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A Case Against Circumcision

Lissa Rankin's picture

When I was an intern, just starting my OB/GYN residency, someone handed me a list with a dozen names on it and said, “Go. It’s your job to circumcise these babies.” My mouth flung open. Say what?

Do you know what you just made me do to your son?

Sure enough, as it turns out, it’s the intern’s responsibility to wake up sleeping newborns, strap them down to a board that looks not unlike the electric chair (called a “circumstraint”), clamp their unanesthetized foreskins with the sterilized Gomco or Mogen instrument, and cut away the foreskins from the tips of the poor baby penises while they scream bloody murder, turn beet red, and pee in your face. I hated it. It was just awful.

The nurses would line them up, one after the other -- then, after wrapping their little post-operative pee-pees in Vaseline gauze, I would deliver them back to their Mommies. The whole time, I wanted to say, “Do you know what you just made me do to your son?”

Before doing the procedure, I always had the Mommy sign a consent form that basically says that this procedure is completely unnecessary, that it’s purely cosmetic, and that the baby might bleed, get infected, or have its penis accidentally lopped off. And they would sign away on the dotted line without blinking. It baffled me.

All in the family

During my residency, I performed at least a thousand circumcisions, many of which left me blubbering like a child because it just broke my heart to have to hurt these poor babies. When I complained about having to do them to my physician father, he said, “I’m so glad nobody ever did that to me.”

Until he said it, I had never thought about whether my father was circumcised. My family grew up pretty open about bodies and sexuality, so yes, I had seen my father naked. But I guess I’d never really scrutinized his genitalia. Then it occurred to me. I had also seen my brother naked -- and he was circumcised. If Dad was happy to be uncut, why did he choose to circumcise his son?

When I asked him, Dad said that he didn’t want Chris to feel different, and at the time, everybody was circumcising their boys.

I thought back to the Somali women I had cared for, all of which had been victims of female genital mutilation. My job as their doctor was not only to care for them but to help educate them in order to prevent them from putting their daughters through the same disfiguring surgery. When I asked them why they would want to do something so traumatic to their daughter’s genitalia, they all said, “We don’t want her to look different than the other girls.”

So we don't feel... different?

Listen to us! Why are we cutting our children so that they don’t feel different? I just don’t understand. Why did my parents feel the need to cut my brother when his own father wasn’t even circumcised? What is wrong with our bodies the way they’re born? Why do we feel the need to mutilate our bodies in the name of religion, cosmetics, or societal acceptance?

Contrary to some reports, there’s no proven medical reason to circumcise a boy (or a girl, for that matter). Pediatricians agree that, as long as a child is taught to clean under the foreskin, penises are perfectly healthy and beautiful just the way they’re made, and there’s no health benefit to surgically altering the penis.

So why do we do it? I understand that there’s a long cultural history in Judaism around circumcision, so I can cut them some slack (although there’s also a long history around cutting a woman’s genitals in Africa -- does that make it right?).  As for the rest of us, why are we even doing this? Do we think God made a mistake by creating penises with foreskins? And if we’re doing it for purely cosmetic reasons, don’t you think we should allow the child to make his own decision when he’s old enough to choose? What message are we giving our newborns? Why are we whisking them off hours after birth to have surgery -- usually with no anesthesia? What kind of welcome to the world is that?

Loving yourself exactly the way you are

If you’re a parent who chose to circumcise her sons, I’m not trying to make you feel bad. What’s done is done. You made the best decision you could at the time, with the guidance of those who were helping you make this decision, and I fully support you for doing what you thought was right. But if you don’t have kids yet or are pregnant and have to make a choice soon, please consider allowing your boys to keep the bodies they were born with.

Owning Pink is all about encouraging you to be authentic, to love yourself exactly the way you are, to appreciate and honor your bodies -- imperfections included -- and to live life with loads of mojo. Why not raise our boys to Own Pink as well? So what if your son looks different in the locker room. Encourage him to embrace his difference, to celebrate his wholeness, to honor diversity. And if he decides later on that he wants to undergo an elective, cosmetic surgery, support him in his autonomous decision but remind him that he’s beautiful and perfect just the way he is.

7 Reasons Not to Circumcise Your Baby
  1. There’s absolutely no medical reason to do so. Contrary to popular belief, circumcision does not make the penis cleaner -- it just crosses off one more area that needs attention in the shower. It doesn’t reduce the risk of STDs, bladder infections, penile cancer, or penis infections.
  2. The surgery carries risks -- and yes, while I have never been personally responsible for pulling a Lorena Bobbitt on a poor, defenseless baby, I have seen little boys get the ends of their penises cut off as the result of circumcision. And remember, if you give birth at a hospital that has residents, it’s often the intern performing the circumcision!
  3. Many swear that having foreskin helps prevent premature ejaculation and can lead to longer lovemaking.
  4. God doesn’t make mistakes -- and the body was made with foreskin.
  5. Most countries do not circumcise their boys. Why should we?
  6. A person should have the right to choose whether they undergo a purely cosmetic surgery that cannot be undone.
  7. Circumcision HURTS! While some swear that babies cannot feel, I have watched them when I cut their little foreskins. And they definitely feel pain. Maybe they don’t remember it, but somewhere in their little budding psyches, they might. Do we really want a child’s first experience in life to be this pain?

My colleague, best-selling author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom Dr. Christiane Northrup (who also wrote the foreward to my book!), agrees with me. We need to stop circumcision. We just do. It has to start somewhere. Please spread the word.

