The FGM Detectives and spurious comparisons: trampling over the victims of male circumcision


There’s something of a rule that has evolved over the years, in discussions and debates about female genital mutilation. Call it a matter of etiquette, if you like, or even a tactical ploy, but the rule is this:

When people are discussing FGM, please do not attempt to expand or divert the discussion onto male circumcision.

It’s a rule not everyone accepts or sticks to, but I try my best to do so for the following two reasons, both of which I find persuasive:

Firstly, the social and political contexts to the two practices are different. Male circumcision or MGM is widely normalised and accepted in many parts of the world, including the culturally-dominant USA. It is considered a religious and cultural obligation by around 1.5 billion Muslims and Jews around the world. Challenging and (hopefully eventually) eradicating the practise globally is a gargantuan, long-term project and we are undoubtedly generations away from succeeding. By conflating FGM and MGM we risk diluting and losing ground on the far more attainable goal of eradicating FGM.

Secondly, there is a practical matter of how debates around gender issues are conducted. Often when men step into a debate about women’s issues to demand to know why we aren’t talking about men’s issues instead – or as well, this is not perceived as a compassionate attempt to consider the needs of forgotten victims. It is perceived (often, but not always, correctly) as an attempt to undermine and derail the original efforts, to prevent intellectual and political progress. It is seen, bluntly, as men telling the feminists to shut up and stop whinging because women’s issues are nothing special.

We could spend all day debating the rights and wrongs of that, and that is the precise problem. Very quickly you find you have indeed spent the day fighting the FGM campaigners or the feminists or whoever, and achieving precisely diddly-squat towards your supposed objectives for either side.

So, as much for practical reasons of realpolitik as anything else, I am happy to say yes, if we care about both FGM and MGM, let’s have a conversation over there about FGM and let’s have a conversation over here about MGM and maybe if we stop treating it as a competition for who has it worse and instead as a pair of similar but distinct issues, maybe we’ll all make more progress much faster, not to mention staying much more friendly.

You might be thinking at this point that there is a third reason that I have missed, which is commonly cited for not comparing male and female genital mutilation. Usually when the point is raised, someone will say “well there simply isn’t a comparison. Male circumcision is a common, harmless, even beneficial procedure conducted under clinical conditions which rarely causes anyone any problems, whereas female genital mutilation is a brutal gruesome torture in which the clitoris is gouged out or the vagina sewn up.”

The reason  I don’t make that argument is because it is not actually true, or at least it is a bit more complicated than that. The reality for untold millions of boys around the world is that circumcision is conducted in unsanitary conditions with dirty blades or scissors, without anaesthetic or antibiotics. In much of the world there is literally no epidemiological data about morbidity and mortality, we have no idea how many children are left with gangrenous or mutilated penises, how many deaths there are from sepsis or shock. We do know that where figures are collected – specifically in South Africa and a few other countries in Southern Africa, the statistics are horrific. A good year is when only a few dozen boys die from the suppurating wounds of their butchered genitals. In a bad year it rises into the hundreds. Countless thousands more are left with life-altering deformities and sexual dysfunction. South Africa, the birthplace of Christian Barnard and heart transplantation, now leads the world in the science of penis transplants.

Even here in Britain, where conditions are clean, clinical circumcisions are an option and medical treatment free, urology departments are kept busy with a constant supply of botched circumcisions needing repaired or re-performed. No national statistics are collected but one single hospital can see over a hundred such cases in one year.  And yes, children die. I’ve mentioned before that in 2012 I sat in on some of the trial of Grace Adeleye here in Manchester and will never lose the image of the hollow, devastated faces of the parents of Goodluck Caubergs, a beautiful little boy who bled to death after having his penis ripped apart with scissors on their own kitchen table, by Adeleye, an untrained midwife.

The situation is not that simple with FGM either. Of the various procedures of FGM which are practised around the world, a significant minority are so-called Type IV. This is a catch-all category which can include a pin-prick or scalpel nick, or a labial piercing.

And this, finally, leads me on to the Channel 4 documentary the FGM Detectives which, as described in my previous post, portrayed a two-year effort to prosecute a father for suspected Type IV FGM.

As I mentioned last time, there were several points in the documentary that had me literally shouting in outrage and anger at the telly, at the incompetence, arrogance and thinly veiled racism on display from the detectives who were supposed to be the stars of the show.  Amongst the comments that still, 36 hours later, have me twitching in bilious anger were these, from DCI Leanne Pook.

“If we had people running around with razor blades taking little chunks out of kids, I just think, you know what, if we had a little white girl here and we took off the tip of her finger there would be bloody outrage.”

“When I first got myself involved in this [my colleagues] would say “Oh Leanne why have you got yourself caught up in this? I nearly got myself a little guillotine made so that when the blokes gave me any grief I could say “well you get your bits out and we’ll chop off this much and then we’ll carry on the conversation when you feel well enough.”

When she made the latter comment, a charity worker beside her chipped in in agreement:

“I’m sorry but if that was a British, white child I don’t think they would say ‘oh a little nick, that won’t hurt her.’“

No.

You do not get to do this. You do NOT get to fucking do this.

If we want a consensus that we don’t derail the issue of FGM by bringing up male circumcision, then you simply do not get to emphasise the horrors of what can happen to little girls by downplaying and disregarding the horrors of what can happen to little boys, what really is happening to little boys right here, right now.

The truth of the matter is that we do have “people running around with razor blades taking little chunks out of kids.” The truth of the matter is that until someone noticed just a few weeks ago, you could – quite legally – buy a home circumcision kit on fucking amazon.co.uk.

The truth of the matter is that a few years ago in Bristol, within a few miles of where Pook was speaking at that moment, a baby boy fractured his skull after he fell off a kitchen table while being circumcised by someone “running around with a razor blade taking little chunks off kids.”  

The truth of the matter is that people do indeed say of little (black, brown and) white kids, “Oh a little snip, that won’t hurt him.”

As someone with an active interest in the health and wellbeing of boys and men, and the politics around it, I do not want the debates about male circumcision to detract from the issue of FGM ever, in any way. I am utterly committed to supporting the fight against FGM however I can. I will commit to trying wherever possible to keep the issues distinct and separate.

In return, I say to anyone involved in the fight against FGM, you do not get to use your ignorance and overt indifference to the suffering of the victims of male genital mutilation as a punchline or a performance.

Deal?

Comments

  1. agender says

    This is very reasonable, Ally.
    But public discourses (plural!?!) have never run resonably for more than very short amounts of time.
    I do hope that freethoughtblogs have enough traction to get each person specializing in FGM to look at the logic you presented here, and not bring up this risky mix of FGM and MGM by themselves, but be prepared that it will somehow.
    I have had to do with FGM long enough, and have basic knowledge of anatomy and physiology (though no exam) to appreciate your precise description of MGM – the risk and the problem, that the low-risk approach towards FGM Type IV is not enough to ever make sure that all children (the third group with a risk to be cut are intersexes) get “Habeas Corpus”-rights against their parents and the religious circumstances they may be born into.
    Children with medical conditions who need some operation before they can rationally understand are numerous enough!

  2. says

    It may be helpful to point out that many thoughtful #EndFGM activists agree with you that MGM is also completely unacceptable, at least for minors. In my view neither will end completely whilst the other continues; and both are dangerous to health (even to life) as well as breaches of human rights.

    My “Female Mutilation” book includes reference to some who continue to want FGM and complain that it’s ‘not fair’ that males can have circumcision, but females are disallowed. And the ‘benefits’ of MGM for HIV avoidance – if these are real, which is debateable – have not really to the best of my knowledge included analysis of the possible impacts on women of this procedure.

    But I do also wonder, since most legal matters in most countries around the globe are still enforced by men, whether their non-declared intact (or otherwise) status has any bearing on such matters? (And yes, I realise also that especially some older women may also think there’s not much to worry about, even before we get to the so-called religious claims.)

    This issue may be especially complex because only a few men are prepared to speak out in person on the subject.

    Both FGM and MGM are, as I understand things, assault, if conducted on minors, who by default cannot give informed consent.

  3. StillGjenganger says

    @Hillary Burrage 2
    Surely it is not that hard to find men willing to speak out? As a case in point I had mine done as an adult, for medical reasons, and I see absolutely no difference between ‘before’ and ‘after’ – apart from aesthetics and an increased ease of cleaning. So I classify circumcision together with all the other things parents force on their children without informed consent: what language to speak, what culture to grow up in, what faith or lack of it to be inducted to, what school to go to, what time to go to bed, …

    If it is hard to find men willing to say the things you want to hear, could it be that most of them see no good reason to agree with you?

  4. says

    There is no medical benefit to circumcision in most cases. If you are passing about a litre of urine per day, and not suffering from an infection of the kidneys or bladder, then the human penis is entirely self-cleaning. And while it’s possible for an organism to adapt rapidly to an environmental change (for instance, our stomach acid has become a whole pH point higher — i.e., ten times weaker — since humans began cooking our food), circumcision has never been anywhere as nearly universally practised as cooking.

    It takes a hell of a lot of post-hoc rationalisation to get to sleep at night, knowing you subjected your sons to an unnecessary and dangerous procedure which will reduce the pleasure they will get from sex, for no good reason; or to forgive your parents for doing something like that to you. Fortunately, post-hoc rationalisation is something we humans are very good at.

    In the past, it was not at all certain for a boy to survive to puberty. Complications of circumcision barely registered among all the other possible causes of infant mortality.

    But after 6000 years of ritual genital mutilation (if not more; some of the civilisations that predate Judaism might well have practised circumcision) it has become very hard to change people’s minds. One pro-circumcision religion in particular has an entire body of scholars dedicated to generating post-hoc rationalisations for their beliefs in the face of scientific discoveries. Another pro-circumcision religion was the victim of attempted genocide, still just about within living memory, and there remains an entirely understandable desire not to perpetuate the injustice against them.

    And then there are the communal showers and changing rooms in schools, with the consequent opportunity for boys who “look different down there” to be humiliated. Even this has been used to construct a link in a chain of post-hoc rationalisation for circumcision.

    The post-hoc rationalisation also works in reverse; a man who was circumcised as a child needs to believe that his parents made such an important decision for the best of reasons, because they loved him enough to do something that seemed so terrible rather than risk the dire consequences of going with what their hearts were telling them. (Even if those “dire consequences” were rather more likely to be short-term verbal bullying in the changing rooms after swimming or P.E., than an infection leading to death or amputation of the penis. This is not intended to trivialise verbal bullying, which can lead to mental health problems or even in extreme cases, even suicide; but just to acknowledge that with proper intervention, it probably is less serious than a venereal disease.) Circumcised men, including medical professionals, must dismiss arguments against circumcision which suggest that their parents could have loved them more.

    This is what opponents of male genital mutilation are up against; and unfortunately, I am not sure that much can be achieved against it as long as the spectre of female genital mutilation persists.

    @Hilary Burrage, #2: If anybody is seriously proposing circumcision as a justification for FGM (which came as news to me only because I refused even to consider seriously the possibility that anyone could actually think something so terrible), then this creates an unfortunate deadlock.

    I think you might be on to something, with the idea of the law being made by men — and probably, by men who were circumcised in infancy and have to justify that to themselves with feats of mental gymnastics.

    It has always seemed obvious to me that the goals of feminism (here used strictly in the “We believe that women deserve to be treated like human beings” sense, for the avoidance of doubt) are aligned with supporting some of the most vulnerable men in society, who don’t happen to be experiencing male privilege to anything like the same extent as some of the better-off men. For instance, the lowest-paid men in society don’t really earn appreciably more than the lowest-paid women — and have to consider themselves lucky to have a job at all. Telling these men they are “privileged” is, frankly, a kick in the teeth. A rising tide lifts all ships, and it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. And certainly no feminist I have ever met resents the idea of men benefiting even indirectly from their work. So I don’t have reason to suppose any real opponent of FGM would be in favour of non-therapeutic ritual circumcision. In my experience, the greatest proponents of “Who cares anyway? They’re only boys/men!” have been men.

