The percentage of newborn boys in the U.S. who are circumcised has dropped from 83% fifty years ago to 77% today. The U.S. mainstream media present this nearly undetectable change as the end of the world (one of fifty ends of the world that they frequently cover). MSNBC's title reads
Circumcision Benefits Exceed Risks 'a Hundred Times Over' (IB Times UK)You may see that this hysteria is largely generated by real physicians with real degrees, MD. You may imagine that I find this propaganda stunning because I would subscribe to Penn and Teller's Bullshit, episode Circumcision (30-minute video).
Circumcision should be seen 'in the same light as childhood vaccination': study (CTV News)
In fact, even though I have spent 10 years in the U.S., I just didn't know that most American newborn boys were being mutilated in this way until I returned back to Europe – if I remember well. If I look back, I am surprised that the American women were not more thrilled by the gift of God – meaning boys and men from Europe – assuming that they realize that most American men are cripples.
OK, more seriously, it's being said that the procedure brings many more health advantages than "risks". Some studies have argued that the procedure reduces the risk of urinary tract infections, HIV/AIDS from heterosexual sex, penile cancer, and other things. There are other papers that equally self-confidently state that no such a relationship exists.
The reduction may exist or not but its magnitude is surely tiny relatively to other consequences of the procedure. Just study the list of countries according to life expectancy. Compare the U.S. with any European country, e.g. Germany. (Less than 1% of boys and men in Europe are estimated to be circumcised.) Or with Denmark. The U.S. had 77.4/82.2 years for men/women; Denmark had 77/82 for men/women. You see that it's pretty much identical. If there were a significant impact on the life expectancy, you would see it in these numbers. There's none.
The question whether one may measure the reduction of very dangerous and lethal diseases is a purely academic question with no significant implications for a vast majority of people. In the ancient times, it may have been difficult to maintain good rules of hygiene but our infrastructure is better these days and allows the men to remain pretty much clean with or without the foreskin.
But there are many other implications of the procedure.
An organ's size gets reduced, along with lots of nerves that are concentrated in the foreskin. The nerves in the foreskin have a stimulating effect on the men while, in the case of a certain contact that I won't describe in detail, the foreskin itself has a tickling effect on a woman. Nature has evolved in this way. It has a reason. In the past, I would think that the circumcised men must have completely different (or missing) ideas about pain and pleasure. Later I realized it cannot quite be the case. America as well as Israel are clearly alive and kicking and the Muslim countries manage to scratch out a living, too. ;-)
So in Europe, we think of circumcision as a cruel and painful ancient ritual that is surviving in countries that just haven't switched to the modern era yet. In a Bundesland of Germany, it was legally identified as a crime of mutilation of a baby without his consent – it is not too far from a rape against a child. Quite generally, people in Europe would think that circumcision is a barbarism – if nothing else, it's so painful for the boy. Even if you decided that that circumcision is sufficiently or highly beneficial, there is no important enough extra advantage in performing it very early. Why wouldn't you allow the boys to wait and decide whether they want to undergo the execution when they are already able to think for themselves?
Yes, indeed, I do think that most boys would prefer to avoid it if they were given the choice at the age of 15 or so – primarily because it's painful, irreversible, and "against Nature's intentions". And because the advantages are just too minor. If the free boys decided – after thinking about all costs and benefits – that the better answer is "avoid it", how can the right answer be "undergo it"? The "right answer" is "undergo it" only because it neglects some costs that actually matter and because it imposes a cruel societal group think on an individual who can't defend himself. And if you don't care about the boy's pain, why don't you consider rape against boys to be equally OK?
But what I consider the most important consequence of circumcision is its impact on masturbation. It must be much harder, right? It was really the motivation why this ancient Middle Eastern barbarian ritual was transferred to some Christian countries. Someone in the Catholic Church just wanted to reduce the heretical masturbation. Don't you think that the ability to do this rather well-known activity is a more important question than the question whether your chance to get a rare, esoteric diseases decreases by 0-10 percent?
I must have discovered the wheel but look at the map of the population growth rate above. It is spectacularly correlated with the rate of circumcision pictured on the first map. The correlation is especially impressive in the patterns going through Africa. If you don't find other sources, please quote me as the discoverer of the relationship.
What is my explanation? It's simple. In countries where circumcision is dominant, the boys or men just can't masturbate as easily as they can in Europe. So when they need something, they are much more likely to make sure that they find a female partner. In some cases, a child is born 9 months later. If this explanation is right, we could also "easily" revert the decreasing population trend in some countries of Europe such as mine. Just import circumcision. I wrote the word "easily" in quotes because it wouldn't really be too easy to convince the people that they should be doing something to their sons that no one has been doing to them and to their fathers, grandfathers, and forefathers.
Even more so than in the case of the recommended ski helmets, the libertarian scientist inside me cannot swallow that some physicians pretend to be "deducing" that some (not really too statistically significant) papers "directly imply" that boys should be mutilated in this way. Even if the probability of some of the diseases decreased after circumcision, this probability is an entirely different question from the question whether it should be done. Science just cannot answer moral questions, questions "what is good for us".
Moreover, the modified sensitivity and more difficult masturbation are much more important consequences of the procedure than the marginal changes of some rates of diseases. It's painful that these elephants in the room are being neglected. It's painful that the boys' pain is being neglected. It's bad that the nearly irreversible violation of the integrity of their body is being violated. It's bad that it's being hidden than 1 in 500,000 boys dies because of the circumcision. It's just dishonest for the physicians to cherry-pick some papers about the risk of diseases whose significance is much lower than what is needed in hard science, and to claim that this shaky research is the only consideration that should matter.
The ritual is ultimately a religious one, a tradition. It has always been primarily a tradition defining the identity of some tribes or nations. Both tribes and nations that respected it and those that avoided it could have survived well. If someone cherry-picks some papers on the small changes of risks of some diseases, he is just rationalizing a predecided religious answer – much like when a creationist invents arguments to defend creationism – and he shouldn't be pretending that he is approaching the question scientifically because he is not. Claims that one nation's dominant opinion about circumcision is scientifically correct are exactly as pseudoscientific as the Nazis' claims that the blonde blue-eyed Nordic race is superior so that the others should be eliminated. In both cases, the superiority of traits of a nation may be rationalized but that's something else than a scientific proof that something should be done.