17 June 2010

To Cut or Not To Cut: The Circumcision Debate

I am a firm opponent of default and ritual circumcision. I do not believe it should be a parent's decision to have a swath of skin removed from their son's penis for a non-emergency. There is no justification for default circumcision that would make it imperative or even advisable on children of such a young age. The dangers and effects far outweigh any benefits or precautions. Circumcisions, as an unelected (by the patient) procedure should be expressly reserved for extreme phimosis and contracted diseases. In all other cases, circumcision should be the decision of a responsible, grown adult. The automatic decision by parents to have their son circumcised is a cultural black eye. Male circumcision is genital mutilation, just as female circumcision is.

I am not circumcised, but the practice affects me. I feel empathy for the thousands of infants who are subjected to it every day. Some go into shock. Some grow up with scarred or deformed penises. Some grow up with a desensitized glans due to excessive contact with their underpants. Some contract infections and die. Every one of them grow up never knowing what it feels to have those extra billions of nerve endings. Most require lubrication to masturbate. As an entire culture, the "natural look" becomes foreign. I've heard too many American girls express disgust for intact penises. This is not because they are naturally disgusting (my penis is fucking magnificent, as some women will attest) but because circumcision has become the norm and people are not comfortable with foreign-looking body parts. This systemic problem alone should shake the minds of anyone who holds values (particularly ones such as natural affinity) as dear.

Religious justification for circumcision, as you might guess I would say, is ridiculous. Circumcision has been performed throughout history as a rite of passage, but do we really need such barbarism in today's world? As an atheist, I would also argue that any perceived necessity for circumcision spits in the face of an intelligent designer. Even the idea that everyone is doing it is bogus; the number of boys circumcised at birth fell from 65 to 55 percent between 1993 and 2003. Furthermore, any parents who circumcise their child on the sole basis that they wouldn't get teased for their "turtleneck" in the locker room are, in my mind, shallow as a saucer. Instead of mutilating your child for the sake of social integration, why not teach them to love their "unique" (NATURAL!!!!) features? Some parents decide that because they were circumcised, their child must be as well. This is nothing more than vain projection on to your children.

It seems that every justification for circumcision works backwards from the want to do the procedure in the first place. To build a case for cutting off a child's foreskin, many groups suggest that it has health and hygiene benefits. Supposedly it prevents stuff you can already avoid by being smart. This notion falls along the same thought lines as never leaving the house to prevent getting in a car accident. A foreskin, like a vehicle, requires proper use and maintenance. Done right, there are no practical, statistical or aesthetic reasons to remove it. It is also not surprising that most circumcised males don't feel sorry about their loss. Many are proud. I've studied too much psychology to be impressed by some random man's expressed satisfaction with his snipped penis. Even a falsely convicted felon can find the upside of his experience.

Parents may feel that by causing a child a lot of pain at a time in their life that they will not remember when they are older will save them from future pain as they grow older. This is wrong on many levels. As stated, the preventative qualities of circumcision are completely mitigated by responsible care of one's body. Once again, instead of mutilating your child, teach them to be a better person. Furthermore, there is a large misconception about infant development that needs to be cleared up. What a child experiences during the first six months of their life (known as a critical period) matters a lot. During this time, the brain decides what functions will be necessary to emphasize in further growth in accordance with the use they get. For example, without sufficient exposure to light during this period, much of a child's vision will degenerate. Subjecting an infant to undue stress and excruciating pain can affect a child's affinities throughout the rest of its life. Though I know of no studies done that attempt to correlate infant circumcision with adult mental defects, my point is simple: the logical risk is not worth the supposed benefit.

I really don't see how male circumcision as a non-elective procedure is any different than female circumcision, which we hold to be quite vile. It is a perplexing double standard. To put it plainly, circumcision should be a choice made by an informed adult. The practice of it by default, on an infant is nonsensical and barbaric.