    Full disclosure: I am transsexual. The thing that made such a good job of convincing everyone, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that I was a boy, was never subjected to unnecessary surgical alteration.

  5. StillGjenganger says

    This is not worth a long debate. I had that one once already, with Ally, and I have tried peoples’ patience quite enough recently. And, anyway, nobody will be convinced to change their mind whatever anyone says. But can we try to agree on the facts:

    – Circumcision is an irreversible body modification.
    – When performed on children it is without informed consent
    – If performed incorrectly or unprofessionally it risks dangerous consequences.
    – If performed correctly, under hygienic conditions,the risks are very small, surely comparable to e.g. dentistry.
    – There are no important medical benefits.Although opponents dispute this, It does seem to help a bit against HIV and certain female cancers, but it does not really matter either way. If circumcision is otherwise acceptable, any medical benefits add little to the argument. If it is otherwise uacceptable, the medical benefits are not enough to make the difference.
    – Any benefits, such as they are, are cultural. As such their value will be judged differently depending on your culture.
    – And – Bluerizlagirl – circumcision does not make any perceptible difference to sexual enjoyment. I have tried both, and since my crcumcision was for minor medical reasons I have no axe to grind either way.
    – For clarity: I would not dream of having any sons of mine circumcised; I find the whole thing invasive and unnecessary and have no reasons, either personal, cultural or anythiing else, to value the procedure.

    FGM is rightly condemned as inhererently dangerous and damaging. But since there are no such practical reasons to condemn circumcsion, it all becomes a matter of what your own culture says, and how far you want it to override the culture of others.
    – If you come from a circumcison culture, the procedure is improtant and valuable.
    – If you are a modern progressive who believes in the human rights declaration, the procedure is an abomination on ideological grounds, regardless of any damage it may or may not cause. And, for good measure, the benefits that the proponents see are judged as valueless, or worse, so that even the most tiny risk would be unjustifiable.
    – If you believe in peoples’ right to transmit their cullture to their children (in the absence of practical reasons to the contrary), you would leave the decision to the parents.

    And nothing in that calculus can be changed by discussion.

  6. That Guy says

    @StillGjenganger

    I like how you treat the ‘culture’ of respecting bodily autonomy of individuals as equal and equivalent to cultures that requires the ritual irreversible body-modification of non-consenting infants.

    What I’ve found odd, with no particular explanation forthcoming, is the divergence in between the US and the UK in terms of the prevalence of circumcision. The film “bad moms” has a scene where the protagonists discus uncircumcised penises, with comments that are far from positive. This was apparently funny enough to make the trailer, if you want to check out a sample of the dialog. I also remember passing through a forum of largely US-based young women (this is not nearly as bad as it sounds).

    The topic arose of whether or not these women would have their future sons circumcised, with most of the US based posters expressing disbelief that anyone would not- circumcise their children. Reasons given were that they didn’t want their kids made fun of, that they ‘look better’ they’re cleaner, etc, the usual stuff. Of course, someone made an analogy to FGM and the whole discussion went nuclear after that.

    Anyway, the point that I’m driving at is that in the UK, the discussion of circumcision revolves around things like ‘cultural values’ and becomes a potential minefield of antisemitism or islamaphobia, whereas in the US it is seemingly so universal as to challenge it paints yourself as some kind of new age aberrant who eschews signifiers of civilisation like shaving your pubic hair or having a gym membership.

    I think the two might be related. Not that there’s some kind of cover up by the foreskin cartel of the US, but rather the prevalence of circumcision in the US makes it much easier to discount the practice as all but harmless expression of your religion in the UK/western Europe. FGM, on the other hand, is seen as much more ‘foreign’, and is easier to mobilise public opinion against.

    I’d say that if male circumcision was not as prevalent in the cultural juggernaut that is the US, then male circumcision would be defined more in the mind of the public by these cases performed in unsanitary conditions, ending in injury or loss of life.

    In short, I get the feeling that the rage against FGM is in part driven by a level of racism, which is not to say that FGM is OK, just that some people do the right things for the wrong reasons. See for instance, any charity work done by the extreme right wing.

  7. That Guy says

    On a related note, I think there’s a deep well of insight to be had here regarding people’s anxiety around their private parts.

    I’m just now struck by the similarity of the justifications of male circumcision and the incel mysogynistic mythology that states women with prominent labia have engages in promiscuity. Both have their roots in some kind of aesthetic ‘cleanliness’, moral or otherwise.

  8. H. E. Pennypacker says

    As someone who is circumcised, I would appreciate it if you didn’t describe me and other circumcised men as mutilated. I find it extremely offensive that you would suggest my penis has been violently disfigured.

  9. StillGjenganger says

    @That Guy 6

    FGM, on the other hand, is seen as much more ‘foreign’, and is easier to mobilise public opinion against.

    Exactly right. Part of the opposition against FGM is surely based on feelings of cultural superiority, ignorance, and disdain for different cultures. With circumcision the situation is similar but the fault lines are different: atheist against religious, rootless individualist against more group-based forms of identity. There is nothing strange or wrong in that. Of course we want to promote the right way of seeing the world, and of course we think that our values happen to be the right ones (even though it is only true for me, Gjenganger, and everybody else has got it wrong 😉 ). And FGM really is a very bad thing, whatever you might think about cultural relativism.
    It just makes for some much needed humility and pragmatism to remember that we are trying to impose our views on people who have no more reason to agree with us than we have to agree with them.

  10. That Guy says

    @ H.E.

    How would you suggest I refer to your penis?

    @StillGjenganger

    Part of the opposition against FGM is surely based on feelings of cultural superiority, ignorance, and disdain for different cultures. With circumcision the situation is similar but the fault lines are different: atheist against religious, rootless individualist against more group-based forms of identity.

    Generally agree.

    we are trying to impose our views on people who have no more reason to agree with us than we have to agree with them.

    strong disagree. The violation of bodily autonomy of non consenting persons is at best a show of power over the helpless, and at worst, a corrosive agent to society.

    The practical solution, however, is not to have rich whitey dictate to other ethnic or cultural groups what is good for them, but to amplify and encourage the grassroots movements and voices within these groups, the like of which Ally references as being a success in combating the practice of FGM.

  11. 123454321 says

    How can anyone possible even remotely justify circumcision unrelated to medical surgery as anything other than barbaric mutilation? Well you’re off your fucking rocker if you do! And you’re fucking adding to the world-wide problem – not fucking helping at all. If you’re happy with your circumcision then fucking hooray and whoopty doo for you but don’t you go telling me that your opinion counts in favour of even one single baby boy having part of his cock chopped off at a few weeks old when he can’t give his consent. Fucking ridiculous.

    “As someone who is circumcised, I would appreciate it if you didn’t describe me and other circumcised men as mutilated. I find it extremely offensive that you would suggest my penis has been violently disfigured.”

    But it has been disfigured, and if it was done without your consent then it’s violently abusive too, isn’t it? What you said just there should absolutely not stop anyone from describing circumcision like this if we want to put a stop to this ridiculously absurd and highly damaging ritual. Surely? Fucking hell.

  12. StillGjenganger says

    @That Guy 10
    What you are saying does not work, logically. The importance of bodily autonomy and consent is not an objective fact, so it is a value. And it is not universal across human cultures, certainly not in the way you apply it, so it is a culture-dependent value. It is just that the culture is yours, and you feel very strongly about it. Now you can certainly say that this is crucially important, that everybody ought to agree with you, and that in this case you are fully justified in imposing your values on people who do not share them. But you cannot get away from the fact that you are doing exactly that.

    As you may have guessed, I do not necessarily find it immoral that a majority imposes its values on a minority (and anyway people do it all the time). But I do think that you have an obligation to acknowledge what you are doing – rather than taking it for granted that your values just happen to be the correct ones – and apply a bit more restraint as a consequence than you would otherwise have done.

  13. That Guy says

    @12

    Oh man, that gave me a good old chuckle. Sorry, but I’ve already been to high school and done the ‘baby’s first philosophy course’ so if you want to expand on your “buht how do we know that murhdur is wrong? what if itssa culture ‘hing?” argument, you can do so on the BBC bitesize revision website, if it’s still around.

    If, on the off chance you’re being sincere, you’ll find in my post that I didn’t make any reference to moral right or wrongness of whatever the what.

    What I did say is that violation of bodily autonomy always lies on a scale of demonstration of power over the individual or acts that are corrosive to society.

    Now, you can argue over whether it’s morally right or not til the cows come home, but the practical outcome is that it’s not all that pleasant to live in a society where people perform surgery on you without your consent, beat you up, rape you and generally don’t have any respect for the word ‘no’.

    And I’m nothing, if not practical 😉

  14. Carnation says

    So, this is wildly off-topic, and will understand if Ally deletes it…

    But, what is the deal with Spiked? It was once a Marxist journal? It’s like Breitbart but for the slightly brighter and even more obsessively weird.

    How did it arrive at its current position?

  15. says

    @StillGjenganger:

    Why are you so keen to give circumcision a “free pass”, while condemning female genital mutilation outright? Because your argument sounds to me like “any crime perpetrated against a woman or girl is automatically worse than the same crime perpetrated against a man or boy”.

    There seems to be an enormous effort to downplay the damage done by circumcision. Yet I would bet the farm that if it were invented tomorrow, it would never be allowed.

  16. StillGjenganger says

    @Bluerizlagirl 15

    We should not get into a long debate here, we are never going to agree no matter how long we argue. But since you ask:

    FGM clearly causes health problems, reduced bodily function, and suffering, also when performed correctly as intended. That is a strong reason to get rid of it (and for those who have done Philosophy 101, a reason that applies across cultures). Also it is done by a tiny minority in the UK, and is not bound up with an established religion, and so can be banned here with a minimum amount of fuss and distress. I suppose one could argue about the different types of FGM, but seeing that this is a serious problem and I know little about it, I am happy to keep my unsupported opinions out of it and leave the discussion to those who actually know something.

    I cannot see that circumcision causes any clear physical or medical problems when performed correctly. What problems there are are all about feelings and ideology (and bad medical standards). It is a crucial part of the religion and religious identity of Jews and Muslims, and so cannot be banned without causing significant offense to both groups and forcing them to change their religion. And in the US, where the main driver is seems to be cultural rather than religious it is still a matter of changing the culture of a large majority. Your own feelings and ideology may well dictate that this in an abomination that must be banned, but just how are you going to convince those who feel differently?

    There are many things that we might not introduce if we did not have them already : monarchy, alcohol, motorcycles, hunting, bacon, Christmas, Bonfire Night, … That is hardly a reason for banning the lot.

  17. Sans-sanity says

    @Still Gjenganger
    “FGM clearly causes health problems, reduced bodily function, and suffering, also when performed correctly as intended”

    FGM includes procedures that range from jaw dropping worse than male circumcision (i.e. infibulation) to some which are far more innocuous (i.e. type 4 “nick”). You can’t act like it’s presumed that “FGM” is automatically referring to the former when the incident which predicated this discussion was a hyper-reaction to an allegation of the latter.

  18. StillGjenganger says

    @Sans-sanity 17
    You are right, actually. That is what I was getting at with the waffle about “ I suppose one could argue about the different types of FGM“. To be exact I should probably have said ‘Some kinds of FGM’. You could certainly argue that type IV ought to be legal, if you wanted to. The thing is that the people who are fighting types I and II (which really are damaging) apparently made a strategical choice here. They could have accepted type IV and promoted it as a harmless alternative. Instead they decided to make it a clear choice by going against all types. They may have been motivated by squick and prejudice of course, but they may equally well have made a sensible decision that this was the best (or only) choice for getting rid of the bad stuff. For what it is worth I do have an uninformed opinion on this. But this is a serious problem, I know too little about it, and I would not want to end up damaging a good cause. I would really like to shut up and stay out of that part of the argument.

