Thursday, January 27, 2011


I grew up assuming I would have my male children circumcised. This was not for religious purposes. And it’s not because I was taught in any explicit way that I should have my male children circumcised. It’s just that having your male children circumcised was, so I thought, the norm. It’s what most people do. So, I would do it too. Not because I gave it a lot of thought and decided that it made the most sense, but because it was a procedure as routine and expected (so I believed) as cutting the umbilical cord. If you had asked me as a teenager if I would have my future male children circumcised, I would have answered “yes” as automatically and with as little thought as if you had asked me what 2 + 2 equals.

I don’t remember Melanie and me having that much of a discussion concerning whether or not to circumcise Eddie and Peter. We discussed it some, but I don’t remember it being a weighty issue for us. With Creegan, we felt a little less certain. Melanie thought it seemed like a terrible thing to subject our baby to, and it was hard to think up any good justifiable reasons for having it done. Sure enough, our main reason for thinking we should have Creegan circumcised was the superficial fact that if we didn’t have him circumcised, he would be different from most other males, including but not limited to his older brothers.

Melanie and I decided to have Creegan circumcised. After the circumcision was performed, Melanie spoke to a doctor who made her feel a lot better about our decision. He strongly endorsed male circumcision and told Melanie various reasons that it would prove beneficial to our son. Obviously, we would not have had Creegan circumcised if we were that leery of it, but it was still nice to have a doctor applauding our decision.

A few minutes ago, I watched a video someone (I don’t remember whom) posted on Facebook. For the first minute or so of the video, I was highly enjoying it as a philosopher, with the narrator picking apart the shoddy (and dare I say duplicitous) line of reasoning employed by certain medical professionals. As the video went on, however, I found myself gripped by the issue at debate—male circumcision, as you can probably guess. I found the video very powerful and very persuasive, so much so that I really hope anyone reading this will invest 15 minutes into watching it. I feel strongly about this and hope people really will watch it. I’m hoping people watch it not because I want them to oppose male circumcision—I have a hard time completely ruling it out, even now—but because the video highlights how foolish we can be about certain things. We all too often make big decisions for stupid reasons, and we too often think too little for ourselves. The video gives us a real-life example of how lazy thinking is literally dangerous. Appeals to tradition do not justify atrocities. Not liking what other people say is not a reason to dismiss what they say, especially when you honestly can’t give an adequate response to their very well thought-out and very reasonable arguments. I’m not saying that male circumcision is an atrocity—but maybe it is, and I’m willing to ponder on it. I consider that part of being a responsible human being. Being willing to give matters due consideration is what led me from being a staunch denier of giving my organs away after I die to being a firm advocate that we should all be organ donors. How can you possibly defend a willing decision not to let your organs save lives after you’re dead?

But I digress. I’ve posted the video about male circumcision below. I implore you all to watch. There are no disturbing graphics or images to worry about, so don’t fear it. Fear only ignorance.


  1. Wow Ben. Thanks for making me think. I really enjoy your philisophical input into dissecting arguments.

    For some reason, this topic just popped into my head the other night. Expecting a boy, I hadn't really thought about it. Like you said, I thought it was just something you were supposed to do. When I talked to Jeff about it, he compared it to cutting the umbilical chord. I had read a few things that made me think it was better for hygiene, STDs etc. Now I think I better look into this some more before we decide...
    What do you think?

  2. Coming back to this now, I wonder if I've given people the wrong impression and made it sound like I'm more likely than not against male circumcision. I tried to make it clear that I'm not sure what to think, but I strongly advocate watching the video because I believe it can make you think more about this subject than many of us typically do. I don't think the people making the video make a completely solid case, either. As Melanie pointed out, at least some of their argument could be used against forcing your kid to get dental braces.

    That being said, I've looked at some further data. Not much, but a little bit more. It sounds like some of the evidence is mixed. I believe the person(s) who made the video have good evidence in support of what they say, but the fact is, there is evidence suggesting the opposite of what the author of the video claims, too.

