Male Versus Female Circumcision

When I was 9 days old, my parents paid a moyel to hack off part of my penis. Judaism mandates 8 days, but they lied about my age to make the ceremony not fall on the Sabbath. Of course, I don’t remember anything about it, save what they’ve told me, since 8 day old babies are still in or barely out of the gray area between sentient and non-sentient.

Now that Jill’s writing about the trial of a man in Georgia who cut off his daughter’s clitoris with scissors when she was 2, I feel I should explain why the two practices are entirely different.

First, as commenters both on Feministe and Majikthise have explained, male circumcision only affects the foreskin, while female circumcision affects the entire clitoris. The equivalent of female circumcision would be cutting off the entire penis head.

Second, what the commenters haven’t pointed out is the age difference. I don’t have any psychological trauma from my experience more than 18 years ago. Why would I? I don’t have any trauma from my birth, either, even though it was at least as violent. Obviously, if it had been done to me when I was 2, let alone 12, I’d have remembered it vividly.
Third, circumcision was never intended to sexually restrict men – and indeed it doesn’t (circumcision makes you and your partner enjoy sex less, apparently, but they don’t destroy sexual function). Female genital mutilation is and does, especially when combined with sewing the victim’s vagina shut.

There’s legitimate men’s rights activism around issues like circumcision, the emotional stunting of boys in education, conscription, male victims of domestic violence, and ignorance of male victims of sexual assault. The problem is that men’s rights activists never concentrate on them; instead, they concentrate on making it look as if gender inequality doesn’t exist, and as if cutting off a 12-year-old woman’s clit to deprive her of sexual pleasure is not any worse than cutting off a newborn’s foreskin.

45 Responses to Male Versus Female Circumcision

  1. tim w says:

    Your argument is a little soft. Basically you are saying that male circumcision hurts less and does less damage. I agree. But by making it a lesser evil still does not justify it.

  2. parse says:

    I think you have provided some important differences between female genital mutilation and male (infant) circumcision, but you are far from proving that “the two practices are entirely different” because you don’t consider at all what is common to both.

    Perhaps the most salient common factor is that both practices demonstrate the conviction that parents have the right to mutilate their children as an expression of religious and culture.

    I think your argument that because you don’t remember your circumcision (or your birth), neither of them inflicted psychological trauma is unsupported. Can you say something further about this.

    Also, you claim that “circumcision was never intended to sexually restrict men,” even though you admit that it results in a diminuntion of sexual please. I would consider that to be a sexual restriction, even if it is not a restriction of sexual function. I don’t’ know whether this is an intended effect of circumcision,but since I don’t understand fully the motivation behind infant circumcision, but I don’t think it’s possible to state conclusively that this restriction of sexual pleasure is not part of the reason for the procedure.

  3. Myca says:

    The points you make are essentially correct . . . male circumcision doesn’t affect sexual function much, it happens at an earlier age, etc. And you’re 100% absolutely right that this is NOT the same thing.

    The problem is, I don’t think it would be okay to slice off the inner labia or clitoral hood of an 8 day old girl either. “But we’re not touching the clitoris!” “This shouldn’t affect her sexual function!” “She’s just 8 days old, she won’t remember!”

    I understand that there are important religious and cultural reasons behind male circumcision . . . but, you know, the man who took a pair of scissors and mutilated his daughter had what he considered important religious and cultural reasons too.

    I prefer to adhere to a basic principle of “I won’t mutilate my child’s genitals without his or her permission. Not in large ways. Not in small ways.” That principle applies to female genital mutilation. It applies to male circumcision. Hell, it applies to getting my 8 day old son a penis pericing . . . that’s out of line too.

    For me, it’s not about this practice vs. that practice, it’s about the principle.

  4. SLC says:

    It might be of interest to recall why New Years Day is the 8th day counting from Christmas as day 1. Joshua of Nazereth was circumcised on that day. Somehow, I don’t think he spent any time condemning Joseph and Mary for allowing the operation to take place.

