Elephant in the Room: Female Genital Mutilation is bad, so why is Male Circumcision OK?

in #life3 years ago (edited)


I was reading a BBC article yesterday on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). This got me thinking about something that has bothered me for some time.

We read a lot of articles and press about how FGM is wrong and a despicable act. Like most sane people I wholeheartedly agree with that.

It is now referred to as female genital mutilation (rather than female circumcision) to make it clear that this is an un-necessary procedure that results in actual physical and psychological harm.

The following excerpt is taken from the website of the United Nations International Zero Tolerance Day for FGM:

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls. The practice also violates their rights to health, security and physical integrity, their right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and their right to life when the procedure results in death.

I would agree with most of what is said here but I am not sure that this represents "an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls" - at least we are talking about this issue, where is the page for boys/men?

Discrimination would imply that this is something that happens only to females.

A topic that rarely gets discussed

One thing we never seem to hear debate about is the male equivalent. Rates of male circumcision vary depending on the nation but I think few people would argue with the fact it a lot more common than FGM.

All of the UN cited issues about FGM could apply to male circumcision.

It may not be as surgically extreme as the female version but it is still an un-necessary medical procedure, carried out without consent on children, who are usually too young to complain about it. Like any surgical procedure it carries risks and the potential for complications.

How can we allow young children to be mulitated for religious or cultural reasons on a mass scale?
Would it be acceptable to perform mass appendicectomies on children without their consent? Why does removing the foreskin get a free pass?

Why does it get ignored?

Cultural Blindness

There seems to be a cultural blindness to the issue.

Circumcision is carried out so frequently in western cultures (particularly the US) that it is not considered unusual. Even in places like Europe where the minority of males are circumcised (around 20% according to Wikipedia) - the rates are high enough that it is considered routine.

Further due to it's association with certain religious groups i.e. Muslims and Jews it is (in my belief) not questioned for fear of being labelled as racism.

Political correctness overrides the questioning of this and indeed (perhaps more alarmingly) some medical literature seems to be skewed in promoting the potential positive benefits of circumcision in a manner which seems quite bizarre to me.

It is the only case where I have seen a positive spin being put on an unnecessary medical procedure which has inherent risks in itself.

This WebMD article is a good example of this kind of spin. It is not uncommon to see this kind of bias in actual medical papers on the subject. The bias is so established that most people don't even notice it.

The Foreskin does have functions DESPITE establishment bias to the contrary

This excerpt from Wikipedia (note the link contains images of male genitalia) sums up some of the relevant research:

Taylor et al. (1996) described the foreskin in detail, documenting a ridged band of mucosal tissue. They stated: "This ridged band contains more Meissner's corpuscles than does the smooth mucosa and exhibits features of specialized sensory mucosa."[6] In 1999, Cold and Taylor stated: "The prepuce is primary, erogenous tissue necessary for normal sexual function."[26] Boyle et al. (2002) state that "the complex innervation of the foreskin and frenulum has been well documented, and the genitally intact male has thousands of fine touch receptors and other highly erogenous nerve endings."[30] The American Academy of Pediatrics noted that the work of Taylor et al. (1996) "suggests that there may be a concentration of specialized sensory cells in specific ridged areas of the foreskin."[31]

The thing is many men like myself will never know that function for ourselves because we were deprived of that right via forced amputation before we were even aware of what it was.

This article in the Huffington Post by Morten Frisch seems to offer a rare perspective that we hardly ever hear.

A difficult topic to discuss

I realise this is a difficult topic and people get very heated about it. On the occasions when I have discussed it with my Muslim and Jewish friends some of them have gotten quite defensive about it and felt it was almost as a kind of personal attack.

I can sympathise with that (having a Muslim background myself and having had many Jewish friends myself). It does seem sometimes that we are under constant attack in the media and press but in this case I think that is missing the point.

Further I feel that in "civilised" societies we should be able to discuss any issue in a rational and logical manner.


I can envision that many people may consider this a non-issue.

I do not agree with that.

We are talking about an unnecessary surgical procedure being carried out on young boys without their consent and which they are unable to refuse.

Shouldn't civilised societies protect the innocent?

