Perhaps you regard male circumcision as no big deal, nothing to make a fuss about? I used to, I admit - until I looked into it. You've heard it said, maybe, that male circumcision carries health benefits, making the penis cleaner, reducing the risk of it becoming infected, and reducing the likelihood of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). You've also heard it said that there is no disbenefit to the man, no reduction in sensitivity or loss of sexual pleasure. These are all post-hoc rationalisations and they are all untrue. Male circumcision is no different in kind from female circumcision: it is genital mutilation which is, in the overwhelming majority of cases, not motivated by anything rational or beneficial to the man or child. When executed on a person without his express permission, as it must be when done to babies, it is a human rights violation and should therefore be regarded as illegal - but this is being ignored.
You probably imagine that it is mostly Jews and Muslims who are circumcised, with only a small percentage of other males being circumcised. On a worldwide perspective this not too far from the truth. Around one-sixth to one-third of all males worldwide (perhaps about 900 million men, with a large error bar) are circumcised. About 70% of these are Muslim. Only a tiny proportion are Jews, since Jews make up only 0.2% of the world's population. So, even worldwide, about 30% of circumcised men are neither Jewish nor Muslim. It came as a great surprise to me to learn that, in English speaking countries, Jews and Muslims account for only a minority of the men circumcised. This is most extreme in the USA in which ~56% of men are circumcised (and it used to be >70%) compared to about 2.7% of the population being Jewish or Muslim. So circumcision is overwhelmingly a non-religious issue in the USA. In the UK about 15.8% of adult males are circumcised (roughly 5 million men or boys) compared with about 5% who are Jewish or Muslim. So, in the UK too, circumcision is predominantly not related to religion. The same picture emerges in Canada, with 32% of men circumcised compared with 3.8% being Jewish or Muslim. In Australia, infant circumcision rates are running at around 15-19%, compared with 2.4% of the population being Jewish or Muslim.
There is therefore a burning question: just why is the rate of circumcision amongst non-Jews and non-Muslims so high? The usual answer is that it is done for health reasons. Indeed, mass circumcision of entire populations of males is in progress in some African countries due to the perceived benefits in terms of ameliorating HIV transmission. In the essay below I examine whether the claimed benefits of circumcision as a preventative of HIV appears valid. We will also see that of the myriad of other health benefits claimed for circumcision over the years, all have proved to be fallacious.
But there is a third reason for the prevalence of male circumcision, which is neither religious nor medical. This reason is rarely made explicit in discussions of the subject. It is this: circumcision is a deliberate attempt to ameliorate male sexual function. In particular, the popularity of circumcision in the USA and the UK, and other predominantly Christian countries, arose during the latter half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. And the reason? It was considered to deter masturbation. The Victorians were very worked up about Onanism. Here are some examples of what doctors were advising around the beginning of the twentieth century (taken from the excellent NOCIRC site),
To obtain the best results one must cut away enough skin and mucous membrane to rather put it on the stretch when erections come later. There must be no play in the skin after the wound has thoroughly healed, but it must fit tightly over the penis, for should there be any play the patient will be found to readily resume his practice not begrudging the time and extra energy required to produce the orgasm... We may not be sure that we have done away with the possibility of masturbation, but we may feel confident that we have limited it to within the danger lines. (E.J. Spratling, MD. Medical Record, Masturbation in the Adult, vol. 48, no. 13, September 28, 1895, pp. 442-443).
It (self abuse) lays the foundation for consumption, paralysis and heart disease. It weakens the memory, makes a boy careless, negligent and listless. It even makes many lose their minds; others, when grown, commit suicide.... Don't think it does no harm to your boy because he does not suffer now, for the effects of this vice come on so slowly that the victim is often very near death before you realize that he has done himself harm. It is worthy of note that many eminent physicians now advocate the custom of circumcision... (Mary R. Melendy, MD, The Ideal Woman - For Maidens, Wives and Mothers, 1903).
A remedy for masturbation which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment. In females, the author has found the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement. (John Harvey Kellogg, M.D., "Treatment for Self-Abuse and its Effects," Plain Fact for Old and Young. Burlington, Iowa: F. Segner & Co. (1888). P. 295)
Actually circumcision does not prevent masturbation, though that does not negate the intention (and it really does impair sexual function, making the penis far less sensitive - see the comments from circumcised men in my essay below). Of course, it will stop masturbation whilst the wound heals. And it will delay masturbation further while the victim learns a new technique for self-stimulation (the use of a lubricant being favourite for those with a full circumcision). These temporary effects probably misled the above doctors (though they were undoubtedly misguided more seriously in other ways).
