Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Watch me torpedo my burgeoning Congressional campaign.

Rates of cancer¹ of the penis and prostate are higher in men who have intact foreskins, and rates of cancer of the cervix are higher in their female partners.

A range of other conditions of the penis are more frequent, including inflammatory conditions of the skin, and phimosis, a narrowing of the opening the foreskin that prevents it being retracted and makes sex painful.

There’s a one-in-three chance of an uncircumcised {sic] man developing one or more of these conditions over his lifetime, says [Brian] Morris.

That’s why circumcision is routine in infant boys in cultures all over the world (Hispanics, Europeans and Asians being a notable exception).

Normally I would tag an article like this under the primary category of “Circumcision“. Instead, I’ve linked this drivel where it belongs, under Propaganda. I’ve rarely seen a more flagrant example. Peter Lavelle is the propagandist here, as evidenced by trotting out the medical claim that “[m]ost women prefer a circumcised penis for appearance and hygiene.” He also mentions how males suffer from smegma, delicately omitting the fact that women also develop smegma if they don’t wash regularly. I can’t say I’m surprised, though, because he’s relying on Morris as his source. Morris is a propagandist, too, as I’ll highlight in a moment.

I haven’t seen his statistic for a two-in-three chance that an intact male will avoid one or more of those conditions in his lifetime. The risk of any of those problems is quite low, regardless of a male’s circumcision status. The true measure of whether or not circumcision is justified for potential medical benefits is the actual medical need for circumcision, not the risk of having something go wrong with the foreskin. Phimosis (not the same as a non-retractile foreskin) is the “one absolute indication” for circumcision². The risk that a male will medically need circumcision is roughly 1%. That’s a far cry from Morris’ irrelevant 33% statistic.

As for the last claim, that circumcision is common except among Hispanics, Europeans and Asians, that excludes more than 5,000,000,000 people from this “common” practice. That’s a convenient oversight. And of the remaining cultures who commonly practice non-therapeutic circumcision, many of them also practice female genital cutting. Unless Lavelle or Morris wish to justify that on the same majoritarian illogic, this statistic is not only damning to them, it’s intellectually worthless.

In addition to being a poor ethicist, he’s also a terrible historian. To pretend that circumcision developed as a result of concern for medical risks is to ignore facts. England and the United States, the initiators of mass non-therapeutic infant circumcision, concerned themselves only with the belief that circumcision would prevent the “medical” problem of masturbation. This desire included interference with female genitals. The medical excuses arrived later, but only to justify what was already occurring for the original and newer, xenophobic reasons.

As to Morris’ intellectual prowess, consider “Circumcision Prevents Infibulation” (link here:

Some ancient cultures and some even today practice infibulation (drawing a ring or similar device through the prepuce or otherwise occluding it for the principal purpose of making coition impossible) [517]. A foreskin was thus a prerequisite for infibulation. It is, moreover, the opposite of circumcision. Infibulation was espoused in Europe and Britain in previous centuries as a way of reducing population growth amongst the poor and, possibly for some, to prevent masturbation [517].

Got that? It’s okay to practice one ethical violation because it precludes another ethical violation. A journey through the rest of his site will reveal a similar lack of concern for ethics, with an equally robust disregard for inconvenient truth.

Those of us advocating against unnecessary forced genital cutting have no problem with adults choosing it for themselves, nor do we need to convince men who were circumcised as children who are now indifferent or happy about it that they should believe differently about their own genitals. Those who advocate for genital cutting (or at least illegitimate parental choice) always demand that we understand that circumcision’s desirability is objectively identifiable, which is a fill-in for their subjective tastes and preferences as the only valid tastes and preferences, including the evaluation of risk. I’m entitled to my opinion, as long as it’s theirs. Or more precisely, I’m entitled to my opinion as long as it’s my parents’ opinion. If I disagree about my body, I’m wrong. Manipulating facts to arrive there is propaganda.

¹ It is unethical to circumcise infants to not-necessarily prevent penile cancer in older adults? Particularly when the risk of penile cancer is approximately 1/100,000. The risk of serious complications from “routine” circumcision is higher. And the risk in intact Western countries is comparable. Foreskins aren’t the problem.

² As the link notes, this is unusual before 5 years of age.

3 thoughts on “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics”

  1. Brain Morris is clearly unethical, and a lier. His problem is that this past year the last 2 Australian states have dropped circumcision from their covered medical services and the Tasmanian Children’s Commissioner, Paul Mason, received the support of the Australian Medical Association to legislate a ban on non-medically (non-religious) indicated circumcision. Expect to see more BS spewing from him in the near future. Especially if Paul Mason gets a Bill before their Parliament. I sent a letter in support to Paul I encourage others to do the same if time permits.

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