Heather Hironimus of Florida did not want her son circumcised. The boy’s father, who was not married to the mother, wanted him to be circumcised. The courts ruled that he should be. When Heather Hironimus continued to refuse to consent she was jailed. The judge said that she would be imprisoned indefinitely until she offered the signature of consent. After nine days inside, she signed – the above photo records the joyous event. What a triumph for American justice, and a whole new meaning to the word “consent”. But at least it was in a good cause, eh?
- Barbara Kay’s 2011 Article
- Barbara Kay’s 2016 Article
- Traditional Circumcision Rituals: Africa
- The Short-Term Harm Done by Circumcision
- The Long-Term Harm Done by Circumcision
This is the third in my recent sequence of posts on male genital mutilation (MGM), the previous being MGM: Claimed Medical Benefits Part 1 and Part 2. These previous posts concentrated on demolishing the claims that male circumcision (MC, or MGM) is medically beneficial, concentrating on the 2017 journal publication by Brian Morris and co-authors. My earliest post on MGM presents the big picture without so much medical detail. This final article addresses the risks of, and harm caused by, MGM as well as a refutation of some of the more egregiously erroneous commentary. I start with the latter and use some articles by Barbara Kay as the target of my ire. Gary Costanza has already done a good job of refuting her pieces, but they are such a litany of errors that I shall use them again as exemplars of their kind.
It is most regrettable that it should be Barbara Kay who is the source of the material I shall excoriate. I regret it deeply. She is otherwise a woman of sound views. She gave an excellent speech at the International Conference on Men’s Issues in 2014 (here), and has made many appearances on American TV making the case for men and boys and against the prevailing feminist narrative (such as this and this). She can generally see through dodgy statistics. But in the case of MGM she has an unfortunate blind spot. It’s not hard to fathom why: she is a Jewish mother of a son. I can think of other Jewish women of otherwise very sound views on gender matters who nevertheless are passionate defenders of the status quo on circumcision. No mother wants to believe they may have harmed their child, even if unintentionally. Powerful instincts of psychological misdirection click into action, no doubt.
2. Barbara Kay’s 2011 Article
The articles in question are this from 2011 and this from 2016. In the latter Kay leans heavily on the published papers of Brian Morris and friends, hence my particular focus on their latest, definitive, 2017 paper which formed the subject of Parts 1 and 2 of this series. The quotes, below, from Kay’s articles, in italics, are followed by my commentary.
“I can assure Mr. Doughart that Jews, myself included, would unequivocally renounce the ritual of male circumcision if scientists provide a causal link between circumcision and increased risk for morbidity. But after 5,000 years of what is essentially a massive controlled study of Jewish and Muslim men, from which no negative effects can be ascribed to male circumcision, that is unlikely to happen.” (Similar arguments are repeated in 2016).
An increased risk of “morbidity” would mean an increased risk of becoming “diseased”. This is rather a straw man. It is not the objection being brought against the practice. Let me be clear straight away what I regard as the objections,
- MGM is mutilation;
- Parents do not have the right (moral or legal) to mutilate their children;
- MGM is harmful, it diminishes sexual function and can result in deformities in addition to the absence of the foreskin;
- The foreskin is not a “useless bit of skin” but has key functions in sexual activity and in protecting the glans;
- MGM has no significant medical or hygiene benefits.
Kay’s mention of “morbidity” has no bearing on these issues. Moreover, she is intelligent enough to know that the “5,000 years of Jewish and Muslim history” does not constitute a “controlled study” which proves that “no negative effects can be ascribed to male circumcision”. A controlled study would have a control group who were uncircumcised, for one thing. Moreover, a “study” would compare the experiences of the two groups: circumcised and uncircumcised. Likely there were enough men who escaped circumcision for such a comparison to be done – but who would dare contravene the religious narrative by concluding anything critical about a required religious practice? In any case, no one is claiming increased morbidity (ignoring deaths, anyway) but rather diminished sexual function and related issues. In historical times, in the cultures in question, such enquiries would be essentially impossible, even by someone willing to transgress against the religious norms.
“Mr. Doughart should stipulate to endorse male circumcision if it can be shown to decrease the risk for morbidity. Which it can.”
