Circumcision is about as “harmful” as having a baby’s ears pierced.

    First of all, as a rule, you shouldn’t be cutting up your child’s skin before they are old enough to understand what’s going on.

    Secondly, and mostly snidely, I suppose I shouldn’t have freaked when my wife suggested giving our first son a prince albert.

  30. walton says

    There’s a very obvious similarity, John. Both processes involve mutilating a helpless, nonconsenting infant, after all.

    Wrong. Female genital mutilation is extremely harmful to women’s health. I cannot stress this enough. Although the specifics of the procedure vary by culture and region, it is a violent practice that often causes infections, serious physical pain, and a whole host of other health problems in later life. It is so severely abusive that the danger of being subjected to FGM in one’s home country has even been recognized in many jurisdictions as a ground for being granted asylum: see the decision of the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals in Re Kasinga, for instance.

    Male circumcision has absolutely nothing to do with that. It is nowhere near as harmful. It’s like trying to compare a slight scratch on one’s arm to having one’s limbs brutally hacked off with a chainsaw. There is no comparison.

  31. Bruce S. Springsteen says

    “PC” is a mindless, pseudo-liberal, witch-hunting, smear-spreading, smug slogan and cheap insinuation-based approach to real, complex problems of social injustice, one that tends to equate words with crimes and dismisses nuanced dissent as bigotry, without engaging substantive differences, among other absurdities and shoddy tactics. If you don’t see it anywhere, you may be standing in it. I hate it with a white-hot passion, because it parodies, cheapens, and finally contradicts every notion of what it means to be a liberal — and authentic, inquiring liberalism means a great deal to me. Apologists for child dick trimming don’t qualify as liberal by any measure, no matter how meanderingly pompous their sophistry and moral relativism, and if they use benign ethnic jokes as an opportunity to engage in dismissive ad hominem smears against those who disagree, they are additionally craven and hypocritical.

    BTW, whenever anyone considers “Fuck off” to be the sine qua non of rebuttal, I am also done with them, at least in term of expecting mature engagement. I like my discourse fresh and articulate, and your vulgarisms aren’t exacly scintillating, Shakespeare. But I try to speak to people in whatever lingo they can absorb, in the interest of cultural sensitivity, so to make change in your own currency: Fuck yourself. And check that link I posted. Loaded with all sorts of racist horrors you can fulminate at, as I know that is your real pleasure, not the avoidance of real harm to innocent people.

    Finally, on the subject of what is and isn’t fit matter for humor, and on having a sane perspective, Hitchens and the rabbi joke about circumcision:
    http://tinyurl.com/c6xlzsj

  32. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Walton:

    Did you actually pay attention to what I said, rather than quote-mining?

    You should know me, by now. Yeah, I did.

    (Surely you’re not suggesting that I should quote you in toto, lest I be quote-mining you?)

    I do appreciate your clarification as to the qualitatively significant difference between male and female genital mutilation.

    How exactly did you conclude that I was talking about female “circumcision”?

    I made no such conclusion, but you were not specific enough for my liking, because you wrote “child” and “children” in your opinion; these are not gendered terms, and (believe it or not) female genital mutilation is also called ‘circumcision’.

    I would never defend the violent, abusive and seriously-damaging practice of female genital mutilation, which is, quite rightly, outlawed already in many countries.

    Again: Thank you for your clarification.

    (This is an important issue)

  33. John Morales says

    Walton:

    By contrast, there doesn’t seem to be such clear evidence of actual significant harm when it comes to male circumcision. As I said, if there is evidence of harm that I’m not aware of, I will change my mind; I don’t have any kind of ideological stance on this either way.

    (Sigh)

    There’s no significant harm in lopping-off childrens earlobes, or their pinkies — but it’s mutilation nonetheless.

    (And I find your denialist defence of such to Julian less than impressive)

  34. SallyStrange, Spawn of Cthulhu says

    Regarding piercing an infant’s ears–I really hate it.

    My brother’s baby mama had my niece’s ears pierced at about 3 months old. Two months after that, her ears got infected and the earrings had to be removed.

    What was the fucking point of piercing her ears? To make her look pretty? She doesn’t even conceptualize pretty? In my mind, what my brother’s partner did was imprint on a malleable mind that it’s important to suffer for beauty. That “shiny pretty” is worth pain.

    That’s FUCKED UP.

    And, like Walton, I’m not convinced that it’s worth the social costs involved in making it actually illegal, but damn I wish we could stop people piercing the ears, or anything else, of human beings who have no language and thus no ability to comprehend what’s going on, much less to consent to such body modification.

  35. says

    As far as I can tell the “considerable debate” in the medical community is between those saying “this is medically unnecessary” and those saying “it’s traditional and we’re used to it, and we can think of some possible benefits that could theoretically result that nobody has disproven the existence of to our satisfaction yet, so why all the fuss?”

    If the piercing trend were to expand and the age limit removed and religion got behind it, it’s possible that after a couple of hundred years the medical necessity of gold navel rings would be discussed seriously.

  36. walton says

    I can’t be bothered to respond to all of “Bruce Springsteen’s” nonsense, but I’ll observe that this…

    and if they use benign ethnic jokes as an opportunity to engage in dismissive ad hominem smears against those who disagree, they are additionally craven and hypocritical.

    …is a particularly silly exercise in handwaving. Plenty of other people have disagreed with me on the subject of circumcision, for understandable and coherent reasons; I have not called any of them racists, because I have seen no evidence to suggest that any of them are racists. (I doubt racism has much bearing one way or the other on a person’s views on circumcision.) You are the only person on this thread who thought it was clever and witty to interject a racist “joke” into this discussion, and I called you a racist for that reason. It has nothing to do with your position on circumcision. If you had been agreeing with me on that subject, your “joke” would still have been racist.

  37. John Morales says

    WMDKitty:

    Circumcision is about as “harmful” as having a baby’s ears pierced. What’s the big deal?

    Do you know how many children die from botched circumcisions each year? Do you know how many adverse health results occur each year?

  38. says

    In my mind, what my brother’s partner did was imprint on a malleable mind that it’s important to suffer for beauty. That “shiny pretty” is worth pain.

    In MY mind, what you brother’s partner wasn’t even as thoughtful as imprinting a standard on a malleable mind (if that can be called thoughtful).

    In my mind the child’s later thoughts about the piercing and indoctrination etc. were not even considered. To me, piercing a baby’s ears is akin to putting a skin on an iPod or installing a screensaver on your tablet.

    It was personalization of a fashion accessory.

  39. julian says

    It was personalization of a fashion accessory.

    Yeah that seems to be how a lot of parents view their children.

  40. Bruce S. Springsteen says

    “Bruce S. Springsteen” is my name,”walton.” Your presumption is boundless, apparently. Now you know my name better than I do, as well as my meanings and general attitudes towards racial groups? Your capacity to slyly intrude irrelevancies and leap to false assumptions on slim evidence is breathtaking. Almost as astonishing as your readiness to abrogate the basic rights of human children based on the weakest of all pretexts, tradition. Child abuse apologist. That’s really all we need to say.

    The argument here is that a woman is using her vague feelings as an excuse to engage in a medically useless and needlessly painful and risky alteration of her child’s body. Your wandering about on matters of legal coercion and relative severity of the mutilation misses the point that consigning a child to some such fate, based on their supposed identity with a particular culture or race, is itself patronizing, racist and bigoted. That child is a human being, and his/her rights to bodily integrity are not contingent on some cultural category you want to plug them into at birth. If they decide as informed, consenting adults that they wish to undergo a procedure like this as some misguided sign of solidarity with their preferred, cordoned, imaginary moral or racial subset of humanity, then fine. But imposing it on a child because of the accident of the neighborhood they were born into is not what a forward-looking, liberal, humanist, compassionate adult would ever concoct pretexts for. Your arguments show your prejudices and condescension quite well, in their substance and style.

  41. Stacy says

    Women should shed their victim status in this “tradition”

    So one idiotic narcissist calls herself a “victim” because she agreed to go through with the bris despite her misgivings, and all women are claiming victim status over the circumcision of baby boys?

    I don’t think so.

    Apologists for child dick trimming don’t qualify as liberal by any measure

    Walton is an apologist for circumcision because he’s not sure the consequences of making it illegal would outweigh the benefits? Or did you just include that observation in your overlong screed for the hell of it?

    What a pious, hysterical, vulgar, presumptuous over-reaction

    a mindless, pseudo-liberal, witch-hunting, smear-spreading, smug slogan and cheap insinuation-based approach

    Wow. Ever so many angry adjectives. That’s how we can tell you’re a good writer.

    By the way, speaking of narcissists, you’ve posted two long, self-revealing and rather hysterical rants, mostly about yourself, all because somebody told you fuck off.

    Count me as another vulgarian who’d love to see you do so.

  42. walton says

    Do you know how many children die from botched circumcisions each year? Do you know how many adverse health results occur each year?

    I know this wasn’t addressed to me, but… no, I don’t. In fact, that would be an extremely useful piece of knowledge for this debate, if anyone has researched the question. A quick search reveals that there are certainly some incidents, but all the cases I could find initially were from traditional circumcision practices in South Africa, and I wasn’t able to turn up any statistics relating either to traditional Jewish circumcision or to medical circumcision. Does anyone know the answer? (If it turns out that such deaths or adverse health effects occur on anything other than an exceptional and isolated basis, then I’ll change my mind and agree that it should be illegal, since there would be no justification for subjecting a child to that kind of risk unnecessarily.)

  43. John Morales says

    [meta + OT]

    Bruce S. Springsteen chides Walton:

    Child abuse apologist.

    Yeah — much like the Pope is an atheist.

    (Your attempt to poison the well is duly noted)

    Your arguments show your prejudices and condescension quite well, in their substance and style.

    Walton is a fucking Paladin, you clueless git.

    (Sorry, Ophelia. I know I toe the line, here, and I shall forthwith desist)

  44. walton says

    Your capacity to slyly intrude irrelevancies and leap to false assumptions on slim evidence is breathtaking.

    I don’t think I’m the one leaping to assumptions: I will reserve judgment on the question of whether circumcision is medically harmful, since it’s an issue about which the medical community is divided. What would be really useful here is an evidence-based discussion about the relative medical harms and benefits of circumcision. Unfortunately, discussion of evidence tends to get drowned in rhetoric.

    Almost as astonishing as your readiness to abrogate the basic rights of human children based on the weakest of all pretexts, tradition.

    On the contrary, I acknowledged in my very first post that religious custom and tradition is obviously not, in itself, a sufficient justification for practices that are clearly identifiable as abusive and harmful. We rightly outlaw a great many practices, from female genital mutilation to beating one’s children, regardless of whether people view these practices as religious or customary obligations. (And if it were up to me, all “corporal punishment” of children would be outlawed, as it has been in some European jurisdictions.) Rather, my concern is about how a law against male infant circumcision would be enforced, and whether the harm avoided would outweigh the harm caused by the method of enforcement.

    I’m curious, Mr Springsteen. (I apologize, by the way, for having incorrectly assumed that your nom-de-blog was not your real name.) If you believe so vehemently that having one’s male infant circumcised is “child abuse” and should be illegal, what legal sanctions would you take against parents who have their children circumcised? Would you threaten every observant Jewish and Muslim parent of a male infant with being arrested en masse, and/or with having their children removed by social services? Or would you adopt a less-coercive measure? I’m not trying to score debating points; I genuinely want to know.

  45. walton says

    Oh, I just can’t help picking this up…

    One thing that doesn’t fit your instant stereotype of me you may be interested to hear: I seem to have a long record of sympathy and quick rapport with every Jew I meet, at a fundamental, ironic level, am deeply immersed in the history of the Jewish people and society

    So, in other words, “some of my best friends are Jewish”?

    (Seriously. I won’t harp on about it any more, but you really need to reexamine your apparent love of making supposedly “benign ethnic jokes” that play into an obnoxious stereotype of a minority group. Asking people not to make bigoted “jokes” that others find grating and unfunny isn’t “political correctness”, it’s common decency and courtesy.)

  46. says

    Is deciding whether or not society gets to intervene in matters of genital modification/mutilation/prettification (choose whichever term you feel is less loaded) somehow different than deciding if society has a right to intervene when it comes to withholding vaccinations or life-saving medical treatment based on religious or other “traditional” reasons?

    If not, why not?

    How about non life-threatening medical treatments if that detail makes the difference too extreme. How about not allowing a fracture to be set?

    Where does the parent’s ownership of their child’s body end and the child’s begin?
    Do parents serve as possessors of their children, or guardians?
    If guardians, do guardians get to choose medically unnecessary surgeries because of those guardians religious beliefs? Cultural beliefs? Fashion sense?

    If they’re owners, WHY? If so, what role does society have in protecting children at all?

    In either case – owner or guardian, is there a place where society has a right to step in and place limits to protect the child?

    If medically unnecessary surgery is not in and of itself the barrier, then what is? What degree of surgery? What body parts? What motivation? Is vanity bad but tradition OK? Is religion OK? How do you delineate the differences between these motivations?

    WHY do you?

    Which is the protected motivation? Tradition? Vanity? Aesthetic preferences? Religious doctrine?

    Which reason to perform unneeded surgery is the OK one? If they aren’t all OK, why does secular society give privilege to one over the other?

    Here’s an idea. Lets make it simple. All unneeded, medically-uncalled-for surgery or intrusive painful procedures cannot legally be performed on someone unable to consent to them.

    Very simple, seems logical to me. Cut nothing off of a baby without my say-so or reasonable medical justification.

    Why is this even controversial?
    If it IS a matter of opinion, then why isn’t EVERYTHING?

    There are some exceptions such as the ear piercing example, but for the most part the ONLY reasons we allow infants to be unnecessarily punctured, stapled, folded, spindled and mutilated is because of a religiously-based cultural tradition.

    Why do they get this privilege?

    I’m fine with people willingly modifying themselves for their religion, but there are no Mormon, Lutheran, Buddhist or Muslim infants.

  47. julian says

    So before this spirals into an off-topic brawl,

    John Morales, could you provide some numbers (or a gesture towards a general direction) for how many deaths and complications are caused by or occur during circumcision. I would be shocked to learn that in the Western world any deaths occur from circumcision but it would definitely be knowledge worth having.

  48. says

    For clarification, the sentence “nothing cut off a baby with my say so” is an incomplete edit. Originally it was to say “nothing cut off my body without my say so,” but I decided that I needed to depersonalize the statement, and only managed to do so half-way.

    For the record, in case anyone was wondering, I am circumcised, was not given a choice, but I really don’t care personally. I’m used to the way I am and am OK with it, so I have no axe to grind. My parents were not religious, it’s just that “that’s what’s done” was the attitude in 1965 (for all I know my parents may not have even been consulted.)

    So, no personal anger behind my statements. I can be perfectly satisfied with my modified penis (though I wish they hadn’t used pinking shears – my dick looks like Jughead’s hat…) and still recognize that it’s something I would never permit done to a child of mine.

  49. walton says

    Jafafa, you’re addressing an argument I am not making. As I said right at the beginning:

    [Me:] Don’t get me wrong. I certainly don’t buy into the idiotic notion that parents have some kind of inherent “right” to make these decisions: there are many common child-rearing practices that absolutely should be illegal and regarded as abusive, like “spanking” and other forms of “corporal punishment” (these practices being demonstrably psychologically harmful to children, as illustrated by a ton of empirical research, as well as very nasty and authoritarian). Children are individual human beings who should have their own legal rights and freedoms, and their own bodily autonomy; they are not the property of their parents.

    Nor is it because of reflexive deference to religion or cultural tradition. I obviously don’t think, in itself, that the labelling of something as a traditional religious obligation automatically means it should be legal. After all, there are people out there who think that female genital mutilation, human sacrifice, or depriving one’s children of lifesaving medical treatment are religious and/or cultural obligations; that doesn’t, and shouldn’t, stop us outlawing those practices. Religious, moral and cultural beliefs tend to be treated with more deference by society than mere personal preferences, but this isn’t, and obviously shouldn’t be, absolute; there are practices which are so abusive and harmful that they cannot be permitted, ever, whatever people’s reasons for wanting to do them. So “it’s my religion!!!!” is not, and shouldn’t be, a conclusive argument on this point.

    I am obviously not arguing that parents “own” their children’s bodies. (Clearly they do not; our society, rightly, outlaws all kinds of practices that are harmful to children, from female genital mutilation to denying one’s child lifesaving medical care.) Nor am I making the argument that matters of religious and cultural tradition should be accorded unlimited respect and deference. I agree with you completely that both of those are ridiculous arguments. And I don’t see anyone here making them. You’re preaching to the choir on those questions.

    Rather, my question is this: if you want to make it illegal, how would you enforce it? Would you arrest every observant Jewish and Muslim family in America with a male infant, and threaten them all with criminal prosecution and with losing custody of their children? I’d venture to suggest that that would cause far more harm, both to society as a whole and to the children themselves, than male infant circumcision itself has ever caused. My argument is simply a practical one: the practice of infant male circumcision is so widespread, and the social cost of trying to ban it would be so disproportionately high in relation to the harm the practice itself causes, that it’s just not a realistic proposal.

  50. John Morales says

    julian, I have no such data at hand, and others can research it as well as I.

    The point of my #41 is that, if WMDKitty doesn’t, then the claim that it’s harmless is not empirically-founded.

    (Not that my objection is consequentionalist; I object to any non-medically-indicated procedure on unconsenting people on principle)

    FWIW: A quick link to Wikipedia: Complications.

  51. John Morales says

    PS A man* can decide to be circumcised at any time; not so easy to be uncircumcised.

    * of age of consent, of course.

  52. walton says

    In short, we have to tolerate some harmful practices sometimes because the alternative is more harmful.

