Procedures that Intentionally Alter or Cause Injury

Posted: July 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Ethics, FGM, Law, Logic, Parenting, Science | 13 Comments »

In Reverse the Approach, I had in mind the numerous blog posts like this I’ve encountered:

In this installment of things that should not be compared as equal, we’ll discuss how female circumcision is not the same as male circumcision. …

There’s the subtle difference I discussed. When I make the comparison, it’s to compare male circumcision to female genital cutting. That method allows for the relevant comparison, as well as the opportunity to discuss how the comparison is limited. Trying to compare FGC/M to male circumcision hinders the goal, which should be an accurate analysis of male circumcision. Society has already assessed the ethics against FGC/M. No one wants to re-open or challenge that when using the valid, limited comparison of the two interventions.

The blogger, Lindsay Marie, finishes her introduction with more fence-sitting than her post demonstrates before moving into the comparison:

How they’re similar:
For one, they’re both called circumcision (this isn’t entirely accurate… I’ll get to that in a bit). For another, both involve cutting off a part of the person’s genitals.

Basically, yes. I wouldn’t start with the name, though. It’s semantically inaccurate for females, but it’s hardly a point to compare the two acts. They can both be mutilation while calling one mutilation and the other anything else. A consensus on nomenclature tells us something without proving anything on its own.

I would start with the principle, which she gets almost complete. Non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is more accurate for what we’re describing. That applies to both females and males. There is no reasonable way to make a gendered distinction on that principle. The distinctions, which exist in practice, are relevant to punishment rather than prohibition.

She incorrectly moves on to differences at this point. As I argued, I think this results from comparing female genital cutting to male circumcision. It’s too easy to start with the most common forms, which are unfortunately also the more extreme forms. Again, that matters, but for the comparison, the validity of state intervention on male circumcision is the question for the comparison. Is there a comparison to be made between male circumcision and what the state prohibits with respect to female genital cutting? There is.

(a) Except as provided in subsection (b), whoever knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years …

Any cutting, even that equal to (i.e. hoodectomy) or less destructive than male circumcision, is illegal. Those forms exist, although they are not the common forms. They are illegal. The comparison works on that limited scale, and points to other legal questions about the right to physical integrity and equal protection.

There’s also the comparison based on the WHO fact sheet for FGM (emphasis added):

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

… It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

There is no reason to exclude males from that protection of rights, even though FGC/M is almost always more physically damaging, and to a significant degree. Males suffer injury in every case, and worse in some cases, including extremes such as amputation and death. The implicated rights are the same.

There are differences, of course. I’ve acknowledged them here, to some extent, but I’ll reiterate that most female genital cutting is more extensive, with more extreme and lasting consequences. It is evil and should be eradicated as much as possible.

With that stated, she continues (language warning):

How they’re different:
In every other fucking way. Male circumcision is practiced widely in developed countries as a way of preventing specific health issues in both men and women. Male circumcision is usually performed by a trained professional (almost always a doctor, but some religious parents ask a trained Rabbi to perform the procedure) in a sterile medical setting with the latest tools and effective healing techniques to eliminate infections and reduce pain. Male circumcision is performed on days-old infants who will not remember or even realize what happened and almost always with anesthetics to reduce pain. Pardon the comparison, but breeders clip dog tails at the same age and in a similar way, and zoo keepers clip bird wings at the same age and in a similar way. I don’t agree with clipping dog tails, but if it’s going to happen it might as well happen when they’re too young to realize.

First, I don’t want to put too much emphasis on widely, but it’s confusing. If it should be attached to “as a way of”, which is how I read it upon a second pass, I disagree because most circumcision is cultural. The science is a pretty way of making people feel better about doing something indefensible they wish to do for their own subjective reasons. If widely is meant to describe “in developed countries”, that’s inaccurate. It’s widely practiced in the United States and Israel. It’s been widely practiced at some point in the past in the UK, Australia, and Canada.

