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February 25, 2008

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I'm proud to be an intactivist fighting for genital integrity for children of both sexes. I also know of a lactivist intactivist (I support breastfeeding, but don't do anything to be able to claim to be a lactivist)

"Lactivist": 153,000 google hits.
"Circumsexual": 1,600 google hits.

I'm a lactivist (I give away free bumper stickers saying "YOU may go sit in the toilet until I'm done nursing") and an intactivist.

What's your life's work? How will the world be a better place for you having passed through?

After 15 years and a lot of research and talking, I have embraced fully the concept of bodily integrity for people, women, men and babies. I’ve also had to desire to share this information with people to help end a practice that violates the right every person has to bodily integrity. My knowledge combined with my actions qualify me as an intactivist, therefore I unapologetically call myself an intactivist. Let it be clear that the choice to circumcise oneself as an adult is a completely valid, since it is a choice about one’s own body. It is only routine infant circumcision (RIC) that is the topic of this post. Informed consent on RIC, where parents are given the facts needed to make informed choice is a misnomer. Read on if you’d like to know why.

Schoen (the most public pro-circumcision advocate), Time Magazine, and the American media in general have done nothing to advance the real knowledge about basic penile anatomy nor attempted to discuss intelligently the elephant in the room regarding the human rights issues on amputating sexual tissue from alert, fully-conscious human beings without consent.

Female cutting, even under sanitary conditions and with anesthesia, is rightly called mutilation because we all understand the value of bodily integrity especially as it relates to female anatomy, and because we all have a sense of the essential nature of the collective whole of individual female genital anatomical parts working in concert, like a symphony, where each contributes to the full experience of pleasure for the women. We know we have no right to take away one iota of that pleasure for women, not even the smallest piercing when she doesn’t or isn’t yet able to consent. No questions for the most part about that assertion, as least for the majority of US citizens. Cutting males is understood completely differently here, however.

Since we do not generally have any classes during primary or secondary education on intact male anatomy, nor discussions in anatomy books of the unique structures and multitude of functions of the prepuce, nor even clear penile anatomical information given to doctors who would cut into this most valuable organ (an amazing feat of denial about the value of body parts, even for the medical profession), we therefore do not consider male circumcision to be worth our attention. Medicine has quietly acquiesced towards giving the due value to tonsils, appendix, and has begun to reduce unnecessary and damaging operations like episiotomies, but has stubbornly continued its jealous clutch on circumcision, often citing outdated, disproven and misleading information on consent forms, in discussions with parents.

Media has helped perpetuate the myths of circumcision by giving a disproportionate voice to doctors who are not themselves informed about this most incredible anatomical structure nor about the methodological flaws in the studies that they seem bent on selling us as validation for their continuing to practice what is estimated to be a muli - wait for it- billion dollar industry. I’m not so cynical to suggest an overt connection between money and the continuation of male genital cutting, but more people need to mention the obvious conflict of interest going on there.

It is interesting to note that the word 'circumcision' is singular among surgical terms in its vagueness in describing the body part it is affecting. Normally, the body part word is joined with -ectomy to make clear that this body part is being excised, such as mastectomy, appendectomy, clitorectomy, etc. We would therefore be better informed with ‘preputialectomy’, or ‘partial penile amputation,’ which makes it more clear still. Even the word circumcision only describes the least dramatic (if that’s possible) stage of the operation, completely obfuscating the ripping, crushing and slitting steps that all occur while a conscious human baby, strapped to a restraining board and spread eagle, either cries hysterically or lapses into semi-coma in order to avoid the trauma. The phrases ‘fussy baby’ or ‘mild discomfort’ cannot possibly be used in this context, and yet there are parents, doctors, and people in general accepting of these terms, who simply haven’t explored this issue beyond the most superficial and cursory glance. I have more faith in human intelligence to believe this is the result of its lack, and suggest more deeply held emotional issues that block many of us from clarity on what is obviously not a generous or compassionate gesture to a person, much less a defenseless infant, who relies on our nurturing protective instincts to keep him/her safe.

