I am a 33 year-old husband, father, student, and activist from the good ole’ US of A. I am your standard issue white male nothing special, however, I do abide by a set of values that go against our genital cutting culture. Make no mistake my fellow Americans, we live in a genital cutting culture. What may come to mind as you read these words are horrid images of young girls being subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM). When I was younger, the horrors of FGM were the only thing that came to mind when I heard the words genital cutting. But right here at home, we seem to have a giant blind spot for the plight of the newborn baby boy. While we decry FGM and rightly so, we routinely subject our baby boys to the same kind of treatment without most of us thinking twice. We routinely subject our boys to the euphemistically coined term “circumcision,” or in this case specifically Routine Infant Circumcision (RIC). That sounds a lot better than male genital mutilation (MGM) doesn’t it? With the use of this tidy euphemism, you can start to see how our culture bends and contorts itself around this very topic of MGM/RIC. Now I realize right off the bat that some are going to take offense to my comparing FGM to MGM, but hear me out.
I understand completely the level of sheer barbarism perpetrated against little girls in the practice of FGM and I am not saying that MGM and FGM are *exactly* the same, because they are not. We can argue about the level of mutilation or the intent relative to FGM and MGM, and the varying level of severity, but the fact remains that female genital mutilation and male genital mutilation are both legally and morally indistinguishable. Ask any American mother or father why they circumcised their son and they will tell you that it is more hygienic, better looking, and/or is part of a religious covenant. Ask any Muslim mother or father why they circumcised their daughter and they will tell you **the exact same thing.**
I understand that this sort of realization comes at a cost. Some of you reading this may have already taken a defensive posture and are perhaps offended by what I have said so far. From my experience, the people getting defensive while reading something like this are most likely parents who allowed a doctor or religious figure to cut their child’s genitals and feel the need to justify their decision or are men who were subjected to MGM, but cannot come to grips with the fact that they were mutilated. To the parents I say: I am not out to shame you or make you feel bad. Your decision was born from a best intentions of a genital cutting culture, not from a place of malice, I certainly understand that and would never express or imply otherwise.That is why I am working to end the practice of non-medically indicated circumcision so that parents aren’t faced with this terrible “choice.”
To these men I say: I completely understand the aversion to coming to grips with something like MGM, however I would urge to you keep an open mind and remember that even though your genitals were cut on, I am sure (I hope!) they are perfectly fine and serve you well. Who on Earth would want to acknowledge that there is something not quite right about their genitals? That is the burden of MGM and one of the main reasons that most men don’t speak out on this topic.
Think about it for a moment, for a man who was subjected to MGM/RIC to be against the practice, he pretty much has to admit to himself that his penis isn’t normal and that the reason that it’s not normal is because his parents allowed doctors or clergy to cut on his genitals. This is heavy stuff, and COMPLETELY AVOIDABLE by simply leaving baby boys intact. If they decide as an adult that they want their genitals cut, by all means they can do that.
That being said though, the intentions behind MGM/RIC don’t change what circumcision is: non-consensual genital cutting. Our culture has normalized the unethical practice of permanently modifying the bodies of children without their consent. That is what makes genital cutting such an uncomfortable topic to talk about. In condemning MGM/RIC, one is in effect telling men who have been circumcised that their genitals aren’t normal, telling parents that they made a huge mistake, and telling doctors that they are performing an unnecessary surgery.
This is a very tough pill to swallow for all parties involved and again I empathize with this completely. No man wants to think his penis has been mutilated, no parent wants to think that they allowed someone to harm their baby, and certainly no doctor wants to think that they harmed a baby due to an unnecessary cosmetic surgery. Do you see what I am up against here? Is it perhaps a bit easier to see that for some reason we give MGM a pass, but we draw the line at FGM?
We clearly have a cultural blind spot for the genital cutting of little boys in the country and I aim to stop it. From things as simple as writing in this blog, to ambitious things like obtaining a law degree so that I may advocate for baby boys in the courts and seek protection for them under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Now if you’ve made it this far, and you’re still reading this, thank you for at least hearing me out. I am sure that many of you reading this have questions so I have compiled a short list of frequently asked questions below.
- Does the penile foreskin(prepuce) serve a purpose?
Yes it does. The prepuce is part of the penile skin system and contains tens of thousands of nerve endings that once removed can never be replaced. It also has a protective, immunological, and sexual functions (Taylor et al, 1999). In fact the removal of the foreskin results in the removal of the most sensitive part of the penis (Sorrells et al, 2006) The important question is: Were you aware of that?
- Are there medical benefits to Routine Infant Circumcision/Male Genital Mutilation?
