Circumcision Is

Posted: September 8th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, Logic, Parenting | 4 Comments »

In a comment on a post last month, paper0airplane wrote:

Sorry this comment had a typo, and now apparently my blog is being screen capped and line by line minutia is being debated so I want to make sure there’s no confusion or conspiracy theory because I delete or edit the comment lol.

Act shocked when I note that paper0airplane has used screen caps five times in posts in the last month. Some of that appeared to be in direct response to my criticism of unsupported claims. And I’m not actually criticizing the use of screen caps. I think they can be useful, as some of those links show, even if their point is incorrectly generalized. If it helps make the point, and they’re presented as fairly as possible, why not? For example, they can demonstrate when someone deleted a post, as this screenshot shows that paper0airplane deleted a post without comment.

That’s merely an intro for my “line by line minutia” response to this post.

Medical Circumcision and Brit Milah is not…

Circumcision is not rape

On the obvious intent of that statement, I agree. This has been the biggest frustration for me recently. It’s offensive. It isn’t effective. There’s more nuance involved, which I addressed in Truth and Loaded Words, but that isn’t how “circumcision is rape” is used. So, here, the core point remains. I agree with paper0airplane.

Circumcision is not violence

To the extent that paper0airplane probably means “intent” to injure or harm, sure. But that’s a pedantic way to address it. Circumcision is violence. There is a foreskin. Then there isn’t a foreskin. The foreskin doesn’t just fall off without specific action. That action is violence.

Circumcision is not dangerous

Again, I suspect paper0airplane means “intent”. Again, that’s a pedantic way to address it. Or the claim is that complications are usually minor. Either way, it’s wrong. Circumcision is objectively dangerous. There is always risk involved. How dangerous it is and whether that danger is worth the trade-offs are subjective. The problem here is that in paper0airplane’s view, the subjective preference of a (male only) child’s parents is enough to ignore the objective danger involved without concern for the child’s preference (or – obviously – need, as the circumcision we’re discussing is non-therapeutic). If circumcision weren’t dangerous, the death rate would be zero. The complication rate would be zero. Neither rate is zero. And there is objective harm in every instance. Circumcision is dangerous. When circumcision isn’t therapeutic, proxy consent is unethical.

Circumcision does not ruin your sex life

Probably, although I hope we can agree that a boy who loses his penis or his life probably has a ruined sex life. Policy from the margins is usually bad. Ignoring the margins for policy is usually bad. This does the latter, which is unacceptable here because there are individual human rights involved. It’s foolish and cruel to treat individuals as mere statistics within the group. We can’t know which boys will actually have their sex life ruined. We can know that some will. For a non-therapeutic intervention, that is indefensible.

Circumcision does not mean your parents didn’t love you

Circumcision is almost never the reason you’re not enjoying sex

Almost certainly, although the same caveat about the margins applies.

Circumcision does not increase sales of Viagra or increase ED

I wouldn’t make the opposite claim because I can’t prove it. A citation for the negative claim would be appropriate for such a definitive stance.

Circumcision does not make someone a pervert

I read this as “circumcising”, not “being circumcised”. Both are obvious. To the former, support for bodily integrity rights for all people (i.e. opposition to non-therapeutic male child circumcision) does not make someone a pervert, either, despite the ease with which some propagandists casually lob that smear. To the latter, being circumcised does not guarantee a preference for being circumcised, regardless of how many times someone like Brian Morris¹ trots out the irrelevant “regarded by most men and women as being more attractive”.

Circumcision does not make someone a cripple

In the generalized context, this is true. How much can we debate the crippling effect of rare-but-serious complications from (non-therapeutic) circumcision? This is about individual rights, so individual outcomes matter.

Circumcision is not replaceable with a made up ceremony for Jewish boys

It seems like there are Jewish individuals who disagree with that point. Even if that false claim were true, individual rights in a civil society must trump the religious rights of another individual over that person when the rite inflicts objective harm. Circumcision inflicts objective harm, regardless of the obvious-but-irrelevant implication above that parents do not intend harm. Of course they don’t, usually. But circumcision always inflicts harm. So, even if I grant paper0airplane’s point here, it’s irrelevant. Religions must adapt, not human rights.

