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Assembly line of circumcision. Residents and medical assistants circumcise baby boys born at George Washington University Hospital.
Photo Credit: Alexandra Garcia - The Washington Post.
In Britain it is accepted wisdom that female circumcision on minors (now widely referred to as female genital mutilation) is in effect child abuse. How else could you describe carrying out an unnecessary, risky, painful surgery to remove parts of a child’s genitalia? But why do our infant males’ genitals not receive the same protection from cutting?
Despite the laws safeguarding female genitals, parents of infant males in the UK are allowed to decide on behalf of their offspring whether that child’s genitals are left intact or not. This means that male juveniles are not protected from non-therapeutic infant male circumcision. Non- therapeutic infant male circumcision is the practice of amputating healthy parts of the genitals (in this case the foreskin) of a child’s penis for non-medical reasons.
But, female genital mutilation is nothing like male circumcision, right? A circumcised male penis is cleaner and circumcision isn’t dangerous like it is for females.
Wrong. The acceptance of male infant genital cutting relies on two common beliefs: one, that the foreskin is superfluous, and two, that the practice of cutting it off is trivial. Nether is true.
The foreskin is in fact a key functioning part of the penis. It is a mucous membrane (like an eyelid) and serves the purpose of keeping the glans (penis head) moist, guarding the urethral opening, and keeping it sensitive and protected in the same way as the clitoral hood protects the clitoris. On the erect penis the foreskin serves an even more important function; namely the giving of erotic pleasure. The foreskin contains thousands of ultra-sensitive nerve endings, making it a highly erogenous zone, and its ability to move during sexual intercourse increases the pleasure for both parties by increasing moistness and reducing discomfort through a gliding action.
Indeed, scientists have mapped the regions of the intact penis with the use of “fine-touch pressure threshold tests”. Their findings show that the most sensitive regions on an intact penis are exactly those removed by circumcision. On the circumcised penis the most sensitive location is the circumcision scar – however, this is still less sensitive than five other areas on the intact adult penis. The result is significantly less pleasurable sex and masturbation for the circumcised male compared to the intact male.
The procedure itself is also very significant. Firstly, the psychological impact of the pain experienced from circumcision has been recognised as causing problems in infants and children, including post-traumatic stress disorder, maternal bonding failures after breached trust, and a lowered pain threshold recorded in babies more than 6 months after the operation.
These points, however, are trivial in comparison to the risks entailed in the procedure despite the rigorous rules on practice. Circumcised infants are not only more likely to have genital illnesses than intact children, but when complications occur they are much more likely to be serious complications such as permanent mutilation, infection or haemorrhage. Less frequent risks also include gangrene and whole or partial amputation of the penis. However, this price is still far less than that paid by some 200 babies per year in the USA, who pay with their lives.
With such a lot at stake, how can we legitimately uphold that becoming circumcised is for a parent to decide, not for the individual when he is at full consenting age and able to make an informed choice? The laws of this country rightly state that religious observance should be a personal choice. This is why I cannot accept that it is a parent’s right to force their religious beliefs on their non-consenting offspring, whereas I can accept, and in fact defend, an individual’s right to show his religious commitment in adulthood by making an informed decision to become circumcised.
For additional resources on circumcision, the prepuce, and intact care, see: Are You Fully Informed?
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