Whilst masturbation prevention may no longer be the conscious reason for parents approving non-therapeutic circumcision of their infant sons, one wonders whether the association lingers on at some sub-conscious level. In addition, there is a tendancy to cut the child simply because the father was cut. Once the practice has become established, therefore, it tends to linger from generation to generation. Below is an excellent slide show of the timeline of adoption of non-religious circumcision in the USA and the UK, complied by Frederick Hodges, based on his paper "Circumcision Timeline: A History of Medical Error, Medical Fraud and Medical Abuse", The Compleat Mother 71 (2003) 25-27. (Note the picture of the baby-clamp used for neonatal circumcisions and referred to in the quote which follows). This is strongly recommended viewing...
If you ask a non-Jewish and non-Muslim woman why she has elected to have her baby boy circumcised she may say that it is because of the perceived medical benefit. Unfortunately there really is none to speak of, and any slight benefit is outweighed by the risks of the procedure. Or she might say that it is traditional and expected in her family, and surely there is no harm in it since her own husband was circumcised. But women rarely have any realistic picture of just what infant circumcision entails. Be aware that in babies and young boys the glans is still adhered to the foreskin. It is not yet the freely retractable skin that it will later become in maturity. So the process of full circumcision as practiced by Jews and by medical practitioners involves a forcible ripping apart of the foreskin and glans before any cutting can take place. If you wish to delve deeper into the origin of the Jewish practice, and why circumcision became so common in Christian USA, I strongly recommend the book Marked in Your Flesh: Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern America by Leonard Glick. Glick is a Jew, an anthropologist and a medical doctor who has performed circumcision himself. His book opens with the following account,
Marilyn Fayre Milos was a nursing student when she saw a circumcision for the first time. She was the mother of three sons, all circumcised with her consent. "My doctor had told me the surgery was a necessary health measure", she said later, "that it didn't hurt, and that it only took a moment to perform - like cutting the umbilical cord". That had left her unprepared for what she witnessed on a fateful day in 1979.
"We students filed into the newborn nursery to find a baby strapped spread-eagle to a plastic board on a countertop across the room. He was struggling against his restraints - tugging, whimpering, and then crying helplessly. No one was tending the infant, but when I asked my instructor if I could comfort him, she said, "Wait till the doctor gets here". When he did arrive, I immediately asked the doctor if I could help the baby. He told me to put my finger in his mouth; I did, and the baby sucked. I stroked his little head and spoke softly to him. He began to relax and was momentarily quiet.
The silence was soon broken by a piercing scream - the baby's reaction to having his foreskin pinched and crushed as the doctor attached the clamp to his penis. The shriek intensified when the doctor inserted an instrument between the foreskin and the glans...tearing the two structures apart...The baby started shaking his head back and forth - the only part of his body free to move - as the doctor used another clamp to crush the foreskin lengthwise, which he then cut...The baby began to gasp and choke, breathless from his shrill continuous screams...I found my own sobs difficult to contain. How much longer could this go on?
During the next stage of the surgery, the doctor crushed the foreskin against the circumcision instrument and then, finally, amputated it. The baby was limp, exhausted, spent.
I had not been prepared, nothing could have prepared me, for this experience. To see a part of this baby's penis being cut off - without an anaesthetic - was devastating. But even more shocking was the doctor's comment, barely audible several octaves below the piercing screams of the baby, "There is no medical reason for doing this". I couldn't believe my ears, my knees became weak, and I felt sick to my stomach...
What had I allowed my own babies to endure? and why?"
If you have the stomach for it you can see some still pictures of a neonatal circumcision operation here, and even more graphic are the videos which you can find here. Anyone thinking of having their boy circumcised should be obliged to watch these videos. Do remember, this is done for no valid reason. It's just barbarity.
But the mistreatment during the circumcision operation itself is arguably the least of the abuse. More serious are the lifelong sexual complications. Let no one tell you that there are none. Here are the results of a survey of circumcised men regarding their condition: Anger 71%; Frustration 72%; Betrayed by mother/father/doctor for lack of protection 55% / 50% / 58%; Dissatisfied with my condition 77%; Mutilated 61%; Violated / raped 55%; My human rights were violated 73%.