What do you think? Did you circumcise your sons? Are you glad you did? Do you wish you hadn’t? As a lover, do you prefer circumcised penises? Uncircumcised ones? Do you think we should be promoting this procedure? Banning it? Speak up -- and feel free to disagree with me! This is worth talking about.

Protecting foreskins worldwide,
Lissa

n/a

Comments

Joseph4GI's picture

How far are we "tolerant?"

Before I go on to my main post, I wanted to cover a few things that have been said.

"There is no comparison between the circumcision of a male infant in a hospital by licensed medical professional, to the genital mutilation of a female child by a non-licensed professional in a developing country in Africa or the Middle East."

It's always mind boggling for me to see how people try to legitimize their own practices by pointing in other directions to exaggerate what happens THERE.

I hate to have the anti-Semitic tone, but why do only Jews who circumcise their children in the name of their religion get a "get out of jail free" card?

Plain and simple, female circumcision is also practiced in the name of religion. It is an important rite of passage for many tribes in Africa, and many Muslim sects see it as a requirement.

Here, male circumcision is praised or at least abdicated because they're performed "in a hospital by licensed medical professional," while female circumcision is performed "by a non-licensed professional in a developing country in Africa or the Middle East."

OK, let's take a look at this logically. Would female circumcision be any more justified if it were performed at a hospital by a lisenced professional? Why? Why not? I mean, logically, it only follows. Am I missing something here?

Did you know that female circumcision WAS performed by health professionals here in America? It's true. It was covered by Blue Schield. There is a blog you can visit, if you feel brave, where you can see a woman documenting the circumcision of her baby daughter in Malaysia. Google it. It's called "light of my love."

"FGM is about limiting female sexual pleasure, and the pain of sexual conduct lasts for the rest of the child's life."

This statement speaks to the ignorance of history.

To this speaker, I ask, please look up the history of circumcision in America. Circumcision was introduced in this country in the Victorian era as a way to "prevent" masturbation. Male circumcision was ALL ABOUT limiting male sexual pleasure. This is a direct quote from John Harvey Kellogg, the cornflakes guy:

"A remedy [for masturbation] which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision...The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind...In females, the author has found the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement. " -- Dr. John Harvey Kellogg

This by famous rabbi Maimonidies:

"...one of the reasons for [circumcision] is... the wish to bring about a decrease in sexual intercourse and a weakening of the organ in question, so that this activity be diminished and the organ be in as quiet a state as possible."

"FGM is about limiting female sexual pleasure, and the pain of sexual conduct lasts for the rest of the child's life."

I'd like for the speaker to re-analize this statement more thoroughly.

"Male circumcision when done properly does not continue to hurt a child into adulthood."

There are quite a few guys I'd like to introduce to you; go to tlctugger.com and visit the forums. I'm sure female circumcision doesn't continue to hurt into adulthood when "done properly" either.

"I've been through many a briss and you never hear of an experienced moyel making a mistake."

I believe it's "mohel?"

And uh, yeah. Just FYI, recently Mogen got sued for 11 million and had to close down because it couldn't afford it. With each Mogen clamp they included a "risk-free" guarantee. You would think it was fool proof. The person flubbed this one up and cut off the glans of a poor child? A mohel.

I have quite a few stories of mohel screw ups.

My point? The risk of a flubbed circumcision exists for whomever performs it, and it is not limited to non-Jewish circumcisers.

A big question we need to ask ourselves is, how far are we "tolerant" of other cultures? How far are we to respect "cultural relativism?" Is it across the board? Or do we only respect those cultures whose practices we feel comfortable with?

And are doctors expected to participate in carrying out cultural procedures?

Nicole's picture

Actually, Joseph4GI, it is

Actually, Joseph4GI, it is מוהל. When transliterating Hebrew words to English, there is not a "correct" spelling. People generally do the best they can based on how the words are pronounced.

Anonymous's picture

How about the cervical cancer

How about the cervical cancer risks? Studies have proved that females with circumsized penis' have a less % chance of getting the disease. Must say anaesthetic should be used always! Barbaric not to!

Kathleen's picture

There were NO spare parts on our son!

We brought him home in the package that he was delivered in. Whole and healthy! He just happened to be born 100% perfect. Sad that more mom's & dad's don't feel that way about their son's bodies. You rock Dr. Lissa! Thanks for writing this.

Linda's picture

Canada

In Canada, the procedure used to be covered by our universal health care plan, and the norm was for all boys to be circumcised. Now, parents have to pay out-of-pocket to have their sons circumcised, and many are not. I did not circumcise my two sons (ages 4 and 3) because my doctor told me it was not medically necessary, and I am grateful for that advice. I also researched the topic independantly and came to the same conclusion.

Darleen's picture

Circumcision in Canada

Yes this is correct, that it is no longer covered in Ontario at least. It has been this way since 2002 as far as I can confirm. In 1984 when I had my first child (a girl), we were being informed that it was not a necessary procedure and provided with reading material to make a decision. There was a lot of discussion regarding the decision, and we had decided not to, if we ever had a son - we did not.

James Loewen's picture

Circumcision is a barbaric and sick sexual mutilation

Forced circumcision is a barbaric sexual mutilation. To disturb a tiny, helpless infant and crudely cut his genital organ down, for highly questionable reasons is medical fraud. Severe accidents from circumcision are almost always swept under the rug. Circumcision is barely allowed to be discussed, never allowed to be questioned and the most common response to anyone who seriously questions circumcision is to call them an anti-Semite.