  19. That Guy says

    Happy IWD everyone,

    also happy to see that StillGjenganger is happy to admit he’s a fucking idiot 🙂

  20. Marduk says

    14. Its the successor of Living Marxism, the house publication of Revolutionary Communist Party (neo-con style Trots basically). Its an entire project, they have many networks into British institutions and a habit of starting their own competitors if they can’t achieve entryism. There are various accounts of their hijinks, there is a good but long piece in the London Review of Books here: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v32/n13/jenny-turner/who-are-they

    By being annoying contrarians on practically everything its axiomatic that they are quite good at showing up virtue signalling hypocrites and individual articles are sometimes quite good. Their main agendas end up being environmentalism, multiculturalism, free speech and to an extent, class because these are often issues where the fumbling and hedging starts when they are found in opposition with other right-on values. Its not like all their opinions are unhinged, sometimes the cosy concensus IS incorrect and increasingly nobody wants to break from the pack and get twitter mobbed. I would imagine Ally’s article prior to this is something they’d be quite happy to publish in Spiked for example (probably over Ally’s dead body but that is by the by), you’ll occasionally see people who aren’t Cadre speaking at their events when they’ve got an edgy point to make. That said they do also have some deranged and very offensive views, they certainly seem to like money (ideally from corporations nobody else will accept money from) and their agenda taken as a whole is deeply suspect and I think they are a fairly dangerous group (or aspire to being). Just to be clear about it.

  21. Jim Doyle says

    “What you are saying does not work, logically. The importance of bodily autonomy and consent is not an objective fact, so it is a value. And it is not universal across human cultures, certainly not in the way you apply it, so it is a culture-dependent value.”

    So is religious tolerance, and both religious tolerance and rejection of forced body modification rest on the Enlightenment reverence for the individual and the prerogatives of the individual. Cultural

    15. Well said. That sums up a good deal of the circumcision apologists’ actual position.

    16. “I cannot see that circumcision causes any clear physical or medical problems when performed correctly. What problems there are are all about feelings and ideology (and bad medical standards).”

    Removal of half the skin, an area which is heavily innervated, can only cause a huge loss of sensitivity and sexual function. That’s pretty obvious.

    “It may be helpful to point out that many thoughtful #EndFGM activists agree with you that MGM is also completely unacceptable, at least for minors. In my view neither will end completely whilst the other continues; and both are dangerous to health (even to life) as well as breaches of human rights.”

    Hillary, in fact all the arguments against MGM were initially made by anti-FGM activists and anti-MGM activists generally acknowledge that debt. The anti=FGM movement was crucial. I agree also with your assertion that one is tied to the other and neither will disappear unless the other does.

  22. StillGjengagner says

    @Jim Doyle 21
    We are not going to agree on the general principles. But

    Removal of half the skin, an area which is heavily innervated, can only cause a huge loss of sensitivity and sexual function. That’s pretty obvious.

    Again: I have tried both ‘before’ and ‘after’, and I can tell you that it does NOT cause ‘ a huge loss of sensitivity and sexual function’. I had mine done as an adult, for purely (if minor) medical reasons, and have no vested interest in this. I speak from personal experience. You, clearly, do not.

  23. says

    @StillGjenganger, #22:

    If your own circumcision was medically justifiable, then that rather suggests all might not already have been well down there to begin with. Perhaps you already had damage to some of the nerve endings?

    In any case, you can’t really extrapolate from a single data point to 50% of the population.

    Circumcision in the UK was practised mainly by non-conformist churches, and it was done with the primary aim of preventing boys from wanking. Even the Roman Catholic Church (and the Church of England, which began as an almost-exact fork of the RCC) preferred to maintain a differentiation between themselves and Judaism rather than limit options for sinning. And of course it was the non-conformists who ended up travelling to North America to escape religious persecution in the 18th century …..

    Probably the best hope is for Jewish and Muslim groups to come out in opposition to ritual circumcision. At least then, nobody will be able to cry “Anti-semitism!” or “Islamophobia!” There certainly are progressive tendencies within Judaism, such as Beyond the Bris. And the USA setting up a universal healthcare programme could certainly help (circumcision is not available on the NHS, even to people with religious obligations, except in cases of genuine medical necessity).

  24. StillGjenganger says

    @Bluerizlagirl.

    Skin problem. Not nerve problem.

    As for ‘extrapolating from one point’, you and Jim Doyle are extrapolating from zero points. I am at least offering evidence. Where is yours? Where are your conttolled and peer-reviewed studies, showing significant decrease in sexual enjoyment after circumcision? All I have seen so far is Jim Doyles “that’s pertty obvious”.And Hilary Burrage implying that anyone who has actually been circumcised is a tainted witness and therefore unrelable.

  25. says

    @StillGjenganger, #24: I’m not the one making an extraordinary claim. “Surgically removing tissue containing many nerve endings reduces sensation” is a position of default. It doesn’t need supporting data points.

    Come to think of it, “Cocks are generally fit for purpose in their natural state” is also a position of default.

  26. StillGjenganger says

    @Bluerizlagirl
    This is not about ethics or metaphysics, but a simple, answerable, question of human biology. What is the effect of circumcision of people’s enjoyment of sex? Evidence can be found. And extraordinary claims in a scientific field are normally quite easy to refute. Why not present your evidence – if you have any?

    But you choose not to try – because you are sure you are right regardless of the evidence?. Meanwhile you have a way to dismiss any evidence agaist you: Medical circumcisions apparently do not count – because the medical problem invalidates the comparison. People who choose to be circumcised do not count – because anybody who makes that choice is biased. People who were circumcised as children have no basis for a comparison, and people who were not circumcised have no evidence to contribute. Is it unfair to conclude that there are no possible outcomes that could ever prove you wrong?

    If I was a combative atheist I would dismiss you at this point with a contemptuous ‘what is claimed without evidence can be dismissed without evidence’. As it is, let me just remind you that a claim that cannot be falsified is not science, but faith (Karl Popper).If you can show us your evidence, and tell us what it would take to prove you wrong, we can argue the facts on the effects of circumcision. If you cannot do either, it rather suggests that your opinion on circumcision (effects, etrhics, and all) was a pure faith position to begin with. Which is exacytly what I have been arguing all along.

  27. says

    @StillGjenganger, #26: I do not see anything controversial about the claim that the removal of nerve endings in an erogenous zone has a deleterious effect on an individual’s enjoyment of sex. That is an obviety. You could prove me wrong, by showing that nobody’s enjoyment of sex had ever been spoiled by circumcision. Or you could prove me right, by finding just one person whose enjoyment of sex was marred by circumcision.

  28. Jim Doyle says

    Gjen, you can find plenty of women who suffered FGM as girls who will tell you they suffer no negative effects from the procedure. They may not actually have any basis of comparison if they were cut as young girls. You on the other hand do claim you can make the comparison. That suggest you made the decision as an adult. That is a completely different matter and not really relevant to the question of infant (forced) MGM.

    Perhaps that’s why we are not going to agree on general principles. We appear to be unable to agree on a general topic of discussion.

  29. StillGjenganger says

    @Jim Doyle 29

    Sorry for this very detailed answer, but it is the only reply I can think of:

    On general principles we are actually clear: Your side thinks that the need for informed, adult consent is an absolute all-overreaching principle that trumps all other possible considerations. I think that 1) there are other relevant considerations to balance it against, 2) that your attitude there simply reflects your own ideology, and so has no weight in discussion with people who do not happen to share it. There is no point in arguing about a ban from general principles – we could argue till the cows came home without getting anywhere – but it might be useful if we could agree on the relevant facts. At least that should be easier. You and Bluerizlagirl both say that circumcision ‘obviously’ is quite damaging to sexual enjoyment, and use that is an argument for having it banned. I think that makes it a relevant fact. Since it would be quite a strong argument if it were true, and since my personal experience tells me that it is not true, I would say that it is a point worth clarifying.

    Bluerizlagirl is telling me that she is so obviously right that all it would take to prove her point is that a single person in all of recorded history ever (claimed to have) had their sexual enjoyment diminished through circumcision. Talk about unfalsifiable!

    But you, what are you saying? I am trying to go through the logical possibilities: Is it that you are fine with using the reduction of sexual enjoyment as an argument against circumcision, but that you think it is beside the point to discuss whether it is true or not? That would be a bit inconsistent. Or do you suggest that my experience is irrelevant because circumcision does not reduce sexual enjoyment when applied to an adult, but only if done to a minor child? That sounds like an unusual and complex biological hypothesis, which would require additional amounts of supporting evidence. Or is it just that you are so sure you are right that you cannot see any point in arguing about it? That at least would be consistent. But I do think that it is underhand of Bluerizlagirl (or you, if you back her) to rely on arguments about the effects of circumcision if you are not willing to defend them when challenged

  30. Jim Doyle says

    “Or do you suggest that my experience is irrelevant because circumcision does not reduce sexual enjoyment when applied to an adult, but only if done to a minor child? ”

    How does that follow from what correctly identified as our position: “Your side thinks that the need for informed, adult consent is an absolute all-overreaching principle that trumps all other possible considerations.”

    You nailed it – it’s a matter of personal bodily autonomy. One person does not get to cut someone else’s body except for valid medical reasons. The guardian of a minor can make medical decisions for that minor. Routine infant circumcision is rarely if ever a medical necessity and indeed it is very rare to see any real argument for it based on that. It’s usually vague hypotheticals such as problems with hygiene, or some hypothetical benefit to someone else’s health – and we are very gender specific on whose body may be cut for other people’s health, aren’t we? – or else third party esthetic preferences that frankly amount to a sexual fetish.

    “I think that 1) there are other relevant considerations to balance it against,”

    What might those b? One person’s right to exercise his religion on another person’s body?I’m in the US and at the moment I find that assertion obscene.

    2 that your attitude there simply reflects your own ideology, and so has no weight in discussion with people who do not happen to share it.”

    I do not deny that it is not universal. I say that it is the only basis for tolerating those or any other religions so people arel-advised to advocate for ignoring that principle. There is ample historical precedent in Europe for not abiding by that principle. The continent went through more than 200 years of violence over the issue.

    In other words it is the basis for even considering these other considerations you allude to.

  31. Carnation says

    @ Bluerizlagirl, GJGanger et al

    I recall watching a documentary about a man in America who had a foreskin restorative procedure done to “have a better orgasm.”

    I find the conflating of male and female ‘circumcision ‘ to be in extremely poor taste. With females, it’s done for reasons of control and repression of sexuality. For men, it isn’t.

    All of that being said, I broadly agree with the case that quite frankly, the age of consent should apply to circumcision for males – that is, it should be the same age as tattoos.

    As an aside, I have noticed from personal experience that American women in particular regard “uncut” men as something of a novelty, whereas here in the UK, they’re the norm.

  32. That Guy says

    @ Carnation

    Not that I don’t want this angry, dumb and fruitless discussion to end, but I just can’t help myself,

    I find the conflating of male and female ‘circumcision ‘ to be in extremely poor taste. With females, it’s done for reasons of control and repression of sexuality. For men, it isn’t.

    I am not convinced this is the case. My understanding is that circumcision persists in part as a method to discourage masturbation. I’ll try look into this (as much as safe search will allow), but this might also explain why it persists in the historically more puritanical US.

  33. says

    @StillGjenganger, #30:

    Your side thinks that the need for informed, adult consent is an absolute all-overreaching principle that trumps all other possible considerations. I think that 1) there are other relevant considerations to balance it against, 2) that your attitude there simply reflects your own ideology, and so has no weight in discussion with people who do not happen to share it.

