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Foreskin Man and Other Threats to Our Freedoms

How the Circumcision Ban Could Hurt Us All

Years ago, when my brother, Chet, was a student at Humboldt State University, I met his roommate. Don had long wavy hair and a full blond beard. He also had deep pain and resentment over his parents' decision to circumcisize him as an infant. He felt maimed and violated by their choice. Don was an early advocate of the anti-circumcision movement.

It is men like Don who are leading the charge to keep all boys in San Francisco from being “mutilated” until they are eighteen and can choose circumcision for themselves. They have successfully secured enough signatures to place the Male Genital Mutilation Bill on the November 11th ballet. The bill makes no exception for religious practices and is in direct violation of Jewish and Muslim traditions.

The “Intactivist” movement is bringing together a series of unlikely coalitions. The anti-circumcision crowd who tend to be free-speech, anti-government activists like my brother’s friend Don are finding themselves in bed with the anti-choice crowd who presumably argue “we shouldn’t kill babies before they are born or mutilate boys after.” “Intactivists” are also finding a home with those who harbor anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim sentiment.

A proposed ban on circumcision can be perceived as an assault on religious freedom. For Muslims, male circumcision is considered a way to follow the precepts of the Prophet Mohammed. Circumcision is a requirement of Jewish law dating back to Abraham in the Book of Genesis. According to a recent article in the New York Times, circumcision is more than just a religious issue. “Beyond the biblical, there are emotional connections: checking for circumcision was one of the ways Jewish children could be culled from their peers by Nazis and the czar’s armies.”

Rabbi Ari Mark Cartun of Etz Chayim in Palo Alto has deep concerns. “I want to continue to live in a free country, one that allows me to observe my religion in the way I chose,” he says. 

So does Samina Sundas, a Palo Alto resident and the Founding Executive Director of the American Muslim Voice Foundation. As an American, Samina too simply wants to be free to practice her religion as she sees fit. “This country is founded on religious freedom and I want to be sure we can get back to the ideals that we started from.

In some ways this all may be a moot point. Circumcision has lost significant ground over the past decade. Now, reports estimate only 30 percent of American boys are circumcisized versus over two-thirds of boys in the 1980s and 1990s.

This drop flies in the face of the latest news about the benefits of circumcision and HIV. According to a study in 2007, circumcision significantly reduces the spread of HIV among heterosexuals. The results were so encouraging that the World Health Organization endorsed male circumcision as “an important intervention to reduce the risk of heterosexually acquired H.I.V.”

Male circumcision also reduces the risk of cervical cancer in women.  Human papilloma virus, or HPV, is the main cause of cervical cancer and genital warts. Uncircumsized men are significantly more likely to carry HPV  than their circumcised counterparts. It’s no wonder circumcision advocates say it is a pro-woman policy.

It would all be so sad if it wasn’t also a little funny. The latest comic book hero is Foreskin Man who bears a striking resemblance to Don sans the beard. I don’t imagine Marvel will be rushing to create a summer blockbuster with him as a hero. They can’t even get a green lamp off the ground these days. But the anti-semitism is very real in the comic strip. Monster Mohel is the villan out to harm “innocent boys.” A mohel is a Jewish man who performs a circumcision on a baby boy eight days after he is born in a Jewish ceremony called the Bris Mihal. It’s no wonder the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement against Foreskin Man.

It might seem obvious circumcision is the best choice for male children given the latest health information. However, there are many who disagree, saying a child is born perfect and should not be “mutilated.”  "We abhor the idea for girls," “Intactivist” argue. "Why do it to boys?" 

For now,  the decision to circumcise a male child is still a private choice that rests with parents. But as Samina Sundas asks, “If one city passes this resolution, what is keeping other cities from following suit?” 

With the anti-choice, anti-semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-woman subtext behind the anti-circumcision ban, it is surprising a city as progressive as San Francisco would even consider putting this issue on the ballot. Whatever the outcome, the good news is Our Fair City is not likely to fall prey to the whims of a small faction with an agenda. Right?