To the point, where it is intended as a prophylactic, it is practiced as an attempt to prevent specific, unlikely health issues. Statistics show that most circumcisions in the developed world prevent nothing for most males because most males will not develop a foreskin-related problem. When they do, it’s usually associated with some other corresponding behavior. (e.g. Does he get HIV because he has a foreskin or because he didn’t wear a condom?) People get incorrectly impressed by the relative risk differences between intact and circumcised when the absolute risk of foreskin-related issues is small. Even the most dedicated propagandist, Prof. Brian Morris, only claims that the risk of a foreskin-related issue requiring some form of medical attention (i.e. not just circumcision) within the male’s lifetime is 1 in 2 or 1 in 3, depending on where he’s writing. (I will not provide links to his propaganda. Use Google.) Imposing the most invasive solution on a healthy individual is unethical.

As for the sterile operating theater with modern techniques and equipment, I’m unconvinced. As her post makes clear later, she wouldn’t support female genital cutting conducted in a similar setting. That’s the correct stance, but if it’s not support for one, it isn’t support for the other. As the WHO’s fact sheet states, “more than 18% of all FGM is performed by health care providers, and this trend is increasing.” Defending it for male circumcision will likely lead to further justification from proponents of female genital cutting because they’ve modernized a cultural ritual.

The “he won’t remember it” defense is also not compelling. We wouldn’t be any more convinced that a little female genital cutting would be okay if inflicted on girls too young to remember it. We must judge the act on its own. Would we excuse a punch to the face of a child who won’t remember it? It is unlikely to leave a permanent alteration. Corporal punishment for children even has a biblical basis. At some point, the rights of the individual must matter more than peripheral arguments.

With male circumcision, it’s not “going to happen”, as her defense of “too young to remember” implies, unless we take the validity of parental choice as a given. I don’t. There is a risk, as with all normal body parts, male or female. But the chance of needing circumcision are very low. Most males left with their choice never need or choose circumcision. The “he won’t remember it” defense requires an assumption that he will either need or choose circumcision eventually. If it merely assumes he wants circumcision but will be too afraid of the pain, then he values not experiencing pain more than he values being circumcised. There is no reason to assume an infant thinks differently. This is related to female genital cutting more than it may seem. Like father, like son, so like mother, like daughter?

Next, she links to a comment on Reddit that discusses the issue of intent.

… One of the best explanations for the difference between male circumcision and female genital mutilation comes from a user called superdillin:

I think the intent and damage differences between male and female genital mutilation does need to be pointed out. What we do to our baby boys, often with no medical reason, is bad. Very bad and we should stop. BUT, what was done to OP’s girlfriend was done to take away her sexuality, and to control her. It has put her life at risk at worst, and at best has taken away her most sexual pleasure organ, and it was done with the intention of her becoming a breeding cow to be used for a man’s needs for the rest of her life.

What we do to our boys is due to misinformation about health and hygiene, combined with unhealthy aesthetic expectations and tradition. What some cultures do to their girls is deliberate, controlling, life-threatening and inherently sexist. [Her emphases.]

I agree with that, which differs somewhat from the blogger’s post. And I’ve already acknowledged the damage differences in the most common forms. Beyond that experience of the mutilated women described in the Reddit thread, there is evidence that some mutilated females retain some ability to orgasm, which just suggests that the issues and how they relate are more complicated than the idea that male circumcision somehow isn’t bad because female genital cutting is usually worse. (That evidence changes nothing on the ethical question. FGC/M remains evil.)

It is not clear that the intent for each exist as polar opposites. The motivations can have certain similarities. For FGC/M a (possibly overwhelming) majority of the cutting seems to be motivated in the way the West perceives. Sometimes it’s more complicated. But even with the best intentions, which apply to almost every male circumcision, they still aren’t enough. The act matters first. Non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is wrong. We can’t get past that, ethically, so everything else is important but irrelevant to the validity of prohibiting unnecessary surgery on a child, regardless of gender.

The first key fact in the WHO’s fact sheet states that FGM “includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” (See footnote¹.) The intent that matters is the intent to act, not the intent to act for good or bad reasons. “Good” and “bad” are subjective, to some extent, anyway. Do the parents intend to alter the child’s normal, healthy genitals? Yes. It’s about the act and the objective harm that results.