    To illustrate this, let’s try a loose analogy. Let’s say I were to decide that raising one’s child in Religion X [where Religion X might be traditionalist Catholicism, Mormonism, the Jehovah's Witnesses, evangelical Protestantism of the Pat Robertson school, or any other faith with particularly conservative values] is inherently psychologically harmful to the child, and causes mental and emotional problems in later life. There are people who have made such a claim, and in some cases one could probably marshal some evidence in support of it. So let’s imagine that, adopting your line of reasoning, I reach the conclusion that it should be illegal to raise one’s child in Religion X. After all, parents don’t “own” their children’s minds any more than they “own” their bodies; why should they be permitted to teach them something that will cause them psychological harm? As absurd as this argument sounds, it isn’t beyond the realm of mainstream discourse entirely, insofar as I have actually seen people seriously making it. And it isn’t inconsistent with the logic of the ideological arguments people here have been making for outlawing circumcision.

    Yet you would have to be either stupid or delusional to suggest that it would be a good thing for police to be sent around to devout Religion-X-ist families’ homes, searching for religious literature on the premises, arresting the parents, and taking their children away by force and placing them in foster homes, in some kind of Orwellian scenario. There are few things more demonstrably traumatizing for a child than being forcibly removed from one’s home and growing up in the care of the state; there is a reason why this is only done in very serious cases of egregious child-abuse, where there is no other way of protecting the child. Any psychological harm caused by growing up as a member of a religion – and there may be some such harm, for some religions – is far, far, far outweighed by the harm that would be caused by making it illegal to raise one’s child as a member of a given religion. I’d tentatively say that the same is true of circumcision: the harm of making it illegal would outweigh the harm of circumcision itself.

    Now, most people here – I hope – aren’t seriously proposing that male infants who are circumcised should be removed from their homes, or that the parents should be arrested and prosecuted. But less serious coercive measures, such as fines, would still have an impact, as I said: fines can hit a low-income family very hard, and any criminal conviction creates problems for employment and immigration purposes. And if you reduce the severity of the sanctions so far that it no longer creates such problems, your proposed law would be unenforceable, and you may as well not enact it at all.

  53. says

    Walton, I think I AM addressing some of the issues you raised. Just not issues you raised explicitly. Rather, issues your statements raise implicitly.

    First I think we need to separate between those cultures we can control and those we cannot.

    We cannot pass a law in the US to make it illegal for Saudis to stone women to death for the crime of having been raped.

    We CAN pass that law HERE.

    Here in the US, and presumably in the UK, we can make these practices illegal. We can first of all fine the person performing the mutilation. If they persist, we can charge them with fuller crimes. No need to target parents at first.

    That in and of itself would do much good. Religious communities would protest. Tough fucking shit. Let them take to the streets demanding the right to cut things off babies.

    We can forbid medical facilities from performing these unneeded surgeries. If they persist in doing so, we can take the normal administrative course of action.

    These actions alone would result in a decrease in the practice.
    It may take time, but it would.

    Combine this with public education. Billboards. Bus signs.
    On TV at 8pm just before a popular show, show a circumcision on TV.
    Full close-ups. Full audio, screaming and all. All blood shown. Followed by step by step photos of the healing process including photos of infected baby genitals.

    A full explanation of what purpose the foreskin serves, along with an explanation of the consequences of circumcision.

    Show the baby’s penis being cut, accompanies by the screams, and accompanied by the cutter’s assurances that the baby isn’t feeling pain.

    If you live in a country that has medical care paid for, end funding for medically ill-advised and completely unneeded infant body modifications. Impose sanctions on those medical facilities that perform them.

    If (when) they are done outside of medical facilities, arrest those who perform them for practicing medicine without a license.

    I’m pretty sure that most of these actions would be consistent with already-standing legal statues for procedures that just don’t happen to have religious privilege.

    Take it from there. Step by step.

    If we say “yes, this is bad, but so many people do it there’s nothing we can do to prevent it, in fact that would be worse than just leaving it be….” then we might as well say the same for all manner of religious-based crimes.

    Arranged marriages of pre-pubescent children to old men. Withholding education from girls.
    The pervasive rape culture.

    Too endemic. The cure to widespread rape would be worse than the disease! Families broken up! Children in foster custody when they could be home safely being molested and operated on!
    Legions of young men, even FATHERS, in jail, unable to provide for the families they;re sexually abusing.

    Yeah I know… hyperbole. Or is it really?

  54. Robert B. says

    My dad actually did ask me if I wanted to be circumcised. I was about five, which is younger than I’d be comfortable asking a kid to make a decision like that about his body. On the other hand, I guess I had a sufficient understanding to make the call, because I remember saying “no” and thinking “why did he ask that? why would I ever want that, it sounds like it hurts!” Which is more or less what I think about it now, except that now I also have a use for those nerve endings and don’t care to lose them.

    But forget about the alteration for a minute. It is probably possible, with modern medicine, to make a smallish surgical incision in a baby’s back, say, or his leg, and then to close the incision, stitch it and medicate it, so that no lasting harm, or even lasting change, is done. There might not even be a scar. Suppose I were to invent a new tradition for my family, and decide to have my infant children cut in this way. What would you think of me? What would the law think of me? Would it be medically ethical for the surgeon to do this at my request? And how, exactly, is this worse than circumcision?

    Circumcision isn’t the worst thing in the world, I guess, but… what the hell, humans?

  55. says

    “What would you think of me? What would the law think of me?”

    At the least I’d think a social worker would need to be assigned to you to evaluate your mental state, followed by a competency hearing.

  56. walton says

    Suppose I were to invent a new tradition for my family, and decide to have my infant children cut in this way. What would you think of me? What would the law think of me? Would it be medically ethical for the surgeon to do this at my request? And how, exactly, is this worse than circumcision?

    We’ve discussed that – see Julian’s similar “pinkie toes” scenario above.

  57. walton says

    We cannot pass a law in the US to make it illegal for Saudis to stone women to death for the crime of having been raped.

    Unfortunately, that’s true. (To pick nits, there is the Alien Tort Statute which allows civil actions to be brought in US courts in relation to certain extra-territorial human rights abuses; but an action against the Saudi Government would be blocked by the doctrine of sovereign immunity, since a national court can’t assert jurisdiction over a foreign sovereign state.)

    However, there’s not much similarity between being stoned to death and having one’s foreskin snipped. You might say that the difference is of degree and not of kind, but degree is important.

    If we say “yes, this is bad, but so many people do it there’s nothing we can do to prevent it, in fact that would be worse than just leaving it be….” then we might as well say the same for all manner of religious-based crimes.

    Arranged marriages of pre-pubescent children to old men. Withholding education from girls.
    The pervasive rape culture.

    Slippery slope fallacy. Not wanting to take extreme coercive measures against a relatively trivial harm does not imply that such measures are not justified against a much greater harm. (I doubt you’d dispute that rape and forced marriage are much, much, much more serious harms than male circumcision is, and much stronger measures to prevent them are accordingly justified.)

    And I didn’t say there was “nothing we can do to prevent it”; I said that effective state action against the practice would cause more harm than the practice itself causes. (As you’ve illustrated, with your proposed campaign of prosecutions of medical personnel and rabbis, and of gory state-sponsored propaganda. I don’t doubt that your methods would have some effect – I doubt they’d end all circumcision, but they would probably reduce its incidence – but they would come at an incredible human cost. And they would be widely perceived as state persecution of two already-marginalized religious communities. You can argue that that’s “religious privilege” – though Muslims in particular are probably among the least privileged and most oppressed groups in most Western countries – and of course you can argue, sensibly enough, that a practice shouldn’t be legal purely because it is religious, when it would otherwise be banned. But irrespective of that argument, people in those communities would likely perceive it as an attack on their religion and their community.)

  58. Tim Harris says

    For truly horrendous (male) circumcisions, read Wilfred Thesiger on the practice – now I think banned because too many young boys died or were seriously injured for life – among some Arab tribes, or read about the practices among some Australian Aboriginal tribes, not to mention among peoples in Southern Africa: such circumcisions were (are) often part of coming-of-age rites, and in general the more war-like the tribe, the tougher for the boys those rites were or are. I do not not want to get into the area of comparisons between male and female circumcision: what intrigues me is why it is the genitals that are so often chosen to perform such operations on. What is it in the human mind that makes human beings in many different parts of the world perform such operations? I don’t want to ask what was in the mind of the woman who wrote the column you so rightly criticise: she appears to have a large gob of sentimental narcissism instead of a brain.

  59. Robert B. says

    @ walton:

    Ah. Then forgive me for not reading the thread before I commented.

    Now that I read it, the conversation seems to have been derailed pretty quickly, but you made some interesting points before then. In particular, the social context surrounding circumcision means that circumcising a baby is not evidence of a dangerous mental state in the parents, as deliberately injuring a baby would otherwise be. I will grant you that.

    But suppose I proved – to you, to the court, to the surgeon – that I was not otherwise dangerous to anyone. Suppose I am, other than this quirk, a demonstrably excellent parent. To be sure, this is mitigating. But even so, would you think it’s right for me to have my baby cut with a knife? Do you think the law should simply permit me to hire someone to injure a baby for no good reason (even though the injury is mild and I provide for excellent medical care afterwards)? Do you think a medical professional should be willing to do it?

    A “cultural and contextual” response is fine, as long as “cultural and contextual” isn’t the same thing as “none.” I could get behind the “fine the person performing the procedure” method, for example, and I don’t even insist on too large a fine. And certainly taking a child away from parents over this, either by putting the kid in foster care or the parents in prison, would do much more harm than good. But… dude, they’re cutting babies. It’s not okay.

  60. Robert B. says

    Correction: I think I should have said, “Do you think a medical professional should be allowed by the ethics of his profession to do it?”

  61. anat says

    If God designed the penis, why does he demand an after-market modification?

    The Talmudic answer to that question is that everything God created is subject to improvement by humans. Wheat is improved by being turned into bread, grapes are improved by being turned into wine and the human body too gets its manner of ‘improvement’. Or alternatively, – it has nothing to do with medical benefits, it’s all about fathers accepting the yoke of commandments by doing this to their sons. A mohel would always circumcise his own son. And in the Orthodox community there was a trend of fathers wanting to participate more actively in their sons’ circumcisions by holding the mohel’s hand as he worked (or whatever level they were comfortable with).

  62. says

    Walton, people in religious communities perceive ANY deviation from their religion as an attack on their religion and community.

    Religious people will be offended and feel aggrieved even when they are being catered to. Do I really need to provide you with any evidence to support this claim of mine?

    As far as any “incredible human cost,” the only costs you’ve claimed are that:
    A. People who have been unfairly marginalized will be even more unfairly marginalized if we hold them to the standard of the wider community that prohibits painful physical assaults on infants…
    OR
    B. People who have been unfairly marginalized will be somewhat mollified in their anger towards this unfair treatment if we grant them the special privilege of granting them exemption from laws against physical assaults on infants.

    I reject both of these arguments. I reject them firstly because they are made without even the slightest attempt at justification, moral or practical.

    Mostly I reject them because I am of the perhaps-unjustified opinion that the possibility of permanent physical harm of, and the GUARANTEED physical suffering of an infant to an invasive physical assault without anesthetic outweighs the possible emotional pain of an adult who feels that their peace of mind and in-group status requires this physical assault on the infant.

    Moreover, I reject your premise that a marginalized group will somehow be less marginalized unless they are allowed to inflict unneeded pain and suffering on those who, I need remind you, are NOT really yet part of that marginalized group. It is, rather, a choice being made on the part of that infant to permanently, physically BRAND them as part of that group whether they should later want to be or not.

    Unspoken is your assertion that by allowing marginalized groups to physically abuse their children that this will somehow either make that group less marginalized, or stop an increasing marginalization.

    You make no argument to support your assertion. How does this work? Does the act of slicing up babies serve to unite the community? Does violent painful assault on children give that marginalized group higher standing in the community at large? If so, why don’t they march with banners proclaiming “accept us, we’re just like you – we mutilate babies too!”?

    You are of course right when you assert that religious communities will be outraged if we tell them they can’t slice pieces of babies off, just as they’re outraged when we teach evolution, or when we prohibit prayer in schools, or when we arrest Jehovah’s Witnesses for letting their kids die from treatable illnesses. They will ALWAYS be outraged. It’s what they DO.

    You claim this is a slippery slope argument. BULLSHIT.
    It’s not a slope, it’s a cliff. Either we allow people to perform painful ritual cutting on UNWILLING, NON-CONSENTING others, or we don’t.

    Rape, murder, stabbing, cutting off an ear for ransom, cutting off a nose for the devil, cutting off babies skin for tradition. Which is the one that is legal, and why is it legal?

    You’ll probably assert that the difference is that the latter is faith-based and traditional. Nonsense.

    Clearly the reason that one is allowed and the others aren’t is purely because other than the screams of pain, the victim in the last case is an infant and unable to resist.

    Would circumcision or female genital mutilation stand a chance of public approval or indifference if those unwilling subjects were old enough to voice their displeasure? Of course not.

    No slippery slope. Either you get to cut things off of other people or otherwise violate their body autonomy for purely non-medical reasons without their consent, or you don’t.

    Very consistent. Victimizes no-one who is not themselves intent on victimizing another.

    Oh, and gory state-sponsored propaganda? You mean like images of diseased lungs shown to promote smoking cessation? Are those bad too? Or would they only be bad if there was a minority religious practice of forcing a toddler to smoke Benson & Hedges?

    Its all well and good for you to abandon these children to serve the greater good of those who would mutilate them, but personally I think societies’ first concern should protecting those who cannot protect themselves.

    After that period has passed, THEN you can start up with the moral equivocation.

  63. John Morales says

    [semi-OT]

    Tim,

    What is it in the human mind that makes human beings in many different parts of the world perform such operations?

    It shows rare commitment for an adult to do so, so it’s a very reliable sign of in-group membership, and can’t be faked.

  64. Tim Harris says

    But in this case it is ‘rare commitment’ at the expence of someone else – a child (which is actually what this narcissistic and callous mother wants: she wants to make this commitment for herself,to be seen as what she thinks is a proper member of her group,and for this trivial reason, she inflicts what she does on her baby boys while comforting herself – not the boys – with the thought that it’s for a higher purpose…. Incidentally, why do such people always write so horribly: in that smug, sanctimonious, preening way?). And leaving adults aside, if every adolescent girl and/or boy in some human groups are having these things done to them, then it is neither rare, and since it cannot be got out of, nor is it ‘showing’ that you have made some conscious commitment to your group. You are willy-nilly MADE a member of your group.

  65. Niam Krawt says

    The comment I added to her article (although she appears to be immune to rational thought):

    You refuse to give in to the liberal guilt, good for you. That is so much more important than avoiding the mutilation of your child for an ancient barbaric ritual.

    Oh, wait, instead you justified giving into an ancient barbaric ritual, all in order to cause your son unnecessary pain and suffering. Yay, tradition!

    I would equate the harm caused by shirking vaccinations with the very mutilation you contrast it against in your twisted mind. Your priorities are immensely skewed, and you are an animal.

  66. says

    If they decide as informed, consenting adults that they wish to undergo a procedure like this

    If your teenage son complains that he wants to be circumcised because no one wants to have sex with him, you should let him make his own decision.

    Annoying parental comments like “no one? have you asked everybody?” are fair game, but it’s not something you should seriously stand in the way of.

  67. Adam Felton says

    In a critical review of the Omnivore’s dilemma, BR Myers wrote the following: “One debates the other side in a rational manner until pushed into a corner. Then one simply drops the argument and slips away, pretending that one has not fallen short of reason but instead transcended it. The irreconcilability of one’s belief with reason is then held up as a great mystery, the humble readiness to live with which puts one above lesser minds and their cheap certainties.”

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/09/hard-to-swallow/6123/4/#

    The quoted author plays exactly the same game. The author has no rational justification for circumcising their children, and instead of acknowledging this fact, she pretends to have risen above it all.

    Truly awful….

  68. says

    Like shirking vaccinations (i), shedding strollers in favor of “baby wearing,” (ii) and embracing co- sleeping (iii), it is increasingly popular to resist subjecting your newborn to such a “barbaric” procedure against his “will,” and to casually throw around terms like “genital mutilation.”(iv)

    What an idiot, comparing
    i: Something that should be outlawed also, and an important decision responsible parents make
    to
    ii: Something absolutely harmless and if removed from dogmatic woo completely practical in some situations
    iii: Something that may slightly increase the SIDS risk but might greatly reduce the risk of smashing the newborn against the wall for reasons of sleep-deprevation ;)
    to
    iv: a truely barbaric act of genital mutilation
    I guess she breastfed at least one child, or she’d have included that in her list as well.

    walton
    I really like you, you know that, but sometimes you’re being an idiot. This is one of those times. As long as it’s not your penis and there’s no medical reason for it, keep sharp objects from babies’ genitals.
    It’s really that easy and there’s no cultural excuse for that.

    In my understanding, there’s a great deal of debate in the medical profession about whether male circumcision is medically helpful or harmful.

    The current mainstream version is that there are very small risks (pain not included) and there are very small benefits, which makes it mostly a matter of bodily autonomy. But there are baby-boys who die from it. Very few, but they do.

    I think it’s indisputable that there are plenty of generally decent, loving parents who, for religious or traditional reasons, have their children circumcised. Do I wish they wouldn’t? Yes. Do I think they should be treated as criminals, subjected to criminal sanctions, or threatened with losing custody of their children because of it?

    Do you think that decent, loving parents would risk losing custody over having their child circumcised? If circumcision is more important to you than custody, what kind of parent does that make you? Not that I’m advocating this, but put the question this way around and you’ll see the problem.
    You say that, because of the long religious and cultural background this is different from other things like cutting off toes or a cut in the leg, and doesn’t show that the parents have a fucked up mind, but it does. It shoes the worst case of fucked up mind, the religiously fucked up mind, the mind where people do some obviously bad things, things they’d readily realize and object to in every other scenario except the one that involves their religion, and think it to be good.
    To go back to female circumcision, I’m sure that you are aware of the version where there is a small ritual nick, to draw a drop of blood. There has been a discussion about this, where some people follow your stance on male circumcision: it prevents greater harm, for example that of people taking their daughters to Africa
    where a far more invasive procedure is performed.
    Do you agree with them? If not, please explain the difference.