    Whoa, wait ….. what the fuck?

    Did I just read that you think some things are more important than human dignity and individual autonomy over one’s own body?

  34. Jim Doyle says

    “I find the conflating of male and female ‘circumcision ‘ to be in extremely poor taste. With females, it’s done for reasons of control and repression of sexuality. For men, it isn’t.”

    Actually, Carnation, lessening of male sexual satisfaction and desire was the main selling point asserted by Dr. Kellogg when he pushed infant MGM more than century ago in the US. He promoted it as a way to decrease masturbation. There was a huge moral panic about male masturbation in those days, as opposed to the sneering derision aimed at it these days, see also certain aspects of the anti-porn campaigns. (Certain other aspects have nothing to do with it.)

    Maimonides also cited a decrease of male sexual desire as a reason for MGM.

  35. Jim Doyle says

    “I find the conflating of male and female ‘circumcision ‘ to be in extremely poor taste. With females, it’s done for reasons of control and repression of sexuality. For men, it isn’t.”

    Hold on, I’m sure you don’t think any of this should be dictated by taste. This is usually the way (well-intentioned) men comment on FGM. Feminists were the ones who swept this kind of argument aside and insisted on personal autonomy as the measure in all these matters – abortion, contraception, genital cutting. They were exactly right when they did..

    “All of that being said, I broadly agree with the case that quite frankly, the age of consent should apply to circumcision for males – that is, it should be the same age as tattoos.
    As an aside, I have noticed from personal experience that American women in particular regard “uncut” men as something of a novelty, whereas here in the UK, they’re the norm.”

    So we agree on that. And you’re right about a lot of American women but they are becoming more and more of a minority as the years thin the ranks of their ranks. Younger women are less concerned about this and it’s just as well; younger men are cut much less often.

  36. StillGjenganger says

    @Bluerizlagirl 34

    I think that your summary of my position is a bit misleading. But the short answer is ‘yes’.

  37. StillGjenganger says

    @Jim Doyle 31

    OK, I’ll bite. I am willing to argue circumcision in general. We will not get anywhere, but I can hardly refuse to explain my position when asked. But I am asking a different question, I have been asking it for the entire debate, and I want an answer first, before I change the subject

    You say that circumcision causes a notable reduction of sexual pleasure, and that is one reason for being against circumcision. I say it makes no noticeable difference to sexual pleasure. and I know that from personal experience. And all you have to say is ‘You are wrong, because it is obvious that I am right’. That is not good enough. You have three options here:

    – You can come up with some evidence. I am not asking for proof (that would be excessive, and I could not prove my version either), but some actual facts that support what you are saying, and lets both of us judge how reliable our respective opinions are on that particular argument.
    – You can say (with Bluerizlagirl) that the damage from circumcision is the kind of thing you believe without any need for evidence. In other words it is not an argument for anything, but just (another) part of your beliefs.
    – You can admit that you do not really know whether circumcision harms sexual enjoyment or not – you are just guessing. Which does not mean that you have to accept circumcision, just that you have to rely on other arguments against it (there are several).

    Which is it?

  38. StillGjenganger says

    @That Guy and others.

    It may well be that some people have favoured circumcision as a way of fighting masturbation. Just like other people have favoured clean living and lots of fresh air and sport for the same purpose. But before we come out in spots against either circumcision or sport, we should remember that whatever Dr. Kellogg thought, neither method actually works.

  39. Jim Doyle says

    Gjen,

    “You say that circumcision causes a notable reduction of sexual pleasure,”
    “Which is it?”

    Who cares and of what possible relevance is it to this discussion? I made a side comment in response to something you said and you seem to want to build it into a debating point. you say you had no reduction in sensation – well how much did you have before? Are you so sure you were at normal levels? Did you get neural measurements before and after?

    If you say there was no reduction, fair enough, but it just seems as unlikely that cutting off that much innervated tissue would have any less effect than cutting off equally innervated tissue like fingertips, that’s all. it’s seems like pretty basic anatomy.
    But as I say, this is a digression from the discussion.

    What if at the birth of your child you looked down and said “Oh, fuck – she has the family curse – big, round Caucasian monkey eyes! I can’t let my daughter go through life ugly like that! Thank God for plastic surgeons!” I mean, she can wait until she’s old enough to decide on corrective surgery herself, don’t you think?

  40. StillGjenganger says

    @Jim Doyle 40
    Ok, you are just not interested. Fair enough. You stick to your discussion, and I’ll stick to mine.

  41. Carnation says

    @ That Guy & others

    Happy to be corrected, but this is certainly the first I have heard of it.

  42. 123454321 says

    StiilG, I have been following this thread along with your attempts to persuade others that circumcision is by no means harmful and without resorting to my usual style of communication, which I reserve specially for the local bonkers twats around here which say things like — “With females, it’s done for reasons of control and repression of sexuality. For men, it isn’t.” — for you, StillG, being someone who comes across in the most part as an educated, articulate and logical individual, I’m nothing short of gravely disappointed by your attitude to circumcision. I’m disappointed because I find it utterly unfathomable that you can even allow yourself to get past the first point of logic i.e. that INFANTS WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT ARE BEING FORCED TO LIVE THE REST OF THEIR LIVES HAVING HAD A PART OF THEIR GENITALS CUT OFF RATHER THAN LEAVE THEM AS IS UNTIL THEY ARE OLD ENOUGH TO MAKE THEIR OWN FUCKING MIND UP ABOUT THEIR OWN FUCKING BODY AND DECIDE (LIKE YOU GOT TO) WHETHER THEY WANT TO TRY A BIT OF IRREVERSIBLE BEFORE AND AFTER PENIS EXPERIMENTATION MUTILATION!

    Quite frankly, I don’t give a fuck about values, or religion, or politics or culture or whatever other pathetic excuse anyone dreams up to try and defend CUTTING OFF THE END OF AN INFANT’S COCK. And I don’t give a fuck whether it’s a single community of a few dozen people acting out this bizarre and obscenely barbaric ritual or most of the world’s population. It’s just plain wrong whatever the numbers are and only proves to me how fucking stupid people are if they think the benefits of mutilating infant cocks (what fucking benefits?) outweigh the disadvantages (can’t think of any worth mentioning in the whole scheme of things) of leaving infant male’s foreskins as they were meant to be.

    I have thought about this and I can only conclude that you might have religious beliefs yourself. I don’t expect you to answer but it seems the case for most people who partake and support the ritual. If that is the case then it demonstrates and proves the reasoning around my own incompatibility and intolerance of religion. For fuck sake, it’s illegal to tattoo a baby’s genitals and I bet you wouldn’t support that if a so-called religious group of Stonehenge full moon fire dancers began to adopt such a ritual, but you condone cutting off part of a baby’s cock which contains 90% of nerve endings!! Fucking hell, man, get real and get yourself out of the dark ages, it’s nearly 2020!!! I’m not with you on this one, StillG, and it’s such a big one too. Geez.

  43. That Guy says

    @123454321

    but you condone cutting off part of a baby’s cock which contains 90% of nerve endings!!

    Like, 90% of the nerve endings in the whole body? Every day is a school day!

  44. StillGjenganger says

    @Bluerizlagirl 42
    I checked your google search, and it did indeed have some individual tales of woe, and a couple of research papers claiming circumcision was harmful.
    Then I checked Wikipedia (which tries to give a considered summary, not just the hottest hits to a search term that includes the word ‘insensitivity’). Which gave me this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circumcision#Adverse_effects
    and this:

    The highest quality evidence indicates that circumcision does not decrease the sensitivity of the penis, harm sexual function or reduce sexual satisfaction. A 2013 systematic review found that circumcision did not appear to adversely affect sexual desire, pain with intercourse, premature ejaculation, time until ejaculation, erectile dysfunction or difficulties with orgasm. However, the study found that the existing evidence is not very good. Another 2013 systematic review found that the highest-quality studies reported no adverse effects of circumcision on sexual function, sensitivity, sensation or satisfaction.

    I conclude that while the point is not settled, and damage caused by circumcision to sexual enjoyment is not well explored, such damage seems to be somewhere between unknown, uncertain, and less-than-likely, based on currently available information. The damage might prove to be clear later, once we know more, but the fact that it is not obvious from the limited data we have already would suggest that there is an upper limit on how serious it is likely to be.

    It is certainly possible that someone who made a much deeper study of the available literature could decide that Wikipedia and their sources had it wrong, on objective criteria. But that would take much more time than I have to give to the subject – and more dispassionate scientific inquiry than I think you are capable of.

  45. StillGjenganger says

    @Ally
    There just might be a shortcut to this:

    Ally, you know everything, and you are an honest man. Do you happen to know, specifically, the current scientific consensus on any harm to sexual enjoyment cause by (successful, correctly executed) male circumcisions? And if so would you care to share it?

  46. 123454321 says

    You’re missing the point, StillG. Even if the sexual pleasure INCREASES tenfold following circumcision, which it doesn’t, you still have no rights to violate a baby boy’s body by altering his physical attributes without his consent. At least wait until he’s 18. What you’re claiming and the way you’re defending circumcision by saying that sexual pleasure is unaffected is absurd to say the least. None of what you are saying has any credibility in a world of logic, but to be fair, it sits well in a world led by religious beliefs only. The world needs to move on!

  47. That Guy says

    @ StillGjenganger

    If Ally has any sense, he’ll wipe the comments on this post, lock the thread, and ban us all for being so aggressively idiotic about dicks.

  48. Jim Doyle says

    “If Ally has any sense, he’ll wipe the comments on this post, lock the thread, and ban us all for being so aggressively idiotic about dicks.”

    Out of interest, That Guy, do you likewise feel that discussions about “cunts” are aggressively idiotic? I don’t think either topic – separate but related – is idle or idiotic to talk about.

  49. 123454321 says

    Jim, That Guy loves to derail any discussions that don’t specifically telate to women’s issues. And you’re not permitted to talk too much about men’s issies otherwise he/she gangs up with BarmyCarny and has a right old go at closing us all down. All very covertly done most of the time if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but to me it’s as obvious as the feminist sign tattooed right across their foreheads.

  50. StillGjenganger says

    @123454321 48
    I am making a different point, 123454321, just trying to get the facts clear. I listed them in my post 5, and I’d like to get to where we agree on them. Once we agree on the facts, we can have the ethical discussion (if anyone asks me, that is. I had that discussion once already, with Ally, and I am sure nobody is likely to change theri mind, or even learn anything, from discussion).

  51. That Guy says

    This thread is like the intellectual equivalent of early attempts at powered flight, fucking excellent as comedy, virtually worthless for anything useful.

    @ 50

    OK, if we want to play that game, this is where your americo-centrism lets you down. In my proud, noble-savage culture, ‘cunt’ only slightly relates to the female anatomy, but is now used liberally to refer to a person (typically male) of renown in a particular characteristic. I have in the past working week, overheard/been called ‘daft cunt’ ‘funny cunt’ ‘mad cunt’ ‘fucking cunt’ ‘cunt’ and ‘top cunt’. The word cunt has passed in one ear of mine and out the other so often that the notion of calling a vagina a ‘cunt’ seems slightly absurd. However, because I’m not a sociopath I realise that not everyone has the same culture as me on the internet and find the word highly charged and often tied to sexual violence. So I try not to use it as so liberally online. Y’know, because I’m not a thick cunt.

    IF we want to draw a parallel with the word ‘dick’, then my preferred option is ‘fanny’. In the UK it carries the same ‘not quite acceptable whisper-it-behind-teacher’s back while giggling at the back of maths class’ childish irreverence. In that case, I’m quite happy to talk about fannies. Fannies of all shapes and sizes, each equally beautiful, fannies galore, bald fannies, hairy fannies, juicy fannies and baggy fannies, fannies that haven’t been touched, fannies that’ve born children, innie fannies and outtie fannies, angry fannies, happy fannies, fannies for everyone. I can talk about fannies until I’m blue in the fanny. Fanny fanny fanny.