Circumcision of children does not cure or prevent any illness, circumcision is the illness. If your genitals are whole you are not UNcircumcised any more than if you haven't had a lobotomy that you are UN lobotomized. If you have not been circumcised you are intact and whole.

The business of circumcision (one billion dollars per year in the US, much of that repairing botched circumcision) has gone on far too long. 140 years of pathetic medical excuses for stripping baby boys of the most erogenous part of their bodies. One of the reasons this has continued unchallenged is people have been conditioned not to question doctors and medical authority and even more so not to question or criticize religion.

Anthropologists have shown us over 100 superstitious rituals humans do (or have done at one time) to their infants and children that all had one common element, taking the baby away from the mother at a critical time of bonding. These rituals (smoking a baby over a fire, throwing the baby from a great height, insisting the baby have wine on its tongue before being allowed to breastfeed, early baptism, circumcision, etc) were done ostensibly for an "improvement" on the infant, but in reality are harmful to the bonding and the well being of both mother and child. These rituals force mothers (and fathers) to override their most natural protective instincts and allow harm to be done to their precious infants.

Every human child has a most basic human right to their whole human body. Genital integrity is an inalienable human right.

Circumcision (genital mutilation) is finally being questioned, it is long overdue.

Anonymous's picture

Very interesting point about

Very interesting point about these rites that are designed to remove the child from the mother.

It reinforces the idea that circumcision is about social control. If you can force parents to override their protective instincts and surrender their child to a social rite, then you have essentially forced those people to submit to their social group no matter what.

It's frightening that this continues.

Lissa Rankin's picture

Wow, you all are passionate about this issue

Let me gently remind you that Owning Pink is a place where all have a right to be heard, as long as your views are expressed with love and respect. Some of these comments border on stepping over this boundary (Please see our comment guidelines- "When you comment on an Owning Pink blog post, we invite you to be authentic and loving, to say what you feel, to hold sacred space so others feel heard, and to refrain from using hurtful or offensive language. Differing opinions are welcomed, but if you cannot express yourself in a respectful, caring manner, your comments will be deleted by the Owning Pink staff."

I'm going to let it stand, but keep in mind that this is neither the place for any anti-semitic comments nor hateful comments aimed at our writers. Feel free to express your opinions- and to disagree- but please do so gently and with respect for all who read here in the sacred space we've created on this website.

With love and a welcome to those of you who are new here,
Lissa

n/a
Anonymous's picture

Protecting children

Anyone who can subject over a thousand infants to permanent, disfiguring, sexual abuse, apparently should be jailed in order to protect the remaining infants.

Please turn yourself in. That is what will save the most children in the future.

Amanda's picture

We didn't do it

When I was pregnant with our son it wasn't even an issue that had to be discussed. My husband is not circ'd, so neither is our son.
I believe if the foreskin wasn't needed, males would not be born with it. It is there to serve a purpose.
I couldn't even imagine having to put my child through something so horrible.

Restoring Tally's picture

Many sons don't like being cut

I am a son that was circumcised shortly after birth. I do not like that I am circumcised. I dislike it so much that I am restoring my foreskin. I would have preferred that my parents left my sex organ alone, natural and intact. It is my body, it should be my choice.

A key to stopping the genital cutting of baby boys lies with the doctors who do the cutting. We need more doctors to take a stand and refuse to perform non-therapeutic genital surgery of minors. You and Dr. Northrup are doing wonders for intactivism. Now we just need more doctors stepping up and doing what is right.

Donna's picture

I'm with you and Dr. Northrup.

Lissa, my heart goes out to you and others who have had to watch helpless children be strapped down and caused unnecessary pain. I agree with the responder who mentioned the Swedish doctors who are refusing to perform circumcisions - doctors can effect change the fastest, I think.

*** TRIGGER WARNING ***

I have a friend who's son was circumcised; she and her husband were very young when they had their first baby, and they never even discussed circumcision during pregnancy. After the birth, a nurse took the baby away for the "routine" care (this was the early 90's, and she lived in an area where the hospitals took your baby to the nursery for any and all reasons). Shortly thereafter, the nurse came back and demanded to know why mom hadn't signed the circumcision consent form. Taken aback, mom explained that she didn't know there was a form, and besides she hadn't even discussed it with her husband, couldn't it wait until he returned from the cafeteria?

To make a long story short, as it turned out, they had already started the procedure before someone realized the form hadn't been signed.

To make matters worse, the doctor performing the surgery butchered her son's penis. When mom and dad went into the surgery area shortly afterward, the circumstraint was still in the room, covered in blood, with bloody gauze all over the place. Dad became faint, and immediately sat on the floor.

To this day, their son has erectile problems, split skin, and difficulty having sex. Circumcision gone wrong can affect a man the rest of his life.

Anonymous's picture

It is genital mutilation!

I must confess, (european country, born south america) I've never seen or had sex with a circumsised partner. I remember the first time my husband tried to explain to me how it was and what it would look like. I couldn't even believe it was true, kept asking: "this part? I mean, really aaaall this skin would be gone? ouch!!! so, what's left to protect it?". I cannot even imagine sex without it. It must be totally different.
A penis is just so perfect as it is, as every part of the human body is perfect.

It's a real pity that this is still practised around the world, but I think it much worse if it is separated from religion! Why anyone who is not a practising Jew would choose to do it, I can't imagine. I didn't know it to be so common in the US until I watched Sex And The City, the chapter where they discuss Charlotte having sex with a man who is NOT circ.

