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What do you think about male/female circumcision? Take our polls! Plus updates on more news and discussion.

January 13, 2010

Back in November 2009, Gender Across Borders published a series of articles on circumcision. We talked about the ethics of neonatal circumcision, to the culture of circumcision in Judaism, as well as ethics and history of female circumcision. If you didn’t get a chance to check out our series on circumcision (male & female) back in November, click here to read those articles.

Circumcision continues to flood the news headlines from day to day, week to week, and month to month. Since November, I’ve come across a few articles as a follow-up to our circumcision series.

I’m hoping that people will take a look at these articles, and will perhaps elicit more discussion surrounding the deeply-heated debate:

Below are two polls about male and female circumcision. Voice your opinion now!

Leave your thoughts on male and female circumcision in the comments. Is it ethically wrong or right to circumcise? Is there an ethical “right” or “wrong” approach to circumcising individuals who come from different cultures, races, ethnicities, and identities? Leave your comments below.

Also, if you’ve come across news articles, please post them in the comments below!

  1. hippocampa permalink
    January 13, 2010 5:08 pm

    The second one is a bit ambiguous, now that I think about it.
    I think that all people at all times should have an informed choice about alterations to their body that are not medically necessary. I realise there is a bit of a grey area there, but cutting off parts that are not infected or otherwise obstruct the normal functioning of a body is for me quite clearly something that a person should have a say in. So it should not be up to the parents to decide, for instance, as is stated in the first question.
    The second one though, there’s a vagueness in the “they” and “their genitals”, as if “they”are a big pool of people with collective genitals. However, I hold the same opinion there. People should at all times be able to decide for themselves (as well informed adults).
    When an adult person decides to have her clit removed or have parts of his penis removed or put rods through it or whatever (this happens, I can’t recommend it, but have a look at BMEzine), I can’t say I can even fathom why, and it repulses me personally. But, if a person is capable of making a reasonable decision about it, fine. That, in my view, should not be outlawed.
    The horrendous and utterly vile practice of FGM is done to girls without them having the proper capacity to consent and without having the proper information to consent. And that is something that I think should be rooted out with the utmost vigour and rigour.
    I have read accounts of american men going through great pains to have their foreskins repaired. I used to think that male circumcision wasn’t that relevant, apart from those cases where something went wrong and grievous harm was done to the penis (and why run the risk, really?) but those accounts made me change my view.
    Just do not mess with childrens genitals unless it is medically absolutely necessary (and that includes “fixing” children with ambiguous genitalia).

    • hippocampa permalink
      January 13, 2010 5:13 pm

      Which reminds me of a chat I had with an Egyptian I ran into in a chatroom a few years back. He told me he had a baby daughter. The figures for FGM in Egypt are pretty shocking, I think I read that 95% of women between 15 and 50 have had their clits removed for them. It sort of sickens me to google it, sorry about that.
      Anyway, I said to him, surely you are not going to subject your daugther to that?
      (btw, female circumcision has been outlawed in Egypt for a handful of years now)
      He said, well no, unless it’s too big of course. I asked him to clarify. Turns out that physicians regularly decide that the clitoris of a girl is too big and needs to be removed. Medical cause see? That’s not outlawed.
      This is anecdotal, but it depressed me to no end.

      • January 13, 2010 5:40 pm

        That is depressing. Yeah, female circumcision is still quite popular in Egypt unfortunately.

        I purposely made the poll ambiguous, because I don’t think that there’s one way to address either situation.

        Specifically for the FGM/female genital operation, while there are a ton of statistics that say it harms the woman, it’s important not to forget the cultural implications and contexts of the situation. Is this a tradition that has been going on for a long time? What will happen if a woman refuses to get circumcised (that is, in the case of a young woman and not a baby who is circumcised)? What’s even more frightening, is that the majority of people who perform FGMs are women.

  2. January 13, 2010 5:52 pm

    “No, I think children should choose to circumcise themselves at an older age when they understand the concept.”

    I would vote no, but this choice is worded in such a way that it sounds like children should circumcise themselves when they are older. How about changing the choice to this:

    No, I think children should choose if they want to remain intact or be circumcised when they are adults and can choose for themselves.

  3. January 13, 2010 6:09 pm

    As a male who was circumcised at birth, I really wish my parents had let me make my choice for my body. I would have chosen to remain intact, just as I was born.

    I have started restoring my foreskin. The difference is amazing and just reinforces that I wish I had what I was born with.

    Too much media attention is focused on the HIV issue, but the full story is never told. The Africa trials determined that male circumcision had a slight reduction in the HIV rate for men. A Uganda study found that female partners of circumcised men had greater than 50% increased risk of acquiring HIV. That does not seem like a fair tradeoff to me. Unfortunately, the media ignores the study published in the Lancet.

