So mostly I talk about silly stuff my kid or my husband says, or something funny I saw on the internet, or something I'm eating (or would like to eat.) Occasionally I get a little maudlin and talk about politics or something else that I take seriously, usually in regards to how it relates to me or my family.
This is a little bit like that. But not really. But sort of. I'm deadly fucking serious right now.
There is a lot of talk out there on the internet about circumcision, especially among parents or about-to-be parents. Especially right now, in light of the Momversation webcasts.
I would like to go on the record and say that I think all of the participants made excellent points. I think some of them made them in ways that left something to be desired, but people have strong points of view on circumcision. I understand and respect that.
However, some of the commenters on some of the participants' sites have left a bad taste in my mouth. Because I left the last comment on Mighty Girl's blog before she closed the comments, I am concerned that a lot of wind might blow in this direction, so I would like to fully articulate my position on the subject.
- I have a son, so obviously, the topic of circumcision has come up between my husband and I.
- I am pregnant again, and for that reason, I anticpate that the subject will come up again.
- Male circumcision is a personal choice, typically made by a parent or parents.
- Male circumcision is not the same as female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation. They are comparing apples to oranges.
- My son's penis is the business of expressly no one but myself, his father, and his pediatrician, should need arise.
For the record, I very much resent on the behalf of parents who have made or will make the decision to circumcise their sons the implication that female genital mutilation is comparable.
Here are some facts about this practice:
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia. External genitals include the clitoris, labia, mons pubis (the fatty tissue over the pubic bone), and the urethral and vaginal openings. (Source: World Health Organization, 1995. "Female Genital Mutilation: Report of a WHO Technical Working Group". )
The practice of FGM is often called "female circumcision" (FC), implying that it is similar to male circumcision. However, the degree of cutting is much more extensive, often impairing a woman's sexual and reproductive functions. (Source: Toubia, N., 1993. "Female Genital Mutilation: A Call for Global Action." New York: Women, Ink)
Female Genital Mutilation is practiced globally.
FGM is practiced in at least 26 of 43 African countries; the prevalence varies from 98 percent in Somalia to 5 percent in Zaire. A review of country-specific demographic and health surveys shows FGM prevalence rates of 97 percent in Egypt, 94.5 percent in Eritrea, 93.7 percent in Mali, 89.2 percent in Sudan, and 43.4 percent in the Central African Republic.
FGM is also found among some ethnic groups in Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, as well as in parts of India, Indonesia, and Malaysia. (Source: Toubia, N., 1993.)
FGM has become an important issue in Australia, Canada, England, France, and the United States due to the continuation of the practice by immigrants from countries where FGM is common. (Source: Ibid.)
In 1995 the World Health Organization classified FGM into four broad categories. They are as follows:
Excision (removal) of the clitoral hood with or without removal of part or all of the clitoris.
Removal of the clitoris together with part or all of the labia minora.
Type 3 (infibulation)
Removal of part or all of the external genitalia (clitoris, labia minora, and labia majora) and stitching and/or narrowing of the vaginal opening leaving a small hole for urine and menstrual flow.
Type 4 (unclassified)
All other operations on the female genitalia, including:
- Pricking, piercing, stretching, or incision of the clitoris and/or labia;
- Cauterization by burning the clitoris and surrounding tissues;
- Incisions to the vaginal wall;
- Scraping (angurya cuts) or cutting (gishiri cuts) of the vagina and surrounding tissues; and
- Introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina.
Type I and Type II operations account for 85 percent of all FGM. Type III (infibulation) is common in Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan and in parts of Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal.
Complications arising from FGM are frequent and often serious.
The highest maternal and infant mortality rates are in FGM-practicing regions.
The actual number of girls who die as a result of FGM is not known. However, in areas in the Sudan where antibiotics are not available, it is estimated that one-third of the girls undergoing FGM will die.
Conservative estimates suggest that more than one million women in Centrafrican Republic (CAR), Egypt, and Eritrea, the only countries where such data is available, experienced adverse health effects from FGM.
One quarter of women in CAR and 1/5 of women in Eritrea reported FGM-related complications.
Where medical facilities are ill-equipped, emergencies arising from the practice cannot be treated. Thus, a child who develops uncontrolled bleeding or infection after FGM may die within hours.
Immediate physical symptoms may include the following:
Intense pain and/or hemorrhage that can lead to shock during and after the procedure. A 1985 Sierra Leone study found that nearly 97 percent of the 269 women interviewed experienced intense pain during and after FGM, and more than 13 percent went into shock.
Hemorrhage can also lead to anemia.
Wound infection, including tetanus. A survey in a clinic outside of Freetown (Sierra Leone) showed that of 100 girls who had FGM, 1 died and 12 required hospitalization. Of the 12 hospitalized, 10 suffered from bleeding and 5 from tetanus. Tetanus is fatal in 50 to 60 percent of all cases.