Short answer, yes there are some, but this is an incomplete statement. This is an age old question, and it has been asked before many times since circumcision began as a ritual of the covenant between Jews and God. Since genital cutting has been part of human history for very long time, it is clear, that in attempts to perpetuate the practice and to confirm our genital cutting biases, studies have been commissioned to find reasons justify MGM/RIC. For instance, people will tell you that being circumcised will lower the rate of certain STD’s and UTI’s. These findings are true and can be backed up with peer reviewed studies, however the stats are at best misleading.
When you read studies about how MGM/RIC reduces the rate of UTI’s in infant boys, you will come to find two important things. First off, compared to girls, incidence of UTI’s in young males is relatively rare. The studies themselves admit this. The other thing you will notice is that these studies use orders of magnitude to explain the benefits of MGM/RIC. For example instead of saying MGM/RIC reduces that rate of UTI’s in young boys from .00000034% to .000000034% (these are made up numbers for demonstrative purposes) they will use the term “ten-fold” perhaps to mask the absolutely tiny benefit.
***What these studies won’t tell you is that in the majority of cases the most effective treatment of UTI’s is a standard course of antibiotics. I would ask: Why are we cutting genitals when EVERY SINGLE MEDICAL BENEFIT CITED IN DEFENSE OF GENITAL CUTTING CAN BE OBTAINED VIA SAFER LESS INVASIVE METHODS. Let me repeat that folks, every single medical benefit attributed to MGM/RIC can be obtained via safer less invasive methods. Touting the benefits of removing a part of a body of a non-consenting minor without first advocating for less invasive treatment options is quite simply the malpractice of medicine. Medical benefits without medical ethics are not benefits at all.
MGM/RIC “Protective Benefits” vs. Less Invasive Treatment Options
- Lower rate of urinary tract infection – Most UTI’s can be treated with antibiotics as opposed to healthy tissue amputation (MGM). If MGM is such a great tool for UTI’s in boys then why aren’t we circumcising our daughters who have a much higher rate of UTI’s? Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying we should water down the legal protection of girls against FGM in the US. I am saying that boys should be protected under the law from genital cutting in addition to girls despite potential “benefits.”
- Lower rate of sexually transmitted infections – The most effective protection from STI’s is condom use. In fact, using MGM/RIC as a way to protect against STI’s may actually discourage condom use which has extremely dangerous implications.
- Lower rate of penile cancer – Stating that MGM/RIC reduces the incidence of Penile cancer is about as disingenuous as saying that removing one of your lungs will reduce your chance of getting lung cancer. Penile cancer is *exceedingly* rare in men with normal penises and men with circumcised penises, and it’s amazing that some doctors actually cite this “benefit” with a straight face.
- Cosmetic benefit (no teasing, his girlfriends will like it, look like dad, personal preference) – Let me put this as bluntly as I can: Parents making decisions about their son’s genitals based on their own sexual preferences is downright disgusting. Stop and think about this for a moment. This really underscores that power of our cutting culture. Our cutting culture has normalized the practice of parents imposing **their own sexual preferences** on the bodies of their sons. Can you imagine what our society would say if the genders were reversed? Could you imagine a father posting on Facebook about how he is having his daughter’s genitals cut so her vulva will look like vulvas that he prefers? Seriously folks that double standard here is staggering.
- Do men really complain about the fact that they were circumcised?
Yes. Many men feel that being subjected to non-consensual genital cutting was a violation of their human rights and right to bodily integrity. I am one of them. I wish desperately that our culture of cutting hadn’t persuaded my parents to allow a doctor to mutilate my genitals. Yes my penis functions just fine, everything seems OK in that department, but I will tell you, there is no feeling in this world like knowing that you have been violated.
I was violated in a way that will prevent me from being able to experience my whole, undiminished body. I was violated in a way that will prevent me from being able to fully experience what was taken from me, from my body. I read things all the time about how men like me have no right to feel violated because I was too young to remember it. What kind of logic is that? So because I was too young to remember being strapped down to a table and having my penis cut I am not entitled to feel violated? If this is what you believe, then is it OK to rape someone who is passed out or drugged. They won’t remember it right?
This is the logic that men like me have to deal with. We are constantly told that we are soft, whiny, entitled, victims, who should worry about more important things in our lives. Well let me tell you something, I lead a pretty great life, and in fact the only thing that I think is missing from my life is part of my penis that was cut off in 1979 and most likely sold to cosmetic companies for face creams. (If you don’t believe me about the face cream, you’d better Google that shit.) I am certainly grateful that I don’t live under a bridge or have some debilitating disease, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a right to be mad that I live in a culture that holds up female genital cutting as this horrid barbaric practice, yet completely dismisses the genital cutting that was perpetrated against me, without my consent.
There was nothing to gain from the genital cutting that was performed on me, only loss. I lost a part of myself, along with the part of my body removed from me without my consent, and while you may not think this is a big deal, if you’re a parent, I pray your sons don’t grow up to feel this way. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mope through life lamenting the loss of my foreskin, but every now and then the weight of a ton of bricks sits right on my chest as I picture my infant self in one of these: