Circumcision or Genital Mutilation?

manicstreetpreacher uncrosses his legs and presents some excellent commentary against a barbaric piece of theocratic lunacy.

I’ve always had a problem with circumcision, even before I ordained myself as a New Atheist.  There just seemed to be something very wrong with snipping off an intimate part of a child’s anatomy when they were but a few days old because some millennia-old Holy Book says that this will please an invisible sky father who cannot be bothered revealing himself to humanity at large.

Apologists of the practice often claim that circumcision helps with hygiene and can reduce the chances of contracting AIDS.  That could well be true, but why not let the child decide what methods of contraception and cleanliness they use when they are old enough to make the decision for themselves?

That’s just male circumcision.  I found out about the real horror of female genital cutting after I became a New Atheist.

I strongly recommend this excellent piece on US sceptic Ophelia Benson’s superb blog, Butterflies and Wheels by Iranian-born German writer of several languages Jahanshah Rashidian that well and truly grabs the issue by the balls:

Circumcision, in its different forms, is practised in a big part of the world.  The Jews were the first to adapt it as a sign of religiosity; it is mentioned in the Old Testament as a religious ritual and preserved its practice into our times.  Circumcision was banned by the ancient Romans and Greeks considering it as an act of barbarity.  Also the early Christians took a strong stand against it.

Benefits of circumcision are believed to maintain genital organs in hygienic conditions for males whereas it is practised to reduce the sexual appetite for females. Removal of a functional, sensitive, healthy, and normal foreskin or clitoris with many nerve fibres, nerve endings, strictly speaking is a genital mutilation.  Medically speaking, it has no relevant healthy benefits that can objectively be used to justify its practice. And as such, this heritage of passed rituals violates the principles of modern morality and the very principles of sciences. [My emphasis]

Our universal law respects parents’ “ownership rights” over their children to protect them, to the extent that their decisions are in the child’s benefits. A child’s right to maintain the integrity of her/his healthy body should not be violated by any religion.

Some businesslike or religious doctors, as modern circumcisers, cut off a functional healthy and normal part of human body, a business or religious treatment which is in contradiction to their professional morality. This is akin to removing an eyelid which protects the eye or to cut off a finger of a child as a pseudo-healthy treatment.

(…)

No medical evidence about the effectiveness of this wounding in reducing the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS or penile cancer or genital diseases has been shown. Only speculations, mostly loaded with religiosity, justify this practice.

No health organisation in the world currently accepts circumcision as a preventive procedure or advocates its practice for both sexes; even if female circumcision is in some areas absent, it is immorally perverse to excuse one cruelty by invoking a worse one. The genitals of both sexes, as the products of evolution, should be left intact.

Since 1996 female circumcision has been considered violence against women in the US and thus has become illegal, but the “civilised world” ignores the practice of it in many circumcising cultures. In Egypt, a US ally, more than 90% of women are victims of female circumcision.

Rashidian concludes his article:

Circumcision, an old practice, has no clear references concerning its history, motive and origin.

Circumcision is a ritual practice of primitive cultures and can be rooted in the factors of sexual punishment, ritual sacrifice and self-injury.

Circumcision has no preventive or medical benefits.

Circumcision, as an act of genital mutilation for both sexes, cannot morally be permitted.

Penn & Teller think that circumcision is BULLSHIT!  (And that’s all the confirmation I need.)

I’d recommend watching Penn & Teller’s excellent debunking of circumcision.  (I first saw the show a couple of years ago on YouTube.  This one is hosted by Yahoo! Video.  There were plenty of other sites hosting the video, so a Google search should turn up something if my URL has been removed.)

