Monday, August 27, 2012

Top Five refutations for AAP "evidence" for benefits of circumcision


Why do these people want to cut baby penises so desperately?  What is wrong with them?  Their devotion to cutting child sex organs is simply fanatical.

The "evidence" the AAP has put forward in support of circumcision is so poorly supported they might as well have built a house of cards on a Florida beach in hurricane season.  Just to prove that yours truly will now, despite my utter lack of medical training, refute some of the reasons the AAP has given for circumcision.  I know it seems crazy but you don't need years of med school to figure this out.  It just requires a little empathy, some ethics, and the ability to think for yourself.

1)  "Circumcision helps prevent HIV/AIDS"
I placed this at number one because physicians developed this idea in the hopes it would really grab people.  HIV is not as scary of a subject as it was in the '80s and early '90s, but the idea that it can be prevented still gets people's attention.  The problem is the studies they are basing this claim on are flawed.  Don't even worry about the numerous articles in academic journals refuting the HIV/circumcision studies done in Africa, JUST USE YOUR BRAIN.  The United States has six times the HIV rate of Sweden and 3 times the HIV rate of the Netherlands yet a far higher circumcision rate than either of those predominantly intact countries.  Comparisons with other industrialized European nations yield the same outcome.  What happened there?  If circumcision really helped prevent HIV than Europe with all of its intact penises should have a higher infection rate than the thoroughly circumcised US shouldn't it? 
The truth is circumcision does NOT help prevent HIV.  Just ask all the circumcised men in the US that are infected with HIV.  If you want to prevent HIV transmission wear a condom.

2)  "Circumcision helps prevent the spread of HPV"
Since when do we as a society perform surgery on infants without their consent for the sake of public health initiatives?  If it was discovered that the female labia helped promote the spread of HPV would the AAP promote the removal of the labia at birth?  Oh heavens no that would be genital mutilation.  How is removing part of a baby boy's penis any different? 

3)  "Intact penises are driving up health care costs"
Hmmm.  This got me thinking: how much does our country spend on breast cancer?  I'm judging a lot just based on all the walks and ribbons that are out there.  I'll bet if we removed breasts at birth that would save billions in health care costs.  What, no one thinks that's a good idea?  How about we remove everyone's appendix after birth so they don't have to worry about paying for emergency appendectomies in the future?

4)  "Circumcision prevents UTIs"
Seriously?!?!?! This is the reason Susan Blank leads with on her interview that was aired on NPR this morning?  You're telling me the hope of preventing a minor infection is reason enough to perform surgery on a baby without his consent and remove part of his body that he needs for healthy sexual functioning?  Are these people crazy?  If they found out removing one of the male's testicles would forever cure the common cold, would you sign your baby up?  Would you sign yourself up?  How about your earlobe?  What parts of your body are you willing to have cut off for some supposed medical benefit?  It's a tough call isn't it?  It's better to let your son make his own decisions about which parts of his body he wants to remove.

5)  "Circumcision prevents penile cancer"
Hmmm.  I've heard mastectomies prevent the return of breast cancer but we don't do those at birth do we?  I'll bet removing a boy's testicles at birth would prevent testicular cancer.  What, you say he needs his testicles for healthy sexual functioning?  News flash: he needs his foreskin for that too!  Circumcision is the removal of healthy tissue that men need for good sexual functioning.  In what other case do doctors remove healthy tissue to prevent cancer?  I don't see anyone signing up for a proactive colostomy and TONS of people die of colon cancer. 

The bottom line is male circumcision is something that, unfortunately, has been around for many years and people, usually ones that are themselves cut and/or do the cutting, are always looking for reasons to justify circumcision to salvage their ego and pad their wallets.  Monetary concerns and ego drive the AAP's decision today NOT what is best for our sons.  If you circumcise your child you take away his right to his whole body and you will forever alter his sexual identity and experiences.  If you leave your child intact he can make his own choices about his body.  If he disagrees with your decision then when he's 18 he can sign up for circumcision if he chooses.  If you circumcise him at birth and he disagrees when he grows up there is nothing you can do to return that part of his body to him.  (By the time he asks you where his foreskin went it will have already been sold for research or skin cream.)

