Women and circumcision: Leave me out of it

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Here’s the thing about the circumcision debate: Like everything else between men and their foreskins, women want nothing to do with it.

A while back, I was at a blues club when a tall, slim, blond fellow asked me for a dance. I’d seen him out on the floor and he seemed like a smooth mover (blues dancers, unlike your average oonst-oonsters, tend to trade partners), so I said yes.

Turns out, I was right. He was a good lead: firm but gentle, playful yet clear. The only problem was, about a minute into the song, he started urgently not-quite-whispering about circumcision. Like, did I know it was mutilation? Had I ever slept with a natural guy? Wasn’t it better?

When I told him I wasn’t accustomed to discussing my sex life on the dance floor, he assumed I didn’t and I hadn’t so I couldn’t possibly say – and, in a show of great evangelical fervor, handed me a card directing me to a website of one, Ms. Kristen O’Hara, who’d authored a book called “Sex as Nature Intended It.”

I dismissed him for the sheer absurdity of his timing as much as anything else. But that was before his cause was set to appear on November’s ballot, thanks to the efforts of Lloyd Schofield and the intactivists (band name, anyone?) who’ve collected more than 7,000 signatures from preservation-friendly petitioners.

As an indisputably happy transplant to the land where cheeseburgers come toy-less and cats have their claws, I was perplexed to find myself perplexed by the proposal.

Was it a latent shred of Judaism somehow stirred up? A knee-jerk reaction to state intervention into this most private of matters? The inevitable result of growing up in a society that gets giggly over the merest suggestion of sexuality – Weiner’s wiener being only the latest example?

Or was it because we’re just so culturally inured to the custom that we treat those who oppose it as freaks? (Anyone else remember Alan Tudyk’s caricature of a gay German drug addict lamenting his lost foreskin in 28 Days?)

I wasn’t – and still am not – prepared to say. It’s complex issue, muddled by the phenomenon in which inhibition and hilarity combine to derail honest conversation. Add religion, equal protection, and a loaded term like “nanny state,” and it’s no surprise the matter has billowed into overwrought emotion on all sides.

But let’s forget – for a moment – vicious Monster Mohels who thirst over infant blood, fathers protecting their sons’ locker-room status, and doctors citing STI-prevention studies that were neither conducted in, nor aimed at, populations in this country. Let’s focus on one group that definitely doesn’t belong in the debate: women.

If my erstwhile blues partner was seriously trying to recruit supporters to his way of thinking, he should have known that an unsuspecting woman on the dance floor would not an ideal target make.

Nonetheless, I admit that a mix of consternation and bemused curiosity got the better of me. I ran reconnaissance on the website – a dreadful 90’s flashback minus only the midi – and was horrified to find that, as an unsuspecting women, I was precisely this Mr. Blues’ target. Indeed, I was the crucial component of his argument.

“The surgically altered circumcised penis makes it difficult – in some cases impossible – for most American women to achieve orgasm from intercourse,” the website proclaimed boldly.

Amid jerky, continuous-loop videos that looked like low-def pornos, and first-person testimonials that sounded like amateur online erotica, nary a word could be found about the person behind (or not, as the case may be) the prepuce. The entire site purported to tell me what I, as a woman, would want from my lover. And all signs pointed to extra skin.

Among O’Hara’s various assertions are that cut members miss out on the retracted foreskin bunching up to seal in vaginal moisture; that decreased sensitivity forces circumcised men have rough “adrenalized” sex; that circumcised men must take longer strokes which deny women ideal clitoral contact; and that the coronal “hook” of a circumcised penis rides along the rippled skin of the vagina, creating uncomfortable friction (the accompanying illustrations put me in mind of the Ruffles have R-R-R-Ridges commercials. Of course, Trojans have r-r-r-ridges, too – on the “Her Pleasure” condoms designed for the very purpose of creating friction.)

The website claims that the head of an uncircumcised penis is “soft, like velvet,” but that circumcised sex is like “being poked with a hard broomstick.” All of this to the following conclusion: men who are bad lovers, who pound like jackhammers, who leave their partners sore, simply can’t help it.

I’m sorry. I’m not denying that there may be physical differences, but my book, the unpracticed and unskilled just don’t get off that easy – pun totally intended.

Now, as it turns out – Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this, I sincerely apologize – I’ve had it both ways. And I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that I speak for a large number of women when I say that I don’t find there to be categorical difference between men who are intact, and those who aren’t.