Locuta de Bjorg June 27, 2011 at 10:34 PM
This article is absurd and riddled with falsehoods. The "medical facts" you refer to have been proven false, especially the cervical cancer nonsense (the cause of this has been known for 30 years and it is HPV, not foreskins). The infamous 2007 junk-science "studies" done by pro-circumcison nuts in Africa -- a continent with corrupt governments, illiterate and superstitious populations, and major personal hygeine challenges -- were designed to provide exactly the hyperbolic "protection by circumcision" statistics that they wanted and the media could mindlessly parrot. More recent studies tell a much different story. The long-term statistics on STDs in the US vs. other countries with comparable populations and lifestyles also make it clear that male circumcision provides no protection at all for either the man or his sexual partners. Safe sex and use of barrier protection are proven effective. Promoting alteration of the genitals as STD protection is utterly irresponsible. As far as the "anti-woman" assertions, as a woman who is involved with the genital integrity (anti-circumcision) efforts I can tell you that is absolutely false. Circumcision harms the men who have their penis mutilated AND it harms their female lovers. It creates an abnormal penis that cannot possibly function as it was meant to. It reduces his pleasure and hers too. Dr. Christiane Northrup has written on this. Google "sex as nature intended it" for details. LET THE ADULT OWNER OF THE GENITALS DECIDE!
Hugh7 June 28, 2011 at 03:16 AM
When Samina Sundas "simply wants to be free to practice her religion as she sees fit" does she speak for the many Muslim women who want to cut part off baby gir'ls' genitals (as theirs were cut), and if not, why not? I'm not talking about the horrors of tribal Africa, but the relatively minor nicking they do under surgical conditions in Malaysia and Indonesia. The Indonesian Health Ministry has just issued a regulation stipulating "that circumcision ... must not remove any part of the genitalia, but only incise the surface skin of the clitoris. " This seems much more minor than what is done to boys. It happens to be illegal in the USA, but if one is allowed, why not the other? If, on the other hand, gential cutting is a human rights issue and it is right to ban it for females, what is wrong with a mere age-restriction (not a ban) for males? The rest of the developed world does not circumcise boys, only the Muslim world, the USA, the Philippines, South Korea, tribal Africa, Israel, parts of Melanesia, eastern Polynesia and outback Australia. The Australian and New Zealand experiment is interesting. As in the rest of the English-speaking world, circumcision started to catch on in the early 20th century, but unlike Britain, went on to be done to the great majority in the 1950s. Then we virtually gave it up, with no ill-effects. New Zealand's HIV rate is one of the lowest in the world.
Lisen Stromberg June 28, 2011 at 06:18 AM
Thank you for continuing to add to the debate. Locuta, I agree with you. The only truly proven prevention of the spread of IV and HPV are barrier methods. Hugh7, I am curious about the results in New Zealand and would love to see a study to explain why the rates of HIV are so low in spite of the lack of circumcised males. Thank you for bringing it to our attention and if you have more information on this, please share. However, the argument linking female and male circumcision is spurious at best. The deep harm that comes from removing a clitoris can not be compared to removing male foreskin. While I can't personally speak to a reduction in pleasure, no circumcised man I know has complained he isn't enjoying himself enough. Of course, my small sample may not be statistically relevant. I continue to advocate for keeping the government out of our personal lives as much as possible. I believe these decision are best kept between the individual and his or her conscience.
Locuta de Bjorg June 28, 2011 at 06:38 AM
Lisen, are you assuming that the SF circumcision ban initiative will prevent an adult from having genital alteration surgery if he or she wants it and can find a doctor willing to do it? Because if that is the case, you are operating on a false assumption. The ban is for genital cutting on minors. The reason is to protect all children equally and allow the owner of the genitals to make his/her own choice as a competent adult. There is no difference between male and female genital cutting on children. In both cases a child is held down and a part of his or her genitals is cut off or mutilated such that it does not function normally as a sex organ and sexual sensation/pleasure is reduced. Does anything else really matter? FYI, the foreskin is the primary erogenous tissue of the penis and removing it is quite comparable to a clitorectomy in a female. The only people who feel the need to differentiate between male and female genital cutting/mutilation are those who want to practice one but not the other. Our government has not only a right but a responsibility to equally protect all children from harm and to ensure that their needs are being met. this is why we have child protective services and a variety of laws regarding the protection and welfare of children. IMO this ban is appropriate and long overdue.