This is not an issue of medical evidence.  This is an issue of ethics.  Do you trust doctors/mohels that are cut themselves and make money from cutting babies or do you trust independent researchers from intact countries and the millions of unpaid Intactivists working every day to spread information about why circumcision is wrong?  Circumcision is yet another place to apply that old cliche: Follow the money.

Do I trust doctors?  Sometimes.  I trust a doctor to treat my trauma in an ER if I'm in a car accident.  I trust him/her to mend my child's broken bone.  But I always keep in mind that not all that long ago doctors used to say smoking was good for you.  Doctors also used to put icepicks in people's brains to "cure" mental illness.  And let's not forget they also used to think circumcision could "cure" masturbation or epilepsy.  Doctors make mistakes just like other people do, especially when their own paychecks are involved.

Upton Sinclair: 'It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.'

Monday, August 20, 2012

Moms who regret circumcising

Many of us speak out about things that are important to us but how many of us are brave enough to speak out about a mistake we made?  This is one of the most powerful ways to create change in my opinion, but it's unfortunately rare because most humans (myself included :)) are psychologically hard-wired to not enjoy admitting they are wrong.  And therein lies one of the many challenges in stopping the practice of routine infant circumcision in the United States.  Most people that have circumcised their sons are not particularly interested in considering the fact that they might have made a mistake.  After all, it's done now, they can't take it back, why should they make themselves uncomfortable by considering the fact that they as a parent signed off on something that did real harm to their child?  And so most of these parents go out of their way not to think about circumcision.  They trivialize the procedure, mocking those that make a "big deal" out of it.  Others advocate circumcision to pregnant family members and friends so that they can feel more secure about what they've already done to their child.  After all, if their friend/relative doesn't circumcise his/her child that's going to force them to think about what they've done and then they'll feel uncomfortable.  It's frightening the lengths people will go to just to avoid facing the horror of what they've done to their own child.  These people are perpetuating a violent cycle just so they can avoid taking responsibility for their part in it.

But this post is not about those people.  It is about the people that are really truly special and unique.  The people who are brave enough to unflinchingly face a horrible mistake they made with their child and then speak out about it no matter how much much pain it may cause them to think and talk about it.  When I talk to people about circumcision I use a variety of different methods depending on the parent and how well I know them, but none of the methods I use are as powerful as a loving mother standing up and saying, "I circumcised my son.  I regret it every day and this is why."  There is no mother that can ignore such a statement.  She may argue but she cannot ignore.

Mothers who speak out about circumcision regret not only save future sons, they do honor to their own sons and men like me who are survivors of circumcision.  They validate how what we have gone through is wrong and they give us, all of us, the apology we always deserved and never got.  I didn't have the best experience when I tried to talk to my mother about circumcision.  (I'll save the gory details for another post.)  I actually felt worse for a while after talking to her about it, but every time I hear Jenny Vaughn or Marilyn Milos or any of these other brave moms speak up about how they wish they had not circumcised their sons it helps me heal.  When I hear about the heartfelt apologies they offered their children it makes me feel better.  When I hear about the work they do for Intactivism it gives me hope.  They are the people who pave the way for others to feel safe enough and brave enough to speak out against circumcision.  And they do this horrifically difficult thing simply because it is the right thing to do.

I feel honored to work alongside these women as an Intactivist and call some of them my friends.  They have helped me in my personal healing, in becoming an Intactivist, and in my journey as a parent.  Thanks in part to them I've come to accept that ALL of us make mistakes as parents and, thankfully, our children recover just fine from most of them.  The key is what you do about the mistake.  If you deny it to protect yourself the hurt to the child is increased exponentially.  If you admit it and apologize the child receives the validation he needs to heal and to realize that even the most devoted mothers and fathers make mistakes.  Circumcision is a mistake that the US has been lying to itself about for decades.  It's time more people were brave enough to face it head on and call circumcision out for what it is: violence against children.  It cannot be cloaked in religion and imagined medical benefits.  It is ALWAYS violence, pure and simple.   