    • Irina says:

      Booooooy, I’ve read tons of stupid arguments pro circumcision, but you take the 1st place trophy. What part of Joshua was not born on Dec 24 have you not learned yet? And what does that have to do with the subject in the first place? The fact that it is a millenary practice does not make it right, in fact, it is another similarity with female genital cutting

  5. Safiyyah says:

    …male circumcision only affects the foreskin, while female circumcision affects the entire clitoris. The equivalent of female circumcision would be cutting off the entire penis head.

    That’s not actually true. Not all FGM practices involve the tampering with or removal of the clitoris. See WHO’s fact sheet on female genital mutilation for more information.

  6. There’s no scientific evidence that infant circumcision makes any difference to adult sexual satisfaction, or to the satisfaction of future partners. People have preferences, but there’s no consensus.

  7. Myca says:

    I’m not Christian, SLC.

    So, bluntly, why should I care whether Jesus would object or not? Human rights are universal, not contingent on religion.

  8. SLC says:

    Re Myca.

    1. This was just a point of information. No need to get all bent out of shape about it.

    2. Up until a decade or two ago, this operation was routinely performed in the United States. When I was a teenager a million years ago, it was very rare to see an individual with a foreskin in the locker room at school.

    3. I suspect that Joshua of Nazareth had more important things to concern himself with then the state of his male organ. Maybe some of the individuals who are getting so upset about it should find something more important to worry about. In other words, get a life. I understand that there are some clowns who have sued their parents and the hospital where the operation was performed.

  9. Alon Levy says:

    I just want to point out that I do think circumcision is a human rights abuse, for the reasons I listed in my post. It’s just a lesser one, much in the same way murdering someone on the street is a lesser crime than running a mafia syndicate. “But our religion mandates it” isn’t a good excuse for anything.

  10. SLC says:

    The fact that the operation was performed routinely in the US had nothing to do with religion. The consensus in the medical community was that it was a health issue.

  11. Alon Levy says:

    Yeah, it was. But now that we know more about the effects of circumcision on libido, it isn’t anymore.

    Lindsay, for some reason your comment got tagged as spam. I’ve just rescued yours and two other comments from a horrible death. If I’m not mistaken, circumcision contributes to premature ejaculation, which makes sex a less enjoyable experience for both partners.

  12. EricaB says:

    *Routine* infant circumcision for the sake of just circumcising a boy is totally wrong. No medical group in the US or worldwide recommends this as a routine procedure anymore. Medical risks far outweigh and possible short or long term benefits.

    As far as religion goes, I am by no means Jewish or an expert in that faith. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve been told that a boy is considered Jewish if he’s born to a Jewish mother. I’ve also been informed that a boy or man may be considered a converted Jewish believer regardless of their circumcision status. And that a male who is intact does not have to undergo circumcision to be a follower of that faith. I also know there is a small but growing movement of Jewish parents choosing to opt out on circumcising their boys – http://jewsagainstcircumcision.org/ .

    I’m all for circumcision for adults who give their consent to have it performed for religious or cosmetic reasons. I do not think it should be performed on any child before he is old enough to fully consent, including for religious purposes. Same goes for female circumcision. If an 18 year old woman decides to have it performed, more power to her. But it doesn’t seem legal or *fair* in the US to tell Jewish parents they can circumcise their boys but to make it illegal for Muslim or African parents to do the same. While female circumcision isn’t exactly the same as male circumcision, both alter the genitals permanently, carry a risk of bleeding and infection, and both do in fact alter sexual response/feeling.
    I certainly do not wish to see female genital mutilation legal or as an accepted practice in the US. But legally, if you’re to allow one faith to practice it, the constitution would surely have to allow other faiths to practice it.
    Best bet – stop all non-medical circumcisions on all children until they reach the age of consenting adulthood. It’s fair for all. And most importantly, it gives the child a choice.