No, it can’t. See Part 1 and Part 2.
“The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends male circumcision on the basis of irrefutable evidence that it dramatically lowers the rate of HIV, not just in men, but in women and children (according to one British researcher, “The foreskin of the penis is a magnet for HIV.”) The WHO’s bullishness regarding circumcision rests on a widely-hailed, uncontested South African study (randomized and controlled) concluding that ‘male circumcision provides a degree of protection against acquiring HIV infection, equivalent to what a vaccine of high efficacy would have achieved.'”
There is a truly impressive error-density in that paragraph.
- WHO claims are only that MC decreases the transmission of HIV from females to males, not the reverse;
- In the African nations in question, the prevalence of HIV is far higher amongst women than amongst men. So, if “the penis is a magnet for HIV” then I conclude that the vagina must be an even more powerful magnet for HIV;
- The WHO’s bullishness regarding the benefits of MC to HIV rest on highly contentious studies which were widely criticised on many grounds several years prior to Kay penning her piece – some of which are listed in the Appendix to Part 2 (though a more accessible demolition of the most notable study has been presented in this video by 5hadowfax).
- The WHO claim that MC reduces HIV transmission rates to men by only 60%. To claim that this is “equivalent to what a vaccine of high efficacy would have achieved” is utterly ridiculous. (A course of polio vaccine, for example, is 98% effective. This is comparable with the efficacy of condoms in preventing HIV transmission – in either direction).
“Passing to the moral realm, the argument of “informed consent” is easily demolished by the fact that we routinely vaccinate our children against disease without their consent for their own good. Even before we knew of the HIV connection, amongst those circumcising their sons, health and hygiene were always the reason.” (Similar arguments are repeated in 2016).
The distinction between MGM and vaccination is clear. MGM is a mutilation with no significant medical benefit, whereas vaccination is not a mutilation and has huge medical benefit. QED.
Health and hygiene were never the original reason for MGM becoming a norm in any culture. In the Jewish tradition it arose as Abraham’s covenant with Jehovah, in other words a religious origin. In as far as this is a smoke screen for a more sociological explanation, Moses Maimonides tells us that it is related to diminishing male sexual function and discouraging men from going with other women. Perhaps this is another reason why Jewish women are so keen on the practice? In traditional African cultures, MC is generally part of a manhood initiation ritual (more of which below). Whilst in Anglo-Saxon cultures the practice became popular only in Victorian times, explicitly to frustrate masturbation, i.e., to diminish sexual function. Health and hygiene were only cited as ‘reasons’ as post-hoc rationalisations. The health claims have been demolished in Part 1 and Part 2 whilst the claim that a foreskin presents some problem for hygiene of the penis is a silly contention only ever believed by people with no foreskin. An uncircumcised penis is far easier to clean than a vagina, and far easier even than a fingernail.
“STDs are much more common in uncircumcised men, and circumcision causes a 12-fold reduction in the incidence of urinary tract infections.”
False – see Part 1 and Part 2.
“On to the pernicious myth that male circumcision, a 30-second procedure, is a “mutilation”…….. “Mutilation” is a disgusting word to apply to the excision of a non-essential bacteria trap, nearly painless and instantly forgotten”
“The pain inflicted is so fleeting many babies barely register notice (in any case continuing advances in pain diminution are rendering that argument completely obsolete)”
You will note that I did not include “pain of the procedure” in reasons for objecting to MGM I listed above. Personally I don’t regard this as the strongest of reasons against MGM. However, watching a video of a baby being circumcised tends to have a powerful emotional effect on people. As for the claim that the operation takes 30 seconds? No. This one was quick – only 6 minutes 30 seconds. Some I’ve watched were twice as long. Kay’s description of the procedure is hardly consistent with the baby’s screaming throughout.
“Set aside the rights-based rhetoric. It’s about sex: Circumcised men have greater pre-orgasmic endurance; non-circumcision permits more frequent ejaculations. What matters most to the anti-circumcision activists is their diminished pleasure with frequently changing sexual partners, as befits an era where the number of conquests is a more common metric of romantic success than long-term relationships.”
