The Kindest Cut: Circumcision
Times change, knowledge increases, things improve: that’s civilization. But progress is uneven, often because of regressive beliefs slowing it down, screwing it up, or in some cases trying to reverse it.
Half a century ago 64% of boys in the US were circumcised; now the rate is 40%. Much to the wailing of religious minorities, the practice is now out of style in favor of the turtle-neck penis look. Even so, Iceland came within a foreskin’s breadth of legally prohibiting it this year and Denmark was considering it.
Like most actions, it depends on how and even why it’s done. It should come as no surprise that tribal and religious reasons can be disastrous whereas the professional medical procedure is incredibly safe with a vanishingly small rate of complications. The Journal of Urology found no difference in sexual functioning or sensitivity between snipped or un-snipped.
Several years ago in New York the Jewish ritual known as metzizah b’peh was nearly outlawed. This ritual involves amateur removal of the foreskin by a rabbi followed by oral suction on the glans penis to remove blood. It must be noted that this horror show is practiced only among some ultra-orthodox. Nevertheless, in 2012 two babies died of neonatal cerebral herpes and many others were infected. Re-contextualize this: who would be fine with some bloke lacking even the most rudimentary medical education and tools performing a heart by-pass on them because a 3,000 year old book is all the instruction he needed?
But liberal cultural relativists clutch their pearls in a tizzy demanding “all cultural practices” are equal and legitimate, despite their objective stupidity and mortal danger.
Further on the tribal front, in South Africa a right of manhood requires boys travel to camps where the elders hold the razors and spears. Botched circumcisions leave hundreds of men injured and penis-less, infected with gangrene or STI’s from unsterile instruments, or dead from sepsis.
Cross gender tribal madness extends to infibulation: female genital mutilation which encompasses everything from a nick to clitoredectomy. The Prophet Mohammed actually forbade the practice but it predates and defies Islam, being primarily practiced on the Horn of Africa and in the Nile Valley. Nevertheless the slicing of clitorises is thought of as Islamic by many Muslims and pops up in various places in the Islamosphere from West Africa to Indonesia.
When it comes to removal of the male foreskin, although religions and tribes are unwittingly on the right course, their reasons are non-scientific and their methods medically uninformed.
They’re right on course because although some medical opinion is divided, there’s a compelling case for doctor performed male circumcision. The United Nation’s World Health Organization officially recommends it on the strength of various large studies which have found it results in impressive reductions in the heterosexual transmission of sexually transmitted infections. The French National Agency for Research for AIDS puts the reduction of risk as high as a 60%: a startling number. South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal State, in concert with USAID, actively promotes circumcision as part of its HIV strategy with one million slices in eight years: all medical circumcision mind you, not tribal.
A meta-analysis study of the dynamics of HPV transmission, the Human Papilloma Virus (genital warts), the most common STI on earth which can cause cervical and other cancers, also credits circumcision as inhibitory of infection.
“My boys can wash” is a common refrain, neglecting the fact that viral shedding and transmission work on a tiny molecular level in the thin mucus membranes of the genitals, way below the radar of normal daily hygiene. Risks of less potentially fatal infectious diseases are also reduced by the practice: unless you get it from your rabbi’s lips of course.
Our fight against pathogens is a ceaseless one. We need to use all the weapons in our arsenal; drugs, vaccines, prophylaxes, education and yes, the kindest cut for boys.
David Anderson is an Australian-American attorney and writer in New York City. He was educated at the University of Melbourne and Georgetown University in political science and psychology.