The Heterodox

The Heterodox


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Can you spare some Skin, Man?

April 3, 2011 , , , , , , , ,

I have often found it a rather odd characteristic of overtly patriarchal societies that a hatred of male genitalia can always be palpably felt. And it is no coincidence at all that such psycho-sexual pathology is most acute in cultures which derive their assertive patriarchal and hegemonic world views from monotheism. Anyone who would care to take umbrage with this contention is left with many rhetorical tasks of Sisyphean proportions, one of which is the defense of routine infant circumcision. The religious dimension to this argument surely only makes it more exigent for one to share and make plain either their criticism or their defense of this act. So under these rhetorical auspices, an attempt to illustrate the unethical and inexpiable nature of neonatal circumcision will ensue. If the justification for this act emanates from religion or tradition in general it does not ultimately matter, for the very same defensive non sequiturs are involved in either case. Due to this particular innate aspect of the argument, a brief critique is all that is required and I hope is all that is expected when the discussion is of a moratorium on the genital mutilation of children.

It is most often thought that the inculcation of the routine circumcision of male infants here in the United States arose from a perceived notion of improved genital hygiene. A fetishization of hygiene was definitely involved but it had very little to do with the corporeal. It was moral hygiene which was desired by the early twentieth century proponents of the new puritanism. Yet by the end of the nineteenth century when this social aberration began to truly flower in the intellectual circles of the West, its parturition was not emanating from the religious fount of its most archaic origin but instead was to be found in a more secular and assumed enlightened epoch. To our modern way of thinking, it seems rather counter intuitive that the eighteenth century Enlightenments could have manifested a rehash of one of the most barbaric vestiges of religion, nonetheless this is exactly what did in point of fact happen.

In 1758, a highly contentious and debated polemic was published by a French physician, Samuel-Auguste Tissot. His essay, Onanism: Or a Treatise on the Maladies Produced by Masturbation, purported to illustrate with case studies the malign psychosomatic effect of what Tissot saw as an unnecessary and egregious loss of Liqueur Seminale, aka Spermatorrhea–an hysterically “dangerous” condition which Tissot attributed all manner of venereal disease and psychopathology. Here we have all of the same idiosyncratic and bizarre notions about semen and masturbation expounded ad nauseaum through out history by the religious, yet clothed with the respectable veneer of serious scientific inquiry. This collusion with the new science and archaic religious orthodoxy would continue throughout the nineteenth century, particularly with regards to human psychology and sexuality (or any where else where the god of the gaps argument could be fallaciously inserted). So much so, that by the turn of the last century you had such individuals as the squalid capitalists Sylvester Graham and John Kellogg promulgating this religious and pseudo-scientific moralism into mainstream American culture. David M. Friedman analyses this social phenomenon astutely in his wonderful cultural study of the penis, A Mind of its Own, where he tells us that:

“…it is not widely remembered, Kellogg’s corn flakes and the Graham cracker were both designed to inhibit lust and masturbation. Kellogg and Graham were not the only experts to link foods with sexual behavior, Dr. W.F. Morgan warned readers of the New York Medical Times that the eating of the watermelon caused unnatural excitement of the penis, “a fact that is fully appreciated,” he wrote, “by our colored brethren.” ”

He then goes on to convincingly explain to us how this mentality found full fruition within the borders of this republic:

“A best selling book in 1896, All about Baby, told American mothers that circumcision was “advisable in most cases, ” and particularly recommended to prevent “the vile habit of masturbation.” This advice was given in 1902 by L. Emmett Holt, a professor at New York’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, who told his colleagues that while the prepuce can “hardly be called a malformation,” it is nonetheless “a condition requiring attention in every male infant,” lest he be subject to “priapism, masturbation,…and most of the functional nervous diseases of childhood.”

At first, most circumcisions were done on boys, not infants, of the middle and upper classes. According to historian David L. Gollaher, a circumcised penis soon became a badge of status—proof of one’s membership in the American elite.”(…)Over time the operation became both safer and more democratic. By the outbreak of World War I, circumcision, done shortly after birth and without cocaine injection, was the most common surgical procedure in the United States, as it still is today, though there is no conclusive evidence establishing its role in preventing masturbation–or, for that matter, any common disease.(This is one of the many reasons for the growing anti-circumcision movement in the United States, which hopes to make routine neonatal circumcision a thing of the past.)”

Now I ask you dear reader, couldn’t this hysterical absurdity have only emanated from the sexually repressive and obsessive Victorian mind, or perhaps it would be better if not more accurate if I said christian mind? And if I can speak to just my brethren for a moment, surely men we all can admit that the only notion more ludicrous than this one is the very idea that anything could deter our hands from finding their way between our legs (least of all in our youth), anything outside of physical restraint that is.

As this obsession with “hygiene” became coterminous with the American way of life, circumcision became routine as was just illustrated above. Thus America became the first and only country in the West to adopt this practice for ostensibley secular and clinical reasons, and not religious ones. And so this surgery’s efficacy was not even questioned until well into the twentieth century. To be more precise, it was not until 1998 that the AMA rescinded on routine circumcision and ruled that this procedure had no innate medical benefit, hygienic or otherwise (although there is still debate as to this procedure helping prevent HIV transmission, this state of affairs does not rebuff the unethical nature of neonatal, infant, or child circumcision. The choice to surgically alter one’s penis should be left to a sexually active and consenting man! Comprende?). Now at this point we have to mention that there still is one and only one medical justification for infant or adult male circumcision and that is to treat the condition known as phimosis.