Positive Mate June 28, 2011 at 02:15 PM
If you're living with genital warts or other STDs, this may help. HerpesGroups is a safe and warm-hearted community for singles with STDs to connect with others in the same situation. You can find support groups to talk about symptoms, treatments, meet new friends and even find love with someone that understands what you go through.
Jack Perry June 28, 2011 at 02:16 PM
Lisen, you do realize that the entire clitoris is not removed with FGM (the internal parts of the clirois are NOT cu out). As anyone that has looked into this knows, most FGM is labia and clitoral hood cutting. That is still heinous IMO, but that involves less nerves and less erogenous tissue than male circumcision (MGM) as practiced here in the US. Do you understand that "the foreskin" is not just skin (the outer part is) and is many parts including the main male sexual pleasure regions with about 20000 fine touch and stretch nerves (more nerves than the entire clitoris). Lisen, is female sexual pleasure more important than male? Is female erogenous tissue more protectable? Also, do you reallize that every claim about male circ is also made about female circumcision health, hygiene, looks.... And so many cirucmised women in Africa and Maylasia claim that sexual pleasure is fine and they want to have their daughters cut. Yes, keep the decision with the individual -- the person that owns the genitalia.
Jack Perry June 28, 2011 at 02:18 PM
Female Circumcision Prevents HIV/AIDS Stallings et al. (2009) reported that, in Tanzanian women, the risk of HIV among women who had undergone Female Circumcision was roughly half that of women who had not; the association remained significant after adjusting for region, household wealth, age, lifetime partners, and union status. Female circumcision and HIV infection in Tanzania: for better or for worse? (3rd IAS conference on HIV pathogenesis and treatment) International AIDS Society -------------------------------------------------------- Kanki et al. reported that, in Senegalese prostitutes, women who had undergone Female Circumcision had a significantly decreased risk of HIV-2 infection when compared to those who had not. Kanki P, M'Boup S, Marlink R, et al. "Prevalence and risk determinants of human immunodeficiency virus type 2 (HIV-2) and human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) in west African female prostitutes Am. J. Epidemiol. 136 (7): 895-907. PMID
Jack Perry June 28, 2011 at 02:27 PM
The CDC is a very pro- circumcision site. They leave out the many US studies of population groups that show natural men and circumcised men get HIV at the same rate -- in the real world zero benefit viz HIV, HPV and STDs. The medical professionals in JP and EU think the US (CDC) is obsessed with cutting off penis parts. Here is just a bit of it: NAVY STUDY: Although HIV risk factors were found to be associated with HIV in this military population, there was no significant association with male circumcision. The Laumann study (USA, 1997), based on over 30,000 American men, which showed no advantage to the circumcised group. The most recent comparative study from Dunedin, New Zealand (cohort of about 500 men) backs this up, concluding: "Circumcision does not appear to shield men from most types of STDs in developed nations". SOURCE: Journal of Pediatrics, MARCH 2008. The Baltimore study the CDC mentions clearly found that Among ALL visits, circumcision was not associated with reduced HIV prevalence. IN Kenya they just did a study of a group and circumcision status was not associated with HIV or HSV-2 seroprevalence or current genital ulceration. The US sponsored DHS Comparative Reports No. 22 showed that in Africa there appears no clear pattern of association between male circumcision and HIV prevalence. I don't see that the last two studies (that raise issues about the 3 Africa studies) are mentioned by the CDC! Is that not odd?
Lisen Stromberg June 28, 2011 at 03:03 PM