    In short, we have to tolerate some harmful practices sometimes because the alternative is more harmful.

    How much harm are you willing to tolerate?
    There are men who are OK with it like Jafafa, and there are men who are genuinly unhappy. Do you tell them that their suffering is necessary and tolerable in order to prevent more suffering?

    Circumcision is about as “harmful” as having a baby’s ears pierced. What’s the big deal?

    Which should be illegal, too, until the child is old enough to request it hirself. (And no, it’s not “about as harmful”)

    Yeah that seems to be how a lot of parents view their children.

    Sadly, yes.
    Life’s hard enough on kids anyway, they get cuts, bruises, black eyes and broken bones while necessarily testing their strenghths. I don’t need to add to that. And I don’t need to override their will by imposing mine on them in unreasonable manners.

    Here in the US, and presumably in the UK, we can make these practices illegal. We can first of all fine the person performing the mutilation. If they persist, we can charge them with fuller crimes. No need to target parents at first.

    Which is what happens, more or less, in Germany. The legal situation is unclear, since in modern day Germany there wasn’t a tradition of circumcision when the laws were written, so nobody ever gave it much thought. With a growing muslim population this has come more to the attention.
    Since there hasn’t been a precedent case, there are opposing legal opinions but no clear rule, so doctors are very cautious not to become the precedent case.

  69. ambulocetacean says

    WAT??? Refusing to mutilate your child’s genitals is like refusing to vaccinate them?

    Get fucked. Fuck these ignorant, self-justifying, ignorant, self-justifying, ignorant, self-justifying arseholes.

    Jesus, fuck.

  70. sailor1031 says

    She writes: “…While many of these mothers shared my “bris guilt,” the overwhelming majority spoke of the importance of bringing their sons into the covenant and the connection they felt to generations of Jews who have carried out this same ritual…”

    If this is the sign of membership in an exclusive covenant with a deity does this mean that muslims are also members of that covenant? Perhaps circumcision is a tradition that no longer has practical velue, if it ever did. My belief is this practice started among desert dwelling nomads because that sand gets everywhere!

  71. penn says

    A thought experiment that I like for these type of questions is to ask “If we didn’t already do X, would anyone be arguing for it?” On the issue of circumcision, the answer is obviously no even if you accept the often exaggerated claims of protection from the spread of HIV. If circumcision hadn’t been practiced for millennia, no one in the modern world would look at a little baby boy, and say it would be appropriate to cut off part of his penis. And if someone did that, no one would hesitate to call it abhorrent, and genital mutilation. Relles is just shirking her moral obligations by hiding behind tradition.

  72. says

    Rape, murder, stabbing, cutting off an ear for ransom, cutting off a nose for the devil, cutting off babies skin for tradition. Which is the one that is legal, and why is it legal?…

    No slippery slope. Either you get to cut things off of other people or otherwise violate their body autonomy for purely non-medical reasons without their consent, or you don’t.

    Er… I think it’s hard to dispute that having one’s foreskin cut off – while it may indeed be harmful – is a great deal less harmful than being raped, murdered, or losing one’s nose or ear. There’s no comparison.

    Again, slippery slope: saying “practice A possibly shouldn’t be illegal” is not the same as saying “practices X, Y and Z also shouldn’t be illegal” where X, Y and Z cause much more severe harm than A does. It isn’t an all-or-nothing issue. We aren’t faced with a binary choice between “criminalize every practice that violates a child’s bodily autonomy without an incontrovertible medical reason” and “allow every practice that violates a child’s bodily autonomy for any reason whatsoever”. It is possible to criminalize practices which cause serious harm to children, and not criminalize those which don’t.

    This all-or-nothing view – “either you have bodily autonomy or you don’t” – doesn’t reflect the nuances and fine lines that the law draws in reality. In many contexts, we allow parents some leeway in making decisions for their child, but ban particularly obviously-harmful practices, and draw a line based on the degree of the harm involved. It’s legal in most US states to withdraw one’s children from school and homeschool them, for instance, and to teach them a non-standard curriculum; it’s not legal to withdraw them from school and deny them any kind of education whatsoever. It’s legal in some jurisdictions to “spank” one’s children as a method of “discipline” – something I think should be outlawed because of the well-documented psychological harm that spanking causes, but let’s leave that aside – but it’s not legal to inflict extreme cruelty or lasting physical damage in the name of “discipline”. The law draws a fine-grained distinction according to the amount of harm.

    Unspoken is your assertion that by allowing marginalized groups to physically abuse their children that this will somehow either make that group less marginalized, or stop an increasing marginalization.

    You make no argument to support your assertion. How does this work? Does the act of slicing up babies serve to unite the community? Does violent painful assault on children give that marginalized group higher standing in the community at large?

    I don’t think it’s controversial to say that a law which particularly targets a practice of specific minority religious groups, and criminalizes them and subjects them to prosecution and criminal sanctions for engaging in that practice, will contribute to their marginalization. (Do you dispute that the Swiss ban on minarets marginalizes Muslims, say?)

    Now, of course, on occasions it’s justified. When a group has a religious or cultural practice that is incontrovertibly harmful – like female genital mutilation, or denying one’s child medical treatment – then we ban it anyway, regardless of the harm to the group, because the harm to the individual victim of the practice is enormously more severe. I am not suggesting that the religious or cultural practices of minorities should all be left alone: that would be a stupid argument. Rather, what I’d say is that the potential marginalization of a minority group is just one of many factors to weigh up in deciding, on balance, whether a given practice should be illegal.

    Oh, and gory state-sponsored propaganda? You mean like images of diseased lungs shown to promote smoking cessation? Are those bad too?

    Eh… I didn’t say gory state-sponsored propaganda was always a bad thing. There are circumstances in which, as an extreme measure, it could be justified. (I’m sceptical that gory anti-smoking ads are actually effective, but if they were proven to be effective, I would support them.) I was just describing it accurately.

  73. says

    My comment is that there is an awful lot of overheated and bombastic rhetoric in this series of comments. Then again, Saturday night: so some have the bottle by the laptop..

    Also, for the record, “Jewish mother” is of the same era as the Edsel though, unfortunately, longer-lived. It’s a stupid, patronizing term –a slur against mothers as much as Jews. I detest it when used by Jews (whether male or female) but doubly so by those who claim a “long record of sympathy and quick rapport with every Jew I meet…” — well-meaning as that person be. The term is neither cute nor witty nor accurate. Best advice is to deep six the term.

  74. says

    Re: #47

    Walton,

    Do you know how many children die from botched circumcisions each year? Do you know how many adverse health results occur each year?

    I know this wasn’t addressed to me, but… no, I don’t. In fact, that would be an extremely useful piece of knowledge for this debate, if anyone has researched the question. …

    A sample:

    – A week-old infant in Ontario in June 2007

    – Eric Keefe in South Dakota on June 13, 2008

    – Ryleigh McWillis in British Columbia in August 2002

    – Amitai Moshe in London in February 2007 after his bris

    – Celian Noumbiwe in the UK in February 2009

    – Jamaal Coleson in New York, May 2011

    – Bradley Dorcius in New York in October 2009

    (Most links omitted to avoid the spam filter.)

  75. says

    I think a law is never going end infant male circumcision. At best it will reduce it slightly and drive it underground. But the great value of proposing such a law is that it gets people talking and examining the issue.

    I was circumcised as an infant. I discovered this at about the age of seven, and I still remember my anger, my childish outrage. Who gave them the right to do this to me. For much of my life I had no idea what I was missing. Now I do. Now I understand that my penis was mutilated and desensitized because of anti-sexual values that originated with perverted religious loonies and then were adopted by the medical profession.

    The history of circumcision is unbelievable. It reads like satire, like parody. It was all an effort to stop masturbation, which was assumed to be the cause of everything from curvature of the spine to epilepsy. Then it got established. And now we have people still trying to justify it, either because they still are influenced by the anti-sexual religions or because it became common medical practice. It’s like trying to justify blood letting. Worse. It’s like trying to justify foot binding.

    This whole discussion makes me so very sad. Infant male circumcision will only end when any doctor who is asked to do the operation responds with horror, when any rabbi who is asked to do the operation points out that it is no longer appropriate or necessary in order to be Jewish, when any friend or neighbor hears about such an intention on the part of a mother such as the one in question and reacts with loathing and scorn. If it’s cultural pressure that is causing the practice to continue, it will only end when the counter pressure builds to a scream.
    I’ve started screaming. I hope you all will join me.

  76. says

    What a lot of good comments on a completely appalling piece of self-absorbed double-think. Do remember that this goes right to the heart of religion. As Janet Heimlich says:

    When something is custom, especially if that custom is infused with religious authoritarianism, mothers can psychologically contort themselves to justify their actions, all the while convincing themselves that those actions, however heinous, were [are?] rational.

    When you remember that religion is all custom, you can see the real dimensions of this problem. There is not a whit of religion that is based on anything that is remotely confirmable. It is all simply customary, backed up by custom. Religion must be abusive, because so much of it is prescriptive, and it cannot justify a thing that it does — at least not on religious grounds.

  77. says

    @David Sucher “As to the issue of circumcision diminishing sexual pleasure, you coulda fooled me.”

    Apparently they did.

    “Btw, what’s the empirical basis for such a claim”

    You’ll have to do your own research on this one, but recent tests have now confirmed that the foreskin is THE most sensitive part of the penis. Also the frenulum. Sorry, I don’t have time to find the links for you but they are easy to find if you look for them.

    I really don’t give a flying frog about empirical evidence on this issue. If you think that keratinizing the glans, which is supposed to have skin like the inside of your cheek, to make it more like the skin of your arm does not reduce its sensitivity, I don’t think I’m going to bother arguing with you.

    Some men seem to want reduced sensitivity. I don’t. It’s made wearing a condom the equivalent of injecting my dick with Novocaine. I don’t need empirical evidence to confirm this for me.

  78. walton says

    A sample:

    – A week-old infant in Ontario in June 2007

    – Eric Keefe in South Dakota on June 13, 2008

    – Ryleigh McWillis in British Columbia in August 2002

    – Amitai Moshe in London in February 2007 after his bris

    – Celian Noumbiwe in the UK in February 2009

    – Jamaal Coleson in New York, May 2011

    – Bradley Dorcius in New York in October 2009

    (Most links omitted to avoid the spam filter.)

    Your first link doesn’t seem to go to the right story.

    Do you know if any of those, other than Moshe, were Jewish ritual circumcisions performed by a trained mohel? And how many, if any, occurred after a medical circumcision in hygienic conditions? There seem to be plenty of cases of deaths or harmful infections after a botched circumcision performed in the home by an untrained person (such as the cases from South Africa I linked earlier, regarding traditional tribal circumcision practices), but that isn’t especially surprising.

    If there are any cases of previously-healthy infants suffering death or serious harm after a circumcision performed by a doctor, or after a Jewish ritual circumcision, in a developed country in ordinary circumstances, then I will change my view and say that male infant circumcision should be, if not banned outright, at least very strongly deprecated and discouraged as an unethical practice and prohibited by medical ethics. I will be the first to say that if there is even a very remote risk of death or serious harm, the procedure should not be performed; given its slight, if any, benefits, there would be absolutely no justification for risking a child’s life. However, I haven’t been able to find any systematic analysis or quantification of the risk – the evidence out there mostly seems to be limited to anecdotes, although perhaps there is some research I’m missing – so I’ll reserve judgment on that for now.

  79. says

    @Darwin Harmless

    My question remains:

    How do you or anyone know that circumcision reduces sexual pleasure?
    Unless you have experienced it both ways?
    How does one study it?
    Does sensitivity of one part of the anatomy translate into a phenomenon (sexual pleasure) which is partly “psychological” as well as “physical?”

    Those are sincere questions. You have made a claim and it seems fair to inquire about he basis for your claim.

    It’s a fairly simple question and I am sorry you are upset by it. Maybe your sensitivity is still quite high.

  80. walton says

    Correction: I think I should have said, “Do you think a medical professional should be allowed by the ethics of his profession to do it?”

    See, I think that’s a very good question (and quite different from the issue of whether it should be illegal in general). In principle, I’d say no; physicians shouldn’t be in the business of performing unnecessary surgery, especially given that there are potential harmful side-effects. (And, fwiw, in Britain, where I’m from, they usually don’t; it’s not normal to be circumcised in Britain unless one is Jewish or Muslim.)

    Banning physicians from performing circumcisions might be a good idea, insofar as it would end the unnecessary practice – which, as I understand it, is common in the US, although not in the rest of the Western world – of doctors circumcising (non-Jewish and non-Muslim) infants for perceived “health reasons”. The only thing that worries me is that banning doctors from performing the procedure might drive some religious parents, who would otherwise have had the circumcision performed by a doctor under local anaesthetic and in safe conditions, to have it performed in more dangerous conditions. This is not an issue with Jewish families because Jewish circumcisions are traditionally performed by a mohel, not by a doctor, so it wouldn’t make any difference; but some Muslim families do have their male infants circumcised by a physician, and so this problem might be a real one. If people are going to have male infants circumcised, I’d much rather they did so under safe medical supervision than otherwise.

  81. says

    @Julian

    Uh…I have no idea.
    That’s why I am asking the question.

    But I gather you know but want to play games with quick but profound “witticisms.”

  82. says

    Well yes, questions about whether it’s ethical are much more interesting than questions about whether it should be legal or not – and that’s what I was talking about from the outset. Walton took the whole thing off in a different direction. But as Eric says, lots of good comments, so oh well, I guess.

  83. julian says

    @David Sucher

    I haven’t the wit for witticisms.

    You’re question strikes me as ridiculous so I treated it that way.

    Anyway,

    If people are going to have male infants circumcised, I’d much rather they did so under safe medical supervision than otherwise. -walton

    Wouldn’t that also apply to FGM? It is, after all, better that we permit parents to allow a trained physician to perform the mutilation than a family matriarch with no training and just a piece of glass.

    I understand FGM is by far the worse evil of the two and that it is more readily and easily recognized as such by the larger population. It not having been a major force in the West we are able to view it without the rose tinted glasses so many do. So the vast majority condemn.

    But the fact remains immigrant populations who view this tradition as valuable are going to perform it. Especially those hoping to distinguish themselves from the culture they feel is threatening to overtake their children. (In fact, a line of ‘reasoning’ like the woman in the OP might be similar to what the modernized among them go through.)

    Given that it is going to happen and that it is going to be far more dangerous than had it been performed in a hospital room, why should we not grant it the same consideration we are circumcision?

    (sorry if you’ve already hit all that. I know how thorough you are in your arguments.)

  84. anat says

    What I expect if non-medically-indicated infant circumcision were to be made illegal in the US or any western country, is that those for whom it is really important – the Orthodox Jews and a fragment of other denominations (as well as their equivalents among Muslims, anyone else?) will travel to places where the practice is legal. It should be easy enough for Jews to travel to Israel, stay with friends or relatives for the birth, circumcision and after-care and come back. But those who are only doing it ‘because it is customary’ or ‘because the family expects it’ will do it less and less.

  85. Natalie says

    Circumcision conversations get so weird in this community sometimes. Like everyone walks in itching for a fight. Even in a comment thread where everyone starts off on exactly the same page, and everyone is basically in agreement that it is an unjustified procedure that shouldn’t be performed without consent, somehow we get to arguments about anti-semitism and comparison to female genital mutilation and so forth.

    Anyway:

    Loss of clitoris would be roughly comparable to loss of the entire tip of the penis.

    And I’ll see your FGM and raise you the non-consensual genital modification of intersex infants. Which still happens HERE. :p

  86. says

    David Sucher
    Not having a penis one way or the other, as I understand it the main argument is about Meissner’s Corpuscles, which are responsible for fine tactile sensation and are as abundant in the foreskin as nowhere else in the human body.
    Kind of makes sense that if you remove a highly sensory tissue it’s going to have an effect.

    Walton

    . The only thing that worries me is that banning doctors from performing the procedure might drive some religious parents, who would otherwise have had the circumcision performed by a doctor under local anaesthetic and in safe conditions, to have it performed in more dangerous conditions. This is not an issue with Jewish families because Jewish circumcisions are traditionally performed by a mohel, not by a doctor, so it wouldn’t make any difference;

    So, by your own admission, Jewish boys are in worse than necessary conditions now because they’re not even given the benefit of safety, anaesthetics and hygiene of a hospital and qualified medical personal and you’re still arguing that we should turn a blind eye to this?

  87. julian says

    Like everyone walks in itching for a fight.

    If there’s one thing an atheist enjoys more than slowly roasting the offspring of a Christian family, it’d have to be arguing.

  88. julian says

    @Giliell

    My understanding is that these people have experience and knowledge comparable to a midwife overseeing a birth, so you would expect them to be competent enough to handle the majority of complications involved with circumcision.

    And I don’t know if hospitals would be much better. From what my mother (great data point, I know lol) tells me, I was done without any kind of numbing agent. I supposedly screamed enough to convince her not to do my brother.

    Don’t know if that’s standard procedure but I’ve been told doctors don’t like giving new borns anesthetics and I know many parents balk at the idea.

  89. says

    Thank you, Giliell, for a rational response.

    However, the issue is not sensitivity of the surface of an organ but _sexual pleasure_ which is far more complex. The former (sensitivity of the surface of an organ) may indeed be measurable (and I’d still like to see results rather than _conjecture,_ which is what you offer — “kind of makes sense”).

    But “sexual pleasure” involves more than satisfying an itch (as women have been saying in their criticism of male sexuality.) The claims (about decreasing male sexual pleasure from circumcision) seem to make sex pretty mechanical and leave romance, love, danger and so forth as non-issues.

