The Trauma of Small Numbers

Posted: May 26th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, Logic, Regret | No Comments »

At The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, Christopher Ingraham crunches through a few statistics about circumcision, with the headline writer concluding that “Americans truly are exceptional — at least when it comes to circumcision”. In the implied context of outlier for exceptional, yes, we are exceptional in our ability to ignore ethics and logic. Let’s not celebrate.

Most of the post is working through numbers. While relevant and informative, virtually everyone reading this will not be surprised by any of it. The encouraging aspect is in the access young people have to information.

Survey data indicate that we may see these declines continue. A YouGov survey conducted earlier this year found that young people were more skeptical about the practice than their elders: only 33 percent of 18-to-29 year-olds said that male children should be routinely circumcised, compared to 43 percent of 30-to-44 year-olds, 52 percent of 45-to-64 year-olds, and nearly two thirds of seniors.

This is why it’s critical to continue highlighting and objecting to garbage initiatives like the CDC’s recent draft proposal that focuses on infants. We’re convincing people that it’s time to stop circumcising.

The end of the post provides the information necessary to grasp the ethics.

… Overall, men who have been circumcised don’t appear to have many regrets about it: only 10 percent of circumcised men said they wished they hadn’t been circumcised, according to YouGov.

Since the number-crunching doesn’t quite get there, I want to open the perspective to what the numbers mean. At the time I’m writing this post, the U.S. Population Clock stands at 320,952,250 Americans. That means there are approximately 160,476,125 American males. Given that infant circumcision rate spent decades in the 90% range but is now lower, I’ll estimate that 75% of American males were¹ circumcised. That estimate results in 120,357,093 circumcised American males. Applying the survey’s 10%, I wish to restate Mr. Ingraham’s conclusion to consider whether his analysis should survive further number-crunching.

Overall, men who have been circumcised don’t appear to have many regrets about it: only 12,035,709 circumcised men said they wished they hadn’t been circumcised.

We mistakenly think about circumcision in terms of statistics and probabilities. That hides the violation involved, and allows society to believe we’re doing something good. But there is an individual at the tip of every scalpel. I think one is an exceptional, too-large number in the context of a male regretting non-therapeutic circumcision without his consent. However, it’s easy to imagine that ten percent is a small, inconsequential number. It is neither small nor inconsequential. We must realize that twelve million males² is a large, inexcusable number.

¹ Some might argue I should say are circumcised. I criticize the act of circumcising healthy males without their consent, not the state of being circumcised, however the male got to that point. It’s the ethics against circumcision, which includes the ethics against body shaming. I support any male’s decision to be content being circumcised.

² It’s worth remembering that some number of the content 90% would be content with their foreskin. It’s a mistake in the ethical evaluation to conclude that contentment by itself is a justification. That is dealing only with what is seen. Do not ignore what is unseen.

Revising Tactics

Posted: May 15th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, Logic, Mission | No Comments »

This excellent post on activism by Freddie deBoer captures what I’ve been thinking lately. The context is different, and I largely disagree with his politics, but the larger theme remains activism and convincing people of ideas. If you only have time to read Mr. deBoer’s post or what’s below, click that link.

I’ve been frustrated about the direction of activism for genital integrity rights for a longer time than I’m willing to accept. I’m not going anywhere. I haven’t changed my mind. But it’s difficult to expend the effort when so many are fighting those who agree on the goal and demonizing those who we need to convince. Maybe there’s a cause where a punch in the nose is the right activism. This isn’t it. Doing so only makes the process harder and further pushes out the day we achieve full protection for all children, male, female, or intersex.

I remember many political fights over the last decade-plus that I was sure would turn out a specific way. The most recent example is the general election in the United Kingdom last week. I was convinced Labour were going to win. “Go Labour” was all I saw on Twitter. The Rise of Ed Milliband was everywhere in my news feeds. And then the election happened. David Cameron remains Prime Minister, but with an actual majority instead of a coalition government. The exact opposite of the expected result occurred.

