circumcision advantages disadvantages debate

gaultieri author circumcision advantages disadvantages

by Tom Gualtieri

July 03, 2020

CIRCUMCISION DEBATE | Advantages and Disadvantages

The public circumcision debate on the advantages and disadvantages of circumcision is heating up as more people question the wisdom of the practice. Even presidential candidates like Andrew Yang came out against circumcision. The foreskin is the only part of the human body Americans routinely amputate in the absence of an immediate health threat. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a 2012 statement biased in favor of circumcision while not recommending it. This reversed their previously neutral stance on circumcision. The AAP, faced with declining circumcision rates and health insurance payouts for their members, sought to encourage parents to make the circumcision decision.

The AAP’s actions forced intactivists to increase their educational advocacy about the harm done by this unnecessary procedure.

The AAP’s endorsement of circumcision cites medical issues which may be more prevalent by a few percentage points (sometimes fractions thereof) in the intact male: urinary tract infections, increased chances of STDs including HPV, HIV and others, as well as reduction in penile cancer. However many experts contest there claims. These alleged claims of medical benefits are all contingent on possibility, not probability. The advantages and disadvantages of circumcision are still highly debated.

circumcision debate concerns advantages

What expectant parents must do is weigh the danger in these (mostly) adult threats against the safety of their newborn and his adult sexual health. Expectant parents must also consider the side effects of circumcision, and consider the idea that circumcision is harmful to babies.

While Debating Circumcision Advantages and Disadvantages, Parents Can Be Oblivious to Future

When we think about infants, we do not like to think about the sexual beings they will become. Instead, we think of their safety, protection and innocence. What parent wants to think about their baby growing up and having sex in the future? But infant boys grow up to be men. All adults, men and women alike, deserve their full spectrums of sexual function and pleasure. The sleeve-like structure that is the male foreskin serves a sexual function. When a doctor removes a child’s foreskin is a permanent alteration of the male sexual anatomy.

The penis can function (and has for centuries) without the foreskin, But little thought is given to the long-term effects of its removal. Can a man experience sexual pleasure without his foreskin? Millions of men have but it is the quality of the sexual experience that serves both psychological and biological functions. (Prolonged periods of heightened sexual pleasure produce stronger orgasms in both men and women, making conception more likely.) If the plumbing works from infancy through the teen years, what problems could possibly exist? But it is often later in life that cut men start to experience problems.

Disadvantage Circumcision | It Affects Function

A study released in the April 2007 British Journal of Urology International (Volume 99, Issue 4, pp. 864–869, Morris L. Sorrells, et. al.) concluded that the “five locations on the uncircumcised [intact] penis that are routinely removed at circumcision had lower pressure thresholds.” In other words, the parts removed in circumcision are more sensitive than the parts which remain. The study also notes that the head [the glans] of the uncircumcised penis is more sensitive than the head of a cut male.

penis sensitive before after circumcision

The Sorrells study graphs the areas of sensitivity in the circumcised and intact male. The areas in purple and red are the most sensitive and are entirely removed in circumcision. Also note the loss of sensitivity in the coronal ridge.

Further Evidence Points to Loss of Function

A Belgian study released this year reached conclusions similar to the Sorrells study; a circumcised penis is less sensitive than an intact one. (Bronselaer GA, Schober JM, Meyer-Bahlburg HF, T’sjoen G, Vlietinck R, Hoebeke PB., Department of Urology, Ghent University Hospital, Ghent, Belgium.)

The removal of the specialized mucosal tissue which protects the glans penis also causes, over time, keratinization. This is a process through which skin cells lose moisture, making them tougher and less sensitive.

Some people may not consider a loss of sensitivity as important. But a Danish study considered the issue of how the loss of foreskin affects sexual function. The study was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology in October 2011 (Frisch M, Lindholm M, Grønbæk M.). In that study, circumcised men reported various types of sexual dysfunction 3x more often than intact men. According to Morten Frisch, who led the study, “there were differences… the circumcised men reported orgasm difficulties much more frequently than [intact] men.” The most common problem was unnaturally delayed ejaculation and even anorgasmia (inability to achieve orgasm.) Female sexual partners of those men were 10% more likely to report incomplete sexual fulfillment.

