July 29, 2012

One Is Not Like The Other: Part 2

I used this image because the images in my search were too horrifying.

In this installment of things that should not be compared as equal, we'll discuss how female circumcision is not the same as male circumcision. I'm not advocating male circumcision, I'm just frustrated at the prevalence of "yeah, I feel your pain because I was circumcised as an infant" talk from men in threads on female circumcision on Reddit. For the record, I don't have an opinion one way or the other about male circumcision. On the one hand, I can see the benefits (mostly from a female perspective which I discuss at the end), but on the other hand it is a little shitty to do something so permanent and altering to someone who can't make that decision for himself. 

How they're similar:
For one, they're both called circumcision (this isn't entirely accurate... I'll get to that in a bit). For another, both involve cutting off a part of the person's genitals.

How they're different:
In every other fucking way. Male circumcision is practiced widely in developed countries as a way of preventing specific health issues in both men and women. Male circumcision is usually performed by a trained professional (almost always a doctor, but some religious parents ask a trained Rabbi to perform the procedure) in a sterile medical setting with the latest tools and effective healing techniques to eliminate infections and reduce pain. Male circumcision is performed on days-old infants who will not remember or even realize what happened and almost always with anesthetics to reduce pain. Pardon the comparison, but breeders clip dog tails at the same age and in a similar way, and zoo keepers clip bird wings at the same age and in a similar way. I don't agree with clipping dog tails, but if it's going to happen it might as well happen when they're too young to realize.

As previously mentioned, I've read a few threads on Reddit related to female genital mutilation. In addition to general questions about the practice, there have been a couple of young women posting asking questions about themselves to gauge if they're normal, and recently one from a young man trying to figure out if what he's doing with his girlfriend is normal and what he can do to make sex pleasurable for her. One of the best explanations for the difference between male circumcision and female genital mutilation comes from a user called superdillin: 

I think the intent and damage differences between male and female genital mutilation does need to be pointed out. What we do to our baby boys, often with no medical reason, is bad. Very bad and we should stop. BUT, what was done to OP's girlfriend was done to take away her sexuality, and to control her. It has put her life at risk at worst, and at best has taken away her most sexual pleasure organ, and it was done with the intention of her becoming a breeding cow to be used for a man's needs for the rest of her life.
What we do to our boys is due to misinformation about health and hygiene, combined with unhealthy aesthetic expectations and tradition. What some cultures do to their girls is deliberate, controlling, life-threatening and inherently sexist. [Her emphases.]
Female circumcision is performed in developing countries, with inexperienced operators, a lack of medical equipment and sterilization when the girl is old enough to know what's happening to her but without her consent. The intent behind the procedure is what makes it brutality; the practice is illegal in many countries due to its horrific procedure, complete lack of health benefits and high risk of complication. Young girls, as in 7 years old, have their clitorises (the part of female genitalia that is exclusively for sexual pleasure) cut off to prevent them from having sex before marriage or experience sexual pleasure at all. It is often falsely assumed that removing the clitoris will prevent the girl from ever experiencing sexual desire. Some people even sew the labia together making penetration impossible, which requires that husbands use a knife to cut open their new wives on the wedding night, giving them the ultimate proof of virginity. For a long and horrifying list of complications, read this section of the Wikipedia article (and click on the links if you dare).

Back to the word circumcision: I've noticed an increase in groups publicly opposed to male circumcision (part of this was seen during our recent Gay Pride parade), and some argue that male circumcision should be called male genital mutilation, to more closely align itself with female genital mutilation. Although circumcision in both sexes involves the cutting of the genitals, and both procedures can be unnecessary at best, only female circumcision can actually be called butchering because of how it's performed and what its purpose is. It's called "circumcision" to make it seem more acceptable and to hide what it really is. (Hell, even the Wikipedia page for female circumcision is titled "female genital mutilation.") 

I wouldn't publicly advocate one way or the other for male circumcision because there are benefits and consequences of the procedure that must  be taken into consideration. I can, however, speak from the only experience I have, which is as a woman who has had sex with both circumcised and uncircumcised men. My experience taught me that male sexual pleasure has absolutely nothing to do with having been circumcised as an infant and that my own sexual pleasure had nothing to do with whether or not my partner was circumcised. However, if asked my opinion I might point out that even the cleanest of males can be less hygienic and more likely to spread a disease or infection with their foreskin intact, which from a female standpoint is a huge concern since an infection inside the vagina can be much worse than a topical penile infection. It seems to me like male circumcision has more benefits for a male's sexual partner than for the male himself.