    In response to the OP comments about not remembering it and the age differences…while you may not consciously remember it, it still doesn’t make it right. It is so important for an infant to bond with it’s mother of a caregiver. I bet you don’t remember any of the bonding that happened in your infancy but it doesn’t mean it didn’t profoundly effect your psychological well-being. And a child under the age 4 might not remember anything traumatic or painful, it doesn’t mean that it’s right to do those things just because a child wouldn’t have a collective memory of it.

    Just so you know, I am an OB/Gyn Registered Nurse. I have witnessed both birth and circumcision many, many times. I assure you, circumcision if far more *violent* and traumatic than even the most difficult of births. I am in no way knocking your religion, but I don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression that the natural process of birth is more stressful or even on the same plane as an infant circumcision.
    http://intact.ca/video.html

  13. Alon Levy says:

    Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve been told that a boy is considered Jewish if he’s born to a Jewish mother. I’ve also been informed that a boy or man may be considered a converted Jewish believer regardless of their circumcision status.

    I’m not Jewish by religion – I’m an occasional contributor to the Carnival of the Godless for a reason. But you’re half right here; anyone born to a Jewish mother is considered Jewish, but to properly convert, at least according to Orthodox tradition, a male must be circumcised and undergo a Bar Mitzvah. Conservative and Reform practices may vary.

    At any rate, I don’t support circumcision. I lauded Sweden’s ban on circumcision. I don’t use expressions like “hack off part of my penis” about practices I approve of. My main point isn’t that circumcision isn’t horrific; it’s that it’s far less so than female genital mutilation, and that at any rate making a “What about the men?” argument about FGM is completely misplaced.

  14. gordo says:

    Alon–

    I generally agree with you here, but I’d go a step further. Male circumcision and FGM aren’t even similar, in either intent, practice, or effect.

    The intent of male circumcision has nothing to do with sex. FGM, on the other hand, is all about sex. As Lindsay points out, male circumcision does not in any way affect the pleasure that a man gets from sex. FGM, on the other hand, is intended to deprive a girl of pleasure.

    But the important point is the one you make: some men have siezed on circumcision in order to make a dishonest claim that gender inequality doesn’t exist.

  15. Alon Levy says:

    Actually, Gordo, while trying to look up information on Google, I read that Victorian England appropriated the custom of circumcision as a way of preventing men from masturbating. That wasn’t the original purpose of the practice, and it didn’t prevent men from enjoying sex, but it didn’t begin as a medical procedure.

  16. No, circumcision doesn’t contribute to premature ejaculation. In fact, if anything, circumcised men may last slightly longer, on average:

    Waldinger MD. A multinational population survey of intravaginal ejaculation latency time. J Sex Med. 2005 Jul;2(4):492-7.

    It’s difficult to draw any causal inferences about infant circumcision and adult sexual health. There’s no random assignment and certainly no double-blind condition! However, most studies show a slightly reduced risk of penile cancer and STDs in circumcised men. Circumcised men may also be less likely to transmit STDs to their receptive sexual partners if they do acquire them. If these benefits are real, they’re relatively slight–they’re certainly not sufficiently beneficial to recommend circumcision as a routine medical procedure for infants.

    The human rights violation in the circumcision of male newborns is the infliction of pain and the violation of bodily integrity without consent. The harm doesn’t extend to future sexual function.

  17. whig says:

    I’d just like to point out for the record that I do object to having been circumcised as an infant.

  18. ballgame says:

    Lindsay: I appreciate your effort at being reasonable and objective, but your final statement (“The harm doesn’t extend to future sexual function”) is simply false.

    The fact is that circumcision does not remove dead tissue, like hair, it removes living tissue with highly specialized nerve tissue, according to Dr. John Taylor. He notes that, “The prepuce provides a large and important platform for several nerves and nerve endings.” (This article — “Specialised Mucosa of the Penis and Its Loss to Circumcision” — is available on Rosemary Romberg’s informative website, and a more in-depth version from the British Journal of Urology can be found here.) I think for most people there are few areas of the body we’d be less enthusiastic about losing nerve tissue from than our sexual organs, and I find the casual and occasionally dismissive attitude towards this loss among otherwise highly intelligent and thoughtful people like yourself to be quite bewildering.

