Sexual Control: Making a Permanent, Unnecessary Decision for a Child

It’s rare to find a blatant attempt to explore justifications for the use of male circumcision as a form of sexual control. From Thursday’s debate on SB12-090 (pdf) within the Colorado House Health and Environment Committee, State Representative Sue Schafer directed a request to Dr. Jennifer Johnson. Dr. Johnson testified against the bill, specifically, and child circumcision, generally. Within Dr. Johnson’s opposition, she discussed the nerve endings in the foreskin lost to circumcision. Rep. Schafer asked (audio, excerpted from the legislature’s archive):

Rep. [Lois] Court said earlier “there are no dumb questions”, and that we will speak in a respectful manner, but I’m concerned about the rate of teen pregnancy, the rate of date rape, sexual violence, and when you talk about more nerve endings in the penis, in the foreskin, I’m just wondering if there’s any risk of more sexual activity among young men, more male irresponsibility, so if you’d be good enough to comment on that.

That question isn’t dumb. It’s offensive and insulting. Her underlying implication is that, if non-therapeutic male circumcision could be shown to lower the occurrences of what she’s concerned about, that would dismiss the ethical concerns about negatively affecting male sexuality that apply to every male child circumcision. It implies that it’s acceptable to control male sexuality (i.e. permanently reduce it) to limit sexual activity during teen years. It implies that males may inherently be incapable of controlling their own sexual behavior. There’s also the possibility that her implications are targeted only at the poor, the subject of this bill to restore Medicaid funding for non-therapeutic circumcision. I suspect her concern is for the general application of circumcision upon males, not just poor males covered by Medicaid. Regardless, Rep. Schafer’s question exposes the issue and its connection to unquestioned parental proxy consent for male circumcision, a permanent, non-therapeutic surgical intervention.

It’s useful to have this clear example because it’s a common misconception that male circumcision of minors involves no control or attempted control over male sexuality. That’s a misconception because non-therapeutic male child circumcision is always control. The patient receives only someone else’s idea of what a “normal” penis should be. He can no longer exercise control over his normal, healthy body, only his altered body. The flaw is most commonly some form of drivel about the preferences of the boy’s future sexual partners, which is speculation, but it applies to religious justifications, as well. Someone else imposes what the child “should” want. The truth is clear: all non-therapeutic child genital cutting controls sexuality.

The challenge to defeating the common misconception rests on separating parental intent from the act. The accepted argument entails the idea that male genital cutting can’t be something bad because the parents have good intentions. American parents think they’re doing what’s in the best interests of their sons, so we’re told we must accept that this negates the obvious reality of what the act is and does. That’s flawed because the act matters before we consider intent. Parents do not intend harm, but circumcision (i.e. surgery) causes harm. We can – and must – make a judgment on the act without regard to intent because it’s a non-therapeutic intervention on a non-consenting individual. It fails ethics.

2 thoughts on “Sexual Control: Making a Permanent, Unnecessary Decision for a Child”

  1. Rep. Schafer’s opportunistic attitude is an outlanding example of circumcision apologism and lack of respect for children’s and men’s rights. It’s all fun and games as long as a bill like this doesn’t pass.

  2. Senator’s Schafer’s patronising views about male sexuality, especially males under 30-40, were common garden in the period 1880-1920. In those days, the polite middle class often believed that men were “oversexed”, and that oversexed men were the ultimate cause of birth out of wedlock, date rape, shotgun marriages, having more children than one could afford, stressed marriages, infidelity, and divorce. Having too many children was seen as the main cause of poverty. A husband’s overexcited penis was thought to be the main reason why women became pregnant more often than was good for them and their families. Circumcision was seen as solving all of these problems and dilemmas in one fell swoop. Yes circumcision is sexual “control,” but that control was seen as necessary for a civilised and prosperous social and economic order. Boys must give up part of their penises for their own good, the good of the women they mix with, and the good of the overall society in which they find themselves.

    During the past 200 years, women often found themselves on the receiving end of patronising and condescending attitudes of this nature, and sex positive feminism speaks to the growing rage such attitudes gave rise to after 1960. Sen. Schafer also patronises the growing number of American women who have concluded, based on experience, that intact works better for them. At any rate, I am no longer surprised that most intactivists are women.

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