If You Can’t Beat Them, Resort to Name-Calling?

There’s a new meme popular among advocates of routine infant circumcision referring to those who oppose routine infant circumcision as “foreskin fetishists”. It’s not a surprising strategy because it’s the type of tactic deployed when one is on the wrong side of logic and facts. It’s been deployed against me, and I’ve seen it deployed as a general tactic. It’s unwise to the point of being odd, since it’s so easy to dismiss with a simple observation. But it’s clear those who use it do so because they realize that most people believe what they’re told if it fits their opinions, not what fits with reality. Smear your opponent and some will buy it.

So, the claim itself. I support the right for each male to choose for himself. If he chooses circumcision for any reason, that’s his right. If he chooses against circumcision for any reason, that’s his right. My only concern is that each healthy child be left his choice for when he can consent or refuse.

Circumcision advocates believe that parents should choose. They are wrong, for the many logical reasons I continue to write about. This isn’t the place to rehash most of those directly. However, there is one that is relevant. I’ll point to a claim by Professor Brian Morris, linked in the entry I posted yesterday.

Getting circumcised will result in:

• A penis that is regarded by most as being more attractive.

And what about Dr. Edgar Schoen?

Women’s Preference, Sexual Activity, Psych Effect:

Sexual function is not adversely effected by NC. On the contrary, published evidence shows that circumcised men have a wider variety of sexual activity, and women prefer circumcised men, mainly because of better genital hygiene.

I can find any number of further examples, but the point should be clear. If there are fetishists, which side contains the fetishists? Is it those who advocate for each male to choose for himself for his reasons or those who believe that parents may impose unnecessary surgery on their son’s genitals because they believe his future partner(s) will find his circumcised penis more sexually appealing?

Anyone who tosses this meme around is engaging in propaganda.


For an example, consider this entry from Dr. Amy Tuteur. She labels herself “The Skeptical OB”, but it will be clear that she is hardly skeptical in any meaningful way on circumcision. She opens:

A visitor from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the most important part of the human body is the foreskin. It is, after all, the only part of the body that has multiple organizations devoted to its preservation in the natural state. The visitor might get the impression that the choice of circumcision is a fateful choice with profound implications for the rest of life.

It is the only part of the body that has multiple organizations devoted to its preservation in the natural state because it is the only body part we regularly remove from non-consenting individuals in its natural (i.e. healthy) state.

… Foreskin fetishists also employ inflammatory language to express their judgmentalism. Circumcision is “mutilation” and parents who choose to circumcise their sons are “mutilators”.

Does fetishist qualify as “inflammatory language”?

The foreskin fetishists are so obsessed with the foreskin that they actually dare to advance the misogynistic claim that male circumcision is analogous to female genital mutilation, in other words, that the foreskin is the analogue of the clitoris. The male analogue of clitoridectomy is is amputation of the penis. Comparing circumcision to clitoridectomy is like comparing ear piercing to having your ears cut off.

My claim is that unnecessary genital cutting on a healthy, non-consenting individual is wrong. Gender makes no difference to that principle. That is a different, and more fundamental, claim than what Dr. Tuteur puts forth for people who state (accurately) that female and male genital cutting are comparable.

She adds to this in the comments:

The comparison is essentially misogynistic. FMG exists specifically to prevent female sexual activity by permanently removing the possibility of sexual enjoyment. Male circumcision is performed for religious reasons or for medical benefits. It has nothing to do with sexual satisfaction, and is certainly not meant to interfere in any way with male sexual satisfaction.

Every claim in that comment is incorrect. There is no misogyny in stating that males and females possess equal human rights. FGM exists for many reasons and in different forms, not all of them intended to permanently remove the possibility of sexual enjoyment. (They may still do that, and probably do in most cases. But that’s obvious because parental intent does not guarantee good outcomes, another point not specific to the gender of the recipient.) Male circumcision is also performed so that parents don’t have to learn how to care for a normal penis or so that the son will look like the father or so the mean kids won’t pick on him in the locker room or because his parents think women won’t sleep with him if he has his foreskin. The latter point is clearly about sexual satisfaction. And whether or not it is meant to interfere is subordinate to the truth that it interferes with male sexual satisfaction. That interference could be positive, negative, or neutral, but only the male himself can make the relevant determination to that subjective question.

Anti-circ activists like to claim that there only risks and no benefits to circumcision, but that is not true.

Dr. Tuteur links to zero sources making this claim. I don’t doubt that some people are making that claim. People on both sides make ridiculous claims. Still, if one wants to make a sweeping claim, defend it with evidence.

Yesterday, I wrote that “[t]he reduction in UTI risk is likely real. The reduction in HIV-infection risk is likely real, at least in the short-term. And so on. I accept this.” This is not complicated, but as I added after that statement, it is not enough to dismiss the fact that the child is healthy at the time of the surgery. That makes the ethical evaluation the primary focus. Non-therapeutic circumcision fails this test. Yet Dr. Tuteur seems uninterested in anything more than potential benefits as an excuse to permit parents to make the decision.

She defends this opinion in the comments:

Parents have the right to consent to ANY surgery, brain surgery, heart surgery, so consenting to removal of the foreskin is hardly a big deal. Moreover parents have the right to consent to piercing, removal of birth marks and other forms of body modification.