What is Kay’s source for “circumcised men have greater pre-orgasmic endurance; non-circumcision permits more frequent ejaculations” I wonder? However it is probably correct because both these things would result from the reduced sensitivity of the circumcised penis. But Kay appears to be unaware, or unconcerned, that she has effectively confirmed diminished sexual function after circumcision. One of the complaints of some circumcised men is that they become so insensitive that they have to hump away for ever, sometimes without consummation.
This whole paragraph suggests a peculiar slant on sex by Kay. She seems to take a perjorative view about “what matters most to the anti-circumcision activists is their diminished pleasure…”. But it’s entirely reasonable that circumcised men should be exercised about diminished pleasure, surely? Kay seems to think otherwise, at least, as she adds, “… with frequently changing sexual partners“. It seems her real objection is to promiscuity, and she seems to think that uncircumcised men will be more promiscuous. Well now, that’s exactly Moses Maimonides’s position – that circumcision is to discourage men wandering. It seems that this view lives on in the modern Jewess. Another peculiar thing in this weird paragraph is that Kay appears to believe that the “greater pre-orgasmic endurance” of circumcised men must be commensurate with greater pleasure – and hence that uncircumcised men would have less pleasure with their regular partner. But she is looking at it from a female’s point of view, surely, in assuming that “greater pre-orgasmic endurance” means more pleasure. To the man it merely means being less sensitive. All very revealing.
It is worth noting that this topsy-turvy reasoning, whereby reduced penile sensitivity is presented as a benefit to the man, is gaining ground. In this leaked audio from a panel at the 2013 Pitts Lectureship in Medical Ethics at the Medical University of South Carolina it is revealed that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) knows circumcision reduces sexual feeling in the penis, contradicting their public position. But this is touted as a benefit due to ‘increased endurance’.
Kay concludes the 2011 article,
“Our legislators have better things to worry about than this.”
Well, in the UK (and perhaps some States) no additional legislation is required. The existing law need only be applied, instead of ignored.
3. Barbara Kay’s 2016 Article
Kay starts the 2016 article thus,
“A new review of circumcision published in the Canadian Journal of Urology is receiving keen attention. The lead author is Dr. Brian Morris, a professor emeritus on the University of Sydney’s school of medical science. The study finds not only a lower risk for urinary tract infections (UTI) among circumcised males, a benefit long acknowledged that can preclude UTI-caused kidney damage, but a lower lifetime risk for penile cancer, a reduced risk for prostate cancer among black males, lower risk for HIV, genital herpes, the human papilloma virus (HPV), and syphilis. Dr. Morris and his American co-authors state, “We found that up to 65% of uncircumcised males might experience at least one of these [medical conditions] over their lifetime.” Their risk-benefit analysis of the procedure led them to conclude the benefits exceed the risks by about 100 to one.”
All these claims have been comprehensively dismissed in Part 1 and Part 2. Indeed, this was a significant motivation for the painstaking work underpinning those posts. I cannot blame Barbara Kay for being taken in by Morris and Co. Their papers have every appearance of validity – superficially. It requires a great deal of work to unravel just how unrepresentative of the totality of knowledge they are. It is one of the more distressing phenomena of our times that the academic journals are full of ‘advocacy research’, making it all but impossible for the general public to distinguish between neutral scientific studies and propaganda in disguise.
“The AAP states: ‘The new findings show that infant circumcision should be regarded as equivalent to childhood vaccination and that as such it would be unethical not to routinely offer parents circumcision for their baby boy. Delay puts the child’s health at risk and will usually mean it will never happen.'”
Wrong. The AAP (the American Academy of Pediatrics) has said no such thing. What Kay is quoting here are the words of Brian Morris, not the AAP. The actual view of the AAP is this: “The American Academy of Pediatrics found the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks, but the benefits are not great enough to recommend universal newborn circumcision.” That is about the most positive view of the routine circumcision of infants you will find espoused by any credible medical body outside of Africa. Examples of worldwide medical opinion have been summarised in Part 1.
“Circumcision is a social-tension magnet, and the politically correct perspective on foreskins is ‘let it be.’ The current position of the CPS, which used to recommend circumcision, is to all appearances a reflection of the moral power accorded anti-circumcision activists.”
