America is moving the right direction. Whereas 80 percent of infant boys were once circumcised — parts of their genitalia torn or cut from their bodies, without consent and often without anesthesia — today only 30 percent of new parents elect to subject their children to this brutal procedure.
But there are forces trying to reverse this trend.
“Circumcision is a simple surgery that’s been performed for over 6,000 years,” writes Dr. Aaron Tobian in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “Clearly it’s safe to perform, and it has clear medical benefits.”
Dr. Tobian and his colleague, Dr. Ronald Gray, wrote this recent piece as part of a campaign to push back against the growing movement questioning the benefits and ethics of infant male circumcision. The problem is, they’re using defunct science to do so.
“If a vaccine were available that reduced HIV risk by 60 percent, as male circumcision does, the medical community would rally behind the immunization,” they claim.
The problem is, such statistics are utterly misleading.
The great fallacy in the debate about circumcision as a means to reduce HIV transmission is that the statistics come from Africa; where HIV transmission occurs largely through heterosexual sex.
In the United States, the vast majority of HIV infections occur amongst men who have sex with men (MSM) — with the rate of new HIV infections amongst MSM standing at 44 times the rate for heterosexual men (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention).
In addition the Journal Of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes report: “there is no evidence that being circumcised is protective against HIV infection among MSM.”
Promoting circumcision in America will not reduce the HIV transmission rates as they have done in Africa, because the demographics are starkly different.
Just compare HIV rates between the United States and France. In the USA, where 67 percent of sexually active men are circumcised, HIV and AIDS rates are ten times higher than in France, where 90 percent of sexually active men are uncircumcised (and France has a much higher immigration rate from Africa, too — further supporting the analysis).
The objective fact is that increasing the number of circumcisions in America will not reduce HIV infection rates — and when Dr. Gray and Dr. Tobian claim it will, I believe they’re either fudging the facts, or just plain lying.
But why? Why is there still such a vehemently pro-circumcision movement in America? Thankfully fewer kids are getting circumcised than in decades past, but that still hasn’t stopped certain circles pushing the procedure.
There are various reasons:
Among the medical community, one is profit. Circumcising infants is a cash cow. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates the annual income from circumcision at between $150 - $270 million each year. Circumcision opponents argue that this figure is wildly conservative; and circumcision actually adds over a billion dollars to the medical industry’s bottom line every year.
Another reason is habit. Circumcision has been the norm in America for over a century, and most parents are keen for their little boys to “look the same as daddy.”
Yet another reason is parents and doctors unfamiliar with the “challenges” of looking after an uncircumcised penis. This is why most parents have heard horror stories of an uncircumcised boy having to undergo the procedure “for medical reasons” later in life.
Sometimes those “medical reasons” are minor issues, or even normal development (for example, bubbles occur as the foreskin separates from the glans, which some parents and doctors misidentify as an infection).
Other times, parents actually cause problems themselves — like mothers who try to “wash under the foreskin” of a little boy, unaware that the foreskin and glans are attached until they’re seven or eight years old, and separating them by force can cause permanent scarring and damage.
Like with the HIV rates, it’s worth pointing out that these common “emergency circumcisions” don’t occur in Europe, where almost all kids are uncircumcised.
Perhaps the major reason why parents and doctors still advocate infant circumcision is because doing otherwise forces them to address a serious issue: That they’ve spent decades doing something medically and morally wrong.
It’s tough to criticize circumcision without criticizing parents who’ve circumcised their kids. The anti-circumcision message often makes those parents feel guilty and ashamed.
Anti-circumcision activists shouldn’t make parents feel that way. Moms and dads who’ve circumcised their kids wanted to make the best choice for their little boy — and decades of misinformation meant they believed, at the time, that circumcision was that choice.
And while they were ultimately wrong; you can’t criticize them making that choice for the right reasons.
Ultimately, “choice” is at the crux of the circumcision debate. For little boys having their genitalia cut, ripped and torn, there’s no “choice” at all.
For all the reasons why circumcision is wrong, the most convincing is the moral one: Circumcision is altering (some would say mutilating) the genitals of an infant who can’t consent; and will have to live with the results for the rest of their lives (if they’re not among the hundred who die from botched circumcisions every year).
Looking at it that way, it’s clear infant circumcision should be illegal.
Some would say it already is. According to the Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1995, even a pinprick on a little girl’s genitals, simply to draw blood in a ritualistic fashion, can land somebody five years in a federal penitentiary.
Do your little boys a favor. Give them the choice to be circumcised or not, when they’re old enough to make that decision for themselves.