Doctors Weigh In on Circumcision Advantages and Disadvantages

Christopher Guest, M.D, co-founder of the Children’s Health & Human Rights Partnership (CHHRP) calls the AAP’s statement “seriously flawed.” In a press release picked up by Reuters and other online publications, Guest states: “‘Circumcision alters the structure of the penis, which inevitably alters function. Long term harm to men from infant circumcision has never been studied.’ He referred to a growing body of anecdotal evidence collected by the Canadian-based Global Survey of Circumcision Harm. Guest said that in the past 12 months over 900 men have answered the online survey to document their harm.”

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I was damaged by my circumcision too. I learned as an adult that I came home from the hospital with stitches in my penis. When I  examine my body, it is clear that a major vein was severed. It was cut too deep. Basically the doctor removed too much flesh from one side. The surgery left me with scarring and extreme sensitivity which causes irritation during certain sexual activities. This sensitivity has grown worse as I get older. My personal issue can be looked at as a combination of the two main arguments against circumcision. The risks are the  immediate danger to the infant, and the long-term symptoms to the adult.

After the Circumcision Debate | Days of Future Passed

My complaint may seem an ungrateful one in relation to the grotesque damage on view in images of severely deformed penises resulting from botched circumcisions. Some of these are unbearable to look at it. My own sex life has been basically normal. My body was damaged by this excessive cut. But because Americans are so accustomed to the circumcised penis, some scarring and disfigurement almost seems normal. I don’t know anything other than the sex life I’ve had. But I can’t help but wonder what my sex life could be like had I been allowed to keep the body nature designed.

Circumcision Suicide – The Story of David Reimer

In the annals of severe cases, David Reimer’s is one of the most extreme. Reimer’s horror story remained largely unknown until an expose in Rolling Stone Magazine in December of 1997. Reimer and his twin brother were scheduled for circumcision several weeks after birth due to phimosis diagnosis. Phimosis is a tight foreskin which is often misdiagnosed and mistakenly treated through surgery. The first crime here is that it is impossible for an infant to have phimosis since the foreskin is naturally fused to the head of the penis. This is a normal state for all infants and children. Despite this fact, the doctor proceeded with a circumcision on David anyway.

When Reimer’s surgery went horribly wrong, his brother’s surgery was aborted. The brother’s “phimosis” cleared up on its own without surgical intervention. But Reimer’s penis turned black and fell off.

The loss of Mr. Reimer’s penis resulted in a series of tragic decisions. First, his parents were convinced by a Johns Hopkins expert Dr. John Money to choose sexual reassignment for David. What followed was an orchiectomy (the complete removal of Reimer’s testicles) and an attempt to raise him as a girl via hormones and dozens of genital surgeries throughout his life. In his teen years, Reimer’s father disclosed what had happened and Reimer attempted to live his life as a man until his suicide in 2004.

Reimer’s story went unreported for three decades. Other stories like it, told by horrified nurses, doctors and O.R. staff, are available to those who will listen. Reimer’s life is another casualty in the debate on the advantages and disadvantages of circumcisionRead more about David’s tragic story at Slate.

circumcision harm suicide

Debate on Circumcision Advantages and Disadvantages Must Include Botches and Coverups

In an unrelated case, one nurse, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told me: “I had a baby who, shortly after his circumcision, his penis turned black and necrotic. [Author’s Note: Just like David Reimer’s tragedy, above] He was transferred to our hospital for evaluation and died within two weeks. Then several months ago, we had a partial amputation with urethral involvement. That baby had to be transferred to a another hospital for surgical repair and recovery. He will have lifetime urologic complications. His father was inconsolable.”

Hospitals don’t report the damage and deaths as directly caused by circumcision. Doctors prefer to list subsequent issues which would never had arisen if circumcision was not done. They will cite hemorrhage, seizures, shock, or a bad reaction caused by a drug. It’s kind of like saying a patient died because they stopped breathing, not from the gunshot wound. Hospitals obviously do this to shield themselves from malpractice lawsuits.

The associated complications of circumcision include infection, accidental amputation and sepsis. Death due to use of the wrong anesthesia and death from blood loss – whether or not a child is hemophiliac – are also risks. These things are often not discussing when debating the advantages and disadvantages of circumcision.

Children Can Die – Further Debate on Advantages and Disadvantages of Circumcision.