    The problem with dicks (or fannies) here isn’t so much that we’re talking about dicks, (dick dick dickety dick, dicks with foreskin, dicks without foreskin, bald dicks, dicks with a full head of hair…) but that a potentially sensible discussion about the impact and public attitude to circumcision of both male and female non-consenting infants has become intellectually constipated and derailed into a irrelevant discussion about how sensitive foreskins are.

    This has happened because of two factors-

    1) the presence of an individual who through either mental or empathetic deficiency does not see the inherent value in bodily autonomy to a well-functioning society

    2) The well-meaning individuals who are scrabbling for purchase on the polished surface of his nonsense.

    In any conversation where these two factors meet, a perpetual-motion machine of dumbfounded anger is started, each party increasingly hysterical at the other’s perceived ignorance. While such a Catherine wheel of insults and obtuseness can be really fucking funny it is hardly conducive to constructive discourse. See for instance comment #51 where I am painted as some kind of sleeper agent for a covert organisation of latex-clad man-hating harridans. (This picture, I assure you, is much more flattering than the reality).

    As a former professional troll, I can say that discussions about male circumcision hold a place close to my heart as being one of my favourite fire-starters, the only other topic about which people can have such a clash over their cultural assumptions and faulty intuitions is probably the ‘plane on a treadmill’ riddle.

    TL:DR,

    willies and fannies aren’t the problem, people are.

  52. 123454321 says

    Trolling is in your blood, ThatGuy, we know that. Shame you don’t put as much energy into campaigning to end the barbaric act of circumcising baby boys but I know how much you’d rather troll or talk about FGM. Oh, and if in the last week you’ve been called a cunt so many times….well, who’d have thought! Lol

  53. That Guy says

    @ 123454321

    Trolling is in your blood, ThatGuy, we know that. Shame you don’t put as much energy into campaigning to end the barbaric act of circumcising baby boys but I know how much you’d rather troll or talk about FGM. Oh, and if in the last week you’ve been called a cunt so many times….well, who’d have thought! Lol

    >:3

  54. Koken says

    If you want to make a case for banning male circumcision, I don’t think the principle of bodily autonomy is sufficient because that’s not what is actually being protected by such a law. Bodily autonomy is the capacity to say yes as well as no for yourself, and it is what we grant to adults. Children always pose a conceptual problem for this approach, as there is a general consensus that they are not properly capable of giving consent for many kinds of action, which is why there are many things we do not allow them to consent to. This seems agreed by both sides in this debate.

    I would suggest, therefore, that this argument is about what to do precisely when we cannot appeal to the individual in question’s bodily autonomy, and someone else – parents, the state, doctors, etc. – must make decisions on their behalf. The anti-circumcision argument seems to me to rest therefore on something more like a principle of bodily sanctity, or a prioritisation of not altering the body. This may be a sensible ‘least likely to do harm’ default position absent the capacity for positive individual choice, but it definitely requires a defence beyond the appeal to bodily autonomy per se.

  55. Jim Doyle says

    “Children always pose a conceptual problem for this approach,”

    Good point and central to the discussion. There’s been a lot of case law in the US around medical care of children, specifically withholding care for religious reasons – the US has a really problem with over-deference to religious sentiment – and now the anti-vaccination craze. So a lot of people have thought hard about this.

    @53 OK, if we want to play that game, this is where your americo-centrism lets you down. In my proud, noble-savage culture, ‘cunt’ only slightly relates to the female anatomy, but is now used liberally to refer to a person (typically male) of renown in a particular characteristic”

    That Guy, I’m am not so americo-centric as to be unaware of a usage in what you will admit is a regional minority dialect. I was using it in its more widely used sense.

  56. StillGjenganger says

    @Koken 56

    Exactly right!!!

    Let me give a thought experiment:
    Imagine that your little daughter has a grossly disfiguring blemish. It might be a burn scar or a birthmark on her face, or it might be a vestigial tail. And imagine you are offered the opportunity of having it removed by plastic surgery. Note that this is not a medical requirement – she can live perfectly well with a ‘different’ face or a couple of inches of tail. So, what do you do?

    If you apply the principle of bodily autonomy you do not have the right to to modify her body without her informed consent. So you cannot decide to have the surgery done. Nor can you let her decide for herself; if she is not competent to consent, she is not competent to decide for herself either (and would you really leave such a momentous decision to a seven-year-old?). There remains only the option of leaving her ‘intact’ till she is 18 and can decide for herself.

    I would disregard any abstract rules about ‘bodily autonomy’, and say that as her parent I have not only the right but the duty to submit her to surgery if I think that is in her best interest. It is a drastic decision either way, and I should not pretend otherwise, but it is up to me to take it.

    Ah, you might say, but this is different! The circumstances clearly allow etc. etc. And maybe it is different, to circumcision. But that is exactly the point: The ‘principle of bodily autonomy’ is not enough. You have to consider the circumstances, conflicts with other basic principles, etc., before you can decide.

  57. Sans-sanity says

    …. I for one would be quite chagrined to learn I had been robbed of a tail in infancy.

  58. That Guy says

    @ Jim 57

    Still, to equate ‘dick’ and ‘cunt’ in your more widely used sense (i.e. americocentric,) is clearly facetious. ‘Pussy’ is probably a closer american equivalent in terms of emotional load. Also much more fun to say. Pussy pussy pussy.

    😀

    Anyway, since we’re running the risk of this discussion getting back on the rails- Let’s address StillGjenganger’s thought experiment, since there’s something here we can get our teeth into.

    Imagine that your little daughter has a grossly disfiguring blemish. It might be a burn scar or a birthmark on her face, or it might be a vestigial tail.

    First off, this is faulty analogy, a foreskin is not grossly disfiguring in day to day life, it only becomes an issue when someone is looking at your penis. We can expect that the two classes of people will be looking at penises, medical professionals, and potential sexual partners. Medical professionals won’t care, and if the person is old enough to consent to a sexual relationship, they’re old enough to consent to cosmetic surgery.

    ANYWAY-

    I would disregard any abstract rules about ‘bodily autonomy’, and say that as her parent I have not only the right but the duty to submit her to surgery if I think that is in her best interest. It is a drastic decision either way, and I should not pretend otherwise, but it is up to me to take it.

    This makes you something of an asshole, I’m afraid to say! performing an irreversible cosmetic surgery without anything even approaching consent is a bit of a dick move. In particular

    if she is not competent to consent, she is not competent to decide for herself either (and would you really leave such a momentous decision to a seven-year-old?)

    This is very worrying- you don’t give children enough credit- what I hope any real parent would do is sit down with their daughter, and have a discussion about how their tail, birthmark or whatever makes them feel, and let them know that there’s some doctors that can get rid of it for them- and ask what they want to do- just because a child can’t legally consent, doesn’t mean you have to run roughshod over their opinions- they might not like the bullying that comes with their physical quirks, but they might also not want to get rid of them-

    SO- here’s a counter-example. This isn’t a thought experiment, because it’s happened to someone in real life that I followed for a bit.

    Teenage boy is at high school when they start growing breasts. Weird, right? Kids being assholes, start a relentless campaign of bullying, including, but not limited to verbal and physical abuse, stuffing their locker with training bras, etc.
    Parents think, this is obviously not correct, this is causing my child distress! and have the child booked in for surgery to remove the breast tissue. Breasts are removed, but the child is never really consulted on this, because obviously it’s in their best interests, why would anyone not have the surgery?

    ANYWAY, time marches on, and the ‘boy’ comes out as a trans-woman/girl. Now, because of the surgery they had as a child, which excised all of their breast tissue (men naturally have a small amount of breast tissue) not only do they not have natural, healthy breasts, but no matter how much HRT they undergo, they’ll never grow their own (as other trans women who have that small initial foundation of breast tissue would).

    If you dig through the history and treatment of intersex people, you’ll find other, similar stories.

    Good times! hopefully this shows that your thought experiment is faulty on two points, that 1) circumcision is unique in that the point at which it becomes an issue is also the point at which the indavidual can legally consent to be circumcised
    2) assuming that your child’s happiness is tied to their conformation to cultural norms can be harmful for many unexpected reasons.

    C.F. Sans-sanity.

  59. 123454321 says

    Anyway, truth is, I don’t think men have the collective knowhow or the remotest chance of collaboratively putting an end to MGM (and I’m calling it that because that’s what it is). Circumcision is too nicer word and should be confined to medical-related procedures. MGM is far more fitting. Men are fucking useless at looking after themselves. This is going to need the help of women. But they’re too busy with the metoo and heforshe campaigns and such like. Pinching bottoms is far more important than the growing mountain of baby’s foreskins. Could really do with the help of a powerful feminist to start and lead a campaign. No one will listen to a man.

  60. StillGjenganger says

    @That Guy

    I rather regret my post 58. It was intended to clarify the important point made by Koken (56) but instead it just diverted attention.

    Koken is saying that the ‘principle of bodily autonomy’ is no use in discussing childhood circumcision, because children are not competent to exercise that autonomy. Others have to take decisions on their behalf, and the question we need to address becomes which decisions are open and who have the right to take them. One would really like to know which of the following alternatives you believe in, Guy:

    – We must respect the principle of bodily autonomy, and therefore no cosmetic surgery can be performed on children. It is irrelevant whether we are talking about hidden-away foreskins or visible facial scars, their right to bodily integrity is absolute
    – We must respect the principle of bodily autonomy, but children are actually competent to decide, even about irreversible procedures like surgery. Therefore we must ultimately leave the decision to the children. If the end result is bad that is their responsibility, not ours.
    – The principle of bodily autonomy cannot be applied to children, so surgery is potentially an option. And since they cannot decide for themselves, others must ultimately decide on their behalf, of course after suitably considering whatever input the child is capable of giving. It follows that we must stop relying on the simpleminded (but invalid) ‘it is body modification without valid consent, therefore it can only be wrong’. We can still decide that circumcision is wrong if we want to, we just need to settle on other principles for justification, look more closely at the details of each case, and generally work harder on our arguments.

    Back in the give-and-take, let me give another thought experiment:

    A teenage boy is at high school when he starts growing breasts, and suffers a lot from bullying, feeling different, etc. The parents strongly feel that it is wrong to make surgical changes (who knows what might happen, after all?). They discuss the issue with the boy who feels out of his depth, perceive that the parents are convinced that it would be wrong to do anything about it, and does not have the clarity or strong determination to form a different opinion and overrule his parents..

    After the age of 18 the boy blames his parents in the most violent terms for letting their stupid, sodding political ideas force him to grow up as a freak. He gets an operation to remove the breasts, and runs away to join a biker gang.

    When the problem first comes up, there is no way of knowing whether my scenario is more or less likely than yours. It is not a good situation to be in, and no matter what choice you make you may live to regret it. But one of the duties of being a parent is that you have to take those decisions if the question comes up, and take responsibility for the result. You cannot offload it onto a bunch of abstract principles.

  61. Jim Doyle says

    “Koken is saying that the ‘principle of bodily autonomy’ is no use in discussing childhood circumcision, because children are not competent to exercise that autonomy.”

    And here we see the limitations of binary thinking and artificial clarity. The principle of bodily autonomy in children is not as clear cut as this suggests. Having a kid get a vaccination whether she wants it or not is not problematic; subjecting her to completely unnecessary and potentially harmful, surgery, however small the risk is, is indeed problematic. This is really not difficult stuff.

  62. 123454321 says

    It’s also not difficult stuff to understand that a freaking repair of a facial scar is worlds apart from ripping away a foreskin for religious purposes. Making the case that the right to bodily integrity is not absolute based on these examples is bizarre and utterly absurd.

