If you’ve been following my blog and Facebook posts, you know I’m usually quite vocal (visual?) about the dangers and harms of circumcision. But after an interesting conversation with a fellow vendor at the Association of Texas Midwives Conference last week, I want to retract (no pun) any time I’ve used the words “anti-circumcision” to describe myself or my stance. Truth be told, I’ve changed my mind.
The first day of the event, the neighboring vendor struggled to understand what our booth was all about. At first glance he somehow thought we were offering information on piercings for babies. Then he noticed these eye-catching, high-sheen cards…
…and before I knew it we were officially manning “The Penis Table,” according to his jokes (for what it’s worth, not an inaccurate observation!).
“Well… I’m circumcised and I’m pretty awesome!” he said.
“I’m very happy you feel that way. That’s great,” I replied.
The vendor guy was very nice. So nice, in fact, that it was almost painful to hear him describe himself — respectfully and with as much sensitivity to our cause as possible — as “pro-circumcision.” So very “pro” that his three sons were, without question, circumcised.
He claimed that cleanliness and religious beliefs weighted more heavily than other factors in the decision-making process. Quick at the draw, my booth mate was prepared to debunk the hygiene myth, as well as the more sensitive ones exposed in circumcision’s true history with Christianity (click for Judaism).
After absorbing all the information provided by her and debating each bit by tooth, nail, and bone, he relented:
“Well, I’m out of arguments.”
“So are you still pro-circumcision then?” my booth mate asked.
“Yes. But I don’t have a reason why.”
The influence of denial? Quite feasibly. But I cannot neglect to recognize the possibility of his genuine preference for a surgically modified body. I cannot ignore his insistence of gratitude that his circumcision took place when he was a baby, (adult circumcision carrying the risk of death from general anesthesia and all, he reminded). He seemed sure that he’d want to end up circumcised whenever it needed to happen, because I suppose “awesome” is as awesome does.
Then I told him, with what I hoped to be received as sincere promise in my voice, that I’m not anti-circumcision. Because I’m not his enemy. I’m not anti-circumcised men (and women and intersex). We are friends and family and neighbors and fellow vendors at events.
So like a good neighbor, I informed him that neonatal circumcision carries the risk of death, too. The 100+ annual death toll of baby boys due to circumcision is very real.
But I’m not anti-circumcision.
I’m pro-foreskin awareness and education.
That means in a fully aware and properly educated state, the circumcision rate drops drastically (global rates of intact foreskin support this).
I told him that many men do complain, and the thousands of men who are restoring their lost foreskin are very real. He said he’d never heard of restoration and can’t imagine how such a thing could be “at the top of the priority list” for these men. But he was not against those men, who hadn’t even existed to him until that point. Who am I to declare, in all fairness, that I’m “against” the kind of body he says he prefers to have?
So, I’m not anti-circumcision.
I’m pro-foreskin acceptance. I’m pro-rights to genital integrity (whole, intact parts).
Intactivist Aubrey Taylor describes the problem this way:
“[W]e are focused on circumcision instead of foreskin. It’s anti-circumcision this, and opposed to circumcision that. What we need to do is abandon the “circumcision” label altogether and consider using “genital integrity” instead. It may be a new term for some, and will make people curious. In addition, we should always use “intact” and “restored” or “restoring” rather than “non and un-circumcised”. This simple language change will help us focus on the benefits of intact genitals (what we want), rather than on the harms we wish to eliminate.”
I wonder if the vendor guy knows that in Finland, where the neonatal circumcision rate is basically zero, only 1 in 16,667 men ends up getting circumcised. (Most likely for a valid medical reason rather than personal preference). But there is a choice. So, adults: Get circumcised, don’t get circumcised… Whatever’s your bag. That one man in 16,667 should have the freedom and rights to do what he wants with his body, for medical or personal reasons, just like his peers, so long as it poses no harm or danger to others. And he deserves to live in a social environment that accepts his choice.
Here is a video of a man speaking about his experience after electing to circumcision at age 18. SPOILER ALERT: He’s now an intactivist.
Intactivist Aubrey Taylor elaborates here:
“When a person gets a nose job, it is good or bad depending on their opinion of the outcome. Circumcision only becomes wrong when it is forced on someone. Trying to insist that circumcision itself is bad can make some people defensive. They may feel you are trying to take their right to their opinion away. It is important to separate the right to have an opinion (which is always valid) from the (non-existent) right to decide for someone else. If someone believes circumcision is a good thing, and you can see you are not going to change their mind, that is okay.”
