On August 27, 2012, the human rights of children and gender equality for boys took a devastating and shameful blow: The American Academy of Pediatrics released a position statement sanctioning the outmoded, ancient practice of genital cutting of male children. Their new statement shockingly reversed their former position of discouraging male circumcision which had already fallen short of promoting genital integrity. The community of children’s rights activists known as “Intactivisits”, was shocked to the core. This community of Intactivisits includes scientists, doctors, nurses, mental health counselors, human rights activists, parents and victims who have worked tirelessly for years to educate the public about the dangers, trauma and suffering caused to boys and men of Male Genital Mutilation. It seems almost surreal; nightmarish, in fact- that a physicians organization as powerful and influential as The American Academy of Pediatrics would support legalized sexual assault, torture and permanent penile mutilation of boys under 18.
In this post, I will refer to cosmetic, routine, religious and traditional circumcision of boys under 18 as Male Genital Mutilation (MGM) or genital cutting, in order to be truthful and clear about what is actually being done to boys. Words like “circumcision” candy-coat the violence, sexual violation and the human rights implications of amputating a critical and significant part of a boy’s penis without his consent and (in the case of infants), often without anesthesia.
The amazing foreskin
The intact human penis is perfectly equipped by nature with a foreskin that protects the glans and urethra and allows the penis to comfortably expand fully into erections. In early childhood, the foreskin is fully attached to the glans. As a boy grows older, the foreskin begins to separate naturally, allowing retraction. The age for this is different for every boy and retraction should never be forced. Usually by the end of adolescence, boys have a fully retractable foreskin. It is as easy to clean the intact penis as it is to clean a finger.
The adult foreskin contains 80% of a man’s sexual sensitivity, plus the erogenous areas of the ridged band and frenulum. The foreskin is a mucous membrane and muscular structure like the eyelids or lips, meant to keep the glans moist and covered like an internal organ whenever the penis is flaccid. The foreskin allows the penis to function perfectly during sexual intercourse, providing the penis with natural gliding action inside the vagina, which keeps both partners comfortable, naturally lubricated and positioned correctly to maximize pleasure for both him and her.
Cutting off the foreskin is a significant loss to a male physically and sexually, in how he looks, feels, functions and performs sexually. Amputating the foreskin removes body parts that are critical to penile and urethral protection, sexual functioning and male sexual pleasure. Loss of the foreskin costs a male 80% of his erogenous nerves, the erogenous frenulum and ridged band, mucous membrane, muscle tissue and enough skin that by adulthood, would cover a 3×5 index card. Loss of the foreskin causes psychological and sexual trauma to a boy, and can lead to shame and issues with self esteem and body image. Loss of the foreskin often causes an increase in uncomfortable scar tissue sensitivity and overall loss of sexual sensitivity that can lead to sexual dysfunction in later manhood. Additionally, the procedure puts boys at risk for a long list of complications, including painful and tight erections, loss of his entire penis or even death.
How can the AAP say “the benefits outweigh the risks”?
A practice with sexual shame at its roots
Male Genital Mutilation, like Female Genital Mutilation, is an egregious violation of human rights that leads to psychological trauma to the victim and permanent disfigurement and dysfunction of the genitalia. Genital mutilations of all types against children began in ancient times and continued through Medieval times for both religious and social purposes. Male circumcision was commonly used at different points in history as a punishment, a deterrent for masturbation and as a way to desensitize the male from experiencing the full range of sexual pleasure. In the mid-1800’s, with ties to the medical doctor who invented Kellogg’s corn flakes, the modern wave of Male Genital Mutilation took hold as one of the painful punishments recommended for children caught masturbating.
Genital cutting has at its roots sexual shame and passing that shame onto the bodies of children. It is illegal in the USA and in much of the Western world to perform genital cutting on girls. The fact that it is fully legal in the USA and other Western countries to violate boys by mutilating their penises should be the first priority outcry of anyone who claims to fight for gender equality. Now, not only does the law support sexist practices against male children under 18, but The American Academy of Pediatrics have added their support to promoting violent and damaging attacks against the bodies and sexual development of boys.
Shockingly little concern for the human rights of boys
Shockingly, there has been little concern from the medical establishment, mental health professionals, human rights organizations, feminist groups, The United Nations, WHO, UNICEF and Amnesty International and other mainstream researchers about MGM. All all of these professionals and organizations are opposed to and speak out against FGM, but seem blind and apathetic to the social and cultural implications of boys suffering this psychological, physical and sexual trauma.
Outrageous medical claims
The medical establishment has a financial stake in keeping MGM a routine part of the birthing process in hospitals. Their weak and unsubstantiated claims that cutting off a natural part of the penis prevents urinary tract infections, penile cancer and HIV are as outrageous as stating that cutting out the bladders of children would prevent urinary tract infections or cutting off part of the breasts of girls would prevent breast cancer!
Among the primary causes of urinary tract infections in children are unhealthy urine “holding” habits, often caused by punitive parents and school rules that prevent children from urinating when they feel the need. Encouraging frequent hydration, toilet use at least every two hours and allowing boys to urinate when their bodies feel the need, would prevent most urinary tract infections. If a boy does develop a UTI, naturopathic remedies or the medically standard practice of antibiotics are easily available!
Avoiding inflammatory foods such as refined sugar, gluten, grains, dairy and soy can go a long way in preventing conditions in the body that support cancer. Parenting your son in a way that conveys positive, healthy attitudes about his body, genitals and sexuality will cultivate the emotional and spiritual conditions that promote lifelong health and wellness.