I’m sure O’Hara and her passionate band of male followers would tell me I’m either vastly lucky, vastly unlucky, or too tuned-out to tell the difference. But I have another analysis: sex is a highly variable, highly personal act.

Take the following unattributed account from O’Hara’s book: a woman describes sex – her first time – with a cut boy on the beach who “literally jumped [her] bones,” pummeled her, and left her feeling “almost dead.” A year later, she had her first natural sex with a boy she’d spent an idyllic summer skinny-dipping and milking cows alongside. Unlike the beach bum, he began the event by kissing her.

Well, no shit she felt differently.

If O’Hara were really a maven of sexuality – or if she paid any attention to the decades of medical literature that precede her – she’d know that sex has as much to do with a person’s head as his or her loins. And if she really had a drum to beat for female satisfaction, she’d be saying anything but “I’m sorry folks, it’s all out of your control. You’re at the mercy of what a masked doctor did 20 or 30 or 40 years ago.”

Women who are in bed with men – indeed, people who are in bed with people –should be encouraged to discuss their needs, say what they want, and help their partners become the best lovers possible. To suggest that a certain kind of sex is the inevitable result of circumcision is not only disempowering, but downright demeaning – for all parties involved.
While O’Hara’s website is clearly over the top, speculation as to women’s preferences pepper online information sharing forums, anti-circumcision websites, and even the literature listed in the resource section of MGMbill.org, which sponsored the San Francisco ballot measure.

To be certain, intact penises have some nifty tricks up their sleeves – thank you, I’m here all night – that circumcised penises just can’t pull off. Or course, if you’re wearing a condom, a lot of them won’t matter. And the – erm – polls can be twisted either way: many say women prefer circumcised penises. Since we’ve put the size debate (for the most part) to rest, it seems fair to reiterate that what you’ve got is less important than how you use it.

I am not trying to say that men shouldn’t get a say in their own anatomy. Even if you call circumcision a personal choice, no matter how you slice it – ok, ok, enough – it’s never really been down to the person who actually matters.

This is about a man’s relationship to his own body, which is why “what women want” shouldn’t play a role.

After all, we’re universally appalled when men’s preferences drive women to seek labiaplasty. (An analogy carefully chosen: it seems greatly unfair to draw a comparison to the vastly more invasive, vastly more dangerous practice of female genital cutting – which, unlike circumcision, has nearly always served to make sex difficult to completely impossible for women .)
There’s a more sinister side to the tendency to make male circumcision into a female issue. It overrides the question of bodily autonomy, and implies that men can only experience their body by acting out their sexual identity through women.

The issue becomes a man’s ability to please women – the equally problematic flip side, of course, being that if a man does a fine job of pleasing his partner, no harm has been done.

Framing the debate in this way cements women’s role as a passive fixture in the relationship, while also diffusing the man’s power (and responsibility) by focusing attention on an external, uncontrollable element.

Making that uncontrollable element controllable sounds great. The problem is, your infant son didn’t choose to be circumcised, but he also didn’t choose not to be. While a neonatal circumcision is irreversible, it’s not like waiting “until he can decide” is wholly without consequences, either.

“I’m glad I’m circumcised,” a friend told me recently, “and I’m sure glad I don’t remember it.”

It’s impossible to say how my friend would have felt about his circumcision had he grown up in a different cultural atmosphere, and mores may well be changing to the point where he would be just as happy whole.

According to the MGM bill’s own website, 90% of male babies already leave Bay Area hospitals intact. It would be foolish to pass a ban based on the assumption that masses of infants are senselessly whisked away to be docked while their mothers, drugged-up and dopey, lay unawares.

And, regardless of your views on the matter, it is likewise foolish to assume that damage between men and women can be introduced or repaired by a foreskin.

Take, for example, Mr. Blues. Now I didn’t ask, but both his fervor on the subject and statistics – as intactivists are fond of pointing out – would indicate that he was altered. side from his attempt bordering-on-low-grade-sexual-harassment to brainwash me, he seemed like a nice guy. And, despite all, we had chemistry. At least on the dance floor.
He was sensitive, attentive, spontaneous – and though I’d never want to be in bed with him, I daresay someone would. Because in the end, all those things matter – at least to women – a lot more than a few inches of skin, nerve-rich though they be.

 

 

Comments

Just to clarify the evolving thread I'll post this again down here:

Nothing to do with Judaism? Really?

Just below is the list of 'likes' on the FaceBook page of the organization you just cited 'Lucretia'. (It's pretty clear that opposition to the ballot measure has -everything- to do with Judaism.)