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Circumcision: The Hidden Hurt

Circumcision hurts.  I know it sounds crazy but when you take a knife to a baby's penis it DOES hurt the little guy.  In more ways than one.  Modern medicine has finally acknowledged that yes babies can experience pain.  Um yeah.  Thanks for clearing that up for us.  The problem with circumcision though (one of the many) is that some of the worst pain, the most lasting effects of it, are hidden from view and experienced on a deep internal level that can affect the boy and then the man's very identity. 

It's been a while since I've spoken from personal experience on a post and I think it's necessary here.  Rather than telling you how I think psychological trauma affects survivors of circumcision I'd rather tell you what my personal experience was.  Unfortunately I think it is all too familiar of a story.

I did not even know what circumcision meant until early adolescence.  My parents had purchased this puberty picture book called "What's happening to me" book and foisted it upon me.  For those who aren't familiar this came out in the 70s I think and was, for its time, a progressive approach to sharing information about puberty with kids.  It was the follow up to the "Where Did I Come From" book.  Circumcision received a one page treatment in "What's Happening To Me."  There was an illustration of two guys in a shower, one cut one uncut.  I don't remember exactly what the text said but it was something along the lines of "some guys are circumcised, some aren't; either is fine."  Interesting that there wasn't any effort made to justify the act of circumcision, but then again they didn't really explain what circumcision really did either; the authors almost made it sound like you were born that way.  Needless to say I had some questions about this.

My mother reported that I had been circumcised because it was "cleaner."  She noted that Jews also practiced circumcision.  For some reason the latter comforted me.  I thought in my gentile and rather ethnocentric young mind, "Well, Jews seem pretty smart and they wear those cool hats so circumcision can't be too bad of a thing."  Years passed and I thought no more about it.  It wasn't until we learned my wife was pregnant with a son that the subject reared its ugly head once more.  When she asked me about circumcision I replied that I didn't think that was something I could do to my son, but at the time I wasn't even thinking about how I felt about it having been done to me personally.  That didn't come until after he was born and left intact.  But boy let me tell you, once you really start thinking about the fact that part of your body is missing because it was removed without your consent it becomes kind of hard to let it go.

Do I feel traumatized?  Hmmm.  I don't have nightmares like many trauma survivors do but I have read that many small children who are circed experience night terrors and I was told I had those as a small child.  Does my penis still work ok?  Yes, I never thought it worked poorly to begin with, but since I've started restoring my foreskin I have had MUCH more sensation and lubrication during sex.  But here's the rub: before I started restoring I had no idea what I was missing.  And this is why circumcision is such an insidious kind of violence.  Survivors of circumcision don't know there's anything wrong with them because they don't remember a time when they had a foreskin.  Consequently they have no reference point for what sex ought to feel like.  They think it's normal to not be able to feel much besides the climax.  They think it's normal to have to use lubricant to masturbate.  They think it's normal to have more feeling in the palm of their hand or on their fingertips than their penis.  I know because I used to think these same things.  It is a scary road to tread to learn that so many of the things you thought you understood about your own body were lies.  I think the vast majority of guys who are so dead set on having their sons circumcised know deep down subconsciously that if they don't circumcise their child they going to have to set out on a very difficult road for themselves.  I don't condone their cowardice but I think it's important to try to understand it. 

What's maddening to me though is when people try to justify circumcision by saying that everyone they know who is circumcised is "fine."  Well certainly these guys are able to hold jobs and pay their bills and if you ask them how they feel about being circumcised they'll either say "fine" or "what the hell does that mean?"  But how much do we know about their sex life?  Perhaps they have painful erections, perhaps they can't even have sex, or maybe they're sexually preoccupied and unfaithful, constantly in search of a feeling/meaning in sex that has been denied to them.  Or maybe they just have to use viagra like millions of other Americans.  News flash: this isn't fine.  This isn't ok.  Circumcision hurts every man it is inflicted upon.  The hurt is hidden, driven deep into the subconscious so the fragile newborn can protect himself from the trauma of someone cutting off part of his body.  Some men never come to a full realization of what was done to them, but this fact does not mean the hurt isn't there.  And this trauma goes on to affect their life SOMEHOW, whether they're immediately conscious of it or not.  I think as more and more survivors speak out about circumcision the more accepted it will become that circumcision doesn't just hurt newborns, it hurts grown men too.