    We already know that most males are not huge condom enthusiasts … does reduced penile sensitivity increase a man’s resistance to using condoms? The relatively high incidence of STDs in the highly-circumcised U.S. (as compared to the much lower rates in largely uncircumcised Western Europe and Japan) suggests this is at least plausible, and that particular health consequence should be explored.

    I don’t know exactly which studies you are referring to, Lindsay, but many circumcision studies which purport to show a benefit to the procedure use dubious or flawed methodology, or simply don’t demonstrate the benefit that advocates claim. In her book, Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma, Romberg pointed out that the supposed lower incidence of cervical cancer in circumcised men’s partners disappeared when Jews were removed from the study she examined (a rudimentary requirement given the lack of statistically significant numbers of uncircumcised Jewish men). The supposed AIDS-reducing impact of circumcision demonstrated by the recent preliminary results from the study in Africa (touted by Bill Clinton and Hugo Schwyzer, among others) simply don’t exist, according Dr. Vinod Mishra, who notes that there was no statistically significant protective effect once behavioral and demographic factors were taken into account.

    Other studies from developing nations are similarly suspect. Given the widespread poverty in many of these countries and subsequently diminished access to basic medicine and condoms, one must question whether any avowed benefits among circumcised men is due to some unproven physiological effect or really due to underlying socioeconomic or cultural factors which distinguish people who are able to afford, and are inclined to pursue, this elective surgery. (And in the case of those unfortunate men who were circumcised in substandard conditions, one might also ask whether their surgery may have had an even more negative impact on the soundness of their sex organ than the ordinary Western procedure, and that this impact may have led to a lowered capacity or appetite for sex.)

    There are other important potential consequences of male circumcision that have been completely ignored. Male infants in America are far more susceptible than female infants to certain early-onset disorders like SIDS and autism. The possibility that the trauma of circumcision might be contributing to these disparities has, to the best of my knowledge, never been explored. It’s important to remember that although local anaesthesia (which is only partially effective) is more commonly used today, the overwhelming majority of American men walking around were circumcised without any anaesthesia at all.

  19. gordo says:

    ballgame–

    I haven’t noticed any sexual dysfunction relating to my circumcision. And the lower rates of condom use in the US is directly linked to inadequate education. As far as I know, there’s never been a study that has linked condom use to rates of circumcision.

    Links between circumcision and either SIDS or autism seem to be figments of your imagination. There have been a lot of recent studies on SIDS and autism lately, and none of them listed mental trauma as a cause, let alone trauma from circumcision.

    In other words, you’re really reaching. I suspect that you’re reaching because there isn’t any evidence that backs your position.

  20. Dave says:

    Doesn’t affect function much? Define function; ventually reaching orgasm and ejaculating, providing semen for conception, or sexual pleasure? When it comes to pleasure, it decreases significantly because, let’s face it, you’re cutting off 33-50% of the most erogenous tissue on the penis.

    Pleasure loss can indirectly be linked to length of time, if you significantly delay the amount of time required for a man to reach climax, then you are affecting function. Function does not equal pleasure though, but pleasure is of paramount importance in carrying out that function.

    That argument aside, who the hell gave anyone the right to cut off parts of other people’s bodies as infants anyways? Human rights violations are alone reason enough to outlaw circumcision, open your eyes people and remove the curtain of delusion over your eyes.

  21. Dave says:

    I think men need to be more “macho” and confident today where it counts. Stand up for yourself you pussies don’t let people cut parts of your body off! I’ve seen guys get into fist fights over some stupid half-naked slut, but when it comes to admitting some barbaric piece of shit cut off a part of your penis, it’s all good? Oh you didn’t have a choice as an infant you say? That makes it even worse, denial is almost unavoidable when it comes to such a sensitive issue, but face the truth.