Tom Ammiano, Rev. Cecil Williams, The Foundation For Ethnic Understanding-FFEU, Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A., Rabbinical Assembly, Orthodox Union, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Hadassah, The Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc., Yaseen Foundation, Imam Zaid Shakir, Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Jewish Labor Committee, Progressive Jewish Alliance -- Bay Area, Scott Wiener, Ross Mirkarimi, Mark Farrell, Carmen Chu, Malia Cohen, David Chiu, Bevan Dufty, Fiona Ma, Phil Ting, Leland Yee, Mark Leno, University of San Francisco, Union for Reform Judaism, Sean Elsbernd, San Francisco Interfaith Council, Rabbinical Council of America, National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), Muslim Nurses Association, Muslim American Society: Bay Area Chapter, Marin Interfaith Council, Jewish Study Network, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, Jewish Federations of North America, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Jewish Community Relations Council, San Francisco based Jewish Community Federation, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Mark Leno, B'nai B'rith International, AJC - American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League

Posted by Eric Brooks on Jun. 25, 2011 @ 8:31 pm

As a man who was (slightly) mutilated by a surgeon at a US Army hospital shortly after birth (the cut was too deep and the scar is sensitive and prone to micro-tears) I wish the statute of limitations permitted me to sue for malpractice. If cribs or baby formula killed 100 kids the companies responsible would be put out of business by lawyers. Maybe we should file a class action!

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

Sucking blood from the penis of a baby screaming under torture, who could be against that admirable cultural practice?

http://www.bestgore.com/torture/jewish-circumcision-video-mezizah-blood-...

"This video offers slightly more complete view of the barbaric procedure of circumcision practiced by the Jews on infant boys. The other video of Jewish Circumcision we had previously posted doesn’t contain the technique called Metzitzah (or mezizah) in which mohel (character who performs the circumcision) suck’s on infant’s freshly circumcised penis. This is done to allegedly suck blood out off the penis, but in practice all it did was pass herpes onto the child often resulting in brain damage. As a result, instead of sucking on the penis directly, some mohels now use glass or plastic tubes (as seen in this video).

Listen to that mohel character say that it’s not gonna hurt the child if the guy who holds him (presumably child’s grandpa) grips him tightly. He continues to act larger than life and commands the grandpa to apply more force. Spending a lifetime mutilating infants sure made him one tough cookie.

The baby is so small it doesn’t even have the strength to express the agony it’s going through with crying. It writhes in pain as mohel forces a spike into his penis. From around 2:15 mark onward, you can literally see the baby reaching up with his wee hands for God to rescue him from this torture. He was just brought to this world and already put through the most humiliating and tantalizing treatment imaginable.

Russell Crowe made a good point when he said that Brit Milah aka Jewish Circumcision along with their subsequent practice of a grown man sucking on a freshly cut baby’s penis is a ritualistic act that’s akin to human sacrifice.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2011 @ 3:01 pm

This is truly revolting.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brit_milah

Metzitzah technique

Less commonly practiced, and more controversial, is metzitzah b'peh, (alt. mezizah), or oral suction,[11][12] where the mohel sucks blood from the circumcision wound. The traditional reason for this procedure is to minimize the potential for postoperative complications,[13][14] although the practice has been implicated in the spreading of herpes to the infant.[15]

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2011 @ 3:11 pm

If someone had simply told me this goes on, I would think it was antisemitic blood libel. The fact that is actually done is just beyond the pale.

The campaign should be publicizing these practices instead of making stupid comics, because the truth is apparently far more revolting than any fiction.

Posted by Greg on Jun. 23, 2011 @ 3:47 pm

Wow, anti-circumcision people are fucking nuts who argue with the irrational fervor of a street preacher. Based on the intelligence of the ban's supporters, I'm definitely voting no on the ban.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 25, 2011 @ 7:37 am

Troll Alert! "Wow, anti-circumcision people" meaningless flame

Posted by vigilante on Jun. 25, 2011 @ 10:06 am

I am angry and resentful I was given unnecessary surgery without honest medical knowledge of potential harms or benefits, and I feel resentment toward people who want to make a serious medical issue about religious custom regardless whether it is harmful or not. If that makes me "fucking nuts" so be it.

