“I disagree” is mature; the delete key isn’t.

Last week I entered a short exchange with a pregnant woman about circumcision. I thought it might go well enough, although I’m well aware that when people get it in their head that genital cutting is reasonable, there is little anyone can do to restore sanity. The need to dig in and not confront truth seems quite powerful.

One particular phrase jumped out at me in her entry:

…oh, the terror that awaits him. I hope I don’t have to take Alec in to get his circ done…

If it’s a terror, and you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. Maybe there was some connection to reality in there. So I commented, asking why she would go through with it if she knows it’s a terror and clearly doesn’t want to do it. Simple enough, I thought. Her response?

That was a little more like a “kidding around” type of thing. I don’t think it’s a horror. If it was a serious problem, they wouldn’t circumcise babies. 🙂

It gets worse from there, which you can’t validate for yourself because she deleted the first two comments and my response. It was long, but I addressed each of her wishful thoughts with facts. Clearly she didn’t like being challenged, so she deleted the “debate”, presumably to believe it never happened. Like I said, the need to dig in and not confront truth seems quite powerful.

I won’t bore you with the details of my second comment for I’d have to excerpt everything in her comment for it to make sense. But I opened with this:

If it was a serious problem, they wouldn’t circumcise babies.

That’s not true. Just because something is easy does not mean it’s right or in the boy’s best interest. Doctors regularly removed tonsils, but now it’s clear that tonsils fight infection. It’s not a routine procedure now. Doctors wait until disease that can’t be treated with less invasive measures. Explore history and you’ll find examples of medical practices that are now known to be wrong. Our medicine is the most advanced in human history, but that doesn’t mean we know everything and won’t know more in the future. We will rediscover the foreskin’s value. Other developed countries have abandoned infant circumcision to no ill effect.

That should be enough, but another example came to my attention yesterday, via Ken Jennings. Consider:

Everyone who has even thought about exercising has heard the warnings about lactic acid. It builds up in your muscles. It is what makes your muscles burn. Its buildup is what makes your muscles tire and give out.

Coaches and personal trainers tell athletes and exercisers that they have to learn to work out at just below their “lactic threshold,” that point of diminishing returns when lactic acid starts to accumulate. Some athletes even have blood tests to find their personal lactic thresholds.

But that, it turns out, is all wrong. Lactic acid is actually a fuel, not a caustic waste product. Muscles make it deliberately, producing it from glucose, and they burn it to obtain energy. The reason trained athletes can perform so hard and so long is because their intense training causes their muscles to adapt so they more readily and efficiently absorb lactic acid.

How many more examples do we need from history? When we look back in the future at the madness that is forced circumcision, how will we view it? We’ve shown too much willingness to dig in despite facts for me to believe we’ll be harsh on ourselves. But history will not be kind.

Science changes, but even beyond the basic evidence-based facts, however flawed the methodology that generated them, common sense must prevail. That’s where the general idea “first, do no harm” originates. It’s one thing to believe the opposite about lactic acid. With infant circumcision a doctor willfully removes healthy tissue from a child for potential benefit, if the parents even care about the potential benefits. Too often the justification is purely social. Read many of the comments at Suburban Turmoil if you question how nonsensical some parents get when deciding to have someone cut their children sons. I will never understand why parents value the possible opinion of another, future person over the normal, intact penis of their son.

Of interest, from the article on lactic acid, I doubt I’d phrase my indictment this nicely, but the basic idea is applicable to circumcision.

“It’s one of the classic mistakes in the history of science,” Dr. [George A.] Brooks said.

That’s just a theory with limited permanent impact. What would we call medically unnecessary genital surgery on non-consenting individuals? Parental choice? Classic, indeed. And insane.

22 thoughts on ““I disagree” is mature; the delete key isn’t.”

  1. I don’t believe for one moment that Mommy Dearest was just “kidding around”.
    Infant circumcision itself is an act of blatant sadism and there’s never been any doubt in my mind that women who consent to it despite being fully informed are at least partly motivated by a latent desire to hurt men.

  2. I’m sure that’s true in some cases, although I don’t think it applies to the woman I mentioned here. She’s young and woefully misinformed on circumcision. The full text of her comment, despite being short, was full of illogical non-facts. She thinks she’s acting in her son’s best interest, but isn’t interested in the truth. She’s not alone in that approach to genital cutting.

  3. hi tony,
    this has nothing to do with your blog, but more about the circumcision stuff you wrote on suburban turmoil. i wanted to let you know how glad i was to see some of the points you made about not remembering it, and how females are at a greater risk for infections etc. much of what you said is what brought me to the decision to NOT circumcise my son when he arrived 2 years ago!! i just wanted to say thanks…now i’m gonna read your blog!
    ed. note: This comment moved from another entry since it references one of the websites mentioned in this post.