British Politics Twitter melted down from the moment the first exit poll leaked. “How could this be? Impossible! We’re doomed!” And so on. I reacted this way in years past, and I felt justified in doing so. I’m right, after all. Except when this happens enough times, it’s wise to step back to figure out why expectation and result don’t match. We need to examine that chasm for genital integrity rights.

I believe the explanation for this experience is the same for politics and genital integrity. The Internet is not society. The Internet is a specific, motivated subset of society. It will change the world, probably. But this change will occur only if we realize that most of the people we need to convince don’t care about our obvious intellectual win in a long-running feud with oppositional trolls.

It isn’t that a large percentage of society is being obstinate, refusing to change. For most people the issues important to activists aren’t merely unimportant. They aren’t real. How many times have we heard, “I don’t know any men who miss their foreskins/regret being circumcised”? The answer is always, accurately, “Yes, you do. You don’t know who they are because it isn’t safe to say such a thing in most company.” Consider the immediate reaction in the UK election: “Why were Tories so afraid to tell pre-election pollsters that they’re conservatives?” It’s more reasonable to recognize that some people will not tell another their truth if they believe it will be dismissed or ridiculed.

That’s the crux. People aren’t evil. They’re unaware. It’s ignorance in the purest definitional reality. Perhaps there is a better way for them. We can show them. Will we show them?

With politics, we all believe that our views are correct. Maybe. With genital integrity, the truth is clear rather than subjective. Society should already be where we are on this issue. Of course. But it would be foolish to use that to inform our activism. We must educate. Antagonizing only keeps us out of the experience of those we need to convince. As I’m sure I’ve written before, would we rather be right or victorious?

It would be wonderful if we could explain ourselves to a sufficient number of judges and legislators. Boom, everything changes. That isn’t how change happens. Courts and legislatures lag society. Justice derives from those who refuse to participate in injustice any longer, not those who would command us not to participate. This is true even though providing legal protection for the inherent right to genital integrity to all citizens is the only ethical stance. The burden of proof shouldn’t be on us. The burden of proof is on us.

Where do we go from here? I wish I had the magic words that would fix this. However, if you read Mr. deBoer’s post, magic words are the opposite of what we need. We have too many magic words now. Cutter. Circumfetishist. Rape. Sexual crime. And so on, even to mutilation in many contexts. Using these words signals to a preferred segment of activists that only we understand how truly awful circumcision is. Perhaps. And it feels so good, right, so it doesn’t matter what the cutters and circumfetishists think, except what the people called cutters and circumfetishits think is all that matters. They have all the power to stop circumcision. We need to stop aiming to convince those who are already convinced.

How do we educate the people who need to be convinced?

The stink of uneaten side orders

Posted: February 19th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Politics, Public Health, Science | No Comments »

Continuing on the implication from the government possibly reversing itself on cholesterol recommendations, Charles Lane ponders what the reversal means for public health and policy in, Science, with a side order of humility. Since this is not a diet blog, this is what matters here:

There’s a lesson here for all of us, especially those who urge that this or that public policy be dictated by “the science.”

We’re doomed to rely on science; imperfect as it is, it beats the alternatives. The trick is for scientists to produce their work with appropriate humility, and for citizens to consume it with appropriate skepticism. …

Precisely because it is, or aspires to be, value-free, science is better at describing social problems than solving them. Policymaking is all about value judgments and trade-offs. Science can prove that man-made climate change, for example, is real; the “right” way to address it is a matter of morality and politics.

In the past Mr. Lane very much cared about “the science” of circumcision in the way he rebukes above. Commenting on reactions to the Cologne court decision in 2012, before German legislators (i.e. policymakers) passed a law to override the court, Lane wrote (several links omitted):

I suppose I would agree with the court, and Andrew [Sullivan], if there was definitive proof that male circumcision, even performed under medically appropriate conditions (as the vast, vast majority are), constitutes “barbaric” “mutilation” of the genitals. Thorough as always, Andrew musters a video of some uncircumcised Canadian guy talking about masturbation and a blog post by an Oxford philosophy prof to prove that a) foreskin serves a vital sexual function and b) studies showing circumcision prevents HIV transmission are flawed.