I think for one thing we should change the name of male circumcision in line with the female version.

Call it what it is:

Male Genital Mutilation.

What do you think?

Thank you for reading. Please have your say in the comments below:


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I have 3 boys with 3 different women, all their mother's tried to get the snip done for aesthetic purposes... No freakin way... Not removing part of what will be his favorite thing!!! Thankfully I put my foot down and none of my boys were mutilated.

Good. I am not against people having it done voluntarily as a medical procedure for health reasons but anything other than that is ethically dubious in my opinion. Those boys may thank you for it one day.

I stumbled upon a briss in my college days... Changed a fella for life!
It should only be done for medical reasons like you say.

Exactly. It is a part of the body and there for a reason!

Without getting into the debate (because I really haven't settled), I think there's a problem with equating the two. One deprives the recipient of sexual pleasure and, in extreme cases, results in a lifetime of pain, especially during intercourse. The other may (probably does?) result in some reduced sensation, but rarely causes any physical issues after the initial healing.
IMO, a more rightful comparison would be to compare the removing of the clitoris with the removal of the penis (or perhaps the head?). Someone can call it mutilation if they want, but the distinction should be kept clear. What's done to women/girls is far more grievous than the removal of the male foreskin. Again IMO, equating the two at all diminishes the horror of what is done to the female.

I disagree.

The inference that there is a slight loss of sexual sensitivity is based on evidence that is at best biased and flawed. Further FGM practices vary. I am not suggesting that they are equally bad in terms of the severity - I am making the point that from moral perspective the issues are very similar. I find the idea of cutting off a babies foreskin horrific in itself.

Murder is worse than beating someone but they are both wrong.

Just because one thing is more extreme it does not make the the less extreme any more acceptable. That is a logical fallacy.

No, not more acceptable, but more horrific. It is more horrific to cut off an arm than a finger, for instance. Neither is acceptable.
I have no clue on the loss of sensitivity.

Men shouldn't have to mention women's issues every time they are to speak of their own. They should be able to speak without having to say that women have it worse to be taken seriously, to avoid being called misoginist, or avoid being accused of playing victims or derailing the conversation from people who are truly struggling.

The comparison was made in the OP, so it's entirely relevant in this discussion. It was this particular aspect of the OP that I was addressing.

I've tried taking the opportunity to call for more awareness to this practice when I see it being discussed elsewhere and this is the kind of reasoning I get for comparing the two, but it also happens for other issues that relate to men too. I just wanted to place it somewhere in this thread, it wasn't meant for you :)

It shouldnt be contrasted with FGM. The arguments happen when trying to equate things that aren't equivalent. I can't say that reading about FGM that it sounds anything close to a liveable procedure.

A baby shouldn't be mutilated in a way he can't even choose for reasons of superstitions or some assumed aesthetic appeal. do some mothers think something like: "I prefer cut cocks so I'm concerned how my son will do sexually if his isn't" ? Really...It should be illegal. Can always brave it later --if he chooses to be that damn religious he deserves it lol sorry had to

Yes I understand what you're saying and I am not saying they are equally severe. We just rarely hear about the male side even though it is more common.

As for the research and evidence on sensitivity. I think the problem is there is no really good way to research this ethically. It would also be hard to get funding for this given the controversies and the fact that there is nothing in it for drug companies. Also if you have had it done as a child then you don't know any better so can't really say what you have or haven't lost.

I'm pretty certain uncut is more sensitive. Just an observation lol

It makes sense given the number of nerve endings involved.

Because some people refuse to see males as victims.
Because the practice is protected by cults. Because it's hard for some guys to admit a part of them was taken, many times without their consent. It's hard to think that your life could had been a bit better but the people that were supposed to protect you failed you. Men are not encouraged to express shit, they are encouraged to deal with shit.

Exactly. The worst thing is it is your family that just blindly do it without even thinking.

the health care system in America is making a shit tonne of money out of it, which is why they push it so hard.
I think people see it as acceptable because they trust the authority of the healthcare system.
I'm strongly against both and while I agree with some comments that FGM is a more brutal I think guys understand that so we don't need to raise it every time the subject comes up.
Ladies if you object to guys jumping in on conversations about domestic violence and mentioning violence against men then don't do the same thing on men's issues.