    Again, is there any real science about male sexual response vis-a-vis circumcision? That’s not meant as a challenge to anyone (except idiots who don’t care about science) but a simple question.

  90. says

    julian
    My midwives were wonderful, competent, sciency people who gave me a lot of help and support. I still wanted to give birth with them together in a hospital with a doctor somewhere near just in case things went Wahoonie-shaped. Because* that’s the rational, best decission for me and my child**

    If I understand correctly, they’re now using local anaesthetics, not full scale narcosis, which is much safer.

    David Sucher
    Well, of course it’s not black and white, love, other stimulation and such play a role, but why start out worse than you could have? As said before, I don’t have a penis. The one I regularly borrow seems to get lots of pleasure from stimulating that area and from the sensitivity of the usually protected glans.

    *I don’t want to get into the homebirth-debate here. I know that some hospitals are so terrible that home-birth is an alternative.

    **And anybody who’d have come near them with a blade except for cutting the umbical cord would have died.

  91. walton says

    So, by your own admission, Jewish boys are in worse than necessary conditions now because they’re not even given the benefit of safety, anaesthetics and hygiene of a hospital and qualified medical personal and you’re still arguing that we should turn a blind eye to this?

    Eh… I don’t know a lot about the bris procedure, seeing as I’m not Jewish and don’t have any family who are. I’m not aware that it’s generally regarded as unsafe, but I could be wrong about that.

  92. MizzMazz says

    I consider circumcision to be mutilation. I also think the same about piercing baby girls ears. Any body modification should take place when the person who wants the modification is of legal age.

    How hard is this? We don’t let little kids get tattooed, because they think Sonic would look good on their arm. We let 18 year olds decide this for themselves, and have to live with the consequences.

    No messing with babies, period. It’s not hard. If I want my nose pierced, my earlobes pierced, my lip pierced, that’s my business – when I am an adult. I have all of that, and I did it when I was able to make the decision, although there is a tat I have to live with the consequences. Babies don’t get the choice. Don’t make it for them. Really easy, the way I see it.

    An easy decision, to me, if you’re sane.

  93. says

    Oh well , Giliell, I guess facts and science are not important.
    Let’s just pray.

    WTF?
    I gave you some facts, you gave me “love and romance”. I cannot give you more annectodata than I already did and I’m not going to do your homework for you.
    You want to know about the studies if there are any so you go out there and look for them instead of demanding me to spoonfeed you.

    Walton
    Well, if such a medical procedure is best done, if done at all, by a medical professional in a hospital, then doing it in the living room is not the gold standard, is it?

  94. says

    Walton,

    I’ll post the correct link when I get home. It’s a case study in that journal. There are news stories, but my link is an explanation.

    Moshe was the only bris. The others were all in hospitals in typical, hygienic Western medical settings. I intentionally omitted the examples I know of that occurred in less standard facilities or were the result of parents performing the circumcision at home. This point shouldn’t have those, and doesn’t need them.

  95. Natalie says

    “Sexual pleasure” can’t be exactly scientifically measured, no, but nerves and sensation can, surgeons and urologists and sex researchers and psychologists and neurologists have been studying that kind of thing for decades and have figured out some pretty amazing stuff. And qualitative assessments and comparisons are available. Not everyone who has been circumsised had been so during infancy. Many had sex with foreskin, then got circumsised, then tried it without. I don’t remember any exact data, but I think the general consensus is that the foreskin is a good thing.

  96. says

    Rather, my question is this: if you want to make it illegal, how would you enforce it? Would you arrest every observant Jewish and Muslim family in America with a male infant, and threaten them all with criminal prosecution and with losing custody of their children? I’d venture to suggest that that would cause far more harm, both to society as a whole and to the children themselves, than male infant circumcision itself has ever caused. My argument is simply a practical one: the practice of infant male circumcision is so widespread, and the social cost of trying to ban it would be so disproportionately high in relation to the harm the practice itself causes, that it’s just not a realistic proposal.

    Walto couldn’t the same argument have been made for racism? I mean if you enforce anti-segregation, what are you going to do? Arrest entire towns and shut down entire businesses!? wouldn’t that to far more harm than just having two water fountains?

  97. julian says

    @Ing

    But these are two very different situations. You can force desegregation. You can sue and fine institutions that refuse to comply. You put police in place to ensure the students can get into and out of the school safely.

    How would you enforce criminalizing circumcision?

  98. Natalie says

    Threaten to fine anyone who performs the procedure or consents on their child’s behalf, or suspend the medical license of any doctor who performs it?

    Same ways you would criminalize anything else.

    In theory. I’m not necessarily advocating for full criminalization, but it’s certainly POSSIBLE. But I figure strong counter-incentives and widespread education would be the first thing to provide.

  99. walton says

    Walto couldn’t the same argument have been made for racism? I mean if you enforce anti-segregation, what are you going to do? Arrest entire towns and shut down entire businesses!? wouldn’t that to far more harm than just having two water fountains?

    Except that the harm of segregation was not limited to having separate water fountains. There was also segregation in schools, employment, transport, the provision of goods and services and almost every other aspect of life; violent institutionalized discrimination in the judicial system; lynchings and regular acts of extreme violence by racist mobs; and the deliberate and systematic exclusion of African-Americans from the political process through “literacy tests” and the “poll tax”. All of these things were so egregiously bad and harmful that they clearly justified coercive intervention, despite the fact that Eisenhower, Johnson and the Supreme Court that decided Brown knew all too well that implementing desegregation would be an extremely difficult task and would give rise to violence in the short term. (As indeed it did.) The harm of male infant circumcision, by contrast, is not even remotely comparable.

    My point is that the harm of allowing a given practice has to be weighed, in all cases, against the harm and intrusiveness of banning it and of effectively enforcing such a ban. I’d rather parents didn’t teach their children to vote Republican or to become fundamentalist evangelicals; but I don’t think it should be illegal to do so, nor do I think that children of Republican and/or fundamentalist parents should be taken away from their families. There is a point at which we tolerate a certain amount of harm, because the alternative – coercive state intrusion, which is always a crude and ham-fisted tool for effecting social change – will cause more harm than it prevents.

  100. julian says

    Threaten to fine anyone who performs the procedure or consents on their child’s behalf, or suspend the medical license of any doctor who performs it?

    I don’t disagree. I just made the comment because I’m pretty sure Walton was still discussing jailing parents who circumcised their children in the bit Ing quoted.

  101. says

    Suppose I made a statement “Circumsized men enjoy sex more than do un-circumcised men.”

    It would be fair for someone to ask “Where did you get that? What’s the authority? Any studies?”

    If I responded with “That’s a ridiculous question” or “Go look it up yourself” then you would laugh.

    Since the situation is mirror image, let me do the laughing.

    In general I am saddened by the lack of concern for facts. I am speaking about non-reality based discussion of sexual pleasure.

    I honestly do not have the answer one way or another bu am appalled with cavalier remarks like “I don’t remember any exact data BUT…” — I will offer them in evidence anyway. And this from readers at a blog which promises “fighting fashionable nonsense.” Sad .

  102. says

    @ #98 David Sucher: “is there any real science about male sexual response vis-a-vis circumcision?”
    Not a lot. Much of it is bad (especially Masters & Johnson, who were severely biased against intactness from the outset), ignoring the role of the foreskin itself, for example. There is considerable anecdotal evidence, that jibes with common sense and neurology, that removing the foreskin, by removing tens of thousands of specialised nerve-endings, makes orgasm more difficult to achieve and therefore more of a goal, with less emphasis on the pleasures of the journey (something women complain about in male sexuality). A case for this is set out here.

    @ Walton passim: You overgeneralise about the severity of FGC. Yes, it is terrible in sub-Saharan Africa. It is much milder in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. The reasons given for doing it are as varied and irrational as for cutting boys. It was done surgically in the USA in the 1960s, using a device with a shield to protect the clitoris, covered by Blue Cross Blue Shield until 1977, legal until 1996. The Federal FGC law has no exemption for relgion or culture, and nobody thought twice about the problem of enforcement. Last year the AAP’s Bioethics Committee proposed to allow a token ritual nick to girls “much less extensive than male genital cutting” but the uproar was so great the AAP’s board overrulled the committee. (Committee chairman Douglas Diekema has never retracted his position and continues to speak for the AAP’s taskforce on [male] circumcision.) Why the double standard?

  103. Josh Slocum says

    Oh knock it off, David Sucher. It’s not at all extraordinary to posit diminished sexual pleasure when part of the sex organ is removed and the rest is left to toughen up. What is extraordinary is how hard you’re pretending to find this irrational.

  104. walton says

    Tony: Ok, looking at that, it sounds like the “PlastiBell” procedure for circumcising male infants (which I’d never heard of) has serious risks that were not previously well-documented. That’s certainly an obvious justification for banning that procedure (indeed, in light of this evidence I hope it’s no longer used), but I’m not sure if it’s a justification for banning all male circumcisions outright.

    That said, it has to be said that medical professionals really, really shouldn’t be offering to perform routine circumcisions for the sake of “health” alone, or advising parents to have their children circumcised on health grounds, given the fact that it’s clearly not medically necessary and carries some risks. The only circumstance in which I would see it as being ethical for a doctor to perform the procedure is if the parents say “We really want our child circumcised for religious and cultural reasons, and if you won’t do it, we’ll find someone else who will.”

    It bears repeating that circumcising male infants for “health” reasons, as opposed to Jewish or Muslim religious reasons, is not at all normal outside the US. I was not circumcised, and it simply isn’t a widespread phenomenon in Britain, for anyone who doesn’t have either a religious reason to have the procedure done or a particular medical condition that would justify it.

  105. julian says

    It bears repeating that circumcising male infants for “health” reasons, as opposed to Jewish or Muslim religious reasons, is not at all normal outside the US.

    And that the health concerns associated with uncircumcised penises arguably seem to be the result of poor hygiene. So yeah, you can lop off a chunk of your son’s dick or you can teach him to clean it in the shower. Choice seems obvious to me.

  106. says

    Walton,

    I agree the plastibell is problematic, but that result can come from any method. (e.g. Moshe) The problem isn’t the method, but the unnecessary intervention. A smaller risk of death to a healthy person isn’t significantly better ethically than a slightly larger risk of death. We shouldn’t ignore the severe complications worse than death, either. Not saying you are, just that they exist, too, and add to the offensiveness of imposing it on a healthy child for the parents’ reason(s). Ethically, they’re all the same violation of the child’s body and rights. Religion and culture shouldn’t get a free pass on such an obvious harm.

    For me, for example, I have no complications beyond the unavoidable damage intended. I hate being circumcised. Why should I care or be mollified that my parents wanted it or that a majority of Americans support circumcision? (I’m not saying you think I should be.)

    It’s probably clear where I stand on whether non-therapeutic circumcision should be legal. I understand the challenges involved, as discuss above. Were it to be magically outlawed in the U.S., I doubt seriously that enforcement would get much attention or funding. But that’s practical. I’m not giving up the principle because of that. Anyway, cultural change will be the most effective. I think that’s happening, however slowly.

  107. Natalie says

    Saying “I don’t remember any exact data” is an act of intellectual humility, and acknowledgement of the gap in certainty. It’s not something to be scorned. It’s when people state things as facts, and get all arrogance and bravado and “you know less than I do”, without noting their own lack of expertise, that there’s a problem.

  108. walton says

    Anyway, cultural change will be the most effective. I think that’s happening, however slowly.

    Well, I think we’re largely in agreement there. I certainly don’t think infant male circumcision is a good thing, and even if the deaths are only isolated and exceptional cases, I’m not ok with wilfully exposing a child to an unnecessary risk of death, however slight. I wasn’t personally in favour of the procedure anyway, but this information has strengthened my view in that regard.

    I don’t think it would be practical or plausible to ban it completely, though. But it does seem that in the US, if doctors were to stop performing circumcisions for ostensible “health” reasons (as opposed to religious reasons), the number of circumcisions would go down dramatically. (Given the apparent US custom of circumcising male infants routinely at birth; something which only seems to have appeared in the early 1900s, and seems to have been based on bad medical advice.) This is less true elsewhere, but infant male circumcision is much less common outside the US, except in the Jewish and Muslim communities.

    So perhaps the answer is for the medical profession in the US to take a strong stance against “health”-related routine circumcision, and to advise parents that infant male circumcision is medically unnecessary (except in cases of specific medical conditions that necessitate it) and best avoided. Some parents would still choose to have their male infants circumcised on religious grounds, and I think that’s unavoidable, but at least stopping doctors from performing routine circumcisions would reduce the number of these procedures performed.

  109. Natalie says

    P.S. Circumcision for “health” or “hygiene” isn’t even common up here in Canada, which is possibly the best cultural analogue to the US. That particular idea is almost an exclusively American thing. When a medical practice pops up in only one country in the entire “developed” world, shouldn’t we be particularly concerned that it may not be as justified as it may appear to those within that particular cultural context?

  110. says

    Walton,

    I’d settle for doctors and media rounding out the cost side of the cost-benefit analysis to include the foreskin, its functions, and what the individual might prefer. Too often here the equation assumes the foreskin is useless, provides nothing to the individual in any capacity, and the male will just be happy regardless. It’s an ignorant viewpoint. If we changed that, we’d get a lot closer to cultural change. (After the inevitable hardcore denial wore out…)

  111. says

    I am glad that I was circumcised as an infant. However, if I had not been, then it seems probable I would be glad that I had not been. I’m not sure how probable; this is complicated by the fact that most of my peers are circumcised. The estimate I find is 4/5, which surprised me; it’s lower than the sample I’ve encountered.

    How do you or anyone know that circumcision reduces sexual pleasure?
    Unless you have experienced it both ways?
    How does one study it?

    Well, there are men who get circumcised in adulthood after having had sex. Perhaps these would be the best available subjects for study. Better yet if they could be recruited into the study beforehand, when they approach a doctor to arrange circumcision.

  112. says

    How do you or anyone know that circumcision reduces sexual pleasure?
    Unless you have experienced it both ways?
    How does one study it?

    Well, there are men who get circumcised in adulthood after having had sex. Perhaps these would be the best available subjects for study. Better yet if they could be recruited into the study beforehand, when they approach a doctor to arrange circumcision.

    Circumcision never happens in a vacuum and men who get circumcised as adults all do it for reasons that will have a bearing on their satisfaction with the outcome. If they had sub-optimal sex or a medical condition and circumcision fixes what was wrong, if they do it for a religion and they feel they get spiritual benefits – they will be glad they were circumcised. None of these apply to babies. The studies in Africa claiming to find sexual benefits are carried out by circumcision advocates, with corresponding experimenter effects, on men who volunteered to be circumcised (in the belief they will be protected from HIV). Men who enjoy their foreskins will stay away from such trials. You would have to grab a sample of men off the street and circumcise half willy-nilly. (Even then it could not be double-blinded or placebo-controlled.) I think you can be reasonably sure they would not like the result.

  113. Rumtopf says

    http://www.cirp.org/library/complications/
    For those who want to read about or see the potential complications. (warning: graphic photos of messed up penises, but the site also warns you when you click on a photo link)

    http://www.circumstitions.com/Complic.html

    NOHARMM has compiled statistics on how common complications are, but honestly I don’t have the ability to judge how legit it is. There are also lots of links to case reports and group studies in that second link.

    Mutilation is the right word for it.

  114. Bill Yeager says

    @Walton

    So, it has been clearly established that there exists numerous risk factors related to circumcision, from botched procedures, to potentially fatal post-op infections and septicaemia, to the acknowledged reduction in sexual sensitivity.

    Your argument appears to be rooted around the ‘but what are we to do about it’ dilemma whereby, in the cases where the ‘only’ long-term repercussion for the boy was a reduction in sexual sensitivity, it would be inappropriate to remove the child from his parents custody. This may be true, but that does not mean that it would be too difficult to implement robust punitive measures in order to dissuade Jewish and Muslim parents from abusing their position of power in their role as guardian, by mistaking it for one of ownership, entitling them to have unnecessary, irreversible and risky surgery performed on the child’s genitals in the name of their particular invisible man in the sky.

    Here’s how you do it:
    1. Parents who have a child under 18 circumcised are guilty of Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH), as is the individual who performs the procedure.
    2. If the procedure was carried out by a medical doctor, the offence is sufficient to have them struck off the register and barred from practising.
    3. If the procedure was carried out by a non-medically qualified religious practitioner, the charge would be GBH, plus performing medical procedures without license.
    4. Any adult who assists, or witnesses such a procedure without reporting it to the authorities, is guilty of conspiracy to commit GBH.
    5. Any medical professional who becomes aware that the child has been circumcised would be required to report it, unless it could be established that the procedure had been carried out as a medical necessity.

    Now the punitive part:
    1. Parents found guilty of GBH by way of unnecessary circumcision being performed on their child, would be sentenced to a substantial fine and one month incarceration, suspended, if the procedure was carried out by a medical doctor in a surgical setting, otherwise two years incarceration, suspended.
    2. Parents who do not name the doctor or individual who carried out the procedure would be sentenced to three years incarceration, suspended.
    3. Doctors found guilty of carrying out the procedure would be sentenced to one month incarceration and struck off the medical register.
    4. Non-medically trained and licensed religious practitioners of circumcision would be sentenced to three years incarceration.
    5. Upon attaining the age of 18, the child would be automatically entitled to sue, both his parents, the individual who carried out the procedure, the medical or religious organisation it was conducted under the auspices of, and any witnesses who failed to report the crime.

    I think you’ll find that this approach would pretty much cover all of the bases and acts as quite the deterrent to all but the most committed militant theist.

    Questions?

  115. John Morales says

    Bill @133, I wish you would acknowledge that there can be valid (indeed, compelling) medical reasons for circumcision (as I alluded @21), and couch your proposition accordingly.

  116. says

    There can be valid, indeed compelling, medical reasons for any medical reduction (including those of the female genitals), yet we seem to have no trouble excluding parental whim as one of them. If circumcision were only just invented, everyone would see that immediately.