Trauma aside (anesthesia is rarely used even today, and is often ineffective during the procedure and never used for the days or weeks after the procedure when the baby is forced to excrete acid urine into the raw, wounded penile structure), one can not suggest that we should ever resort to radical sexually reductive surgery to help curb teasing, or for the plethora of medical reasons which, even were they to be proven true (none, including the HIV connection, have been proven consistently or at all), they only demonstrate in the best studies to reduce the target disease by fractions of a percentage. Penile cancer? UTI’s? HIV? No, to all. The voluminous evidence is readily available (start with CIRP.ORG, if you’re interested) to anyone that thinks I have not followed the news on this; again, the media and certain focal proponents of circumcision have really skewed our public perception towards a highly biased and selective extract of dubious studies supporting an essentially untenable and illogical position (I am excluding the religious reasons for brevity of my response), which can be summed up

as follows:


“Unlike any other body part, whose purpose and function are essential to the health and functioning of the total organism, the prepuce which adorns both female and male genitalia, is of detriment to the male alone for medical and social reasons and further, should not wait to be cut out later in life, if/when it presents a clear and present danger to its owner. It should be cut out as early as possible, and treated as a medical emergency, even if it means cutting into the flesh of an alert, highly intelligent and fully conscious human baby boy. “


The dozens of parent-how-to textbooks, medical textbooks, articles and internet discussions I’ve encountered, all show an amazing lack of awareness on this issue, and again, in respectable magazines and newspapers, such as Time and the New York Times, whose authors represent writers with the best of intentions and who should excel at getting the facts right, constantly get them wrong. Why is that, I wonder? The rest of the world (85%) leaves their boys and girls intact; they do not suffer these outrageous medical claims to any marked increase than we do here, they do not have higher HIV (WE have the highest HIV and the highest circumcision rate of all first-world countries, and we’ve shown zero correlation between these two in at least 16 well-controlled but unreported studies. We only hear about a highly misleading 60% reduction statistic from the most recent study in a string of three from essentially the same pro-circ individuals)

I believe that, on this topic, we in this country are not only in serious need of education, but are suffering a kind of mass denial and mutual myth-telling. But I also believe in the power of people to learn, to accept new ideas, and to discard old outdated ideas that don’t serve us any longer. Personally, it took me eight years after reading about normal male penile anatomy – eight years of denial and the desire not to think about what has been cut from my body – to begin, slowly and painfully, to understand, learn about, accept what I can never experience, having lost many thousands of sexual nerve receptors, that any normal intact male with their genitalia almost take for granted. That has been hardest for me to accept, like learning that you have been disabled from birth without ever being told (and knowing just enough from what anatomy remains to understand viscerally what has been stolen from me); but it has a different flavor, since what I’ve learned is that I’ve been sexually disabled, like any man or woman who has had a knife carve out parts of their most sexually sensitive organs. I am *not saying that I’m a cripple, nor am I willing to engage in victim mentality, but I still am in process on integrating this information. I am, however telling a more accurate account of things as they are for me, and for the millions of boys cut at birth. Cuts are not precise especially on the penis of a newborn, and some men have more, some have less taken. Any amount taken is as unacceptable in the male as it is in the female – a cut is a cut.

This post serves as notice and a wake-up call to those reading, that we need to end this practice in our country (we are the *only* country on this planet that practices it on the majority - 57% - of it’s baby boys for non-religious reasons). It is my hope that for other men reading this and who resonate with any part of it, can feel more entitled and unafraid to voice their feelings about having been forced to submit to genital surgery without their consent. It is also my hope that future parents will read this and take a bold step to look past the slick, easy surface presented to us by the media and misleading doctors, and seriously question this practice, and have the courage to ask: “What are we doing to our children?” “What have we done to our men?”

Intactivism – To value and hold in highest regard the inalienable right to a whole body, male or female and to protect and uphold that right for all, especially for those most vulnerable and in need of protection- our young.

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