Last night I attempted to post a comment response to reader JackieNO on my previous post. I may have exceeded the word limit, or for some other reason the comment didn't post. I think the discussion is important enough to warrant a new thread.
Again, I'm not advocating in favor of male circumcision, but I am trying to point out that the argument isn't as cut-and-dried as many against circumcision often assume, and that male circumcision is not equivalent to female genital mutilation.
I'm ready to move on, but Jackie No presents some common arguments against circumcision, some of which are not supported by the scientific literature, and some for which the literature is ambiguous. Here's Jackie NO's comment and my response.
Jackie NO, 6.15.10 05:07 PM:Anthropologist Underground,
The purported health benefits are controversial. I believe they are contrived by those trying to keep the mutilation practice going. A Dutch doctor group (KNMG) is this month calling upon doctors to actively and insistently inform parents who are considering the procedure of the absence of medical benefits (and the danger of complications).
The partS that are called the foreskin have a very high concentration of nerve endings (about 20000) and these are all about pleasure -- they provide pleasure sensations based on fine touch and stretch. A part --the ridged band -- is touched and stretched (back and forth) during sex. These parts are also critical during masturbation. Sorry to be graphic, but I am not sure why you don't understand "how much of it is accessible for stimulation during intercourse" -- it all is.
Does sex without the natural parts (circumcised men) allow one to experience fulfilling and pleasurable sex lives? If they think so great (of course many women that have undergone female circumcision say the sex is great). Sex after genital modification is not the standard. I am certain it is bad to be lacking the stretch and fine touch pleasure. The anecdotal evidence is that circumcision presents significant sexual dysfunction issues. This is an area men are talking about more with the internet. The number of men in the US restoring their foreskin is huge. The evidence is strong that circumcision messes with the dynamics, pleasure and capacity to have sex.
What is certain is that the foreskin parts feel so good. Sex and masturbation are certainly better with those 20000 nerve endings.
Thanks again for commenting.
According to KNMG's statement (pdf available here), they argue against male circumcision primarily based on concerns about ethics and child welfare, which is a legitimate argument IMO. They acknowledge that there are medical benefits, but suggest that men should be able to decide for themselves whether circumcision is worth the purported benefits:
Insofar as there are medical benefits, such as a possibly reduced risk of HIV infection, it is reasonable to put off circumcision until the age at which such a risk is relevant and the boy himself can decide about the intervention, or can opt for any available alternatives.
I am intrigued by your assertion that potential medical benefits are contrived, and I'm very curious about who are "those who want to keep the practice going," and why?
I did another search of the medical literature for "benefits of male circumcision" and found many studies supporting my assertion that the medical benefits are well-established; however, as I said before, there are legitimate arguments about whether or not the benefits warrant the procedure. When I similarly searched for "risks of male circumcision," the articles tended to be about the well-known and obvious risks of the procedure itself and, again, the ethics.
Your assertion about sexual dysfunction sounds really plausible, and I agree that self-reporting about sexual function might be unreliable. However, three factors give me pause:
1) If circumcision significantly undermines sexual function, I would expect to see a sharp decline in birth rates in the US that is correlated to the peak male circumcision rates of the 1980s. Although the birth rate has been steadily declining since the early 1900s, there are no sharp decreases corresponding to the time when the largest number of circumcised males reached childbearing age. Nor does there appear to be any indication of an increasing birth rate corresponding to a decrease in circumcision rates.
I realize that this point ignores other confounding factors as well as myriad forms of non-reproductive sexual pleasure. The birthrate data do indicate that many circumcised men are functionally able to participate in sex at some level and to achieve ejaculation.
2) Sexual function is quantifiable, and we don't have to rely on anecdotal self-reporting alone. (I'm thinking here of research methods like measurements of blood flow and rigidity.)
3) I recall reading that a significant number of men in some African countries are seeking adult circumcision based on the evidence of reducing HIV transmission. It seems to me that someone must have asked them about their sexual function after circumcision or employed quantifiable measurements to assess that. I found some recent studies here:
Adult male circumcision was not associated with sexual dysfunction. Circumcised men reported increased penile sensitivity and enhanced ease of reaching orgasm. These data indicate that integration of male circumcision into programs to reduce HIV risk is unlikely to adversely effect male sexual function.
Because of our statistic limitations and mix indications for circumcision in the study, we cannot conclude that circumcision might bring certain benefit on sexual satisfaction by itself but certainly does not bring deleterious effects and, when dissatisfaction is associated with local problems, some benefit could be expected.
Admittedly, my search criteria may not yield results that are representative of the literature, and I'm not qualified to thoroughly evaluate the research methods. I saw two earlier studies that seemed to indicate some risk of dysfunction. These seemed to rely more heavily on self-reporting.
The issue of male infant circumcision is complex. I think ultimately the argument against the practice is strongest when it confines itself to ethical concerns. Male circumcision is not equivalent to female genital mutilation. Asserting equivalence belittles the grave horrors FGM.