Cognitive Dissonance and the Truth About Circumcision – By Maria

Posted by on May 24, 2012 in Featured, Guest Post, Thoughts | 29 comments

A Guest Post by Maria Bangs

 I am on a blogging hiatus for a couple of weeks so I can concentrate on a larger project, which I’m sure you all will enjoy. In the meantime, I have invited a bunch super-smart authors, bloggers, vloggers, writers, clowns, and people with other interests to submit work here, just so the blog doesn’t stagnate. I hope you enjoy them. This piece was submitted by the ever awesome friend, “Intactivist” and blogger at Barrels Of Oranges, Maria Bangs. Maria’s Twitter account is @BarrelOfOranges so go follow her.

Martin S Pribble

The reason circumcision is so controversial, and the fiery emotions that flare on both sides lie ultimately, in the psyche. When we begin to understand the very complex psychological factors that contribute to male genital cutting in the developed world, we see why it persists. Which is why women are sometimes a clear, rational voice in the debate; because we have intact genitals. For my generation especially, as one that has benefited greatly from the sexual revolution and culturally sanctioned extramarital sex and serial monogamy with multiple partners, many of us, for the first time in generations, have had sex with intact partners.

I was once naive, inexperienced with the penis, and incredibly ignorant on male sexuality. That is greatly thanks to a system of education that presented the penis sans foreskin. Don’t blame your doctor for not knowing what to do with the natural penis, dear Americans, they were only taught how to cut if off in med school.

This is not a joke.

Once upon a time, about 150 years ago, the only people who cut baby penises were Jews. Nearly every non-Jew was intact. Then some guy named Kellogg (you might know him from the famous genetically modified cereal brand), who was a staunch 7th Day Adventist, came up with the idea to cut the foreskin off adolescent boys to prevent them from masturbating. This was during that amazing time in American history when everyone thought sex was from the devil, and masturbating was a manifestation of the demons in you and led to insanity.

However, it was soon discovered that adolescent boys were difficult to restrain, so the better idea was to do it when they were babies. This didn’t catch on for awhile in mainstream American culture because only wealthy good Christians could afford it.

Enter World War II, post Industrial Revolution and the great medicalisation (and institutionalisation) of everything, where two things happened. The first was the shaming of men in the barracks [1]. Officers would march in and do strip downs, and any man who wasn’t circumcised was ridiculed and humiliated before being ordered off to have his foreskin cut off. The foreskin was blamed for venereal disease [2] since it usually showed up on the exterior (foreskin), and men of colour were especially targeted. [3.]

This was an intense and emotionally damaging moment in male history where the natural penis was shamed in such a way that no father would ever do his son the disservice of not cutting his penis ever again. This is where the old favourite locker room argument originates. It comes from a painful scarring that has been psychologically passed down from father to son, and perpetuated in myths about the foreskin being dirty.

The second thing that happened was birth moved into hospitals, and there was a great movement of high-intervention medicalisation of birth where women birthed in twilight sleep, fathers were sentenced to waiting rooms, babies were kept in nurseries, breastfeeding was abandoned in favour of bottled formula, and baby boys were circumcised routinely. Often without the parents’ knowledge or consent, and sometimes before they were even out of the womb.

It was literally a cutting off of the natural process, and a total disregard for our biology. Biology became pathology. The foreskin became dirty, filthy, infection prone, and there was a systematic demonising of the natural male genitals.

And here we thought sexual repression and body shaming was only for women.

It’s important that we understand the history of medicalised circumcision so that we can adequately understand the baseless and erroneous medical justifications for amputation of a healthy sexual organ in contemporary terms.

In case you were unaware, our current list of maladies circumcision prevents against is penile cancer, prostate cancer, STD’s, HIV, and urinary tract infections. However, amputation of healthy body parts of children cannot be justified when we have less invasive ways of treating and preventing disease.

Many STD’s and urinary tract infections can just as easily be treated with antibiotics, and they work well. Further, amputation to prevent a disease largely dependent on behaviour and lifestyle decades down the road cannot be justified since these diseases present themselves well after the age one can make choices regarding one’s own sexuality. There is no imminent risk to having intact genitals, and the public health isn’t at risk if too many people have their whole penises or vulvas. This is underscored in the policy statements of medical authorities around the world.