    • Willie from South Africa permalink
      January 14, 2010 12:57 am

      I agree with your statement!
      I was also circumcised after birth and I also wish that it were never done.
      What is also not said is that HIV Aids is extremely high amongst the Xhosa in (Walmer, Port Elizabeth), South Africa that do circumcise. In one township alone the HIV rate is estimated 30% of this township’s inhabitants. It was also stated that the men in Uganda and the other trials, who were circumcised had a lower infection rate after a few months than the intact men in the experiment. What they forgot was that the circumcised men were out of commission for at least 6 weeks might be even longer if we look at the hygienic conditions in Africa. According to the Eastern Cape Minister of Health, HIV is linked with poverty. Most people in Africa are living in houses build out of mud, and shacks. There are no baths, no toilets, no running water etc available in these living places. We watched a program “Voetspore” (Feet marks) on SA Television. – From North Africa to Cape Town. It is obvious that the sanitary conditions in Africa do not change; it is the same from North Africa to South Africa. Where poverty persists, the HIV rate will increase. Circumcision will not make a difference to the HIV transmission if there is no proper hygiene after sex.

  4. January 14, 2010 5:29 pm

    What extraordinary polls! You ask whether one should be required and whether the other should be outlawed? Why on earth aren’t the questions in both the same? (And then your restrict our options in answering. If you really want to find out what people think, don’t put a lot of words into our mouths.)

    Your “Yes” answer for male circumcision actually contradicts the question: if it is “required”, the parents don’t get to decide. And your “No” doesn’t seem to give him an option NOT to be circumcised. (“Circumcise himself”? Some do, but the results are not pretty.)

    Where can I put that I think infant male circumcision should be outlawed? (I actually think it is against the law already, but the law just isn’t interpreted properly yet. There are laws against cutting female genitals, and laws guaranteeing gender equity, so how else can they be made compatible?)

    A poll that hoped to gain any useful result would ask

    Non-therapeutic male genital cutting should be

    (a) compulsory at birth
    (b) a parental decision
    (c) only with the informed adult consent of the person
    (d) outlawed altogether

    And the same for non-therapeutic female genital cutting.

    Ethically, whatever applies to males ought to apply to females equally, probably option (c), but in fact option (d) applies in many jurisdictions, including mine.

    “I purposely made the poll ambiguous, because I don’t think that there’s one way to address either situation.” Actually, when you design a poll, you’re supposed to keep your own opinions out of it. By all means make it sensitive to opinions like your own, but it must be equally sensitive to opposing ones.

    Hippocampa’s depressing story about doctors finding excuses to legally circumcise girls (“too big”? Too big for whom? Certainly not for the girl herself) has exact parallels with boys and men in the western world. In fact “redundant prepuce” (ie “foreskin too big”) is an official diagnosis.

    • January 14, 2010 5:51 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Hugh7.

      It was difficult in wording each of the polls, because there are similar (as you state) and very different circumstances for both situations. I thoughtfully chose the wording. Note that yes, poll questions are not supposed to be opinionated, but I found that in trying to word both of the polls, there is no such way to…it’s quite a loaded question. Another purpose of constructing the polls was to have more discussion about male/female circumcision. If you’d like to start your own poll on your own blog, please go ahead.

  5. January 14, 2010 7:38 pm

    “Another purpose of constructing the polls was to have more discussion about male/female circumcision” Thank you for opening up this discussion. So many FGC-opponents get really angry if anyone dares to compare the two, and quite vehemently defend MGC. One silly argument is “But the purposes of the two are completely different.” From the point of view of the victim, the purpose is neither here nor there. When you compare apples with apples, tribal with tribal, surgical with surgical, they’re not so different – especially not as ethical issues. 80 youths died of tribal male circumcision in Eastern Cape Province of South Africa alone last year. Surgical FGC was covered by Blue Cross Blue Shield until 1977.

    Both MGC and FGC are evil, both must end. What makes it difficult for both MGC and FGC is that the victims grow up to become the perpetrators, forgetting (or retrospectively glorifying) their own pain and denying the harm. If the culture demands it, the culture must change. Cultures can be wrong: we all admit that when the culture is safely distant in time and space from our own.

  6. shafagh permalink
    January 15, 2010 3:59 am

    There is a big difference between male circumcision and FGC,It’s the difference between cutting off the fore”skin” and “a part of” gentile,In my country(Iran)every single man had been circumcised,My uncle remembers when he and his cousin were circumcised,And afterwards they both wore skirts for a weak,He also talks about how they had played football wearing skirts.
    Back then it was common to take 10 something boys for getting circumcised ,Now it’s done in the child’s early ages,and in hospital.I have yet to come across to anyone here,man or woman,religious or not, that doesn’t believe uncircumcised men are more prone to carry bacteria and STDs.

    I have heard about FGC being practised in somewhere in Kurdestan,some where near Iran’s border with Iraq,I haven’t met anyone that have had FGC.So I have nothing to add in that case except for how FGC unlike male circumcision is the removal of a part of the body’s sex organs and it’s goal is to kill the pleasure of sex.

    • P D Hoath permalink
      January 18, 2010 6:11 am

      Type 1a female circumcision (removal of the clitoral hood) is banned and that would be the equivalent to male circumcision.

      ‘Depending on the amount of skin cut off, circumcision robs a male of as much as 80 percent or more of his penile skin. Depending on the foreskin’s length, cutting it off makes the penis as much as 25 percent or more shorter. Careful anatomical investigations have shown that circumcision cuts off more than 3 feet of veins, arteries, and capillaries, 240 feet of nerves, and more than 20,000 nerve endings.31 The foreskin’s muscles, glands, mucous membrane, and epithelial tissue are destroyed, as well.’: Paul M. Fleiss, MD, MPH, is assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California Medical Center

      Yes, it does irreversibly reduce sexual pleasure in men.


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