Hitchens Watch

Journalist and polemical author Christopher Hitchens has plenty to say against circumcision and lambasts it within the pages of God Is Not Great:

Hitchens comments on circumcision during his May 2007 debate against Christian apologist Timothy Jackson at Emory University:

Hitchens grills Rabbi David Wolpe on circumcision during their November 2008 debate at the Temple Emanu-El, New York:

And finally, Hitchens schools conservative Rabbi Harold Kushner during their discussion at The Connecticut Forum, February 2009:

I think that’s enough food for thought.  I would just like to conclude by saying that if a modern political party decided that their members had to show their commitment by removing parts of their own body, such an edict would not be tolerated in Western society and that party would most likely be banned.

So why do we allow such an appalling practice to continue when it is wrapped in the cloak of religious faith?

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15 Responses to “Circumcision or Genital Mutilation?”

  1. Restoring Tally Says:

    I am also baffled why male infant circumcision continues. Surely, we have advanced enough to stop human sacrifice. Although we are not killing babies, we are cutting off part of the most important male organ known to man. (I really like my penis – I just wish I had all of it.)

  2. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    Thanks for your comment, Restoring. I have had a quick look at your website and it made me LOL! The most unusual social networking site I have come across yet.

    Towards the end of the Penn & Teller show I link in the main post, there is a “demonstration” on how to re-grow your man hood. All you need is a weight, a piece of string and a strong clothes peg…

  3. Hansen Says:

    Here in Denmark we have laws against circumcision of girls. The laws even apply to parents deliberately taking their daughters to another country to be circumcised. Do you have similar laws in the UK?

    I hope we will one day have laws against circumcision of boys too. But the undue respect that religion is still awarded, probably means this will not happen anytime soon.

  4. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    Female circumcision is illegal in the UK, but you read reports that it still goes on in Muslim communities and the authorities turn a blind eye to it for fear of offending religious sensibilities.

    There’s no direct law banning male circumcision. If someone does it to you without your consent, you can resort to the traditional criminal law such as assault. However, it is widely and openly practised in the Jewish community and a few people I know have had it done for medical reasons.

  5. Chris H Says:

    Female circumcision is obviously a barbaric practise used entirely by men to control the sexual behaviour of women – just one in a long line of such practises.

    However, I am not sure that the issue is so clear cut (if you will pardon the pun) when it comes to males… There is pretty good evidence that circumcision has (at least some) medical benefits. The only Cochrane review on the subject states: “Results from three large randomised controlled trials conducted in Africa have shown strong evidence that male circumcision prevents men in the general population from acquiring HIV from heterosexual sex” (http://www.mrw.interscience.wiley.com/cochrane/clsysrev/articles/CD003362/frame.html)

    I will agree that the medical evidence is not clear. I found some articles (though not as thorough) stating the exact opposite and the benefits are likely to be context-dependent. However, let’s at least acknowledge that it’s a “grey area”?

    • Hansen Says:

      However, let’s at least acknowledge that it’s a “grey area”?

      Performing an irreversible medical procedure on non-consenting, innocent children is not a “grey area”.

      We could also cut off the penis of all boys. I’m sure that would be very effective against all sexually transmitted diseases. Oh, and it would be effective against overpopulation too.

  6. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    I know a few people who were circumcised when they were children because the over-growth of their foreskin meant they had trouble urinating. But as to the supposed hygiene and STI-contraction benefits, I am extremely sceptical. And remember, this is not the reason why religious people practise it in the first place.

    @Hansen. What that Penn and Teller episode. You get a rather nifty demonstration of how to reverse circumcision at the end!

  7. Chris H Says:

    I did not argue that the entire issue was a grey area, but simply that the medical aspects are unclear. I am interested in this idea of giving people a choice over everything. If we could conclusively prove that circumcision reduced the contraction of STIs would you still oppose its use in children? Do you also oppose the introduction of fluoride into the water supply? (These are hypotheticals moving away from the issue – I’m not arguing that circumcision should be used on all infants and I certainly don’t think that anything has been conclusively proved concerning the medical benefits).

    As far as skepticism concerning the medical benefits is concerned, I positively encourage it. I would also encourage you to look at the background of the Cochrane reviews. Cochrane is THE authority on meta-analyses in the medical literature, subject to the tightest possible constraints on methodology and interpretation of results.