  117. Bill Yeager says

    @John Morales, I did:

    ” unless it could be established that the procedure had been carried out as a medical necessity.”

    Blimey, I’m only trying to establish that there does, indeed, exist a route in law by which unnecessary surgical procedures could be drastically reduced and more children protected from the lunacy of their theist parents.

    Of course there exists medical conditions which do require a circumcision to be performed, only they constitute a tiny fraction of the, entirely unnecessary, genital alterations carried out each year in the name of religious conviction, normalisation, unquestioning cultural ‘tradition’, and ignorance.

  118. says

    The studies in Africa claiming to find sexual benefits are carried out by circumcision advocates, with corresponding experimenter effects, on men who volunteered to be circumcised (in the belief they will be protected from HIV). Men who enjoy their foreskins will stay away from such trials.

    Well, there would be demand effects in any case, even if selecting subjects for circumcision at random.

    However, it is not so clear cut that “men who enjoy their foreskins will stay away from such trials” when the possibility of increased HIV protection is offered. That’s a very attractive carrot, and there is plenty of room for regret and disappointment. I had forgotten about this population, but I would consider that they’d be the best available subjects for study. They’re self-selected like any other population of men who are circumcised as adults, but the incentive for self-selection is probably valuable enough to bring in many who would not otherwise choose this.

    Actually it is much more probable. See for example this straw poll of men at Burning Man this year. Other (admittedly self-selecting, but anonymous) polls have had simiilar results.

    An informal poll of hippies and hipsters, posted on an anti-circumcision website, is right next to worthless. Do you mean to say you can’t find any scientific surveys?

  119. dirigible says

    WAT??? Refusing to mutilate your child’s genitals is like refusing to vaccinate them?”

    Yes I found that a strikingly false syllogism.

    The evidence doesn’t support claims of health benefits:

    http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/ncerl/what_is_a_common_practice_used_overseas_that/c38hcoa

    or pleasure benefits:

    http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/ngxdk/male_circumcision_should_be_illegal_unless/c393rox

    for circumcision.

    But forget all that, ’cause RELIGION!!1

    Next: how chopping off your fingers and rubbing surgical spirit into the palms of your hands increases manual dexterity because God says so.

  120. says

    Now the punitive part:
    1. Parents found guilty of GBH by way of unnecessary circumcision being performed on their child, would be sentenced to a substantial fine and one month incarceration, suspended, if the procedure was carried out by a medical doctor in a surgical setting, otherwise two years incarceration, suspended.
    2. Parents who do not name the doctor or individual who carried out the procedure would be sentenced to three years incarceration, suspended.
    3. Doctors found guilty of carrying out the procedure would be sentenced to one month incarceration and struck off the medical register.
    4. Non-medically trained and licensed religious practitioners of circumcision would be sentenced to three years incarceration.
    5. Upon attaining the age of 18, the child would be automatically entitled to sue, both his parents, the individual who carried out the procedure, the medical or religious organisation it was conducted under the auspices of, and any witnesses who failed to report the crime.

    You’re a fucking idiot.

    Do you have any idea how devastating being imprisoned is to a person’s life? Or to his or her child’s life? And even with a suspended sentence, do you have any idea how hard it is to get a job when you have a criminal conviction for something like that? Not to mention that if the parents are not citizens, they – and their child – could face deportation to somewhere really shitty. You don’t appear to understand the realities of the penal system at all.

    In the name of “protecting” the child, you will screw up his family’s life, and screw up the child’s life too. You seem to have no idea what it is like. No idea. And you will worsen one of the biggest problems in American society, punitive imprisonment. (There is a reason why America’s prison population is six or seven times higher than that of most European countries, more than 700 per 100,000 people being in prison.)

    I cannot express how much of a fucking authoritarian moron you are. You aren’t “protecting” children; you’re proposing using the justice system to play out your personal vendetta against religion.

  121. says

    Blockquote borked because I was so angry with this moron.

    Now the punitive part:
    1. Parents found guilty of GBH by way of unnecessary circumcision being performed on their child, would be sentenced to a substantial fine and one month incarceration, suspended, if the procedure was carried out by a medical doctor in a surgical setting, otherwise two years incarceration, suspended.
    2. Parents who do not name the doctor or individual who carried out the procedure would be sentenced to three years incarceration, suspended.
    3. Doctors found guilty of carrying out the procedure would be sentenced to one month incarceration and struck off the medical register.
    4. Non-medically trained and licensed religious practitioners of circumcision would be sentenced to three years incarceration.
    5. Upon attaining the age of 18, the child would be automatically entitled to sue, both his parents, the individual who carried out the procedure, the medical or religious organisation it was conducted under the auspices of, and any witnesses who failed to report the crime.

    You’re a fucking idiot.

    Do you have any idea how devastating being imprisoned is to a person’s life? Or to his or her child’s life? And even with a suspended sentence, do you have any idea how hard it is to get a job when you have a criminal conviction for something like that? Not to mention that if the parents are not citizens, they – and their child – could face deportation to somewhere really shitty. You don’t appear to understand the realities of the penal system at all.

    In the name of “protecting” the child, you will screw up his family’s life, and screw up the child’s life too. You seem to have no idea what it is like. No idea. And you will worsen one of the biggest problems in American society, punitive imprisonment. (There is a reason why America’s prison population is six or seven times higher than that of most European countries, more than 700 per 100,000 people being in prison. The American national addiction to prison-as-punishment is violent, sickening cruelty, and it is ruining people’s lives and creating social disaster.)

    I cannot express how much of a fucking authoritarian moron you are. You aren’t “protecting” children; you’re proposing using the justice system to play out your personal vendetta against religion.

  122. says

    the possibility of increased HIV protection is offered

    Because there are no other methods of getting even better HIV protection, those other methods don’t have any additional benefits, and they don’t cause fewer problems for babies than circumcision.

    I thought researchers of the African situation are recommending circumcision at puberty.

    «[T]here is now compelling epidemiological evidence from over 40 studies which shows that male circumcision provides significant protection against HIV infection; circumcised males are two to eight times less likely to become infected with HIV. Furthermore, circumcision also protects against other sexually transmitted infections, such as syphilis and gonorrhoea, and since people who have a sexually transmitted infection are two to five times more likely to become infected with HIV, circumcision may be even more protective. The most dramatic evidence of the protective effect of circumcision comes from a new study of couples in Uganda who had discordant HIV status; in this study the woman was HIV positive and her male partner was not. No new infections occurred among any of the 50 circumcised men over 30 months, whereas 40 of 137 uncircumcised men became infected during this time. Both groups had been given free access to HIV testing, intensive instruction about preventing infection, and free condoms (which were continuously available), but 89% of the men never used condoms, and condom use did not seem to influence the rate of transmission of HIV. [...] Although condoms must remain the first choice for preventing the sexual transmission of HIV, they are often not used consistently or correctly, they may break during use, and there may be strong cultural and aesthetic objections to using them. Cultural and religious attitudes towards male circumcision are even more deeply held, but in the light of the evidence presented here circumcising males seems highly desirable, especially in countries with a high prevalence of HIV infection. Although neonatal circumcision is easy to perform, and has a low incidence of complications,16 it would be 15-20 years before a programme of circumcision had any effect on HIV transmission rates. Circumcision at puberty, as practised by many Muslim communities, would be the most immediately effective intervention for reducing HIV transmission since it would be done before young men are likely to become sexually active.»

    «The bottom line: circumcision protects heterosexual men from HIV acquisition via sexual intercourse with the greatest benefits accruing in developing nations that are hardest hit by the epidemic.»

  123. says

    Also, more links on sensitivity:

    Sensitivity per se is not what I’m wondering about. I’m wondering about differences in sexual pleasure.

    That 2007 study linked at reddit? I do not think it supports your case.

    «No differences in genital sensitivity were found between the uncircumcised and circumcised groups. [...] These results do not support the hypothesized penile sensory differences associated with circumcision. However, group differences in penile temperature and sexual response were found.»

    I’ll try to get the full study and see what those differences in sexual response were.

  124. says

    From the Binik study mentioned in #144:

    «Once the participant was ready, the researcher returned to the room in order to assess baseline touch and pain thresholds. After this was completed, the thermal imaging camera was focused on the genital area. Participants then listened to soothing jazz music for a period of 10 minutes in order to allow for skin temperature to stabilize.»

  125. Stewart says

    “Participants then listened to soothing jazz music for a period of 10 minutes in order to allow for skin temperature to stabilize.”

    Ah, one of those studies that had to wait for the advent of jazz music…

  126. says

    Er, the Payne study. Binik was one of the researchers, but it’s cited as Payne et al.

    Contrary to popular theory and existing data, uncircumcised men did not exhibit more penile sensitivity than circumcised men. This is consistent with Masters and Johnson’s earlier findings [6], and yet, is surprising given widespread assumptions to the contrary. It is possible that the uncircumcised penis is more sensitive due to the presence of additional sensory receptors on the prepuce and frenulum, but this cannot be compared with the absence of such structures in the circumcised penis. This notwithstanding, the present data do cast doubt on the notion that the glans penis is more sensitive in the uncircumcised man due to the protective function of the prepuce. Possible explanations for the origin of such a belief may date back to historical traditions, whereby circumcision was performed in order to reduce sexual gratification [22], or to prevent masturbation [23]. This may have led to the general notion that circumcised men were somehow “less sexual” and therefore less “sexually sensitive” than uncircumcised men.

    Those differences in sexual response that were mentioned in the abstract have to do with temperature:

    Physiological measurement via thermal imaging indicated that both groups experienced an increase in penile temperature with exposure to the erotic film, as compared with a decrease in penile temperature with exposure to the control film. However, participants in the uncircumcised group had lower overall penile temperature and a greater increase in penile temperature in the arousal condition. This result was unexpected, and we do not have an adequate explanation. While this could be attributed to the presence of the prepuce, temperature recording was taken just below the glans penis with the prepuce unretracted. Whether this temperature differential translates into any functional differences remains to be investigated. [...]

    In sum, the present study found no difference in genital sensation between uncircumcised and circumcised men. In light of these findings, the examination of penile sensory differences between uncircumcised and circumcised men warrants further study via a replication with a larger sample size including the measurement of multiple sensory modalities over multiple penile locations (comprising those believed to be directly affected by circumcision). The finding of a difference in physiological sexual arousal pattern as measured by surface skin temperature also requires further investigation. Namely, the relationship between penile surface skin temperature and penile circumference, volume, and/or rigidity needs to be established. This would help clarify whether the observed difference can be attributed to functional or anatomical differences between uncircumcised and circumcised men.

  127. says

    There is a time*temperature graph in the PDF provided at #146, if anyone cares. The difference is about 1C before the beginning of the film, and the temperatures rise to a difference of about 0.1C by the end. (This is not in the text; I’m using a ruler.) Since the uncircumcised begin lower but rise to almost the same, this is the “greater increase in penile temperature in the arousal condition.”

  128. Bill Yeager says

    @Walton

    Wow! Just wow! Would you like me to wipe the spittle off your monitor?

    The mere fact that you are unable to conduct a discussion about a contentious issue without resorting to flaming anyone who disagrees with your attempt to keep the status quo when it comes to unnecessary genital alteration, says more about you than it does us ‘fucking idiots’.

    Being an apologist for religious genital alteration also includes those who claim to be against it, but prefer to harp on about how it is just too complicated and difficult to police, so we should just stop doctors doing it for non-religious reasons, but continue ignoring those who do it in the name of whichever mythological deity they ascribe to, because they’re special.

    My feeling is that you know damn well the approach I am suggesting would be incredibly effective, after all, as you say yourself, it’s awfully hard to get on in this life with a criminal record hanging over your head. But it is something easily avoided, they don’t even have to do anything to avoid a conviction. In fact, that’s the point, they shouldn’t be doing what they are doing in the first place. So, by not doing it, they will be fine and, more importantly, not that you seem to be concerned, so will the child.

    But you don’t want to hear that, do you Walton? No, you wanted to try and dodge the issue by way of attempting to fool us into thinking you were a decent chap who, you know, *really* doesn’t think circumcision is a good thing, but was kinda worried about the difficulty of implementing an effective legal policy that didn’t necessarily have to involve the removal of children from their misguided parent’s custody. Fact is, you *are* an apologist for religious child genital alteration, you just think we’re too stupid to recognise it. But your rage betrays you.

  129. julian says

    I see Bill Yeager is unable to read the first 100 or so comments on this thread. He’s equally unable to address any of the reasons walton has given for being cautious if we’re going to implement legal repercussions as a way to discourage and end circumcision.

  130. julian says

    So my knee jerk response to ‘circumcision doesn’t decrease sexual pleasure’ was way off base. Very glad my reasons for being against it have nothing to do with sex or sexual gratification. (Although I will say an uncircumcised penis seems much more fluid during hand jobs than a circumcised one.)

  131. says

    My feeling is that you know damn well the approach I am suggesting would be incredibly effective, after all, as you say yourself, it’s awfully hard to get on in this life with a criminal record hanging over your head.

    The former does not follow from the latter, because incarceration as deterrence is not very effective. You can lock a person up to keep them from committing more crimes as long as they’re locked up, but that’s about the extent of it.

    It fails hard in this case, because a child can only be circumcised once, so locking the parents up is shutting the barn door after the horses are out.

    If you want to bring the courts against the parents, the only really effective measure would be to forcibly sterilize people who are found guilty of circumcising an infant boy, and prevent them from adopting any more boys.

    This would still be an extremist solution, but it would at least be somewhat effective, unlike your own extremist solution.

    But your rage betrays you.

    Nope. If you google for walton+incarcerate+OR+prison+OR+deterrence at Pharyngula, you’ll find him getting similarly angry about the use of prison against immigration, drug trafficking, financial crimes like Enron and Madoff stuff, and probably other shit I don’t remember.

    His stance on financial crimes is most illuminative in this case. He’s very much against those crimes, especially those which target the poor and middle classes, but he still holds that prison is not an acceptable response.

    Thus his anger does not tell us anything in particular about his stance on circumcision; it only tells us about his general stance on incarceration.

    If you feel like trolling him, ask him whether flogging, Singapore style, would be acceptable for parents who circumcise their infant boys. I predict he will say something like “it’s still horrific, and you’re an authoritarian fuck, but there’s a compelling case to be made that it’s preferable to incarceration.”

  132. says

    Bill Yeager, I agree with everything in Walton’s #142. You are indeed a fucking authoritarian moron.

    Sorry I forgot to mention this earlier.

    +++++
    julian,

    So my knee jerk response to ‘circumcision doesn’t decrease sexual pleasure’ was way off base.

    *shrug* Maybe.

    If it’s the Payne study you’re talking about here, they only found that genital sensitivity during sexual arousal was statistically indistinguishable between circumcised and uncircumcised men.

    I still hold that genital sensitivity is only one component of sexual pleasure, so I count this as merely suggestive that there’s probably no difference in sexual pleasure. Or if there is a difference in sexual pleasure, the available evidence — earlier studies measured genital sensitivity but not during sexual arousal — indicates it would not be attributable to sensitivity. What else, if anything? I can’t say.

    What I would say is that the most relevant available evidence does not support your assumption, and so it does appear you’re off base, but the authors do say that more study is needed before this is definitive.

  133. says

    love moderately
    Well, as you can surely see yourself, there are some problems with those studies:
    They cannot, be default, compare what’s there against what isn’t there. Uncircumcised men do seem to get pleasure from the stimulation of the foreskin itself. That doesn’t mean that circumcised men don’t get pleasure or orgasms or arousal and whatever, but they cannot get sensation from tissue that isn’t there anymore.

    The problem with the African AIDS studies are several

    1) They are absolutely irrelevant to circumcision in the USA and Europe.

    2) People more knowlegeable than me so far have commented on methodological weaknesses

    3) Circumcision seem to reduce the risk of femalr to male transmission. They do not offer any protection for homosexual intercourse nor for female partners of infected men

    4) The whole avenue might be a dangerous road to follow. AIDS awareness groups in Europe are complaining about decreased condom use, and the main reason they figured out is that AIDS has lost its horror and many people consider it to be “just a chronic disease”. I do not want to imagine what this would mean in largely uneducated areas of Africa.

    Bill Yeager
    Thank you for showing all of us again what we don’t want and what Walton meant by “more harm than good”.
    Do you think that a circumcised boy under your regulations would still get adequate medical care and check-ups if their parents would have to fear prison?

  134. says

    Well, as you can surely see yourself, there are some problems with those studies:

    The Payne study measures precisely what it purports to measure. That the study cannot measure something else is a limitation of the study, not a problem with the study. This distinction is important: all studies have limitations; not all studies have problems.

    They cannot, be default, compare what’s there against what isn’t there. Uncircumcised men do seem to get pleasure from the stimulation of the foreskin itself. That doesn’t mean that circumcised men don’t get pleasure or orgasms or arousal and whatever, but they cannot get sensation from tissue that isn’t there anymore.

    They don’t get sensation from tissue that isn’t there, but that does not mean they don’t get as much sensation.

    Payne also found that “circumcised men were more sensitive to touch on the [volar surface of the] forearm than uncircumcised men”, which is bizarre but suggests that circumcision alters the brain’s sensitivity to touch in general.

    Whether this is compensation by the highly plastic infant nervous system, or the overactive result of a stress response in infancy, or whether there is even a difference between those two things, I don’t know.

    But it’s important to note: there is no peer-reviewed evidence indicating that uncircumcised men experience any more sexual sensation.

    The problem with the African AIDS studies are several

    1) They are absolutely irrelevant to circumcision in the USA and Europe.

    Again, this is not a problem, but a limitation. And you overstate your case. They are not absolutely irrelevant; they are only significantly less relevant. If Europe and the United States wanted to implement more circumcision as an additional method of combatting HIV, these studies suggest it would help, although of course not as much as in Africa, since HIV is just not as widespread as in Africa.

