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Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Monday, June 28, 2010

To Cut or Not to Cut?

Over on Facebook, there was a discussion about female genital mutilation, specifically clitoral removal in Nigerian society. The very fine writer Nnedi Okorafor wrote a story criticizing the practice, and got some nasty emails from African intellectuals basically saying she was airing dirty laundry in public. I sided with Nnedi, saying that I disagree with the term “female circumcision,” considering the removal of critical nerve clusters to be more like “female castration.”
While that term isn’t precise, a couple of guys added their thoughts that male circumcision was mutilation. A discussion ensued (and is still going on) to the effect that it was horribly wrong (I am paraphrasing) and that if I had the facts, I’d agree. Hmmm. Well, I’ve invited them to make their case, but I’m not sure I see what all the fuss is. Here’s my thinking, and I invite you guys to comment.
1) Whether or not the practice of (male) circumcision is a health benefit has been roundly debated, and I’ve seen decent data on both sides. What DOES seem clear is that there is no massive effect either way.
2) There were definitely arguments about male circumcision decreasing masturbation. This seems kinda funny to me. I mean, how much more could I possibly have done it? Jeeze. Not sure how any work ever got done by anyone, if that was really a factor. Feels like a b.s. reason to me.
3) Decreasing male pleasure? Well...I’m not sure how much better sex could feel. And if it felt better, I suspect that my endurance would have been affected, yes? Which, if true, would decrease female pleasure, yes? Anyway, I see no way to really measure something as subjective as this--it’s a “he said/she said” situation.
4) Mutilation? Well...isn’t that a term which generally relates to a decrease in aesthetics? Considering the number of women who have said, in no uncertain terms, that they prefer the “cut” look, that doesn’t seem to be valid. Now, one has to add in the fact of cultural “brainwashing” of course, (programming to believe the “cut” look is superior) but regardless, how in the world can you ever remove cultural programming from aesthetics? Does that even make sense?
5) Campaigning for parents to feel free not to have their sons circumcised makes sense. But the passion here seemed to suggest that the “appropriate” attitude is horror, that something precious is being stolen from their sons. In which case...what? I’m supposed to think my Willie is ugly? That’s interesting. Or was I supposed to get the hood reattached? Or not have Jason circumcised, and have him wonder why he and Daddy are so different? I see complication here around an issue which, when it comes down to it, doesn’t seem much more important to me than whether or not my ears are pierced.
6) Which comes to the social thing. If I can’t see an objective reason to care either way (mortality stats? sexual pleasure? Aesthetics?) then it seems that it’s just a matter of either going with the social flow, or not. If I was creating a society from scratch, the discussion seems pretty valid. In the 1950’s society I was born into, it makes sense for my parents to have taken the conservative path (baby resembling Daddy). I see no advantage to going against the current in something that just doesn’t make a lot of difference--I horde my rebellion and spend it very carefully. God knows I’ve paid enough price for not being “like the rest” and fail to see how my Earthly existence would have been better had I been different here, or how I damaged my son by having him circumcized.

Of course, it’s possible that I’m missing something here. Is there some objective evidence I’m missing about this issue? I just don’t have any heat on it, and some guys seem to. What do you guys think?

13 comments:

Mike Ralls said...

>I see no way to really measure something as subjective as this--it’s a “he said/she said” situation.<

In that specific instance, all you wold have to do is ask men who were circumcised in adulthood if sex was better, worse, or about the same in comparison to before they were circumcised. That would seem to give a pretty solid answer one way or another.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Asking men who'd been circumcised in adulthood gives good but not perfect evidence. I can think of two confounding factors-- there might be different neurological effects depending on the age of circumcision, and some of the men might defend their decision by lying or kidding themselves about loss of pleasure.

Scott Masterton said...

Female "circumcision" would be like a male removing his penis and then being expected to enjoy sex.

Male circumcision would be like a woman clipping her toenails and then being asked to enjoy sex.

Female vs. male circumcision is not an apples to apples comparison. Sorry that some guys are upset about this, but my view is that this "issue" with male circumcision is a red herring that is (unconsciously) hiding other issues that these gentleman are having with their sexuality.

