Friday, 29 March 2013

On Clear Thinking and Circumcision

The other day I was talking to a mum, and I don't know how or why, but we were talking about circumcising our kids.

I'm not going to go into the vast arguments for/against genital mutilation of our little boys and girls, but would like to walk you through this particular case of astounding (non-)thinking.

She said that they circumcised their boy because they didn't want him to be different from daddy, who is obviously circumcised (well, not obviously, I haven't seen it, just drawing a conclusion).

So, in my head, the problem reads:
If Junior's penis looks different from Daddy's, we will have to explain a taboo subject about penises and circumcision, and why his penis looks different.
And the options are:

  1. Have a conversation with Junior and explain circumcision, and why he wasn't circumcised; or
  2. Permanently and irreparably mutilate his genitals.
The benefit of option #1 is the little kid doesn't have the form and function of his penis permanently altered.

The benefit of option #2 is that the parents don't have to have an awkward (in their mind) conversation with their child.

The obvious choice to them is #2: no cost to the parent. That five minutes of awkwardness certainly outweighs the lifetime of disfigurement incurred by the child.

Taboos be damned! Learn how to talk to your kids. If you can't talk to them about little things like this when they are young children, how are you ever going to handle conversations of greater gravity when they are teenagers and adults?

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  1. This is a widespread problem that parents and other adults seem to have with children and teens on many levels. When discussing the need for sexual content in YA books with another author the other day their argument was constructed around the premise that because the audience was not expected to be sexually active, their exposure to this subject should be limited at best. I completely disagree with this tactic.
    Just because children or teens of a certain age aren't expected to be sexually active does not mean we need to keep them in the dark about the subject. They need to be shown how to be part of healthy relationships - give them positive rolemodels for sexual behaviour and take away the negativity that is often portayed around the subject in the media today. I advocate an open and honest relationship built on trust. If parents are unable to do this about the anatomy about one of their child's body part then how can they begin to build the trust and security their child needs to learn about sexual behaviour in general. Great post.

  2. Any man who lets his son be mutilated is no man.

  3. Hmmmm... mutilation is not a word I would have applied here. Altered, yes, and it seems (anecdotally) those most against infant circumcision are the same that are proud of their tattoos and piercings. I, for one, am proud of my circumcised average-sized male member. I don't know what it may be that I've lost through my "mutilation." I've not had a problem with sanitation (that was pretty obvious with uncircumcised boys in H.S. gym class showers), I and my partner are happy with my performance. I also had my tonsils out at an early age, and my tounge-tied condition cured by a snip of tissue under the tongue. All allowed by my father, who, excuse me, was one hell of a man who supported his wife and family through the depression, WWII and the turbulent times of the '60s. I wish all fathers could be as good to his family as he was. Please, explain to me what I've lost. Unlike female genital mutilation, my circumcision was not done to limit sexual pleasure, and I do not believe that it has. It was done for two reasons, as I've been told by my parents, (1) in keeping with community tradition; and (2) in keeping with medical advice of the times. BTW, I agree 100% that parents need to have an open and honest relationship with their children about sex as well as other things important to a happy human life.

    1. Mutilation is the correct word:
      mu·ti·late: verb (used with object), mu·ti·lat·ed, mu·ti·lat·ing.
      1. to injure, disfigure, or make imperfect by removing or irreparably damaging parts

      What you've lost through your mutilation is millions of nerve endings in one of the most sensitive parts of your body. You have no basis for comparison, so obviously you'd be happy with all you've known all your life.

      Sanitation is something parents should teach their children and goes to the same point Sleepy Dad was making: Don't cut off part of your son's penis just because you don't want to teach him how to clean it.

      Your tonsillectomy and lingual frenectomy appear to have been medically indicated. The overwhelming majority of circumcisions are not. They are purely cultural or religious in nature.

      And therein lies the problem. Altering the body of a child, who cannot give consent, is unconscionable unless there is a health reason for it. Let them decide whether to have a circumcision once they're old enough to actually make that decision for themselves.

    2. Every modern medical assn including the American one has made it clear that there is no reason to have it done.

  4. Mum has a tattoo of a butterfly on her pubic area. We're having one put on little Janey so she won't have to feel awkward looking different from her mum.

    Sounds insane, doesn't it?

    And that's not even about removing healthy and functional tissue, just a tiny marking hardly anyone will ever see.

  5. I watched this brilliant movie "XXY" in which the father let's his intersex child decide which gender she wanted or felt comfortable with when she grew up instead of taking the decision at her birth. Any parent who feels that the child is his or her property and can take decisions on their behalf for important, life-impacting things should see that movie.
    As a parent the only responsibility one has is to explain the world as much as they have understood it and let the child explore and extend the horizons as they grow.

  6. On the medical evidence, it looks like circumcision provides marginal benefits that approximate the risks of doing it. That's why I don't understand why people get so hysterical about it either way - anyone who vociferously promotes either choice I find a bit odd. Though we've managed to deculturaise almost everything in society, circumcision is one tribal attributed we seem to still have, which is either good or bad depending on your perspective. Live and let live...either choice is fine, just don't get too excited about it: it's weird.