Male circumcision has been in practice for thousands of years and is a spiritual ritual found in cultures around the world, and was once thought to be beneficial for health. In 1989, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) concluded that neonatal circumcision offered potential medical benefits and advantages as well as disadvantages and risks. In 1999, the AAP updated its policy statement, which emphasized that the procedure be conducted under local anesthesia —meaning for 10 years it was routine to perform neonate circumcisions without any pain management. Today, applying local anesthesia is common, but not a medical standard. In 2012, the AAP redacted its previous statement that circumcision has significant health benefits- the reduced risk of sexually transmitted diseases and urinary tract infections and instead stated that the potential benefits of circumcision were, “sufficient to justify access to this procedure for families choosing it,” but did not stand by it being a routine practice for all newborn males. Today, 1 in 3 people who are assigned male at birth are circumcised globally. 

Circumcision is recommended in the first six weeks of life, as this is when the procedure, which involves the partial or complete removal of the foreskin, has shown to have the least complications. Complications include (but are not limited to) infection, irritation causing painful urination, cysts, urinary retention, skin bridges, penile necrosis, and death. It should be noted that the rate of neonate circumcision complications (during and post-procedure) is 2-6 in 1000, which includes mild side-effects such as bleeding, as well as severe complications. 

Nowadays, we have more parents choosing to skip circumcision-today the rate of neonate circumcision is 50% in the U.S compared to between 60-90% (depending on region) 30 years ago. Activist groups like the Bloodstained Men and Intact America are raising concern over the ethics of performing medically unnecessary procedures on unconsenting babies. Medical ethics aside, opponents of circumcision also point out that in other industrialized nations, circumcision is far less common, and medical agencies aren’t advocating for it like they do in the U.S. This often begs the question of whether or not circumcision is purely medical for many parents; in 1988, 90% of surveyed women said circumcised penises look better, and in the past 15 years, numerous studies have backed the idea that North American women prefer circumcised penises. This has led to a social stigma associated with uncut men, usually residing around the aesthetics or the presumed hygiene of uncircumcised penises, which doctors are claiming is why young adults are seeking circumcision at concerning rates.

It’s upsetting to realize we live in a society where someone can be so harshly judged based on how the most private area of their body looks that they feel the need to go through a painful surgical procedure in order to fit in. What’s more upsetting is that we as adults get to influence how other people’s bodies will look, and manipulate them in such invasive and irreversible ways. Female circumcision is now known as female genital mutilation and is recognized as a violation of human rights by the World Health Organization, and the United Nations among others. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the procedure for FGM is extremely different, has no medical benefits, and is an extremely barbaric form of violence. Women are not afforded the luxury of circumcisions in sterile hospitals under the care of health professionals, and many are well into childhood when it is performed. But just because male circumcision is widely accepted and routinely performed, doesn’t negate the ethical considerations and the social implications that come with it. — Haley Berger

Columnist | + posts
Haley Berger is a Pacific junior and public health major. She enjoys painting, listening to 1970’s R&B, and spending time with her beloved cat, Moose.

4 Comments on “Love and Sex: The Double Standard of Male Circumcision”

  1. Wherever female genital cutting is performed, so is male cutting. And under similar conditions of hygiene, or lack of hygiene.

    The same proverbial rusty razor blade used on girls is used on boys as well.

    “Septic shock causes many fatalities. The problem is most severe in the Eastern Cape province, where nearly 500 young men have died in circumcision rituals since 2006, including 83 last year, according to the provincial health department.”,

  2. Thanks for writing about this topic. I’ve been involved in stopping male genital cutting, aka circumcision, for a long time. To me, it doesn’t matter if the child is female, male, or intersex, surgically altering their sex organs is abhorrent and must be stopped.

  3. Circumcision causes physical, sexual, and psychological harms. It removes a natural, healthy, functioning body part that contributes significantly to sexual pleasure to the future man and his partner. No national medical organization in the world recommends elective non-therapeutic circumcision. A dozen such organizations oppose it. Male circumcision continues because it is a trauma. Psychologist know and research confirms that traumatized people have a compulsion to repeat their traumas on their children. This is why, for example, adults that were abused as children are more likely to abuse their children. Traumas inflicted two thousand years ago and today are similarly traumatic. Health claims are excuses to defend traumas. Aside from American, Muslims, and Jews, less than 5% of the world circumcises males. For more information see circumcision dot org.

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