Circumcision is not to blame for everything wrong in the world


Circumcision is not on the decline

Please provide a citation. Even Brian Morris recognizes that circumcision among newborns has declined. That paper claims an increase to 81%, but I hope we can agree that an increase from 79% to 81% among 14 to 59 year old males is hardly the demographic in this debate. Where those 14 to 18 who don’t consent matter here, the remaining males in that group are irrelevant to this part of the debate. (Note, too, that he states, “Delay puts the child’s health at risk and will usually mean it will never happen.” A delay that means circumcision will usually never happen means that circumcision will never be necessary or needed. That’s damning.)

Circumcision is not used to routinely acquire foreskins for cosmetic or medical uses and never without parent’s informed consent

This asks used and routinely to do too much work, to the point of question begging. Are neonatal foreskins routinely used for cosmetic or medical purposes? No, I don’t think so. Does it happen? Yes. Whatever happens to the foreskin matters, whether it’s used for another purpose or is tossed in an incinerator. It matters because the foreskin belongs/belonged to the individual, not his parents. Their informed (or uninformed, which is also permitted) consent to this non-therapeutic surgery isn’t sufficient to negate his right to self-ownership. A male’s foreskin is part of his self. He owns it.

And until things change with presentation…

Intactivism will not succeed at changing minds.

That’s a weirdly broad statement. But I agree with the implication that making unsupported claims, tossing around hyperbole, and generally being an ass are unhelpful, at best. In the sense that people who nominally share a goal with me believe those are acceptable, there is work to do. And I’ll state it as many times as it takes for the point to be internalized into others’ activism, circumcision is not rape. This claim is offensive and unhelpful.

May I trust that the same expectation to improve one’s activism applies to those who (mistakenly) believe that parents have a right to choose genital cutting (for their sons only – of course, somehow)?

¹ I never provide hyperlinks to Brian Morris’ site. Throw a dart at any paper he’s authored and you’ll probably find this claim. Regardless, the specific quote is from the summary page of his site.

4 Comments on “Circumcision Is”

  1. 1 Ravi said at 5:19 am on September 9th, 2014:

    Re: circumcision and rape.

    You say it’s ‘offensive and unhelpful’ to compare/equate the two; I’m inclined to agree, but people (including yourself, apparently) taking offense at the argument suggests merely that it’s strategically inadvisable (from the intactivist perspective; probably the opposite from the pro-circumcision side) to employ it, not that it’s actually incorrect. Of course one may subjectively judge rape to be preferable to (or worse than) having one’s genitals cut–why not? I think this rape exceptionalism stuff is indefensible and quite damaging; I’m therefore surprised to see you perpetuating it here. Is rape really, always, so devastatingly terrible that nothing can ever (ever!) be compared with it? I’d argue against the motion, and with reference to personal experience(s).

    Either way, I very much appreciate your work. Thanks a great deal for your efforts. All the best.

  2. 2 Ravi said at 5:29 am on September 9th, 2014:

    I just read your ‘Truth and Loaded Words’ post; I likely should have read both posts in their entirety before leaving my comment. I appear to have misunderstood you; I think we’re in agreement. Apologies.

  3. 3 Tony said at 7:59 am on September 9th, 2014:


    This is an area where I’ve staked out a position, but there’s so much nuance, I likely fail to be clear enough at times. I think you have the gist now that you’ve read both posts. My objection to “circumcision is rape” is entirely centered on activism. I do not intend to police how someone processes his circumcision. But while activism can be a form of therapy, they aren’t the same thing. An audience isn’t a therapist.

    Public discussion of circumcision as therapy is the grey area for me. I still don’t like “circumcision is rape” in that context because it can be viewed as activism by someone unable or unwilling to see the difference. It was a weird lesson when I figured out that some people won’t grant empathy to someone they disagree with. I once said “I’m a victim of unnecessary genital cutting” to someone, who then mocked me for demanding special treatment and an exemption from responsibility for my own life. I demand(ed) neither. I’ve been a victim of a robbery, too. Factual statements don’t imply special favors.

    Anyway, I know “circumcision is rape” causes problems for activists in the context of public therapy. I’m not convinced I’m correct that it shouldn’t appear there.

  4. 4 Ravi said at 8:08 am on September 9th, 2014:

    Your points are all very well-taken; in fact, we’re in complete agreement. Apologies for my misunderstanding. Thanks, again.

Leave a Reply

  • *