Interesting perspective. I never thought about the financial aspect of it. Yes I'm not minimising FGM - I made the point in the post that it is more extreme but getting tied up in comparing severities misses the basic point. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

It isn't. But the people who practice it refuse to allow criticism. Canadian doctors tested the effect of circumcision on babies. They found that afterwards, brain function never returns to normal. Look up Dr. Paul Tinari at the Pacific Institute for Advanced Study

Interesting. I will do, thank you. It makes sense because there will be a specific area of the brain in the sensory motor cortex that maps to the foreskin - the more sensitive an area the larger the brain area tends to be. So it does make sense.

I feel part of the refusal to allow criticism comes from being in self denial. A lot of doctors are Muslims and Jews and from cultural regions where it is normalised. Admitting to this could potentially create a painful kind of internal conflict.

I have an infographic if you're interested. No idea how to put it in a reply though.

If you upload it (or upload a screenshot) to https://imgsafe.org then you can just copy the link into your reply. It will show up as an image automatically.

Yes, I didn't make the image. It seems to be suggesting that the command to withhold publishing and indeed to destroy the results was based on Jewish wishes. I wouldn't go that far though I did think the text was interesting.

What concerns me about this article screenshot you have posted is the use of a Star of David to block the images. That makes it look like there is an agenda behind it which clouds the issue and plays into the hands of religious people who would consider this an attack on their customs rather than a human rights issue.

It's a serious issue indeed, a cultural bias makes people culturally blind to the mirror. Child abuse is child abuse, no matter how much sugar-coated religious BS anyone puts on top. Chopping off parts of the body we are born with -> irrational belief. Resteemed.

Exactly. Thank you:) The worst thing is that compared to FGM which people rightly do discuss this issue is hardly every discussed.

Glad you are talking about this. As a radical mother of adult children whom I never put in school or rarely forced learning, I put myself in a social network that Rethinks Everything. Since the early nineties I have been privy to many conversations between parents discussing circumcision. The majority of our community abhors mutilating our children in any respect. There is much conversation about male mutilation. You have just not immersed yourself in a freethinking culture. Fortunately, you found steemit, a community of many on the cutting edge of relatively radical thinking.

There is, to date, no good reason to mutilate genitals. Anyone who says different knows not what they say. I have a friend who is a Urologist who specializes in penis reconstruction. She tells many horrific stories of debauched circumcisions that she has repaired on both babies and adults. Her professional opinion is that all circumcisions are unnecessary.

As an anthropologist I have studied circumcision that takes place in jungles, hunter/gatherers and the Congo. These are usually done on adult males passing through a ritual into manhood. They are culturally mandated and being waaaaay more intensive than the common cuts we see on American babies. There are actually 5 types of male circumcision. American males commonly undergo the most simplest form. However, Latin American men almost never are circumcised.

I know many women who will ask guys if they are circumcised before accepting an invitation for a date. Great topic! Certainly needs much discussion and I also want to say my community is part of a grass roots movement to NOT do this to our children.

Thank you. I'm pleased to see that there are people who are thinking differently. Thanks for such a great response.

Thank you for taking the time to shed some light on this key issue in our culture today.

You're welcome. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, it is much appreciated:)

While I am not familiar with FGM, I can speak objectively as a circumcised christian male. The old testament of the bible called for all male children of God to be circumcised. God didn't make such commands with out a good and bonnified reason. In the secular realm, I was always taught that circumcision prevents bacterial build up under the foreskin that can cause infections and more STDs than we have in existence now. I don't remember being circumcised, and I don't think I'm physically or mentally scarred from it. As far as being deprived of extra sensory sex; Sex is great the way it is for me. A man born blind wouldn't know he was blind if someone didn't tell him.

God didn't make such commands with out a good and bonnified reason.

God does a lot of things that don't make sense. Fact is if he exists we don't really know what he thinks or wants. The sources we have are from humans no matter what religion tells us. I am not against someone having circumcision for religious reasons on their own body if they are able to consent - that is their right.