Given our current understanding of medical ethics, self-determination, bodily autonomy, and humanism, permanent body modification of the genitals when not immediately medically indicated of non-consenting, otherwise healthy children is profoundly unacceptable.

Which is why the psychological compulsion of circumcised people to repeat the ritual, as well as cognitive dissonance and cultural psychology is the only reason genital cutting of children continues among otherwise civilised people.

It is a very uncomfortable psychological state to accept one’s own circumcision while simultaneously recognising the inherent and unethical nature of the surgery when forced on children. A man has to rationalise in his brain, ‘I’m circumcised and it’s okay, I like my penis, but circumcising children is not okay.’

The other part of cognitive dissonance is from parents who have circumcised their children.  Parents do not maliciously cut their son’s genitals. It is done to fulfill the cultural mandate, because the men in our country underwent such a psychologically damaging moment in their sexual history. Parents circumcise to protect their children from real or imagined social ‘otherness.’ It is psychologically uncomfortable or near impossible for a parent to accept, ‘I love my children and would never harm them, but I am able to see that circumcision is unethical and ultimately harmful.’

Coupled with the inability to hold conflicting psychological states of mind is cultural psychology and ethnocentrism.  Americans have been socialised with misinformation about male anatomy and the function of the foreskin, and have been culturally conditioned to believe that having a foreskin will have negative social implications. This has been so integrated into our cultural psychology, and passed down through formal and informal sex education, that many intelligent, critical thinking individuals will actually cringe in disgust at the thought of the natural body. Some American scientific publications will go so far as to say the foreskin is an unnecessary leftover from biological evolution. This is, of course, not true, nor is it a reason to remove it from a child.

The foreskin is healthy, erogenous tissue with bands of specialised nerve cells, and the glans (head) of the penis is designed to be an internal organ.  Think of the foreskin as the sheath that protects the most sensitive part of the male body. Humans are a promiscuous species, and have evolved with a foreskin so that coitus can be enjoyed throughout the lifespan. All circumcised men experience keratinization, or a leathering of the glans, from being unnaturally exposed to the elements, and the naked glans gradually loses sensation over a lifetime.  As a result, men circumcised in infancy are five times more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction.

In the end, there is really no debate. Once Americans as individuals and a culture can come to terms with the bioethical problems with altering the healthy genitals of children, and cope with their own cognitive dissonance and denial, we will see this practise completely disappear. This ending of child genital cutting can only be seen as necessary and positive social, cultural, and medical progress.

1. M.L. Gerber, Some practical aspects of circumcision, United States Navy Medical Bulletin 42, 1944, 1147

2. L.L. Heimoff, Veneral disease control program, Bulletin of the US Army Medical Department 3, 1945, 93

3. E.A. Hand, Circumcision and venereal disease, Archives of Dermatology and Syphilology 60, 1949, 341

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29 Comments

  1. This seems to be an argument beyond discouraging circumcision.
     
    An ethically impermissible procedure for public hospitals to be performing?
     
    Or a decision for informed parents to weigh their cultural preferences against the physical/psychological harms to their child?

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    •  @blamer How can parents ever be “informed” enough to know what their newborn baby, as a man, is going to want for his own penis?

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      •  @HughIntactive I agree that parents cannot have prophetic knowledge of their child’s preferences. But by ‘informed’ I merely meant being aware of the facts.
         
        It’s unclear if the OP is advocating more education (hoping brute facts will change minds) or taking parental discretion off the table (promoting expert opinion over parental opinion).

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        •  @blamer The OP hasn’t mentioned anything other than circumcision disappearing, but there is no reason genital cutting should not be taken off the table, for boys as it (all of it, no matter how minor) already has been for girls. The only reason it stays on the table anywhere is pressure from two religious groups. The medicial profession should have nothing to do with it.