Phimosis is a congenital condition in which the foreskin is so constricted that it can not be rolled back over the glans. When a boy reaches puberty and his glans begins to produce smegma, this condition then becomes potentially lethal. Since the foreskin is so tight as to prevent cleaning, an infection can set in which could in turn lead to sepsis. Now I do not mean to be glib here, but if there is one place where any man does not want an infection or any other such malady, it is definetly between his legs. So in such a medical scenario circumcision becomes the only option for a cure, but always remember, that this is the only medical justification for this surgery.

An average foreskin becomes retractable in most boys sometime just prior to or after the onset of puberty and becomes quite easy to clean thereafter, yet there are those who still erroneously think or insist otherwise. I even still come across from time to time the ridiculous notion that boys can not be taught as easily to keep themselves clean as girls can be–a notion that is quite unfounded and fatuous as well as illustrating a contempt for males in general (yes, I usually hear this ludubrious assertion issuing from female mouths). I also feel that any person who holds this benighted view has no business being a parent. But as parents have become more and more informed on the untenable and superfluous nature of routine circumcision, a new trend has appeared in American L&D departments. Most hospital statistics clearly show a steady decrease in the past decade of routine infant circumcision and I am sure this trend will continue. After all, can you think of any other type or kind of unelective surgery which is performed without consent? Of course it is not within the world of medicine in which we most often encounter the anemic excuse given for forced circumcision. This retort is still most reliably to be found in only one place as adumbrated in the introduction: The moldered and atavistic realm of religion.

There is no doubt that this strange and mendacious practice of genital mutilation arose from religious custom. Through out our species history humans have endured, by their own hand or by force, many bizarre acts of somatic alteration due to religious demands. To best illustrate this notion one only need look at the acts perpetuated by monotheistic votaries which continue to display sexual contempt and sadism to this very day (the equally vile act of female circumcision would be a good example to consider here). Now my hatred for all forms of religious faith can be found throughout my writing but I only want and need to focus on one aspect for this current argument. As I have already entreated you to do, please try and come up with any other act of body alteration that is performed without the individual’s consent yet receives societal consent which overrides the consideration of the individual. I feel confident in asserting that you can not. Yet our culture continues to let genital mutilation be done routinely to our defenseless children with the only warrant given being a religious one, WHY?

Why do so many continue to indolently accept this repugnant situation? I do not feel that I need to illustrate any further on this point (although I easily could) about the innate malefaction of religion within our society. The religious themselves do that for me quite handsomely. As with any other aspect of human existence there can never be a defensible religious justification for immoral acts. In our species twenty first century, am I not already preaching to the converted on this subject? Shouldn’t I be?

As a teenager, I went through my phase of anger and indignation towards my own circumcision. I have since come to terms with this fact and can now even say to some degree that I prefer my phallic alteration, if not simply for aesthetic reasons although there are sexual ones as well (I am consciously not mentioning the variances in stimulation in the possession or not of foreskin as it is not germane to this particular version of the argument, but it is definetly a conversation worth having). Nonetheless this does not in any way nullify my hatred for this practice where infants are concerned. If a man wants a circumcision for what ever reason, that is his choice. This is where a corollary with abortion can be drawn. In both acts, the choice of the individual is what is paramount and binding. In the case of circumcision on male infants, there is no possible way to defend this act as a man’s sexuality is being altered without his consent at a time in his life where he not only can not give the consent but also is powerless to resist the ensuing violence. Yet we as a society continue to let this barbarism go on daily all the while allowing the religious to continue to issue the pallid excuse of tradition—this term merely being a euphemism for social conditioning and nothing else.

All I can ultimately do is implore all parents and future parents to leave their son’s genitals alone. But then you have to wonder why such a social request must even be made? Surely sheer human empathy and morality should be enough to prevent the callous mutilation of children. Yet our continually evolving existence as primates illustrates a much different reality, as does the picture below (this image also clearly shows the hectic influence of faith at work in human relations; for me, this is the true and unapologetic face of religion). In the end it really is quite simple when discussing these kinds of rights and ethics. Where our corporeality is concerned, the choice and sovereignty of the individual must always be vigilantly maintained. Otherwise, what is left to be taken from us at anytime and any place with the most inimical caprice?

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……………… It would be nice if some of the reporting on this subject focused on the many Jews who are opposed to circumcision.
Some Jews feel the time has come for a symbolic bris without surgery.

Jewish Groups for Genital Integrity
* Jews Against Circumcision
* Jews for the Rights of the Child
* Brit Shalom Celebrants by Mark D. Reiss, M.D.
* Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective by Ron Goldman, Ph.D.
* Beyond the Bris: Jewish Parenting Blog
* A Case for Bris without Milah. ……………….

Intactivist Jew

August 10, 2011

Thank you for a very good point and for your information. I am sure that readers will find these links useful, those that are interested in a moratorium on genital mutilation that is.


August 11, 2011

According to the Royal Dutch Medical Association (2010), no professional association of physicians currently recommends routine circumcision.


January 1, 2012

Thank you for your information. Many others in their own researches will find a very similar verity.


January 7, 2012

Reblogged this on The Heterodox.


October 23, 2012

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