The truth is that male circumcision does no permanent harm and might be slightly beneficial. There are risks to the procedure, but they are generally exceedingly minor. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Urological Association take the position that neonatal circumcision is a choice that may be safely left to the informed discretion of parents. Among other insults, the Cologne court impugns parents’ concern for the health of their own children.

On the sexual function point, the World Health Organization has declared that it “has not been systematically reviewed, and remains unclear due to substantial biases in many studies.” To those like Andrew’s Canadian dude who insist that missing foreskin would diminish sensation, I offer the circumcised Woody Allen’s famous assessment of his orgasms: “My worst one was right on the money.”

Anyway, injury to this bit of erogenous tissue would not be mutilation of the “genitals,” strictly speaking, since it plays no direct role in male reproduction.

Witness how Lane discarded the position that male circumcision constitutes mutilation. The claim comes from “some uncircumcised (sic) Canadian guy talking about masturbation and a blog post by an Oxford philosophy prof,” so we can dismiss it. That’s ad hominem, not refutation. Experience is anecdotal, but can be informative. And philosophers should obviously be involved. Non-therapeutic circumcision by proxy consent implicates ethics and rights, particularly – but not limited to – the rights of the child as expressed by the German court.

Rather than discussing the ways studies may be flawed to rebut them, Lane moved on to his opinion, omitting the fact that removing the foreskin itself constitutes harm. He quotes two professional organizations to support his position (while ignoring the flaws in the AAP’s position, for example). Enjoy what he wrote yesterday:

Doctors and researchers, authors of “medical miracles,” are more like a priesthood, or a cadre of sorcerers, than we generally admit. Their legitimacy is based on something real, and time-tested — the scientific method — but it also comes from the mystique of their diplomas and white coats.

He supported a policy statement based on science applied as value judgement and trade-off, with input on the value judgement and trade-off from everyone except the person upon whom it’s applied.

He moves on to the World Health Organization’s statement that sexual function “has not been systematically reviewed, and remains unclear due to substantial biases in many studies.” So we’re just supposed to accept that “male circumcision does no permanent harm”? Why? I don’t remember learning that the scientific method says we may assume whatever is necessary for our argument in the absence of reliable data, bolstered because someone told a joke once.

Lane showed his full (2012) commitment to SCIENCE! rather than science in the last quoted paragraph. If the foreskin is erogenous, why did he argue that removing it permanently does “no permanent harm”? More to the point, if someone sliced up my leg with a razor, leaving scars, would he say I’m not mutilated because I can still walk? His argument was nonsense, including the implication that the foreskin is not part of the genitals.

I wonder if Mr. Lane would reconsider his misguided 2012 analysis today with a side order of humility previously absent. He should.


There are more problems with Lane’s 2012 essay than what I criticize here. He was wrong from start-to-finish in that essay.

Unsettling the settled

Posted: February 11th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, Politics, Public Health, Science | 1 Comment »

This has no direct connection to circumcision or genital integrity. But it has pertinent implications right now.

The nation’s top nutrition advisory panel has decided to drop its caution about eating cholesterol-laden food, a move that could undo almost 40 years of government warnings about its consumption.

The group’s finding that cholesterol in the diet need no longer be considered a “nutrient of concern” stands in contrast to the committee’s findings five years ago, the last time it convened. During those proceedings, as in previous years, the panel deemed the issue of “excess dietary cholesterol” a public health concern.

The new view on cholesterol in the diet does not reverse warnings about high levels of “bad” cholesterol in the blood, which have been linked to heart disease. Moreover, some experts warned that people with particular health problems, such as diabetes, should continue to avoid cholesterol-rich diets.