Do parents have the right to consent to non-therapeutic brain or heart surgery for their healthy children? A heart stent for a 2-year-old because he might have problems at 50?

The core evaluation is very simple. If the child is healthy, no surgery is indicated or justifiable. Chasing benefits for children is an illogical path that can be pursued to other irrational avenues and on both genders. It has no place in the proxy decision-making of parents for the geni
tals of their male children, as we already understand clearly for female children.

9 thoughts on “If You Can’t Beat Them, Resort to Name-Calling?”

  1. Hi Tony,
    Hm. Here’s an interesting set of definitions for the word fetish
    Based on those definitions, THEY are the ones with a fetish, not us. We just think a normal body should be left alone for the owner of it.
    I like to say “circumfetishists”, but you’re right, I’m not the one losing the argument, so I’ll refrain from name calling.
    Great to meet you in DC 🙂

  2. Caroline,
    Thanks for stopping by. It was great to meet you, too.
    I mulled over this entry in my head last night and realized I should add a caveat. Of course there are fetishists, on both sides. Put together a large enough group of people and you’ll find characteristics that may reflect badly. Those characteristics for the individual may not fully or accurately reflect motive, nor does it indict the entire group.
    Those who call people names, on either side, merely seek to smear the target’s motive and character, not to offer a rebuttal to the target’s argument. As I said, I’m confident enough in my ideas to refrain from such absurd generalizations.
    As for Schoen, I read his book. I seem to be one of the few against circumcision who has, unfortunately. Know thy “enemy”. It’s a pathetic, unsurprising piece of propaganda, full of statistics taken out of context, irrational fears and pure garbage. He goes so far as to suggest that circumcision in America is patriotic. Anyone who gives him any credibility should not be trusted.

  3. Anyone may have a preference – many heterosexual men prefer large breasts and the women who have them. Fetishism – preferring the thing over the person – seems to be a male thing. There are undoubtedly fetishists on both sides of the circumcision divide, as well as people with preferences. (One could argue that to prefer a natural penis is, well, natural, and to prefer a modified one is akin to the exotic preferences for amputated limbs, but I don’t know if that argument would achieve anything useful. Circumcision is so common in some places, so rare in others, that one can equally argue that one is just a preference for the familiar, the other a preference for the exotic, with which is which depending on where you are.)
    But there is a sub-group of circumcision-fetishists that has no foreskin-equivalent, and that is those who sexualise the operation itself. And that, depending on the age and unwillingness of those being circumcised, can lead us into areas it is decidely icky to go.

  4. Hugh,
    Absolutely agree, on all points. You last point, in particular, is useful because one of the links floating around recently was clearly a fetish site focused on the operation. You saw that discussion, so for general purposes, I discussed this at length in the comments to this entry.

  5. Thanks for such a positive post on circumcision. The anti-circs seem to think everyone agrees with them. Have you noticed that they are becoming more hysterical as the scientific evidence grows about the health value of male circumcision on both males and their female partners? As you say, if you can’t win on the evidence, just try to scream louder!
    [Ed. note: Link removed because this comment is obviously spam, as I explain in the next comment.]

  6. Provoking Debate,
    You did not bother to notice that I am one of those “anti-circs” you criticize, although I know that not everyone agrees with me. You imagine that I am hysterical, without bothering to read my arguments. You imply that I deny the scientific evidence, without bothering to read my recent statement to the contrary. I stated:

    Infant circumcision is a surgical procedure performed without medical need because it offers potential health benefits. The latter defense is what proponents obsess on, as the author does here. But just to prove that the author’s last claim is ad hominem deployed to prop up her indefensible case, there are potential advantages to being circumcised as an infant. The reduction in UTI risk is likely real. The reduction in HIV-infection risk is likely real, at least in the short-term. And so on. I accept this.

    I added this, because it is the irrefutable counter to what you want to pretend is reality:

    But so what? That gives no validity to prophylactic infant male circumcision. There are better, more effective, less invasive ways to achieve every single benefit or to treat the maladies in the unlikely instances where they occur. The objective health is what matters for proxy consent for a child. Is the intervention indicated and necessary? Infant circumcision fails this core test. Moving forward is unethical because objective reality trumps the subjective chase for justifications.

    As you prove, if you can’t win on the evidence, pretend that those who disagree aren’t making coherent, iron-clad arguments against the hysterical position that we should rush to circumcise every healthy infant male.

  7. Provoking Debate Said:
    As you say, if you can’t win on the evidence, just try to scream louder!

    Clearly you haven’t read Tony’s posts, that isn’t what he said at all. Although, if you’re true to your name,feel free to point out whatever problems you perceive in one of the many recent posts on this topic; you’ll be given a fair shake. There are many to choose from. So, how about proving you can think critically, independently, and civilly rather than just acting like a troll.

  8. I come under Dr. Amy’s wrathful writing quite frequently, as do many home birth midwives. We have learned a few things about dealing with her:
    1. if she writes about you in a demeaning way, it’s a big compliment because she’s a well-known nut
    2. she doesn’t have much of a following until she pisses someone off and they react. Then, they drive people to her site which increases her ratings. Important strategy, never link to or refer to her and then she doesn’t go up in Google ratings.
    3. she is probably paid by physicians group to write this outrageous crap so, really, ignore her and consider the source.
    Thanks for speaking up for babies and for being part of the end of circumcision.
    Gloria Lemay, Vancouver BC

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