HIV can easily be prevented through the use of condoms and by partners agreeing to be tested prior to having unprotected sex.
Prevention of disease and illness does not require preemptive genital cutting!
A trauma that the mental health field totally ignores
The mental health establishment totally ignores MGM when evaluating and treating boys for mental, emotional and behavioral symptoms, despite that early PTSD and attachment disruption from genital cutting could be a major implication for the youth’s presenting challenges. Although many mental health professionals do developmental assessments on new clients, in my 15 years in the fields of human services I have not heard of one clinician or evaluator inquiring about MGM.
Many mental health professionals are completely ignorant of the fact that the medical procedure of infant male “circumcision” involves strapping down an infant spread-eagle, administering partial or no anesthesia, forcibly handling the boy’s penis, forcing an erection, tearing the foreskin from the glans, crushing the blood vessels, skinning the penis with a scalpel and leaving the raw, bleeding, injured penis exposed to infection, urine and feces. Often the boy screams so hard during the procedure that he dissociates or goes into shock, indicated by falling asleep. Until the open wounds heal, every time the boy urinates, his penis experiences another wave of intense pain. Parent-child attachment and bonding is disrupted, as is the critical breastfeeding relationship.
It is legal for a parent to force a boy of any age to have his penis cut, even in adolescence, when a boy cannot understand the adult implications to his future sexuality. Doctors are often more than willing to comply with parents.
Older boys who experience foreskin amputation as part of religious ceremonies are often fully conscious for the procedure. As part of some Orthodox Jewish bris ceremonies with infants, the mohel even sucks the boy’s raw and mutilated penis!
Despite the horrific realities of MGM, in which a boy’s first experience with his penis is one of suffering, force, violation, rape and pain, the mental health establishment ignores the practice. In doing so, they also ignore the unconscionable and overwhelming implications to a boy’s mental health and sexual development– and to society– of Male Genital Mutilation.
Total silence from gender-equality political groups and human rights organizations about legalized sexual violation of males
In their philosophies and policy statements, powerful, influential feminist organizations ignore decades of research about all forms of male victimization, including Male Genital Mutilation. These groups influence political and social policy, university curriculum and even pop culture with sweeping, one-dimensional and factually inaccurate theories about gender. Their dichotomous theories stereotype females as benevolent victims and males as malevolent aggressors. As a rule, feminist theories ignore male suffering and the barbaric sexual, psychological and bodily traumas that boys and men have suffered since the dawn of agriculture at the hands of both women and men. Feminist theories, as a rule, also ignore the holistic, social and historical implications of mother-son attachment disruption and childhood trauma on males. The fact that these “gender-equality” groups also ignore (and in some cases, support) something as unjust as legalized genital cutting of boys is unacceptable and appalling to humanitarians such as myself.
Human rights and social justice groups are often feminist influenced and often do not dare take the political risk of speaking on behalf of boys and men. The United Nations, World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and Amnesty International are organizations that generally champion the causes of girls and women. These organizations research and speak out against FGM, but are silent and indifferent to genital cutting of male children.
Gender-bias against males by research professionals
Researchers of all types, in every human-focused field, favor female causes and female concerns. This gives the impression and perpetuates the social stereotype that our girls and women are suffering while our boys and men don’t suffer and need nothing— no concern, no protection, no compassion– from society. In fact, male concerns, if noted at all, are generally trivialized, minimized and even mocked by professionals, human rights groups, law enforcement, political groups, the media and society. Why? Political, financial and social interests want society to falsely believe that boys and men do not and cannot suffer comparable to or more than females. We must speak out against these irresponsible and unethical political myths! ALL humans suffer when even ONE person suffers.
The research is sobering: MGM is traumatizing to the male psyche and destructive to the penis
Despite professional ignorance and political indifference, there has been some significant research by enlightened medical, mental health and legal professionals that supports the need for society to prioritize abolishing Male Genital Mutilation. I will be highlighting this research in my second and upcoming book that I am in the process of writing, Nurturing and Empowering Our Sons. Below, I will list some of the most critical sources to consider (some of which will require you to pay for the full research paper):
Male Genital Mutilation and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Lack of Pain-Relief/Anesthesia During Genital Cutting of Infant Boys
The Critical Function of the Penile Foreskin
Sexual Dysfunction after Male Genital Mutilation
Legal Issues of Unconsentual Genital Cutting of Boys
Brit Shalom: Jewish Ceremony Without Cutting
Care and Hygiene for Your Intact Son- Infant to Teen
Intactivist Organizations and Foreskin Restoration Info
MGM is a human rights issue
It is elementary science in the medical, mental health and human services fields that childhood trauma leads to mental, emotional, psychological, behavioral, neurological, sexual and social problems, including violence. Medical professionals take an oath to do no harm; in the case of professionals who work with children, this oath should be especially sacred and critical. When the AAP, a powerful medical association that provides membership and training to pediatricians, makes it a policy to support a practice that has the potential to cause life-altering trauma to male children, loud and assertive social outcry must happen.
Professional, social justice, gender-equality and human rights groups must be loud, vocal and assertive about protecting boys from Male Genital Mutilation. Considering that MGM is a permanent, disfiguring, life-altering, traumatizing and potentially deadly tragedy, protecting boys from MGM should be a top priority. Silence, feigned ignorance, indifference and apathy from these groups should not be tolerated by true humanitarians and children’s rights advocates. Join the cause to protect boys from legalized sexual assault and torture: Raise awareness of the right of boys to genital integrity!
Watch the powerful AAP = No Ethics video, Wash Your Hands Clean of the AAP! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ApGYjkSXDQE&feature=player_embedded