Anonymous said...

1. It's the only pre-emptive surgical procedure -- that is, to say, it's the only surgical procedure done on humans simply because it MIGHT prevent a health problem. Every other instance of such surgery would be considered wholly unethical by doctors. Curious, eh? Why don't we also remove the tonsils and appendix at birth?

2. Medical circumsision was introduced for a primary purpose: to prevent masturbation. Look it up. No other medical benefits (aside from "easier to clean", which, if you think about it, isn't so much a benefit as a timesaver) were described in any literature on the subject at the time the practice began. It didn't work, of course. Every single medical benefit tacked on since then has been added to rationalize the original practice, because medical practicioners are loathe to admit they may have been causing harm. That pesky oath and all. So they'll squirm around for any justification they can (As will, incidentally, parents who had the procedure done on their children). But the masturbation thing, long since abandoned, is the original reason for the practice. Several good reasons have appeared since then, none of which successfully justify pre-emptive surgery.

When you're still doing something even though the original reason you started doing it is is proven invalid, it's time to re-examine it to see if it's really just a habit. If you find you keep changing reasons as they become invalid, consider it may very well be a bad habit.

3. You have no basis for comparison and no way to ever have one. It's healthy, I suppose, to imagine that it couldn't possibly be any better, because the obvious alternative is to imagine that you're crippled from birth in some way, isn't it?

4. If an adult finds that many women he finds attractive prefer the "cut look", shouldn't it be that adult's choice to get the procedure done? In what way does it make sense to make that choice for someone else so early on?

5. If you lost your thumb in a car accident while you were an infant, it would probably have almost no effect on your life. Everything you'd have ever learned would have worked around the issue. Your son, though, would probably notice at some point and wonder what was up...

There's a lot of passionate resentment of the practice from people who have come to the conclusion that it shouldn't have been done to them. Which is inarguably understandable -- they had no choice in the matter, and people often react badly to irreversible things being purposefully done to them without their consent. Like waking up with a tattoo. To reply asif that their outrage is somehow an affront to you is an... interesting reaction. Especially from someone who rails so eloquently against social norms.

6. It doesn't make a lot of difference TO YOU. Try to understand that there WILL ALWAYS be people who resent this, now that people recognize it as needless (see 1. above).

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Circumsision in adulthood is different, because after puberty, the glans and foreskin are separate, so no nerve damage occurs to the glans. Near birth, the glans and foreskin are not entirely separate, so removing the foreskin takes some of the glans with it.

On the other hand, when important sensory nerves are damaged, the brain generally tries to compensate, so ultimately the sensations may not be that different. The brain considers sexual sensations to be extraordinarily important...

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I would bet almost any amount of money that Scott Masterson was circumcised at birth.

I think a fairer comparison would be: male circumcision is like pulling the toenail out. Female circumcision is like removing the toe.

Steve Perry said...

Male circumcision, outside of religious or cultural reasons, was done with the notion of avoiding problems that arose from bad hygiene. Sometimes thought to be a cure for impotence, and a treatment for phimosis, it became routine for infants in the 1930s, and the scientific reason, though questionable, had to do with the fact that Jewish men had a much lower rate of penile cancer than the goyim. Jewish women also had a lesser rate of uterine cancer, and it was thought this might be the reason.

During WWII, it was noticed that circumcision seemed to help prevent STDs -- called VD, then.

That science didn't subsequently pan out, either.

If you were born in a hospital, you probably fall into the did or did not camp based on age. Up until the 1970's, it was pretty routine. After that, not so much.

Good hygiene seems to be as effective at preventing disease as cutting the foreskin off.

Oh, and Anon -- there are a number of preventative surgeries that have been, and still are, routinely done that are absolutely ethical. Off the top of my head:

Appendectomy was a common procedure for folks going on trips where they might be away from quick medical care.

Millions of men have have had vasectomies, as have women tubal ligations for health reasons.

