In Christopher Brauchli’s recent piece ‘Once Upon A Foreskin’ here on CounterPunch, he holds up the recent WHO studies positing that circumcision prevents the spread of HIV as sacrosanct despite voluminous evidence positing the contrary. Specifically, studies conducted by the American Medical Association found that for American males, circumcision did not affect the rate of HIV infection, and in fact circumcised American males were found to have a higher rate of bacterial infections such as Chlamydia and gonorrhea. The short-term studies conducted in three African countries ravaged by an AIDS epidemic should not, whatever the veracity of their conclusions, be extrapolated to the rest of the world. We must ask if practicing safe sex does not in fact provide a higher and more consistent rate of protection for adults, and whether the use of limited resources spent on circumcising infant males really pays off.
Contrary to Brachuli’s claims, performing cosmetic surgery on the male reproductive organ in the first, fragile days of life has documented consequences. In his book Circumcision; The Hidden Trauma, Ronald Goldman describes the horrific screams, confusion, and subsequent psychological withdrawal by infant boys taken away from their mothers and forced to undergo a highly painful surgery with minimal anesthetic. Afterwards, they show signs of fear, rejection of their mothers, and a reflex to nervously protect their genitals from a repeat of a very traumatic event in their short life. The foreskin is not a vestigial organ; it is the most sensitive part of the penis, containing vital nerve endings and providing protection of the head of the penis from drying, physical damage, and bacterial infection. This brings us to an important point; infant children do not have sex, and do not need any special protection from STDS so far before reaching sexual maturity. In places such as Sub-Saharan Africa with high infant mortality, this makes even less sense. But it must be known that in America, circumcision is big business; in lieu of a single-payer healthcare system aimed at controlling costs, many doctors whole-heartedly recommend the procedure, which generously pads their bank accounts while offering few real benefits to the random infant.
But Christopher Brauchli makes a curious comparison when he links the proposed San Francisco ballot measure against attempts to ban abortion. The popular phrase “Her Body, Her Choice” is used by many women calling for the absolute right of a woman to decide whether or not she carries a fetus to birth. While banning abortion takes away a women’s choice, banning infant circumcision gives a man his; if he should so choose to have a circumcision done when he reaches the age of consent and sexual maturity, he can get one, unlike the millions of men who think with regret on the loss of sensitization in their penis due to lack of foreskin as an adult but find there is little they can do about it because others made the choice for them. Pro-choice legislation regarding abortion is not framed around the rights of parents to decide for their daughters whether or not they will have an abortion based on their personal beliefs, and neither should legislation regarding male circumcision. But if we are talking about women’s rights, we must make note that whether the male has a foreskin or not does nothing to protect women they may have unsafe sex with from being infected with HIV or other STDs.
Secular circumcision in the US did not begin with health concerns or religious traditions, and it doesn’t continue to this day on account of them. In a case of real bigotry, it was championed in the 19th century by people of influence in order to prevent young boys from committing the sin of masturbation by reducing sexual pleasure via foreskin removal. Even as this original reason has fallen into collective amnesia, the practice has continued to be passed down by parents and doctors uninterested in progress, self-examination, or reducing medical bills. Brauchli notes that many Jews are upset by the proposed San Francisco ban; he makes no note of the movement within the Jewish community to question, discontinue, and examine the real origins of their practice of circumcision. Just like all Jews don’t support Zionist violence, they are not here a homogenous group which can be confidently lumped together. But of course, Matthew Hess, only one of the many people behind the ballot measure, has had accusations of anti-Semitism thrown at him. The original author of the bill, Lloyd Shoefeild, has been given similar treatment.
But beyond the haze of derision and accusations of bigotry, we must be able to see that those advancing the expansion of human rights for the most vulnerable people?children?would more certainly be motivated by compassion, humanity and scientific research appropriate to the context in which the policy will be enacted.
Ceidren Voe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org