I truly believe, when performed by a surgeon or urologist in a hospital with the proper tools, that male circumcision should be an option and that parents of sons should educate themselves on whether or not to do the procedure. But I also believe that even if female circumcision were to be performed in the exact same situations as male circumcision (on infants, by medical professionals in a sterile setting) that it would be genital mutilation. The intent automatically makes it wrong and the way a female's body is designed opens the poor girl up to dozens of complications, many of which are life threatening. Male circumcision and female genital mutilation are not the same thing.

For Part 1 of this small series, go to One Is Not Like The Other: Part 1.


  1. I mostly agree with you, and while I haven't made up my mind about whether circumcision of babies should be allowed or not, that doesn't mean that the current and very one sided debate against circumcision is right. It seems like there is a growing acceptance against circumcision in any case, in the wake of the ongoing case in Germany and that a circumcised penis is now more likely to be seen as "mutilated" providing no health benefits and only risks.

    I think that both sides should take a deep breath and respect the various arguments on the opposite site while refraining from flawed comparisons with fgm. Comparison with the latter only ails to derail the debate while one should focus on the circumcision issue instead. Of course circumcision has certain risks considering the surgical nature, but it also has benefits while fgm is pure mutilation.

    As a guy who was circumcised as an adult I can also relate to the hygiene issue, which I think is misinterpreted by the "anticirc" stance, claiming there's no difference assuming a normal level of hygiene. The problem is just that they conveniently forget the fact that bacterias and disease still build up under the foreskin even if you clean yourself carefully twice a day. Also, when having high-paced days there may be limited opportunity to go clean yourself even for the most hygienic guy out there, not to mention when physically active or during sports games. Removing the foreskin at least partially solves this issue as you also remove the habitat in which bacterias thrive once and for all, and even the anti circumcision resistance can't argue against that.

    As for sexual performance/pleasure both pros and cons have been reported. Sensitivity may be an issue, but this does not mean that is only negative as less sensitivity enable the guy to last long which can be positive for some couples. From my own experience I'd say there's plenty of sensitivity left and I find it more pleasant to be able to go for a longer period of time. It may be a good idea to leave it up to the guy/couple in question.

    So, instead of this constant pro/con battle, we would be far better off if all that energy was spent on developing safer and less invasive circumcision procedures then let it be up to people to choose for themselves. For example, some countries now offer laser circumcision with less scarring and risk as a direct result, so let's spend our energy on improvements like that.

  2. http://www.chooseintact.com/2012/07/30/procedures-that-intentionally-alter-or-cause-injury/

  3. To my first commenter: It certainly does seem that the benefits are so small to justify male circumcision, even though the serious risks are quite rare. I liked your comment, "Of course circumcision has certain risks considering the surgical nature, but it also has benefits while fgm is pure mutilation." This is my stance, too. I also highly appreciate you commenting as someone who went though circumcision as an adult, by your own will. I do feel selfish in saying that I value male circumcision for its cleanliness factor, but if a routine procedure in infancy makes keeping clean and hygienic easier for the rest of his life it seems worth it. I didn't know about laser circumcision; that sounds like a great way to make the procedure safer and less painful for babies and adults alike, and maybe it will make adult circumcision more common and infant circumcision less common. Thanks for your input!

    To my second commenter: Thank you very much for that link. I've left you a comment of my own. :)

  4. Just a couple of points regarding your comment:

    * "I still believe the intent behind the practices makes one far more cruel than the other..."

    There is a problem here. In the same way that you've over looked the fact that FGM is actually a range of procedures, you've also overlooked the fact that it is performed for a range of reasons. We know that range of procedures includes ones which are less damaging than male genital cutting and some that are more damaging. Similarly, there are a range of reasons FGC is performed including many that overlap with MGC such as: cleanliness, protection from disease, religious obligation, or cultural obligation. This can be seen by following the links in the paragraph that starts: "It is not clear that the intent for each exist as polar opposites." It is not always the misogynistic procedure portrayed in western media, the parents who do it to their girls, just like their western counterparts doing it to their boys, feel it's in their best interest. That doesn't make it right though.

    * "I feel this is a flawed argument. The parents, in most cases at least, are making this decision for the benefit of their son’s health through his developing teenage years."

    I don't see why this would be a flawed argument. Nearly all of the decisions that I can think of of relevance are ones that *have* to be made (the timing is somewhat important), circumcision in the vast majority of cases is non-therapeutic and therefore in most cases there is no need to perform it in infancy. If parents have a health concern, the physician only has to point out the fact that there are none (if that is the case for the individual child) and not perform it. There is no evidence to support the notion that circumcision is less painful for a child and like the potential for pain, if the adult values circumcision more than the concerns for healing then he'll do it. Otherwise he won't.