If anyone reading is undecided about circ or not their sons, please consider this option: why not leave it until they are adults and can decide for themselves? at least it gives them the opportunity to CHOOSE. The RIGHT to choose.

AND if the problem is about being "different"
1. it's good to learn to value differences.
2. different to whom? think globally.

msLaura's picture

Wow

Some of these posts are just ridiculous. First of all, there is a thread of anti-Semitism that is not acceptable at all.

"My mother was approached 3 times and the 2nd and 3rd visit by a very persistance Jew bastard!"

First of all, learn how to spell. Second, really? A Jewish doctor (oh, that would be "Jew bastard" WTF?) followed your mom around and demanded that she circumcise you? I HIGHLY doubt it.

Then all these posts referring to just *anyone* performing circumcisions. Interns, OB-GYNs, janitors, you know, just anyone who walks by is given the job of recklessly snipping off pieces of babies in groups, with no anesthesia whatsoever. Oh hey, whoops, there went the tip. Sorry!

What kind of medical practices do you people attend/work with? That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Circumcisions are not done in groups like an assembly line, first of all. Second of all, it's the baby's pediatrician who performs the circumcision, if the baby is a newborn. After two weeks it is considered to be a much more involved procedure and a urologist is called in. At least here in the civilized world that's how it works.

I have never heard of any doctor NOT using anesthesia for the last 20 years (locals are given so that the baby doesn't feel any pain), and with the standard equipment used it is impossible to haphazardly cut off the tip of the penis.

I'd like to echo that female and male circumcisions are done for completely different reasons. Female circumcisions are done to reduce sexual desire and prevent sexual pleasure. Male circumcisions are done for cleanliness, and as a religious covenant.

I have had both circumcised and uncircumcised partners and when they are erect there is no difference. My husband is circumcised and he is an amazing sexual partner, just as my last uncircumcised partner was.

Anyway please, there's no need to be hateful and no need to make up stories. Not all of us are so ignorant.

Anonymous's picture

"Male circumcisions are done

"Male circumcisions are done for cleanliness, and as a religious covenant."

Except there is absolutely no cleanliness benefit to circumcision. None at all. This is a complete lite. And then you chastise others for "making things up". Ridiculous.

As to your last comment, that there's no sexual difference - this may be your experience, but it is atypical. It's very naive of you to think that because YOU feel no difference that other people aren't feeling a difference.

Look up the work of O'Hara and O'Hara. They found that the vast majority (90%!) of women with experience of both preferred the natural man. The reasons were many - more natural lubrication (the penis is NOT supposed to be dry) greater sensitivity, more enjoyment for their partner, gentle sex, greater contact with the mons pubis and clitoris, better rhythm.

So while you don't notice a difference, please don't ignore the fact that many women do, and the difference after surgical alteration is not good.

Anonymous's picture

Circumcisions are not done in

Circumcisions are not done in groups like an assembly line, first of all.
ME. I have read reports of assembly line circs done in the maternity wards of large hospitals last century.

Second of all, it's the baby's pediatrician who performs the circumcision, if the baby is a newborn.
ME. It's usually done either by a resident, or by the obgyn who delivered the baby.

After two weeks it is considered to be a much more involved procedure and a urologist is called in.
ME. It's more like 4-6 months. Circumcision after the neonatal period is not truly more involved. It is simply that neonatal circ cuts corners (like anesthesia) which we don't dare cut when we circ later in life.

At least here in the civilized world that's how it works.
ME. Routine infant circumcision is a major exception to the general rule that the USA is a civilised country.

I have never heard of any doctor NOT using anesthesia for the last 20 years (locals are given so that the baby doesn't feel any pain),
ME. Local anesthesia of any kind was very seldom used last century. Many USA doctors still do not use local anesthesia.

...and with the standard equipment used it is impossible to haphazardly cut off the tip of the penis.
ME. It is a raw fact that accidents and damage occasionally happen with the Gomco, Plastibell, and Mogan devices.

I'd like to echo that female and male circumcisions are done for completely different reasons. Female circumcisions are done to reduce sexual desire and prevent sexual pleasure. Male circumcisions are done for cleanliness, and as a religious covenant.
ME. Many mistakes here. Circumcised African women deny that they are incapable of sexual pleasure. Africans believe that circumcised women are cleaner and that the circumcision of women is a good thing under Islam or tribal custom. Circumcision was introduced in the English speaking world to reduce male sexual pleasure and the urge to masturbate. The vast majority of North American male circs have no religious motivation.

I have had both circumcised and uncircumcised partners and when they are erect there is no difference.
ME. Agreed that there is little visual difference. But foreskin makes a difference in the way the penis works during intercourse. Many women do not notice this, or notice it but do not care either way. But some women swear by intact, I assure you. There are women who can climax only with an intact partner. There are women who write that their intact intercourse experiences were a turning point in their sex lives.

My husband is circumcised and he is an amazing sexual partner, just as my last uncircumcised partner was.
ME. Most circumcised men under 40 or so are sexually fine. Some problems emerge as the cut penis ages, however.

Stie87's picture

I agree!