"Medical analysis of circumcision
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Numerous medical studies have examined the effects of male circumcision with mixed opinions regarding the benefits and risks of the procedure. Opponents of circumcision say it is medically unnecessary, is unethical when performed on newborns, is painful even when performed with anesthetic, adversely affects sexual pleasure and performance, and is a practice defended by myths.[1] Advocates for circumcision say it provides important health advantages which outweigh the risks, that it improves on sexual function,[2] has a complication rate of less than 0.5% when carried out by an experienced physician, and is best performed during the neonatal period.[3]

The American Medical Association stated in 1999: "Virtually all current policy statements from specialty societies and medical organizations do not recommend routine neonatal circumcision, and support the provision of accurate and unbiased information to parents to inform their choice."[4]"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_analysis_of_circumcision

Posted by Guest on Jun. 25, 2011 @ 10:43 am

Would this apparent breech of contract on the part of YHWH invalidate the Covenant of Abraham? If so circumcision would be no longer necessary?

"this land came to be referred to as the Promised Land or the Land of Israel, however the land specified by the Abrahamic Covenant also includes the modern nations of Saudi Arabia, Omen, Yemen, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, UAE, and several other nations within the Middle East Region."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covenant_%28biblical%29#Abrahamic_covenant

Posted by Guest on Jun. 25, 2011 @ 11:26 am

Can people seriously argue that if a parent's religion called for circumcision at age 13, that the teenager should have to submit to circumcision?

Is the only difference between a 13 year old and a newborn's rights the ability of the teenager to verbally articulate his objections?

Posted by marcos on Jun. 25, 2011 @ 7:10 pm

I suppose I need to weigh in here. Lucretia, you are a guilty of sexually mutilating your children. You have abused them and maimed them for life. None of your justifications hold water. If you were truly opposed to governmental intrusion into parenting, you would be fighting to legalize female genital mutilation. There is no religious exception for female genital mutilation because it is wrong to chop away at the sex organs of a person without their consent. If someone came and carved up your genitals without your permission I assume you would not be pleased.

So, if the ban on mutilating infant boys fails, a lawsuit should be in order to allow female genital mutilation on religious grounds and the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. Of course, no one really wants to think of their little girls being carved up, but I believe in equality.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 03, 2011 @ 8:04 pm

Benefits to women of male circumcision

Infectious bacteria and viruses that accumulate under the
foreskin are delivered into the female genital tract during
sex. Thus when the male partner is circumcised there is:
• An over 5-fold reduction in risk of cervical cancer (which is
caused by human papillomavirus). A 5-fold higher risk for
uncircumcised men applies if the man has had 6 or more
sexual partners. If only two previous partners the risk to a
woman is double.
• A 5-fold reduction in risk of a woman being infected
by Chlamydia, thus reducing her risk of infertility, pelvic
inflammatory disease, and ectopic pregnancy.
• A 2-fold reduction in risk of genital herpes.
• A reduced risk of other sexually transmitted infections
such as HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), syphilis, and
chancroid, since it is less likely that the male partner has any
of these.
• A lack of malodorous smegma and associated bacteria on
the penis during sex.
• No need for concern that the man has phimosis and thus
finds it difficult to have sexual intercourse. This is because
the 1 in 10 uncircumcised men with phimosis either cannot
get an erection, or experience difficulties and pain.
• Improved sexual pleasure, as women tend to prefer the
circumcised penis for appearance, hygiene, increased
penile-vaginal contact, stimulation, and marginally greater
staying power during sex. Any of these factors can increase
likelihood of the woman reaching an orgasm.

Source: http://www.circinfo.net/pdfs/GFW-EN.pdf and http://www.esteemstudio.com.au/t16labiaplasty.php

Posted by labiaplasty on Jul. 03, 2011 @ 8:27 pm

So let me set the scene here for those who may not bother to click on the above links... in Australia, the medical associations have decided that the risks and human rights issues outweigh the benefits, and circumcision shouldn't be done routinely. Though there are religious exceptions, it's no longer performed in public hospitals as a matter of course. As a practical result, almost no one is being circumcised in Australia today. Hence, that's a revenue stream for doctors in Australia that's pretty much dried up now.

Against that backdrop, a poster comes up with a private cosmetic surgery clinic from Australia that thinks circumcision stops cancer, and herpes, and is just peachy in every way. And incidentally, if you want to get it done on your child, they'll happily do it for you. For a fee, of course, because Australian medicare doesn't cover it. Which is just fine by them... who needs the paperwork? Visa, Mastercard, and Aussie dollars are conveniently accepted.