In the secular realm, I was always taught that circumcision prevents bacterial build up under the foreskin that can cause infections and more STDs than we have in existence now.

The validity of that kind of belief is in dispute but even if it wasn't it should be up to the individual if someone permanently removes a part of their body or not.

The problem is we are so indoctrinated by Abrahamic religions (myself included) that most of us don't even see the oddity of this situation. Doctors are as susceptible as everyone else.

As far as being deprived of extra sensory sex; Sex is great the way it is for me. A man born blind wouldn't know he was blind if someone didn't tell him.

Using that justification it would be acceptable to blind everyone at birth. Clearly that would be absurd.

You asked for open dialogue. I simply gave you that with a different perspective. Your response was defensive and the very reason why most people don't like to talk about such matters.

You asked for open dialogue. I simply gave you that with a different perspective. Your response was defensive

I'm just stating my opinion as you did. Part of open dialogue is being honest.

I did not say there was anything wrong with you stating your opinion.

Stating the truth is not defensive it is simply reality. I'm sorry it offends you. Perhaps you should ask yourself why?

That is the problem with talking about anything that involves religion. It is impossible to talk without people taking personal offence. The problem is religious people like to play the victims all the time when in actual fact they are favoured by culture and the establishment.

That is why I'm glad I no longer have my opinions coloured by belonging to an organised cult.

No offense taken. I brought up religion because that's where circumcision started. What I was trying to state was it wasn't started from some half cocked idea. You took the religious context to another level. Just the facts. The key to any dialogue or debate is listening to the other side, whether we agree or not.

Well I'm sorry if it came across that way it was not my intent but I can see that it might come across that way.

The key to any dialogue or debate is listening to the other side, whether we agree or not.


Thanks for getting back to me:)

Years ago we had an issue like that here in Germany, but the Jews started yelling that making this illegal was discriminating them. So the topic disappeared from the media.

Yes I think I heard about it. I think sometimes the fear of discrimination can be detrimental to free discussion. It is not racist to discuss these issues.

I understand, but we are in Germany. And in Germany, if a Jew says he feels discriminated, he can get almost anything. Just to say, they do not pay taxes here.

Thank you for writing what I often say when this issue comes up. Voted Up, Resteemed, and shared to FB.