Jack, Thank you for the detailed information. Each parent, who currently has the freedom to decide if they are willing to do this to their son (or daughter), will want to take this into account and decide for themselves if they can live with the outcome. It seems to me the most effective solution would be a vast education campaign, not a governmentally imposed restriction. The good news, for those who feel passionately about this, is that circumcision rates in the US are lower than they have been in decades. Again, I am not pro or con circumcision. I am con-governmental involvement. Lisen
Jack Perry June 28, 2011 at 08:44 PM
Thanks Lisen, I am also against too much governement involvement, excpet when one human's actions affect or harm another. Traditionally humans get the government involved to stop the knife of one person cutting the body of another.
Stan Barnes June 28, 2011 at 10:29 PM
The fact that Muslim and Jewish parents believe that male circumcision is a religious religious requirement is not a sufficiently good reason for American doctors to tolerate unnecessary genital surgery on non-Muslim and non-Jewish boys. Because there are effective, non-surgical way to prevent or treat the rare medical problems related to normal, intact male genitals, it is unethical and inappropriate for doctors to circumcise healthy non-Muslim and non-Jewish boys.
Stan Barnes June 28, 2011 at 10:40 PM
Lisen Stromberg writes, " I am advocating for the freedom to decide without governmental intrusion." You are advocating denying me and my infant brothers our freedom to decide what permanent body modifications are done to our own bodies. If you were to pierce your son's penis, you would go to jail.
Stan Barnes June 28, 2011 at 10:50 PM
The dividing line in this debate is whether or not a person respects a male's right to genital autonomy. It is clear from this article that you do not respect my right as a human being to make permanent body modification decision about my own body. From the point of view of an infant boy anyone who tries to justify cutting off a normal, healthy part of his body without a compelling medical reason and without his consent is pro-circumcision.
Hugh7 June 28, 2011 at 10:55 PM
Lisen: "I am curious about the results in New Zealand and would love to see a study to explain why the rates of HIV are so low in spite of the lack of circumcised males." Heterosexual transmission is a small part of HIV transmisssion, and female-to-male is much rarer than male to female, so any effect of circumcision (and the evidence of any is weak) makes very little difference to epidemics in the developed world. Because of its remoteness, NZ had a little time lag in which to get ready for HIV. The gay community self-started safe-sex promotion, which was taken up by the government. Homosexual acts were legalised in 1986, enabling everything to be much more open. Needle-exchange progammes greatly cut down IV drug infection. (Meanwhile the US had Ronald Reagan keeping schtung on AIDS for seven years...)
Stan Barnes June 28, 2011 at 10:59 PM
"Anti-choice" is a meaningless label in the debate over male circumcision of children. Both sides of the debate are "pro-choice". One side of the debate is "pro-parental choice" and the other side of the debate is "pro-personal choice". Male circumcision should be the choice of the person most effected by the decision, the male who is having sexually sensitive tissue cut off from his genitals without a compelling medical reason for the surgery.
Hugh7 June 28, 2011 at 11:00 PM
"However, the argument linking female and male circumcision is spurious at best. The deep harm that comes from removing a clitoris can not be compared to removing male foreskin." Read what I said again. Female genital cutting does not always remove the clitoris, yet ALL FGC is outlawed in the developed world. It's a human rights issue. Why the double standard? "no circumcised man I know has complained he isn't enjoying himself enough." He doesn't know what he's missing, though, does he? "I continue to advocate for keeping the government out of our personal lives as much as possible." And here, the government would be used to keep others out of our personal lives. That is one of its functions. "I believe these decision are best kept between the individual and his or her conscience." And so do we - the individual with the genitals.
Hugh7 June 28, 2011 at 11:04 PM
"and decide for themselves if they can live with the outcome." But it's not they who have to live with the outcome, it's the person they have it done to. He will be in their care perhaps 18-20 years, but an adult man with the right to decide for himself about his own genitals for the next 50-60 years. That right should not be pre-emptively taken from him.
Mark Weiss June 29, 2011 at 01:42 AM