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  2. This is an important debate, but this article is riddled with factual errors and selective reporting of research results.  For example “..men circumcised in infancy are five times more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction.” While some studies do show a negative effect, there are others that show a positive effect, and the majority show no significant difference.  
    Also, “All circumcised men experience keratinization, or a leathering of the glans…”  An examination by Short (BMJ, 2000) of 7 circumcised and 6 uncircumcised 60-96 year-old male cadavers found no difference in keratinization of the glans penis.  Payne (Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2007), in a study of the sensitivity of twenty circumcised and twenty uncircumcised men, reported that “No differences in genital sensitivity were found between the uncircumcised and circumcised groups.”  
    A list of further references is found on this wiki page. 
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_effects_of_circumcision#cite_note-payne2007-15
     
    The author’s statement that psychological factors bias our views on circumcision are true, but she is a case in point.  Please don’t claim to be the “clear, rational voice in the debate” when you are pushing a clear agenda with little regard for fact.

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    • @Catdog I fail to see how your argument adequately justifies cutting the healthy penis of a child without his consent.

      Any critically thinking person can look at the sample sizes of those studies and identify they are not large enough to establish any sort of statistical significance, rendering them obsolete. It should also be noted the Wiki page on circumcision is operated by Jake Waskett who has a known sexual fetish with cutting penises & is a member of the Gilgal Society.

      This is an example of confirmation bias, which is a symptom of cognitive dissonance.

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      • @[email protected] I’m not presenting an argument for circumcision, simply suggesting that the debate should be based on fair analysis of the science.  From the article that you (and Bubjazz below) cite, in which the subjects were self selected and self-reporting:
         
        “We hope readers will heed our advice in not extrapolating these results to the general population from this preliminary investigation, but instead use it as a springboard to fur- ther investigation, perhaps in a sufficiently large random-sample study.”
         
        Let’s not present this as an open and shut case, when the science is clearly contradictory.  

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        •  @Catdog  @mariaRB  Catdog, it’s also true that removing ears improves a person’s hygiene and doesn’t actually harm the structure that does the hearing (which is internal).  Ears often get damaged during sports and in accidents, which can lead to a lot of unnecessary pain.  I don’t think the case for cutting off children’s ears is “open and shut”, and very few studies have been done on this.  Also, I’m not sure there’s much of a philosophical distinction between a child and an adult… so I’ve consulted with your parents and we’ve decided to sneak into your house at night when you least expect us, and we’ll hold you down and cut your ears off.  But don’t worry, we’ll use topical anesthetic.

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        •  @Catdog  @mariaRB Catdog–the science regarding the health risks/benefits may not be entirely settled…I do not know enough on the matter to say either way.  However, what about the basic human right to not have one’s body mutilated without consent?  Isn’t that reason enough to strongly consider not having a circumcision performed on a child?

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    •  @Catdog This is the study, the author was referring to in regards to “5 times more likely to suffer from ED’ :http://www.mensstudies.com/content/2772r13175400432/?p=a7068101fbdd48819f10dd04dc1e19fb&pi=4Sensitivity study (the one you mentioned only involved 40 men)- here’s another to refer to : http://www.nocirc.org/touch-test/bju_6685.pdf
      and video summary : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDh63jVkNVg
      Enjoy!

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      •  @Bubjazz Thanks Bubjazz.  Of course, sample size is important, but here’s a study involving over 4000 subjects, which concludes:
         
        “Adult male circumcision does not adversely affect sexual satisfaction or clinically significant function in men.”
         
        http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1464-410X.2007.07369.x/abstract
         
        We could throw articles back and forth all day, but neither of us can claim that the science is in our favour.  My point is that no one should make broad sweeping conclusions from inconclusive data. 

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        •  @Catdog  @Bubjazz That’s a Uganda study, it’s designed to sell circumcision equipment and attract otherwise healthy patients to fork over the money for a circumcision.

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        •  @Catdog Sure there were 4000 subjects, all paid volunteers to be circumcised in the hope and belief it prevented HIV. They knew what side their bread was buttered on. It was carried out by the same researchers who had “proved” that circumcision prevents HIV, so they had an agenda. More than 98% of men reported satisfaction both before and after circumcision – how very different from every other such study. Clearly either Uganda is a sexual paradise (unless you’re gay: you might be killed for it) – OR their questioning was too insenstive to detect any differenc.e.

