Opinion: Rethinking circumcision


Societies are oftentimes plagued with dysfunctions that, due to their historical acceptance, are tolerated, with tragic consequences. In my opinion, non-religious infant male circumcision (IMC) is a glaring, current day example.

In reaching my conclusion, I draw on the following principles:

First, do no harm. I contend that the medical establishment is in broad violation of this creed. It doesn’t take much research to learn about the emotional, psychological, and even physical harm that’s inflicted on millions of baby boys, every single year.

Live and let live. A civilized society allows people to have autonomy over their own bodies. Why do we think it’s acceptable to not let baby boys mature into adults, when they can make their own decision whether to undergo such an irreversible “operation.”

Informed Consent. There are two parts to this idea. To be informed means that what’s about to take place is understood. Clearly this cannot be true with a baby boy. And when it comes to consent, nobody is even trying to argue that any baby agreed to be permanently disfigured. 

A drastic action requires compelling reasons. An action as drastic as amputating part of a person’s sexual organ requires a commensurately compelling rationale. When I hear reasons like: lowering the risk of infection; reducing the temptation for masturbation; and making them look like everyone else, I’m nowhere near convinced.

Genital mutilation. We’re outraged at female genital mutilation—as well we should be. I suggest we form a similar dedication to protecting baby boys from this trauma and violation.

Psychological scars. Let’s be clear, long after the newborn’s bleeding stops and the physical scars form, damage lingers. Psychological scars persist. All we have to do is be willing to look at the data, and listen to the victims.

Avoiding STDs. This reason is especially perverse to me. Is it our position that, as a society, we’re so sure of someone’s future promiscuous behavior, that we pre-emptively amputate part of their body so that their chances of contracting and spreading infection is reduced? Are we really that paternalistic and insensitive to our brothers’ sense of being? I sure hope not.

Sociological acceptance. One argument for cutting boys is that we think they’ll fit in better if they look like others around them. That’s not a bad idea, in and of itself. But the idea of continuing an abusive practice for the sake of fitting in is, frankly, backward.

Tolerating religious practices. This is a tough one. I realize that circumcision is a religious ceremony for some people. I may not agree with the logic of how circumcision fits in with their religious practice, but I can honor, reluctantly, their right to live that way. However, I will continue to try to change their minds.

Reducing sexual pleasure. Historically, up until the sexual revolution, circumcision was promoted by a crowd that was opposed to sexual pleasure. But the act of love is supposed to be pleasurable. Intentionally debilitating another’s body, against their will, is the epitome of paternalism and authoritarianism. I say, go ahead and deny yourself of pleasure, if you choose to. Please don’t impose your deprivation mindset onto other, helpless people.

Let’s quit living in fear. Much of the argument for performing circumcision is conveyed to parents as a threat. In that, if you don’t have your son cut, this or that might happen. But what’s rarely discussed is, if the circumcision takes place, what will happen.  If we become more informed, we’re likely to make rational decisions, and not ones based in fear and coercion.

Peace begins with us. Lastly, I would argue that if we truly envision and desire a peaceful existence, then we need to strive to remove all forms of violence from our world. Sometimes violence is right under our noses. Sometimes we’ve become so accustomed to it that we don’t even see it. Think about how, in the past, we’ve treated Black people, Native Americans, Jews, and women. Cultures have a way of hiding, right in plain sight, injustices and irrationalities. I predict that the cultural acceptance of circumcision will disappear. But its disappearance won’t happen without our efforts. I, for one, want to work to hasten that day. 

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.