Oldest known illustration of circumcision

Why The US Continues Male Circumcision

The holy and strange union of Americans and circumcision is at best an agreement of naive partners. The lingering question tormenting me is why the US continues male circumcision. They are so wrong for each other.

Sean Christopher
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I didn’t know that I was circumcised until I was a teen. This ignorance of foreskin status is common. You don’t know what you don’t have until you see someone that has it. I grew up in the Midwest of the US, a captive of a marshmallow white Christian urban community where all boys were circumcised though none knew it. We’re not asking why the US continues male circumcision. No. We saw only cut dicks while goofing off in phys ed showers. We didn’t know what an intact penis looked like.

When I finally saw an intact penis, the question that occurred to me wasn’t, “Why do we circumcise males?” but, “Why doesn’t everyone circumcise males?”

The US has a persistent risk of information isolation. We’re far from borders. We have little exposure to language. We decay in a homogeneous culture. When we ask a question, it’s inevitably some form of, “Why isn’t everyone like me?”

This is an ideal environment for male genital cutting to thrive and for no one to notice.

The Real Question

“Why doesn’t everyone circumcise males?” is obviously a question born of isolation. The first intact penis I saw looked so… unfinished. To me and most of my community, a final trimming of the penis of its extraneous skin was naturally required as part of birth.

What was never in your possession, you don’t of course lose.

The real question challenges US culture and its indifference to information about circumcision. Once enlightened, the real question then, is “Why the US continues male circumcision?”

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US Male Circumcision Born of Torture?

It wouldn’t be a difficult question if there were not so many layers to the issue. After all, the US has been circumcising boy babies since the late 1800s. The surgery’s first intention was to inflict pain as physicians began recommending circumcision to help families and communities prevent their boys from masturbating. The hope was that lads would forego their personal pleasure due to the memory of penile pain. Unwittingly, the docs were also removing as much as half of the boys’ future penile pleasure capacity. Here is one of many citations recommending male genital cutting from the day:

In cases of masturbation we must, I believe, break the habit by inducing such a condition of the parts as will cause too much local suffering to allow of the practice being continued … the operation, too, should not be performed under chloroform, so that the pain experienced may be associated with the habit we wish to eradicate. Athol A.W. Johnson. On An Injurious Habit Occasionally Met with in Infancy and Early Childhood. Lancet 1860

While the UN Convention Against Torture wasn’t drafted until 1984, it’s interesting to note that circumcision surgery of infant males was performed mostly without anesthesia until the late 1980s. And it’s interesting to have a look at the UN CAT definition of torture here in part:

For the purpose of this Convention, the term “torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as … punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed… United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT)

Circumcision, arguably not only fits today’s definition of torture but also falls under the definition of discrimination. Genital cutting of females is illegal. The common claim that male genital mutilation is somehow different from female genital mutilation or even beneficial is both uninformed and sexist.

Male Genital Cutting — A Medical Fad

A historical cascade of dozens of healing claims and social imperatives follows for the next century. For most of the 20th century, circumcision is the US surgical elixir. A partial list: asthma, blindness, penile cancer, prostate cancer, club foot, clumsiness, the compulsion to rape, crying, convulsions, criminal behavior, deafness, diabetes, divorce, dumbness, epilepsy, gonorrhea, HIV/AIDS, homosexuality, idiocy, marital unhappiness, masturbation, nervousness, nose picking, oversensitive penis, promiscuity, sexual appetite, spinal curvature, swollen feet, wet dreams.

If the US medical community intended to achieve nearly universal routine circumcision of infant boys, they achieved it. By the 1970s nearly 85% of newborns were circumcised for non-religious reasons — or for no reason. Today, male genital cutting is meeting resistance; however, the US is the only developed country performing routine circumcision for non-religious purposes. 17 of 20 worldwide circumcisions are performed in the US. 3000 per day still maintains a rate of about 56%.

Is There Benefit to Male Circumcision Today?

Historical justification didn’t hold much water and neither does today’s claims to male circumcision benefits. There are three.

Circumcision Prevents HIV Infection. This effort centers primarily in Africa through the collaboration of WHO with AIDS organizations and medical device manufacturers. Research is isolated, relies on self-reporting, gathers small samplings and publication of such research favors profit. The practice of circumcising young adult males to prevent HIV ignores safe sex education and condom use as well as the vulnerability of female sex partners to HIV. Condom use would protect female partners as well.

Circumcision Prevents Infant Urinary Tract Infections. Statistics show that 96 – 99% of infant boys don’t get urinary tract infections in their first year. Infections could be treated with antibiotics which unlike male routine circumcision is both ethical and reasonable.

Circumcision Prevents Penile Cancer. We know from statistics that 900 infant boys must give up their foreskins in order to prevent one case of penile cancer later in life based on an incidence of about 1 in 100,000. Countries that perform little or no routine male circumcision experience lower rates of penile cancer than the US where 75% of males are circumcised.

Follow the Money

Understanding that routine male circumcision clearly has no health benefit and that physicians who consent to perform the surgery with no compelling medical cause are in fact violating all four of their own bioethical standards. What possible motive could physicians and hospitals find to maintain such a practice?

Follow the money of course.

