The case against circumcision
Circumcision is the removal of the foreskin from the penis, a procedure usually performed as an infant for religious or cultural reasons.
An estimated one-third of males worldwide are circumcised. The procedure is most common in the Muslim world and Israel where it’s near-universal for religious reasons. It’s also very common in the United States – where it’s estimated that four out of five men are circumcised, and also parts of Southeast Asia and Africa. Circumcision is relatively rare in Europe, Latin America, parts of Southern Africa, and most of Asia.
The origin of circumcision is relatively uncertain - the oldest documented evidence for it comes from ancient Egypt. Various theories have been proposed as to its origin, the consensus is generally that it began as some form of religious sacrifice or as a rite of passage marking a boy’s entrance into adulthood. There is also a suggestion that it was used to mark captured soldiers as slaves.
The circumcision of infant males is part of religious law in Judaism, and it’s also an established practice in Islam, Coptic Christianity, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Research indicates that circumcision became a common medical procedure in the UK and the US in the late 19th century – doctors began recommending it as a deterrent to masturbation.
Today, there’s still some discrepancy in the positions of the world’s major medical organisations on the practice of circumcision. Some consider that the elective circumcision of babies and children has no health benefit and involves significant risks to the child, while the guidance from others is that it has a modest health benefit that outweighs the small risks involved.
Studies suggest that circumcision doesn’t negatively impact sexual function in any material way, although it does result in a loss of sensitivity for the head of the penis. Beyond the physical impact of the procedure, the emotional impact of circumcision seems to be completely unknown.
At it’s most extreme, there are cases where men have suffered severe mental health issues that have been linked to their circumcision. One example is Jonathon Conte. It’s a couple of years since Jonathon Conte committed suicide. At the time of his death, Conte was 34. He lived in San Francisco. He suffered from depression. His depression was reportedly linked to his circumcision . Conte was an activist campaigning for the end of routine male circumcision. He was an intactivist.
There are obvious parallels between female genital mutilation – FGM – and the circumcision of infant males. While it could be argued that FGM has more obvious impacts on sexual function, it seems fairly obvious that it’s a medical modification of otherwise healthy genitals - purely for the purpose of religious or cultural tradition. At last count, around 52 countries around the world have explicitly banned FGM.
While there are restrictions that have been enacted in various jurisdictions, there are currently no countries that have banned the circumcision of infant males.