I love a good protest. If I see a mob gathering, chanting and holding signs, l just have to see what issue they’re so passionate about that. They obviously find it a cause worthy of their time and effort. They believe I, just as an average citizen, should hear about it. So I listen. Or at least read the signs.
One day I saw a protest outside a cluster of local hospitals with signs such as “how dare you”, “his penis, his choice”, “put down the knife and step away from the baby” and then some signs just depicting blood splatter. I quickly dismissed them as a small, splinter group of group of locals and chuckled at some of the penis cartoons, because I have the sense of humor of a child.
I was wrong. This was not a small group of people who were just passionate about penile rights. They’re “intactivists” –– advocates against circumcision with local groups who protest and spread “awareness” all over the country. They even qualified a measure for the ballot in San Francisco that would make circumcision for any male any 18 a crime punishable by a year in jail or a $1,000 fine. Circumcision rates are down.
The problem? Well, it’s pretty much all bullshit.
Intactivists base their position on several arguments that are completely unfounded and usually quite easily debunked. Easy enough for me, just a mom sitting on a couch during my kid’s naptime, to debunk with the awesome power of Google.
Here are the key intactivist arguments…
The baby cannot provide consent: This is the toughest argument, which is why I’m getting it out of the way first. So, yeah, I’ll give you this one. No matter how gifted your child may be, at only a few days old, he’s not going to express his feelings towards circumcision. He’s not going to lift his little head up and say, “excuse me, doc, I prefer to leave my foreskin, please.” So, if you choose to have your son circumcised shortly after birth, you are clearly making that decision for him, without his consent.
And this will be possibility the first of many times you will make such a decision, without his consent, because YOU ARE A PARENT. This is part of what we do. We try to make the best decisions for our kids and then implement those decisions. We do it all the time whether it’s religion, what food to eat, whether to vaccinate, etc. If I allowed my toddler to make the calls, we’d have cookies three meals a day, no naps, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on all day, no vaccinations (because, ouch) and I’m not sure if he would ever wear clothes. It’s our job to weigh the risks v. benefits and make the call, whether or not the child can consent.
Circumcision negatively affects sensitivity: Intactivists are really, really concerned about the future sex lives of their offspring and this has been the most common argument I’ve personally seen against circumcision. According to intactivists, circumcised males are destined for sad, sexless existences as promised by sad, intactivist men. The plural of anecdote is not data, and this argument has been proven false. Two medical studies, one presented to the American Urological Society and the other published to the Journal of Sexual Medicine (yes, it’s a thing), found that both circumcised and uncircumcised men experienced the same levels of response to touch and pain during sexual arousal. Circumcision makes no actual difference.
Circumcision kills babies: Intactivists commonly claim that more than 100 infants die each year as a direct result from circumcision. The figure was put forth by Dan Bollinger, a popular circumcision opponent after reviewing infant mortality statistics. Both medical professionals and the CDC dispute this number. When you search for information regarding the actual number of deaths by circumcision, you will see Bollinger’s figure and lots of Intactivism information referring to this figure. The truth is, the CDC doesn’t even keep track of deaths from infant circumcision because they are “exceedingly rare”. The agency’s last mortality report, which looked at all deaths in the country in 2010, no circumcision-related deaths were found.
Male circumcision is akin to female “circumcision”: Circumcision is a very common practice in developed areas of the world, including the United States. It involves safely surgically removing the skin covering the tip of the penis and is done for health, hygienic, religious and cultural reasons. Female genital mutilation is a completely barbaric procedure, which is often done without anesthesia, involving the partial or total removal of the external female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Girls face serious immediate short-term complications including fatal bleeding, infection, tetanus, gangrene as well as the transmission of hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. Long term affects include infertility, pain during sexual intercourse and psychological effects such as post-traumatic stress disorder. To equate the suffering of these girls with boys who had a routine circumcision is both offensive and absurd.
Circumcision is incredibly painful for newborns: Generally, pain management methods are utilized during a routine circumcision including anesthetics like a penile nerve block. I can’t guarantee the procedure is completely painless, but you know what was likely more traumatic? Squeezing through your birth canal.
The intactivism moment uses lies touted as facts and scare tactics to convince parents not to circumcise their boys. If you choose not to circumcise, guess what? Your child will likely be just as happy and healthy as a circumcised one. It’s an optional procedure and if you don’t want to do it, then… just don’t do it. That’s reason enough. There’s no need to scare the pants off new parents and threaten doctors who routinely circumcise.
Although many boys are circumcised, regardless of religious affiliation. You might associate circumcision with Judaism and for good reason. The covenant of circumcision was originally made with Abraham and is likely the most universally observed commandment that’s been around as long as there have been Jews.
There has been a bit of an anti-Semitic tone in many intactivist literature. Intactivist Matthew Hess, created a comic called, “Foreskin Man”, which depicts a quite buff, blond… Aryan looking super hero who saves babies from circumcision. In the second issue, which is right here, the hero saves a baby at a bris from “Monster Mohel“, who dons a long, black beard and menacing black clothes and prayer tallit and says things like, “his foreskin is mine!” Monster Mohel is surrounded by gun-wielding goons with side curls, common of Hasidic jews. Foreskin Man ends up
kidnapping rescuing the boy from his evil, Jewish family and they celebrate by lighting a giant wooden structure on fire. Oops. Spoiler alert.
Parents choose to circumcise for many different reasons, they may be driven by the World Health Organization’s recommendations, religious reasons or societal norms. Truthfully, I don’t find the reasons to circumcise for health all that compelling. I don’t think it really matters– circumcise, don’t circumcise, whatever. I frankly don’t care and am completely uninterested in the state of your baby’s foreskin. But, it is your call as a parent and to take that power away from you based on propaganda, lies and even antisemitism is ludicrous.