  63. StillGjenganger says

    @Jim Doyle 65
    Sounds like we finally are where I thought we should be. This is not a matter of clear-cut abstract principles, or ‘bodily autonomy’. It is a matter guidelines, some stronger than others, that need to be interpreted and weighed against each other. And it is a matter of what we judge are the benefits, risks and the costs of a particular course of action. Avoiding body modification, avoiding irreversible actions, and postponing decisions till people can make their own decisions are actually pretty good guidelines, They are just not strong enough to be beyond discussion in every case. And the guideline that parents have the right to transmit their culture to their children deserves some consideration as well.

    The idea that circumcision is completely without benefits and therefore cannot be justified in the face of even the slightest risk is quite understandable, but it is a cultural judgement. Specifically it is a judgement of progressive atheists. If you ask orthodox Jews you will get a completely different ideas of the benefits. As it happens I belong to neither group. As a society we need to sort out what our laws should allow, of course, and each group will try to make the rules fit their particular values. All well and good. But before you decide to impose your cultural values on other groups who do not share them, you should admit honestly that this is what you are trying to do. You should give an honest account of the known costs (like the the fact that there is no proven damage to sexual enjoyment from circumcision). And you should keep arguments based on more universal values (like damage to the person, or public order), from arguments based on the assumption that you happen to be right and other cultures happen to be wrong.

  64. says

    @123454521, #63:

    In this thread at least, women seem unanimous in condemnation of MGM. The loudest proponents of “Fuck ’em, they’re only men and boys” have been men.

    The fallacy with StillGjenganger’s thought experiment is, not being circumcised is the default state, and certainly not a disfigurement.

  65. lucythoughts says

    The principle of doing what is in “the best interests of the child” can cover a multitude of sins. Autonomy isn’t an on / off switch, part of bringing up a child is gradually enabling them to take more of the decisions about their own life for themselves, such that when they reach adulthood they are as close to fully competent as they can be.

    This boy who started growing breasts in secondary school, presumably he was 13 or 14? At that age it is appropriate for the parent to facilitate the child to make a decision about what they want themselves, not simply take the decision for them. That means giving them information, and if they are uncertain what they want to do it may mean getting them some counselling, finding them opportunities to meet people with the same condition who have been through those decisions and treatments etc. Basically facilitating them to reach a decision they are comfortable with. A younger child will be less able to weigh up the pros and cons than an older one, but they can still be very insightful about their own needs and approach these issues surprisingly soberly and rationally. This process isn’t always easy and will not always have perfect results. Counterarguments are that a) sometimes a decision is urgent and a child is too young or confused to take it, and b) sometimes a child really will want you to take the tough choices and lift that burden of responsibility for them. As the parent the buck stops with you whoever makes the decision, whether it is you, the child or their doctor, because it is your signature on the consent form, there is no shirking that. If they are unhappy later, you take the blame. However, the principle remains that it is the child’s body and you should always be aiming for the closest thing to informed consent that their developmental stage allows for.

    So basically, with children you apply the principle of bodily autonomy by helping them to take the most control of the decisions pertaining to their own bodies that they can take, given their age and the urgency of the treatment. Infant circumcision is an exemplar of the opposite approach: it is a parent taking the decision to make an elective, irreversible, unnecessary, non-time critical alteration to their child’s perfectly normal, healthy body, at the time when they are least capable of having any input into the decision at all, and frequently with no anaesthesia. Whatever you may believe is in their best interests, that is playing king of the hill with your child’s body.

  66. 123454321 says

    “In this thread at least, women seem unanimous in condemnation of MGM. The loudest proponents of “Fuck ’em, they’re only men and boys” have been men.”

    Completely agree. That’s why I suggest only women can help with this one. It will take a strong and brave woman to lead.

    “Whatever you may believe is in their best interests, that is playing king of the hill with your child’s body”

    Spot on, it’s power and control, but as a contradiction to whatbI just said above, Mothers are supporting MGM and it’s a form of power and control that they are just as responsible for as Fathers.

  67. That Guy says

    Thankyou, Lucythoughts for saying what I wanted to say much more sensibly and succinctly than I am able.

    @StillG 64

    Nice story about the biker gang. Did you know that person personally? Were you close to them? I have to assume that this is a true story and not some insensitive fictionalised bullshit that you’ve just fabricated to try and seem clever.

    You see, replying to real suffering with some kind of improbable hypothetical would make you something of a cruel and pathetic character.

    But that can’t be true, right? So I have to trust you that you know someone who was asked if they wanted surgical intervention, said they went sure, and then blames their parents for not overriding their expressed wishes and forcing them to have it.

    Or do you wish to correct your stance so that you come across as neither a liar nor total arsehole?

    😀

    🙂

  68. StillGjenganger says

    @That Guy 71
    Do stop playing games. Which part of the words ‘thought experiment’ do you not understand?

  69. StillGjenganger says

    @lucythoughts 69.
    The principle of ‘acting in the best interests of the child’ can certainly cover a multitude of sins, but it is the best principle we have got. My responsibility as a parent is to do what is in best interests of the child if it conflicts with what the child currently wants. Not the other way around. In practice I would probably do as you recommend. Because, as you say, the end result has to be a person who is happy and comfortable deciding for himself, because imposing decisions has a high cost in both trouble and diminished self-worth, and because it is kind of hard to know for sure what is in the best interests of someone without actually asking them what they think. As a minimum you would first enquire, and then try to talk them around to something that you both feel is acceptable. But, as you say, the buck stops with me. In fact, there are a couple of counterarguments that you do not mention: c) children may be capable of amazing insights, but they are not totally incapable of opting quite strongly for disastrous courses of action. And if that happens it is your duty to identify the problem and override their decision, not to defer to their veto. d) Children, depending of course on age, are totally dependent on their parents and may find it hard or impossible to take a decision separate from what they notice that their parents want. So ‘we let him decide’ may in practice come to mean ‘he knows what we think, as a good child he will decide to do what we want, but since it is his decision we are not responsible’. I think it may well be healthier to make it explicit (also to yourself) that you are the one taking a decision. In my experience a child certainly takes less damage from being openly overruled, than from being expected or manipulated to convince himself and his parents that your really want the same as they do.

    That said (Ah, the joy of arguing with someone who actually does logic!) you are quite right that circumcision falls in a different category from the other examples – even if both serve to prove that there is more to the argument than ‘bodily integrity’. The thing is that as a parent you are necessarily and routinely doing things that make irreversible changes your child, without asking for consent (that would anyway be impossible to obtain). ‘Playing king of the hill’ with their minds, if you like. The ethics you develop, the belief (or non-belief) you grow up in, the culture and groups you are inducted to and become part of, the language you speak, the feelings you are comfortable with or try to repress, are not given you at birth. They are transmitted, culturally, and to a large extent come from your parents. That is the way it works with Homo Sapiens. The idea of letting people grow up and make their own choices is not just impossible here, but incoherent – the things you are, supposedly, choosing later, are the very things you must use to make the choice in the first place.
    In short your childhood is formative, irreversible, and has to be decided before you are adult enough to do it yourself. Also in more mundane questions like which school you go to (comprehensive, elite, or boarding-). A lot of top tennis players, from Agassi to Graf to the Williams sisters have been trained since childhood. I am not sure I would do it to my children, too much risk for too little gain. And Agassis memoirs say that a childhood without tennis would have made him a more fulfilled person (if, of course, a lot poorer). But the decision has to be taken in childhood, and the thing cannot happen unless the parents back it. At age 18 it is far too late. What else can you say, except that the parents must decide?

    Circumcision, finally. In Africa it is an initiation rite, a matter of whether to be a full, male member of your culture or not (and anyway done at a later age). And for Jews it is a matter of whether to grow up a committed Jew, or not. These considerations are neither worthless not unimportant. You may not like those cultures and you may think that they should change to become like yours (just like they might think you should change to become like them). But I do not think you can say that it falls outside of what parents are supposed to decide.

  70. Marduk says

    70.
    Heres a story for you.

    Korea is currently trying to stop MGM from going on, they have the highest level in the world outside a Muslim or Jewish majority country. Its not an old cultural practice, its something they started doing because US army medics told them to after 1945 and indeed, Confucianism is strongly against any kind of body modification (its disrespectful to your parents). You’d think this would be an interesting story of a newly confident modern country fighting back against imperialism and people fucking with their culture that everyone could get behind.

    Remember all those #woke #metoo #timesup actresses at the Oscars this year? As they were doing this, most of them had faces smeared with products made from the foreskins of Korean babies. Its the in-thing this year.

    So I think we’re a long way from it.

  71. Carnation says

    “Remember all those #woke #metoo #timesup actresses at the Oscars this year? As they were doing this, most of them had faces smeared with products made from the foreskins of Korean babies. Its the in-thing this year.”

    Citation, please?

  72. That Guy says

    @ StillGjenganger 72

    You are aware that a ‘thought experiment’ is not simply creating a ‘just so’ story that helpfully benefits your position?

    I trust that you are also aware that ‘thought experiments’ (of which your fictions are not) do not supersede evidence and observations from reality in their closeness to truth?

    On a separate, less intellectually rigorous rail, can you see that minimising the suffering of minority groups (particularly one under constant media onslaught at the moment) to win an internet argument is hurtful?

    You are indeed, a small man- do you have to have your fedoras custom made?

    @ 74 Marduk

    This is an interesting story, do you have reliable sources to evidence that manufacture of korean skin products involves the foreskin of infants?

  73. StillGjenganger says

    @76 Hat Guy
    Are you trying to argue that people with some kind of intersex anatomy are highly likely or certain to turn out transsexual? That it is never the case that in the end they opt for the ‘socially sanctioned’ sex, and would have been a lot happier to get there earlier? We can take that debate too, if you want, but you need a lot more than a single anecdote to make your point.

    Custom made hats are too expensive. Fortunately you can get Sheriff Woody dolls with hats in the right size.

  74. says

    The use of foreskin of Korean newborn in facials championed by some celebrities: https://www.georgialouise.com/facials/

    Aesthetician Louise reveals more in this interview: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/cate-blanchett-penis-facial-controversy-explained-1095150

    “EGF is clone cells taken from progenitor cells (original cells) of the human fibroblast donated from newborn baby foreskin,” she continued. “We are not using original stem cells, only clone!! The stem cells were [given] to a stem cell bank in Korea!!!!

  75. That Guy says

    @ StillGjenganger

    Are you trying to argue that people with some kind of intersex anatomy are highly likely or certain to turn out transsexual?

    no. That you think that’s what I’m saying says quite a lot about your capacity for critical thought.

    Custom made hats are too expensive. Fortunately you can get Sheriff Woody dolls with hats in the right size.

    The fact that you don’t ‘get’ my jibes also tells me that not only are you an idiot, but you’re a boring idiot into the bargain. You have my sympathy.

  76. StillGjenganger says

    @Hat Guy 79

    I am sorry, but on principle I never argue about who is or is not an idiot. If there is anything else you want to discuss, please make a clear statement of what it is.

  77. That Guy says

    @StillGjenganger

    I am sorry, but on principle I never argue ab…M’Lady M’Lady M’Lady M’Lady M’Lady M’Lady M’Lady M’Lady

    Oh right, cool, well, all the best!

  78. 123454321 says

    So there’s your citation, Carnation. So what’s your response? You gonna gloss over it or ignore it or downplay it somehow I guess.

  79. Carnation says

    @ Marduk

    Whilst there’s something offensive about human DNA being used to create a skincare product, it doesn’t really prove the point that you’re trying (I think) to make.

    Did the actresses know that the products they were using had been made in such a way? From the citations, the cells used are tiny. There is zero evidence of demand driving procedure.

    And they’re also being used for skin-grafts and as an alternative to vivisection.

