Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 2, 2011

Male circumcision is social, not medical

Many common misperceptions about procedure

By Hayley Shugart
Special to the Record-Eagle

— Last year, I noticed a popular trend on Facebook to join the group "2 Million People against Female Circumcision/Female Genital Mutilation."

Intrigued, I decided to peruse the group, which opposes the cultural practice that is common in areas of Africa. One issue that caught my attention was the comparison to male circumcision in the United States. Other members dismissed this comparison as invalid and even offensive.

I began to carry out more in-depth research. While I had always blindly accepted the assertion that male circumcision is more hygienic, exposure to an opposing view convinced me that routine infant circumcision is an outdated procedure that many people are misinformed about. It violates the child's right to bodily integrity, and greater attention is needed to discourage it.

One of the most common pro-circumcision arguments is that it is cleaner. This is, however, up for debate.

Virtually every study on circumcision has resulted in inconclusive results. While there is no evidence to intimate circumcision will result in catastrophic harm, this cultural idea that it is medically supported and more sanitary is mistaken and often disregards the history of circumcision and the function of the foreskin.

The rate of circumcision first began to increase in the 20th century. The initial intention of circumcision was to reduce sensation and pleasure, thus discouraging masturbation and curing a multitude of afflictions. Today, we now know masturbation does not cause any of these diseases and circumcision will not "cure" masturbation. Yet our culture still clings to the idea that it is cleaner and better to circumcise.

On the contrary, the foreskin serves several purposes and its removal can potentially cause harm. Circumcision eradicates the majority of erotic nerves that are contained in the foreskin. It also permanently externalizes an internal organ, the glans. Lacking protection, the glans is constantly exposed to air, water and clothing, further desensitizing the genitalia.

Besides, the procedure is painful as the foreskin is attached to the penis in infancy much like a fingernail to a finger and must be ripped off; not at all the small snip it's painted out to be.

Admittedly, while there is little evidence to suggest circumcision is necessary, neither is there overwhelming evidence that it is an evil that must be banned.

Circumcised or uncircumcised, most men seem content with what they have. It is, however, questionable whether it is ethical to perform a medically unnecessary procedure on an infant when he is incapable of granting or denying consent. There also is something concerning about a culture that promotes genital modification for purely aesthetic reasons.

Meanwhile, there are more than 325,000 members of the Facebook group against female circumcision, many of whom live thousands of miles away from where the tragedy occurs.

A mere 250 people are in the sister group against male circumcision.

Society must purge this idea that it is a sanitary, medically supported procedure and recognize that circumcision is a cultural practice carried out almost solely for social reasons.

Hayley Shugart is a senior at Elk Rapids High School.