On March 9, 2013, an 11-day-old boy, whose parents posted about his surgical complications from circumcision, died as a result of blood loss due to his circumcision. He was a hemophiliac. Clotting disorders are a condition which could have been discovered first with specialized testing. But the test is never done prior to circumcision. There is not enough time to conduct the test. If the baby had not been circumcised, he would not have “bled out.” (The loss of a mere 2.3 ounces of blood is enough to kill an infant.)   Baby dies from circumcision

Noted sex advice columnist Dan Savage, (whose position on circumcision has changed since the adoption of his son in 1996), had no consolatory words for a young man who wrote to him in a 2004 column.  The young man said, “I am 24 years old and lost my entire glans penis, the head of my dick, in a botched circumcision. Basically I have a shaft but there’s no head at the end…” Savage used this man’s example in response to a reader’s inquiry about circumcising her infant. Savage said, “…even if the odds are low–even if they’re infinitesimal, I would rather teach my son to wash under his foreskin.” “Why assume even the tiniest risk of him losing the head of his penis in a botched circumcision.” http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove?oid=19705

Circumcision Advantage ? | Pediatric Urologists Profit From Patching Disfigurements

Dr. M. David Gibbons, Associate Professor, Pediatric Urology at Georgetown University School of Medicine (who has an impressive list of affiliations in his field) said. “In my practice, as a pediatric urologist, I manage the complications of neonatal circumcision. I handled more than 275 newborns and toddlers in just two years. They all had complications from neonatal circumcision. Forty-five percent required corrective surgery – minor as well as major, especially for amputative injury. [With] 300 pediatric urologists in this country who have practices similar to mine… one can do the math.”
A case need not be extreme to cause sexual dysfunction (which does not always mean erectile difficulties but could include pain, irritation, anorgasmia and lack of sensitivity) or emotional trauma.

Further Debate | Advantages and Disadvantages. Circumcision Harms Men Throughout Life

Adam Z., a handsome 30-year-old in the computer industry, told me he became “enraged” when he learned that he had lost a part of his body. Adam said, “No one feels sympathy when you tell them you were harmed by circumcision. We vehemently oppose the cutting of female genitals. However male genitals are not protected. This sexist double-standard regarding genital cutting in this society is absolutely staggering.”

conte circumcision's disadvantages

Activist Jonathon Conte

Thirty-one-year-old Intactivist Jonathon Conte is open about his anger but finds it a difficult subject to revisit. He channels his feelings into “the human rights movement to abolish non-therapeutic, non-consensual genital cutting. I believe that all individuals – male, female and intersex – have a fundamental right to bodily integrity.” An activist and events coordinator for Bay Area Intactivists, Conte wants people to understand that “circumcision negatively impacts a man and those around him throughout life.” With Americans in denial that the foreskin serves a necessary function, the job of activists like Conte becomes doubly difficult, struggling with their own resurfacing feelings while trying to educate. [ Editor’s note: Conte committed suicide in May 2016, which further underscores the pain and depression some young men are suffering through.]

More Guys Comment on Circumcision Disadvantages

Another intactivist, here referred to as “Leo” asks, “Why do you think the foreskin covers the head of the penis? Why does it exist? Why does it move the way it does? One moment of scientific thought should get you thinking.” Leo tries to get people to understand that there are no mistakes in nature’s design. “Why?” Leo says, is one of the first things a child learns to ask. The child is quickly taught to stop asking because there are some things parents and society don’t want to acknowledge. I kept asking ‘why’ about my circumcision. I was disgusted when I found out the answer. They cut a delicate baby’s genitals from his body. It was mine. What right did anyone have to take a part of my sex organ?”

Peter C., a Filipino man residing in New Zealand after being raised in the Philippines, was circumcised in adolescence. “Getting cut,” he maintains, “didn’t really stop me from [masturbating.] It only made it less enjoyable.”

Jonathan Friedman was circumcised in a bris. A bris is a Jewish religious ceremony which is performed on boys on the eighth day after birth. As Jonathan matured he realized that his shaft skin was very tight. He said, “I always injured myself and had to stop masturbating or having sex.” He further said, “I don’t feel anything when I have penetrative sex and I orgasm unexpectedly or not at all.”

Suffering and Depression Not Part of debate on Circumcision Advantages and Disadvantages

Some men have no feelings at all about their circumcision. Others men live with rage. At the present we must examine the long-term, psychological effects of circumcision through anecdotal evidence. No one has conducted any extensive high-profile studies. But columnist Dan Savage had a remarkably erudite and direct way of addressing the question of whether or not to circumcise an infant.

He writes, “…most cut men are happy with their dicks… and most uncut men are happy with theirs. The thing about the unhappy cut men, though, is that they can’t get uncut, you know what I’m saying?”

After all, when debating the advantages and disadvantages of circumcision, shouldn’t it be a man’s choice? A choice made for him is no choice at all.

Originally published Mar 10, 2013, updated