Back to the word circumcision: I’ve noticed an increase in groups publicly opposed to male circumcision (part of this was seen during our recent Gay Pride parade), and some argue that male circumcision should be called male genital mutilation, to more closely align itself with female genital mutilation. Although circumcision in both sexes involves the cutting of the genitals, and both procedures can be unnecessary at best, only female circumcision can actually be called butchering because of how it’s performed and what its purpose is. It’s called “circumcision” to make it seem more acceptable and to hide what it really is. (Hell, even the Wikipedia page for female circumcision is titled “female genital mutilation.”)

I don’t believe use of the term male genital mutilation is primarily meant to more closely align the two. It does that, but the intent is to stop pretending that circumcision is so innocuous that it should remain a parental choice for the parents’ subjective, preferred reasons. Some forms of female genital cutting don’t reasonably constitute “butchering”, yet we still outlaw those forms. When does the individual who will live with the modified genitals get to offer input on whether it constitutes mutilation?

From this brief interview with Sister Fa (Fatou Diatta), a musician from Senegal who is a victim of genital mutilation.

Rebellion is in the words. You are dealing with issues such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation. How important is this for you?
“It’s more than important. But my struggle is not against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM, ed.). Me, I do not even use the word “mutilation,” because mutilate means cutting with the intention to hurt. I say ‘cutting’. I’m campaigning so that people would know that it is important that we can educate a child without going through certain practices that may harm his/her health. I’ve been a victim of this practice and I know its effect. It hurts.”

Again, this is so much more complicated than the world so many imagine we live in. The word mutilation is definitionally accurate for both genders, tied to outcome, regardless of parental intent. Whether to use the term or not is a marketing question, not an applicability question.

I wouldn’t publicly advocate one way or the other for male circumcision because there are benefits and consequences of the procedure that must be taken into consideration. I can, however, speak from the only experience I have, which is as a woman who has had sex with both circumcised and uncircumcised men. My experience taught me that male sexual pleasure has absolutely nothing to do with having been circumcised as an infant and that my own sexual pleasure had nothing to do with whether or not my partner was circumcised. However, if asked my opinion I might point out that even the cleanest of males can be less hygienic and more likely to spread a disease or infection with their foreskin intact, which from a female standpoint is a huge concern since an infection inside the vagina can be much worse than a topical penile infection. It seems to me like male circumcision has more benefits for a male’s sexual partner than for the male himself.

Perhaps, but that isn’t a defense for circumcising children. It’s a defense for encouraging and empowering women to stand up for themselves in sexual relationships and to choose their sexual partners and practices consciously. Ask the male to shower. Refuse to have sex if he won’t wear a condom. It’s also a defense for voluntary adult male circumcision.

I truly believe, when performed by a surgeon or urologist in a hospital with the proper tools, that male circumcision should be an option and that parents of sons should educate themselves on whether or not to do the procedure. But I also believe that even if female circumcision were to be performed in the exact same situations as male circumcision (on infants, by medical professionals in a sterile setting) that it would be genital mutilation. The intent automatically makes it wrong and the way a female’s body is designed opens the poor girl up to dozens of complications, many of which are life threatening. Male circumcision and female genital mutilation are not the same thing.

She’s wrong. Intent matters, but outcome matters first and most. An individual’s healthy body is permanently altered without the individual’s consent. The invasive act violates the individual’s right to physical integrity (and right to self-determination). In that core analysis, female genital cutting/mutilation and male circumcision are the same. They are both indefensible.

¹ Non-therapeutic “medical” male circumcision is a misnomer. It’s medicalized circumcision, which merely indicates that it’s performed in a modern, sterile operating theater. That is condemnable in its limited focus, but it is not enough to render the non-therapeutic surgery ethical. The patient’s consent is also necessary. The pursuit of possible benefits (i.e. reduce risk of UTIs or female-to-male HIV transmission in high risk populations) is speculative and may not be necessary for – or desired by – the individual himself. There are all sorts of interventions we could perform that might reduce the risk of some future malady. Society does not open those up to parental choice because they’re also harmful. They’re ethically wrong. Circumcision is the same.


13 Comments on “Procedures that Intentionally Alter or Cause Injury”

  1. 1 Lindsay Marie said at 2:20 pm on July 31st, 2012:

    Hey there, thanks for sharing your thoughts with me. I love when something I write sparks discussion.