  22. jj says:

    Circumcision causes premature ejaculation. Several studies show this. One study was inconclusive. The point is that this most sensitive part of the penis,that cut men don’t have, provides feedback for orgasim control. It is a myth that intact men do it earlier. Cut men do it faster when they are young and have problems doing it at all as they age.

    Yes circumcison does affact sexual pleasure. Ask any man that has one if he is willing to have it amputated.

    The inner foreskin is the most sensitive part. As such, male circumcision is more extreme than several versions of female circumcision. all GM is bad. And yes, male circumcision is about sex. It always has been — considered an blood ritual to give up a pleasure for god (ancient) and limits masturbation (1800s).

    Saying FGM is worse than MGM is easy if you are female or if you are male and don’t know what you are missing. To be a cut man and say that sex is fine is not meaningful. How would you know?

  23. Mr McLaren says:

    male circumcision is much worse than female circumcision. If something goes wrong a boy will be irreversably castrated and visibly mutilated, a woman will not. Female circumcision does not damage the body as much as male circ does, and fatalities are higher among male circumcisions. less women die than men during this horrific procedure and more often it is the mother who sends her son to have this horrific operation done. What right does a woman have to circumcised a boy?

    Women must bare the responsibility and stop mutilating male bodies.

  24. Mr McLaren says:

    There is no evidence that male circumcision stops aids, aids is spread through bodily fluids from both men and women. This idea that African men should be circumcised routinely is barbaric and nothing more than another feminist attempt to control male sexuality while humiliating these men and placing the blame squarely on the man. Women in the west are responsible for mutilating millions of boys bodies, which they have no right to do so. Mans body means mans choice and women should have no say what so ever in what happens to the male body.

  25. Mr McLaren says:

    If something goes wrong during male circumcision and the operation is botched, the mans body will be damaged beyond repair, he body will physicaly be scarred and he will be ridiculed and outcast. Women dont suffer this, they are given support by numerous groups and are protected by governments and laws.

    Men have less rights than women and are given no help or support when things go wrong.

  26. Jenny says:

    You’re really a nitwit if you say that having your clitoris cut off is akin to having your foreskin removed. Or that having your foreskin removed is the same as having the head of your penis removed. And NEVER, EVER having an orgasm.

  27. Tim says:

    Female circumcision and male circumcision are equal, for females the clitoral hood is removed NOT the clitoris, the clitoral hood IS the same in function as the foreskin of a penis.
    Both practices are outdated and pointless barbaric acts done by people who have no right to alter anothers body.

    Fgm or fgc is different than female circumcision, in that they are done by unskilled idiots with sharpened rocks, broken glass, sharpen sticks and other non-sanitary items. Whereas both circumcisions are done nowadays with medical anaesthetic, and by a medical profesional. Either way they are all wrong and cruel. But as far as the term circumcision goes both are equal and both should be stopped.

    On a personal note, i find it appaling how women can say ridiculous things like it should be done becaue it looks better (im assuming a profesionally done female circ would look better too less fleshy lumps bumps and mounds) but men don’t complain about this, women often say they would much rather perform oral on a man whos cut, because its cleaner, which can be true if the guy in question is an absolute pig and doesn’t wash but then again the same rings true for women there are quite a few creases, nooks, and crannies on a womans genitals too, but again men don’t complain.

    So in short, there is no doubt that fgc and fgm are wrong, but so is any circumcision. But if medical circumcisions should be done to infant boys than they too should be done to infant girls. Or not at all. Afterall it is equality we all strive for isn’t it?

  28. sirius says:

    What rights are boys missing that allows adults to strap them down and amputate sexual tissue, while the same thing done to an adult – or a girl – is a felony?