    I agree that this is not the reason that religions promote the practice. However, it illustrates that there may possibly be a secular use for circumcision.

  8. Hansen Says:

    If we could conclusively prove that circumcision reduced the contraction of STIs would you still oppose its use in children?

    Yes! Please consider replacing circumcision with some other damaging surgical procedure and perhaps replace STD with some other disease to see why. I made the comparison above with cutting off the entire penis in order to fight STD. That may be slightly hyperbolic, although not very much.

    Here is another reason. We already know very well how to combat STDs without doing irreparable harm to children. Condoms! Especially when combined with even a minimum of sex education, condoms are massively effective to a degree that circumcision could never in our wildest imagination hope to be. Condoms do no harm, are easy to use, are reasonably cheap, and reduce risk of STDs to almost zero when used properly!

    Also, a lot can be said about the near impossibility of conducting such a study in an ethical manner in order to factor out cultural influences, lack of sexual education, sexual behavior (including use of condoms), etc. However, we don’t even need to consider all of that because we know of effective, non-harmful ways of fighting STDs.

    Sorry but this does get my blood boiling a bit. The only reason people are even giving the idea of circumcision a second thought is because of religion. Try to imagine for a minute that the world had never before used circumcision. Then imagine somebody starts advocating the idea of cutting off part of the penis in order to combat STDs. People would be justified in considering that person a lunatic – even if he tried to sound like a genuine skeptic and say something like “Well, you cannot just rule it out before trying it. It might just work even if I don’t know why.” It really is only because of the poisonous blindfolds of religious and cultural traditions that such ideas are even considered.

  9. Thought criminal Says:

    “Female circumcision is obviously a barbaric practise used entirely by men to control the sexual behaviour of women[.]”

    Female circumcision/FGM is a female tradition, performed by old women while mothers hold their own daughters down. Most men in the area are indifferent to female circumcision. Think about it: The complaint has forever been that men are unaware of the importance of the clitoris. Only another woman would understand what removing the clitoris would do to a woman sexually. The middle east is a strange place. You go back far enough and the cultures are matriarchal. FGM is prepharoahnic, meaning it could very possibly date back to such matriarchal cultures as male circumcision most likely did. Clitoridectomy in subsaharan Africa is another issue, but still a female dominated / maintained practice.

  10. Steve Says:

    Comparing circumcision to cutting off an eyelid or a finger, and especilly comparing it to cutting off the whole penis, is completely asinine. Eyelids, fingers, and whole penises are functional parts of the body, unlike the foreskin, which is a flap of skin whose only function is to get in the way and get infected. One thing that can’t be argued is that circumcision completely eliminates ANY and ALL chances of foreskin infection or disease because something CAN’T get infected if it is not there. Add the evidence that is piling up that suggests that STI transmission and UTI’s can be reduced and it’s a no brainer. It’s a preventative measure, just like vaccines. A little bit of discomfort (if a local is used) as a baby who won’t even remember and all you’re foreskin worries are gone, sign me up please. Plus, it eliminates the extra cleaning and hygene issues that come with the foreskin, and every woman I’ve talked to thinks the uncircumsized penis is weird looking and they much prefer a circumcised penis. I bet, if you were to tell most uncircumcised men that they could be rid of their foreskin and have no memory of the experience or the healing process, they’d sign up in a heartbeat. But, since that’s not possible when you are grown, it’s more trouble than it’s worth, so most men don’t want to deal with it. So just get it over with as a baby, and you’re free. I’ve never met a circumcised man say, “gee, I really wish I had my foreskin back”. So…. numerous benefits for being circumcised, and what benefits for not being circumcised? Avoid a little discomfort that the baby doesn’t even remember, and you get to “stick it” to religion. Really? Find something better to worry about.