    You made a number of very valid points. You’re right that the definition of mutilation applies to circumcision regardless of sex.

    And while you’re also right that the outcome of circumcision matters in addition to the intent, and that there are very serious complications associated with male circumcision that happen even in the best of environments and at the hands of the best professionals, I still believe the intent behind the practices makes one far more cruel than the other (one is meant to protect the individual’s health while the other is meant to protect the individual’s virginity), and the health complications associated with male circumcision – though serious – are relatively rare, whereas the health complications associated with FGM are serious and common. In my mind that has significant weight.

    Regarding the idea that male circumcision should be performed after the individual reaches 18 and can make his own medical decisions, I feel this is a flawed argument. The parents, in most cases at least, are making this decision for the benefit of their son’s health through his developing teenage years. There is a strong possibility that circumcision will never be medically necessary in the course of a male’s life, making the mutilation of his body as an infant sound cruel and unusual, but the decision is hopefully not made lightly and hopefully in the best interests of the baby (while I know parents want their sons to be circumcised for cultural reasons or to look like the father, this is a ridiculous reason to do something with such serious risks). Further, infant circumcision has a faster healing time than adult circumcision and the process, from what I’ve read, can be more painful for an adult to experience than an infant.

    To be fair, I don’t know anyone who has experienced negative effects from circumcision or uncircumcision; those I know seem to be happy – or at least not unhappy – with their parents’ decision. And at the very least, I have not read of any female being happy with her circumcision or who chose circumcision in adulthood. I would be very interested in seeing a study or a poll that asked whether adult men are happy with their circumcisions, if they wished they weren’t circumcised, or if uncircumcised men wished they had been as infants.

    Thanks again and I hope our thoughts and comments get more people talking about this.

  2. 2 Lindsay Marie said at 3:01 pm on July 31st, 2012:

    To follow up, I just read “A new debate on female circumcision” which you linked to and can now say I’ve heard of a woman circumcising herself as an adult. And American raised, to boot. It’s almost too impossible to believe… But people all over the world mutilate their bodies as consenting adults so I suppose female circumcision, when being performed on a consenting adult, is just another one of those things I won’t understand. It’s astounding how culture can affect a person, even when that person has been so removed from their culture for so long. We really are an interesting species.

    However, similar to male circumcision, the vast, vast majority of procedures are performed on children too young to understand, and in the case of African female circumcision in deplorable conditions and with extremely inadequate tools. I just hope this woman got the right kind of care when she willingly was circumcised.

  3. 3 Tony said at 1:08 pm on August 1st, 2012:

    If we agree the definition of mutilation applies to genital cutting regardless of sex, I’m unclear on how the rest follows. My argument isn’t that the outcome is a factor, just like intent. The two are not equal. The act itself and the outcome matter exclusively before getting to parental motive. A child is objectively harmed from non-therapeutic genital cutting without his or her consent. Why is irrelevant. Even where the harm is just that which is intended, such as the guaranteed loss of the foreskin and severed nerve endings, it’s objectively indefensible to impose. It fails the ethical test. That’s where the decision ends. Nothing else matters until the individual needs some medical intervention or can decide for himself (or herself).

    I accept that almost all parents have what we could describe as good intentions when they circumcise their sons. They believe they’re acting in their son’s best interest. But the standard is the intention to act, not the motive for acting or the perceived benefits. The WHO FGM fact sheet is an excellent summary of focusing on what is done without using why it’s done as any form of defense. Within the U.S. anti-FGM law, section (c) states that “no account shall be taken of the effect on the person on whom the operation is to be performed of any belief on the part of that person, or any other person, that the operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual.” Even if they gave the same reason, however misguided and incorrect, the law stops them because the act itself is harmful. As I wrote in my post, that raises the equal protection issue. Why should boys and girls be protected differently from the same violation? Motive can’t legitimize the action when the act itself violates a basic human right.

    The links I provided, including the WHO fact sheet, demonstrate that FGC/M is imposed for many of the same parental beliefs. The issue is far more complicated than “circumcision is done for good reasons/female genital cutting is done for bad reasons”. Some number of parents who cut/mutilate intend to grant their daughters cultural/medicalized/religious benefits, even when they are ignorant of the awful damage they do. We don’t excuse that because the outcome is heinous. I’m not willing to excuse the decision for parents of boys just because the outcome is generally less heinous. The ethical/moral principle doesn’t change.

