Since penis is not a word you’ve read on this blog before and since I’ve deleted the 15 other incarnations of this sentence and I’ve been staring at this white screen wondering how to approach this topic, let’s just put the word penis down a few times to get used to seeing it here:
Penis penis penis.
Today, my friends (Dad, stop reading this), we’re going to talk about penises.
Although in England fewer than five percent of men are circumcised, about 79 percent of American men get a totally functional and important part of their anatomy cut off within a few hours or days of being born.
That means the vast majority of American men no longer have intact penises. My husband is circumcised. My brothers are circumcised. My dad is circumcised. And some, not all, of my male relatives are circumcised.
If you’re male and American and reading this, chances are you’re circumcised.
The removal of the male foreskin, aka circumcision, is a painful and invasive procedure.
Since the foreskin is attached to the head of the penis (also called the glans), like a fingernail is attached to the nail bed, in order to remove it it has to be forcibly pried away.
Imagine someone separating a newborn’s nail from the nail bed by inserting a blunt metal object between the two and you get the idea.
For the week or so that the cut is healing, a baby is peeing and defecating on a raw, open wound.
Even with anesthesia, the procedure can cause terrible pain. If you don’t believe me, you can watch one for yourself on the Internet.
It’s a hard subject to talk about, especially if you’re circumcised or if you decided to have your baby circumcised. As Georganne Chapin, the head of Intact America (an organization that opposed circumcision), said to me when I interviewed her on the phone several months ago:
“This is such a deep topic and deeply felt subject for people. Men who are circumcised, women who have allowed their babies to be circumcised. It’s not a hypothetical conversation for most people. When you talk to people who haven’t really thought about it, you see their eyes darting all over the place, looking for safety … It’s just not a neutral conversation that you have with people. How can you have those conversations without pissing people off? Without bursting into tears yourself?”
The first time I questioned circumcision was when I was in my twenties and an Irish boyfriend asked me if I planned to circumcise my sons.
“That would be the dad’s choice,” I said. “I haven’t really thought about it.”
“I want you to think about it,” Martin insisted. “It’s barbaric. You can’t do that to a baby.”
“But,” I began. “I’m Jewish. All Jewish men are circumcised.”
Martin sent me a package of information about circumcision, including testimonies from men who felt they had been violated as children and men who tried to get foreskin transplants. Though most men choose NOT to think about how they have been mutilated as children, when men DO think about it, they start to get mad.
The more James learned about circumcision, the angrier he got. James’s family is from Italy and Ireland. There was no cultural reason he should have been circumcised.
“I just wish my parents had given me the choice,” he said sadly one day, after reading this incredible article, “The Case Against Circumcision,” by Paul M. Fleiss, M.D., about why circumcision is medically unnecessary and ethically unfair.
I’m not going to mention how men who are intact create natural lubricant that makes sex more pleasurable and more comfortable, or how botched circumcisions can lead to forced sex change operations. I’m not even going to cite the new study that shows that 117 boys die a year from circumcision. And I’m not going to tell you that hospitals not only make money off the procedure but even sell human foreskins to companies that make artificial skin and high-end beauty products. I’m not going to enter the debate about whether circumcision is helpful in preventing AIDS or in avoiding UTI’s.
I’m just going to say this: Let’s let American men choose whether or not to be circumcised. Men can decide when they are old enough to be sexually active. The covenant with God (the Jewish justification) can wait until a boy is old enough to decide if that’s a covenant he needs to make.
Unless there’s an urgent medical reason, we have to stop hurting America’s baby boys.
Against circumcision? You can send a message to the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Circumcision not to recommend routine male circumcision.