Thursday, October 14, 2010

America's Puritan Legacy

Jack Craver's comment on another post got me thinking about the issue of circumcision in America. He pointed out that, for much of the 20th century, there was no real scientific evidence for the health benefits of circumcision, and yet the vast majority of American parents had their baby boys circumcised based on the popular perception that it was healthier.

I agree that there was a certain amount of group-think going on. However, I think there was another factor that contributed to the overwhelming popularity of circumcision in this country as opposed to Europe -- Americans' puritanical attitude about the human body.  An intact foreskin requires more time and attention for personal hygiene.  American parents are squeamish about touching their children's genitals or encouraging their children to touch themselves. Circumcision allows for quicker and less intimate washing.

Now that studies have shown a major health benefit to circumcision (significantly decreased risk of HIV transmission), American parents can once again feel justified in imposing their puritanical preferences on their baby boys.


Matt said...

Infant circumcision for boys is like infant labiaplasty for girls. Both are clearly an abuse of their rights as human beings. Even if circumcision prevented sexually transmitted diseases 100% and condoms were not even needed, cutting of an infant's foreskin would still be a violation of that person's basic human rights. It is a decision best made by the person himself when he reaches the age of maturity.

Tim Morrissey said...

And then, Matt and Jill, there are those of us who have a Jewish mother....

sofa said...

Circumcision is multilation.

Regarding your supposed 'health benefit': It's a benefit only if your child behaves poorly. For 'normal people', circumcision is just mutilation with possible bad repurcussions.

How about not screwing around, and having a normal life and a normal foreskin?

Dan said...

Mutilation? Nah, don't think so. It is decidely different than female genitalalia mutilation and under different circumstances.
The medical reasons for circumcision are legitimate and so are the cleaning issues. I don't think, when we were deciding about getting my son circumcized, that we cared about the Puritans and their reasoning. Mostly medical reasons.

sofa said...

A study published in the British Journal of Urology found that circumcision decreases the sensitivity of the penis by as much as 75%. So much sensitivity is lost as a result of circumcision because the foreskin is the most richly innervated part of the penis. It has the greatest number of nerve receptors as well as the greatest variety of nerve receptors. After circumcision, the glans of the penis is the only area that is able to be stumilated, and it gets dull and calloused over the the course of a man's life from constant abrasion and rubbing.


In Canada, only 25 per cent of the male population has been circumcised, less than 2 per cent for religious reasons. In Europe, less than 10 per cent are circumcised.


Complications from neonatal circumcision ranges from 2% to 10%.

sofa said...

2% to 10% : Why would anyone run the risk of damaging a kids weiner?

James L. Greenlee said...

This is probably the one and only issue with which I'm in agreement with Sofa. Being part of one of those dastardly same-sex marriages where one of us IS and one of us A'INT, we have a unanimous opinion of two that circumcision shouldn't be forced on a person.

As long as a kid is taught proper hygiene, and has no (rare) medical need for a circumcision, the decision should be left to him. I'll bet the incidence of elective, non-medically required circumcision by adult men is in a very low percentile.

As long as a condom is used, the incidence of AIDS due to lack of circumcision has to be insignificant.