After decades of one recommendation, the U.S. government discovers that settled science isn’t quite as settled as it led citizens to believe. This lesson arrives in the lull between the comment period and issuance of the CDC’s circumcision recommendation. The ethics of genital integrity dictate against its proposal. Of course. But looking forward, how much of the “settled” science of circumcision rests on speculation and guesswork? What might change over the next few years and decades? What will the CDC (or AAP or WHO or…) say if, in 2035, something unsettles¹ the science so many (almost exclusively American) authorities eagerly endorse today? Will the boys born today accept an “Ooops” for what is being forced on (i.e. taken from) them today if something unsettles the science tomorrow?

¹ The ethics of non-therapeutic genital cutting without the individual’s consent “unsettles” it now by making the application of the science in that manner inherently wrong. The availability of more effective, less invasive preventions and treatments for maladies involving the foreskin already unsettles the science, as well.

Thinking out loud: thoughts on civility

Posted: February 5th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Mission | No Comments »

When I complain about certain behaviors within our community, I’ve thought about them. I’ve witnessed them. I’ve seen fence-sitters become opponents. I’m working to figure out what is effective at getting our message across.

I also believe in decency and treating people with respect. I find it exhausting when people support circumcision, or merely parental choice, based on incomplete and/or wrong reasons. But outside of a few examples we can all immediately name, most people who accept such reasons are doing what they can. In the best sense, they don’t know yet. I don’t accept that as a sufficient defense, but we’re not going to achieve anything good by ignoring reality. Our job is to get people to full understanding, not to demolish them for not being there yet.

In essence what I write on this is often me thinking out loud. My experience shows me lessons I believe are universal. I may not be expressing my ideas clearly enough, or acknowledging that I know the line is grey. I’m trying to find that line, if it exists. More than anything I want us to succeed. But I haven’t forgotten this possibility on what effective civil discourse means: I may be wrong.


Posted: February 4th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: HIV, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Here’s an excellent video from Dr. Lindsey Doe on HIV and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP):

As it’s always been, science involves more than a scalpel.

Activism is always about marketing

Posted: February 4th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, FGM, Mission | No Comments »

I like this post by Jonathan Friedman:

Friday, February 6 is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). There is a lot of positive momentum in the UK and around the world for education and prosecuting those who practice or aid FGM. This is a day for us to learn more about FGM, to listen to the victims and to learn how FGM is being eradicated. Many of us know very little about it and have never even met victims of FGM.

That’s correct. It’s too easy to forget that children are violated, not just boys, because of what is most familiar. It’s also critical to remember this reality:

Unfortunately, there’s also a great deal of sexism within the discourses on FGM, especially coming from cultures practicing male genital mutilation (MGM). Great care is taken to state that MGM and FGM aren’t comparable, while intersex genital mutilation (IGM) is virtually ignored. MGM has recognized health benefits, FGM does not, they point out. MGM is a religious requirement, FGM is a cultural practice. And so on.

Many women’s organizations recognize MGM for what it is and speak out. On December 12, 2012, I attended my first Bloodstained Men & Their Friends demonstration in Berlin, Germany, the day the German Parliament passed a new law enshrining MGM as a religious right. The event was co-organized by Terre Des Femme, a women’s rights organization. I can’t express how comforted I felt getting up there on stage in a bloodstained suit with a group that included a woman.

People are complicated. I trust that anyone opposed to FGM is – or can be – receptive to the truth that boys have the same rights as girls. We should challenge mistaken beliefs where possible. But we can’t make enemies of potential allies because it feels good to launch these wide, careless attacks. Everyone involved is justifiably angry to some extent. Some are angry, and others are more angry. It’s natural. We can’t allow that anger to become so righteous that we lose control. Don’t be an accelerant:

So to them I say: don’t be an accelerant. Be a passionate advocate when necessary. Speak truth to power when you feel it’s right. But train your powerful tools of criticism of others on yourselves, and be ruthless when it comes to your own good intentions. Ask yourself: when I intensify this conflict, when I beat my chest and declare someone evil, when I throw fuel on the fire, am I really helping the people of color and women I claim to speak for? When I go for the jugular again and again, am I actually helping to solve injustice? Is this kind of engagement from me an instrument of political progress? If not, why am I doing it? How am I contributing to this cause?