It’s okay, and still, I’m not anti-circumcision.
I’m pro-consent. I’m pro-genital autonomy (ownership over one’s parts).
I badly wanted an opening in the conversation to tell him that the word “circumcision” is widely used as a medical term euphemism for MGM (male genital mutilation), which is afflicted upon non-consenting persons across the globe. I believe if one willingly undergoes the procedure, one can call it whatever he wants. We don’t refer to breast implants as mammary mutilation or a pierced female prepuce as female genital mutilation (oh wait, we do now apparently), but would we do so if the procedures were performed on infants who could not consent, especially as any and all body modifications that change form and function do risk hazards to health, ranging from minimal to significant?
You see, I’m not anti-circumcision. I’m anti-forcing circumcision upon the babies who cannot defend themselves, and upon the grown men who were mislead by doctors in a cutting culture to believe all the fear-mongering about foreskin.
I hope we can at least agree that a person’s genitals belong only to *that* person, and that s/he has the right to know and appreciate the value of all of his or her natural parts, to then do with as s/he deems most “awesome.”
I can be pro-all of that, indeed.
Too bad that 95% of Americans never read past a headline.
What I find interesting is that before children my husband was also “pro-circumcision”. But as soon as we found out we were having a boy, and we dug into it, he couldn’t even recall why he was. He also, like I imagine most men, grew up with absolutely no explanation of the surgical procedure he had undergone nor ever explained that any part of him had in fact been removed. I know this is true for many since one of the big comments I received was “you won’t want him to feel different” or “aren’t you worried he will be made fun of”. My easy fast response has always been, “Why, do you not tell your children you had them circumcised & that all penises have foreskins at birth? Am I supposed to educate them? Are my sons supposed to be the ones to break the news?” So that is in fact what I have taught my children to say. If anyone asks, tell them that all penises look like this at birth. That yours has never had any problems & therefore your parents didn’t remove it. And then direct that child to ask their own parents about their own lack of said foreskin. It isn’t meant to be snarky – it is fact based & puts the ball into the court of the parents to discuss it with their own kids, as they already should have before it was brought up to my child.
I really put no weight in a man who was circed as a baby being pro-circ. If you have no idea what it is like to have a foreskin, you can’t know it is better to lack one. It is also why I am gobsmacked when I hear a mom say “I let my husband decide”. I always say – “Well maybe if my husband ever had a foreskin I would be more inclined to say he is qualified to decide, but since neither of us ever have, his guess is as good as mine.” 😉 And frankly I do have my clitoral hood, so I guess technically I would be the one who might know a little more from personal experience.
I am not anti circ. I am against RIC. My own father chose to be circed. It is his choice and although I cautioned him to fully research it, I totally supported him making that choice. He was very happy with it for about 3 yrs but now regrets it & is unhappy with that decision. I feel for him, because he bought what the Dr was selling on why it would be good. Unfortunately he was real happy to discuss it when he was happy with the results, he has been very quiet about his change of heart. That is also why I don’t care much to hear about who “needed” one later. My father didn’t need one, he thought it would be helpful and when he *was* happy with it, he told lots of people how happy he was. They will add that to their list of stories of why you should, but will never get the follow up story of how disappointed he is now. I will also say, my father (according to him and my mother) said pain was not an issue, that they gave him very adequate pain control & he spent a few days with his feet up. At the time he even said “I thought it would be so much harder. I had no reason to be nervous”…and he is a bit of a baby. So I am not even interested in hearing about how much “more painful” it is supposedly for adults. It makes no sense to believe that anyway, especially since adults aren’t fused. And the fact is my father weighed in not at all in my discussions with Dh about our kids. This all came about after they were born. His decision to get circed & ultimately the regret of it, only reconfirmed what we had already done, which was nothing. We left our boys alone, just as they were…healthy & whole.
When I ask questions, most of all the stories I hear are boys “needing” them for not being retractable…at normal ages. I have personally – within my own family/relatives – known 2 boys now that needed surgery to correct circs. One needed 2 surgeries. One has had one (and I *think* that is done) but contracted MRSA when he went in – at a year old & nearly died, ended up in PICU. I cannot fathom why on earth we aren’t more upset when complications occur from surgical procedures that aren’t even necessary to begin with, particularly on infants of all things.
