Dissent Of The Day

A reader responds to the latest round over MGM:

When my son was born 11 years ago I left the final decision about circumcision to my husband. As a woman I did not feel that I had a right to make that decision because I don't know what it means to have or not have a foreskin. My husband opted for circumcision. His arguments – that any reasonable step that can slow the transmission of diseases like HIV is the responsible choice to make (his brother died of AIDS), that he did not want his son to feel different or strange (my husband, like most men of my generation, was circumcised), that he has never missed his own foreskin, and finally that hygiene is an issue – seemed reasonable to me.

We talked to my doctor, a very progressive, highly esteemed OB/GYN and extremely competent surgeon, at length. She assured us the procedure was safe and quick and that the pain would be very brief. My husband and I were permitted to watch. Obviously the baby experienced some pain, but it was indeed very brief. He showed more distress at his own birth, frankly, not to mention during the procedures that were required to save his life when he suffered heart failure at a later time.

I had not given this issue any thought since then. Not until you took it up. And I have to tell you the overheated rhetoric is taking a toll on me. Now I feel like some sort of monster: I mutilated my son.

I have scarred him for life. That's what I read in your posts. I am wracked with guilt and worry that my child, whose well being is the only thing in the world that truly matters to me, will go through life feeling deformed, and that he will hate us for doing this unspeakable thing to him. Which we did with sincere intentions, after a lot of rational consideration, with our child's own interests in mind. This feels unfair.

And yet you "would leave religiously motivated circumcisions alone"? That doesn't even make sense. Female genital mutilation (which as you know has no public health rationale whatsoever, being solely about domination), is religiously motivated too, as are honor killings and stonings. Why is something you decry as barbaric and cruel OK if sanctioned by religion? And why do you "get" religiously motivated "sincerity" but discount rational sincerity? I just don't understand.

Obviously this issue is highly personal for you, but I think your passion is getting the better of you. I really wish you would tone it down a bit.

The reason I can make a religious exception for male circumcision is precisely my reader's point. It is not as drastic or as unconscionable as FGM, because it does not remove, and merely slightly dulls, sexual sensitivity and arousal. Nonetheless, to deliberately make the tip of your son's penis covered with scar tissue seems to me an infringement on that infant boy's freedom with respect to his own body. It was done to me. I've had a great sex life with my mutilated penis, but since I have also dated uncircumcized guys you can immediately tell the difference. The foreskin is the protector of the penis. Masturbation needs no lube if you have a foreskin. The sensitivity of the glans makes the pleasure much more intense.

So, sorry. But you did that. You have scarred his penis for life. You made that decision on behalf of your infant son. You never asked him, and the reasons given – tiny health effects that prevent HIV transmission from women to men in Africa – would not even come up if we accepted the default evolutionary position of the human male, as every culture has except the desert religions of Islam and Judaism. If we wanted to operate on infants to prevent any future health hazards, we could remove their tonsils at birth, we could remove the appendix – but these things are unthinkable. As should circumcision.