The context is different, but the same. It never helps protect children when someone spews hatred at a group of people united only by the attacker’s presumption of the group’s hatred of boys. Pick a group targeted for vitriol, whether it’s women as in the tweet linked above, or Jews, or doctors, or any group, really. When did smearing someone achieve a single helpful thing? Lazy accusations of misandry don’t help. How many times do any of us need to see images from issue two of Foreskin Man in news stories and blog posts to understand how damaging that vileness is? You think you’re making the point that circumcision is awful and how dare you not understand that circumcision is awful. You’re making the point that you’re unhinged and scary and best ignored.

Back to Mr. Friedman’s post, in this paragraph he states exactly what activism should be:

When space is created for talking about FGM, we need to respect the intentionality of that space. When that space is used to defend MGM or IGM, we must raise our voices as appropriately as possible. We have been accused of minimizing FGM by comparing it to MGM and taking resources away from FGM, as if we’re all in competition. Whether or not these allegations are true, people perceive these as being true (on the whole I think they’re false, but I can’t speak for everyone).

It’s correct for discussions of FGM. The concepts of appropriateness and respect are broadly applicable. That willingness to consider others and to understand that we need to explain our position will achieve more than “Shut up” ever could. Do we want to feel superior or do we want to protect children?

Flawed Circumcision Defense: Children’s Urology, Austin

Posted: February 3rd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, FCD, Media Marketing, Parenting, Surgery | No Comments »

Hey, a press release (Links omitted):

New Austin parents wishing to heed the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control recent guidance on circumcision, which endorse the procedure because of resulting health benefits, have access to a new in-office resource dedicated to circumcision — the Newborn Circumcision Clinic at Children’s Urology.

The CDC’s draft proposal aimed at medical providers has not been formalized as a recommendation. It says so in the public notice (emphasis added):

“… The draft recommendations include information about the health benefits and risks of elective male circumcision performed by health care providers.”

Even though the press release acknowledges the draft status of the proposed recommendations, Children’s Urology uses the draft proposal to sell non-therapeutic circumcision. That’s odd.

It’s odder still because the CDC’s draft proposal ignores the direct physical costs of circumcision to the patient. The CDC’s draft proposal stumbles on the ethical analysis of applying the potential benefits to healthy children. The CDC’s draft proposal fails to mention or evaluate many options for prevention and treatment of maladies that are less invasive and more effective than circumcision, such as the HPV vaccine. The CDC’s draft proposal is half-baked. Half-baked is a poor basis for eliciting any level of informed consent.

There’s a reason this next paragraph closes the Notice document:

In addition to obtaining public comment on the draft Recommendations, CDC considers this document to be important information as defined by the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) 2004 Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review and, therefore, subject to peer review. CDC will share the summary of public comments with external experts who conduct a peer review of the evidence on this topic. Their review will include an evaluation of completeness, accuracy, interpretation, and generalizability of the evidence to the United States and whether the evidence is sufficient to support the draft counseling recommendations.

No worries, though. The Newborn Circumcision Clinic at Children’s Urology is ready to sell new Austin parents surgery for their healthy sons. It says so in their press release. Jillian Moser, PA-C, or someone on the circumcision provider team, will circumcise the healthy baby if he’s six weeks old or younger, weighs 10 pounds or less, and has normal appearing anatomy. The circumcision provider team does not require a boy to need any form of intervention before they’ll perform surgery. One might be inclined to think that a strange requirement to dismiss. However, lest healthy newborn boys worry they might not be in good hands, Children’s Urology knows what healthy newborn boys care about most for their genitalia: the comfort of their parents.