    The long and short of this is is that neither FGC or MGC can be rationally justified in the vast majority of cases (in infancy or childhood what an adult does is up to them) the simple fact that on average one is worse than the other is of little relevance where it relates to the ethics of performing it.

    1. How can female circumcision/mutilation be done for cleanliness or protection from disease? In my research I found nothing that even hinted to that idea. The only reasons I found were for the last two you mentioned: religious or cultural obligation. Parents that perform FGM on their daughters are doing it for their own good, but that "good" is to protect their daughters' virginities so that they can be eligible for marriage (which is really important in many of the countries that do FGM as women often don't have the same rights and responsibilities as men, and therefore must rely on being married). If you have examples to show me otherwise I'd be happy to read them.

    2. I am not really sure, I am just point out to you that the motivation behind these acts are more similar than you either believe or want to believe. The fact of the matter is that Female Genital Cutting can't ** reasonably ** be done for potential "cleanliness" any more than Male Genital Cutting. Similarly, Female Genital Cutting can't ** reasonably ** be done for potential "diseases risk reduction" any more than Male Genital Cutting can but these are excuses used to buttress these cultural action. Sure we have studies the purport to show, for example, a reduction in HIV associated with MGC but there has been similar results observed with FGC: http://tinyurl.com/cb5fcn3 so why do we follow up on MGC but not FGC? It's cultural. Neither makes it reasonable to do, especially in infancy or childhood.

      Reading your reply here and over at Tony's blog though indicates to me that you're still missing the point. FGC covers a wide range of acts, some are less invasive than MGC, others are more. The reasons they are performed are largely the same, the belief right or wrong (I'd say wrong in both cases and on most counts) that it will benefit the individual.

      Now over at Tony's blog you noted that you were frustrated that people would compare FGC in third world countries to MGC in the US. And you're right, that isn't really a fair comparison. Perhaps it would be more fair to compare FGC in third world countries to MGC in third world countries: http://tinyurl.com/caz6tnf now they're looking more alike.

      Or we could instead put them in the same surgical theater and select the less invasive types of FGC and I don't see any difference. Heck, labiaplasty and 'designer vaginas' are becoming quite popular: http://vimeo.com/9924049 which is a type of female circumcision. I agree you can't directly compare the third world act to a first world act but if we narrow the discussion, I don't see how they're meaningfully different.

      And to be clear I am not promoting FGC. In fact, I believe that boys deserve the same respect and protection for their bodies that girls enjoy. Don't you?

    3. Again, if you have research you've done on the motivations behind FGM that show it's performed for a similar reason to male circumcision I would be interested to read it, but I have found nothing to even indicate that. I've never heard of FGM being performed for "cleanliness" or "disease reduction" reasons. The only way FGM is done for "the benefit of the individual" is that it makes her marriage material, which is only culturally important.
      Labiaplasty and designer vaginas are the result of insecure women growing up in America. These adult women think their vaginas don't look normal ("normal" being what they see in porn or what some guy tells them is normal) and become sexually insecure, wanting to opt for a cosmetic surgery so they'll be desirable to men again. It's ridiculous, but it's so not the same thing as FGM. That would be like comparing a starving child with an anorexic adult.

    4. Well, I gave you the link to a presentation that discussed reduction in risk of HIV, 'disease reduction'. Some of the rest have been documented here:

      along with links to where the specific claim was found, including at least a dozen occurrences of 'hygiene and disease reduction'.

      Interesting the reason you cite for Labiaplasty and designer vaginas (and I don't disagree with you) is also the real reason for male circumcision in the US (and the few other places it occurs). Most parents are insecure and don't know what a normal penis looks like or if they do they believe it's weird or abnormal. 'Normal' is what they see in (American) porn. If they don't circumcise their son, then no women would want him. ect. ect.

      As to whether or not it's FGM (labiaplasty or designer vaginas) I guess it depends on who you ask. They WHO calls FGM

      "Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons."

      I would say those procedures fall into that category, how could they not?

      Again, to be clear, I am not promoting FGC. In fact, I believe that boys deserve the same respect and protection for their bodies that girls enjoy. Don't you?

  5. I appreciate your comments. I replied to them on my post.

  6. From your first commenter again: I read Tony's blog too, and he would be right if the "lightest" version of female circumcision actually was the common form. But as far as I've read myself it's not, and it's the most extensive form where both inner and outer labia are removed that is most common, thus the comparison does still not hold for all practical reasons.

    I think you also have to look at the intent behind circumcision. For women it's too often about control of their sexuality which is of course not a valid reason to perform FGM. Even if the same was true for men in earlier history, modern circumcision is not about bereaving men the joys of sexuality but the opposite. To draw comparisons with my own situation I remember how the focus was on making it better and more hygienic and being able to have more stamina during intercourse.