    What is it about this practise that you find so offensive?

    How would you feel about, say, ice-cream being made with human breast milk?

  80. Jim Doyle says

    The idea that circumcision is completely without benefits and therefore cannot be justified in the face of even the slightest risk is quite understandable, but it is a cultural judgement. Specifically it is a judgement of progressive atheists. If you ask orthodox Jews you will get a completely different ideas of the benefits.”

    “And you should keep arguments based on more universal values (like damage to the person, or public order), from arguments based on the assumption that you happen to be right and other cultures happen to be wrong.”

    I don’t know of any universal values so I’m not going to try to base arguments on them, and I haven’t. What I said was that religious tolerance in this context is based on Enlightenment values and those same values are based on the sovereignty of the individual, the basis for objecting to *infant* circumcision.

    The argument that circumcision has no or negligible medical benefits is not a cultural judgment, any more than evolution is, the Creationists and “Intelligent Design” people notwithstanding. As for the cultural benefits, that is very shaky ground. Just now there is a movement in India that considers the removal of the Abrahamic religions from India to a cultural benefit, and Europe had its own recent horrific episode of this kind of thinking. So any reference to “cultural benefits” is particularly ironic.

    But we are getting to some kind of common ground, I agree.

    @68 – “In this thread at least, women seem unanimous in condemnation of MGM. The loudest proponents of “Fuck ’em, they’re only men and boys” have been men.”

    That’s pretty much standard every time the subject comes up.

    @74 “Korea is currently trying to stop MGM from going on, they have the highest level in the world outside a Muslim or Jewish majority country. Its not an old cultural practice, its something they started doing because US army medics told them to after 1945 and indeed,…”

    That and a general fondness for aping anything American/Caucasian. We see that in the current popularity of eye surgery/mutilation.

    “Confucianism is strongly against any kind of body modification (its disrespectful to your parents).”

    Body modification is specifically mentioned as a form of ingratitude to one’s parents, the prime and worst moral lapse.

  81. StillGjenganger says

    @Jim Doyle 84
    – The best estimate AFAIAC is that the medical benefits from circumcision ore most likely real, but limited. But is indeed a question of fact, not of culture.
    – Whether circumcision damages sexual enjoyment is also a question of fact. The answer, for now, seems to be that information is scant, but any damage is likely limited, and quite possibly negligible.
    – I’d say that the benefits of avoiding damage to the functioning people’s bodies is, if not universal, then extremely widely shared across cultures. Which makes it a good argument even for people from dfferent backgrounds. People just disagree about where to make exceptions
    – I thought that the a key principle of modern society was to accept the coexistsnce of different cultures, religions etc. So it sounds strange to me to hear similar principles used as a argument for privileging one cultural tradition and suppressing others.

  82. WineEM says

    Richard Dawkins on Twitter yesterday:

    https://twitter.com/RichardDawkins/status/975327612494123008

    “Thought for today. Circumcision.
    Is it a meme? No, it’s the phenotypic manifestation of a meme residing in brains but delayed a generation.
    Only brains? No, in books too, in the same sense as DNA sequences can reside in books.
    Exactly the same sense? No. Unlike DNA the code varies.

    And then we have this weird story about the ‘secret ingredient’ of Kate Blanchett’s facials:

    https://www.thecut.com/2018/03/cate-blanchett-and-sandra-bullock-get-penis-facials.html

    Dunno, sounds like the moral equivalent of eating veal in a way.

  83. Jim Doyle says

    @85 “I thought that the a key principle of modern society was to accept the coexistsnce of different cultures, religions etc. So it sounds strange to me to hear similar principles used as a argument for privileging one cultural tradition and suppressing others.”

    What an odd comment. For your information there is a world beyond Europe and the US. In China Chinese values – either Maoist or Confucian; Xi Jinping is working that one out at the moment – are “privileged.” Insisting on Enlightenment values in a discussion of an issue set in Europe and the US is not “suppressing” any cultural tradition, which after all can be practiced elsewhere in the world, it is simply insisting on it as the basis of law in Europe or the US. There’s nothing universal about it nor is there any claim that there is.

    “The best estimate AFAIAC is that the medical benefits from circumcision ore most likely real, but limited.”

    Are they any different from the benefits of removing the labia minora?

  84. StillGjenganger says

    @Jim Doyle 87

    If I understand you right, you are saying that in Europe/US we do things this way, because these are our values, and we choose to insist that other people who live here conform to those (and tend to promote them elsewhere, when we can, too, e.g. fighting circumcision in Africa). And I am fine with that. There can be only one overriding social norm in many cases, and the dominant group (hopefully the majority) will sometimes decide that certain things are so important that we/they could not care less if anybody disagrees. I do think that where possible it is good to give space also to different cultures who live in the country – we all have to live here, and having cultural norms as a pure winner-take-all contest is a recipe for strife, or separatism. But if you feel strongly enough to push your way over other people – and to make the case unashamedly without claiming some objective superiority – and to face the fightback from those who disagree – well, you have the right to try. As do I, or the Taliban.

    There seems to be a certain amount of medical evidence that circumcision reduces the spread of AIDS, as well as the risk for cervical cancer. I have never heard anything similar claimed for FGM. I do not think it matters too much for the debate, since (IMHO) the medical advantages are either by-the-bye (if circumcision is acceptable for other reasons anyway) or insufficient (if circumcision is otherwise beyond the pale). But for what it is worth I think the facts suggest that there are some limited medical advantages.

  85. Jim Doyle says

    “I do think that where possible it is good to give space also to different cultures who live in the country – we all have to live here, and having cultural norms as a pure winner-take-all contest is a recipe for strife, or separatism. But if you feel strongly enough to push your way over other people – and to make the case unashamedly without claiming some objective superiority – and to face the fightback from those who disagree – well, you have the right to try. As do I, or the Taliban.”

    Most times it doesn’t matter and you get a wonderful mosaic with lots of wonderful food options. But somethings are off the table. The US recently expelled a high-ranking Indian diplomat who was basically a slave-owner. Do that in India f you want to and they’ll let you, but in the US it’s a very emotional issue for solid historical reasons. Similarly there was a Hasidic community in New York City somewhere that wanted to build a little enclave of purity where no women were allowed to have their hair showing on the street, the public street. It’s unacceptable in a secular society and secularism is the safest environment outside of Israel for a community like that, with al kinds of history supporting that contention.

    But if people want to avoid using electricity, avoid using automobiles, speak German, and dress the way they did 250 years ago – have at it and no one has shit to say.

  86. Jim Doyle says

    “There seems to be a certain amount of medical evidence that circumcision reduces the spread of AIDS, as well as the risk for cervical cancer. I have never heard anything similar claimed for FGM”

    I don’t see how a risk of cervical cancer in women can be any sort f justification for cutting the genitals of males, especially babies. That’s just grotesque. What parts of little girls shall we cut for the health benefits to men? You know what really reduces cervical cancer risk? The HPV vaccine. Her body, her responsibility. there is also the simple remedy of not having sex with men, although I suppose women can catch HOV and develop throat cancer as easily as men from oral sex with women.

    And you should very carefully at research alleging benefits from circumcision – look at who the researcher is and his professional connections and how that research is being funded and by whom. There’s a huge amount of research that proves, proves! that cigarette smoking is perfectly harmless.

  87. Jim Doyle says

    “There seems to be a certain amount of medical evidence that circumcision reduces the spread of AIDS, as well as the risk for cervical cancer. I have never heard anything similar claimed for FGM”

    I don’t see how a risk of cervical cancer in women can be any sort f justification for cutting the genitals of males, especially babies. That’s just grotesque. What parts of little girls shall we cut for the health benefits to men? You know what really reduces cervical cancer risk? The HPV vaccine. Her body, her responsibility. there is also the simple remedy of not having sex with men, although I suppose women can catch HPV and develop throat cancer as easily as men from oral sex with women.

    And you should very carefully at research alleging benefits from circumcision – look at who the researcher is and his professional connections and how that research is being funded and by whom. There’s a huge amount of research that proves, proves! that cigarette smoking is perfectly harmless.

  88. Jim Doyle says

    Can someone please remove that first comment? I corrected a spelling error and thought it would post right over the old comment. Sorry.

  89. StillGjenganger says

    @Jim Doyle.

    Sounds like we generally agree. Personally I do not think the actual damages of circumcision are worth the opprobrium and community unrest you would get for making it illegal for Jews and Muslims to pradftice a key tenet of thier religion. But as you can ban other things (I agree with your examples), you can also ban this. Mind you, I use the same principle of the right to enforce your principles to say that cus-sexuals have the right to divide society into men and women, by buiology, and to expect those who do not fit in to do mos (not all)t of the adapting. So it is not an innocent principle.

    In any politically controversial area you need to be quite careful about the bias and credentials of people providing evidence. On either side, though. Personally I am even more sceptical of those claiming that circumcision does do damage. A lot of them seem pretty fanatical and resistant to evidence that does not confirm their opinions.

  90. 123454321 says

    “Personally I am even more sceptical of those claiming that circumcision does do damage”

    Despite the fact that the procedure removes 90% of the nerve endings and removes the option for those minors who were mutilated at birth (without their consent) to experience life with and without their foreskin? Then there is mental damage which due to the nature of men’s reluctance to speak out is probably incalculable. How you can say this isn’t damaging or that you’re skeptics of people making such a claim is beyond me.

  91. lucythoughts says

    91. Jim Doyle

    I agree that the medical benefits arguments are very poor and in any case the ethics of circumcising babies to reduce the risk of STIs in adults of either sex is pretty appalling. The extensive funding which has been applied to the task of seeking out evidence for a few fairly minor benefits in risk reduction seems to me to suggest a really strong need amongst the American medical profession to rationalise post-hoc a practice which is an accepted part of their culture, but which they know would be a breach of medical ethics under any other circumstances. Who knows what infection risks could be reduced by cutting off other body parts? We never will know because it would be illegal to run the clinical trials necessary to find out.

    BUT leaving circumcision to one side for a moment, in general terms saying “fuck her, she is responsible for seeing she doesn’t get a disease, not me,” is a really badly flawed argument from a public health perspective. You said something pretty scathing upthread about anti-vaccination: the basis for the vaccination program and the reason it works is because it creates herd immunity. If public health bodies took your view, that it is up to the individual to look after themselves and no one else, there might be individual vaccinations but there would be no national program, and it would be pretty ineffective. In fact, there are a few examples of vaccinations that are given to one demographic to benefit another. One is the childhood pneumonia vaccine, which used to only be given to children with respiratory problem but it now part of the national program (here in the UK). The main reason for rolling it out wasn’t to prevent pneumonia in children at all, but it their Grandparents, because children often spread the infection but it is elderly people who die from it. There is an adult vaccine available but uptake amongst adults is never as good. Now, taking your principle we would say, “it’s Granny and Grandad’s bodies and their responsibility, why should my child suffer three painful injections?” But thankfully that isn’t how public health policy works. Other examples are rebella and mumps: rubella is only really dangerous to developing foetuses but it is pretty catastrophic for them and their families, mumps is unpleasant but not generally life threatening, but can cause sterility in men. In the past, only girls got the rubella vaccine and boys were given the mumps vaccine, but now everyone has both (through the MMR), which greatly increases the herd immunity effects. The HPV vaccine is currently only given to girls in the UK, based on a cost / benefit analysis and the idea that if something is transmitted through sexual contact, you can generate effective herd immunity by only vaccinating half the herd, so to speak. Gay men can also access it through NHS. I wouldn’t be surprised if ultimately it is rolled out to everyone though, it is being applied in that way on some places and we will see what the results are in terms of transmission control.

