To Cut or Not to Cut
The Associated Press published an article recently reporting that male circumcision rates in the US have dropped. Not only have they dropped, but there has been a drastic decline in the number of circumcisions performed on American newborn boys -- from 90% in the 1960s to around 57% today. Doctors and public health officials attribute this fact to several factors: an increase in the number of immigrants who share differing opinions regarding circumcision; as well as a general attempt by all Americans -- especially women and mothers -- to reclaim the body as one's own over the last fifty years. Consequently, cutting of a male-bodied baby's foreskin is viewed as a violation of that baby's privacy (similar trends have been noted in intersex babies).
I have always been on the fence about circumcision. I, personally, am circumcised and don't believe I have any residual repressed feelings over the loss of my foreskin at birth. However, I have also dated someone who did not get circumcised until he was 20 years old -- a procedure he chose to undertake out of feelings of inadequacy in comparison with other "cut" men. Although he said that the aftermath of the operation was the most painful time in his life, I did and do admire -- perhaps envy -- his ability to chose how he wants to present himself to the world.
My reason for being on the fence about the issue was that I had always been under the impression that male circumcision was a means of preventing disease. I was shocked to learn that its health benefits are minimal, and "since 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics has not endorsed routine circumcision." Recent studies in Africa, however, suggest that circumcised heterosexual men have a lower prevalence of HIV than uncircumcised men. But based on what the AP chose to tell me about the study, I would be suspect of the evidence that attributes such a sharp decline in HIV infection rates to the simple act of cutting off the foreskin.
It seems that despite what the one study in Africa suggests, the primary reason for newborn male circumcision in America is social stigma. Every post-modern, feminist-influenced television series (i.e. Sex & the City et al.) includes some mention of the pros and cons of being with a circumcised man. Likewise, pornography -- especially gay male porn -- makes sure to mention whether or not the stars are "cut" or "uncut" -- and "uncut" seems to have garnered its own special category alongside BDSM and fetishes. Online hook-up ads typically feature the same information, just to avoid any surprises when your partner(s) drops his pants.
What does surprise me, is that while there has been such a vocal movement to reclaim one's body, little is done with regards to a newborn's rights. This surprises me since the anti-choice activists like to remind us that life begins at conception, but they are the first to prescribe an anaesthetic-free procedure to alter that "saved" baby's life upon entering the world. Similar attitudes are often enforced upon intersex children. Perhaps it isn't the baby the anti-choice fighters want, but rather, the eighteen years of legalised control over another human being that comes afterwards.
If I do have children -- which inofitself would be shocking -- I think I would like to let them make up their own minds regarding their body. If the health benefits are inconsequential, why would I want to alter their bodies just for the sake of aesthetic value? They can do that when their older, in between getting a tattoo and their nose pierced.