Why we should cut out the circumcision debate

Tonya Starr, Columnist

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Over the past week Norway made clear political moves toward banning male circumcision — a practice that has also been hotly debated in the United States and continues to garner scrutiny from “intactivists” (They want to keep the penis intact, get it?). But the truth is, circumcision is a private matter. Government officials should keep their heads (intact or otherwise) out of it.

Opponents of male circumcision fight for the “genital integrity” of infants, claiming the removal of the foreskin from the head of the penis is an invasion of a child’s bodily rights. Personally, I’ve encountered a number of circumcised penises, and not one of their owners has expressed outrage, or even discontent, at the fact that their members were de-hooded. An infant is incapable of making a decision about the aesthetics of its own genitals. Hence, the right to choose is on the parents. The government has no more of a place here than it does in a mother’s decision to abort or a gay couple’s choice to marry.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 56 percent of American men are foreskin-less, though the number only includes circumcisions performed in hospitals (home circumcisions are considered common ritual practice in the Muslim and Jewish faiths). Concerns about the safety of nonmedical circumcisions led San Francisco lobbyists to push forward a ban on the practice in 2011, but California Gov. Jerry Brown nipped it in the bud after an outcry from religious factions that continues today. Just last week, the University of Maryland’s Jewish a cappella group released a loaded cover song entitled “Mohels” (a play on Lorde hit “Royals”), in which they take a stand in defense of mohels, the religious men who perform the circumcision ritual on Jewish infants. Here are some of the lyrics:

“We’re gonna stay mohels/we’re not afraid of a little blood/your man-made law just ain’t for us/we serve a different kind of boss. … Circumcise your vanity.”

The music video features young men holding up statistics like “Circumcisions prevent HPV” and “Circumcision leads to less STDs.” Which is valid, given that the American Association of Pediatrics recently changed its policy to recommending circumcision after 13 years of advising against it. In the realm of health and hygiene, most men say it’s fine either way, so long as it’s cleaned on a regular basis.

But there is one factor that tips the scales toward the intact: sexual pleasure. According to sex blog Pleasure Mechanics, men with foreskin contrive a great deal of pleasure from the head of the penis moving in and out of its foreskin, much the same way that women enjoy the rubbing of the clitoris against the inner lips of the vagina. When the penis is erect, the foreskin hugs the shaft beneath the exposed head, creating a nerve-packed band called the “vascular ridge.” The head itself, once exposed, is extremely sensitive from having been protected by foreskin most of the time. Circumcised men, whose heads are constantly in contact with fabric and other elements, experience some head-desensitization, making sex slightly less pleasurable.

Whether parents are concerned about adhering to a religious tradition or ensuring the quality of their child’s future intercourse, the decision to make the cut is up to them. So let’s all calm down and treat all penises equally — “intact” or not.

Tonya Starr

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