    We think on the issue in the most basic, inaccurate generalities. Society assumes what we want to be true. The parents of males who circumcise do so for what they believe is in their son’s best interest. Some of the links I provided demonstrate that, while they believe that, their belief about their action is not rational. Controlling children even after they become adults is not rational, yet that’s what circumcision does. We don’t even require parents to do research or have a good reason. Merely thinking the foreskin is “icky” is enough. We don’t have a standard. We pretend we have a standard, and that parents meet that standard, to make ourselves believe we’re decent. It’s an abdication of critical thought.

    What the first commenter on your post wrote about hygiene, which you endorse as a parental justification, could just as easily describe female genitals. Lots of folds, with great hiding places for dirt and bacteria. It hardly constitutes a defense of genital cutting or the status quo just because cutting boys – rather than females and rather than adult men – is easier and preferred by many parents. We’re far too afraid of the normal human body, including smells and “uncleanliness”. Breasts will sweat within a bra on a hot day, for example, but women merely wash themselves again if it’s a problem. To surgically alter any healthy body part for this reason without a person’s consent is a bizarre overreaction, especially when effective, easy, non-invasive solutions exist.

    As for males who wish they weren’t happy, I suspect the numbers would surprise you. It’s a minority in the U.S., and probably a small one, but I would stake a lot of money that you know at least one male who is unhappy about his circumcision. You don’t know it because men don’t talk about it. I’m not shy about my disapproval and anger that my parents had me mutilated. When I’ve raised the topic, friends have confided in me that they wish they still had their foreskins. They just don’t advertise that because it’s not a safe thing to say. Even if their ego isn’t involved, no one just says “Hey, I don’t like my penis”. We’re all supposed to pretend that circumcision is nothing.

  4. 4 Lindsay Marie said at 2:38 pm on August 2nd, 2012:

    Hi Tony,

    I admit I was mostly ignoring the religious beliefs of parents who have their infant sons circumcised and was mostly focusing on the cleanliness/preventative aspects of it, which maybe isn’t what many parents in the United States are thinking of. And when making my comparisons I was imagining girls in developing countries and infant boys in the United States, conditions which also cannot be compared.

    I’m not sure how female circumcision can be done for cleanliness, especially considering how many infections it causes. Even a “minor” circumcision on a female very frequently has devastating effects to her body, which is to say nothing of the more intense forms of female circumcision (someone mentioned that on my post, and I don’t understand it). I would argue that the intent matters a great deal (more, even?) than the outcome, because the outcome for most male infants is a completely normal life while the outcome for most girls is a life of pain and anguish (and the general intent behind male circumcision is for health and happiness and the general intent behind female circumcision disregards health and happiness). Even the WHO states that there are no benefits to female circumcision while there are some benefits to male circumcision.

    Also, I want to reiterate that I’m not trying to make a case for male circumcision in this or any country. I wrote my post because I was frustrated with the frequency I was seeing males compare their circumcisions (done in United States hospitals, as infants) to females they had read about (done in African countries, as children, without anesthesia, sterile tools or a doctor). These anonymous young women were reaching out to a mostly anonymous internet group asking for help to overcome embarrassment, trauma and stigma, something the vast, vast majority of circumcised males in this country do not endure. Seeing “I feel your pain” just didn’t sit well with me because they cannot feel these girls’ pain, physically or emotionally. I’m also not suggesting males circumcised as infants in the United States (or anywhere at any time) should be happy with their circumcisions. I just feel it’s important to point out the massive differences between what the typical circumcised male endures and what the typical circumcised female endures.

    Finally, I obviously cannot know if the males in my life are happy with their circumcisions (those that were as infants). You’re right that most men don’t feel comfortable talking about that with each other, much less with a woman. Which is too bad- if many men are unhappy they should not perpetuate this upon their sons and should be willing to discuss it with doctors, or at least other men. Communication and information is the only way anything gets changed.