    So, to sum up, I would argue that circumcision is an invasive, painful procedure with inherent risks and it would be highly unethical to try to impose or normalise it as a public health measure. However, arguing “her body, her responsibility; if she doesn’t want a disease she shouldn’t have sex” is a bit crap in my opinion. Everyone wants to have sex, but because of the anatomy women are much more likely to contract an STI through heterosexual sex than men are. Gay men are also much more at risk. That is everybody’s business, you can’t expect the most at risk groups to shoulder the entire burden of controlling infection transmission. It isn’t reasonable and it isn’t effective either.

  92. StillGjenganger says

    @Lucythoughts 91

    The extensive funding which has been applied to the task of seeking out evidence for a few fairly minor benefits in risk reduction seems to me to suggest a really strong need amongst the American medical profession to rationalise post-hoc a practice which is an accepted part of their culture, but which they know would be a breach of medical ethics under any other circumstances.

    Good point – I had not thought of that.

  93. StillGjenganger says

    @123454321 94
    Well, you pretty obviously lose that piece of skin, and whatever nerve endings it had. But if you ask what difference (if any) it makes to your quality of life, there is not that much evidence either way, and what there is does not particularly suggest that it is harmful (see my post 46). My personal experience remains that life without a foreskin is pretty much the same as life with it.
    For the mental damage, I am surprised that a one-off event just after birth (which you are unable to remember) should have that much effect. What would be the mechanism? Also, I am little wary of people, in any context, saying “there is enormous damage, but we are hardly seeing any of it”. To be sure, it is sometimes likely to be true – for child sexual abuse, for instance. But it is also a dandy explanation for people who believe things they cannot find evidence for, like conspiracy theories. I would not doubt that there are people who are genuinely distressed and blame it on circumcision, but there are also people who are genuinely distressed and blame it on low-frequency radiation or the MMR vaccine. If the damage is as great as you think, the evidence will come. Meanwhile I go with the evidence we already have.

  94. Jim Doyle says

    @(3 “Sounds like we generally agree. Personally I do not think the actual damages of circumcision are worth the opprobrium and community unrest you would get for making it illegal for Jews and Muslims to pradftice a key tenet of thier religion. But as you can ban other things (I agree with your examples), you can also ban this.”

    We do agree very closely actually because what you are doing, or what I finally see, is that you are calling for a balance between individual and collective prerogatives. I always tend to argue more fervently for individual prerogatives because my cultural orientation is collectivist so I need to try harder going the other way.

    The historical context matters too. It’s one thing when circumcision is stigmatized in India as a Muslim thing, sweeping Jews along with it as an afterthought, because Islam has such a destructive imperialist history in India. Even in Europe Islamic governments had imperialist designs on various parts of Europe until recently. The question is a lot more fraught in Europe though when it comes to Judaism.

    @91 “BUT leaving circumcision to one side for a moment, in general terms saying “fuck her, she is responsible for seeing she doesn’t get a disease, not me,” is a really badly flawed argument from a public health perspective. You said something pretty scathing upthread about anti-vaccination: the basis for the vaccination program and the reason it works is because it creates herd immunity.”

    I must have come across as a little more categorical than I intended. The problem is that argument for circumcision is so much of the same male disposability that is modal in our culture and so foundational to our societies that it set me off a little. I will say that I am pretty scathing about any belief-based insistence on anything. We do all have to look out for each other.

    As for the business on avoiding sex, since I see that so often offered as a solution to men getting saddled with the upkeep of kids they never wanted, that sets me off a little too, and I just figured what’s sauce for the goose…

    “The HPV vaccine is currently only given to girls in the UK, based on a cost / benefit analysis and the idea that if something is transmitted through sexual contact, you can generate effective herd immunity by only vaccinating half the herd, so to speak. Gay men can also access it through NHS.”

    That’s interesting and odd. Speaking as a gay man, we most certainly are not part of that herd and straight men need that vaccination a lot more than we do. You say that gay men are at risk but I wonder how that would be, if we are a separate sexual pool. Then again both pools may be contaminated, I suppose.

  95. lucythoughts says

    Jim Doyle

    That’s interesting and odd. Speaking as a gay man, we most certainly are not part of that herd and straight men need that vaccination a lot more than we do. You say that gay men are at risk but I wonder how that would be, if we are a separate sexual pool. Then again both pools may be contaminated, I suppose.

    You seem to have this a bit confused. Women do not create HPV and give it to heterosexual men, leaving gay men safe. HPV is in the population at large: men and women give it to each other through sex, men and men give it to each other through sex, women and women also although not as much. Theoretically, if people only had heterosexual sex you could immunise only one sex and the other sex would effectively be protected because the infection could no longer be passed back and forth, so infection rates would decline. In this way heterosexual men are given a fair degree of protection if women are vaccinated (if the uptake is good enough). However, gay men don’t get any of that secondary protection so the infection can still flourish within the gay population, passed back and forth, creating new infections. For that reason, any man who has sex with men can get the vaccine from a sexual health clinic to protect himself from infection if he wants to.

  96. Jim Doyle says

    @99 Thanks. I just meant that perhaps HPV was mostly a heterosexual disease, which of course it’s not, any more than HIV is a heterosexual disease even if that’s how it started.

    But then by your reasoning, straight women would be as protected if straight men (boys actually; the sooner the better around puberty) were vaccinated as straight men are if women are vaccinated.

  97. lucythoughts says

    Jim Doyle

    As for the business on avoiding sex, since I see that so often offered as a solution to men getting saddled with the upkeep of kids they never wanted, that sets me off a little too, and I just figured what’s sauce for the goose…

    Well, to paraphrase myself from earlier: everyone wants to have sex, but because of the anatomy women are much more likely to get pregnant through heterosexual sex than men are. Unplanned pregnancies happen in this less than perfect world, and there is fall out for everyone involved. Saying “well he just shouldn’t have had sex then should he!” is very flippant and offensive I agree, but it is no more flippant and offensive than the other one which always come up in those discussion: “well, she can just have an abortion then can’t she! Or put the baby up for adoption! Or leave it on the bus!”

    But this is drifting so far off topic that I think I’d better leave it alone…

  98. lucythoughts says

    Jim Doyle

    But then by your reasoning, straight women would be as protected if straight men (boys actually; the sooner the better around puberty) were vaccinated as straight men are if women are vaccinated.

    Yes, it could work that way around as well, but as the common cancer resulting from HPV infection is cervical cancer, it makes more sense to protect women directly and men indirectly than the other way around (if you aren’t going to stump up the cash to vaccinate everyone).

  99. Jim Doyle says

    @102 “Yes, it could work that way around as well, but as the common cancer resulting from HPV infection is cervical cancer, ”

    Throat cancer results from HPV too but it stands to reason it’s going to have a lower incidence.

  100. lucythoughts says

    104.
    Yes. That was supposed to read “the most common cancer resulting from HPV…” sorry. It causes quite a lot of mouth and throat cancers as well, and they are on the rise despite people smoking less. It also causes some rarer genital and anal cancers. On the whole I quite expect to see the vaccination program extended to boys as well as girls but we will have to wait and see what happens there.

  101. says

    There seems to be a certain amount of medical evidence that circumcision reduces the spread of AIDS, as well as the risk for cervical cancer. I have never heard anything similar claimed for FGM.

    There have been a few studies which found that FGM decreases the risk of HIV infection in women. These studies have not been talked about much and there certainly haven’t been much talk about using those findings as a reason to push FGM in a medical and ‘safe’ setting in countries with a high rate of HIV infection.

    Am on phone now, but can dig up references later if anyone is interested or won’t take my word for this.

  102. lucythoughts says

    Tamen

    I had seen some incidental references to this as well, but I would be interested to glance though the papers if you have them to hand. FWIW I’m personally happy to take your word in general, as I’ve always found you to be very reliable with your references.

  103. says

    There have been a few studies which found that FGM decreases the risk of HIV infection in women.

    I would have naïvely expected this to be the case, for no reason beside simply having less sex. How well were these studies controlled for number of partners and frequency of intercourse? (I am sure some — probably including a disproportionate number of non-disabled, straight white cis men — will say What does it matter if they are having less sex, if it means they aren’t catching AIDS? ….. but, even placing all moral issues temporarily aside, this is still Solving the Wrong Problem.)

    These studies have not been talked about much

    Neither does this surprise me. I cannot think of anyone who would want to publicise such a study, beside perhaps some radical, murderous pro-FGM religious sect.

  104. says

    Excellent choice by those who asked for sources – if the claim made has any importance for you always look for sources and don’t take anyone’s word for it. Not even mine 🙂

    Here are references and some quotes from three studies:

    The crude relative risk of HIV infection among women reporting to have been circumcised versus not circumcised was 0.51 [95% CI =0.38<RR<0.70]

    The surprising and perplexing significant inverse association between reported female circumcision and HIV seropositivity has not been explained by other variables available and examined in these analyses

    http://www.tzonline.org/pdf/femalecircumcisionandhivinfectionintanzania.pdf

    RESULTS: This study shows an inverse association (OR=0.508; 95% CI: 0.376-0.687) between
    FGM and HIV/AIDS, after adjusting for confounding variables.
    DISCUSSION: The inverse association between FGM and HIV/AIDS established in this study
    suggests a possible protective effect of female circumcision against HIV/AIDS.

    https://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1113&context=iph_theses

    Increased years of sexual activity were associated with HIV-2 seropositivity, while a history of excision and BCG vaccinations decreased the risk of HIV-2 infection.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1442755

    Among adolescents, regardless of sexual experience, circumcision was just as strongly associated with prevalent HIV infection. However, uncircumcised adults were more likely to be HIV positive than circumcised adults

    http://www.annalsofepidemiology.org/article/S1047-2797(06)00265-1/abstract

    The study above looked at both men and women. If we look at table 5 in the full paper one can see the association between circumcision and prevalent HIV infection among Kenyan females (all age groups):
    * Uncircumcised: 9.9% HIV+
    * Circumcised: 5.5% HIV+

    For girls aged 15-17 it’s the opposite:
    * Uncircumcised: 2.0% HIV+
    * Circumcised: 3.8% HIV+

    For all other age groups among women the prevalence of HIV+ among uncircumcised women is 1.75 – 2.54 times higher than among circumcised women.

  105. says

    bluerizlagirl .@109:

    I would have naïvely expected this to be the case, for no reason beside simply having less sex. How well were these studies controlled for number of partners and frequency of intercourse?

    Most of the studies I cited tried to look at confounding variables, sex practices obviously is one of them. Also, when looking for the reference to these I also came across one study which found no difference in frequency of sexual activity among women having undergone FGM and those who haven’t (I didn’t bookmark the reference for that one as it didn’t look at HIV risk or prevalence).

    (I am sure some — probably including a disproportionate number of non-disabled, straight white cis men

    For god’s sake, be better than this!

    What does it matter if they are having less sex, if it means they aren’t catching AIDS? ….. but, even placing all moral issues temporarily aside, this is still Solving the Wrong Problem.

    Not even that, just plain wrong since the assumption doesn’t seem to hold water.

  106. Ki says

    One fellow objected to being told that his circumcised penis had been “violently mutilated”. Okay, it’s not mutilated, it still look okay, but it was certainly treated violently. Have you ever seen a baby being circumcised? The child has to be tied up, and it is given a dummy to suck when it screams. More recently, some doctors use a local anesthetic, which involves injecting lidocaine into the dorsal nerve of the penis. When I became a doctor, I refused to learn how to circumcise boys, nor would I have my son so treated. This is a civil liberties issue. We should not carry out cosmetic surgery on unwilling patients without anesthesia after forcibly subduing them and tying them up. On a trivial note, I quit piercing baby girls’ ears, too, after doing it once.

  107. Sasiriho says

    I’d also like to mention that there are different types of male genital mutilation, such as:
    – dorsal slit
    – foreskin removal
    – headsplitting
    – glans excision
    – subincision
    – genital bisection

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