  4. Tony – not disagreeing with your point of view, just curious after reading a lot of your writing on circumcision…The debate on Suburban Turmoil led me here. I’ve asked my husband his thoughts on the issue. At the age of 38, he says he hasn’t ever given his circumcised penis a second thought and can’t imagine that sex might be more enjoyable with an intact foreskin. What sparked your passion on this subject?

  5. Karen,
    What sparked your passion on this subject?
    Personal experience. My circumcision is typical of what American men receive. For whatever reason, I’ve suffered complications from everyday living that other men either don’t experience or don’t talk about. I suspect it’s the latter, but it’s not really necessary for my position.
    These complications include skin tearing along the scar line and significantly reduced sensitivity over the years (keratinization). Also, my frenulum was removed, which is common among American circumcisions. The frenulum is the most sensitive part of the penis. This is much more analogous to the clitoris than the glans when comparing sensitivity. Imagine what would happen if we removed the clitoris. Same thing for men.
    Your husband’s opinion is not wrong. I’ll agree every time it’s brought up that most circumcised men don’t think about it and don’t care either way. That’s fine. I’m not interested in convincing men to feel bad or hate their own circumcision. Again, it’s not necessary for my opinion, since those men can’t do anything about it anyway. I’m certainly stuck, even though I’m in the minority who hate it.
    For what it’s worth, cultural conditioning tends to reinforce that. Men don’t want to believe that something harmful was done to their penis, so they buy into circumcision as normal. I’m not saying your husband falls into this category, just that we’re not taught to challenge the medical status quo. Essentially, we believe that the reality of circumcision is supposed to be a feature, not a mistake.
    You may have heard the ability to last longer during sex described as a benefit of circumcision. That’s a mistake. The ability to last longer comes from reduced sensitivity because many nerve endings were cut away with the foreskin, and possibly the frenulum. Who cares how long the man lasts if he can’t feel anything. If he can’t feel anything, he’ll just thrust harder and longer to feel something. I suspect women wouldn’t care for that, if they thought of it that way.
    (Soap box time… sorry if this is more than you wanted.)
    From a political standpoint, I think circumcision on non-consenting individuals (males under 18, in this case – we already protect girls) should be illegal. The issue is that each person is born with the same rights, which includes the right to bodily integrity and to be free from harm. That is a universal human right and requires more than just good intentions. We treat girls for medical issues without cutting their genitals, going so far as to outlaw female circumcision for non-medical reasons (cultural, religious). If those medical problems arise with boys, we can treat them the same. There is no justification for elective circumcision until the male decides for himself that he wants it.
    Essentially, we can’t know what the male will prefer. Most will not care, but those of us who do can’t fix our situation. If left intact and he hates it, the male can get himself circumcised. This is not dependent on some tipping point number of males who hate their circumcision. Human rights aren’t subject to the opinion of others.

  6. Thanks for your answer, Tony. I agree with your position against infant circumcision, if only for the fact that it is purely cosmetic. My husband doesn’t particularly favor the practice. He just has never experienced any problems, so he hasn’t thought about it. I think it’s typical that a man doesn’t really think about it much until put in the position of making the decision for his son. I was just curious because, as far as I can tell, you haven’t had to make the choice yet. The only previous reference I noticed that provided any insight was a passing comment that your girlfriend would have preferred you were intact. You don’t seem particularly insecure, so I assumed I missed something. Thanks again for sharing.
    By the way, Scott, I think you are way off base. First, obviously, women aren’t the only ones involved in the decision to circumcise. Secondly, most women don’t have any desire, latent or otherwise, to hurt men, much less their innocent sons. “Fully informed” is the problem. There is so much contradictory information out there.

  7. Karen,
    I do not have children, but obviously, if I have any sons in the future, I will not make their decision for them.
    My girlfriend has stated that she is fine with me any way I am, but understands how important it is to me, as well as how it affects her because of the physical difference. I don’t mean to imply that she’s shallow enough to express dissatisfaction. I think that’s clear, but I’ll add it just to defend her from my clumsy wording of the past.

  8. “She thinks she’s acting in her son’s best interest, but isn’t interested in the truth.”
    Beware the curiously incurious. People who display a thoroughgoing disinterest in the truth are signaling that there’s something going on beyond what’s apparent.
    The fact that she deleted your comments and wasn’t even willing to discuss the matter aside from making a few trite remarks is a strong indication of the existence of what’s known (in legal circles) as a “consciousness of guilt”. This, in itself, is a reason to be suspicious.
    If this woman was just “kidding around” as she says and has no doubt about the rectitude of her decision to circumcise her son then why would she be so nervous about possibly having to witness the dirty deed? I think it’s fair to say that there’s something she’s not telling us and the same applies to other women who behave like her.

