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.


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.


“well, perhaps to you, but this is MY body!”

Posted: November 16th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Logic, Regret | 1 Comment »

Musician and YouTuber Emma Blackery posted an excellent response to a question on Tumblr, Why are you getting rid of your tattoos? 🙁. Her reasoning is perfect and word-for-word applicable to circumcision, except for the obvious point that she chose her tattoos, whereas most circumcised males didn’t choose it.

Gonna answer this publicly – not for any malicious reason (as I’m not mad at anyone!) but simply because I’ve had SO many people phrase this question in a way to make me feel guilty.

I got many of my tattoos when I was quite young. The one on my leg is (in my opinion) very obnoxious, as well as being a mess as it was a coverup. The ones I can see in the mirror just don’t make me happy anymore. I’m a different person to the one that got all of these tattoos and they just don’t reflect me anymore.

My problem isn’t the people asking – it’s the way people are putting it, with unhappy emoticons and saying ‘why? they’re great!’ well, perhaps to you, but this is MY body! i’m the one that has to look at them every day, and i no longer want them. that’s honestly it.

“‘Why don’t you want circumcision? Circumcision is great!’ Well, perhaps to you, but this is MY body! I’m the one who has to live with it every day, and I don’t want it.”


Avoiding Circumcision Regret

Posted: May 24th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Parenting, Regret | No Comments »

Addressing parents who circumcised or intend to circumcise despite the compelling evidence against the practice remains our biggest challenge as activists for genital integrity and bodily autonomy for all. Since cultural change is the most likely (and probably most effective) route to ending non-therapeutic child circumcision, we have to confront it. Logic matters, which is my preferred route. But emotion matters, too. Kindness and decency can contribute to the discussion and sway parents into protecting their sons the way they would protect their daughters if someone suggested genital surgery on them.

In that approach, I think this post at Mothering achieves a brilliant mix of logic and emotion. A mother wrote it to her son before the circumcision, which never occurred because her son benefited from her persistence in wanting to do the right thing for him. (It also helped that the urologist selected for the possible circumcision embraced ethics¹ enough to be uncomfortable without consent from both parents.) Thus, the letter she wrote to her son to apologize for allowing him to be circumcised instead became an excellent testament to the arguments against circumcision. I strive to achieve this power in my writing.

Dear XXXX,

You’re cuddled up peacefully against me. You’re so happy and innocent and perfect. You’re four days old and you are amazing. I want to give you everything. And I’m already failing you. I’m so sorry, XXXX. I won’t ask you to forgive me because I’ll never forgive myself. I’m your mother and it’s my job to protect you. And I don’t know how to do it. This week, your dad and I will take you to a doctor’s office. They will strap you to a board and cut off a perfectly healthy part of your body. The most sensitive part of your perfect little body will be raw and sore. There is no medical reason for us to do this to you or put you through this pain. But we’re doing it anyway. I don’t know how to stop it. I am failing you. Letting this happen goes against everything I ever wanted to teach you. I don’t know how I’ll be able to look you in the eyes after I do this to you. How can I teach you to love your body when I’m showing you that your body wasn’t good enough? How can I teach you to be confident in being who you are when we’re putting you through surgery just so you’ll fit in? How can I teach you to love and accept others the way they are when we’re rejecting your perfect little brand new body the way it is? How can I teach you to believe in yourself and believe that you can do anything if we think your body needs surgery because we don’t think you’re capable of basic hygiene? And how can I teach you that God made you when I’m showing you that God made a mistake? I’m so sorry for not protecting you. I’m so sorry that I will never be able to be the mother that you deserve now. Please know that I believed in you, XXXX. I believed that you would be a strong, confident man who would love his body the way God made it, love who he was, and not give a damn about what other people thought you should look like or who you should be. I fought for you, XXXX. I just didn’t fight hard enough, and I will regret that for the rest of my life. And I will spend the rest of my life trying my best to undo the damage that I’m letting be done. I will always cherish these first few days of your life, when you were still whole and trusting and the happiest baby I’ve ever seen. The days before I failed you. I love you, XXXX. I’m so so sorry.

Love,
Mommy

This follow-up provides a nice perspective from the mother after she kept her son safe.

Via @IntactVoices.

¹ If only that urologist understood the ethics of circumcising without consent from the healthy patient…