Ye Gods, one of my views is actually politically correct? (Faints away). Actually, I don’t think so. If it were, the feminists would be campaigning to end MGM – which they most certainly are not. The opinion of the CPS (Canadian Pediatric Society) and its basis are actually as follows,
Canadian Paediatric Society (1996): “The overall evidence of the benefits and harms of circumcision is so evenly balanced that it does not support recommending circumcision as a routine procedure for newborns.” This advice was reviewed in 2015, their updated position being, “Recent evidence suggesting the potential benefit of circumcision in preventing urinary tract infection and some sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, has prompted the Canadian Paediatric Society to review the current medical literature in this regard. While there may be a benefit for some boys in high-risk populations and circumstances where the procedure could be considered for disease reduction or treatment, the Canadian Paediatric Society does not recommend the routine circumcision of every newborn male.“
In other words, the CPS view is based on examining the claims made by the likes of Morris et al and concluding that they have insufficient merit to justify their wish to routinely circumcise infant boys. It is NOT “a reflection of the moral power of anti-circumcision activists”. Having said that, a argument against cutting away body parts from an infant should carry moral power, a power which should only be over-turned by sufficiently compelling arguments in its favour. Morris and Co claim there is such a compelling pro-MC case, but all medical bodies worldwide disagree with them – as do I after my review of the evidence Morris & Co present.
“The single most irrational argument one often sees is the charge of moral equivalency between circumcision and female genital mutilation.”
I find it unnecessary to refer to FGM at all when arguing against MGM. The case against MGM is absolute, not relative. In my experience, when campaigning against MGM on a street demonstration, some people will attempt to dismiss the issue by declaring, angrily, “it’s not at all comparable with FGM”. Well, I never said it was, and there is no reason to get involved in a pointless debate on the matter. The case against MGM would be unaffected if there were no such thing as FGM. Full stop. But what sticks in people’s craw is that FGM is recognised as an abomination, and has attained an aura of almost religious sacrilege, whilst MGM is being passed off as beneficial. The issue here is not medical equivalence, but moral dissonance.
Which brings us to the heart of the matter. Kay writes,
(2011): “FGM is a horribly protracted and painful cutting of girls under terrifying circumstances, with the specific intention of eliminating the capacity for sexual pleasure, and rightly considered a criminal action….. Unlike ordinary circumcised men, FGM victims know they have been mutilated in the real sense of the word.”
(2016): “FGM is a phenomenon that is, apart from both affecting the genitals, quite separate from circumcision. Unlike circumcision, which removes an unnecessary piece of skin, in no way prevents natural and satisfying sexual function, FGM is a misogynistic practice created as a means for men to control women, meant to prevent sexual desire and gratification in women to ensure their fidelity, and which removes a portion of the genitals absolutely vital to gratification.
These passages throb with uncritical acceptance of cultural norms. There are so many falsities to expose.
- Take the throw-away phrase “ordinary circumcised men”. Ordinary? It’s only “ordinary” in your culture, Mrs Kay – whether you take that to mean Jewish culture or American culture. “Ordinary” merely denotes “generally done”. Is that your considered arbiter of moral acceptability? If so, the cultures in which FGM is practiced are not to be criticised, since FGM is indeed “ordinary” in those societies.
- “circumcision, which removes an unnecessary piece of skin, in no way prevents natural and satisfying sexual function”: Well, MGM generally does not prevent satisfying sexual function, true. But it does generally diminish sexual function, and can diminish it to the extent of extinguishing it altogether in later life (see the video testimonies below). But the issue I want to attack now is that “unnecessary piece of skin”. Kay also referred to the foreskin as “a non-essential bacteria trap”. Unnecessary and inessential, eh? Well, to you, perhaps, Mrs Kay. But not to me. I can assure you I find my foreskin invaluable. I don’t see uncircumcised men going around declaring their foreskins to be useless and unnecessary. Nope. It’s only people who don’t have one that say so. Funny that.
