Culture is the culprit

My husband cut off his thumb when I was pregnant with our daughter.  After she was born I considered surgically amputating her thumb as well.  So she could look like him.  So she could avoid those pesky hangnails and the feeling of smashing her thumb with a hammer.  Besides, the doctors would leave just a bit of it, a little stump, so it would still have some function.

*****

It took me awhile to figure out what it was about the Michael Vick dogfighting case that didn’t sit quite right with me.  While I think dogfighting is atrocious and Vick should have been punished for participating in it, the issue was not that black and white to me.  While being vilified by the majority of Americans, Vick had also been victimized by the culture in which he was raised–a culture in which dogfighting was socially acceptable.  “We never knew there was nothing wrong with it,” his brother is quoted here as saying.

We are all products of our culture.

*****

We cannot withhold facts for fear of offending because the importance of the information outweighs people’s right to not be challenged in their beliefs.  -Maddy Reid

When I was pregnant with my daughter my midwife asked if I would circumcise if I had a boy.  My first two thoughts were:  “Isn’t that just what you do?” and “It seems like such a bizarre thing to do.”

After that appointment I went online to look for information and within minutes was watching a video of the procedure. . . with sound.  My husband found me crying a short time later, and I told him I would never do that to any son of mine.

When my midwife asked me again at my next appointment if I’d decided whether or not to circumcise I said, “no way.”  As it’s been said about circumcision, the more you know, the more you’re against it.  In truth, I’d sooner gnaw off my own arm than subject my non-consenting child to such a barbaric act.  (I’m fairly certain that’s not an exaggeration.)

Months passed before I revisited the issue, though.  (Some things are so disturbing they must be left alone in a dark corner for a while.)  When I did I discovered that:

  • The foreskin is not a useless flap of skin.  It provides an immunological and physical barrier against disease and supports the growth of beneficial bacteria.  It also contains thousands of nerve endings and offers a gliding action that enhances sexual pleasure.
  • Circumcision became popular in the U.S. as a means to prevent masturbation.  Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, of breakfast cereal fame, recommended it as a preventative measure and as punishment for those caught masturbating, for whom the procedure would preferably be performed without anesthesia.  (He recommended carbolic acid for girls’ genitals.)
  • Circumcision is painful.  The foreskin must be ripped and cut away from the glans, to which, in infancy, it is adhered like a fingernail to a finger.  Anesthesia is not always used and even when it is, it’s not 100% effective.
  • Circumcision does not prevent UTIs or HIV or any other STD.  (European countries have far lower rates of both circumcision and HIV than the U.S.)  Antibiotics can easily treat UTIs, and condoms and abstinence prevent STDs.
  • Circumcision can disrupt a previously established breastfeeding relationship.
  • Circumcision can lead to complications including infection, excessive blood loss, excessive skin removal, loss of glans (head of penis) and other deformities, sexual dysfunction in later life, and death.
  • Over time the exposed glans becomes keratinized and loses sensitivity, as it is forced to become an external organ that must weather constant chafing from clothes.
  • The U.S. and Israel are the only two countries in the world where the majority of male infants are circumcised.
  • Females are protected by U.S. law from routine infant circumcision.
  • The female genital mutilation we abhor in other countries is ethically no different from male genital mutilation (aka circumcision) in the U.S.
  • No major medical association in the world recommends circumcision.

The more I learned, yes, the more I was against it.  The more pissed off I was, to be precise.  Pissed off that the wool could be pulled over the eyes of so many well-meaning parents–my friends, my family members.  Pissed off that the natural penis is billed as unclean, unhealthy and ugly, and the foreskin as useless.  Pissed off that our culture has decided that baby girls have the right to genital integrity, but baby boys do not.  Pissed off that men and their partners are missing out on the full sexual experience as nature intended it.  Pissed off that anyone other than the owner of the penis would be granted the right to make irreversible decisions about it for strictly cosmetic and cultural reasons.

We are all products of our culture.  And sometimes culture needs to be called out for being a horrifically shitty mess.

 *****

I did then what I knew how to do.  Now that I know better, I do better.  -Maya Angelou

To learn more about the functions of the foreskin and to be inspired to change our circumcision culture visit:

Intact America

NOCIRC

NORM

Doctors Opposing Circumcision

Beyond the Bris

Jewish Circumcision Resource Center

Jews Against Circumcision

The WHOLE Network

Intact Network

Peaceful Parenting

Saving Our Sons

Keeping Future Sons Intact

Psychology Today series

*****

Of course I didn’t really consider surgically removing my daughter’s thumb.  That would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it?

10 thoughts on “Culture is the culprit

  1. Some unspoken reasons why American parents still give the nod to the routine circumcisions of their infant sons:

    * Mom and Dad do not want to see foreskin when they change son’s diaper and give him a bath. That might fuel inappropriate sexual thoughts. And also serve as a repeat reminder of something that is missing from their marital sex life.

    * Mom and Dad grew up in a foreskin-free environment. Hence they do not know how to raise an intact son. They dread having to answer questions from an intact boy.

    * Parents believe that having deviant private parts is unusually traumatic for a child. Dad fears that son will be mocked and taunted in the sports locker room and in summer camp. Nobody mentions that this never happens after a boy finishes high school. Never mind that most parents believe that a young woman should be proud of the body that God gave her, and should have nothing to do with young men who do not accept her as she is. Never mind that an intact boy can simply be told that he is healthy and normal, and that almost every male is born looking as he does.

    * Parents project their own prejudices and insecurities into the minds of the women who will invite their son into their bedrooms 20-25 years in the future. Parents assume that these young women would react to son’s foreskin the same way Mom believes she would have reacted had she dated an intact man. There is also a persistent belief that only sex workers are willing to fellate an intact penis. This overlooks the possibility that the American obsession with fellatio is an iatrogenic consequence of RIC. The mobile skin of the intact penis makes manual foreplay much more satisfying, so that oral sex is unnecessary.