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I've now gone through about 27 different trains of thought about this topic and I still don't quite know what I want to say in my reply.
First, I liked the post and appreciate you taking the time to open a discussion about it.
Second I think it's such a huge can of worms that it's hard to answer the question, not because the answers are unclear, but perhaps more so because the question is unclear, or at least multi-layered, and that there are so many factors that branch off into so many directions that then become tunnels and branch off again into a million different rabbit holes. Is the question why the inequality? Is it about health? Is it about religion? Is it about mutilation? Is it about the right to choose? About terms or labels being used or misused? Gender? Feminism? Anti-feminism? Abuse? It's such an enormous issue it's hard to talk about without it always spiraling away from the original topic.
I've already forgotten what point I was up to so I'll just say, next: As a mother of an almost 6 year old I want to make a point that to some of us, this is not something we actually know about. And that is not because of a lack of information, its because, I just never really thought about it before. When we knew we were having a boy, I said to my husband, do we need to get him circumcised? Actually, what I really said was 'Are we suppose to have something done to his doodle?' at which my husband looked horrified. Clarifying, I pointed out that I am an only child, a female, my father died a long time ago, and I had never cared if a guy was 'snipped' or not in my life and therefore had no knowledge on the subject. For all I knew, this was something that all boys had done, or that no boys had done. So the person above somewhere who mentioned do some mothers think "I like it like this?" I'd say, no, or at least, not always, we possibly just don't know the answer. Regardless of all of that, I couldn't even cope with my son having his shots so unless someone told me it was a legal requirement, I had no intention of subjecting him to an unnecessary procedure.
Next: why is it not as big a topic of discussion as FGM? Such a BIG question. I don't know that the question is even valid, and I'm not saying that's the case, more so I'm asking, has anyone done the math here? Has anyone actually done a thorough search with all the relevant criteria to see how many traceable instances there are where these two topics are being discussed. Maybe its not that its not being discussed, but that its just not in the same places. FGM is a very loud subject and that's for many many reasons. But one of the reasons for that might be that people perceive that FGM is done to girls and women BY MEN. This isn't necessarily the case as I found when I read a few articles on it after seeing this post and I'll come back to that. But I think its what the belief is. In the few, and I must admit I know very, very little on both of these subjects, in the few things I've read about both of these topics, many of the women quoted or featured stated that it was their mothers or female relatives who were responsible for it being done to them. In most of those cases it was for religious, and FAMILY reasons. They stated that their families believed it was required as part of their religion and to keep the name of the family and the reputation of the same safe; that without it being done people would talk about the female, they wouldn't be able to marry and be considered to be, for the sake of not using words I strongly dislike, a harlot. They also said that it had been a passed on tradition, part of the reason the females parents and elders were not against it, they had had it done too. This clearly doesn't make it right or okay, but in the eyes of the parents it made it justifiable.
Its worth noting that in the gender comparisons, one thing stands out, and maybe this is why FGM is a louder topic. Male circumcision seems to be quoted as being for health or religious reasons. But I'm still not certain what those religious reasons are? Someone noted that the bible says god said everyone should have the snip. So is that actually it? Is that the reason and its no more in depth than that. Like they don't then take the foreskin and bury it under an olive tree to be dug up by your virgin wife on the night of a full moon and then burned and mixed with the milk of a spring calf and drunk by you both to ensure that you and all your future children enter heaven with clean souls? Cause that would make sense to me as a 'reason', not a good reason and not making good sense either, but I would understand why it was carried on in this era, like don't eat meat on good Friday because ...you know the rest. But I've found no such reasoning. The health benefits reason gets thrown in constantly despite the very obvious bias about this. Yet with FGM, it is clear that in many cases and cultures, its to prevent female promiscuity, infidelity and to ensure the reputation of the family via the female. Not to mention in some cases it is for the express purpose of punishment and causing pain. There is no case, none, nada, zip, for anyone ever being able to claim this is done for health reasons. Further to this is the level of extremes in terms of risk, short and long term effects and trauma. The case for FGM being barbaric do far outnumber those of male circumcision, and again, that's not to say its not a horrible thing to have done to you without your consent but its not comparing apples with apples.
Just reading this article on one womans experience is enough to make you want to cut the hands off anyone you came across performing this atrocity...http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36101342 I hope that worked but I'm not sure it did.
Anyway that's just skimming the surface of this topic and the different thoughts I have swirling around in my extremely uninformed brain.
It comes down to this; I think its wrong to do it to either genders and both FGM and male circumcision should be on the table for discussion in a much more open way than they are.

Thanks. Great response:) It is a difficult and complex issue. It should certainly be discussed more.

@thecryptofiend, I was reading this offline and scrolled down till the comments last night - it has brought so many emotions ey?
If I were to have a son, though some Scientific studies have proven that circumcision does have health benefits = "keeping the 3rd leg hygienic" but if that's the only reason - why don't school just teach boys to men how to keep it clean.
If I were to have a son, no I won't have him circumcised as a baby, never! It could cause him trauma and if he would want to be snipped or not - I'll let him decide on that himself. As for religious wise, even Christ accepted those who are not snipped so - I think it's all religious orientation, brainwashing and cultural issue now?
As for FGM - no freaking way! And yes, I see what you mean - FGM = circumcision = it is like saying oh I just slap you it's less painful with you hitting me with a belt that scared me. It's both inflicting pain and perhaps the level of pain may differ but it's the same crime.

Yes exactly and both ways is actually doing permanent irreversible damage the severity may be different but it is still wrong - it may be worse to lose your whole leg versus losing your foot but it is not good either way.

Also regarding the hygiene thing - it is actually peoples attempts at overdoing the hygiene that can often do harm and cause urinary tract infections (one of the things that circumcision is supposed to reduce but the evidence is very poor). The problem is if you clean off the good bacteria that live on the skin they can get replaced by pathogenic bacteria which can cause infections. People are slowly realising this.

Hmmm im all for freedom of choice, so yeah...

Thanks for commenting:)

I've seen a bris performed in person. Harrowing fucking experience.

