Scott Cole Likes Saving Penises
This phrase showed up on my Facebook stream a few days ago and gave me a good laugh. Do you wonder what he’s saving them for? Or do you already know? (P.S. I did ask Scott’s permission to use his name)
Saving Penises (now Saving Our Sons) is an intactivist organization. Until recently I didn’t even know what an intactivist was. Then Dr. Momma posted one of my articles on her Facebook page and I found myself discussing human rights with a girl who has more piercings than I have pairs of shoes. You know what? She made a lot of sense.
If you’re not familiar with the term, an intactivist is “someone who loves, honors, respects and protects the rights of the child to an intact body. Someone who sees genital mutilation — of girls or boys — as a contradiction to that fundamental human right.”¹
Some intactivists seem to believe that parents who circumcise their sons are knowingly unleashing violence on them. I disagree, vehemently I might add. But that’s the fringe. The majority of intactivists are just regular people from all walks of life: doctors, college students, CEO’s and moms. They see circumcision as a human rights issue, which at first seemed like kind of an extreme perspective. Now . . . not so much.
I wanted to stay neutral, I really did. I wanted to be able to say, “It’s not right for our family, but I support a parent’s choice to do it.” That would have been so much easier . . . but they’ve won me over.
It was an accident, I promise.
Like I said, though, they make some pretty solid points. Here are some myths they broke down for me.
Myth #1:Circumcision is Not Traumatic
Until 1987, doctors routinely performed open-heart surgery on infants without anesthesia because some guy in 1872 postulated that they couldn’t feel pain.² This is medical egoism at its highest. Babies can’t feel pain because their “their nerves are not completely myelinated?” Please.
Thanks to the “babies can’t feel pain” ruse, countless children have been subjected to circumcision without anesthesia for nothing more than cosmetic purposes.
Scientists have now shown that “newborn babies have a ‘unique’ nervous system that makes them respond differently to pain from adults. In research that has far-reaching implications for the medical and surgical treatment of infants, the experts have found that newborn children feel pain longer and more sensitively. And in premature babies, the mechanism that allows older children and adults to “dampen down” the pain messages does not work properly.”³ It’s so sad that we needed studies to tell us what is just common sense.
So, babies can feel pain. But is that a reason not to circumcise? I mean, we have to subject babies to the PKU test when they’re born. Isn’t this about the same intensity? No, it’s not. When I first saw these images of a newborn being circumcised it erased all doubt in my mind that it’s just a simple snip. Everything in that boys expression says to me that he is traumatized. Many experts agree with me, but there are still many doctors who were educated in the “babies don’t feel pain” era promoting this as a painless procedure. Maybe that’s true for a few boys. I’ve heard some women have org*smic births . . . there could be the same kind of rare instance here. But for the majority of newborns, circumcision is excruciatingly painful.
But Even If It Is, They Don’t Remember
Some people believe babies can endure all kinds of unpleasant experiences, like crying it out (CIO) or circumcision, with no lasting effect (because they don’t “remember” it). I have a different opinion, which says,
People cannot consciously recall what they “learned” in the first year of life, because the brain structures that store narrative memory are not yet developed. But neuropsychological research has established that human beings have a far more powerful memory system imprinted in their nervous systems called intrinsic memory. Intrinsic memory encodes the emotional aspects of early experience.”
Article by Dr. Gabor Maté, co-author of Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter Than Peers
So, they DO remember. But if they didn’t would that make it okay? As one blogger wrote, “is ‘not remembering’ what is supposed to make circumcising healthy children OK? If a man uses a drug to have his way with a woman, does it make it OK if she ‘can’t remember?’ Does this rationale work in any other context? . . . Is stealing from a blind man better than stealing from a man that can see because “what he doesn’t know can’t hurt him?” Or is stealing wrong in principle?”
What’s The Big Deal? It’s Just a Little Flesh
The foreskin is not some useless piece of flesh. Megan, mother of Anton, had this to say about what she learned after her son was circumcised:
There is an ACTUAL purpose for the foreskin!!! It is an amazing and miraculous purpose, it does exactly what God designed it for. Every male mammal was born with a foreskin, it’s not useless, it’s also not just a piece of skin to clip off. (which is what I thought, I compared it in my head to a skin tag being removed by scissors so NOT the case)
The foreskin is FUSED to the glans (head) of the penis, like your finger nail is fused to your finger, in order to remove the foreskin you literally have to RIP it from the glans. Rip it, those words just play over and over in my head… I didn’t know at the time that the foreskin is fused to keep out all debris, and to help PREVENT children from getting UTI’s and infections as long as the skin is not forcibly retracted ( this is why there is SO much mis information out there, boys were being forcibly retracted, the foreskin pulled back and being ripped from the glans before it naturally retracted which causes a lot of problems such as UTI’s and um PAIN!!) In fact little girls are way more likely to get a UTI than an intact boy.But we just treat them with antibiotics.
There are A LOT more functions of the foreskin, I encourage you to look them up!! This is just the one that struck me the most!!!
Biggest Regret (emphasis mine)
What Happened To “Do No Harm”?