I understand and totally agree with what you are saying. If there are any little boys out there who have been butchered due to a circ then it is the dr fault or the nurse who performed it. When my son was circed it was due to the fact that my husbands family was famous for not getting circed and then later they would get major infections and have to have it done later when they are older. When we had our son there was no question that he would be circed, the pediatrician that we use didn't cut it off but used what they called a button or something like that. It was made to basically pinch the foreskin and it would just fall off. My son didn't scream once while they placed it on him and he never cryed when it was on due to discomfort.

veganf's picture

3 happily intact boys, with a

3 happily intact boys, with a circ'd father. I wish someone had left him his foreskin :-( It just makes for better sex, not that circ'd sex is bad sex, but intact sex is just much better.

Darleen's picture

circ'd sex better?

Hmm .. that is an interesting thought, as I found the opposite :) Didn't change my opinion on fact that should not be circumcised, but found circumcised were more sensitive and responsive. I am not going to submit numbers here, but suffice to say that enough to be valid. Interesting, that this would be a point of consideration, and not the mutilation and pain.

Heather Sobieralski's picture

I was waiting for this post!!!

Lissa,
You shared your opinion with me regarding circs when I wrote about my own experiences. I was waiting for you to write about it-as I knew it would be a good read. This post is very on point with me and also very comforting. We left our son (now 3) intact. This decision came with a lot of talking, reading and debating. After my husband and I came to our decision, we were met with a lot of blank stares, negativity and ignorance - even from the nurses in the hospital. So as a medical professional with a large stage, THANK YOU for taking on this topic!

Heather Sobieralski

My Mama Mojo

Life Coach for Moms

Lissa Rankin's picture

NIcole, you're entitled to your opinion...

and I'm entitled to mine. I just don't believe that historical practices justify the mutilation of the body, especially when a child is too young to object. Yes, the procedure is different. FGM in its most severe forms is much more mutilating than removing the foreskin at a briss is. But what about pricking the clitoris of a baby girl to meet the cultural obligations of FGM? The line is fuzzy. And when you start trying to educate people about stopping FGM, they always come back to male circumcision. Either way, you are cutting a perfectly healthy body and leaving it different.

And when I say I don't judge, I mean I don't judge an individual for their personal choice. But that doesn't mean I won't stand for what I believe. I respect your right to believe what you do, and I hope you'll respect my right to believe what I do.

As long as we can disagree with love and kindness, we can talk about ANYTHING here at Owning Pink. BRING IT ON!

xoxo
Lissa

n/a
Nicole's picture

Response

Dr. Rankin,

Your comments convey a misunderstanding of the Jewish position on circumcision. Perhaps you don't "judge an individual for their personal choice" but you do indeed make a value judgment about Judaism when you equate our religious practice of brit milah with the "cultural" (your word) practice of FGM.

First, you and the others who commented above you did not respond to my point about the difference in age levels between those who undergo male circumcision at birth and those who undergo FGM at a riper age. Do you really equate the unpleasant experience of an infant having his foreskin removed by a moyel with the trauma that is experienced by an eight year old girl who is having her clitoris sliced off without the aid of anesthetic? An infant does not take away the message from this experience that his sexual organs are dirty and bad. An infant usually does not form memories about his experience or negative associations about his sexuality based on this experience. I’m sure there are exceptions, but generally circumcision is a forgotten aspect of a man’s sexuality while FGM is a painful, life-altering burden that often deprives a woman of the ability to achieve orgasm.

Second, when you say “Either way, you are cutting a perfectly healthy body and leaving it different” you are making no distinction between the *intent* behind FGM and brit milah. The Jewish practice of circumcision is not a “tradition” or a “cultural” practice – it is a religious commandment. Male circumcision remains an important part of the Jewish sense of identity, and every effort is made to do it as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Meanwhile, the express intent of those who promote FGM is to control women (“stabilize her libido,” and “balance her psychology,” were justifications that I easily found through a quick Google search). Female circumcision in all its varied forms is patently NOT a religious practice. FGM has been condoned (though not strongly enough, IMO) by Muslim leaders in Egypt.

Why am I making such a stink over this? Because I believe that your mischaracterization of Jewish religious practice is harmful. It sure didn’t take long for the anti-semites to come out of the woodwork and start commenting, did it? Thank you for deleting their posts.

All of that said, I can see your point about an infant being too young to consent. In fact, many American and Israeli Jews are coming to the same conclusion and are choosing not to circumcise their male children. Personally, I believe that the importance of having my newborn son snipped by a moyel outweighs the risks. But as a reasonable person, I reserve my right to make value judgments about these kinds of things. Will this hurt my child? Why am I doing this to my child? These are considerations that every parent should make, and too few American parents have been making.

I applaud your efforts to bring awareness to this issue, I just ask that you refrain from equating our religious practice of ritual circumcision with FGM. Thanks.

Nicole's picture

Ridiculous

You say you are not here to judge, but you also wrote this:

"I understand that there’s a long cultural history in Judaism around circumcision, so I can cut them some slack (although there’s also a long history around cutting a woman’s genitals in Africa -- does that make it right?)."

There is no comparison between the circumcision of a male infant in a hospital by licensed medical professional, to the genital mutilation of a female child by a non-licensed professional in a developing country in Africa or the Middle East. For one thing, consider the age difference of the two individuals receiving the procedure. One will have memories of her procedure, the other will not. 2nd, circumsion of Jewish infants is done to honor what we believe is a religious covenant. That may not be a big deal to you, but it very much is a big deal to religiously observant Jews. Third, consider the motives for each operation. FGM is about limiting female sexual pleasure, and the pain of sexual conduct lasts for the rest of the child's life. Male circumcision when done properly does not continue to hurt a child into adulthood.