Women with a strong family history of breast cancer who develop it in one breast often have the other breast removed as a precaution, and sometimes they have both breasts removed before any sign of the disease.

People have their tonsils and adenoids removed all the time to prevent recurrent problems that might never recur.

You need to do a little bit better research before you make such sweeping generalizations.

Bennett said...

Personally, if I'd been given the option, I wouldn't have been circumcised, which is my main objection to the practice. Nobody asked me, they just took it! (I pretty much sympathize with Alan Tudyk's character in 28 Days on this one)

But fact is, it's gone, and life goes on. I'm not resenting my parents or bemoaning the loss. It does, however, make me leery of getting it done to any sons I may have in the future. The reasons for getting it are pretty weak to me, and I don't see why snipping the tip should somehow be the 'default'. It may very well be there for a reason, and I've never heard a persuasive risk involved in keeping the bits intact--except for the numerous American women to whom it 'looks like an armadillo' or somesuch.

And as to female genital mutilation... what's done there is quite different in intent and practice, and disgusting on every level I can conjure.

Anonymous said...

First off, it's a crock and simply OBSCENE to compare male circumcision with female genital MUTILATION (FGM). Male circumcision at most dulls some sensation during penetration, but leaves men fully able to enjoy sex and cum intensely. FGM mutilation removes the entire clitoris (and much more in the Somali Frenula version), thereby preventing the victim from ever climaxing. If male circumcision originated to prevent masturbation, the purpose of FGM is to destroy all sexual pleasure, to completely rob the victim of sexuality! Further, this contrast doesn't address "after-effects". The worst those with clipped foreskins experience is, again, diminished sensation. Women who've been vaginally butchered not "only" suffer the irreparable and total loss of orgasm, but frequently incontinence, infection, chronic pain, even death. Simply put, male circumcision is an innocent relic of bygone mores; FGM is an atrocity and a crime against humanity!!!

"The very fine writer Nnedi Okorafor wrote a story criticizing the practice, and got some nasty emails from African intellectuals basically saying she was airing dirty laundry in public."

Those intellectuals would do better working to eliminate such ugliness from African society than fretting over shame that's well earned!! It pains me to say, as someone of African descent, I'm quite frankly ASHAMED AND DISGUSTED by events on "the mother continent". In Uganda, Christian zealots unable to sell their mediaevalism elsewhere convince mentally-challenged masses to declare homosexuality a capital crime!! Elsewhere in Uganda, The Lord's Resistance Army uses incantations to deflect bullets! In Kenya, albinos are murdered and literally cannibalized for their presumed magic parts! One could continue ad nauseum, but these revolting events illustrate the crudity, cruelty, ignorance and ugliness that degrade much of African life. Perhaps conditions for the benighted continent and its people would improve if more African intelligentsia would adopt the refreshingly honest stance of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and speak openly about the need to abandon tribalism, supernaturalism and other barbarisms, and to embrace the modernism and Enlightenment bequeathed by the old colonials.

Ethiopian_Infidel

Steven Barnes said...

I think it would actually be fairly easy to determine if circumcision diminishes sexual pleasure: look at statistics about sexual dysfunction, difficulty in achieving orgasm, and premature ejaculation.
If circumcision reduces sensation, I would expect
1) decreased ability to reach orgasm and/or a decreased amount of premature ejaculation.

Are there any statistics that suggest either case is true? And if not, if the general profile of
1)excitation/erection
2) Time to ejaculation
is roughly similar, where exactly is this decrease in sensation?

I'd expect uncircumcised men to be more excitable and ejaculate more quickly. Circumcised men to be less readily stimulated by direct contact, and last longer in the sack (like wearing a rubber). Any arguments with this? Any stats to "prove" this supposed damage?

Steven Barnes said...

If you tell me that my sexual pleasure has been diminished to some significant degree by circumcision...wow. Considering how much I've enjoyed sex, it's hard to believe that there are vast swaths of men who like it more. Even more, considering how much men will do to get good sex, it is WAY hard for me to believe that they would voluntarily choose to enjoy it less. That just goes against everything I've ever known, thought, or heard about human psychology. Wouldn't they be immediately outbred by the groups that don't cut? Wouldn't those groups have WAY more sex? And...considering how much time men spend thinking about sex, just how much more COULD they enjoy it without completely disrupting society, man? Just don't buy it.