    So what do you do in the end? That's right, review the research yourself, ponder on it, and come to your own best conclusion. It's funny how sometimes Group A will point out that Group B has been stringing us along about something, and once we see that, we put all of our trust in Group A, assuming what they say is absolutely right -- which is what got us into trouble with Group B in the first place!

  3. Parents should research circumcision and make an informed decision for the health & well-being of their son.

    More information can be found at the following sites:

  4. All of "Circumcision"'s links are to pro-circ sources. Even Wikipedia's circumcision entries are closely monitored by a Wiki-expert who won't let any pro-intact information through. Circinfo (the site of an Australian professor of molecular biology, not a doctor of medicine) is a joke - "to prevent bathroom splatter" and "to prevent zipper injuries" and he spins statistics faster than a dentist's drill. (He turns FIVE boys with recurrent UTIs in a population of 75,000 children into "19% of boys")

    The clincher is to watch a video of an actual circumcision. They LIE when they say it's "just a snip" of "a flap of skin" and "painless".

    @JoAnna: the umbilical cord's work is done and it falls off if it's not cut (cutting just makes it heal more tidily). The foreskin's main functions don't begin till puberty.

    The bottom line is human rights. Whose body, whose choice? Thanks to the Internet, more and more men are coming out as outraged at what was done to them. Some tens or hundreds of thousands are going to the trouble of restoring a semblance of their foreskins by DIY means.

    Benjamin: you can at least discuss braces with a kid, and if s/he's adamant, say "Well, you'll regret it." The rest of the developed world looks on in some surprise at the US passions for both orthodontistry and circumcision.

  5. Thanks for the info!
    I don't think you sound opinionated Benny... that's why I was curious about your thoughts as you've had them.

  6. It would have been good to know this about forty years ago. We just thought it was the proper thing to do, but for no reasons, really. How things change and thank goodness for that.

  7. I always like to write a comment before reading anyone else's, so sorry if I'm redundant.
    I actually was talking to a friend about this and said I think some day we will be really horrified at this practice.

  8. Okay so here's my comment after reading people's comments.
    I will admit I am not vastly knowledgeable on the subject of male circumcision, or female circumcision for that matter. I agree that we should not be lazily for or against anything, let alone something that involves removing parts of someone's body. I do feel like the maker of this video played down female circumcision, and that sort of bothers me. I feel it undercuts his argument. And I do not refer to situations where circumcision is medically necessary nor am I touching religious ritual. So keep in mind that my feelings are based on scant research, my experiences as a human being, a caretaker, and a product of a semi sexual-repressive society. SO:
    from what I've learned, it is risky. I imagine it would be painful. I would not want to be robbed of making that decision myself, though perhaps if I were a healthy circumcised male my only thought would be "Thank Heaven it all worked out." As a female (who is however advantaged and/or hindered by my own society) I would feel like a part of my sexuality had been taken with dubious reason. I don't know know why that would be different as a male. I know that sexual "purity" is often a reason given for female circumcision, I have a suspicion it's at the heart of modern resistance to change as well, and I am not sure that sexual mores and norms haven't hindered society more than they've helped.
    From what I've read, it is largely a superficial thing. There are, in case that ob/gyn on the video forgot, other compelling factors regarding stds and such. In the early industrial age, doctors blamed disease on bad smells-one relatively small factor among various causes and effects of sickness. It just seems to me that erring on the side of safety would not mean removing a part of one's anatomy because we prefer the way it looks or it fulfills some vague tradition* or there's some hint that it has to deal with sex. If I have sons, I will leave the decision up to the father. I would hope he would give me consideration were the situation reverse. But if it's up to me, I would not do something drastic that I'm not convinced is necessary.
    I'm sure there are plenty of reasons you all could tell me I'm wrong, but this is what I think now and I have given it thought.

    *Again, I do not refer to religious ritual. That is an individual choice, one that I have a vague opinion on but that's for another time. I mean doing it just because it's the norm.