I can symapthise with a few of your points, but you really lost me towards the end. Sorry.

Anonymous's picture

There is no comparison

There is no comparison between the circumcision of a male infant in a hospital by licensed medical professional, to the genital mutilation of a female child by a non-licensed professional in a developing country in Africa or the Middle East.
ME. Historically, mohels were not medical professionals. Urban families with money have the option of getting their daughters done in hospitals by doctors, under aseptic conditions. Even so, FGM remains wrong.

For one thing, consider the age difference of the two individuals receiving the procedure. One will have memories of her procedure, the other will not. 2nd, circumsion of Jewish infants is done to honor what we believe is a religious covenant. That may not be a big deal to you, but it very much is a big deal to religiously observant Jews.
ME. Just how many self-identified Jews truly believe in a personal God, believe that God has designated a Chosen People, and finally believe in the Covenant described in Genesis 17? Keep in mind that at least 45% of self-identified USA Jews are not members of a temple. Over the course of the last century, many Latin American and European Jewish families have quietly given up bris.

Third, consider the motives for each operation. FGM is about limiting female sexual pleasure, and the pain of sexual conduct lasts for the rest of the child's life. Male circumcision when done properly does not continue to hurt a child into adulthood.
ME. There are circumcised boys who grow up to a lifetime of sexual problems, including the inability to experience sexual pleasure either after puberty, or starting in middle age. Male circumcision detracts from male pleasure and some men resent this. Most women who undergo the milder and more common forms of FGM do not experience pain and anorgasmia for the rest of their lives.

Anonymous's picture

The idea FGM

is solely done for the purpose of "limiting" a woman's sexuality is also laughable. Perhaps this is true for the infibulation, but women have been ASKED why they perpetuate female circ on their daughters and the answers eerily echo the responses circumcised fathers give for circing their sons:

- It's cleaner
- It's healthier
- It's more attractive
- It's just skin

Anonymous's picture

STOP

Nicole,

You are woefully ignorant about female circumcision. In Egypt, it IS performed in a hospital setting, by doctors, under anesthesia. At least it was before it was outlawed. Now female circ is done on the black market but the point is, not all females are or have been performed under "barbaric" settings.

And when talking about Jewish circs, the hospital/medically-licensed argument goes right out the window as circs are performed in the home, by mohels, who may or not double as medical doctors. Also, LOTS of male circumcisions outside the U.S. happen under the same rugged, brutal conditions that female circ happens. Don't believe me? Look at the death toll for male circumcision in South Africa: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/aug/23/world/la-fg-africa-circumcision-...

Anonymous's picture

When I was pregnant with our

When I was pregnant with our son, my husband and I were at odds on this issue. He wanted our son circumcised and I did not. My husband's argument was that he himself was not circumcised and he always felt "different" whether it was in the locker room or in bed with a woman. I told him that, though I didn't agree, I sympathized. I wanted our son left alone simply because I could not stand the thought of someone cutting into my baby. The thought of it would cause me so much anxiety I would start to go into a panic attack.

So, what did we do? I told him that I would relent on my position as soon as he came home from his own circumcision....him first!! I'm happy to say that my husband quickly dropped the issue and my 5 year old boy has all the skin he was born with. :-)

britny's picture

it should be banned

For those who have already circumcised, what's done is done. For the rest of us, why continue a cosmetic surgery on a helpless newborn? Growing up I asked my mom why she had breasts and I didn't, why she had pubic hair and I didn't, and she explained it. Why would we circumcise our boys to avoid a similar conversation? When I got pregnant with my son I figured we would circumcise because it was "normal" and my husband was. I started my research in hopes to validate my decision. I searched for a reason to do it, and couldn't find one. Needless to say, my son is intact and I couldn't be happier with my decision. I've found I've grown more passionate, I've questioned why it was ever my decision at all. If my 12 year old daughter was being picked on at school for her lack of breasts, there's no way I would get her implants, and people would real out if I did.

Anonymous's picture

circumcision

My son was born at home. My husband and I already knew we would not barbarically circumcise him. I read lots about this and knew inherently it was not what I wanted to do. He is 11 years old now. I would never do this to any children unless it was medically necessary. Circumcision is not medically necessary. It is not. Maybe this is why men are prone to be agressive and violent? My son certainly isn't. Maybe they remember this on some level. Who knows. I know I would never do this to any child I loved.

Anonymous's picture

I do not believe that boys

I do not believe that boys circed as infants grow up to be more violent or more macho. Middle Eastern Moslems are macho, but Jews are not. Bangladeshis and Indonesians are often gentle people -- and are also Moslems. American men were rough when they were intact, and did not become more violent as the USA evolved into a circumcising nation. Australia, New Zealand, and the UK have largely given up circumcision, but I have not heard that their young men have grown more civilised. In the UK, quite the contrary.

Hitler's SS and Gestapo were intact. Stalin's commissars were intact. So were Mao's minions. The barbarity of the trench warfare in WWI was a fight to the finish between intact men. So was the extraordinary violence of Germany versus the Red Army in WWII. The men who died at Stalingrad were, with the exception of the Moslem Red Army soldiers, all intact.

