Sex, Lies &
Feminism by Peter Zohrab
Chapter 2: Circumcision
Circumcision is an unnecessary procedure, from a medical point of
view, which can never be fully reversed. It can lead to complications,
and these are at least as common as the few medical conditions it is
said to prevent.
It can be painful to the infant if carried out without anaesthetics
-- and if anaesthetics are used they may cause complications. It is
a violation of a child's human rights to deny him an intact body for
no compelling reason without his prior agreement.
It involves just as much mutilation of sexually sensitive tissue
as female circumcision does, and male circumcision is more widespread
in the world than its female counterpart. Like female circumcision,
male circumcision is often practised for religious and cultural reasons.
Yet it is female circumcision that gets most of the publicity in the
Western media. Circumcision is genital mutilation, and should be campaigned
against by all those who are opposed to female circumcision.
CIRCUMCISION VS. CHOICE
As defined by the US National Organization of Circumcision Information
Resource Centers (NOCIRC), circumcision is the surgical removal (cutting
off) of the fold of skin that normally covers the glans (head) of the
This chapter is concerned solely with neonatal circumcision –
i.e., the removal of the foreskin of infant boys – because here
the parents are making a decision on behalf of someone who is too young
to make an informed decision himself. Once an adult, a man should presumably
be able to decide for himself whether to be circumcised provided his
choice has not already been preempted by his parents! Abortionists use
the word "choice" to allow women to kill their unborn children
and here we are only talking about allowing a male infant the choice
as to whether he is to lose part of his own anatomy in a painful operation.
According to NOCIRC, doctors in the English-speaking countries started
circumcising babies in the mid-1800s "to prevent masturbaition,"
which some doctors claimed caused many diseases, including epilepsy,
tuberculosis and insanity. Doctors have given other reasons since then,
but all of them, including the claim that circumcision prevents cancer
of the penis, cancer of the cervix and venereal diseases, have been
disproven according to NOCIRC.
Male circumcision is more widespread in the world than its female
counterpart. Like female circumcision, male circumcision is often practised
for religious and cultural reasons. Yet it is female circumcision that
gets most of the publicity in the western media. Feminists are up in
arms, but only over Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); when asked about
Male Genital Mutilation (MGM), they generally scoff ("it's just
a little piece of skin") or yawn and dismiss it as "not a
women's issue." Their attitude is a Men's Issue in itself. Male
circumcision is genital mutilation, and should be campaigned against
by all who oppose female circumcision.
The Case For Circumcision
According to Dr Brian Morris, there are good reasons both for and
against circumcision, but he comes down heavily in favour of the practice.
I would like to raise two general issues before discussing his arguments
As some of his arguments have to do with the benefits of circumcision
to women, they are irrelevant. After all, how many arguments are there
about women's health issues that have to do with their effect on men?
His arguments imply circumcision is the natural or normal treatment
of infant boys, and his concern is whether to abolish an established
An anti-circumcisionist might prefer to start from a tabula rasa
(blank slate) and ask why one would want to perpetuate a practice
which, like animal sacrifice, arose out of myth and superstition.
We should look at the matter through more objective eyes, and require
this surgical procedure to justify itself.
Here, then, are Dr. Morris' points, together with my comments on them:
One major disadvantage of the foreskin is that it creates an unhealthy
environment between it and the penis, where dead cells, secretions,
urine and bacteria proliferate, and infection can and does arise –
even if the area is regularly cleaned. But the same could be said of
the hymen, yet any physician who would dare suggest routinely removing
the hymen at birth would risk losing their license.
Another is that the foreskin keeps the skin of the penis beneath it
thin and moist (compared to the same area of skin on a circumcised penis),
and this presents a weaker barrier against infection. But the intact
penis is also more sensitive to erotic stimulation.
Another problem is that the foreskin increases the surface area of
skin, and thus increases the likelihood of infection penetrating it.
This same point could be used to suggest surgically shortening all penises
to a uniform and medically determined "optimum" length. But
how many men, not to mention women, would agree to that? Moreover, the
relatively loose foreskin is more likely than the circumcised penis
to become damaged during sexual intercourse – allowing infection
to enter the bloodstream. Sure, and the same might be said of the labia
minora but western cultures refer to any cutting of the female genitalia
Having the operation later in life gives the patient the opportunity
to worry about it in anticipation, he says. But at least that allows
the individual to choose. Choice for uncircumcised males! Having the
operation later also increases the likelihood of there being a visible
scar. Again, it is (or should be) a male's choice to have it done or
not to have it done – once he is old enough to understand the
He says that no negative psychological side-effects of circumcision
have been demonstrated and that the pain of the operation can be avoided
by using anaesthetics. NOCIRC, NOHARMM and other anti-circumcision groups,
however, cite studies indicating circumcised men tend to be more aggressive
than intact men, which can contribute to antisocial behavior.