  5. 5 Tony said at 8:20 am on August 3rd, 2012:

    The “I feel your pain” sentiment is problematic in most cases, and generally offensive. I am a victim. (Being a victim is not an excuse in my life. It’s just a fact.) My circumcision doesn’t automatically grant a shared experience with anyone, even other males circumcised in the U.S. Definitely not with female victims of the more extreme versions of female genital cutting. I do not wish to convey that comparison. I think the examples you provided in your post were useful.

    I also agree on communication. I think males who are unhappy generally don’t perpetuate it on their sons. That’s a reason the circumcision rate continues to decrease. But the lack of discussing this slows the decline. Parents who aren’t sure feel less supported to buck tradition. It’s easy to forget that not everyone lives on the Internet and encounters the full breadth of the issue. And too many couples don’t talk about the issue before they conceive. Then it becomes a problem.

    The propensity for males to use a self-defense mechanism surely factors to some degree. “My penis is awesome” can be what a man believes while also being a defense against considering whether his circumcision was bad. It’s a reason I don’t push the message that circumcision is awful for everyone and everyone should hate it. I frankly don’t care. It’s about choice. Each person should have his choice. Even if a man is fine or ecstatic with being circumcised as an infant, he can still leave his sons their choice. That’s the message.

    The problem I have with your position stems from the idea that most males circumcised as infants live a completely normal life. Males circumcised as infants live something other than “normal” lives. That’s not saying it’s a “bad” life, but a normal male life includes the foreskin. It’s the difference between normal and common. Circumcision is common in the U.S. It is not normal. You can’t change form without also changing function.

    Parental intent for male circumcision is an arbitrary line. It starts with what we do and seeks to justify it as acceptable. The assumption never considers the act itself. It assumes what the child will or should believe about it. I’m sure my parents circumcised me with the belief that it would make me happy. They were ignorant and foolish, and I resent them for this obvious, predictable failure. I am not happy about it. Circumcision has caused physical problems in my life, even though my circumcision was “normal”. (I’ll explain, if you wish, but I’ll leave it there unless you ask.) Intent is irrelevant because it doesn’t tie to outcome. I have to live and suffer with what they did to my body. Their intent provides nothing to my life.

  6. 6 Lindsay Marie said at 10:28 am on August 5th, 2012:

    I do agree, Tony, that the choice to be circumcised is the best way. (I don’t see many adult men choosing this option though.) I’m terribly sorry to hear that your circumcision as an infant didn’t turn out the way we assume your parents hoped it would (I’d be happy to learn the details, but only if you want or only if you feel comfortable). From what I’ve read, problems and complications from “medical” infant circumcision are very uncommon, but the fact remains that risks do exist, and that is very unfortunate for what is essentially an electable procedure. (And I’ve heard quite a few complication horror stories from otherwise electable procedures… it’s just a fact of medicine it seems and it’s one of the most unfortunate aspects.)

    Maybe someday parents will change their minds. In my (very limited) group of friends and people I feel comfortable having this discussion with, I do get the feeling that most men wouldn’t require circumcision on their sons out of empathy for the lost foreskin.

  7. 7 Tony said at 7:42 am on August 6th, 2012:

    This is a decent amount of personal information. I have no desire to share it. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed, but I like privacy. I share it because nobody talks about this, and that’s a big reason why circumcision continues. Society mistakenly believes circumcision is “just a little snip” that removes a “useless flap of skin”.

    My circumcision turned out exactly as my parents hoped it would. It’s a circumcision. I suffered no complications, other than what is likely meatal stenosis. My circumcision results are perfectly average and typical of what can be expected from every single instance of the surgery. Generically, I lost my foreskin, which was healthy, functioning tissue. The nerve endings were severed, as is inevitable from the cutting. I’m left with a scar that I find to be aesthetically (and ethically) offensive. I have the pitted glans inevitable from infant circumcision because the foreskin adheres to the glans at birth and must be forcibly separated to circumcise an infant. (It’s connected by synechia, the same thing holding nails to fingers and toes.) Those were the predictable results from the intended action. They cause me problems because they changed my penis to something unnatural. It doesn’t work the way it should.