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    •  @Catdog “An examination by Short (BMJ, 2000) of 7 circumcised and 6 uncircumcised 60-96 year-old male cadavers found no difference in keratinization of the glans penis.” Do you seriously think that 13 dead old men can be extrapolated to the whole male population? Short is a circumcision advocate who’s dying to be the hero who solves the AIDS problem. So far he’s promoted circumcision, topical oestrogen on the penis and lemon juice in the vagina to this end. No Nobel yet.

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      •   @Catdog  Here’s the thing. Circumcision has only ever succeeded at one thing, and that is reducing the sexual pleasure of men. It was introduced under that premise, and that is what it does. Our bodies evolved the way they did to satisfy our sexual needs as a species. The foreskin feels good for men and women, and there is no reason to ever cut it off until all  other methods of treatment have failed. 
         
        Basic medical ethics.
         
        Now I could link to some boring studies, but the ever awesome Lilli Cannon is so much more interesting. She has already done the research. http://www.moralogous.com/2012/04/29/the-purpose-of-circumcision-is-to-ruin-male-sexuality/ 

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    •  @Catdog The reason Payne et al. found no difference is simple (and the same as for Masters & Johnson). They ignored the foreskin. Interestingly they measured temperature as a marker for arousal, and the intact men averaged one degree lower when not aroused, but they reached the same temperature when aroused. So you could say that a given stimulus is more arousing to intact men – but Payne et al were at pains :) to avoid anything like that.

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    •  @Catdog
      You correctly say: “While some studies do show a negative effect, there are others that show a positive effect, and the majority show no significant difference.”, and in support, you cite “sexul effects of circumcision” in Wiki. However, if you bothered to read the Wiki studies, you would find that about 90% of the males researched in those studies elected circumcision in response to a foreskin problem or complaint (most commonly phimosis). So how are these men’s testimonials relevant to the issue of newborn or infant circumcision, which removes NORMAL, HEALTHY foreskin?!
      Removing painful foreskin (e.g. phimosis) may well improve sex by at least making it bearable, but it will give no indication as to the effect of non-therapeutic circumcision.
      In reality, those Wiki study results are terrible for circumcision, for in spite of being CORRECTIVE (therapeutic) circumcisions, in most cases the men reported no improvement. If a corrective operation does not result in significant improvement, the result is surely poor. In any case, they are irrelevant to newborn circumcisions.

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    • @CatDog hog wash. Haven’t you ever seen the difference in appearance between intact and circumcised glans? It’s easily visible. Also there are about 20,000 fine touch nerve endings removed during circumcision as well as the actual function of the foreskin ablated. People are so addicted to their wrong opinions. Just get over it. Circumcision = rape, mutilation, and theft.

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  3. Just started thinking about the cleanliness argument… isn’t saying that a boy can’t keep it clean the same as saying that a girl can’t keep her hoo-ha clean?  It should seem like an insult to both genders.

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  4. Nice blog post, well researched. I had none of this information when I was deciding whether to have our son circumcised 15 years ago. All I knew was that something didn’t seem right.

    If foreskins were so detrimental, how could we have survived as a species for so long. Evolution obviously favored the retention of the foreskin, otherwise it would have disappeared.

    Ultimately, my decision was not based on science but the Bible and the sanctity of one’s body. St. Paul said that circumcision meant nothing, it was the love and faith in your heart that mattered. Finally, I’ve known physical pain. I figured if my son really wanted or needed to be circumcised when he got older he could make the decision and he would survive the pain. I’ve had worse things done there and survived.

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  5. Circumcision is a form of torture like the end of braveheart respond if you want to hear the rest of the procedure from a circumcised male of color fyi all of this article is true but there is a deeper more sadistic reason for this surgical procedure that has horrible aocial reasons for it still being practiced