Maybe next year we can combine Palo Alto World Music Day with a circumcision teach-in and have all the musicians donate their tips.
James Loewen June 29, 2011 at 06:20 AM
Forced genital cutting of an adult without their expressed consent is an aggravated sexual assault. Doing this to a child is even worse. This author's take on this issue is vapid. This is an issue of human rights.
Kurt True June 29, 2011 at 10:16 PM
I would never characterize my circumcision as a "private choice." I would characterize it as a violent sexual assault against a helpless child that left me permanently disfigured. I never had a choice. http://whatimmissing.blogspot.com
Edward Margolis July 30, 2011 at 03:02 AM
The comic parody, Smegna Man Gets Circumcised, (published at Smegmaman.com) is a lot funnier; has a great plot; and passes along sound information about the medical and cosmetic benefits of the procedure– and, in the end, the villains meet a very appropriate end. Ed Margolis
Hugh7 July 30, 2011 at 10:50 AM
"Smegma Man" is much more offensive to intact men - who are routinely vilified in circumcising societies - than Foreskin Man ever was to Jews in general (only to the kind of mohelim who want to practise metzitzah b'peh). "Sound information"? "medical and cosmetic benefits"? Yeah, right. Since it clearly compares all Intactivists to Nazis, it falls under Godwin's Law. Bzzt. Thank you for playing, Ed.
Mark Weiss July 30, 2011 at 10:23 PM
Let me guess: Schmegmaman shtoops his maid but his wife pretends not to notice for 15 years?!
Edward Margolis July 30, 2011 at 10:52 PM
Actually, Mark, it is Smegma Man; not Schemegman. Just pop over to Smegmaman.com. I'm sure you'll like it and will understand what gets a regular guy like Hugh7 so upset. Hugh7 can give a pass to "super-hero" who commits mayhem, kidnaps babies, and who encourages the murder of doctors and mohels involved in infant circumcision but feels vilified because the heroine in the Smegmaman comic prefers circumcised men. Maybe it's because the former is just a comic while the latter is reality. Ed Margolis
Stan Barnes July 31, 2011 at 03:23 AM
Many men in Africa prefer circumcised women. Cutting the genitals of children to satisfy the sexual preferences of adults is wrong, whether the child is an African girl or an American boy. The fact that women with intact genitals produce more smegma than men with intact genitals highlights the sexist double standard that is common in cultures that cut the genitals of boys but don't cut the genitals of girls.
Stan Barnes July 31, 2011 at 03:26 AM
"Infant male circumcision was once considered a preventive health measure and was therefore adopted extensively in Western countries. Current understanding of the benefits, risks and potential harm of this procedure, however, no longer supports this practice for prophylactic health benefit. Routine infant male circumcision performed on a healthy infant is now considered a non-therapeutic and medically unnecessary intervention." ~ The College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia
Stan Barnes July 31, 2011 at 03:31 AM
One of the characteristics of cultures that cut the genitals of children is devaluing the parts they cut off. The attitude of many Americans about normal intact male genitals is similar to the attitude of many Africans about normal intact female genitals. "Medical support for routine circumcision has rested on the presumption that the foreskin is trivial, as one physician quipped, just a few millimeters of skin." ~ David Gollaher
Hugh7 July 31, 2011 at 07:52 AM
I would have thought a lawyer would know that "mayhem" is the crime of intentionally maiming another - so it is Dr Mutilator, Monster Mohel, Ghinjo and Githnji who plan mayhem, on children. (It is only custom that keeps infant circumcision from being illegal on this basis already.) FSM - like many a superhero before him - knocks some teeth out. Encourages murder? Not in the ones I saw. Nor is rescue from the maimers kidnapping, when the mother approves.
Judy August 29, 2011 at 04:22 PM
Cutting off any part of a child's body should be illegal. Circumcision should have been removed from our vocabulary when soap and running water became available to Americans. The thought that this procedure was done without anesthetic in hospitals horrifies me.
Locuta de Bjorg August 30, 2011 at 04:17 AM
Even if it is done WITH anesthetic in hospitals it is unethical and completely unacceptable! Medical practitioners have no business being in the non-theraputic/cosmetic genital cutting on children business... but as long as we have for-profit medical care, there will be a financial incentive for them to keep doing it.

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