There was a story circulating the news a couple months ago that’s near and dear to my, uh, heart. Depending on your news source, the CDC is considering measures to promote/force circumcision of male babies born in the U.S. This isn’t new as many AIDS activists and Bill Clinton himself have advocated the same thing.
The recommendation rests on studies which show that HIV transmission is lower in circumcised Africans. Considering the AIDS “epidemic” in the U.S., health officials are seeking any means of containing its spread, despite repudiation of the study. Governments prefer to use pragmatic means to solve the crisis; I’d prefer that people learn not to fuck so non-chalantly in environments with high HIV prevalence.
As a young, uncut boy I often wondered why my penis looked like an anteater while those of other boys’ in the swimming pool showers looked like toadstools. Parental guidance of “wash behind your ears” was accompanied with “and under your foreskin, too.” I was jealous that my brother – a follower of Abraham’s covenant – wasn’t chastised by our parents for “not cleaning his dick”. I had issues coming to grips with my oddity. I’d laugh at foreskin jokes pretending to be in on the fun when I was actually the target. The first mention of “smegma” was met with outward revulsion but inward angst.
But as I got older, I came to accept my extra layer of skin in all of its natural glory. Being unbaptized, non-religious and with a tendency to swim against the stream, I regarded my situation as the ultimate marker of resistance against the status quo. I was blessed with a triumvirate of rebellion. I was different in philosophy from those I grew up with, how fitting I also had tangible evidence to back it up. No I didn’t let my foreskin freak flag fly, but in time I developed foreskin pride.
But I’ll put aside the personal pride of my fully-holstered gun; possibly it has biased my opinion on the subject. There are the natural rights issues of circumcision. Any well-heeled lover of personal liberty would oppose the government-mandate du jour regardless of its potential benefits to society. Slicing off an infant’s man-sheath is an affront to a basic tenet of liberty: protection from bodily harm. I buy into the Murray Rothbard school of radical libertarianism on child-rearing issues:
“Applying our theory to parents and children, this means that a parent does not have the right to aggress against his children, but also that the parent should not have a legal obligation to feed, clothe, or educate his children, since such obligations would entail positive acts coerced upon the parent and depriving the parent of his rights. The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die. The law, therefore, may not properly compel the parent to feed a child or to keep it alive. (Again, whether or not a parent has a moral rather than a legally enforceable obligation to keep his child alive is a completely separate question.) Very little need be said on that issue.”
I agree with Rothbard. I don’t believe there should be any legal obligation for a parent to provide for their child although there are strong incentives to doing so in practice. A newborn – no matter how small and fragile – is a free agent. Parents have no natural obligation to feed or clothe it. Now, as Rothbard said, it’s best for society and the parents psyche to provide for their children, but they can’t be thrown in jail even if they allow them to die in the streets. Since a parent has no obligation towards the child, they also have no claim on the child. This counts his foreskin. Foreskin mutilation is assault plain and simple. A free agent – when decision-making abilities are formed – can choose to whack their mole based on health, faith, or aesthetic reasons, but its their decision; it’s not for other people to decide.
Circumcision was historically practiced by the Jews for religious reasons. Before that, it is believed that trimming a little off the top arose out of ritual: a boy gave something of value (not toovaluable mind you) to mark his ascendancy to manhood. In the book Sexual Mutilation: A Human Tragedy, Frederick Hodges asserts that circumcision became widely practiced in England after Jewish in-migration in the 1800s. The observation that they – sans foreskin – had lower prevalence of syphilis than the then-uncut Brits. Without analyzing the sex behavior of each ethnic group, the extra skin was blamed for the difference. During the same century, Anglo-Saxon culture became obsessed with the ill effects of masturbation in boys. To prevent this widespread calamity, the patriarchy decided to start cutting off heads – no questions asked.
These simple reasons for performing the ritual – health and superstition – don’t hold up under scrutiny. First, if you’re a believer, God made us in his image. The man with the white beard is walking around with his gun in its holster just like me. If you’ll allow me to get a little ridiculous, God’s use of a mohel would be an affront to His perfection.
Turning to more practical matters, this study in the Journal of the American Medical Association claims that circumcision has no significant impact on STD prevention or sexual dysfunction prevention. Also, circumcision was seen to lead to an increase in masturbation and more “unnatural” acts like oral and anal sex. The reasons for circumcisions rise in the Anglo world are largely unfounded.
“In weighing the risks and benefits of circumcision, doctors consider the fact that penile cancer is very uncommon in the United States, even among uncircumcised men. Neither the American Academy of Pediatrics nor the Canadian Academy of Pediatrics recommends routine circumcision of newborns just for medical reasons.In the end, decisions about circumcision are highly personal and depend more on social and religious factors than on medical evidence.”
Oh yeah. The most important reason to leave the foreskin intact: sex is more enjoyable for men and women when the man is uncircumcised. For us men, the foreskin houses nerve-endings and blood vessels that create arousal and heightened orgasmic pleasure. In women, the water-weenie effect allows for more lubrication and greater sensation. From an evolutionary standpoint, doctors are messing with something that exists for a reason; there may be unintended consequences of removing the foreskin. Even if cancer and STD prevalence was higher in uncircumcised men, we still don’t have a good enough cost/benefit analysis to decide proper action. After all, you wouldn’t cut off your nose to spite your face would you?
Circumcision in the United States has declined since the 1960s; it rests around 56% as of 2006. I happened to be born in a town with hippie tendencies: their acceptance of female armpit hair and dumpster diving was oddly correlated with foreskin sanctity. For that I’m thankful. The grounds for male circumcision are shaky and superstitious at best – torturous at worst. The argument itself should be moot if we adhere to Rothbard’s admonishment: circumcision is an affront to personal liberty and it’s practice on newborns should be eradicated. To this I say “Give me Foreskin or Give me Death.”