Why Is Jesse Bering’s Penis Shaped Like That?

In a very personal rant, Jesse Bering replies at length to my criticism of his stance on MGM. He covers a lot of territory but he still misses the core point of the entire debate:

Sullivan trots out the standard intactivist party line, which is to compare infant male circumcision with the removal of some critical body part as a pre-emptive measure. "Can you imagine … forcible prophylactic mastectomies to prevent breast cancer?" he writes, astounded by my and the AAP’s stupidity. Notice how intactivists like to sneak in loaded words like "forcible" to trump up the false horror. Nobody is "forcing" parents to circumcise their infant sons. I’ve stressed repeatedly that I am not "pro-circumcision" but "pro-parent choice," and the AAP has emphasized the same. Sullivan would have you believe that male circumcision is now occurring by government decree … Delivering upon new parents such a guilt trip is simply loathsome.

Of course, the parents are not "forced" to do this. But the baby is forced to be mutilated, and 100 percent resist it. Wouldn't you? And I too am in favor of parent choice on this if it really is part of their religious inheritance, however completely nutty that seems today. Many feel very seriously about this. Here's a Jewish spokesman in Oslo:

When I say that circumcision for us is an existential question, they don’t always understand it.

I don't understand this but I get the sincerity and would leave religiously motivated circumcisions alone. But routine medical ones? Yes, I think parents should leave their babies' bodies alone, apart from urgent health issues. Being born with a foreskin is not a health issue. Having a penis as our evolution has given us is no more of a problem than having an ear-lobe or an appendix.

Bering concedes two points I make. The first is that he is HIV-phobic to an extreme degree:

My own fears are entirely irrelevant to the arguments that I made, but in fact Sullivan is right that, while it may no longer be the 1980s, I’m still scared shitless by HIV. I’ve written about my relationship with AIDS before, and my paranoia is something, admittedly, I’ll probably never escape entirely.

But this paragraph reveals that Bering's fears are relevant here. He says he's "paranoid" about HIV. Wiki's definition of paranoia is "a thought process believed to be heavily influenced by anxiety or fear, often to the point of irrationality and delusion." I agree with Jesse that he is reacting to my opposition to infant circumcision to the point of irrationality and delusion.

Then there's the question of whether circumcision reduces sexual pleasure. Bering cites one study that shows no difference in sensitivity – but concedes the subjectivity of this is very hard to measure. But then he throws in a red herring, saying that the foreskin itself is not very sensitive as a pleasure inducer. That's not the point. The foreskin covers the glans and removing it necessarily requires the glans to acquire scar tissue. I don't know many instances where scar tissue is more sensitive than undamaged skin.

Bering also tiresomely claims that I equate male and female circumcision. I have reiterated the following point for years:

FGM is exponentially morally, medically and psychologically worse than MGM. It's an evil practice.

A reader jumps into the debate:

I noticed you never corrected your false assertion in your recent post about 117 deaths per year as a result of circumcision – an alarmist and patently FALSE number.

I urge readers to look at the link that tries to debunk that 117 number. It makes some strong points. I relied on the New York Times, which cited that data from "one estimate." It's fair to say we don't have solid statistics on the numbers of infant deaths from circumcision. But they are not non-existent. And if you really are paranoid about health issues, why would you subject your infant to any health risk because of an unnecessary and elective medical procedure? Mayor Bloomberg is trying to stop the practice of the mohel sucking the tip of the penis after mutilation – because it has led to two infant deaths from herpes and two boys with brain damage. Accidents also happen, as the tragic story of David Reimer shows.

Jesse is right that most circumcized adult males never really think about this and don't really care either way. Some may prefer a slightly less-sensitive dick. But he doesn't seem to be one of them. He feels insulted, demeaned, hurt to have his penis called "mutilated", rather than "circumcized" or "cut". Yes, it does have more edge to it, but "circumcize" also euphemizes.

But we are not dealing with rationality here, as the Hitchens interview above notes. And for the record, I was mutilated without my consent. I love my dick. But I see no reason why part of it should have been excised, and would like to spare as many infants that barbaric coercion as well.