Anonymous said...

"If you tell me that my sexual pleasure has been diminished to some significant degree by circumcision...wow."

It's impossible for you to ever know. You're fully acclimatized to less sensation. Remaining undamaged nerves are given greater priorty in the neural map over time.

"it is WAY hard for me to believe that they would voluntarily choose to enjoy it less. "

Voluntarily? WTFBBQ?

"I'd expect uncircumcised men to be more excitable and ejaculate more quickly."

They're acclimatized to it, also. People with better hearing don't make worse musicians, so to speak.

Experience is subjective.

Please understand, the amount of nerve damage varies wildly, because the procedure itself has no concern over it. There are (rare) men who lose all sensation in the glans. How might you expect them to react, when they discover that this was something someone did to them, on purpose?

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"Appendectomy was a common procedure for folks going on trips where they might be away from quick medical care.

Millions of men have have had vasectomies, as have women tubal ligations for health reasons.

Women with a strong family history of breast cancer who develop it in one breast often have the other breast removed as a precaution, and sometimes they have both breasts removed before any sign of the disease.

People have their tonsils and adenoids removed all the time to prevent recurrent problems that might never recur.

You need to do a little bit better research before you make such sweeping generalizations."

None of those apply. Vasectomies? Seriously?

If you've already had cancer ANYWHERE, your risk factor goes way up. They don't remove the breasts of healthy women pre-emptively no matter how prevalent their family's cancer history is.

In medicine, especially, there is a qualitiative difference between "it may never happen again" and "it may never happen ever".

The appendix thing almost makes it, except that it's not a risk/benefit analysis. It doesn't matter, in that case, what the chances of you getting appendicitis are -- in those conditions, if you DO get it IT WILL KILL YOU, but if you remove the appendix, you CANNOT get appendicitis.

I can think of no condition in which merely having a foreskin might result in a condition with a 100% mortality rate, that removing it would prevent (save perhaps infiltrating a Mossad unit).

Anonymous said...

"Male circumcision, outside of religious or cultural reasons, was done with the notion of avoiding problems that arose from bad hygiene."

Steve, you're right here, I was wrong. Prevention of masturbation was a commonly held reason at that time, but not universal.

Steve Perry said...

"It's the only pre-emptive surgical procedure -- that is, to say, it's the only surgical procedure done on humans simply because it MIGHT prevent a health problem."

That's what you said, and you're wrong.

Appendectomy might prevent a health problem -- or you might go your whole life without any grief there. I know people who are living who have had it done.

Not talking about cost/benefit, but about a statement of fact.

Removing a benign mole or skin lesion that might or might not ever turn cancerous is a common procedure.

Tubal ligation (or removal of the uterus) to prevent pregnancy is the most common reason, but there are women for whom bearing more children might be a health risk. If you've had two pregnancies and both developed preeclampsia, you might or might not get it again.

And whether you like it or not, there are women who were perfectly healthy who have had their breasts removed because of a strong family history of cancer. It might not be the treatment of choice, but it is a surgical procedure done to head off a possible illness that might never manifest.

I'm not advocating circumcision as a routine neonatal procedure. I'm just pointing out that your argument could be better stated than by making a simple factual error in your opening statement. It weakens your subsequent debate.

Steven Barnes said...

I think we'll have to agree to disagree on this one. If I am as easily excited, and ejaculate in approximately the same time, it seems to me that there is no real difference in the nerve stimulation. Because I DON'T KNOW the statistics here, I am making myself vulnerable to being disproven: I am willing to take a position where I can be proven wrong. It is consistent with my entire world view that positions that can be disproven are to be considered more seriously in terms of physical reality than those that cannot. This is not a matter of spirit--it is a matter of flesh, which is subject to physical laws, and testable. Again, this isn't an absolute, but it is the way I have navigated the world, and it's worked for me just fine.