On Circumcision: Hidden Harm

Circumcision can be a very personal topic, and while it stirs some powerful emotions, it’s important to discuss. It can be difficult for a circumcised man to come to terms with the horror that he’s the victim of something utterly beyond his control, and it can be easier to for him to say that he’s not a victim at all, and search to justify why genital cutting of infant males is a reasonable practice in the 21st century. What I would ask is to think forward, and to consider the well-being of future generations of infant boys being brought into the world, and their futures lives as adult men.

Male circumcision bestows no hygienic benefits that can’t already be attained by the use of soap and water. And parents should not be in the business of making aesthetic considerations of an infant’s penis.

But what bothers me the most is the psychological barbarity of the practice. Days after an infant boy is born, while his mind is just beginning to make sense of the world he’s been brought into, and his role in it, here at the crucial early stages of his life where his deepest sub-conscious drives are being organized, he is being told in no uncertain terms that his body is someone else’s property, and his lot in life is suffering, and he had better get used to it. No one cares if you cry, young one, you have a job to do, and that job is to absorb pain.

While I speculate on the mental mechanics in play, research “by Dan Bollinger and Robert S. Van Howe, M.D., M.S., FAAP, found that circumcised men are 60% more likely to suffer from alexithymia, the inability to process emotions.” From the link:

People suffering from alexithymia have difficulty identifying and expressing their emotions. This translates into not being able to empathize with others. Sufferers of severe alexithymia are so removed from their feelings that they view themselves as being robots. If acquired at an early age, such as from infant circumcision, it might limit access to language and impede the socialization process that begins early in life. Moderate to high alexithymia can interfere with personal relationships and hinder psychotherapy. Impulsive behavior is a key symptom of alexithymia, and impulsivity is a precursor to violence.

So when people say circumcision isn’t so bad because it happens at such a young age that the baby forgets the painful memories, I feel a deep sense of horror. At least with a traumatic memory, therapy, meditation, and introspection help you learn how that memory affects your perceptions of the world and your patterns of behavior in it. And being conscious of those perceptions and behaviors you can make choices about mitigating their most harmful effects. But if the memory is stored as a deep physical sensation at the bottom of your sub-conscious mind, locked away at the sub-basement machine code level of human awareness, reachable (if at all) only through the most soul-piercingly powerful and doggedly pursued meditation practices, it may remain forever unexamined.

I for one think it’s terribly cruel to inflict that kind of harm on a person, the kind of harm that changes your perceptions of the world without you ever being able to do anything about it. And if you still think that forgotten memories excuse barbarity, then you can justify any crime against a child, as long as he or she is young enough to forget how evil you are.

So you see, its not just about how the victim’s mind is conditioned, but also about the parents’ minds as well. And yours. We should not be nurturing callousness towards pain. The great chicken-and-egg question with men’s issues deals with men not speaking out, and society not listening. I believe one place where we can begin to slow down this cycle is by banning the practice of circumcision, so maybe, just maybe, there might be fewer men who never question the sources of their pain, and more people who are willing to listen when they do.

Those of us in the men’s rights world sometimes give short shrift to the term “micro-aggression,” but in the case of circumcision, I think it applies. We are, after all, talking about a small cut that inflicts permanent physical and psychological damage, effects perceptions, and alters behaviors. Perhaps the next next time our philosophical opponents lecture us about the evils of manspreading, we should thank them for their interest in our crotches, and direct them towards the more substantive issue of male genital cutting.

For further insight on the topic, here’s a pediatrician moved by integrity activists:

And here is the brilliant Karen Straughan giving the topic her two cents:

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