Anonymous's picture

I was very young when I had

I was very young when I had my firstborn son. I was faced with the decision of circumsion when it came close to his birth. I knew that many of the older women at work had consented to having this procedure done on their baby boys, and from what I could garner at the time it was the "thing" to do, mainly for hygienic reasons. Still, in my gut at 19 years old, I could not find it in me to have my baby boy go through this. I was told he would be different, that it was common practice, that he would be exposed to infections, etc. And what finally made me sure about my decision not to was an awareness (that I thank God I was able to tap into at the time) which told me "If a boy was not meant to have this, God would have taken care of it before birth - he would be born without it." Simple as that, decision made. I did fear that my son would come back at me years later and be mad or resentful that I had left him to be "different", but to this day, I've not had any complaints, and that was 21 years ago! I just wish I would have had some support with my view on it at the time I was faced with the decision, because all I could turn to was my gut. I'm so glad this topic is getting out there, and when my daughters and sons are faced with this decision, there will be TWO opposite supportive opinions, not just one single view.

Anonymous's picture

Emotional pain of thousands brushed aside.

It's nice that doctors who have done circumcisions can change their opinion, but it's sad that doctors who realize it isn't necessary aren't strong enough to refuse doing them in the first place. Doctors can find jobs all over the world if they lose one at a particular hospital. I read yesterday that doctors in Sweden are refusing to do them as directed. It must be on Muslim and Jewish boys because Swedish people don't usually do this to their sons. How's that for being ethical?

It's seems that doctors can detached themselves any responsibility and place the blame solely with the parent. My mother was approached 3 times and the 2nd and 3rd visit by a very persistance Jew bastard! It's disturbed me for years. It's caused me get emotional pain for what was done to me as well as from my mother's involvement. My heart would race just thinking about this when I was at college and to have a therapist raise her voice and tell me "It's a worthless piece of skin." To me it shouldn't have mattered if it were thought to be worthless or if it did in fact prevent disease. I would have loved to have all my male parts and enjoy my body like every woman enjoys hers. It should have been my right. Certainly, it's the violation, the sexism and parental betrayal because I know if I had it done as adult I could accept it. The only good that has come out of this is that 1.) I became an atheist even though Christianity doesn't require it, 2.)I made the decision after registering for the draft that I would never go to war for this country since we are told we fight for freedom (I guess it's a doctor's freedom to circumcise) 3.) I've realized that women in European countries treat their sons and daughters fairly (I only mention women because I'm still looking for a woman to marry, and 4.) not to trust American doctors or to waste any money donating to any medical causes.

Anonymous's picture

Emotional pain of thousands brushed aside.

It's nice that doctors who have done circumcisions can change their opinion, but it's sad that doctors who realize it isn't necessary aren't strong enough to refuse doing them in the first place. Doctors can find jobs all over the world if they lose one at a particular hospital. I read yesterday that doctors in Sweden are refusing to do them as directed. It must be on Muslim and Jewish boys because Swedish people don't usually do this to their sons. How's that for being ethical?

It's seems that doctors can detached themselves any responsibility and place the blame solely with the parent. My mother was approached 3 times and the 2nd and 3rd visit by a very persistance Jew bastard! It's disturbed me for years. It's caused me get emotional pain for what was done to me as well as from my mother's involvement. My heart would race just thinking about this when I was at college and to have a therapist raise her voice and tell me "It's a worthless piece of skin." To me it shouldn't have mattered if it were thought to be worthless or if it did in fact prevent disease. I would have loved to have all my male parts and enjoy my body like every woman enjoys hers. It should have been my right. Certainly, it's the violation, the sexism and parental betrayal because I know if I had it done as adult I could accept it. The only good that has come out of this is that 1.) I became an atheist even though Christianity doesn't require it, 2.)I made the decision after registering for the draft that I would never go to war for this country since we are told we fight for freedom (I guess it's a doctor's freedom to circumcise) 3.) I've realized that women in European countries treat their sons and daughters fairly (I only mention women because I'm still looking for a woman to marry, and 4.) not to trust American doctors or to waste any money donating to any medical causes.

Lissa Rankin's picture

Cindy, life's too short for regrets

Please don't hate yourself for making that choice. Many people really don't understand the pros/cons and they're approached by a doc (or even a nurse) who simply says "Circ? No circ?" I remember in my training they taught me to go to the Spanish speaking patients (who I couldn't understand a word of what I said) and just ask "Circum-cision? No circumcision?. Most Latinas don't circumcise their babies- and many have never heard of it. So when they looked at me with curious, confused eyes, I let my bias come through. "El pepe- (then I made a guillotine motion). And they'd say "No! No! No circumcision!" Mission accomplished.

But you did the best you could back then, maybe without good solid information, and it's not your fault. I didn't write this post to make those who chose to circ their boys feel bad. I wrote it to raise awareness that our bodies were made perfectly as they are.

Please- forgive yourself.
Much love
Lissa

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Cindy's picture

I hated myself for this

I have twin boys and we were just going along with what we thought was the right thing to do. The medical staff assured us they would not feel anything. But I stood outside the room where the procedure took place and heard my beautiful baby boys cry their little hearts out as the doctors cut on them without any anesthesia. I'll never forget that or how guilty I felt for putting them through it.

Rebecca Epstein's picture

circumcision

I'm glad I had a daughter. When faced with the possibility of having a son and being Jewish, I was very torn with the practice of circumcision. I had expressed to my husband that while I preferred the look of a circumcised better, I felt the practice of this was a bit barbaric in this day and age.

Though I'm not a practicing Jew, had we had a son and gone through with the circumcision, I would NEVER allow a doctor in a hospital to perform this. I've been through many a briss and you never hear of an experienced moyel making a mistake. Plus, I've never known the baby to be strapped down to a board...it's a much gentler procedure than you describe them to be in the hospital.