Docs bill $400 to $600 for newborn circumcisions. Prices go up from there for out-of-pocket payments and for later circumcisions. At over a million surgeries a year, routine male circumcision fetches over $600 million a year. Then there’s the medical supply sales of circumcision devices as well as the very lucrative business of specialty single-use circumcision devices for young adults in Africa.

I tried to locate my own foreskin on the internet a few weeks ago. I was certain it was out there as I was skeptical that the only stream of cash in the male genital-cutting business was one-time doctor fees and some specialty devices. I was right. There is residual income. Our foreskins are sold on biopharmaceutical markets to be cast into high-buck skin remedies to make the old look young, product development and the fibroblasts — foreskin cells — are used to grow very pricey skin for grafting. Currently, a mL of baby boy foreskin goes for 650 euros on the internet.

I had found the reason why the US continues male circumcision at least for medical and pharma businesses. We pay the circumcision physician fee plus tips.

The foreskin business is extremely lucrative. This is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Why The US Continues Male Circumcision

We still haven’t discovered why the US continues male circumcision. Why do US Americans continue to exchange up to 75% of their sons’ sexual sensitivity, fifteen square inches of eventual adult penile skin, and risk hemorrhage, infection, erectile dysfunction, and life-long trauma from infant pain?

We’re no longer isolated from intimate knowledge of an intact penis. Most have seen innumerable attractive foreskins; most now understand the sexual function of a foreskin. Most understand that the sexual experience of a penis with a foreskin is incomparable to a cut penis not just in terms of the amount of sensitivity, but the quality of sensitivity due to unique nerve endings only found in the foreskin. We don’t exist in a corner any longer with our ignorance.

Prisoners of Biased Thinking

There can only be one explanation — we persist in continuing male circumcision due to our inability to think critically. Consider the following comments we have all heard in support of male genital cutting and the cognitive bias they represent.

“They say a circumcised penis is easier to clean.”

Anchoring Effect: The first judgment you make sticks. We’ve heard this line for dozens of years, and it’s difficult to let go. Intact penises are in fact very easy to care for especially as infants. Never attempt to clean under a foreskin. Simply wash with warm water.

“We circumcised the other two boys; they should all be the same.”

Sunk Cost Fallacy: You cling to an irrational decision you’ve already made and continue. With new information and enlightenment, it doesn’t make sense to cut off yet another foreskin.

“They’re preventing HIV with circumcision, now. There see? If you just do the right thing.”

Confirmation Bias: Looking for ways to justify a belief. Strange that this does confirm many people’s belief in circumcision since many countries that don’t circumcise at all have a lower incidence of HIV than the US.

“A circumcised penis is just … well … American!”

In-Group Bias: You favor being a part of the group. Unfortunately, being fooled for over 150 years doesn’t make the group appear very independent in their thinking.

“Cancer. They circumcise to prevent cancer.”

Availability Heuristic: We judge by the first thing that comes to our minds. Penile cancer is the most recent circumcision issue in the news, so it’s likely the first supportive argument we’ll think of. Unfortunately, it’s a tragic reason.

“It’s what we’ve always done.”

Belief Bias: We’ll say anything to rationalize a belief or position. True, it’s what we’ve always done. It was never a good idea.

“I’m circumcised and look at me. I’m fine.”

Placebo Effect: We take fake medicine and feel better. It’s true, many people thought that their circumcision was somehow sexier and healthier. In fact, it was originally intended to suppress sex.

“We want him to look like his father.”

Spotlight effect: We overestimate how much people notice our appearance and behavior. Seriously, who is going to line up boys and dads and check out their foreskin status? Seriously!

How To End The Slaughter

The US easily stumbles head-long into cognitive bias in so many areas which demand our critical thinking. Yet, bias explains why the US continues male circumcision even though all evidence, ethics, and historical outcomes reveal the tragedy that it is.

It’s not difficult to change a belief that doesn’t align with your values or behaviors and causes you cognitive dissonance. Request my special report The Problem With Monsters. You’ll enjoy it and help you settle your beliefs. Also, check out Intact America to learn what you can do.

Drop me a note and share your thoughts below!

Image: Adult circumcision, drawing of a tomb/wall painting from Ankhmahor, Sakkara (Saqqarah), Egypt. Oldest known illustration of circumcision. 2350-2000 B.C., Sixth Dynasty {{PD-old-75}} http://www.circlist.de/beschneidung.jpg, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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  1. I’m undergoing foreskin restoration from DTR Devices and only after a few months I already have feeling back in my penis after 54 years of living. The gland is shinny and healthy looking. I am beginning to feel my penis in my underwear throughout the day which I had never really experienced as a circumcised male at birth.
    Please consider all effects and outcomes before circumcising a male baby boy.
    I have heard it might save the boy from penis cancer, but you wouldn’t remove a young girls breast to prevent breast cancer, so why would you remove a boys foreskin to prevent penis cancer. As long as you clean the foreskin daily it should be sufficiently clean.
    God gave us foreskin for one simple reason, to protect the penis and allow the endings in the foreskin to give us feeling of the penis.

  2. Thanks for the enlightened discussion of this important issue. I have four older brothers. None were circumcised. Then I came along and was circumcised. I never was able to ask my parents why me. I now face some loss of sensation in my penis as I age. I now realize that having a foreskin would probably have prevented a great deal of the sensation loss.

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