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To Think?

Since the kids don't remember any of this—at least not in any way I'll hear about—none of it much concerns me. Also, I love the carnal, discomfiting aspect of a bris.

That's the quote from Emily Bazelon's Slate article from August that pushed me to write about my opposition to routine infant circumcision. With only "to look like dad" missing, those two sentences represent the worst thinking surrounding the acceptance of circumcising infant boys for non-medical reasons. I don't pretend that my efforts have made a huge difference in the last six months, but it's helped me clarify my opposition, as well as to engage people who, like most people, don't think about the issue. Even when pregnant with a boy.

In her original article, Ms. Bazelon set out to learn from readers whether or not "circumcision deprives men of 'the capacity for optimal pleasure'." The caveat, and this is the largest flaw among many flaws, was that she wished to hear from men circumcised as adults and experienced both ways. It's a point I've harped on before regarding the recent studies indicating that circumcision acts as a protective procedure against HIV infection. The overwhelming timing of circumcision in America is in infancy, usually within a few days of birth. It's illogical and irresponsible to draw conclusions from a surgical procedure performed on adult males who can consent and impose those conclusions on the results of a surgical procedure performed on infant males without consent who must also endure an additional two decades of effects not imposed on the focus group. The damage done by forcibly ripping the foreskin from the glans, as doctors must do when circumcising infants because the foreskin is fused to the glans for years after birth, can't be discounted. Comparing adult circumcision, in which the foreskin separated naturally from the glans, and infant circumcision, in which skin is torn from skin, is useless. But she accepts specific examples as general conclusion, so a rebuttal is necessary.

The bulk of Ms. Bazelon's follow-up article isn't particularly useful, for it draws inconclusive answers that provide no insight into the most performed surgical procedure performed in America. She found that a man's feeling depended on his reasons for being circumcised. Consider her two statements:

Men tended to enthuse about their post-snip sex lives if they didn't like the aesthetics of their uncircumcised penises or had past sexual problems. ...

In the disappointed camp are men who parted with their dearly remembered foreskins at the urging of doctors. ...

Based on the responses she received, I have no problem with accepting her findings about adult circumcision. I've never advocating banning adult circumcision, and see no reason to be surprised here. Adults are allowed to make choices about their bodies. They must deal with the results. If a man decides he wants his foreskin removed, he'll probably be happy. If he doesn't research the procedure and its effects, instead accepting misinformed information without challenge, he'll learn a lesson from his decision. It'll be a difficult, lifelong lesson, but I'm not interested in protecting people from themselves. (Not to be confused with feeling no sympathy for them, for I understand how little people in America question circumcision, and can't fathom men wanting to be circumcised. I digress.)

The sampling of reader responses is more interesting than the overall conclusion drawn in the article. Consider:

From Lori:
I have had over thirty lovers, of whom only four were "natural." They, however, stand out in my memories like supernova against a backdrop of ordinary stars.

That's about what I'd expect, although I'm cherry-picking because it coincides with my view about the inappropriateness of infant circumcision. Leaving the foreskin alone at birth keeps the option for the man to decide which he prefers. This shouldn't be a challenging issue.

These next two show the non-scientific, vengeful nature of a (hopefully tiny) portion of those in favor of infant circumcision. Consider:

From a woman:
Having had sex with both circumcised and uncircumcised men I prefer the former. They are cleaner and smell better. … Have you EVER seen a hygiene ad for men?

I see hygiene ads for women every night. What should we do to infant girls so that we can be saved from that natural horror, as well? Ignorance is bliss, I suppose.

From Amanda:
Why does it matter if men have optimal sexual pleasure? They're obviously getting enough that it's a driving force in most of their lives. If they were any more into it, would that really be a good thing? To me, worrying that a lack of foreskin has diminished sexual pleasure is like worrying that having burned my tongue as a child has diminished my sense of taste. Even if it's true, which it may well be, I still love food almost to excess, so what's the real damage?

Where to start? First, a foreskin is natural and functional. There's no reason to remove it. Second, perhaps men obsess about sex because their diminished bodies never reach the level of satisfaction that an intact body could provide. I'm not suggesting that as an answer, only that it's as plausible as Amanda's nonsense. Third, whether or not an individual's sex drive is excessive isn't for society to decide. If he finds a partner who enjoys sex as much as he does, then his sex drive isn't too much, as Amanda implies. But the same logic that produces "my cousin's best friend's girlfriend's uncle's podiatrist had to be circumcised as an adult and it was awful, so I don't want my child to go through that" as a justification produces the notion that Amanda's dismissal of reduced male sexual pleasure because they're presumably getting enough already is sufficient to be ambivalent about routine infant circumcision. No.

In the end, Ms. Bazelon's conclusion offers little I didn't expect, nor is it helpful. The challenge for rationality continues.

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