Friday, April 22, 2016

Circumcision: Why I Mention It


Circumcision has been in the news recently, although you probably skim over it. The Huffington Post recently did an article about it, and the New York Post did an article awhile back. Male circumcision has been claimed to have health benefits and is said to reduce the risk of STD's/STI's. However, the science and ethics of circumcision make it perfect fodder for this blog.

My Story

Circumcision has always been an odd topic for me. Growing up, I always peppered my mother with questions like why my penis had a ring around it, and I was always baffled by her answer: "Because you were circumcised as a baby." So, I asked what that was, only to get, "They removed your foreskin." And I asked what that was, and I never really understood what it meant. All I really understood was that people were healthier without it, that it is easier to clean without it.

Hindsight is always 20/20, they say, and they are right. Finally, when I was in middle school, I saw a picture of an "uncut" male, and I understood what was missing. The part that stood out to me was that the foreskin had veins and seemed to be very much a part of the rest of the penis. That is when I first started feeling loss, and that the choice was not mine. My thought at the time was that my parents had a part of my penis cut off because a doctor said it was better for me. It seemed odd.

Fast forward into high school, and I still felt that same loss, and it was the same in college. As I started getting into learning about child sexual abuse and the issues surrounding it, I was getting into ways of improving myself. I was figuring out that there were things about me that I always saw as permanent that could change. Some of them were psychological- that I could change how I thought about myself. Others were more educational- that I could learn another language, as I had always wanted to do. But one of the tie-ins was physical: That I could restore my foreskin.

Foreskin... restoration?

Yes, foreskin restoration. The process works on the same principle as those that put guages in their ears, or plates, or neck stretching: You put skin or some other body part under a mild amount of stretching/stress, and the body can be molded as desired. There are devices sold that can help accomplish this. I thought it was a great idea because it is a long process that becomes habitual over time.

Ethical Issues

I see circumcision and intactivism (the advocacy for an intact penis and against male genital mutilation, as circumcision is sometimes called) as a basic human rights issue just like child sexual abuse is. In a case of child sexual abuse, the child is subjected to behavior they are not ready to handle and do not have any control over. In a case of circumcision, the child is subjected to a surgical procedure that is usually medically unnecessary and does not have any control over. Both are human rights violations.

While the harm between the two varies, the ethical issues are very similar. Circumcision has risk of complications that in some cases cause permanent damage to the penis. The damage is physical and only partially reversible. The nerves, the mechanism that holds the foreskin to cover the glans/head of the penis, the frenulum and the function and role it has to the function of the foreskin are still lost. While the functions can be partially restored, the skin will not stay on the glans the same as if the penis had never been circumcised.

To take that away from a child without their ability to choose it is barbaric, just as it is barbaric to take a child's innocence by sexually abusing them. The idea that circumcision is done for health reasons is just a distorted justification because of the poor science that is used to support that justification (there are many other articles on the subject), similar to the reasoning that a child molester uses to justify their abuse is just a justification.

A Child Has a Right To Their Body

The bottom line with both issues is the right of the child: In circumcision, the child has a right to an intact body and to make informed decisions about their body. In the absence of medical necessity, the child is being physically altered for no reason. In child sexual abuse, the child has a right to live a trauma-free life that does not involve people crossing their boundaries. That is why prevention advocates often talk about children having the ability to set boundaries and make their own decisions. The right of the child takes priority in both issues, and the concern in both is for the child.

That is why I occasionally tweet about circumcision, and that is why I am an intactivist. I do not see how anyone could be against child sexual abuse because of the rights of the child, but be pro-circumcision and ignore the rights of the child. It does not make sense and is hypocritical to be against one form of human rights violations, but in favor of another violation. My advocacy, if nothing else, is aimed at being consistent.

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