    2) People more knowlegeable than me so far have commented on methodological weaknesses

    There were about 40 of these studies back in 2000. There are far more now. I seriously doubt these alleged methodological weaknesses apply to them all.

    3) Circumcision seem to reduce the risk of female to male transmission. They do not offer any protection for homosexual intercourse nor for female partners of infected men

    That seems to be correct.

    4) The whole avenue might be a dangerous road to follow. AIDS awareness groups in Europe are complaining about decreased condom use, and the main reason they figured out is that AIDS has lost its horror and many people consider it to be “just a chronic disease”. I do not want to imagine what this would mean in largely uneducated areas of Africa.

    I’m not sure this concern is applicable. The reason that AIDS has become largely a chronic disease now in Europe is due to the availability of antiretroviral drugs. These are not nearly so available to people in Africa.

    There are other concerns in Africa, if circumcision is misunderstood as equivalent to a condom. However, the problems with condom use must not be understated; as reported above, 89% of the men in the Ugandan study never used condoms, and among those who reported that they did, condom use did not appear to make any difference in HIV transmission (I conjecture they either weren’t using them correctly or consistently, but who knows).

    Circumcision is not a substitute for condoms, but if people are already not using condoms, then it is an improvement.

    This last issue is a public health concern that I would leave to public health experts. It’s the sort of thing we ought to consider the value of not having a strong opinion about.

  135. walton says

    My feeling is that you know damn well the approach I am suggesting would be incredibly effective, after all, as you say yourself, it’s awfully hard to get on in this life with a criminal record hanging over your head.

    It would be incredibly effective at screwing up children’s lives. You would cause enormous harm to the children you claim you want to “protect” by arresting and jailing their parents. How hard is this to understand?

    Your proposal is akin to “I don’t like régime X, so let’s invade and bomb the country until the régime falls”. It’s exactly the same kind of bombastic thinking: the proposal that one should just use sheer brute force to eliminate whatever problem is on one’s mind, however much collateral damage it causes and however many lives it ruins.

  136. walton says

    Fact is, you *are* an apologist for religious child genital alteration, you just think we’re too stupid to recognise it. But your rage betrays you.

    Er… I don’t know what kind of motivation you’re trying to impute to me. :-/ I am not circumcised (for obvious reasons I’m not going to post pictures to prove it, so you’ll have to take my word for that). I am not Jewish, not Muslim, and have no family who are either. I am an atheist, from a Christian cultural background, and I come from a country where circumcision is not a normal practice. I have no personal stake in defending infant male circumcision, and, as I said, I’m against the practice and would not do it to my own children if I had any.

    I care, and I am angry, because I don’t want to see families ripped apart and human lives ruined, in pursuit of your personal vendetta. I am a law student, I have spent years studying the penal system and the enormous harm that punitive imprisonment and the prison-industrial complex cause, and I am painfully aware from mountains of historical evidence that any solution which begins with “let’s lock more people up to punish them” is almost invariably a bad one. And as I’ve pointed out repeatedly, your proposed solution would hurt the children you’re supposedly trying to “protect”, something you haven’t bothered to address. Having one’s parents arrested and jailed is extremely traumatic for a child. This shouldn’t even be a controversial observation. And that’s aside from the effect I pointed out on the parents’ employment prospects, and on the whole family’s immigration status if they are non-citizens – both of which directly hurt the children, in the first case by threatening their family with poverty, in the second case by threatening them with deportation.

  137. walton says

    And I would also point out, not that it’s relevant, that I’ve taken the same position across the board on other issues. The phenomenon of mass imprisonment in America has been so destructive, and imprisonment screws up an individual’s life so completely (and actually increases hir likelihood of reoffending), that I am strongly opposed to the use of imprisonment in anything but the most extreme cases. For this reason I strongly support decriminalizing all drugs, for instance – not because drug addiction isn’t a severe social problem, but because criminalization is hurting, not helping, drug addicts, and because it would be far more effective to spend money on providing them with medical care rather than senseless punishment. Similarly, I am against the use of imprisonment for all non-violent crimes, across the board, and generally for anyone who does not pose an immediate danger of violence to the public. Prison should never be a punishment: it should be a means of containment for those who are actually dangerous, which is a tiny minority of those our society currently labels “criminals”. I won’t get into this further because it’s irrelevant to the thread; I’m pointing it out only to observe that I’m not making a special case as regards male circumcision. I am extremely reluctant across the board to endorse the use of criminal penalties as an instrument of social change, because I’ve spent years studying and writing about that subject and know how destructive the penal system can be. A great many people seem ignorantly to think that the answer to a problem is always to ban it and to arrest and jail those who engage in it; in many cases, this causes more harm than the problem itself does.

  138. julian says

    Again, this is not a problem, but a limitation. And you overstate your case. They are not absolutely irrelevant; they are only significantly less relevant.

    Circumcision as a means to combat AIDS in Europe and North America would have such little impact you might as well call any such efforts irrelevant to the spread of AIDS.

    What might make it semi effective in Africa is the complete lack of sex education and contraceptives like condoms.

    Outside of Africa, in locations where condoms are often readily and cheaply purchased at most drug stores, a circumcised penis is no protection.

  139. says

    Circumcision as a means to combat AIDS in Europe and North America would have such little impact you might as well call any such efforts irrelevant to the spread of AIDS.

    I certainly would not call it cost-effective as a general measure.

    UNAIDS says: “In settings with lower HIV prevalence in the general population, including where HIV infection is concentrated in specific populations at higher risk of HIV exposure, such as sex workers, injecting drug users or men who have sex with men, limited public health benefit would result from promoting male circumcision in the general population. However, there may be individual benefit for men at higher risk of heterosexually acquired HIV infection such as men in sero-discordant partnerships and clients presenting at clinics for the management of sexually transmitted infections.”

    Outside of Africa, in locations where condoms are often readily and cheaply purchased at most drug stores, a circumcised penis is no protection.

    It is some protection. If everybody was using condoms already, there would be almost no unintended pregnancies.

  140. Rrr says

    @walton:
    While I admit to not having read every sacred word of Yours Above here, not even to quotemine, let me just lobby one of them back at you: IMHO you, Sir appear as an idiot at fucking. Also, you are at the wrong treetrunk. Might as well cut it out. Or maybe put a lid on it.
    Best of luck, waltzon

  141. says

    Walton, I still don’t know why you took over the whole thread. The post has nothing to do with criminalizing circumcision. Your anger is noted, but I don’t see why it’s a reason to take over other people’s posts.

  142. walton says

    The post has nothing to do with criminalizing circumcision.

    The original post, in quoting the article you were criticizing, said:

    These days, the recent ballot initiative in San Francisco to ban the circumcision of minors

    Don’t get me wrong. I understand that you weren’t expressly arguing for criminalization (although many people here are). But in labelling the practice as “mutilation” of a baby, you certainly lend some implicit rhetorical support to those who think it should be criminalized, even if you didn’t intend to do so. This is a live and controversial issue, as illustrated by this thread – many people do think it should be criminalized, and say so loudly and frequently – and it’s strange to suggest that it shouldn’t be a topic of discussion, or that I’m somehow derailing the thread by talking about it. If you didn’t think it should be criminalized, or didn’t want a discussion on that issue, you could have hedged your post by saying so.

    And I felt no anger on the subject before this discussion; I didn’t have a strong opinion about circumcision either way. My anger is specifically directed at Bill Yeager and his completely stupid policy prescriptions.

  143. says

    The CDC has a lot of interesting stuff to say.

    Male circumcision may also have a role in the prevention of HIV transmission in the United States. CDC consulted with external experts in April 2007 to receive input on the potential value, risks, and feasibility of circumcision as an HIV prevention intervention in the United States and to discuss considerations for the possible development of guidelines.

    Apparently they have not yet published any conclusions from this 2007 consultation?

    Male circumcision has been associated with a lower risk for HIV infection in international observational studies and in three randomized controlled clinical trials. It is possible, but not yet adequately assessed, that male circumcision could reduce male-to-female transmission of HIV, although probably to a lesser extent than female-to-male transmission.

    Lack of male circumcision has also been associated with sexually transmitted genital ulcer disease and chlamydia, infant urinary tract infections, penile cancer, and cervical cancer in female partners of uncircumcised men [1]. The latter two conditions are related to human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Transmission of this virus is also associated with lack of male circumcision. A recent meta-analysis included 26 studies that assessed the association between male circumcision and risk for genital ulcer disease. The analysis concluded that there was a significantly lower risk for syphilis and chancroid among circumcised men, whereas the reduced risk of herpes simplex virus type 2 infection had a borderline statistical significance [4].

    In one crosssectional survey of MSM [in the USA], lack of circumcision was associated with a 2-fold increase in the odds of prevalent HIV infection [24]. In another, prospective study of MSM, lack of circumcision was also associated with a 2-fold increase in risk for HIV seroconversion [25]. In both studies, the results were statistically significant, and the data had been controlled statistically for other possible risk factors. However, in another prospective cohort study of MSM, there was no association between circumcision status and incident HIV infection, even among men who reported no unprotected anal receptive intercourse [26]. And in a recent cross-sectional study of African American and Latino MSM, male circumcision was not associated with previously known or newly diagnosed HIV infection [27]. In one prospective study of heterosexual men attending an urban STD clinic, when other risk factors were controlled, uncircumcised men had a 3.5-fold higher risk for HIV infection than men who were circumcised. However, this association was not statistically significant [28]. And in an analysis of clinic records for African American men attending an STD clinic, circumcision was not associated with HIV status overall, but among men with known HIV exposure, circumcision was associated with a statistically significant 58% reduction in risk for HIV infection [29].

  144. says

    walton, no it isn’t strange. You went off on a tangent, at great length; I pointed out at least twice that it was a tangent; you ignored me. I think it’s bizarre to take someone else’s post as a pretext for one’s own personal King Charles’s head.

  145. Brian M says

    my understanding though is Walton doesn’t seem to believe in any societal punishments at all. Even fines are interdicted because they can theoretically lead to prison. I have to admit I can’t feel too much sorrow over the imprisonment of financial criminals. I know I should, but…

    So…I guess Bernie Madoff should have just been given a stern talking to? (Have to admit that too many (not all, mind you, but many) of Bernie’s victims considered themselves special people who deserved to have an inside track on money making…because they were special… so it is hard to feel too sorry for them, but…) No fines, no sanctions, no punishment at all?

    No more off topic tangents. Sorry, Ophelia.

  146. says

    You went off on a tangent, at great length; I pointed out at least twice that it was a tangent; you ignored me.

    It was not, in fact, a tangent, because – as I pointed out – the material you quoted in the original post talked about a proposed ban on circumcision, and calling circumcision “baby mutilation” strongly implies, whether you intended it or not, that you think it should be illegal; after all, most of the involuntary practices we describe as “mutilation” are things that we ban. Nor is it anything to do with “my own personal” anything; only with pointing out the foolishness of a few – albeit certainly not all – of the more dogmatic and extreme pro-ban advocates.

    But ok, fine. I’ll bow out of the thread; it’s your blog, and I’ve said everything I needed to say. (And I won’t talk further about punishment in general outside the context of circumcision, since that would, indeed, be an irrelevant derail; all I’ll say to Brian M is that “prison should not be used as punishment, or for anything except containing extremely dangerous people” != “there should be no forms of punishment at all”.)

  147. Josh Slocum says

    You can’t even say you’re going to stop posting without writing a dissertation about it. I, too, would have liked to talk about the writer in the OP and what a perfect example of privileged upper class liberal twit-dom she is. Oh well.

  148. says

    I could always offer a Miscellaneous thread myself. I don’t mind miscellany on principle, I just wanted to talk about the subject matter of the post on this particular thread – the upper-class twitdom, as Josh says.

    But at least Walton said everything he needed to say. That’s a huge relief!

  149. theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen says

    I had a recent conversation with a friend (an atheist no less) who recently allowed his son to be circumcised. The decision came down to health in the end. What seems crazy (and I would agree) in a ‘Merkin or European context makes far more sense in a (South) African context where little boys spend their days in the dirt and don’t listen to their mommies to wash their peepees. As a result a fair number of kids end up having to undergo this procedure. (I am of course leaving out circumcision of teenagers for tribal traditional reasons.)

    The decision is whether to take a chance and risk a very painful and perhaps more dangerous procedure down the line, or hedge one’s bets and just get it over and done with. (His parents had made the same decision on his behalf and he is happy with the outcome.)

  150. says

    “The decision came down to health in the end.”

    “Health” is a cop-out. There is nobody on here, nobody in the world who circumcises their child “because it’s healthier,” EVER.

    “Health” is a cop-out for families that were going to circumcise their children for other reasons anyway. (IE, because it’s already religious tradition, and they dare not mention they’re Jewish, the father is circumcised and he doesn’t want to feel insecure next to his son, etc.)

    Here are a couple of litmus tests to test the “health” farce.

    1. Is there a number of “studies” that would allow you to have your daughter’s labia removed?

    It seems that a couple of studies are “enough” to make some people “change their minds.” (Did they ever think differently to begin with?) Well, then it only follows, then, that with just the right amount of “studies” then they should also “change their minds” regarding female circumcision too then.

    So then. What is this magical number? What disease(s) would female circumcision have to “reduce the risk” of in order for you to consider having your daughter’s labia removed? Leave the cli-tor-is alone; let’s just remove that “extra skin.”

    I’m not sure about you, but for me, the answer is ZERO. I’d tell that “researcher” he can stick that “study” where the sun don’t shine.

    2. What if there were a better, less invasive way to prevent disease in a child? What if the doctor told you “Guess what! There is a better way to prevent disease in your child, and we don’t have to circumcise him anymore!”

    What would be your reaction? Would you be jumping for joy, or would you shop around for a doctor who will still cut your child?

    Ask yourselves these questions.

    You fool nobody. Nobody cares about “health,” EVER.

    Do your research, and you will find that any “benefit” that circumcision is supposed to give your child, you can already get WITHOUT surgery.

    UTIs are rare, and antibiotics takes care of that quite effectively. Phimosis also rare, and only in very rare cases would a man need surgery. Cancer is also rare, and studies show that there is no difference in cancer rates between countries that circumcise and countries that don’t; it’s more a matter of hygiene and not smoking than it is whether or not you have a foreskin. And HIV, I think the “studies” are rubbish, but even if they were 100% accurate, a condom does a far better job. (Researchers have yet to explain to us why the US, with 80% of the male population circumcised, has higher HIV transmission rates than Denmark, Japan, Germany, etc., where circumcision is rare.)

    Stop trying to convince the rest of the world how much you mulled over mutilating your child. You were going to circumcise him anyway, “health benefits” or not. You don’t care about “health benefits.” Nobody does. Everyone just wants a scientific-sounding alibi that can’t be refuted. “Researchers” have been trying to find this for at least 179 years.

    “What seems crazy (and I would agree) in a ‘Merkin or European context makes far more sense in a (South) African context where little boys spend their days in the dirt and don’t listen to their mommies to wash their peepees.”

    You know, what about the little girls who spend their days in the dirt and don’t listen to their mommies to wash their cootchies? Or are only boys disobedient and need to have parts of their genitals lopped off for their own good? How absolutely sexist.

    “As a result a fair number of kids end up having to undergo this procedure. (I am of course leaving out circumcision of teenagers for tribal traditional reasons.)”

    Uh, I’d like to see papers please. Do you actually know how many children have to get circumcised because they get problems that necessitate the surgery? (Outside of the US and Australia where the very presence of the foreskin is considered a pathological condition.)

    “The decision is whether to take a chance and risk a very painful and perhaps more dangerous procedure down the line, or hedge one’s bets and just get it over and done with.”

    Here’s a bit of news for you; ALL surgeries any person might need “down the line” are “very painful” and “potentially dangerous.” Factor in that surgeries are MORE dangerous in CHILDREN, where anaesthesia alone can kill a child. (This is why for most any other surgery you name, doctors make sure they’ve tried everything else first.)

    Can you imagine trying to give a child all the surgeries he “might” need “down the line” because they might be “too painful” when he’s older?

    The above assumes that a child/man will indeed need circumcision “down the line.” Fact is, 80% of the world’s population is intact, and not in need of surgery. The hospitals where circumcision is rare aren’t swarming with men and children who need surgery. (That is, except in communities where Muslims are taking their children in to be mutilated.)

    The question is, without medical or clinical indication, can a doctor even be performing surgery on a healthy child, let alone elicit any kind of a “decision” from parents?

    “(His parents had made the same decision on his behalf and he is happy with the outcome.)”

    More accurately, he has to live with this “decision” whether he’s happy or not.

    And without medical or clinical indication, doctors have no business performing surgery in a healthy, non-consenting child, let alone stoke a parent’s sense of entitlement.

    “Health” is a farce. Only other pro-circumcision advocates buy it. Fact of the matter is, any “benefit” you name can already be afforded by different means. “Researchers” don’t do anyone else a favor with “science” that aims to keep medicine in the stone ages.

  151. says

    I can’t leave without criticizing exactly how stupid and disingenuous it is for anybody to be talking about circumcision as if it were this “vaccine.”

    What?

    What precisely does circumcision prevent?

    Does this mean that if HIV invades the body, it seeks out the foreskin and just self-destructs upon finding out a man has been circumcised?

    No, it does not.

    A vaccine functions by actually effecting the immune system, and strengthening it against pathogens that cause disease.

    Viruses do not discriminate.

    When it infects the body, it makes absolutely no difference whether a man is circumcised or not.

    Promoting circumcision to prevent diseases, ESPECIALLY HIV is impertinent and a disservice to the cause.

    Those who promote it have absolutely no interest in preventing HIV, and are more interested in legitimizing a cultural practice that is ever under scrutiny. (IE, the San Francisco ban, the fact that Medicaid doesn’t pay for it in 18 states, the fact that no medical organization recommends it, and at least one [the Netherlands] has come out AGAINST it.)

