We Need To Stop Circumcision
In the weeks ahead, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are likely
to publish a recommendation that all infant boys undergo circumcision.
This is a huge mistake. Circumcision is an unnecessary procedure
that is painful and can lead to complications, including death.
No organization in the world currently recommends this. Why should
we routinely remove normal, functioning tissue from the genitals
of little boys within days of their birth?
The vast majority of the world's men, including most Europeans
and Scandinavians, are uncircumcised. And before 1900, circumcision
was virtually nonexistent in the United States as well--except
for Jewish and Muslim people, who've been performing circumcisions
for thousands of years for religious reasons. Believe it or not,
circumcision was introduced in English-speaking countries in the
late 1800s to control or prevent masturbation, similar to the
way that female circumcision--the removal of the clitoris and
labia--was promoted and continues to be advocated in some Muslim
and African countries to control women's sexuality.
Routine female circumcision, which has been practiced in some
cultures, is completely unacceptable. Few people would argue otherwise.
In fact, the United Nations has issued a decree against it. Circumcision
is a form of sexual abuse whether it's done to girls or boys.
We justify male infant circumcision by pretending that the babies
don't feel it because they're too young and it will have no consequences
when they are older. This is not true. Women who experience memories
of abuse in childhood know how deeply and painfully early experiences
leave their marks in the body. Why wouldn't the same thing apply
In medical school, I was taught that babies couldn't feel when
they were born and therefore wouldn't feel their circumcision.
Why was it, then, that when I strapped their little arms and legs
down on the board (called a "circumstraint"), they were
often perfectly calm; then when I started cutting their foreskin,
they screamed loudly, with cries that broke my heart? For years,
in some hospitals, surgery on infants has been carried out without
anesthesia because of this misconception!
From the 1980s through today, as the tide has been turning against
male circumcision, misleading medical information has begun to
surface (yet again) in support of circumcision. This information
supports the belief that men with foreskins are more likely to
get viral or bacterial infections and pass them on; that the foreskin
is tender and thin, and therefore more prone to tiny cuts through
which germs can be transmitted. New justifications, such as circumcision
to prevent penile and cervical cancer, too often receive the blessing
of the medical establishment. But these are justifications that
science has been unable to support. Nor is there any scientific
proof that circumcision prevents sexually transmitted diseases.
This includes the recent studies done in Kenya, South Africa,
and Uganda by Ronald H. Gray, a professor at Johns Hopkins University.
He recently reported that men who were circumcised were less likely
by half to contract HIV virus and less likely by one-third to
become infected with HPV and herpes.
While this sounds promising, I agree with my colleague George
Denniston, M.D., who said, "The United States has high rates
of HIV and the highest rate of circumcision in the West. The "experiment"
of using circumcision to stem HIV infection has been running here
for decades. It has failed miserably. Why do countries such as
New Zealand, where they abandoned infant circumcision 50 years
ago, or European countries, where circumcision is rare, have such
low rates of HIV?"
Keeping it Clean
Similarly, one of the main reasons people choose to have their
child circumcised is they believe that it's nearly impossible
to keep an uncircumcised penis clean. This also isn't true. And
people make the mistake of thinking that they have to retract
the foreskin to keep it clean. They don't. In fact, retracting
the foreskin before it's meant to be retracted creates adhesions
and infections. It sometimes doesn't retract on its own until
a boy is as old as seven. Often, there isn't an opening between
the glans penis and the foreskin. So you gently retract it every
year on the child's birthday until it's fully retractable. Only
then does it need to be cleaned, and you can teach a boy exactly
how to do this.
Emotions run very high around the subject of circumcision, a
perfect example of the strength and influence of first chakra
cultural programming on our beliefs and emotions. This programming
is so ingrained that many people cannot even discuss the subject
of circumcision without guilt, denial, or other strong emotions.
I know from years of experience that even addressing the subject
of the baby boy's bodily integrity, choices, and pain isn't enough
to change a belief that's been ingrained in the child's parents
from their own birth.
Consciousness about circumcision is changing. And even some Jews,
like Ron Goldman, Ph.D., in Boston, are rethinking the practice
and modifying the traditional ceremony. The baby is blessed and
sanctified according to Jewish tradition, however, the foreskin
isn't fully removed. Instead, a tiny cut is made as a symbolic
gesture after a topical anesthetic is administered. (Jewish boys
circumcised by a mohel [a man trained to perform circumcisions]
are always given a topical anesthetic before their circumcision,
and the mohel does everything possible to keep the baby from feeling
pain. Often, the babies are given a few drops of wine after the
procedure for pain, too.) This allows the parents to practice
their faith and adhere to tradition while protecting their child
from a painful, medically-unnecessary procedure. This is far superior
to what baby boys are subjected to in most hospitals. I know.
I've done hundreds of circumcisions personally.
In the past when I did the procedure in the hospital, I would
ask mothers to come into the nursery to comfort their babies while
they were being circumcised, but they wouldn't do it. They couldn't
stand the idea. I always made sure that I personally took the
newly circumcised baby to his mother as soon as I was finished,
so that she could comfort her child. I didn't want him wounded
and then left alone in the nursery. The Jewish practice is very
similar to what I used to do instinctively. The mohel gives the
son to his mother immediately after the procedure and he strongly
encourages her to nurse the baby. He also strongly suggests that
she continue to comfort him as much as she can for the next few
hours by holding him, and so forth.
Circumcision also has profound implications for male sexuality.
Studies document that the amount of pleasure a man can receive
during intercourse is greater in uncircumcised males. That's because
the male foreskin, like the clitoris, is richly innervated for
maximum sexual pleasure. Sexual researchers have determined that
men with the original configuration (with the foreskin) are more
likely to feel the most pleasure when they make love in a certain
way. Without getting into details here, as it turns out, this
"natural" sex is more likely to enhance a woman's pleasure,
too. I've written about this extensively in Women's
Bodies, Women's Wisdom.
I hope you will consider supporting two organizations that are
working to protect infant boys from unnecessary surgery. The first
Opposing Circumcision in Seattle, WA; the second is Intact
America, a grass roots organization in Tarrytown, NY. The
time has come for us to look at this common practice with fresh
eyes and do what we can to stop this dangerous and unnecessary
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February 26, 2010