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Circumcision Harmful And Unnecessary

Josephine Lim |
February 5, 2014 | 6:59 p.m. PST

Guest Contributor

If you’re like most Americans, you probably never thought of infant circumcision as an ethical issue. You’ve heard “it’s just a snip” and “foreskin is gross”. Maybe you’ve never even seen a natural, intact penis in real life.

Growing up in a culture that normalizes male genital cutting, I hadn’t thought much about circumcision either. It’s just something we do. Then I started having sex. And I realized that foreskin is awesome.


(Boys Deserve Better)
(Boys Deserve Better)
I love foreskin!

Contrary to popular American representations of foreskin as “dirty” or “weird,” foreskin is a natural part of the penis with both protective and sexual functions

The foreskin keeps in moisture and protects the delicate glans penis (head). The foreskin’s gliding motion reduces friction, making both solo and partnered sex more pleasurable. 

We can’t change form without changing function. Circumcision, therefore, harms normal sexual function. According to a 2006 study published in British Journal of Urology, circumcision removes the most sensitive regions of the penis and decreases the sensitivity of the glans penis. The circumcision scar then becomes the most sensitive area in the circumcised penis. That’s why circumcised men tend to masturbate by rubbing around the scar. Manual stimulation without artificial lube tends to cause discomfort for circumcised men. On the other hand, intact men have less of a need for lotion or lube, thanks to the moisture-preserving properties of foreskin.

Though men can grow skin through non-surgical foreskin restoration, the thousands of nerve endings in the foreskin are gone forever and the penis can never fully regain lost sensitivity.

Not only is circumcision an irreversible procedure that permanently alters the form and function of the penis, it’s also an unethical procedure to perform on infants who can’t say “no”.

Infant circumcision was originally popularized in the U.S. in the 19th century as a “cure” for masturbation. Since then, we’ve been making up justifications for the surgery – circumcision as a cure for epilepsy, paralysis, bed-wetting, spine curvature…. Now it’s the most common surgery in the U.S. and it’s touted as a preventative measure against UTIs (easily treated by antibiotics) and HIV.

SEE ALSO: Public Health Fail: Circumcision Does Not Grant Immunity From AIDS

The three trials in Africa that came to pro-circumcision conclusions in the interest of preventing HIV were heavily criticized. The oft-cited impressive-sounding “60 percent relative reduction” actually means very little. Subsequent review showed that “the absolute decrease in HIV infection was only 1.31 percent.”

Even if circumcision really offered protection from HIV, infants are not sexually active. We could let them grow up whole and let them decide for themselves if the supposed benefits are worth it.  

Circumcision is indefensible medically. We don’t remove other healthy body parts just in case they may have some future problems. Why should the foreskin be any different? In fact, no national or international medical organization recommends routine infant circumcision. Not even the wishy-washy American Academy of Pediatrics.

Religion also does not present a compelling case for circumcision. First of all, the majority of circumcisions in the U.S. are not religiously-motivated. Furthermore, “religious freedom” does not constitute an acceptance of all religious practices. Unnecessary surgery of infants for religious reasons is still unnecessary and still harmful.

Finally, besides the long-term harm to sexual function, circumcision also poses risk of serious complications including death. 

One study, published in Thymos: Journal of Boyhood Studies, found that circumcision kills about 117 infants annually in the U.S. 

These are completely preventable deaths.


(Boys Deserve Better)
(Boys Deserve Better)
Circumcision is on the decline

Though most American men are circumcised, infant circumcision rates in the U.S. are declining and well below 50 percent on the West coast.

Outside the US, intact genitals are the norm. Worldwide, approximately 70 percent of men are intact. 

And they are doing just fine. Foreskin is not doing them any harm.

In Europe, circumcision is almost unheard of outside of Jewish and Muslim groups. Recognizing the harms of infant circumcision, on October 1, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) passed a resolution titled “Children’s rights to physical integrity.” It identifies circumcision of young boys, as a “violation of the physical integrity of children.” 

In response to ongoing backlash from religious groups, PACE held a major hearing on the genital cutting of boys in Strasbourg, France on January 28. Parliamentarians, religious leaders, medical doctors and activists engaged in an impassioned debate. The chair concluded the meeting by saying that the resolution has already been passed and the purpose of the debate was to continue the dialogue.

Meanwhile, major medical groups in Sweden and Denmark are calling for a ban on non-medical infant circumcision. Last month, DSAM (Danish Society of Family Physicians), whose 3,000 members include two thirds of Denmark’s general practitioners, issued a statement calling non-therapeutic circumcision mutilation.

Circumcision is on the decline and with good reason. It is an unnecessary surgery forced on infants. It causes immediate and long-term harm. Still, some people passionately defend circumcision of infants as “religious freedom” or the “parents’ choice.”  Why such urgency? Maybe because if we keep the baby’s penis whole, he’ll keep it that way when he grows up. Few adult men elect circumcision for themselves so cutting babies who can’t protest is the best way to keep circumcision going. 


Becoming an "intactivist"

Intactivists fight against the circumcision of minors before they are old enough to give consent, that is, for the rights of men to stay "intact" until they themselves choose to be cut.

You can help ensure genital autonomy for everybody by:

  • Liking intactivist pages on Facebook and sharing posts and pictures
  • Joining a local intactivist group and getting involved in awareness-raising and intact education
  • Talking to your friends, family and colleagues about the harms of routine infant circumcision.
  • Consider making your own intactivist blog or writing intactivist guest pieces for online news sources and blogs.
Contact contributing intactivist Josephine Lim here. Learn more about her organization, Intact California, here.



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