    If you wanna cut your kid tell the truth. It’s your religion, you can’t stand up to your husband/wife who wants it, or you want to do it “because everyone else is doing it” and you don’t want to be left out.

    Stop trying to clothe your cultural blindness with science.

    The whole rest of the world has the internet and can see what you’re doing.

    You fool no one.

  152. says

    There is not a single medical organization in the world that endorses infant circumcision to prevent anything. No one, not even the WHO, the AAP or the CDC can do this. They must all say that there are risks, and that the speculative “benefits” do not outweigh them.

    Let it be clear, the WHO has (blindly) endorsed circumcision in ADULT MEN, as an HIV prevention measure. In America, the only medical organization to come close to endorsing infant circumcision, as the WHO endorsing ONLY ADULT circumcision, is the CDC, but it still pulls back, says it’s not enough, weasels out and says “it’s the parent’s decision.” “Experts” (or rather, the authors behind the circumcision “studies” themselves) keep insinuating that the CDC and the AAP “are about to change their position,” but they’ve been saying this since 2006, and they don’t move any closer to doing so.

    The trend of opinion on routine male circumcision is overwhelmingly negative in industrialized nations, that no respected medical board in the world recommends circumcision for infants, not even in the name of HIV prevention. They must all point to the risks, and they must all state that there is no convincing evidence that the benefits outweigh these risks. To do otherwise would be to take an unfounded position against the best medical authorities of the West. If the CDC or AAP ever budge, they’d be making fools of themselves.

    The following is a list of position statements of medical organizations around the world:

    United States of America
    “The British Medical Association has a longstanding recommendation that circumcision should be performed only for medical reasons… Recent policy statements issued by professional societies representing Australian, Canadian, and American pediatricians do not recommend routine circumcision of male newborns”.
    ~AMA Report 10 of the Council on Scientific Affairs

    “…benefits are not sufficient for the American Academy of Pediatrics to recommend that all infant boys be circumcised.”
    ~American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

    “…the association between having a sexually transmitted disease (STD) – excluding human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and being circumcised are inconclusive… most of the studies [of the effect of circumcision on HIV] …have been conducted in developing countries, particularly those in Africa. Because of the challenges with maintaining good hygiene and access to condoms, these results are probably not generalizable to the U.S. population”.
    ~AAFP “Position Paper on Neonatal Circumcision”

    Canada
    “Current understanding of the benefits, risks and potential harm of this procedure no longer supports this practice for prophylactic health benefit. Routine infant male circumcision performed on a healthy infant is now considered a non-therapeutic and medically unnecessary intervention.”
    ~College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia

    “[We] do not support recommending circumcision as a routine procedure for newborns.”
    ~The Canadian Paediatric Society

    Britain
    “The BMA considers that the evidence concerning health benefits from non-therapeutic circumcision is insufficient for this alone to be a justification for doing it.”
    ~The British Medical Association

    Australia
    The Royal Australasian College of Physicians stated in 2010 that the foreskin “exists to protect the glans” and that it is a “primary sensory part of the penis, containing some of the most sensitive areas of the penis.”

    Netherlands
    In the Netherlands, the Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) issued a statement in 2010 stating that “The official viewpoint of KNMG and other related medical/scientific organizations is that non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors is a violation of children’s rights to autonomy and physical integrity.” Circumcision can cause complications, including infection and bleeding, and are asking doctors to insistently inform parents that the procedure lacks medical benefits and has a danger of complications. In addition to there not being any convincing evidence that circumcision is necessary or useful for hygiene or prevention, circumcision is not justifiable and is reasonable to put off until an age where any risk is relevant, and the boy can decide himself about possible intervention, or opt for available alternatives. They went on to say “There are good reasons for a legal prohibition of non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors, as exists for female genital mutilation.”

    The “experts,” are mainly pro-circumcision purporters, namely the “researchers” and authors of pro-circ literature (such as Ronald Gray, Aaron Tobian, Robert Bailey) etc., but this is mostly wishful thinking on behalf of these hopeful “researchers” who want action and acclaim based on their studies for self-vainglory.

    With the rest of the world not on-board the infant circumcision bandwagon, the AAP and the CDC will be defying the whole of modern medicine if they ever do endorse infant circumcision in the name of HIV prevention.

    As an afterthought, I want people to consider this; there is not a single medical organization in the world that endorses the circumcision of infants. They must all say that there are attending risks, and that the “benefits” do not outweigh these risks. One must ask him or herself, how given the “evidence,” entire medical organizations worldwide could not come to any reasonable conclusion regarding male infant circumcision, parents, most of whom have never even picked up a textbook on human anatomy, are still expected to take the EXACT SAME “EVIDENCE,” and somehow make a “decision.”

    You got that right.

    Entire medical organizations do not find the “evidence” compelling enough to recommend circumcision. But somehow, parents, most of whom never went to med school, are supposed to make a “decision” based on the same evidence.

    This professional irresponsibility is going to come back to haunt these organizations sooner or later.

  153. Stewart says

    Have to agree with the beginning of Joseph4GI’s long post (3 back); while I have heard no shortage of justifications of circumcision on the grounds of health, I have never heard one coming from someone who would not in any case circumcise their son for religious/traditional reasons. Essentially, it’s rationalising the act for people who want to seem more enlightened than those who have no shame in saying they’re doing it because god said so.

  154. Bill Yeager says

    If I may be so bold as to point out that the nature of my legalistic approach is as a very strong deterrent for the “upper-class twitdom” clearly evidenced in the original article.

    Whilst Walton and Ms Moderately appear to be presenting pro-circumcision (or at least pro status-quo) arguments based on the former’s retching convulsions at the mere thought of the lovely Jewish mother being incarcerated for something that the latter is, rather tediously, parroting pro-circumcision bad-science for, the neurological compulsion, or rather lack of, in regards to this crime is being roundly ignored.

    For example:
    Drug addicts have a neuro-chemical imbalance that can induce such a strong compulsion to habitually administer their drug of choice, no amount of preventative legislation will dissuade them from getting their drug, by fair means or foul. They, quite literally, cannot stop themselves. Their problem needs to be dealt with as a medical issue, not criminal.

    The normalisation of religious genital mutilation, however, whilst likely evidence of a psychological disorder to some degree, does not preclude the ‘Frightfully Fretful’ mother from making a choice that could, indeed, be firmly steered by the law. ‘FF’ would be absolutely mortified at the thought that, by permitting her son to have unnecessary genital alteration performed on him, she could end up with a criminal record. The straw-man hand-wringingly painful plea for the patriarchy to see what a good ‘FF’ Jewish mother she is, whilst still showing them her willingness to hand over her sons for ceremonial mutilation, would be far better to have seen written as a ranting diatribe against those who, by the instigation of their clear and firm legal ‘guidance’, have robbed her of the ability to have her babies foreskins hacked off.

    I would see it as a triumph and would gladly read every word of her anguished cry for unreason and blind tradition to be restored. I would bask in the warm glow of her hate for us who do not tug our forelocks (no, don’t go there) in legally mandated ‘respect’ for the right of her religious cult to continue their barbaric child abuse. Their god can wait for his blood sacrifice until the child becomes an adult. But, then, he will probably be quite attached to his genitalia, as is. C’est la vie!

  155. theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen says

    @ Joseph4GI

    “Health” is a cop-out. There is nobody on here, nobody in the world who circumcises their child “because it’s healthier,” EVER.

    No, but they may well believe that this is a valid argument. And it is good then that you raise this point so clearly. (However in the case I mentioned it is a wee bit late.)

    Stop trying to convince the rest of the world how much you mulled over mutilating your child. You were going to circumcise him anyway, “health benefits” or not.

    If you are addressing that statement to me, I will be happy to set your mind at ease. I assure you that I only have one, uncircumcised, adult daughter. I am merely sharing an anecdote of a case where an atheist has circumcised his child in the (mistaken, it would appear) belief that it would be in his son’s best interests.

    Wrt the use of circumcision in preventative health, you have certainly made your point. Unfortunately many in the medical profession do not share your point of view (and likely for the worst as you argue). Certainly the situation has been changing for the better in South Africa ito the efforts made to turn people away from the practice.

    @ Stewart

    I have never heard one coming from someone who would not in any case circumcise their son for religious/traditional reasons

    I have given an example above. I do not doubt that he feels that his decision is not religious/traditional and in the child’s best interests. (Even if he is mistaken in fact.)

  156. Stewart says

    I was trying to be precise and limit my comment to my experience. Perhaps more to the point, I’ve been witness to a health argument being pushed forcefully (at another person) when the tribal custom motivation was obviously the original impetus, and was actively being denied.

  157. theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen says

    @ Stewart

    I have heard the health argument (couched in purely secular/medical terms) used before in South Africa. I must confess that circumcision is not something that I run into every day (I am no longer living there) and have perhaps not been as skeptical as I should have been with regard to these claims.

    However, given that circumcision is so rife in that country, I can well imagine that the motivation to promote circumcision as a medical solution might not be due always to medical reasons.

    Am I being cynical in thinking that a person supportive of the practice for reasons of religion or tradition might want to see it promoted as a more mainstream solution? (Setting aside the financial motivation for such surgery.)

  158. Stewart says

    Not cynical, realistic. I don’t think there are that many who genuinely enjoy being in the minority.

  159. says

    Whilst Walton and Ms Moderately appear to be presenting pro-circumcision (or at least pro status-quo) arguments

    Don’t leave anyone out, Bill Yeager.

    You also have to accuse Giliell of being pro-circumcision or pro-status-quo for #155 since she criticized your idea, and also julian for referring you to Walton’s earlier arguments via #151.

    While you’re at it, you should probably accuse JennieL of being pro-circumcision or pro-status-quo for strongly insinuating that criminal sanctions are not a good idea, SallyStrange for “like Walton” not being convinced that criminalization is worth the costs, Stacy for saying that Walton is not an apologist for circumcision, John Morales for saying Walton is not a child abuse apologist, Robert B. for saying that imprisonment or taking the kids away would be wrong, and Darwin Harmless for saying a law would mostly just drive circumcision underground.

    There is no room for disagreement. All of these people are in favor of circumcision or at least in favor the status quo.

    +++++
    By the way, did you overlook me talking about my cock earlier, or did you call me Ms in an attempt to tweak me?

    +++++

    pro-circumcision bad-science

    Where are the peer-reviewed studies criticising all the peer-reviewed studies which find some HIV protection from circumcision?

    This is the mark of an anti-scientific crank: you allege there’s something wrong with the science, but you don’t point to any actual science which helps your case.

  160. says

    And HIV, I think the “studies” are rubbish, but even if they were 100% accurate, a condom does a far better job.

    Another mark of an anti-scientific crank is putting scare-quotes around studies.

    «The most dramatic evidence [as of 2000] of the protective effect of circumcision comes from a new study of couples in Uganda who had discordant HIV status; in this study the woman was HIV positive and her male partner was not. No new infections occurred among any of the 50 circumcised men over 30 months, whereas 40 of 137 uncircumcised men became infected during this time. Both groups had been given free access to HIV testing, intensive instruction about preventing infection, and free condoms (which were continuously available), but 89% of the men never used condoms, and condom use did not seem to influence the rate of transmission of HIV. [...] Although condoms must remain the first choice for preventing the sexual transmission of HIV, they are often not used consistently or correctly, they may break during use, and there may be strong cultural and aesthetic objections to using them. Cultural and religious attitudes towards male circumcision are even more deeply held, but in the light of the evidence presented here circumcising males seems highly desirable, especially in countries with a high prevalence of HIV infection. Although neonatal circumcision is easy to perform, and has a low incidence of complications, it would be 15-20 years before a programme of circumcision had any effect on HIV transmission rates. Circumcision at puberty, as practised by many Muslim communities, would be the most immediately effective intervention for reducing HIV transmission since it would be done before young men are likely to become sexually active.»

  161. says

    (Researchers have yet to explain to us why the US, with 80% of the male population circumcised, has higher HIV transmission rates than Denmark, Japan, Germany, etc., where circumcision is rare.)

    If there are 1.2 million in the US with HIV, that’s 0.5% of the adult population. In Portugal, 0.6% of the adult population has HIV, and it’s 0.4% in France, Spain and Switzerland, and circumcision is rare in each of these countries. What accounts for the difference between Portugal and Germany? What accounts for any differences throughout Europe? What accounts for the concentration of HIV in coastal area within the United States? Your question is too simplistic.

  162. says

    Researchers have given explanations for the difference between Europe and Africa:

    [T]hree or four of these factors [multiple and concurrent sexual partners, absence of male circumcision, other sexually transmitted infections, and low condom use] are present in the largest epidemics. The presence of one or two alone is not sufficient to cause substantial epidemics. For example, male circumcision is rare in much of Western Europe, marriage is late, and most men and women have multiple partners during their sexually active years. Yet HIV prevalence is very low among heterosexuals in Western Europe. The likely explanation is the protective effect of condom use, the near absence of other STIs, and the lower prevalence of concurrent partnerships. In contrast, Southern Africa’s epidemics are very large because multiple and concurrent partnerships are relatively common, male circumcision and condom use are relatively rare, and other STIs are more prevalent.

    This piece is about pregnancy, but it shows the significant differences in how sex education is treated between Europe and the United States:

    Unfortunately, there is not a single, ‘silver bullet’ solution. Yet, the United States can use the experience of the Dutch, Germans, and French to guide its efforts to improve adolescents’ sexual health. Indeed, the United States can overcome obstacles and achieve social and cultural consensus respecting sexuality as a normal and healthy part of being human and of being a teen by using lessons learned from the European study tours.

    • Adults in the Netherlands, France, and Germany view young people as assets, not as problems. Adults value and respect adolescents and expect teens to act responsibly. Governments strongly support education and economic self-sufficiency for youth.
    • Research is the basis for public policies to reduce unintended pregnancy, abortion, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Political and religious interest groups have little influence on public health policy.
    • A national desire to reduce the number of abortions and to prevent sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, provides the major impetus in each country for unimpeded access to contraception, including condoms, consistent sexuality education, and widespread public education campaigns.
    • Governments support massive, consistent, long-term public education campaigns utilizing the Internet, television, films, radio, billboards, discos, pharmacies, and health care providers. Media is a partner, not a problem, in these campaigns. Campaigns are far more direct and humorous than in the U.S. and focus on safety and pleasure.
    • Youth have convenient access to free or low-cost contraception through national health insurance.
    • Sexuality education is not necessarily a separate curriculum and may be integrated across school subjects and at all grade levels. Educators provide accurate and complete information in response to students’ questions.
    • Families have open, honest, consistent discussions with teens about sexuality and support the role of educators and health care providers in making sexual health information and services available for teens.
    • Adults see intimate sexual relationships as normal and natural for older adolescents, a positive component of emotionally healthy maturation. At the same time, young people believe it is “stupid and irresponsible” to have sex without protection and use the maxim, “safer sex or no sex.”

    The lack of circumcision is not alleged by anyone to be the only factor in HIV transmission, so pointing to differences between the USA and Europe — which have major differences in sex education, condom use, regulation and the availability of medical care for prostitutes, medical care for STIs in the general population, and treatment of intravenous drug users — cannot tell us much about circumcision. There are many other major confounding factors.

  163. says

    Viruses do not discriminate.

    When it infects the body, it makes absolutely no difference whether a man is circumcised or not.

    That’s because circumcision affects whether HIV infects the body in the first place.

    «About 70% of men infected with HIV have acquired the virus through vaginal sex, and a smaller number have acquired it from insertive anal intercourse. Thus, on a global scale most men who are HIV positive have acquired the virus via the penis. This raises questions of how HIV enters the penis and why men who are uncircumcised are potentially more susceptible to becoming infected with HIV.

    The uncircumcised penis consists of the penile shaft, glans, urethral meatus, inner and outer surface of the foreskin, and the frenulum, the thin band connecting the inner foreskin to the ventral aspect of the glans. A keratinised, stratified squamous epithelium covers the penile shaft and outer surface of the foreskin. This provides a protective barrier against HIV infection. In contrast, the inner mucosal surface of the foreskin is not keratinised and is rich in Langerhans’ cells, making it particularly susceptible to the virus. This is particularly important because during heterosexual intercourse the foreskin is pulled back down the shaft of the penis, and the whole inner surface of the foreskin is exposed to vaginal secretions, providing a large area where HIV transmission could take place.»

  164. David Marjanović says

    I’m with comment 102.

    Circumcision is about as “harmful” as having a baby’s ears pierced. What’s the big deal?

    *blink*

    You’re trolling. You’ve been on Pharyngula long enough to know what the many deals are.

    what intrigues me is why it is the genitals that are so often chosen to perform such operations on. What is it in the human mind that makes human beings in many different parts of the world perform such operations?

    Circumcision, especially the more extreme forms (you mention Australia…), make conception less likely. Thus, the alpha male can be surer that all his wives’ children are his, even if he hasn’t got them all under surveillance all the time.

    If your teenage son complains that he wants to be circumcised because no one wants to have sex with him

    Is that so in the US? :-S

    Loss of clitoris would be roughly comparable to loss of the entire tip of the penis.

    Rather the entire penis (but that wouldn’t matter for sexual sensitivity).

    And I don’t know if hospitals would be much better. From what my mother (great data point, I know lol) tells me, I was done without any kind of numbing agent. I supposedly screamed enough to convince her not to do my brother.

    Casual extreme cruelty in America.

    the sensitivity of the usually protected glans

    …is not to be underestimated. If I were circumcised now, I couldn’t wear clothes for weeks, till the mucosa on the glans had thickened and keratinized and consequently lost a lot of sensitivity.

    Not everyone who has been circumsised had been so during infancy. Many had sex with foreskin, then got circumsised, then tried it without. I don’t remember any exact data, but I think the general consensus is that the foreskin is a good thing.

    Those with a strong stomach and lots of time on their hands should search Pharyngula on ScienceBlogs. There have been many very long, very heated circumcision threads with lots of people describing the history of their penes in detail.

    Suppose I made a statement “Circumsized men enjoy sex more than do un-circumcised men.”

    It would be fair for someone to ask “Where did you get that? What’s the authority? Any studies?”

    If I responded with “That’s a ridiculous question” or “Go look it up yourself” then you would laugh.

    Since the situation is mirror image, let me do the laughing.

    Why don’t you look it up yourself? Why should we do all your homework for you?

    removing the foreskin, by removing tens of thousands of specialised nerve-endings, makes orgasm more difficult to achieve and therefore more of a goal, with less emphasis on the pleasures of the journey

    FWIW, I find this very easy to imagine.

    I had a recent conversation with a friend (an atheist no less) who recently allowed his son to be circumcised. The decision came down to health in the end. What seems crazy (and I would agree) in a ‘Merkin or European context makes far more sense in a (South) African context where little boys spend their days in the dirt and don’t listen to their mommies to wash their peepees. As a result a fair number of kids end up having to undergo this procedure.

    This may say more about my own peepee than about anything else, but… I find this very difficult to imagine.

    FWIW, I played in sandboxes a lot, and they really weren’t sterile.

    the father is circumcised and he doesn’t want to feel insecure next to his son

    That seems to be a common reason in the US, but it baffles me, too. My penis doesn’t look like my dad’s or my brother’s, and those two don’t look like each other either.

    This is particularly important because during heterosexual intercourse the foreskin is pulled back down the shaft of the penis, and the whole inner surface of the foreskin is exposed to vaginal secretions, providing a large area where HIV transmission could take place.

    Subclinical phimosis FTW, then?

  165. says

    Is that so in the US? :-S

    It happens that plenty of people the US have some degree of preference for handling circumcised penises. I don’t know how often that results in real problems for uncircumcised men.

    Subclinical phimosis FTW, then?

    Heh. I couldn’t guess. Seems like the value of that would depend on the quantity of vaginal lubrication, which is partly a function of arousal.

  166. Bill Yeager says

    Oh Moderately, you are such a tool. I mean that affectionately, umm, no, scratch that, I just mean it as it is, you are.

    Attempting to rope in to your cause the few other commentators who had mentioned having reservations about a legalistic approach to preventing unnecessary genital alteration is a bit like saying, “Sure, Walton and I may have shit on the bed, the floor and the surrounding furniture, but, hey, some of the others in the room farted, so they’re just as bad as us!”

    What Darwin harmless actually said, as opposed to what you quote- mined, was:

    “I think a law is never going end infant male circumcision. At best it will reduce it slightly and drive it underground. But the great value of proposing such a law is that it gets people talking and examining the issue.

    Do you see that? Do you? Marvellous isn’t it, being honest in one’s reply. You should try it sometime.

    And as for:

    “It happens that plenty of people the US have some degree of preference for handling circumcised penises. I don’t know how often that results in real problems for uncircumcised men.”

    You see, this is where honesty appears to be a bit of a problem area for you again. Perhaps it is something you should address with your therapist. May I ask what figure ‘plenty’ is purported to be in this instance or, perhaps, enquire as to the volume in cubic-metres of your ignorance when following up your confident declaration with “I don’t know”. I don’t need accurate numbers, just make something up that sounds right to you and assumes a degree of stupidity in your reader that allows you imagine that we don’t actually see the true dishonesty of your statement, oh, hang on, you did.

    If you actually point your search engine towards websites that provide more than ample evidence to disprove your bad-science, you’ll find that every single weak and sickly argument you propose to support circumcision for, alleged, health benefits, is, in fact, utter crap.

    http://www.circumstitions.com/HIV-SA.html

    I don’t think I really need to quote-mine that website, a cursory scan reveals that they have done quite the job on refuting your pro-circumcision argument. But feel free to squat and deliver unto us more of the same mealy-minded weasel-worded dishonest critique.

  167. says

    Attempting to rope in to your cause the few other commentators who had mentioned having reservations about a legalistic approach

    demonstrates that objecting to criminalization of circumcision is not so limited as you’d like. If you see reason to exclude Darwin Harmless from your criticism, go ahead, but you should be calling the rest pro-circumcision or pro-status-quo if you’re going to be consistent.

    “I think a law is never going end infant male circumcision. At best it will reduce it slightly and drive it underground. But the great value of proposing such a law is that it gets people talking and examining the issue.“

    You seem to think that because I didn’t focus on something you’d prefer me to focus on, there’s something wrong with that. No; there’s something wrong with you, that you expect everyone else should be focusing on what you want them to focus on. I don’t have anything to say about Darwin Harmless’s “great value of proposing such a law”. Some things are worth discussing; some are wastes of time; I’m not sure which this is.

    But let’s remember that Darwin Harmless made that comment before yours, and so it does not imply agreement that your extremist measures are worth discussing. Presumably, since the San Francisco law was originally under discussion, Darwin Harmless was referring to that.

    May I ask what figure ‘plenty’ is purported to be in this instance or, perhaps, enquire as to the volume in cubic-metres of your ignorance when following up your confident declaration with “I don’t know”. I don’t need accurate numbers, just make something up that sounds right to you

    I was reporting what I have heard personally, which I expect would be sufficient reply for my acquaintance David. I have never spoken in person to anyone who expressed a preference for uncircumcised penises. I have many times spoken in person with people who expressed a preference for circumcised penises, and that is also my preference.

    If you want numbers, Williamson and Williamson found that 71% of women the women they interviewed in 1988 preferred circumcised penises for sexual intercourse, 6% preferred uncircumcised, and 23% expressed no preference. Those numbers were 75%, 5% and 20% for handjobs; 83%, 2% and 15% for fellatio.

    Wildman et al in 1976 showed women a pictures of a circumcised and uncircumcised penis and found that 89% preferred circumcised, and 11% preferred uncircumcised.

    I would expect preferences for circumcised penises to be less strong today, because circumcision rates have declined somewhat. Nevertheless, rates are still high, so we can expect that preferences still tend toward circumcision.

  168. says

    Preferences are of course different outside the United States. Bensley and Boyle in 2000 found that the Australian women they interviewed who indicated a preference split 50/50. Gay men who expressed a preference went 58% for circumcised.

    If you actually point your search engine towards websites that provide more than ample evidence to disprove your bad-science

    Again, how about you show some peer-reviewed responses to the peer-reviewed evidence? You link to hughintactive’s personal website, which has already been cited by him above. Where is the peer-reviewed science?

    I note that according to hughintactive, “you would have to circumcise 56 men to prevent one of them contracting HIV in one year.”

    Okay. And? It’s a 53% relative risk reduction. That’s not bad at all. There is of course a question of cost efficiency, and I can’t speak about the more complicated issues of public health like that. But the case for HIV protection per se is clear.

  169. Bill Yeager says

    It’s a relative risk reduction, not absolute risk!

    I note that according to hughintactive, “you would have to circumcise 56 men to prevent one of them contracting HIV in one year.”

    Okay. And? It’s a 53% relative risk reduction. That’s not bad at all.

    Urgh, again with the dishonesty. You didn’t feel like including the rest of that statistic from circumstitions? Never mind, I’ll save you having to continue your diuretic back-to-back multi-postings:

    it will take 56 circumcisions to prevent one case of HIV per year . . .and fail to prevent one.

    Even ignoring, as you seem so hell-bent on doing, the actual truth concerning these alleged benefits in reducing the rate of infection, how about factoring in the understanding that, if you tell a nation of ignorant men that circumcision will protect them (not the women they sleep with, by the way) from STD’s, which is what is happening in these situations, you entirely overlook the fact that this will only serve to give them further cause and justification to ignore safe-sex practices.

    So the ‘case for HIV “protection”‘ is clear, don’t use circumcision as an excuse for men to keep fucking around without condoms.

  170. says

    It’s a relative risk reduction, not absolute risk!

    Why would you repeat this after I just said it was a relative risk reduction? Are you having trouble reading?

    it will take 56 circumcisions to prevent one case of HIV per year . . .and fail to prevent one.

    Nobody ever said that circumcisions would prevent all HIV cases. I’m not sure why you think this is an important statement; I’m not sure why Hugh included it in the first place, either, except as some kind of FUD.

    Maybe you can explain to me what I’m misunderstanding here. I consciously excluded that because it goes without saying. Are you suggesting that it does not go without saying? Are you suggesting there was some reason to think that circumcision would prevent all new HIV cases?

    Even ignoring, as you seem so hell-bent on doing, the actual truth concerning these alleged benefits in reducing the rate of infection

    If there is some other actual truth than what I’ve presented, why don’t you point to the peer reviewed scientific studies which state this obscure truth?

    you entirely overlook the fact that this will only serve to give them further cause and justification to ignore safe-sex practices.

    Now that is a possibility. However, you state it as though it is established fact without nuance, while if you would read the scientific literature, you would know it is a topic of much debate among public health professionals.

    Again, I hold that these more complex public health issues are ones we ought to consider the value of not having a strong opinion about.

    Keep in mind that I don’t know anyone who lives in Africa, and I don’t post on websites which have significant African readership. I do think that it would be important to add caveats about this, but again we should not lose track of how rare condom use already is in some regions. Circumcision is most likely to be a net good where condom use is already lowest.

  171. says

    «All three randomized controlled trials recently conducted in Africa to determine the effect of MC on HIV transmission were stopped early by their ethical review boards as a result of overwhelming evidence of significantly lower HIV incidence in men who underwent circumcision as compared with those who remained uncircumcised [6–8]. The results were comparable to optimistic hopes for a highly effective vaccine [9], and were consistent with dozens of studies over the prior 20 years [10–12], in addition to a wealth of ecological data consistently showing much higher rates of HIV infection in those regions of Africa (and southeast Asia) where most men are not circumcised [2–5,12–14]. While the main, directly protective effect of MC is for men, in places where many men are circumcised large numbers of women will also end up benefiting as they will be less likely to have sex with an infected male. [...]

    Certainly, the potential for ‘risk compensation,’ or a potential increase in risky behavior subsequent to adopting a preventive measure such as MC (or a future vaccine), is an important concern to be closely monitored and addressed [23]. However, circumcision appears akin to a ‘strong immunization’, whose benefits would probably be extremely difficult to offset through such behavioral disinhibition (and a recent community-based study from rural Kenya suggests that within the context of adequate counseling, disinhibition from MC may be unlikely [24]). That said, clearly it will be vital to counter the possibility of risk compensation through effective counseling, education and communication programs that emphasize the continuing need for less risky sexual behavior, for example avoiding multiple concurrent partnerships and practicing correct and consistent condom use.

    The ultimate population-level impact of MC would be further amplified by a ‘herd immunity’ phenomenon if a sufficiently large proportion of men were to become circumcised in the population. Many vaccines which are considerably less than 100% effective at the individual level (e.g., the childhood measles vaccine), have proven quite effective at the population level, if coverage rates are high [25]. This herd-immunity effect is clearly suggested by historical ecological data; for example, MC is universal in most of west/central Africa, which continues to have much lower HIV rates than in the rest of the continent, even though the pandemic began there over 80 years ago [1–5,11–14,26]. Modeling suggests that widespread circumcision in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa could avert up to 2 million new HIV cases and 300,000 deaths over the next 10 years, and 3.7 million infections and 2.7 million deaths in the following 10 years, many of those among women [27]. This would not only save millions of lives, but would also abate the need for large future expenditures of AIDS medications, hence, studies have demonstrated that MC would be a highly cost-effective intervention in the longer term [28].»

  172. says

    It turns out the CDC’s 2007 consultation did result in at least one paper:

    «In April 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) held a two-day consultation with a broad spectrum of stakeholders to obtain input on the potential role of male circumcision (MC) in preventing transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the U.S. Working groups summarized data and discussed issues about the use of MC for prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections among men who have sex with women, men who have sex with men (MSM), and newborn males. Consultants suggested that (1) sufficient evidence exists to propose that heterosexually active males be informed about the significant but partial efficacy of MC in reducing risk for HIV acquisition and be provided with affordable access to voluntary, high-quality surgical and risk-reduction counseling services; (2) information about the potential health benefits and risks of MC should be presented to parents considering infant circumcision, and financial barriers to accessing MC should be removed; and (3) insufficient data exist about the impact (if any) of MC on HIV acquisition by MSM, and additional research is warranted. If MC is recommended as a public health method, information will be required on its acceptability and uptake. Especially critical will be efforts to understand how to develop effective, culturally appropriate public health messages to mitigate increases in sexual risk behavior among men, both those already circumcised and those who may elect MC to reduce their risk of acquiring HIV.»

  173. Jurjen S. says

    One thing that has actually drastically lowered the rate of neonatal male circumcision in the United States is health insurance companies refusing to pay for it if there’s no medical justification for it. That fact alone seems to have been instrumental in reducing the practice from being performed routinely to it becoming a curiosity.

  174. Michael Steane says

    1. Female circumcision is not comparable to male circumcision: that depends upon what exactly is involved. Even the drawing of a symbolic drop of blood from an infant vagina is illegal and that is far less damaging than male circumcision. Females are protected where males are not. The arguments cultural, religious and medical are exactly the same for both sexes. (Note that the American medical profession makes absolutely enormous profits from this ritual and are therefore incapable of an independent opinion.)
    2. Circumcision (or cutting off a child’s pinky) is less harmful than removing the parent from the child’s life. Therefore, I propose that the penalty for a woman who allows her infant son to be circumcised should be that she should be circumcised,without an anasthetic. Make the punishment fit the crime.

  175. says

    Therefore, I propose that the penalty for a woman who allows her infant son to be circumcised should be that she should be circumcised,without an anasthetic. Make the punishment fit the crime.

    Well, and since the father probably has paid for his privilege to have the boy circumcised in advance, that’s obviously OK.
    There are usually 2 parents to a child. Telling that you only go after the mother.
    Apart, of course from another very stupid proposal. Eye for an eye? Glad to see we haven’t made any progress in the last few thousand years.

  176. Michael Steane says

    The father has probably already been circumcised, but if not, he should be circumcised without an anaesthetic too.
    AS for not making any progress in the last 2000 years, the continuation of this practice is what suggest we have not.

    If the penalties I have just suggested were applied they would not have to be applied very often since the practice would very soon stop.

    No more soul searching for Ophelia Benson. She could write about real pain. Her own. Instead of her sons’.

  177. says

    If the penalties I have just suggested were applied they would not have to be applied very often since the practice would very soon stop.

    Yes, that probably explains why women who have been circumcised as primaryschool children and young teens still have their own daughters circumcised. And why the death penalty totally reduces violent crime.
    You’re either very naive or just a bit bloodthirsty.

  178. Michael Steane says

    That, of course, has little bearing on whether imposing this practice on adults would bring about a reduction in the abuse against children.

  179. says

    @love moderately #137

    They’re self-selected like any other population of men who are circumcised as adults, but the incentive for self-selection is probably valuable enough to bring in many who would not otherwise choose this.

    Yet men who enjoy their foreskins would still tend to hang back.

    .

    Actually it is much more probable. See for example this straw poll of men at Burning Man this year. Other (admittedly self-selecting, but anonymous) polls have had simiilar results.

    An informal poll of hippies and hipsters, posted on an anti-circumcision website, is right next to worthless. Do you mean to say you can’t find any scientific surveys?

    And what is it about hippies and hipsters that disqualifies them? And how does posting it on a website retrospectively affect the outcome? (It’s a jpg of a sheet on a noticboard, hard to tamper with.) It hardly surprises me that I can’t find scientific surveys. It’s the kind of thing that gets IgNobel awards, and would have commentators on Fox News complaining about the money spent. To prove that men with all their genitals are significantly much more likely to be happy that way than men with part of their genitals cut off? I don’t know if there is even anectodotal evidence about women.

  180. says

    What brought non-therapeutic infant circumcision from nearly universal to a virtual halt in New Zealand – at least among non-Pacific-Islanders – was an end to public funding of it, and a “sleeping dogs” policy by doctors and hospitla – it wasn’t offered.

    While it’s presented as “an important decision that parents have to make” in the USA (and they can be asked repeatedly until they decide to circumcise), it will drag on.

    @Love moderately #195

    I’m not sure why Hugh included it in the first place, either, except as some kind of FUD.

    Funny you should say that, when circumcision has be promoted for the sake of nothing but FUD for about 4000 years.

    I posted the Number Needed to Treat (an optimistic one arising from the RCTs), because that is the better and more common way to present protective effects. You could say “Getting circumcised will have less than one chance in 50 of protecting you against HIV” for even more dramatic effect. And that’s in Africa. In a developed country it would be in the hundreds. NNTs for most treatments considered effective are in single figures.

    #192 The Williamson and Williamson study of women’s preference is a crock that we now know was rigged.

  181. says

    I have taken Jo S Wun’s version of Stewart’s flowchart, and made a comple of small refinements. Since a medically necessary circumcision would (sadly) override a minor’s unwillingness, I have switched two of the questions. The result is on my front page, or here.

  182. Sonny Vizzle says

    International doctors’ organizations condemn the AAP’s stance on circumcision

    Since the anniversary of the AAP’s statement is coming soon (the AAP’s statement was made on August 27, 2012), it might be worth it to do a news story about the condemnation of the AAP’s statement on infant male circumcision by 38 doctors representing various international medical associations. This is groundbreaking and historic. Why? When was the last time you have heard of so many doctors and their organizations condemning another doctors’ organization?

    I am including a reference to the American Academy of Pediatrics own journal which presents the international condemnation of the AAP:

    Cultural Bias in the AAP’s 2012 Technical Report and Policy Statement on Male Circumcision
    http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/03/12/peds.2012-2896.full.pdf
    http://knmg.artsennet.nl/Nieuws/Nieuwsarchief/Nieuwsbericht-1/International-physicians-protest-against-American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-policy-on-infant-male-circumcision.htm

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>