Anonymous's picture

I agree that no Jewish baby

I agree that no Jewish baby is strapped to a board during his bris. A bris is also quicker, even a lot quicker. But it can still hurt like hell. If you don't believe me, watch the documentary film "Cut" on YouTube.
And brises do have occasional tragic outcomes, including diseases passed from the orthodox mohel's mouth to the poor boy.

Anonymous's picture

I agree that no Jewish baby

I agree that no Jewish baby is strapped to a board during his bris. A bris is also quicker, even a lot quicker. But it can still hurt like hell. If you don't believe me, watch the documentary film "Cut" on YouTube.
And brises do have occasional tragic outcomes, including diseases passed from the orthodox mohel's mouth to the poor boy.

JoAnn Yates,CNM's picture

circumcision

I agree wholeheartedly that the penis should be left intact. If it wasn't necessary, I think evolution would have taken care of it. We offer our midwifery clients the option of circumcision with regional anesthesia (dorsal penile block with lidocaine) for their sons, and we are willing to discuss both sides of the argument with them. Personally, I circumcised my sons as infants and in retrospect, wish I hadn't, although one of them is grateful I did!
Thanks for your great website where we can discuss the human body openly and with admiration for it in all its glory!

Dorene's picture

Didn't Cut

We have 4 sons, 2 daughters. My husband is cut, but we left our sons as they came, natural. Could not imagine putting that pain upon a little baby.

Lissa Rankin's picture

It's only natural, Jason

We ALL do things like this! I registered as a Republican when I was 18 because my parents were (I saw the light two years later and have been a Democrat ever since!) I attended a Methodist church for years because that's how I was raised, and only in the past few years have I discovered how much I love attending dharma talks at Buddhist temples.

When it comes to parenting, we do the same. It's easy to parent out of habit, but it's great to bring mindfulness to parenting in the same way so we can really explore our choices and make sure we're being authentic to who we really are and where our values lie, rather than just out of habit.

Thanks for your candor and for being here with you Jason!
xoxo
Lissa

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Jason's picture

Same as Me

Great post Lissa.

My son is circumcised.

Why?

Because I am.

Not a great answer and it has me ponder how many other parenting decisions I make just because of the choices my parents made.

Kim's picture

Wow...great post! I have two

Wow...great post! I have two boys and didn't circumcise them. My OB/GYN was incredibly supportive and even went so far to say that if she would do it again, she wouldn't of circumcised her sons. I have always been fine with it and thought it was a good decision...but recently, as my boys are starting school, I am very aware of them being different and how that might affect them...I know of no one else who didn't circumcise their children. They will be fine, I am sure. Just another thing in which I can teach about differences. It just bothers me that they are, seemingly, the only ones.

Anonymous's picture

The popularity of

The popularity of circumcision varies a lot by locale, education of parents, and what have you.
Intact is popular among Latinos and American Indians, west of the Rockies, among boys with crunchy Moms or who were born at home, among kids with highly educated and creative parents, and in families influenced by the gay subculture (gay men mostly prefer intact). I was surprised to discover that circumcision has become uncommon among kids born in southern Manhattan.

There are USA hospitals which no longer mention it, or actively discourage it. Quite a few pediatricians are no longer supportive.

Many Americans are asking themselves "why would nature's design for the tip of the penis be mistaken?" and "if it is bad to have a natural penis, why aren't there more urological problems in Europe and Japan?"

Lissa Rankin's picture

I'm not here to judge

This decision is highly personal and very individual, but I did want to shine a light on the fact that this is NOT necessary. Thank you all for telling your stories.

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linda lasley's picture

Male circum

When I was doing my clinical They brought the babies out about 4 at the time, and this female Doctor who was Jewish by the way said she was going to circumsize these babies... I nearly fainted!! No pain medication was given to these infants and I sat there and watched these babies lips quiver from crying so hard. I protested and the Doctor had the nerve to tell me they don't feel a thing because it's so fast and they won't remember it anyway! I flipped out!!! What! She said the only reason they're crying is because they're strapped down and don't like it!!! What!!!! The entire scene almost mad me throw-up. I cried and cried. I will forever see that infant in my mind and it kills me!!! I did not have my son done and I am so glad that I didn't. Barbaric is what it is. We don't do that to girls here thank God...If it is to be done then it needs to be done under anesthesia.. at least!

Nicole's picture

What was your purpose in

What was your purpose in pointing out that the attending was Jewish? I think this comment needs to be banned.

Anonymous's picture

We didn't do it

My son is 16 and uncircumcised. We were lucky enough to have a doctor who refused to do it and explained her reasons. We agreed. Ps. My husband is from Jamaica and uncircumcised as well.

God doesn't make mistakes.

Anonymous's picture

I think circumcision is

I think circumcision is genital mutilation. I mean--it IS genital mutilation. The US is the only country that considers this a mandatory procedure to do with hygiene. I lived in Europe for most of my life and I have to tell you. Men there have foreskins and they're just fine.

My husband of 20 years is uncircumcised and our lovemaking is amazing. One huge difference between him and past lovers who were circumcised: circumcised men have real trouble with condoms. They complain about feeling nothing. Well of course they do! Without a foreskin, the most sensitive part of their penis has been toughened. And without the movement of foreskin, sex is just completely different.
Without condoms, the sex is far more enjoyable for both of us, too.

I did not circumcise my son.

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