“Our Newborn Circumcision Clinic offers a comfortable, in-office experience for families interested in following the recommendations and pursuing circumcision for their son,” said Leslie McQuiston, MD, pediatric urologist at Children’s Urology.

Of course, it’s curious that Leslie McQuiston, MD, believes the CDC’s draft proposal a) targeted parents and b) recommends circumcision of newborns. Either of those beliefs suggests that Dr. McQuiston hasn’t read the CDC’s draft proposal (or the longer document that supports the draft proposal). The claimed link to the CDC’s draft proposal in her clinic’s press release loads a PDF announcing the draft proposal for public comment. Since Children’s Urology doesn’t seem to know where the actual draft proposal is located, it’s possible they haven’t read the draft proposal, which would be understandable. Who has time for reading dense material when so much science needs urgent applying to healthy children? Healthy children can’t possibly wait for the draft proposal to be finalized, much less wait until they might have a need for the most radical intervention. The science of newborn male genital anatomy isn’t scientific without a scalpel, after all. Duh. Everybody knows that.

Maybe the confidence of new Austin parents wouldn’t be so high after considering the totality of evidence from Children’s Urology’s press release. Trust them, though. Right in the press release, it says their clinic is “the premier pediatric urology practice in Central Texas,” and that it “specializes in the medical and surgical treatment of genitourinary conditions from birth through adolescence.” That’s great, and probably true, but we’re all now thinking the same thing. Okay, maybe the folks at Children’s Urology aren’t thinking this, but most of us not selling surgery on healthy children to parents using a flawed draft proposal are thinking it. Circumcision isn’t a genitourinary condition. I know, right? It seems obvious. But, on the contrary, we’re all wrong. It says so right on Children’s Urology’s site, under Conditions We Treat.


  • Ambiguous Genitalia¹ (DSD)
  • Chordee
  • Circumcision
  • Concealed / Hidden Penis
  • Epispadias
  • Hypospadias
  • Labial Adhesions
  • Meatal Stenosis²
  • Micropenis
  • Phimosis

I know, I know. It’s weird that circumcision is offered to treat the genital condition, “circumcision”. It’s weirder, I guess, because Children’s Urology convinced me we agree. Parents, doctors, activists, the AAP, the CDC, and Children’s Urology all need to work together to eradicate this awful scourge, circumcision, that somehow persists for healthy boys in modern society.

¹ I’ll refrain from speculating on this item because I do not know what Children’s Urology recommends for these children.

² It’s worth remembering that meatal stenosis and adhesions are possible complication from circumcision (i.e. the treatment for the condition, “circumcision”).

Circumcision without consent reveals

Posted: February 1st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Law, Parenting, Politics | No Comments »

I have two caveats applicable to my analysis of this story. I am not an attorney. The charge against the individual is an allegation.

Ocala Police said they arrested a man who allegedly attempted to circumcise his 1-year-old nephew while babysitting Saturday.

Police said Larry Leroy Floyd was watching the boy while his father was at the store. They do not know why Floyd attempted to circumcise him.

The boy was taken to the hospital. Ocala police arrested Floyd and charged him with domestic aggravated battery.

For the sake of analysis, I’ll assume that Floyd attempted to circumcise his nephew and did so without permission of either of the boy’s parents. There are many implications from that. I want to analyze this more than I should. I’ll choose prudence instead, based on my first caveat.

Circumcision is surgery. Surgery inflicts some level of harm, regardless of the benefit(s) pursued. Harm is battery. Circumcision, as surgery, is battery. That much is simple and should be non-controversial.

Not all surgery is legally actionable. Informed consent is a defense against surgery. Consent is why we don’t prosecute doctors for performing surgery. Again, this is simple and should be non-controversial.

