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Circumcision in boys and girls: why the double standard?

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 16 February 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d978

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Re:Unhelpful to compare male circumcision with female genital mutilation

Thank you for publishing this insightful article, which points out the obvious: removal of genital tissue from either gender is wrong and should be made illegal. All people should be allowed to make their own decisions regarding genital modification, but only after reaching majority age. No society or religion or culture should impose such a trauma on helpless children. As Christopher Hitchens says: do not hurt children. Only bad things happen when you hurt children, and circumcision hurts. There are certain rights that supercede religions or cultural groups: the right to bodily integrity is one of those. Children deserve protection from bodily harm. Laws are already in place to protect from abuse, torture, mutilation, starvation, neglect, and so on. These laws need to be enforced. We would not as a society tolerate someone saying they wanted to amputate their child's fifth finger as part of some new religion, so why do we tolerate amputating the foreskin/prepuce as part of an outdated ritual from thousands of years ago?

Few adult males will agree to the surgery once they have lived their lives intact. Many young men in the U.S. have told me they wish they had been left alone as babies. They envy those left intact.

Those who do not believe there is harm in infant male circumcisions need to witness one to hear the screaming and see the writhing of the boys as they are cut. It sickened me as a medical student and resident physician. It continues to sicken me as an attending physician (who stopped circumcising over 20 years ago) when I see the harmful after- effects of circumcision: the incredible loss of skin, the bleeding, the stenosis, skin bridges, buried penises, curvatures, loss of sensation, and worse. But what most strikes me is the affect of the babies I see in the office after being circumcised (by others); they seem depressed, defeated, resigned, irritable-unlike the intact babies who are calm, smiling and interactive. To not be affected by this indicates a cultural desensitization to abuse and torture and to accept as natural that which is unnatural. Circumcision for either gender is about controlling sexuality and exerting power over societal members.

For those who believe in the powers of prevention extolled by the African RCT's, you need to look into the data more deeply. Because some of those men obtained HIV through non-sexual means (probably the health care system with contaminated needles and syringes). Do not be misled by the pro-circumcision lobby who have an agenda. These studies have many flaws. Furthermore, HIV transmission to females was increased by male circumcision. HIV transmission may actually be decreased by female circumcision, but why would anyone support that? The same issues apply to male circumcision. Certainly infants are not at risk for STD's, sexually transmitted HIV, etc.

Male circumcision does not prevent anything but normal sexual function. European countries, Japan, Australia, etc. have lower rates of HIV, STD's, UTI's and they are intact. The U.S. has high rates and they are predominantly circumcised. Does not add up to what the pro- circumcision lobbyists want us to believe. Leave male babies and female babies alone. When we know better, we do better.

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

01 March 2011
Michelle R. Storms
Michigan State University College of Human Medicine