Women's groups have, rightly, campaigned vigorously against female genital mutilation (FGM). This is indeed strongly motivated because The World Health Organisation estimates that globally from 100 to 140 million girls and women have undergone some type of FGM (compared with about 900 million men who have been circumcised). FGM is most prevalent in Africa, plus parts of the middle and far east. But migration has led to women with FGM appearing in the English speaking countries and Europe. However, because the incidence of FGM in the UK is via migration alone (plus the potential for their offspring to have been so treated) the prevalence of FGM in the UK is low. A 2007 study by the Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development (FORWARD) A Statistical Study to Estimate the Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation in England and Wales: Summary Report, by Dorkenoo, Morison and Macfarlane, concluded that "nearly 66,000 women with FGM were living in England and Wales in 2001 and their numbers are likely to have increased since then". This contrasts sharply with 5 million men in the UK who have been genitally mutilated. Male circumcision is not illegal per se in the UK (though it is a moot point whether carrying out circumcision on an infant is indeed a crime under human rights legislation - but such a case has not been tried to my knowledge). In contrast, FGM is illegal in the UK, and indeed in all European and English speaking countries. This illegality extends to a UK resident being subject to FGM whilst abroad, even in a country where the practice is legal. Confining attention to the UK, women are protected against genital mutilation in law (if not in practice) whereas men are not, and the incidence of genital mutilation of men is about 75 times greater than of women. Why is it, then, that women's groups in the UK, who campaign so strongly against FGM, never even mention genital mutilation of men - a practice which is so vastly more common in the UK (and also more common worldwide)? It is hard to escape the conclusion that women's compassion extends only to women.
In fact feminists' behaviour in respect of male genital mutilation is, in some cases, worse than mere lack of concern. The delightful Megan Carpenter wrote in this Jezebel article that "being anti-circumcision is just another way of blaming your mommy". Hmm, well, if you were mutilated as an infant, that is probably no more than the truth, Megan. The nearest this nasty woman gets to compassion is the statement "men believe the world revolves around their dicks". No matter how many times I read stuff like this I continue to be staggered by how utterly vile feminists can be, and still they maintain that misandry does not exist. Megan selectively quotes sources denying that circumcision diminishes sexual function. I mean, she would know, wouldn't she? Being a woman? Does her view count for more than the views of the circumcised men who responded to the survey I quote in my essay below? No. But Ms.Carpenter sees fit to mock men campaigning against male genital mutilation. She claims that the rest of the country has trouble taking such campaigners seriously. She speaks for the whole country? But, yes, there is a woeful shortage of outrage in the country about male genital mutilation, but perhaps that's because the issue has been propagandised (i.e., lied about) by the likes of you, Ms.Carpenter. And that is why male genital mutilation is an MRA issue.
My review of male genital mutilation, the abomination formerly known as circumcision, is here.
A testimony from a British doctor, John Warren, on his own experiences of circumcision, and that of other men,
I have concentrated on this page on circumcision carried out under reasonable medical conditions. However, the majority of circumcisions worldwide are carried out in religious ceremonies with little regard for hygene. It is common in such cases for the circumcision to be botched or for infection to set in. The results in these cases are truly awful, including deaths of course. For example, in the South African Eastern Cape alone, 825 boys died as a result of circumcision between 1995 and 2013 (see Dr Dingeman Rijken's site). However there are even greater numbers who live but are seriously maimed (around 300 per year in the Eastern Cape). Photographs of just how horrible a botched or infected operation can be can also be found on that site, or directly here. WARNING: These photos are extremely distressing. It is possible they will be taken down soon. If so, please contact me and I can supply examples.
Thank heavens that sort of botched circumcision cannot occur here in good old Blighty! Hmmm, think again. It does. There was the case of Grace Adeleye who carried out a kitchen circumcision of a baby boy, Goodluck Caubergs, using a pair of scissors and some olive oil in Machester in 2010. The child bled to death. Grace got a suspended sentence for this manslaught. Good job it wasn't a girl, eh, Grace? You'd have done a long stretch inside for that. But for a boy? Who cares.
There is little chance that the prevailing view that genital mutilation of boys is fine and dandy is going to change if all our legislature is like MP Lynne Featherstone who, at the Lib Dem Conference in September 2013, said of circumcision, It's a practice that has been going on for 4,000 years and, without wishing to be crude about this, quite frankly if it was boys' willies that were being cut off without anaesthetic it wouldn’t have lasted four minutes, let alone 4,000 years". Take a look at Dr Rijken's photos, Lynne. In responding to Featherstone, Ally Fogg noted the following cases:-
- Angelo Ofori-Mintah, who died in London, aged 28 days, after a Rabbi told his parents to daub his uncongealed wound with Vaseline. He lost three quarters of his blood before he died of cardiac arrest.
- A baby in Bristol who suffered a fractured skull after falling off a table during a home circumcision.
- Manchester children’s hospital treats an average of three babies a month with botched circumcision wounds.
- 45% of babies circumcised at an Islamic school in Oxford suffer medical complications.
- Well over 100 baby boys die from complications after circumcision every year in the USA alone.
The truth is that nobody has got a clue what the true global toll of death and injury from male circumcision might be, because global bodies such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) make no efforts to find out. On the contrary, WHO are actively promoting circumcision. With around 30% of the world’s baby boys being circumcised every year, many in countries with minimal medical care, the number of deaths or maimings of boys is likely to be in the tens of thousands annually at least. But who cares about boys? No one. Let's just have more campaigns to stop violence against women and girls and not get distracted by boys, eh?
...gynocentric blindness to male disadvantage.