- It is truly mind-blowing how ignorant people are about the mechanics of normal sexual intercourse. Virtually no women, and probably very few circumcised men, are aware of the role played by the rolling action of the foreskin. This rolling action minimises the relative sliding between the outer skin of the penis and the wall of the vagina, whilst permitting motion of the body of the penis and the glans. It is a rather remarkable bit of engineering which also reduces the need for lubrication. (Hence the need circumcised men have for lubrication when masturbating, completely unnecessary for the uncircumcised – hence the true motivation for circumcision). If you believe in sex education in schools, then this little bit of mechanics would be genuinely informative – not least to those who currently devise such programmes. You can find it illustrated in this video.
- FGM victims know they have been mutilated? And MGM victims do not? Ah, but in the real sense of the word, you add….now we come to the nub of it, the cultural origins of FGM and MGM…
- “FGM is a misogynistic practice created as a means for men to control women, meant to prevent sexual desire and gratification in women to ensure their fidelity”: Read what Moses Maimonides has to say about the origin of MC in the Jewish tradition, here. The purpose of MGM is to limit male sexual function and hence to disincline men from ‘wandering’ with other women. So, could we say that “MGM is a misandric practice created as a means for women to control men, meant to weaken sexual desire and gratification in men to ensure their fidelity”. In fact, examine your own words, Mrs Kay, and you will find that you share this implicit sentiment, as I have exposed above.
“(FGM) is the very epitome of patriarchy, whereas circumcision is a rite of passage conceived by males for other males, and for thousands of years rooted solely in spiritually contractual language and meaning. Women who have been subjected to FGM invariably come from countries in which extreme misogyny is the norm. Circumcision carries no moral or gender-injustice baggage of this kind whatsoever.”
Response to this requires a Section on its own…
4. Traditional Circumcision Rituals: Africa
So, Mrs Kay, you think that the fact that MC is generally carried out by other men means that it “carries no moral or gender-injustice baggage”? But, Mrs Kay, FGM is invariably carried out by other women – and it also could be described as a rite-of-passage into womanhood and readiness for marriage.
Cultural practices are not so easily blamed on one or other of the sexes. Cultural practices are just that – culture wide. So, whilst it is invariably men who carry out traditional circumcisions, that does not mean that women are culturally uninvolved. Consider those cases in sub-Saharan Africa where men who have no wish to be circumcised flee from the circumcision mob. Eventually they are cornered and cut where they lie on the street. In such cases it is the women saying “now they will make us husbands”. In such societies, uncircumcised men are shunned as unmarriageable material by the women. So, Mrs Kay, no gender injustice? No socially imposed obligation on the individual against his will and based on his sex in order to please the opposite sex? Are you sure?
Consider this one: “A dozen men are ambushed, stripped naked and forced to undergo circumcisions in Kenya after their wives complained that they were not as good in bed as circumcised men. One of the wives, Anne Njeri, who witnessed the incident, told the radio station: ‘We are happy with the move to have such men cut because uncircumcised men are dirty and do not perform well in bed and thus we are sure their wives will now enjoy their marriages.'” The men were from tribes which did not usually practice circumcision, but were living amongst those which did. It is a matter of enforced ‘integration’, and despite the men’s best endeavours to hide and seek help.
Here is another case (with video, though not of the bloody bits). This 39 year old man had 11 children when his ex-wife exposed him as uncircumcised, precipitating a mob who carried out the cutting on the bare ground. A whole new spin on revenge porn – except it is not at all new.
These are just a few examples. In truth, this is the norm in many African societies. It is done to countless thousands annually. More reports here and here and here.
Men have a choice – get circumcised voluntarily – or involuntarily. It’s up to them. No gender based injustice or coercion there at all, Mrs Kay. Seriously, in those cultures which practice FGM, they invariably also enforce MGM. Even where there is every appearance that the young men take part in circumcision rites voluntarily, in truth they are culturally obliged. Exactly the same is true of FGM. In such cultures there is a general acceptance that the practice is ‘necessary’, because it’s part of being considered adult and marriageable, and hence is entered into voluntarily in many cases. Whether you consider FGM or MGM, in these traditional societies the practice is culturally enforced. Referring to these societies as “patriarchal” gives the impression that the injustice is all one way. In truth they are traditional gendered societies with practices which constrain both sexes to behaviours which conflict with Western cultural values of individual freedom.