I'm not going to go through and answer everything you say point by point. There are 157 comments on this topic, and it's already been done. Refuting already-refuted garbage gets tedious. Anyone can go through and see the links to the data. But I will just repeat that this is exactly why I went to a neutral source like Wiki first, rather than wade through tons of biased bullshit.

And the picture you get is very different than the one presented above. There are arguments and studies on both sides of the issue. But the one issue that pro-circumcision advocates have no response to is the issue of free choice over ones own body.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 03, 2011 @ 10:16 pm

"And, regardless of your views on the matter, it is likewise foolish to assume that damage between men and women can be introduced or repaired by a foreskin."

This pretty much says it all. The irony is 4 pages of comments by people so passionate about other people's genitals that they miss the point of the article. Personally, I think an individual is entitled to worry about the issues they choose to worry about, but apparently some of the males here have decided for you that the intactness of their foreskins should be a feminist issue. Welcome to a redefinition of "feminism" in this century's version of sexual objectification.

And according to the often quoted circumcision article in Wikipedia: "Medical cost-benefit analyses of circumcision have varied. Some found a small net benefit of circumcision, some found a small net decrement, and one found that the benefits and risks balanced each other out and suggested that the decision could 'most reasonably be made on nonmedical factors.'"

Which means that the tradeoffs to circumcision vs being uncut are pretty much evenly balanced in Western society. I'm guessing that time might be better spent focusing on themselves and others as human beings instead of worrying about their individual parts.

Posted by Rob on Jul. 04, 2011 @ 9:17 am

The fact that over a hundred babies a year die because of this procedure, makes it everyone's business.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Jul. 04, 2011 @ 10:17 am

Well, if we're talking infant mortality rates, by the same logic, it makes elective C-sections, inducing labor before 39 weeks, invasive forms of prenatal testing (like amniocentesis), and regional anesthesia (like epidurals) everyone's business too. Most cases would be classified as medically unnecessary procedures, and all carry the same or greater risk of killing or harming the infant.

Being armed with stack of printouts from research printed from The Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology should provide minutes of uncomfortable conversation with random women at the local jazz club before they invent an excuse to be somewhere else.

Posted by Rob on Jul. 04, 2011 @ 11:54 am

Being pro-choice, I kind of draw a line between fetuses and babies. Babies are human beings; fetuses are not. Until it comes out, the woman gets to decide what to do with her body; once it comes out, the person has certain rights.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 04, 2011 @ 12:40 pm

Nonsense. Those procedures are all done for legitimate medical reasons with proven benefits. (Can they be abused? Certainly. Is such abuse our business? You bet your ass it is.)

Circumcision on the other hand, is not done for legitimate medical reasons at all. And any speculative benefits are simply not proven. A vast majority of physicians have stated that circumcision has no medical purpose.

And circumcision is done on a baby -after- he is born at which time he has fully become a viable individual with the basic human right to not have his body permanently altered without his consent.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Jul. 04, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

Generally the mother has 50% of the decision making regarding whether to circumcise their child, so women should be educated about the matter.

It seems to me that you can always cut it later so why not let the boy decide at 18, just like tattoos, and body piercing and other body manipulations. Doing it at birth doesn't take the kids choice into consideration at all seeing as how it's nearly impossible to put it back on.

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Posted by Immarfsausa on Jan. 15, 2012 @ 2:04 pm

Of course it's a woman's issue. It's a mother's issue, it's a lover's issue. It's a national issue. As ye sow so shall ye reap. If you sow the wind you'll reap the whirlwind, as a nation. By what measure you judge you'll be judged yourself by.

If it's not a woman's issue, then female genital mutilation is not a man's issue. And yet it is our issue. It's the world's issue. Mutilation is destruction of beauty of God and his wrath will not be appeased by those who are unrepentant and who've hardened their hearts

Harden not your heart. Show compassion. It's an issue for anyone with a compassionate heart. It's an issue for everyone who cares about truth, or human rights. It's an issue for those who support and believe in the Equal protection amendment.

Parents get to make the decisions for their children, but with power comes responsibility. They have an obligation to leave a boy intact, to give him breast milk and to do no violence. Anything else is dereliction of duty. Power without justice or responsibility is satanic. the child is born into the world expecting certain care and his needs to get met- fully met, not met half way. So don't talk about "parent's rights" to the extent it supersedes the child's rights. I think anyone with an alive conscience must agree with me. Anyone who has killed it off will disagree but they will have to face the fire

Posted by gerald on Jun. 10, 2012 @ 2:19 am

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