Strange Circum-stances: America is Failing Men by Violating Their Bodily Integrity

America, let’s be frank. You have a very bizarre fixation, yet no one is willing to call it out, place it in the spotlight and ask, “Why?” Women defend it, even fetishize it. Grown men rationalize it in the weirdest ways imaginable and young boys and men caught in between are left asking if it was really done with the best of intentions.

Am I talking about vaccinations? Polygamy? The Iraq War? No, ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about male circumcision and its place in America. I find it so odd that, considering the rate of circumcision in America, this topic is not more openly discussed amongst both intact and circumcised men. 79% of living males in the United States are circumcised, but this rate is beginning to drop. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2011, the national average rate of circumcision at birth in the U.S. is between 54% and 57%, with variations depending on environment, location, race, and religion. This is a rather large number compared to European countries, whose rate of circumcision (with the exception of Albania and Bosnia) are lower than 20%, with most of these circumcisions being done for religious purposes or medical purposes.

But America is not a predominantly Muslim or Jewish country. And phimosis (a condition where the foreskin cannot fully “retract”), albeit common in babies and children due to their underdeveloped genitalia, is rather uncommon in adults and can be treated with non-surgical methods and medications. Intact male genitalia are just as easy to clean and function just fine.

Most importantly, circumcision is damaging, and its work is as sadistic as it is permanent. Foreskin contains anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 nerve endings, protects the glans (or head) from damage and keeps it sensitive, and acts as a natural lubricant during intercourse. Circumcision is a painful procedure, and often causes an immense amount of suffering to the child even with anesthetic. Any YouTube video on the subject easily proves this, although I would not recommend the faint of heart to seek these videos out. This procedure can also be lethal, causing on average 100 deaths every year and results in an uncountable number of mutilations or accidents. Once completed, circumcision deprives males of sensitivity and lubrication that foreskin provides, desensitizing something that should be sensitive, and causing it to dry out. Sexual dysfunction is more common in circumcised men. If too much foreskin is taken, erections can be painful. More stimulation than what intact men require is needed to reach climax.

It even hurts women. Intercourse is described by women to be more uncomfortable or painful with circumcised individuals. All of these insights have been confirmed time and time again by different health agencies and university studies. Which begs the question: why would anyone electively choose this for their child? How did America become so obsessed with such a cruel and unusual cosmetic procedure?

At the turn of the 19th century, medical science related to psychology and sexuality was underdeveloped and many assumptions about the mind and sex were either false conclusions or poorly researched. It was widely believed that masturbation caused a plethora of mental illnesses including irritability, insomnia, bladder stones, epilepsy, asthma, bed-wetting, and even insanity. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, an American medical doctor and Seventh-Day Adventist from Battle Creek, Michigan (and the inventor of the Kellogg brand of cereals) stated this: “A remedy 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, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases. The soreness which continues for several weeks interrupts the practice, and if it had not previously become too firmly fixed, it may be forgotten and not resumed.”

He was also noted for the promotion of using carbolic acid on the female clitoris, but this was far riskier and potentially lethal. His invention of bland cereal as a food was intended to stop “self-abuse” of young boys, as rich or exotic foods were believed to cause “thoughts of lust” or increase “sexual urges”. The myth that masturbation caused mental illness or stunted growth lasted well into the 1930s and 1940s, when psychologists began to observe that masturbation was simply a normal part of human sexuality.

But the practice of circumcision didn’t stop there. More and more doctors and hospitals began to promote circumcision as “good hygiene,” even after the myths of psychosis faded away. The excuse around circumcision then became a preventative measure against phimosis, even though phimosis in babies and very young boys is normal (the foreskin isn’t supposed to retract until late childhood/ early adolescence). Some studies even stated that it might be a preventative measure regarding STDs and HIV. The Center for Disease Control conducted 35 observational studies in Sub-Saharan Africa on circumcision and HIV prevention. Their results were in favor of the procedure but there were many flaws to their experiment. There were inconsistent sample sizes, a lack of a regional or societal “lens” (high rape rates, religious or cultural beliefs, etc), and, out of the remaining studies, only two were statistically significant. Even worse, locals who received the news of the study misinterpreted the data, believing that circumcision would ultimately stop the spread of HIV, making them invincible.

Circumcision remains a common practice for male babies but the purpose in America has ultimately become aesthetics. A study conducted by Chris Rediger and Andries J. Muller in Canada revealed that out of 230 participants when fathers were circumcised, “82.2% stated that circumcision by an experienced medical practitioner was a safe procedure for all boys.” And although the fathers took health concerns as some of the primary reasons to have the procedure done, it appears that the father being circumcised made them far more likely to have their sons circumcised, indicating a bias. This study is just one of many that show a trend among circumcised fathers and their decision to have this procedure done on their sons, which some medical researchers have linked to a cultural trend. Circumcision is performed so often on males that we hardly ever question the practice, and see it as normal. This disregards biological and psychological evidence highlighting the damage it causes and instead propagates justification for a harmful procedure (“I want my son to look like me,” “uncircumcised is weird,” etc).

There was little pushback by the medical community until the late 1980s, when new studies about sensory deprivation and sexual dysfunction of circumcised individuals came to light. Some medical professionals began to stop recommending the procedure. However, hospitals, who make money off the procedure, continue to recommend it. The skin is sold after the procedure, either for use as minor skin grafts but more often in cosmetics.

Fibroblasts create collagen, a fibrous protein that is used by all cells for maintaining structure and form. It is the most common protein in the human body, yet as we age our cells begin to produce less and less, causing wrinkles, stretch marks, and persisting scars. Neonatal foreskin produces an abundance of this protein, and this protein can be added to skin creams or supplements. This is especially effective as a cosmetic for the face or skin as the protein can “revitalize” older cells and keep cellular structure healthy. Many major and minor cosmetic companies make money off of circumcision.

But at what cost is all of this worth? Our excuses for leaving the bodily integrity of our men behind cannot trump the mounting evidence of medical professionals and new data. We should not turn a blind eye to the facts: circumcision causes more harm than good, it is a source of sexual and emotional discomfort, and it is an unnecessary cosmetic procedure whose only benefit is aesthetic. We as parents, as young men and women, and as future parents must really examine what priorities we have for our children when it comes to their health and overall well-being. We must detach from the previous and wholly false myths surrounding this procedure and should exercise more scrutiny towards it. Every person should have physical integrity and control over what they want for their bodies, and we should make circumcision socially unacceptable—even illegal—unless the male is of sound mind and of an appropriate age to make that decision for himself. After all, who are we if we demonize female genital mutilation (FGM) and yet let male genital mutilation fly under the radar? The consequences can be, and for a very long time have been, unprecedented.