So I don’t think of myself as anti-circumsion either – I think of myself as a human rights activist. Because I think we all have the right to ownership of our own genitals. Period. I don’t think parents mean to trample the innate rights of the child when they do this, but meaning to or not, that is precisely what happens. Of all my body parts that I believe belong to me, my genitals are ranked #1. You can touch almost any part of me without much reaction, even if I don’t see it coming or it is without permission – touch me there & we are going to have an issue, now. I don’t know how else to make it clearer how much we violate trust when we alter the very essence of a body that is not our own.
Regarding formerly “pro-circumcision” fathers, who are persuaded by the mothers of their boys (or by a friend) to forgo circumcision for a son, almost universally celebrate the decision. Once they see their sons whole and healthy during diaper changes and baths, and seeing them happy and cheery all the rest of the time, they are amazed and astounded that they ever thought of cutting off any part of them.
Excellent! =) Thank you!
I learned early-on that intactivism is about being pro- . . . for, in favor of, genital integrity and genital autonomy for human babies so that they will still have the natural parts they are born with. This is so they will be able to decide, at an age of adult discretion, whether they wish to keep those body parts, or sacrifice them to some shadowy, desert deity from the ancient Middle East or to the greed driven coffers of the American medical industry. Being anti- . . . has negative connotations that can require too much explaining when a quick sound bite is essential.
To be anti-circumcision without clarification may imply an intactivist, if he could, would also take away the option for an adult man to opt for a purely cosmetic, medically worthless, and tissue destroying circumcision. We do not do that, do not want to be seen as doing it. Doing that would be entirely inconsistent with the proposition that a man should have the choice to keep or discard his sexual body parts. But here’s a hitch: We DO oppose adult circumcisions where a man is not given fully disclosing information upon which to base an informed consent.So we attempt to counter those whenever we can with educational efforts about the functions and value of the foreskin. And we welcome men who were mislead about how much circumcision takes away from them, regret the decision, and need a safe place to vent and seek consolation from many, many others of like mind, and quite a few of like experience.
Intactivism welcomes anyone who wishes to question circumcision, or to explore how to regret, and even mourn, what they’ve come to see as a bad decision for a child or for themselves. We call them regretting moms, regretting dads, and/or regretting men. It is hard to admit we’ve made a mistake in anything we’ve done in life, but it is the most therapeutic thing we can do with a nagging problem about something we’ve done. Those who sincerely regret their mistakes can be some of the best persons one can encounter in life. “Regretters” about genital integrity are highly regarded and highly valued by the genital autonomy movement.
Being anti something can mean others will rush to defend it. I am pro-foreskin, pro leaving babies genitals alone and pro giving males right to enjoying a complete body for life.
Reblogged this on oogenhand and commented:
What is the philosophical equivalence between circumcision and affirmative action?
Who exactly do cultures who practice genital cutting in fact oppress?
I love this!!! Thank you for voicing how bad circumcision is and why it needs to be stopped. This is a great article. From what I understand is that many people are changing their minds about this topic. Keep up the good work and planting seeds of truth. Xoxoxo!!!
Parents should know the unique, highly-specialized structure and function of the foreskin. It only takes two minutes to learn it… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxFV4Fy7i7g
I love this article. Very well said. I agree. It is okay if you are fine with being circumcised. Your son might not be okay with it. Leave the decision up to him. Not everyone *wants* to be circumcised and everybody should have the right to choose for them self whether they want intact genitals or not. Nobody should have the right to force a body modification onto someone else without their consent. Not your body, not your choice. It’s their choice. ❤ #ProPersonalChoiceNotParentalOrDoctor
I wonder if these “pro circumcision” folks have ever seen a video of it performed on a newborn baby boy?
Some have, most (the vast majority) haven’t.
THANK YOU, HOLLY, for this most wonderful article. I’m one of the many American men tied down and cut as an infant. People talked about “all the medical benefits of circumcision” back then (and now) but I knew then (and now) that it was and is primarily about cosmetics and body-shaming. (“Girls won’t touch foreskin!” Heard that one more than a few times.)
Smart, compassionate women like you are one of the most powerful weapons against the thoughtless, body-shaming practice of routine infant male circumcision. We tell our boys that no means no. We tell our boys that FGM is wrong. Yet we tie down and cut our boys. It’s way past time that we bring consistency to our messages about consent and bodily autonomy. Writing like yours will help us do that much faster.
I appreciate you reading and I’m glad you found the post. Of course, I completely agree with your thoughts. I’m so sorry your bodily autonomy was stripped from you — it’s truly inexcusable that this practice continues.