  9. “By the way, Scott, i think you are way off base.”
    I don’t think I’m off base at all.
    “First, obviously, women aren’t the only ones involved in the decision to circumcise.”
    Typically, women ARE the ones who make the decision while their husbands sit on the sidelines or aren’t even consulted.
    “Secondly, most women don’t have any desire, latent or otherwise, to hurt men, much less their innocent sons.”
    I’d like to believe that but I’m confronted with what I see as a peculiar behavioral pattern that doesn’t accord with that belief.
    Logically, since women aren’t directly affected by circumcision, they should be able to see this practice clearly for what it is (genital mutilation), yet many of them insist they don’t.
    At the very least they are displaying a callous indifference toward the suffering of males as compared to their attitude toward the suffering of females with regard to female circumcision. You can read into this whatever you like, I suppose, but I find it to be very disturbing and very suspect.
    “‘Fully informed’ is the problem.”
    The old excuse about not being fully informed is quickly melting away. This is the Internet age and truthful information about circumcision is now freely available to anyone who wants it.
    The woman we’re discussing here, in particular, had a computer and an Internet connection and thus, in my view, no innocent reason for her ignorance.
    “There is so much contradictory information out there.”
    I know that but I still think that most adults of average intelligence are capable of spotting the BS.

  10. “First, obviously, women aren’t the only ones involved in the decision to circumcise.”
    “Typically, women ARE the ones who make the decision while their husbands sit on the sidelines or aren’t even consulted.”
    Check out the discussions on “mommy blogs.” Many, many women leave this one up to dad on the theory that they don’t have the anatomy. In my personal experience with siblings and peers, I do not know of a single case in which the child’s father was not the ultimate decision maker. In the case that most horrifies me, the mother is relatively uneducated while the father has a BA from Columbia & a JD from Georgetown. He did not have his son circumcised at birth because he thought he wasn’t circumcised. When his son was 6 and still wasn’t like him, he realized that he actually was the one who was different and had his son cut.
    I believe women have an obligation to protect their children and that it shouldn’t be a unilateral decision on either parent’s part. That doesn’t change the fact that MEN are very frequently the ones who make the decision to circumcise their sons.
    “There is so much contradictory information out there.”
    “I know that but I still think that most adults of average intelligence are capable of spotting the BS.”
    Parents should be able to and do trust their doctors and associations like the AMA & AAP. No one should trust info they find on the internet if they don’t know the source. I mean, Penn & Teller’s video (frequently referenced in anti-circ circles) is compelling, but look at the source. I love Penn’s radio show and agree with his politics, but I can certainly understand why a mother wouldn’t look at him as a definitive source for medical information. He is an entertainer. He calls “it” a “dick” and a “cock.” When trusted sources stand up and say it should not and will not be done routinely, parents won’t have an excuse to be confused. In the meantime, even those with at least average intelligence, internet access and an obligation to do their research are entitled to be confused.
    I’m sorry you have such a low opinion of women. You would probably be really disappointed to know most of us joke about men but generally adore them. Even poor misguided Freud had to admit that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

  11. “Many, many women leave this one up to dad on the theory that they don’t have the anatomy.”
    This is a classic cop-out and an extremely infuriating one at that.
    I’ve seen many instances where women “defer” (or pretend to “defer”) to their husbands on this issue but in each case it was clear to me that the women who did this were already leaning in favor of circumcision and were simply trying to hide behind their husbands.
    The really disgusting thing about these women was that even though their husbands obviously had no strong opinion about circumcision either way, instead of using the opportunity to protect their sons from circumcision, they just recruited their husbands as a sock puppet to passively rubber-stamp the decision they’d basically already made.
    “No one should trust info they find on the internet if they don’t know the source.”
    Are you saying that only “official” sources should be trusted despite the fact that many of them (especially in the US) have been playing politics with this issue and have a history of being less than totally honest? Sorry, I can’t agree with that.
    What about NOCIRC? Even though their information is 100% true and verifiable, are you going to tell me people should ignore it because it’s not from an “official” source?
    I can’t imagine any adult of average intelligence watching a video of an actual infant circumcision (like the one that was shown on Penn & Teller) without instantly realizing that something very wrong was taking place. It just isn’t humanly possible.
    “I’m sorry you have such a low opinion of women.”
    My opinion of women who protect their sons from circumcision is very high, thank you. It’s the ones who have access to truthful information but who don’t protect their sons that I have a low opinion of.
    [Tony says: This will not win arguments. The point is not that they are disgusting, but that their decision is disgusting. Anyone not opposed to circumcision will see you as a fringe lunatic for saying “[t]he really disgusting thing about these women,” and probably incorrectly view you as someone who hates women. They will also likely indict everyone against circumcision as subscribing to this incorrect approach. This does not help.