This (alleged) surgery is legally actionable, obviously. If circumcision didn’t categorically (and objectively) constitute harm, the criminal charge would need to be something else, if anything at all. But circumcision involves harm, as all surgery involves harm. That presents the proper issue in the debate about non-therapeutic child circumcision. Whose consent to this harm should be required?

Too often the assumption in favor of parental choice via proxy consent ignores harm. (e.g. AAP) Society defends parental choice for non-therapeutic circumcision by favoring irrelevant, flawed distractions focused only on an overblown applicability of potential benefits and a minimized view of risks. The inevitable harm from circumcision matters. Harm must inform who should – and should not – be permitted to consent. For non-therapeutic male child circumcision, society needs a rethink.

Not every male would have foreskin anxiety

Posted: January 31st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, FCD, Hygiene, Locker Room, Logic, Parenting, Regret | No Comments »

It’s rare that I read something providing both confirmation and frustration. Such is the case with this interview with Aaron Calloway, a man who chose circumcision for himself as an adult. Some of Mr. Calloway’s thinking precedes the Q&A in the interview:

“I have been in a couple of social circles where people would be talking and say, ‘Ugh, yeah. He was uncut,’ and I, like, didn’t want that,’” Calloway told me, when we spoke a second time about his circumcision. “And I’m sitting there with an uncut penis. People don’t really assume you may not be [cut]. They just assume that you’re cut and if you’re not, it’s kind of like this abomination.”

I’ll assume everyone is familiar with this because it certainly matches my experience. Americans generally assume every male is – and should be – circumcised. It’s what we do. It’s “good”. I take a different view on what to do with society’s perception. Of course I don’t have the same experience Mr. Calloway does. Mine is people assuming I’m happy with being circumcised, because why wouldn’t I be? It’s strange, and annoying because I don’t care what other people think about my preference. I’d rather have my normal body, which I had until my parents made my choice.

Early in the interview, Jenny Kutner, asks a question that expands on this:

How would you say it’s perceived to be uncircumcised [sic]?

It’s strange because it really depends on being asked. If you are someone who prefers a cut penis, or to be circumcised, it’s weird because the preference — they automatically associate it with cleanliness. It’s considered a more proper penis and uncircumcised is like, weird. But it makes me think, it’s weird to actually be born and have your penis hacked at. I am glad that I made the decision on my own to do it. There’s something empowering about that.

I’m glad Mr. Calloway had his choice, even though I don’t (emotionally) understand – and wouldn’t make – the choice he made. He’s correct that it’s weird to be born and have your (healthy) penis hacked at. That weirdness is why I dreaded this excellent, necessary question:

Since you found it empowering to decide yourself, what do you think you would do for your son if you had one?

I would probably get him circumcised, only because I wouldn’t want him to deal with the social embarrassment of [not being circumcised], because it can come off that way. I’ve been in situations where if I let myself, I could’ve felt embarrassed, but I chose to own it. I think I had enough resilience where it didn’t get to me, but I think that some people in that situation, it does get to them.

I wanted to turn off my monitor, unplug it, and throw it in the garbage when I read this, just so I’d never be able to read that answer again. Because the obvious question is obvious: What if that hypothetical son wouldn’t be embarrassed by social pressure to be circumcised? Or, what if the social pressure is no longer the same 15+ years after that hypothetical son is born in the future? And, I still remember, “I am glad that I made the decision on my own to do it” from the previous question. Is there a reason to assume a hypothetical son wouldn’t want his choice, too?

My frustration with Mr. Calloway’s answer grew later in the interview when the question turned to Mr. Calloway’s results:

Aside from not being able to ejaculate for a while, were there any other negative side effects?

Besides the desensitization –

So you do have less sensation now?

Yes, and that is something that I’m a little bit sour about. I used to have very intense orgasms–my legs would curl and my head would go back. It was cool. I was very into it. Now, I’ll cum or whatever, and it’s just more calm. It’ll feel good, but it’s not as dramatic as before, which was nice, because it felt sexual and passionate, and now it’s just like, get out.

