Or Not To Think?

Like most other circumcision news stories I let fade away without comment, Emily Bazelon’s follow-up article that I analyzed yesterday shouldn’t be worth discussing further. However, the accompanying podcast interview with Ms. Bazelon is worth disecting because it holds the proof that she incorrectly equates adult and infant circumcision, as well as offering conclusive parental recommendations unsupported by her inconclusive study. The interview begins by reiterating the basic point of Ms. Bazelon’s concluding article (I’ve transcribed the audio excerpts):

Andy Bowers: What were the results? Is it better to have sex if you’re circumcised or uncircumcised?

Emily Bazelon: Well, I think that actually there’s no answer to the question. That was what all my research yielded.

Again, I expected that outcome because no two men are the same. I also suspect that there’s bias on both sides of the spectrum to reporting a conclusion that matches a preconceived conclusion going into the process. That wouldn’t necessarily apply to those males circumcised as infants, because they’re more likely to be conditioned by society’s views. In the United States, that means circumcision gets a favorable review, without much thought. Ms. Bazelon addressed adult circumcision, I expect those offering an opinion to be biased by individual experience. And that’s ultimately what I’m driving at with challenging routine infant circumcision. Pushing the decision to the individual affected is the reasonable approach.

Next, this exchange is interesting because it reveals how this practice continues without much thought.

A.B. What about the ones who missed having a fore.sp… *garbles the word foreskin*
E.B. Can you believe you’re saying these words? *Says something as Mr. Bowers speaks*
A.B. I love this, this is what’s so great about podcasting, is that I can, I can talk about this, no censorship, no FCC.
E.B. Even when I was writing it, I was like “Oh, my God” *laughter*

Infant circumcision involves surgically amputating a portion of a male’s genitalia. How can anyone pretend that we’re dealing with this topic thoroughly and objectively if we can’t even mention the word foreskin (or glans, penis, and shaft) without be shocked by the sound of the word? That’s a poor indication that parents’ are making the decision for the right reason. Forget the censorship aspect mentioned, because that was a throwaway comment reasonable within the context of the moment. What are the odds that parents afraid of these words will seek as much information as possible when discussing circumcision with a doctor? I’m assuming they discuss it beyond instinctively signing the consent form, of course, which is a gigantic assumption.

Finally, the interview ends with this:

A.B.: Well, any final thoughts for Valentine’s Day on whether circumcision late in life is a good idea?

Pardon the interruption, but I want to highlight this before the answer. Mr. Bowers kept his question focused on the topic of Ms. Bazelon work, which was adult circumcision. Hence, the phrase “late in life”. It’s an important point.

E.B.: Well, I think that if you’re worrying about whether to circumcise your baby, and it’s something you want to do, for whatever reason, you shouldn’t worry that you’re depriving the baby of some pinnacle of the sexual experience. The baby will be fine. And on the other hand, if you don’t want to circumcise your baby, you shouldn’t worry too much that that’s going to be a big problem later in life, unless you think that baby might be at serious risk of AIDS, in which case you might want to reconsider. But generally my feeling is that sex is a really good and happy thing and people enjoy it in many different states.

On what evidence is she basing her conclusion that parents who make the decision aren’t depriving their babies sons of “some pinnacle of the sexual experience”? Every man she included in her story was circumcised as an adult, making it an intellectual leap to offer broad advice with no evidence. She couldn’t draw a definitive conclusion about adult circumcision, other than it was important why the man was circumcised as an adult. Yet, there’s a proclamation that parents who decide to have their sons circumcised shouldn’t worry, because the baby will be fine. I repeat: how does she know? It’s significant and it’s one reason why any potential harm from infant circumcision is dismissed.

Do not forget that Ms. Bazelon never addressed whether or not parents have the right to make a surgical decision, for whatever reason, because she’s drawing every conclusion from men who chose circumcision for themselves. It’s not acceptable for parents to alter their child’s son’s genitalia because it’s something they want to do.

As unproven as the first statement was, the second statement is just absurd. An intact penis will not harm the boy when he becomes a man. It should be obvious, but it’s not. Stating as much is admirable. But how is a parent supposed to reasonably know that the baby boy might be at serious risk of AIDS? What? I don’t get it. It takes a pretty prescient individual to know fifteen or more years in advance that the boy will engage in unprotected sex with many random people who also engage in unprotected sex. Again, what? That is beyond ridiculous.

It’s also worth mentioning that the studies involving circumcision as a preventive measure against HIV do not state that circumcision is 100% effective, only that it potentially reduces the risk of infection. The authors, although they fail to broadcast this point as widely, still recommend that circumcised men practice safe sex. Any marketing of circumcision as anything other than an additional measure to stop the spread of HIV. Of course, it’s also worth noting that the studies were conducted in Africa on adult men. The effect may be the same or better when infants are circumcised instead of waiting until adulthood, but to draw that conclusion from the data is irresponsible.

But so is conflating an inconclusive, unscientific study on men circumcised as adults with males circumcised as infants without their consent and without medical indication.