    Specifically to me, I’m left with less skin on one side of my penis. That occasionally leads to painful erections. I’m also left with the asymmetrical cosmetic results from the doctor’s free-hand technique. Where the raphe should normally proceed relatively straight up and end in the frenulum, mine now proceeds up until it veers off to one side in a jagged pattern that ultimately ends at my circumcision scar halfway between where it should be and the side of my penis. I’m also missing my frenulum, which is the most sensitive part of a normal penis, from what I can tell. The doctor scraped mine off.

    With any sort of sexual activity, I have to use additional lubrication. Because my slack skin must stretch a little during an erection, rather than having my foreskin handle the task, areas around my circumcision scar are prone to tearing from any sort of friction. This is as painful as it sounds. Were I unsafe, it would also be dangerous to my partner(s). I’ve mostly figured out how to avoid it, but that doesn’t change the altered behavior required.

    That’s my objective outcome. There are others that I consider objective because circumcision is obviously involved, but they have more to do with sensitivity and experience, so I’ll leave them as subjective to me and not part of this, for now. (They’re real and not unique to me.)

    Again, none of this, other than meatal stenosis, counts as a complication within the official statistics cited to demonstrate how “safe” the guaranteed harm of circumcision is. (Most cases of meatal stenosis aren’t usually counted in official statistics because they develop over time after circumcision. The incidence is about 10%.) They are a cost of every circumcision, the predictable outcome. Any scan of typical circumcised penises will show individual variations on the same core results. My outcome is what you described as leading to a “completely normal” life. This is the mistaken view that the risks and benefits of circumcision are the equation, while omitting the objective costs of the harm that will occur. I have to live with this, even though I hope it’s clear how undesirable it is. My parents didn’t intend for the asymmetrical suturing and slightly insufficient skin, but they intended everything else. And the results specific to me weren’t unforeseeable or unique. My parents intended me to be happy with these results because the results are what Americans should view as “normal” for a penis.

    Given that my results are a typical circumcision, and I hope that you understand they are, that’s the fundamental problem with valuing parental intention over objective outcome. It’s essentially a claim that I am mistaken in being unhappy because my parents did something out of love, even though what they did is objectively awful. I should be happy they cared and not be concerned about my predictably damaged penis. I can’t think of any other way to reconcile your evaluation, even though I know you don’t mean your position to be malicious. The individual being circumcised is simply not a part of the equation.

    For me, even now at 39, my parents are essentially still choosing what’s in “my best interest” for my penis without any regard for what I now think as an autonomous adult. Figuratively I am still being parented. I must live their preference against my normal foreskin until I die. With every other decision they were (correctly) allowed to make, I can choose differently now. I can’t choose differently on circumcision. It’s done. That’s unequivocally as wrong ethically for me as it would be if I’d been born a girl.

  8. 8 Tony said at 7:43 am on August 6th, 2012:

    I apologize for the wordiness of my response. I intended to be brief. Contrary to the evidence in this post and the comments, I can be brief. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense.

  9. 9 Choose Intact » Blog Archive » Flawed Circumcision Defense: Charlotte Allen said at 11:15 am on August 11th, 2012:

    […] description for non-therapeutic male circumcision without the child’s consent. And it has considerably more in common with female genital mutilation than Allen […]

  10. 10 Choose Intact » Blog Archive » One Unremembered Trauma: Emphasize Trauma, Not Unremembered said at 10:07 pm on August 21st, 2012:

    […] Ms. West is wrong. […]

  11. 11 Choose Intact » Blog Archive » Evaluating the Genital Cutting Analogy said at 11:39 am on September 3rd, 2012:

    […] this is well known beyond academic knowledge. In my experience the average person hearing this comparison believes that female genital cutting is always a) the most severe form, b) performed to eliminate […]

  12. 12 Choose Intact » Blog Archive » Giving Accidental Legitimacy to Flawed Terminology said at 4:38 pm on August 20th, 2013:

    […] FGM/C isn’t made less terrible just because generally less-severe male genital cutting violates the same principle. Yes, those against forced male genital cutting need to be responsible when […]

  13. 13 Choose Intact » Blog Archive » Renee Lute’s Circumcision Decision Deserves No Respect said at 8:35 pm on October 11th, 2013:

    […] genital-cutting on an individual without the individual’s consent is not a gendered principle. The WHO defines female genital mutilation as “all procedures that involve partial or total […]


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