Is it worth it?

Is it worth it? I would say, in my situation, and my experiences, yes, it is to me, because I just personally feel better about it. I was with some friends who were talking about the word “smegma” and making jokes about it, and now I don’t have to feel uncomfortable in that situation, and that’s really nice. I think for me and my personal psyche, it is worth it. I’m not saying that when I cum I don’t feel anything. No. That’s not the situation either. I still get horny. I want to have sex. It still feels great and I still have an orgasm. Is it to a lesser degree? Yes. Is it an orgasm nonetheless? Definitely.

It’s consistent to say “I’m a little bit sour about” it and “in my situation, and my experiences, yes, it is [worth it] to me.” All preferences are unique to the individual. Mr. Calloway values the aesthetic and social benefits more than the healing process and diminished sensitivity. Given that I only advocate for each person to make his own choice, not that no one be circumcised, I’d be a hypocrite to criticize his conclusion. I criticize his current thinking that he would circumcise a future son. There’s also time for him to see the error in his thinking there.

To the possible objection with this interview, of course Mr. Calloway’s claim is subjective and anecdotal. This does not prove that adult or infant circumcision leads to desensitization. I think the inference is logical, given how circumcision changes the normal penis. Still. No, this isn’t proof.

It does support my focus on individuals rather than groups. We must remember how critical this is when reading generalized garbage such as what the CDC offers on page 26 of a detailed supporting document for its proposed recommendations to teens, adults, and parents of newborns.

… However, in one survey of 123 men following medical circumcision in the United States, men reported no change in sexual activity and improved sexual satisfaction, despite decreased erectile function and penile sensation. [Abstract and study]…

From the results section of the study’s abstract:

A total of 123 men were circumcised as adults. Indications for circumcision included phimosis in 64% of cases, balanitis in 17%, condyloma in 10%, redundant foreskin in 9% and elective in 7%. The response rate was 44% among potential responders. Mean age of responders was 42 years at circumcision and 46 years at survey. Adult circumcision appears to result in worsened erectile function (p = 0.01), decreased penile sensitivity (p = 0.08), no change in sexual activity (p = 0.22) and improved satisfaction (p = 0.04). Of the men 50% reported benefits and 38% reported harm. Overall, 62% of men were satisfied with having been circumcised.

As the study concluded, and the CDC’s use failed to understand, “adult circumcision appears to result in worsened erectile function, decreased penile sensitivity and improved satisfaction.” Again, those don’t have to be inconsistent for an individual. But it’s indefensible to assume infant circumcision results in a different outcome, or that results one and two ethically coexist with result three for healthy children.

Even in this study supposedly supporting the CDC’s recommendation, only 62% of men were satisfied. The other 38% matter, too. In the absence of need, the only relevant issue is always individual choice. And looking at the math, the results show that far fewer than 100% of men circumcised for (probable) need were satisfied. Remember this every time someone implies every male should¹ be satisfied with non-therapeutic circumcision because some males are satisfied with therapeutic circumcision.

I appreciate what Mr. Calloway has done with his interview. His honesty is informative in both its insights and its flaw. We need more honest, focused discussion like that. I don’t assume all men circumcised as adults would report reduced sensitivity. I know there are enough that it might help break through the societal barriers we maintain against ethical protections for the normal bodies of male children.

¹ Consider Mr. Calloway’s results in the context of a recent silly lifestyle trend piece. It concludes with a man from Staten Island named Boris who had himself circumcised at 33. Okay, fine, good for him. Even though he said that “[t]he next six months weren’t normal,” everything is apparently okay with circumcision because now “[w]e’re expecting a baby next month — everything works just fine!” Clap, clap, except no one is making the argument that circumcision prevents ejaculation or climax (Except in those rare cases of death where it prevents that). “Sex still feels good” is the most persistent and most pernicious straw man in the circumcision debate.

Read this response instead.