  29. dude says:

    There is not that big of a difference; there are ~10,000 nerve endings in the foreskin and the frenulum which is more than the clitoris and those are both taken off during circumcision; I was circumcised and probobly will never have a full body orgasm; just ejaculation :(

  30. The number of nerve endings does not make a difference due to size (female vs. male sexual organs). Both organs were created for the use of gratification. At least for women, there is the process of vaginal rejuvenation or reconstructive surgery. There is enlargement surgery for men. Both are merely “for show” procedures without working with any nerves.

  31. [...] clitoris. The equivalent of female circumcision would be cutting off the entire penis head." http://abstractnonsense.wordpress.co…-circumcision/ i agree with this statement i do not believe we can compare male and female circumcision [...]

  32. [...] Male circumcision began as a Judaic (Abrahamic) divine instruction and it is actually healthy; see http://abstractnonsense.wordpress.co…-circumcision/ and http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/…sion-std_N.htm. See [...]

  33. Embrace says:

    i opted for circumcision when i was 16 and couldn’t possibly regret it more. the surgery was a complete success. i’ve had ample experience with both. you will lose at least 75% of the sexual pleasure you could have experienced. the ridged band is as good as it gets when the sense of touch is concerned. to deprive yourself of the peak of one of God’s gifts is truly shameful. what’s even more shameful is depriving this from someone else. what’s even more shameful than that is mutilating a baby, your own baby. if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. safe sex practices and proper hygiene is all you need to experience this. males were strapped to tables and mutilated because of masturbation. if women advocate male circumcision, i advocate female circumcision.

  34. Mavin says:

    Wow some people are veryy uneducated.
    First of all, in the past the foreskin was removed to restrict males from masturbating. Second, the foreskin has a higher concentration of nerve endings then does the clitoris. Third, removing the clitoris does not entirely remove a woman’s ability to experience to sexual pleasure nor does removing the foreskin in men, but in terms of sexual pleasure, it is much worse for men then it is women.

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    are plagued by the problem of premature ejaculation which ruins the moment of sexual
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  37. Larry says:

    Come on people, let’s call it what it is – child rape.

    No excuses.

  38. Emmaleigh says:

    I am beyond against circumcision of either gender (I’m female). However, my husband (circ’d, Japanese) is pro-circ. I’m terrified he’s going to circ our soon-to-be-born child behind my back. I’ve tried everything to convince him not to circ, but he ends up screaming at me (in 5 years of being together, this is the ONLY fight we’ve ever had, this is the ONLY time he’s EVER yelled at me).

    Genital mutilation is genital mutilation. I have no right to force an unnecessary surgery on his body. The “evidence” for circ’ing is flawed. If circ’ing truly does all of this wonderful stuff then why are other developed countries who do NOT circ routinely have the same STD/cancer rates (UK for example)? Why is it that their intact boys/men NEVER have UTIs or other serious problems?

    If my son wants to do it when he’s older, then fine. At least at that age I won’t have to worry about urine/feces getting trapped in an open wound, at least then he’ll be put to sleep for it and at that age he’ll be given REAL pain killers. I could not live with myself if I saw him strapped to a plastic board and screaming for me (some babies do not cry, but only because they’re in shock from the pain).

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  40. I was circumcised at age 14 for ‘phimosis’ by the UK NHS. It was without my informed consent, because neither my parents nor I were made aware that it would destroy the most sensitive parts of the penis. I experienced masturbation with a foreskin, and even though it was tight, the feelings it produced were strong and exquisite. After circumcision, I could barely feel anything, and since the age of 14 it’s been a constant source of anxiety; it’s led to depression and suicidal thoughts and it’s actually ruined my life. Failed sexual encounter after failed sexual encounter, all because of some relic of a ritual sacrifice from a bygone era.

    Male circumcision is genital mutilation and is worse than many types of female genital mutilation. I know someone who had their labia trimmed and can still enjoy sex. It is illegal to even pinprick a girl’s vagina, but it is legal to destroy a man’s sexual pleasure.

    How surprising, that a brainwashed Jew would defend this barbaric practice. Maybe he has stockholm syndrome and is in love with the mohel who sucked his dick as a baby.

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