The medical community needs to stop hiding behind myths like “it’s cleaner . . . it prevents transmission of STD’s . . . it prevents penile cancer.” That stuff is bunk and it needs to stop being told to parents in an effort to sell them on circumcision. Cutting off the foreskin is not a risk-free procedure. In an older article from Mothering Magazine these stats were given:
One-month-old Ryleigh Roman Bryan McWillis died in August 2002 after suffering severe hemorrhage from his circumcision. The Canadian-born baby had a normal-term birth, with no complications or problems. In August 2003, a four-week-old Irish infant named Callis Osaghae died of severe blood loss just hours after a routine circumcision. Complications from the circumcision of three-week-old Dustin Evans of Cleveland, Ohio, led his doctors to perform additional surgery to unblock the baby’s urethra. Unfortunately, he never made it to the actual surgery, instead dying as anesthesia was administered.
In a more recently story, Lance’s mom shares what happened when she returned to the clinic that performed a circumcision on her son just a few hours earlier. His diaper was full of blood:
They sent us across the street directly to another surgeon’s office. He called us back, took off Lance”s diaper and said, “Oh no – they’ve cut all the skin off.” He sent us to the emergency department at the hospital where they performed an emergency surgery to stitch the top of Lantz’s penis to the baby fat around the base to stop the bleeding. The doctor had cut all the skin off the shaft of Lantz’s penis. He bled for eight hours.
And of course there’s the story of David Reimer, whose penis was accidentally destroyed during a routine, medically unnecessary circumcision. He was forced to live as a girl throughout his childhood and ultimately committed suicide.
Shouldn’t It Ultimately Be The Parent’s Choice?
Especially for religious reasons, right? I’ll admit, even after I became convinced that circumcision is painful and unnecessary, it was still difficult for me to say that I am categorically against it. It is STILL difficult for me to say, because as a Christian I have deep respect for my Jewish roots and the traditions associated with it. But five things come to mind. First, modern circumcision is far more brutal than the procedure of the Old Testament.
The circumcision that Abraham and his descendants practiced was something entirely different from modern circumcision. It merely involved cutting the tip of the foreskin, not removing it! This is both a historical and an archaeological fact that can be found in any reference book of ancient culture.
Second, Christians are commanded to refrain from it.
~1 Cor. 7:17 “As God has called each man, in this manner let him walk. And thus I command in all the churches. Was any man called in the circumcision [i.e. Old Covenant]? Let him not try to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in the uncircumcision [i.e. New Covenant]? Let him not be circumcised! Circumcision is nothing. And uncircumcision is nothing but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let each man remain in that condition in which he was called.“
My third point can best be summed up by Joseph GI:
When Did We Decide What Is “Tradition” and What Is “Torture?”
This is where female circumcision comes into the picture, because as a nation, we have decided that in no way shape or form will we tolerate female circumcision, or “female genital mutilation” as we so brazenly call it, in this country. In May of 2010, the AAP tried advocate for a “ritual nick” for girls, on the premise that “it might deter parents from taking their daughters to other countries to have more severe procedures done.” This caused an uproar across the globe.
. . . In countries where girls are circumcised, it is thought of as an important religious and/or cultural “custom.” But isn’t it a double-standard to be advocating for “freedom” for one ethnic group and their traditions, but denying it in another?
. . . Male circumcision may be an important religious tradition for some peoples, but if we respect and protect “religion and culture,” why is it we protect only male circumcision on those grounds? When did we decide that cutting the genitals of one sex was “tradition”, but cutting the genitals of the other sex is “mutilation?” It’s a double-standard that I think this country needs to do some soul-searching on.
Fourth, circumcision for religious reasons would be much more meaningful if the individual being “consecrated” were able to do so of his own volition. Why not wait until he is old enough to choose for himself?
And last, how far do parents rights go? What if I want to give my son a tattoo to consecrate him to God? What if I took Katie to Deep Ellum and asked someone to pierce her belly button? Do you think anyone would do THAT? Making irreversible alterations to children’s bodies without their consent just doesn’t make much sense in that context, does it?
The Faces of Several Dear Friends . . .
Are flashing before my mind right now . . . friends who circumcised and don’t need any more guilt heaped on them. Friends who dread the conversation they will someday have with their boys about why they chose this for them. Many of them have openly expressed their regrets, which in my opinion is one of the most courageous things a parent can do.
I don’t judge anyone for their decision to circumcise. This procedure has been marketed to parents as a cure for bedwetting, clubfoot, epilepsy, a preventative for AIDS, cancer, UTI’s and everything in between. What loving parent wouldn’t want their child to be free from these things?
I am in awe of parents who chose circumcision and are now speaking against it. I have heard them say over and over that they wish they’d been fully informed, and that they’re spreading awareness so that other families don’t have to suffer. Without them I would have walked the same road.
I chose to keep my son intact. Not for religious reasons, or social, or even because I really knew what a foreskin was at the time. It was a choice Daddypotamus and I made because someone had the courage to tell us this was a painful and unnecessary cosmetic procedure. I’m incredibly grateful them for the risk they took in sharing this sensitive info with me, and I’m trying to do the same. I hope you’ve found this post thought provoking and worthwhile. Thanks for sticking through to the end.
Circumcision is a solution in search of a problem.” –Edward Wallerstein
What do you think? Should parents be allowed to circumcise their sons? Or should they refrain from doing anything, even for religious reasons, until the individual is old enough to consent?
» Circumcision » The Accidental Intactivist