All I can say is that if my wife had given birth to a son, there would have been one hell of a fight.

Thanks for sharing. I can only imagine how horrible it is.

I agree with you thecryptofiend given the choice I would not have had it done but I had no choice for it was made for me .

Yes sadly that is the case for many of us.

Trying to broaden the discussion. Other than religiosity, it seems circumcision is a father to son hand-me-down type thing. Problem is you cannot discuss it until it is too late! I have heard that 40% is the "ball park" of the sensory loss. No apologies at all for that pun.
Female circumcision should not be coined as such. It is grievous bodily harm and should be treated as such.
With domestic violence which I saw raised here, women are the greater perpetrators. Men inflict more damage, hence it is more in the public domain.

Trying to broaden the discussion. Other than religiosity, it seems circumcision is a father to son hand-me-down type thing.

In some cultures it may be.

Problem is you cannot discuss it until it is too late! I have heard that 40% is the "ball park" of the sensory loss.

Exactly and once you have had it done (unless it is done late in life) you really don't know what you are missing.

Female circumcision should not be coined as such. It is grievous bodily harm and should be treated as such.


With domestic violence which I saw raised here, women are the greater perpetrators. Men inflict more damage, hence it is more in the public domain.

I don't know enough about that to comment.

Thanks for responding.

Really interesting read. I personally do feel that FGM as it is commonly practiced is intended to specifically alter the woman's sexual practice, and even sometimes intended to cause the woman pain, while male circumcision is often specifically done for health or religious reasons, ie. not done to specifically hinder the man. It's interesting to hear about the negative impacts it could have, but I have also read quite a few articles which list the benefits as well. I personally don't feel like it is that big of an issue, I had it done to me as a child and I never really noticed or minded, and still don't to be honest, but I can also see the perspective that it is a serious alteration done to a child who never really asked for it. I personally feel that if it was a dangerous or dubious practice it wouldn't be as wide spread in the western world, but I'm no expert, it's just my opinion. Great article anyhow, thanks for posting it!


I personally do feel that FGM as it is commonly practiced is intended to specifically alter the woman's sexual practice,

That is the justification that is often given.

while male circumcision is often specifically done for health or religious reasons, ie. not done to specifically hinder the man

There is no compelling argument to do male circumcision for health reasons - there is just a belief that there is and I think that is part of the problem. Further I think this is based in the fact that medical culture has been influenced very strongly by religious belief and false health assumptions in the past. This just perpetuates the behaviour and attitude that it is OK.

I personally feel that if it was a dangerous or dubious practice it wouldn't be as wide spread in the western world, but I'm no expert, it's just my opinion.

I used to think that but if you actually look at it there is little evidence that it does any good and it does have real risks - if you work in a urology clinic it is quite common to see them even in the UK. Most men don't talk about them because it is an embarrassing subject.

Yeah interesting topic)) may seek a vote of men and women? ))

Would be interesting. Also I love the picture.

@sonnonsens thank you for this, I was reading the comment thread offline last night till I scrolled down to this and lolled

I believe that anyone that is in their 30's or younger today, will see non-adult male circumcision banned before they reach the age of their life expectancy (in Western countries). There will be an exception for medical needs. It will be thought of as barbaric as female genital mutilation and against human rights.

Agreed. Although FGM generally involves more extensive removal it is on the same spectrum. You are still cutting off a piece of the body (sometimes without adequate anaesthesia) and the change is permanent. I fear the cultural bias is so strong though that if will not change any time soon.

Well, have not studied this topic much, but what little I have heard is that men who have been circumcised tend to be healthier, while men who have not been circumcised are not as healthy. But as @tommycordero said I'm not sure if what I have heard is just BS from the cults who protect this practice.

There is strong cultural bias even in the medical community on this. I know this from personal experience. Further even if it has benefits it is a surgical procedure - there are risks of damage to the penis not to mention the loss of sexual sensitivity.

I bet, I just never thought of it having only heard the positives about the issue. Makes me want to look into the issue now to see what I can find. Thank you cause the article is making me rethink what I have been told.

Thanks. It is a strange issue. It just doesn't get discussed much so we only really hear one side of it.