What do we call violence against an infant boy?
I saw them strap my son spread-eagle and put this steel thing on his penis. As soon as 1 heard my boy scream, I knew it was very wrong. I’ve never heard a kid cry like that before. I’ll never forget it.25
When we commit violence against an infant girl, we call it child abuse; when we commit violence against an infant boy, we call it circumcision. Circumcision is American’s most common surgical procedure.24 The need to remove the foreskin on an infant boy’s penis has been rejected by almost all other medically advanced countries: Norway, France, Sweden, England. Denmark, Japan, and Finland. The circumcision rate in Britain has plummeted from 50 percent in 1950 to less than 0.5 percent today.25
Circumcision in the United States is routinely performed without anesthesia.26 Yet, as the New England Journal of Medicine reports, when newborns receive anesthesia to protea them from pain during surgery, it dramatically improves their chances of surviving.27 The anesthesia reduces the infant’s stress and prevents infeaion and blood clots.
Do babies who are being circumcised aaually feel the pain? According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, babies being circumcised cry vigorously and experience "dramatic changes in heart and respiratory rates, and in transcutaneous oxygen and plasma cortisol levels.”28
If babies make it through this initial period of trauma, what is the longterm impaa? Unstudied. We also don’t have clear enough data on the conditions under which circumcision might help prevent or cause cancer, and prevent or cause infeaion. As a result, we have to rely on indirea data, such as our knowledge that other newborn traumas, such as incubator isolation, do seem to affect later development and behavior.29 Or the faa that the lack of circumcision has not seemed to lead to infeaion, hygiene problems, or cancer in Canadian and Australian men.30 But the lack of information leaves us less than certain, and this ignorance persists despite the faa that a nationwide study on the long-term impaa of male circumcision could be conducted for less than it cost us to condua any two minutes of the Persian Gulf Wir.31
Perhaps the biggest setback to the questioning of circumcision occurred when a study found that wives of uncircumcised men had more cervical cancer than wives of circumcised men.32 This study received enormous publicity.33 When two follow-up studies refuted the female-as-viaim per – speaive, both received almost no publicity.34
The most frequent reason given for circumcision relates to health and sanitation. It is definitely true that circumcision reduces the necessity for cleaning; an intaa penis will have more smegma appearing on the outside of the penis, requiring a gentle soap and water washing. But the smegma is a natural lubricant, like body and hair oils. In countries where an intact penis is the norm, a boy learns to clean his penis just like he learns to wash his hair, take a bath, or clean under his fingernails. No one suggests removing the fingernails so cleaning will not have to be done.
Edward Wallerstein, probably the country’s most knowledgeable urologist on circumcision issues, explains that almost every reason used for circumcision could also be used to justify removing a girl’s clitoral hood.33 Females produce smegma identical to males’ under their clitoral hood, the female equivalent of the tip of the penis. As a result, din and germs, as well as odor and infection, can occur if it is not cleaned. But we do not circumcise the female’s clitoral hood to prevent smegma secretion.
When circumcision of the clitoral hood is done in some African tribes, we see it as a barbaric example of our disregard for women. Yet in the United States, when the same surgery is performed on boy infants, we call it healthy. Rabbis often justify continuing the tradition of circumcision on the eighth day for health reasons. But if a boy dies before the eighth day, circumcision is performed before he is buried – after he is dead. Obviously it is not for health reasons. Something else is going on.
Were we to still be circumcising the hood of the female clitoris, we would not have difficulty considering this a continuation of our tradition to keep girls sexually repressed. America’s reflexive continuation of circumcision without research reflects the continuation of our tradition to desensitize boys to feelings of pain, to prepare them to question the disposability of their bodies no more than they would question the disposability of their foreskins.