Take South Africa. Routine neonatal circumcision is not the policy there. But traditional manhood rites continue to attract young men anxious to prove themselves, despite the massive death toll and despite official organisations attempting to discourage them. This is a cultural norm, Mrs Kay, which tells these boys that they will only gain respect by exposing themselves to these extreme rigours. It is not only the cutting itself which is dangerous, but other aspects of the ritual – which involves exposure in the bush and potential death by dehydration. Here’s one man’s story.
But the cutting is generally conducted in a deliberately brutal manner. That is part of the point. You see, Mrs Kay, the absolute requirement is that the young man cut in public must show no signs of pain or distress. Did you ever hear that men tend to repress their emotions, Mrs Kay? And could this possibly be culturally reinforced – even obligatory? The circumcision rite is a perfect illustration. To prove you are a man worthy of fathering children, you must demonstrate your control over pain. And the ululating crowd simultaneously demonstrate their mastery of the empathy gap, by approving. This is how male disposability is culturally propagated, Mrs Kay.
And to show that Western culture shares this traditional adherence to male disposability and the empathy gap, we now have the truly repugnant phenomenon of the circumcision ritual as a tourist attraction.
From the South African Health News Service we learn that between 2008 and 2014 nearly half a million young men have been hospitalised due to botched circumcisions in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo districts alone. The data comes from a report from the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL). Based on community consultations, the report also highlighted that at least 419 boys had died in the two provinces during the same period. Over 900 boys have died in the Eastern cape alone over the last 20 years. Scale this up, if you will, to the whole of Africa. At least many hundreds of boys are permanently maimed annually in the Eastern cape alone. Dr Dingeman Rijken’s site includes photographs showing just what “maiming” means. You will need a strong stomach.
To my knowledge there are no societies in which FGM is the norm but MGM is not. However, in “Western” societies MGM is the norm and FGM is not and never has been. Western societies have not even the excuse of long tradition, or symmetric treatment of the sexes. It is only in Western societies that we find emphatic gendering of circumcision practice, with spurious justifications used to support a practice which, in truth, is just another manifestation of male disposability – the empathy gap.
5. The Short-Term Harm Done by Circumcision
The harm done by traditional circumcision rituals of the extreme (but common) African variety are illustrated graphically by Dr Dingeman Rijken’s photos – and, of course, by the death and maiming statistics stated above. In this Section I address the harm done by ‘Western’ surgical circumcisions. Kay writes,
“Complications from circumcisions performed by experienced surgeons and mohels are as rare as those springing from dental procedures or vaccinations: that’s to say, statistically negligible.”
Referring to “negative medical outcomes such as bleeding, infection, an ‘unsatisfactory cosmetic result’, or in rare cases deformation and amputation of the penis or death from haemorrhage or sepsis” Kay writes,
“The CPS cites a risk figure of 1.5% for such medical complications. Imputing this figure to “sloppy scholarship,” Morris’s team estimates the combined frequency of adverse events at 0.4% overall, arguing that “the cumulative frequency of medical conditions attributable to [having an intact foreskin] was approximately 100-fold higher” than the cumulative risk of circumcision.”
Actually, since the procedure confers no significant benefit, no risk at all is acceptable.
The NHS tells us that the risks of circumcision carried out under medical conditions is as follows,
“There’s between a 1 in 10 and a 1 in 50 chance that you’ll experience bleeding or infection. Other possible complications of circumcision can include permanent reduction in sensation in the head of the penis, particularly during sex.”
Note that the NHS in the UK has no financial interest in promoting MC. The NHS statement is that there is a probability between 2% and 10% of bleeding or infection after a medical circumcision. That compares with Morris et al’s claim that the probability is less than 0.3%.
However, many circumcisions in the UK are carried out under non-clinical conditions. Incredibly, in the UK anyone can hack off a boy’s foreskin. You need not be medically trained or have any sort of licence. Paradoxically this is probably because it is actually illegal, but tolerated. Being ‘tolerated’ essentially means the authorities turn a blind eye to it – hence the absence of any regulation at all.