    I think it’s too narrow to focus on this scenario. Both parents can and do play either role in the decision to circumcise. I’ve seen as many scenarios where the father is gung-ho to circumcise, and the mother challenges him.

    Your last paragraph is a more nuanced position than above. The nuance is important.

    Update: My comments updated to better reflect my points based on Scott’s comments.

    Second Update: My comments moved to the end of this comment per Scott’s request. Every word before “Tony says” was written by Scott.]

  12. For the sake of clarity, I’d like to amend one sentence in my original comment: when I said that women who consent to circumcision despite being fully informed are at least partly motivated by a “latent desire to hurt men”, what I really meant (and should’ve said) was a “latent hostility toward men” or, in other words, “misandry”, as it’s sometimes called.

  13. “The point is not that they are disgusting, but that their decision is disgusting.”
    No, the point is that their behavior is disgusting. And I didn’t say “they are disgusting”. That’s a mischaracterization.
    “Anyone not opposed to circumcision will see you as a fringe lunatic for saying that women are disgusting, and probably as someone who hates women”.
    I did NOT say “women (as in “all women”) are disgusting”. I was specifically referring to those women who behave in the manner I described above and the reference was to their behavior.
    I love women who protect their sons from circumcision but I don’t love women who don’t protect their sons. I tried to make that as clear as I could in my last statement. I fail to see how this makes me a woman hater.
    Men certainly do bear a large share of the blame for allowing their sons to be circumcised but it’s quite obvious to me what’s driving their behavior: ego and self-esteem. Ego and self-esteem, however, aren’t factors in the case of women since women aren’t circumcised and I’ve been unable to come up with what I’d consider to be a satisfactory explanation for their behavior other than the one I already alluded to.

  14. Note to Tony: Please consider doing away with this “Tony says” stuff. It’s kind of rude and it’s also confusing since it inserts words into the text of my response that I didn’t write.

  15. I don’t think you hate all women, and I knew you were only talking about those women who circumcise. That came through with these women. But I don’t think my statement was a mischaracterization. I read your statement as a poor word choice, which I committed in my response. I apologize for my clunky wording. I’ve updated my comments to better reflect what I meant.
    To make it equally clear, though, this is what I think you implied:
    The really disgusting thing about these women’s decision to circumcise was that even though their husbands …
    Or some variant of that.

  16. I know it’s a break from etiquette, and I did not mean it to be rude. I only included that device there because I wanted the clarification immediately. I tried to make it as clear as possible that you did not write those words.

  17. “I tried to make it as clear as possible that you did not write those words.”
    The best way to make it clear that I didn’t write those words is to put them in a separately posted response with your name attached to it.
    Suppose I wanted to use a combination of boldfacing and italics somewhere in my message as you did in your “Tony says” text? I wouldn’t be able to anymore because if I did people might confuse what I was saying with your intrusive remarks. This isn’t fair to me or your other commenters.
    I see that you’ve now edited your remarks in such a way as to render my quotation of them invalid (and my response to them as well). This isn’t fair either.

  18. Tony, don’t worry too much about having your comments deleted. I just flipped through that girl’s whole LJ, and she’s got no comments for any of her posts. She’s 20 years old, still pining for her ex-boyfriend, living with her parents, and seems totally clueless about pregnancy and parenting in general. One post I caught had her bemoaning her lack of beer-drinking-football-weekends. *headdesk*
    As long as I’ve been reading Suburban Turmoil, I’d say that your comments there will be *much much* better considered.
    You can’t get through to people who think that what they’ve known in life is the *only* thing out there. Lindsay isn’t one of those, but it’s pretty obvious that the originally linked girl is.

  19. Meg,
    I came to the same conclusion as you did about that woman. There’s more there, which I’ll briefly discuss later today.
    As for Lindsay at Suburban Turmoil, I got the impression that she’ll consider my comments, which is all I can do in this context. That’s why I tried to remain civil. (Actually, I remain civil because it’s stupid to start name-calling. It would just make me look like irrational.) That’s for the reassurance that my effort will be considered, though.

  20. I know you said you didn’t mean to be rude with your “Tony says” remarks, but I still consider the two paragraphs that interrupt my comment to be overtly disrespectful.
    I’d like to request that you move those paragraphs to the bottom of my comment (after my last statement) so they don’t break up the body of my response. If you want, you can mark the word or sentence in my response that those paragraphs refer to with an asterisk or such.

  21. Done. Let me know if there’s any revision you want. I’d change everything to a separate comment, but then the conversation would make no sense.
    I did not mean to disrespect you or your words. I apologize for any I created. In the future, I will refrain from using the device in the future on your comments.

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