Damage to adjoining organs from the use of blunt instruments by unskilled operators. According to a 1993 nationwide study in the Sudan, this occurs approximately 0.3 percent of the time.
Urine retention from swelling and/or blockage of the urethra.
Sound pleasant? Not so much.
Let's talk about male circumcision now.
Male circumcision is the removal of some or all of the foreskin (prepuce) from the penis. The word "circumcision" comes from Latin circum (meaning "around") and cædere (meaning "to cut").
This is an operation as old as mankind, highlighted today by Jewish and Muslim tradition in which all males are typically circumcised as a part of their faith and culture. It is performed worldwide by many tribes and cultures as an initiation rite and, despite some aggressive opposition, it is routinely done at birth for the majority of boys in the USA as well as many in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and much of the English speaking world. Overall it is estimated that a quarter of the male population is circumcised - about 750 million males.
Benefits to circumcision:
(I freely acknowledge that this information is appended from a source who is pro-circumcision. Not being in posession of a penis of my own, I have to rely on secondary sources.)
1. Many older men, who have bladder or prostate gland problems, also develop difficulties with their foreskins due to their surgeon's handling, cleaning, and using instruments. Some of these patients will need circumcising.
2. Some older men develop cancer of the penis - about 1 in 1000 - fairly rare, but tragic if you or your son are in that small statistic. Infant circumcision gives almost 100% protection, and young adult circumcision also gives a large degree of protection.
3. Cancer of the cervix in women is due to the Human Papilloma Virus. It thrives under and on the foreskin from where it can be transmitted during intercourse. An article in the British Medical Journal in April 2002 suggested that at least 20% of cancer of the cervix would be avoided if all men were circumcised.
4. Protection against HIV and AIDS. Another British Medical Journal article in May 2000 suggested that circumcised men are 8 times less likely to contract the HIV virus.
5. As with HIV, so some protection exists against other sexually transmitted infections. Accordingly, if a condom splits or comes off, there is some protection for the couple.
6. Lots of men, and their partners, prefer the appearance of their penis after circumcision, It is odor-free, it feels cleaner, and they enjoy better sex. Awareness of a good body image is a very important factor in building self confidence.
7. Balanitis is an unpleasant, often recurring, inflammation of the glans. It is quite common and can be prevented by circumcision.
8 Urinary tract infections sometimes occur in babies and can be quite serious. Circumcision in infancy makes it 10 times less likely.
In comparison, the WHO and every other recognized health, human rights, and civil rights organization who have addressed it have acknowledged that there are few, if any, health or social benefits to FGM, and the drawbacks are numerous and severe.
I am aware that a cost-benefit analysis when it comes to circumcision is not necessarily appropriate. Lots of people have very strong feelings one way or another, which, as I said before, I understand and respect. However, let me say that the research that I've seen against circumcision mostly deals with the fact that it is unnecessary.
At this point, I would like to make something perfectly clear, so sit down, put away your righteous indignation, and listen very carefully, because I am going to say this probably multiple times before anyone listens to me. You can save yourself some time by catching on right now.
Circumcise your son, don't circumcise him. Do it as an infant, do it as a child, let him make the decision for himself later on as an adult. Do it for medical reasons or social reasons or religious reasons. I honestly don't give a tiny rat's ass about your kid's schwantz. I have enough to do, teaching my own son responsible penis usage, without worrying about yours.
One of the things that has truly shocked me as a parent is other parents' willingness to mind my business for me. I would never be so presumptuous as to inquire about a stranger's intent to circumcise their child, or not; and yet I was asked by no fewer than six when I was pregnant and when my son was an infant.
I politely declined to answer that question, the reason being that I certainly hope no one is discussing my genitals with strangers behind my back, and I think it's an inappropriate topic of conversation. Max may have that conversation with anyone whom he chooses to once he is old enough to do so appropriately, at which point, it will no longer be my business.
I don't care whether your son is circumcised. Please don't ask me whether mine is. It's not your business.
As Maggie points out in the Momversation video, why is it so necessary for people to convince others that they are wrong in order to believe that they, themselves, are right? The tenor of this discussion has gotten way, way, way out of hand and I am insulted on behalf of people who have the temerity to make their own decisions.
Do not tell me how to raise my child. Do not tell me he is too young for potty training or too old to be wearing diapers. Do not tell me why I should have nursed Max longer or gone back to work sooner. I am a full-grown adult, and I will handle that decision for myself. Please feel free to do the same for your child. I will do you the small courtesy of not judging you.
And finally: I welcome vigorous discussion and debate on the topic, but one thing I will not change my mind about is that my son's penis is his business, not yours. By all means, let's talk about it, a lot, but you won't change my mind on that topic. Also, I won't tell you you're wrong, even if I disagree with you, but you also won't change my mind on the fact that circumcision and female genital mutilation are, in fact, not the same thing. Let's just assume that I'm actually quite bright and don't try.