In the UK there are around 26,000 circumcisions of boys per year (my estimate based on the assumption that the rate is now dominated by Jews and Muslims, which I assume form about 6.5% of the UK population). In just one Birmingham hospital in one year, 105 boy babies were treated for complications arising from circumcision, about one per month being life threatening. The Birmingham report states,
“We don’t yet know whether or not the circumcisions were performed in hospital or in the community but we do know that Birmingham primary care trust has commissioned a circumcision service so it is likely that a significant proportion of these were done on the NHS.”
This report states that up to three children per month are admitted to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital because of bleeding after home-based circumcisions, i.e., up to 36 per year.
Scaling the above data for Birmingham and Manchester to the whole of the UK on the basis of total population suggests there may as many as 2,500 boys per year suffering complications from circumcisions in the UK, or about 10% of the total circumcised. Whilst this is an extremely crude and unreliable estimate, it aligns with the upper bound quoted by the NHS, above. Clearly Morris et al’s claim of a complication rate of 0.4% is a serious under-estimate.
This cirp.org page lists 292 references relating to complications of circumcision, to which I cannot hope to do justice. They cover ablation of the penis, adhesions, amputations of the penis, anaesthesia problems, apnea, bleeding, balanitis, botched circumcisions, concealed penis, cancer, circulatory complications, clamp complications, denudation of the penile shaft, emesis, infection, impotence, keloid formation, meatitis/stenosis, skin bridges, urethral fistula, urinary retention, urinary tract infection, and various other things, including death.
This 2010 review by Dan Bollinger estimated that 117 circumcision-related deaths of infant boys occur in the USA annually. The study also reveals the reasons why this is not normally appreciated, as the formal cause of death is generally recorded as something else, e.g. surgical mishap, infection, hemorrhage, cardiac arrest, stroke, reaction to anaesthesia, or even parental neglect. Since there are about 1.3 million such circumcisions annually in the USA, this is a fatality rate of 0.01%. This compares with Morris et al’s claim of a rate of 10-6, which would suggest just one death per year.
The number of deaths of African boys due to circumcision doesn’t bear thinking about – see Section 4.
6. The Long-Term Harm Done by Circumcision
Barbara Kay wrote,
“In another study, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, Dr. Morris and colleagues found circumcision produced no adverse affect on sexual function or pleasure, a charge often leveled by anti-circumcision activist groups.”
Did they now? Well two of the three references to this effect in Morris et al 2017 are by – wait for it – Brian Morris and pals. The third is a Chinese meta-analysis and does seem to indicate no deleterious effect of circumcision as regards the issues studied. But could Morris et al find no other source for such a conclusion? With the circumcision rate as it is in the USA, one would have thought so.
There is nothing like a personal testimony. There are four such links below. They are strongly recommended viewing. The first two are the personal testimonies of circumcised men of some standing. The second two are scientific studies showing how very damaging is foreskin removal.
John Warren is a UK doctor and the founder of NORM-UK. He talks here about his intactivism
Morten Frisch, an MD, PhD, Doctor of Medicine, and professor of sexual health epidemiology at Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen and at Aalborg University in Denmark discusses his 2011 study on sexual function difficulties in circumcised men and their female partners.
Ken McGrath describes the anatomy and histology of the foreskin, and provides comprehensive scientific evidence that the skin that is removed in circumcision is the most sensitive part of the penis – in fact of the whole body.
But a few personal stories does not constitute a reliable overall picture. For that one needs statistics. The circumcision harm survey provides just that. Here is an excellent video summarising the results of the 2012 Circumcision Harm Survey.
Tim Hammond gave an excellent presentation on this subject at the International Conference on Men’s Issues in London in 2016, which you can watch here.