  11. Aw922 Says:

    The practice is performed by females upon females in Muslim society because it is thought to reduce sexuality in women, thus protecting men from sexual promiscuity. There is no way that it would be a commonly accepted practice for men to touch a woman’s genitals. There are even religious restrictions on sex with your wife. This is an atrocious practice, and with all due respect to men, there really is no comparison to the drastically more barbaric female circumcision.

    In response to the notion that religious people do not perform circumcision for reasons of cleanliness, I would have to disagree. There are several religious practices which were commanded by God in the Old Testament for just that purpose which were, perhaps, necessary at the time that they were written. These things included the handling of dead bodies, not eating pork, circumcision, and various other practices. Some things may presently be obsolete, but were very helpful at that time. Some are still necessary.

    Finally, I have been reading about this topic in order to come to a more solid position on it. In general, as a female, I say with real certainty that I know not a single female who prefers an intact penis. I know some who put up with it, because they love their men, but not one who hopes the man she’s dating will be uncircumcised. On the contrary, we all hope he is circumcised. In case this is news to anyone, men are not typically the more sanitary sex, and although proper hygiene may well eliminate any potential issues, men do not always do this. For women, it is less the risk of infection and more the funk that leads to it. Also, they look more glorious when cut. But, as I said, I would be willing to put up with an intact penis if it makes my man happier. So I am still on the fence on this issue. No one wants this surgery as an adult, so as a future mother, I will have to choose for my potential son(s).

  12. A Jewish Male Opposing Circumcision Says:

    ………………………. There is a movement of Jews who are questioning circumcision, and working to end this abuse of children. The movement ranges from the Orthodox to the secular, and includes mothers, fathers, scholars, historians, medical professionals, activists, and intellectuals.

    Jewish Groups for Genital Integrity

    Circumcision: A Jewish Feminist Perspective by Miriam Pollack
    http://www.noharmm.org/pollack.htm

    Jewish Intactivist Miriam Pollack has some great commentary on Foreskin Man in this recent interview.
    http://www.beyondthebris.com/2011/07/defying-convention-interview-with_27.html

    Jews Speak Out in Favor of Banning Circumcision on Minors
    http://intactnews.org/node/103/1311885181/jews-speak-out-favor-banning-circumcision-minors

    * Brit Shalom Celebrants by Mark D. Reiss, M.D. http://www.circumstitions.com/Jewish-shalom.html

    * Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective by Ron Goldman, Ph.D. http://www.jewishcircumcision.org

    * The Current Judaic Movement to End Circumcision: Part 1
    http://intactnews.org/node/105/1311886372/jewish-voices-current-judaic-movement-end-circumcision-part-1 …………………

  13. Derek Says:

    Personally, I love my circumcised penis. It’s nice and easy to clean, it doesn’t get in the way of my urine, and it helps prevent over 400367 different diaseses, disorders, and problems. And as for religious reasons, circumcision predates both Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, so blaming it on the religious people ( a card played all to often) is a mute point. And the benefits out way the risks. You say that we are cutting up a vital organ. When you go into surgery, the goal intended to cut up your organ to make it better, so the same principle is applied to circumcision. So let’s get off our soap box and make the healthy choice. Just sayin.

  14. Jamir Says:

    I notice that many of you say that circumcisions is irreversible. Well, actually there is a method called foreskin restoration. Also many men have been circumsized later on in life and they say they enjoy it much more. Even their wives say there is no difference in their sexual relationship. Many people know a days have common misconceptions regarding the foreskin over the glans. It was actually practiced in earlier centuries due to the fact men were unable to bathe as frequently, causing many infections. However, we no longer have this issue. I am actually athiest and i have no preference either way. I just feel that its simply not fair to say how terrible it is when you dont even know all that it is indeed reversible. Also, for men who are unsatisfied with their genitals, you give the practically no honest insight, only opinions. Which of course are debatable. With such a controvertial topic, one must at least open themselves to hear both sides of the story.

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