And yet, despite all this point-counterpoint in the learned journals, there are some aspects of circumcision that desperately need the light of plain common sense shined upon them. Advocate and foe alike overlook some issues that are matters of common sense, and debate others without making some commonsense observations that would provide clear guidance. This article discusses four such aspects: circumcision’s effect on the experience of sex, the question of whether there is a right to circumcise, keeping clean, and circumcision’s potential effect on the parent-child relationship.
Circumcision is, in fact, nothing less than the amputation of a major component of the penis. This touches upon an important point: contrary to what many people assume, the foreskin is more than just a “flap of skin.” It is (as many articles explain in more detail) a major functional part of the penis, replete with sexually sensitive nerve endings. A circumcised penis, therefore, is not a normal penis. It is a penis from which a major part is missing. It is an incomplete penis. If you remove a boy’s foreskin, we must assume that he will never experience sex as nature intended, which is his birthright.
A right to circumcise? Since when has it been acceptable to amputate healthy, well-formed parts of a baby? Many people have trouble with ingrown toenails; should we prophylactically rip out all of a baby’s toenails to prevent this potential problem? If not, why not? Because nobody has a right to remove normal, healthy parts of a baby. This seems self-evident and unarguable, yet most Americans have a blind spot when it comes to circumcision.
A thought experiment may help clarify this concept. Imagine that an uncircumcised man in his forties has minor genital surgery. When he awakens, he discovers that in addition to the expected surgery, he has been circumcised. When he asks the surgeon for an explanation, the reply is, “I figured that as long as I was operating in that area, I’d go ahead and do a circumcision. It’s best for you. Don’t worry; it’s on the house.”
Would this be grounds for a lawsuit? You bet! And most people would be shocked at the surgeon’s gall. Yet I too am a man in his forties, and like the imaginary man, I was circumcised without being consulted. The only difference is that in my case it was done over forty years ago. But the result today is the same: a man in his forties, missing an important piece of his sex organ as a result of actions taken without his permission. The imaginary man at least had a complete penis for over forty years; I had one for no more than a few days.
We in America have to ask ourselves why, if circumcision is such a good thing, the rest of the world doesn’t follow our example. Other than in countries where most of the population practices circumcision for religious purposes, neonatal circumcision has never been widely practiced in the population as a whole outside of the predominantly Anglo countries, and all of those countries except the United States have to a large degree dropped it. Why?