The survey results were published in March 2017: Long-term adverse outcomes from neonatal circumcision in a survey of 1,008 men: an overview of health and human rights implications. Hammond & Carmack, International Journal of Human Rights. View Abstract | Download PDF. In lieu of the various videos and the published paper, here are some headline results. The survey reported the following top feelings / psychological problems,
- Anger 71%
- Frustration 72%
- Betrayed by mother/father/doctor for lack of protection 55% / 50% / 58%
- Dissatisfied with my condition 77%
- Mutilated 61%
- Violated / raped 55%
- My human rights were violated 73%
A few men announced themselves content, but they were massively outweighed by the severely dissatisfied. The top specific physical problems reported were,
- Insensitive glans 67%
- Dry, keratinized glans, needs lubricants before sex 75%
- Excess stimulation needed to achieve orgasm 59%
Plus some specific comments from individuals contributing to the survey,
- Frequent ripping of what is left of my frenulum;
- Wooden stick feeling during sex;
- Scar is too tight to accommodate a full erection comfortably;
- Glans is sensitive but in a sandpaper sort of way, not pleasurable;
- Complete sexual dysfunction with no feeling whatever;
- No pleasure and feeling of envy towards intact boys;
- Cut into urethra causing fluid filled cysts;
- Penis bent on erection, will not straighten (this is a well known syndrome resulting from circumcision);
- Pain when erect;
- If I wear a condom I feel absolutely nothing;
- Pubic hair growing at scar (several individuals referred to hair abrasion causing discomfort to their female partner – I did not initially understand why, but this appears to be the reason. One person said, “I am celibate, my girlfriend’s vagina would be damaged”).
And much, much more – hundreds of such comments in this one survey alone. It makes distressing reading. It really does make one angry at the blithe assurances many people offer that circumcision is entirely benign.
You can find collections of photos of what a badly executed circumcision can look like here and here. They are not as bad as Dr Dingeman Rijken’s photos from South Africa, but they are bad enough.
The Circumcision Resource Centre provides a long list of publications indicating the harm done by circumcision, especially psycho-sexual harm.
Your Whole Baby similarly lists complications arising from circumcision, and includes personal testimonies.
There is an entire book consisting of nothing but men’s personal testimonies about their circumcision status and how it has affected their lives: “Unspeakable Mutilations: Circumcised Men Speak Out” Lindsay R Watson, 2014.
Not being circumcised myself I have no personal story to offer. But there does seem to be no shortage of complaints from circumcised men. I am aware, of course, that many circumcised men are perfectly content with their condition. That’s a good thing. But those who were circumcised as an infant or very young child will have no point of reference for the difference the circumcision made. Here are some testimonies from the Circumcision Harm Survey from men who were cut sufficiently late in life to be able to tell us the difference it made.
- I wish I was never done when I was a child (aged 7).
- I was cut at the age of 15 for religious reasons. I have to say it was the worst thing that happened to me as it not only marked the end of any solo sessions but I was left too embarrassed to show it to my girlfriend at the time, and I still feel so embarrassed I am reluctant to get into a relationship with a girl! In addition to my misfortune exposure of the glans (head), and possibly a few severed nerves, had led to it becoming highly desensitized. And the problems get worse…I was cut by a (supposedly) qualified religious doctor who performed the operation regularly. However, in my case they cut too much skin leaving no excess skin in the erect state and somehow caused damage to the fibrous tissues of the shaft of the penis. As a result the damage has caused curving of the penis when erect (Peyronie’s disorder…I think) and a rather unsightly scarring of the skin where the cuts were made (hence the embarrassment). Direct stimulation of the head may seem fun at first, but the sensitivity is short-lived!
- I was circumcised at the age of 27 for foreskin problems. Although my shaft skin is now stretching forward again I cannot masturbate and get the same feelings that I did pre op. Initially I had to directly stimulate my head and use a lubricant. It’s interesting that you say the condom problem causes you lack of sensation, as this is exactly what has happened to me through circumcision. My head is now much less sensitive. So it’s not really the solo sessions that I am worried about, it is the sex sessions. Lots of guys are happy being cut, and lots are not.
- You will definitely feel less sensitive after circumcision. I was circumcised at three years old due to infection and now at 44 years old can’t ejaculate through intercourse unless I ram away for hours on end due to the insensitivity. This may sound good to you and your lady now but after months of this she will be bored or worn out.
I close with a link to the interview of Tim Hammond at ICMI16, in which he touches on most of the issues raised in this post.