    * Parents believe that if routine circumcision were harmful, doctors would not offer to do it. They do not know that medicine outside of the USA does not circumcise routinely precisely because of occasional accidents and gradual harm, harms to which American medicine has closed its eyes. The only long run complication of routine infant circumcision that
    American medical research has faced honestly is meatal stenosis. That some men circumcised in infancy suffer from PE or ED as adults, or have difficulty enjoying normal sexual activity, is passed over in silence.

    * Many families circumcise their sons because Dad insists on it, despite Mom having serious reservations about the practice. Mom decides that this is not a hill she is willing to die on.

    American circumcision is not a urological matter, but a persistent problem in the social psychology of American sexuality, driven by a cowardly drive for cosmetic conformity. I assert that the desire to circumcise baby boys is cut from the same cloth as the desire of some young women for breast implants and for cosmetic surgery on their vulvas, and the desire of some immature young men for a larger penis.

    Culture is indeed the culprit. Especially in the many American states east of the Rockies where more than 70% of baby boys leave the maternity ward without their foreskins.

    1. @roger

      I’m on Medicaid and in TN it doesn’t cover it, but my boyfriend and I had already decided that if our child (who will actually be a girl) were to be a boy we wouldn’t do it. The thing is, he and his dad weren’t the ones who wanted it done. He hadn’t been circ’d, so it makes sense, but still. There was no male pressure. It all came from my mom, who went on and on about how you just HAVE to do it, because… well, just because! She also told me finding out the gender is unnatural. Technically, along similar but less controversial lines as the circumcision argument, she’s right, and it’s probably cultural influences that make so many people find out now, but I really did not want to wait. But I think it can be just as bad from females in the family as males.

  2. Good for you.

    Canadian Paediatric Society

    http://www.cps.ca/english/statements/fn/fn96-01.htm

    “Recommendation: Circumcision of newborns should not be routinely performed.”

    http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/pregnancy&babies/circumcision.htm

    “Circumcision is a ‘non-therapeutic’ procedure, which means it is not medically necessary.”
    “After reviewing the scientific evidence for and against circumcision, the CPS does not recommend routine circumcision for newborn boys. Many paediatricians no longer perform circumcisions.”

    Royal Australasian College of Physicians

    http://www.racp.edu.au/index.cfm?objectid=65118B16-F145-8B74-236C86100E4E3E8E

    “In the absence of evidence of risk of substantial harm, informed parental choice should be respected. Informed parental consent should include the possibility that the ethical principle of autonomy may be better fulfilled by deferring the circumcision to adolescence with the young man consenting on his own behalf.”
    (almost all the men responsible for this statement will be circumcised themselves, as the male circumcision rate in Australia in 1950 was about 90%. “Routine” circumcision is now *banned* in public hospitals in Australia.)

    British Medical Association

    http://www.bma.org.uk/ethics/consent_and_capacity/malecircumcision2006.jsp#Circumcisionformedicalpurposes

    “to circumcise for therapeutic reasons where medical research has shown other techniques to be at least as effective and less invasive would be unethical and inappropriate.”

    The Royal Dutch Medical Association

    http://knmg.artsennet.nl/Diensten/knmgpublicaties/KNMGpublicatie/Nontherapeutic-circumcision-of-male-minors-2010.htm

    “The official viewpoint of KNMG and other related medical/scientific organisations is that non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors is a violation of children’s rights to autonomy and physical integrity. Contrary to popular belief, circumcision can cause complications – bleeding, infection, urethral stricture and panic attacks are particularly common. KNMG is therefore urging a strong policy of deterrence. KNMG is calling upon doctors to actively and insistently inform parents who are considering the procedure of the absence of medical benefits and the danger of complications.”

    Drops in male circumcision since 1950:
    USA: from 90% to 55%
    Canada: from 48% to 17%
    UK: from 35% to about 5% (about 1-2% among non-Muslims)
    Australia: 90% to 12.4% (“routine” circumcision has recently been *banned* in public hospitals in all states)
    New Zealand: 95% to below 3% (mostly Samoans and Tongans)
    South America and Europe: never above 5%

    It’s worth remembering that no-one except for Muslim and Jewish people would even be having this discussion if it weren’t for the fact that 19th century doctors thought that :
    a) masturbation caused various physical and mental problems (including epilepsy, convulsions, paralysis, tuberculosis etc), and
    b) circumcision stopped masturbation.

    Both of those sound ridiculous today I know, but that’s how they thought back then, and that’s how non-religious circumcision got started. If you don’t believe me, then check out this link: http://www.noharmm.org/docswords.htm
    Heck, they even passed laws against “self-pollution” as it was called.

  3. My god, that’s barbaric! I can’t believe it’s still standard pratice in the States. I’m English & I live in Ireland. It is considered mutiltaion here! I didn’t even know you guys still did that crap in the States! Say NO. A big FAT NO! Protect our boys’ lovely willies. I have two boys of 9 months and 4yrs – I can’t imagine anything worse that cutting off a part of their precious beautiful body parts for no reason other than some religious dogma. And to cause such pain! God this should be outlawed. And there I was thinking the US is a modern, western society we all should follow…. Not on this basis.

    1. Yep, Americans are uninformed or underinformed on this issue. I agree, it is barbaric, although very little of it is done for religious reasons (i.e. Judaism), most seems to be because “that’s just what you do/it’s better that way.” I read a quote recently from a guy who said that as a child he always wished he’d been born American. When he got older he learned about routine infant circumcision and was so thankful to be born in Scotland!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s