This is my article that ran in the October 20th issue of The Advocate.
While female circumcision is rightly considered by Americans to be an
inhumane practice, male circumcision, a practice performed on more than
1 million American infants each year, is usually shrugged off by the
public as benign.
I’d like to suggest that it is actually far from benign, but in fact,
is a rather awful thing someone would feel obligated to do to their
First, let’s identify what circumcision actually is. Circumcision is
the removal, sometimes surgically, sometimes not, of the foreskin of
(usually an infant’s) penis. It’s mutilation. If you were forced to
explain this to someone who had never heard of circumcision and revealed
that you were part of a society that practiced that, I imagine they
would run away from you as fast as possible.
The most common arguments put forward in favor of infant male
circumcision include “It looks better that way” (aesthetic), “It’s more
hygienic” (hygiene), “It’s better that a boy looks like his
father/everyone else” (conformity), “It lowers your risk of STDs”
(disease), and “It’s my religious freedom to circumcise my son”
None of these arguments hold up, and while the default position
should be “leave children’s body parts alone unless medically
necessary,” it evidently isn’t, so I’m going to hopefully show why these
reasons simply aren’t persuasive.
Let’s look at the aesthetic and hygiene arguments. These are two that
pretty much all men should find insulting. Think about this: what if
you lived in a society that instead of circumcising newborn boys, gave
all of the newborn girls breast implants? Most people who are attracted
to women would probably find that more aesthetically appealing once the
girl becomes mature, so it makes just as much sense, right? Most people
should find that disturbing and feel insulted that someone would use
that as an excuse to do something like that to an infant.
As far as the hygiene argument is concerned, if there is indeed a
reason to think that foreskin makes it less sanitary, then ideally we
should be reminding boys to be thorough when washing themselves. It’s
offensive to me as a male for people to think that men are somehow
incapable of sufficiently washing themselves so much that the proper
course of action is to cut off a piece of their body.
If we applied this line of thinking consistently, we would almost
certainly feel perfectly okay cutting off the tips of infants’ fingers
because sometimes it’s hard to clean under their nails. Clearly, this is
Next, there is the conformity argument, which has a component of
parental sentimentality to it, which I find understandable, however
misplaced it may presently be. Still, there is a much simpler solution
to this problem than an uncalled-for surgical procedure.
What parents really should do if the subject comes up is communicate
to their children that you cared enough about them to not unnecessarily
remove a part of their body; they are fine just the way they are, and
that there’s no reason to feel different or ashamed whatsoever. It
needn’t be so drastic of a conversation that it needs to be pre-empted
The disease argument is slightly more complicated in that there is
some evidence that if you’re circumcised you have a reduced risk of
contracting HIV. However, this is only true if you live in a country
that is extremely high risk for AIDS, and you have no plans on using a
Condoms are significantly more effective at preventing STDs than
circumcision, and even if circumcision was better at preventing STDs,
that doesn’t mean kids should be circumcised when they are infants and
have no possible way of contributing to the decision.
Any potential benefits gained from the operation only mean something
once a person is sexually active, which means there is plenty of time to
wait so that whoever is potentially having part of their body removed
can be asked if they want to do it first.
Even after all of those, the least defensible argument still, is the
religious argument. As far as the United States goes, your freedom to
practice your religion ends at your causing harm to other individuals.
This should include medically unnecessary (not to mention potentially
dangerous) operations to highly sensitive organs, or medically
unnecessary operations, period. We don’t allow people to bring harm to
their children due to practicing their religion in any other case, so
why does circumcision get a free pass?
It’s 2011. When are we going to realize these kinds of effectively
barbaric practices shouldn’t be defended anymore? We stopped letting
people sacrifice each other, now it’s time to stop letting them maim
each other as well.
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