That’s not a joke: I really am going to discuss my very own penis–so don’t say you weren’t warned!
Last week, the New York Times reported some very good news indeed: although 80% of all American men are still circumcised, the rate of neonatal circumcision plummeted from 56% in 2006 (which was already down about ten points from the rate in the ’80s and ’90s) to just 32.5% in 2009. This qualifies as a big time trend (hopefully not just a “fad”).
Those in the pro-circumcision camp, including many male doctors who are no doubt themselves circumcised, have understandably gone into a tizzy upon learning this news. They know that a 33% rate is not stable in American society. Either they have to arrest the trend ASAP and get circumcising back into the majority position, or it will continue to drop precipitously until it’s in single digits. Because let’s face it: most Americans are not very invested in either side of this issue. They just want to stay with the herd, and do what is “normal” (that is, what the majority does, even if the minority has good arguments for why it is not normal at all, biologically speaking). This was the strongest weapon in the pro-circ camp for many years, until just this moment in modern history. Now that the majority has flipped decisively to the other side, and this has been made public via the NY Times and other media outlets (although in the case of NPR, in a despicably unbalanced way), there is likely to be a stampede away from the knife, unless the pro-circ side in their desperation can come up with some way to stem the tide.
One of the tactics they have been trying is to insist that there are myriad health benefits to circumcision. Hannah Rosin, a vocal proponent of circumcision (she had her son circumcised, which is where her emotional investment comes in), has even warned of a “potential public health crisis” if the circumcision rates continue to drop. As I told her at her blog, the only problem with that is that the four healthiest countries in the world are Iceland, Sweden, Finland, and Germany, all nations in which almost no one is circumcised. So much for that theory!
One argument I’ve seen bouncing around the blogosphere is a protest from Jewish men that the anti-circumcision campaign is “anti-Semitic”, or that at the very least, preserving circumcision has a “social benefit” by–get this–preventing Jewish (and Muslim) boys from being ostracised in the locker room! Wow. That’s just…no. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t cut it (no pun intended). I should be clear: I’m against circumcision no matter what your religion is. I’ve seen some fellow “intactivists” make an exception for religion, but I utterly reject that. A boy can grow up and decide to do that for his religion when he is 18; at age zero he has no ability to consent and may not even ultimately join the religion of his birth–which should be his right.
But wait, you ask: wasn’t this supposed to be about my penis? Okay, yes: I am an American man with a rare attribute at my age (41): I did not get any part of my genitals cut off when I was a baby (or at any time since, for that matter). Let me tell you that while I don’t want to get graphic, I know how my body works, and I can see how the equipment of guys in pornos works, and let’s just say they are not just missing some irrelevant bit of skin. The whole natural way it’s supposed to function is not possible with them (as graphic as I’ll get is to suggest Googling “gliding action” and say that given this latest news, a good financial tip would be to short the stock for companies that make “personal lubricants” in about fifteen or twenty years). So I am ecstatic about this trend, and like to feel that I had a small but significant part in it by giving testimonials like this one online over the past decade.
I have often wondered how insane circumcision must look to men in non-circumcising countries. Now, as long as the momentum continues, we’ll get to see how insane a younger generation thinks it was that people did this “in the olden days”. Arthur C. Clarke has a nice bit about this in his novel 3001, in fact.
For me as an intact American man in 2010, to listen to those who still desperately insist that circumcision is a good idea strikes me as what it would be like to live in a country where most people have traditionally had one eyeball removed at birth, but a growing number of people start questioning the wisdom of this tradition. The defenders of routine neonatal eyeball removal would make defensive comments that “you don’t need that ‘extra’ eyeball; I can see just fine–and my risk of eye cancer is cut in half”. Well, sure, you can get by pretty well without it, certainly much better than with zero eyeballs! But to get the full range of stereoscopic vision, you need both eyes. And it’s really the same with the foreskin. We are naturally formed the way we are for a reason, and to routinely remove a part of a boy’s healthy genitals (the most sensitive part, by the way) is a holdover of a barbaric religious rite being awkwardly shoehorned into modern times by desperate defensive medical rationalisations.