What is male circumcision?
Male circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin. In the United States today, all forms of child female circumcision are prohibited under Title 18 of the U.S. Code. Males are not included in that legislation, however, and as a result nearly 33% of American boys are still circumcised, with wide variations among individual states.
What is the function of the male foreskin?
The male foreskin performs a number of functions. First, it directly enhances sexual pleasure via specialized erogenous nerve endings such as the frenulum, the ridged band, and stretch receptors called Meissner's corpuscles. The foreskin also serves to protect the moist, mucous membrane of the glans (the "head" of the penis) and the inner foreskin from outside elements, similar to the way the female foreskin protects the clitoris. When the foreskin is removed, the penis is transformed from an internal organ into an external one, initiating a desensitizing process known as keratinization. Keratin is a tough, skin-like substance similar to a callus that forms on top of the nerve endings of the glans, resulting in significant loss of sexual sensitivity. The foreskin also provides a gliding mechanism during sexual intercourse that reduces friction and locks in moisture, acting as a natural lubricant. The foreskin provides a number of other important functions as well.
Why would anyone cut off such a valuable body part?
The world origins of circumcision are unknown. However, circumcision began in the United States in the late 1800's largely because some doctors thought that it prevented masturbation, which at the time was thought to be harmful. But once that and other myths were proven wrong, new reasons were created to perpetuate circumcision, most notably that a circumcised penis is more hygienic than an intact penis, that it makes boys look the same as their fathers or others in their community, and for religious reasons. Medicaid reimbursement for circumcision in thirty-two states and a lucrative market for infant foreskins also provides financial incentives for circumcision.
Haven’t some newer studies shown that circumcised men are less likely to contract HIV and penile cancer?
Although some new studies suggest that circumcision may reduce susceptibility to HIV and penile cancer later in life, those findings are not a valid reason to amputate a healthy, functioning body part of a child. Similar studies show that female circumcision may reduce HIV transmission, but nearly all physicians agree that any type of forced female genital cutting is unethical. Doctors don't cut off the breasts of baby girls to help prevent breast cancer, either, and medical ethicists believe that the male foreskin should be treated no differently. It is also important to note that proponents of female circumcision often use medical reasons to justify cutting off parts of girls' genitals, but those arguments are rightly condemned in most countries.
Does circumcision cause psychological harm?
Many men who are circumcised suffer the same psychological effects found in rape victims. A sense of great loss and feelings of anger, distrust, and grief are common among circumcised men who are aware of the functions that the foreskin performs. Problems with intimacy in adult life, long term post-traumatic stress disorder, and feelings of personal powerlessness are also reported by men when discussing their circumcisions.
Can circumcision be reversed?
The unique nerve endings that are cut off during circumcision cannot be restored. However, other significant damage from circumcision can be reversed through a method called non-surgical foreskin restoration, which involves stretching the remaining shaft skin over the glans to grow new skin. By keeping the glans and remaining inner foreskin area covered and protected, the keratin that built up over the lifetime of the victim slowly peels away, resulting in a significant improvement to sexual sensitivity. The natural gliding mechanism can also be restored to some extent, provided that enough new skin can be regrown.
Why doesn't the MGM Bill have a religious exemption?
A religious loophole would allow anyone to have their son circumcised by simply checking a box that requests a circumcision “for religious reasons”, which would not create a very strong law. Such an exemption would also be unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Lastly, current U.S. laws regulating FGM do not have a religious exemption and we feel that boys are entitled to the same level of protection.
Isn't it up to parents to decide what is right for their own child?
Unless there is a compelling medical reason to do so, no one has the right to cut off the working body part of a child. Genital mutilation is done for social, "hygienic", or religious reasons, and most national medical organizations do not support forced infant circumcision as a beneficial health measure. We don't allow girls to be circumcised because we know that it is harmful to their physical and mental well being, and boys should be afforded equal protection of the law.
What about misinformed parents who have already had their son(s) circumcised?
Many doctors continue to misinform parents by telling them that circumcision is harmless or even beneficial, so oftentimes parents are not to blame. We suggest that parents take the time to sit down with their son and explain that they never would have agreed to the circumcision procedure had they known it was going to hurt him. Explaining that some damage from circumcision can be reversed through non-surgical foreskin restoration is also good advice.
What about expecting parents who have already circumcised their first son(s)?
Some parents, even those who have newfound doubts about the ethics of circumcision, are tempted to circumcise their new baby boy if their other sons are already circumcised. They may worry that the older boys will resent them for allowing their penises to be cut while leaving their younger brother's penis intact. But continuing the cycle of genital mutilation will not make things better. The best thing for these parents to do is to leave their new son intact and explain to the older sons that when they were born, many people believed that circumcision was a harmless or even beneficial procedure. Now that more is known about circumcision, however, it is no longer routinely done and that is why their younger brother is intact.
What should Jewish parents do if they have a boy?
Some of the most vocal criticism of circumcision comes from within the Jewish community itself. This is because many Jews have actually witnessed the painful cries of baby boys as parts of their penises are cut off in the name of religion. As a peaceful alternative, more and more Jewish parents are calling for a Brit Shalom to replace the Brit Milah. A Brit Shalom is a non-cutting naming ceremony that welcomes baby boys into the world with love, not mutilation. Many celebrants now specialize in performing this non-violent ritual.
Are there any alternatives for Muslim parents?
Although Muslims represent the largest single group of circumcised men in the world, not all Muslim men are circumcised. Ethnic Chams substitute non-violent rituals, and converts to Islam are not required to undergo circumcision. Muslim intactivists are also increasingly speaking out against the harmful effects of Islamic ritual circumcision, helping to provide support to Muslim parents who choose not to circumcise their sons.
What can I do?
Circumcision is perpetuated by silence. When the topic is brought up in conversation, many people react by changing the subject or by making jokes. When you hear circumcision being discussed, don't be afraid to tell others about the negative consequences that it has on each of its victims. In addition, take action by writing your congressional and state officials to voice your support for the bill proposals on this website. Lastly, if your son was circumcised and you feel that you were misled by your doctor, hospital, or religious advisor, you may want to file a lawsuit against them seeking damages. If you yourself are a victim of circumcision, you may want to consider suing the person or organization that circumcised you.
If the MGM Bill becomes law, would men be allowed to have a circumcision if they want one?
Yes, men would be free to undergo circumcision for any reason once they reach eighteen years of age. The purpose of the MGM Bill is to protect males from being circumcised against their will, not to prevent them from altering their own genitals if they wish to do so.
A Bill to End
Male Genital Mutilation
in the U.S.