He also complains that the "smegma" – the film of
dead skin cells, bacteria, etc. under the foreskin – gives off
an odour which some find offensive. The genitals of women of all ages
have smegma as well, yet nobody suggests cutting away the labia to prevent
it, although some people find that smell offensive, too.
There are sometimes physical problems, including infections, which
would be prevented or alleviated by circumcision. These are usually
caused by parents who tear the foreskin while trying to clean the infant
penis. Education can remedy that. The foreskin can become caught in
the zipper of the fly of a boy's trousers. And children sometimes get
their fingers caught in a door but we don't amputate their fingers to
prevent that. Elderly men in nursing homes – especially if they
have Alzheimer's Syndrome – are sometimes easier to look after
if they are circumcised. Sure, and lobotomized patients are easier to
look after, too. This argument is inhumane and callous.
Dr. Morris says that in 1982 it was reported that 95% of UTIs (Urinary
Tract Infections) in boys aged 5 days to 8 months were in uncircumcised
infants. However, this only affects about 3 in 100,000 boys, so it is
not a significant factor which would need to be taken into account.
Penile cancer occurs almost exclusively in uncircumcised men in the
USA. However, the incidence is much lower than the rate of breast cancer
among women. By this logic, we should also remove breast tissue from
baby girls, as a preventative measure!
Studies have shown women prefer the sight and smell of the circumcised
penis – especially for the purposes of fellatio (0ral sex). By
this logic, if most men prefer the sight and feel of surgically augmented
breasts, then we should force all women to get breast implants. Again,
it is irrelevant and offensive to use the desires of women as an argument
for a compulsory surgical procedure on boys, in violation of their civil
There are apparently indications that uncircumcised males are at greater
risk of suffering from sexual dysfunction. I assume that Dr. Morris
is referring here to "premature" ejakulation. However, I have
also heard of men who have been rendered so insensitive by involuntary
neonatal circumcision that they astound their sexual partners by chatting
during the sex act. So it appears circumcision can do such disproportionate
harm to males' sexual sensitivity that any possible benefits to women'
likelihood of reaching orgasm are counterbalanced.
Dr. Morris states that only a small proportion of boys suffer ill
effects from the operation of circumcision itself – citing a study
Wiswell looked at the complication rates of having or not having it
performed in a study of 136,000 boys born in US army hospitals between
1980 and 1985. 100,000 were circumcised and 193 (0.19%) had complications,
with no deaths, but of the 36,000 who were not circumcised the complication
rate was 0.24% and there were 2 deaths.
This is not conclusive because there is no mention of controls for
such other factors as socioeconomic group. It is perfectly possible
the circumcised group came from higher socioeconomic categories and
were therefore less likely to develop complications anyway.
He criticises the organisation NOCIRC for comparing male circumcision
with female circumcision. Dr. Morris claims female circumcision is analogous
to removing the entire penis. In fact, however, even removing the clitoris
(which is only one form of female circumcision) still allows a woman
to reproduce, while removing a man's penis would prevent him from reproducing
naturally. The foreskin contains most of the nerve endings of the penis;
hence the clitoris and foreskin perform very similar functions: stimulation.
Dr. Morris further asserts "uncircumcised men have twice the
incidence of prostate cancer compared with circumcised." However,
it may be just that in the USA the same ethnic groups get their sons
circumcised as have a low incidence of prostate cancer. This hypothesis
is supported by the fact that "the NHSLS in the USA saw greatest
rates among whites and the better educated." Blacks are known to
have a higher incidence of prostate cancer than whites in the USA, and
this is said to be related to the amount of testosterone in the blod,
which is higher in Blacks than in Whites or Asians.
"A number of studies have documented higher rates of cervical
cancer in women who have had one or more male sexual partners who were
uncircumcised," he states. I think it would be ludicrous to allow
a women's health issue dictate our approach to a men's any more than
we should allow a men's health issue to dictate our approach to women's.
There are indications circumcision reduces the risk of contracting
AIDS when no condom is used during sexual intercourse. However, such
"indications" carry little weight in a medical climate which
encourages the use of condoms as the only safe way of having sex. I
expect that some types of female circumcision would also reduce the
risk of contracting AIDS, but Feminists would never agree to that being
implemented as a preventative measure !
Dr. Morris admits circumcision does have some risks, such as excessive
bleeding, infection, the possible need for subsequent surgery, dorsal
penile nerve block and death. But he does not consider any of these
to be either serious or common.
The issue of how great the various risks and benefits of circumcision
are is obviously still somewhat contentious. However, no single one
of these risks or benefits to the male involved seems very great in
itself. That being so, the human rights issue should be paramount. In
other words, the male should have the choice whether to proceed with
this irreversible operation – which means it should not be done
until he reaches at least his teenage years.
It is worth noting this operation is not fully reversible. The foreskin
may be restored in its role as a covering for the glans. However, the
nerve endings cannot be replaced.
Since my stance here is a philosophical one, it might be possible
to argue religious reasons should override these human rights considerations,
where the parents are Jews or Moslems. I do not feel strongly on this
point – either way.
24 March 2018