In Defense of the Intact Penis

 Posted by on 12 April 2002 at 8:34 am  Circumcision
Apr 122002

Andrew Sullivan has some excellent comments on male circumcision under the heading “The Mutilation of Children.” He writes:

I may be a broken record on this but the news today that circumcision may have a small effect in restraining transmission of the HPV virus strikes me as likely to be misused. The argument against the circumcision of infants is not that it might not conceivably have some future health-benefits. The argument against infant male genital mutilation is that it is the permanent, irreversible disfigurement of a person’s body without his consent. Unless such a move is necessary to protect a child’s life or essential health, it seems to me that it is a grotesque violation of a person’s right to control his own body. It matters not a jot why it is done. It simply should not be done – until the boy or man is able to give his informed consent. And to perform such an operation to protect the health of others is an even more unthinkable violation. It’s treating an individual entirely as a means rather than as an end. I’m at a loss why a culture such as ours that goes to great lengths to protect the dignity and safety of children (and rightly so) should look so blithely on this barbaric relic. Yes, I know there are religious justifications for it. But even so, religions should not be given ethical carte blanche over the bodies of children. Would we condone a religious ceremony that, say, permanently mutilated a child’s ear? Or tongue? Or scarred their body irreversibly? Of course not. So why do we barely object when people mutilate a child’s sexual organ?

Well put.

When I first investigated the issue of male circumcision, the barbarity and pointlessness of the practice was immediately and painfully obvious to me. (Actually, the practice isn’t really pointless, as it does serve the purpose of diminishing sexual pleasure.) Circumcision is a rights-violation, in either boys or girls. The justifications often cited for the practice were transparently ridiculous, as such arguments would never be used to justify other types of child mutilation. For example, circumcision is falsely said to eliminate the (already very low) risk of penile cancer. But it would be unthinkable to remove the breast tissue of newborn girls (if possible) so as to reduce the much greater risk of breast cancer. Life comes with risks of disease. We do not remove useful body parts in advance of any problem, particularly not without informed consent, so as to reduce those risks — except in the case of the male foreskin. Nor do we remove body parts because parents are squeamish about teaching cleaning procedures or because young men might not be so diligent about performing the necessary cleaning — except in the case of the male foreskin. As Andrew Sullivan indicates, circumcision is a glaring exception in our generally respectful attitudes towards the bodies of children.

The gross inadequacy of these arguments is yet another instance of people failing to develop or apply the all-important philosophical skill of thinking in principles. People simply don’t often-enough ask questions like: Would this sort of argument hold water in other, similar cases? As a result, they accept all manner of ludicrous conclusions simply because the arguments, taken in stark isolation, seem unobjectionable. As a result, people who would never dream of cutting off a child’s ears so as to eliminate the problem of dirt collecting behind them are willing to cut off the foreskin so as to prevent the collection of smegma.

For many, however, the problem may be more psychological in origin. As a woman, the most mind-boggling aspect of male circumcision is that most men seem to be suffering from a variant of Stockholm Syndrome as a result of the procedure. They generally steadfastly refuse to admit even the possibility that the circumcision was harmful to them. They deny that the removal of foreskin might have reduced their capacity to feel sexual pleasure, even though they clearly have no way of knowing a priori what it would be like to have sex or masturbate uncircumcised. They seem determined to ward off any thought that their parents might have seriously damaged them at an age when they could not even be aware, let alone protest, the injustice. As a result, these men go on to circumcise their own sons. It is abominable.

Men need to start standing up for their own sex.

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