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  6. If a boy is circumcised it takes way longer to get lose an erection. The religious story of jesus is about a malatto male that could ejaculate at eleven years of age. He left his fathers house at 12 becuase he was not to be circumscised. Think what else happens at.age.12 most males can ejaculate and girls.start.to menstruate. Now some.info on dicks for the butt sniffin chiks. When a male has an erection his penis hardens his.ass.hole tightens.and.his. muscles connected to his.balls relax. Now when a.male.starts to.ejaculate he.has a huge desire for sex and.since girls.can have.orgasms till they get their.first period they literally are.deaf.to the sexual advances of a male that.has.the.ability to cum and visa versa. The only.people that.can hear the new sexual desires of a “newcummer” are older adults especially women because before a.human can speak they communicate with their mom by different breathing.patterns and cries. All of.this sounds.sweet right now.heres.where is turns into alice in wonderland cat.and.wicked.witch of oz . Because only adults.hear a male.that.can cum at 11they can train other children to taugnt.them out of ignorance.and once other.males.start.being able to come.they learn how.to mimic their.mothers.sighs.and.girls.sighs.of.desire.they often do.this.behind.a.males.back.and.then he.turns.around.and.sees that it is only males now he.has.to walk off.a.boner.and.ignore.physical threats.of males that dont like.him because.he.is.a.half.an inch taller and they dont want anyone stretchin oout their girlsfriends.ooh and.fyi i didnt know.till.age.28.that.girls.can rub their.clits.while.taling in a penis i thought pubic.bones..kept two people.toghter sum of.youz know what.i mean sniffing.behond a male.can sterilize him due to muscles clinching get the.point this.is where blue.balls.comes.from.not lack of sex.but.presence of.danger like i.said.earlier.braveheart kneeling before.cloth and.all that the.cloth of.underwear constantly rub against.the.head.of.an.uncicumscised penis and.males follow.and.threaten.a.male.after.they mimic a.girls sighs behind.their.back this is probably why so many males are fat extra fat.gives. creates an artifical foreskin and lessens the agrivation of circumscision and society and puberty. Dont.slice.the.apple friut of i loom and knot tee every sniff behind a.ciscumscised male is.a.threat and after.all that they heightened breathing pattern of a female lover.does.the.opposite to them they dont see sex.as.anythimg.more.than a.job.to.do.to no longer be.socially abused.and.physical abused i speak from experience i was cumming at eleven then my life became horrible and.i endured all of these things no apology from my brothers.of.same height no apologys from women have been recieved.now.all i.want.is.to.go.to.india.they.dont.believe.in circumscion i dont even talk to american women any more no.matter the.race those are horrible things to do to.a.male

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  7. Infertility, autism, lifespans shortened even more, and all kinds of mental disorders could easily be related to injuring a baby by cutting off his healthy heavily nerve laden skin especially while he is awake.  It is  a  sorry shame this crime is still going on for profit.  I truly believe the circumcised generations will be sicker, live shorter lives, and have more destructive mental illness than any in history.  I guess profit will never allow us to know since money means  more to people in  the US than  healthy sons.

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    • I’m skeptical. Hospitals aren’t getting wealthy from this procedure. Those health problems aren’t being traced back to foreskins or lack thereof. Without such evidence we can dismiss this reported “crime” of choosing wealth over health.

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      • There are doctors whose entire practice is circumcisions. That’s a 20-25 minute procedure that can be billed for up to $300-400, and the tissue can be sold to pharmaceutical companies for a couple hundred more (which also adds a financial incentive to remove as much tissue as possible). One doctor can make several thousand dollars a day on circumcisions.

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  8. okay, maybe it’s not totally accurate that ALL circumcised men experience keratinization….but plenty of them do and obviously you can’t ask a cadaver how much feeling he still has left in his penis!  Also comparing twenty circumcised and twenty non circumcised men…..and not taking into account some important variables such as when were the circumcised men circumcised; how old were they;  how did they determine “sensitivity”? and so many other variables that are not included in such a report.  Also wiki is not the best source for information!  It’s very possible that particular entry was written by Jake Waskett (I think that ‘s his name….)  who is known for his love of circumcision…and is known as a circumfetish…(there are more sordid details about this person….I won’t go into…)….and at the end of the day, it’s more about how unethical it is to surgically alter the normal genitals of a healthy infant.  Who can argue with that?

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  9. I love this article! 
    I used a couple references from it for my own essay. :) 

    Non-consensual genital cutting of male, female and intersex infants violates Medical ethics (Do No Harm), and Human Rights under the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 5) and the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 13).
    It is medically unethical to cut a healthy body part off a non consenting individual, Doctors have known this since the 1950’s but some continue to ignore it.
    Genital cutting is risky, painful and unnecessary, and there are modern alternatives to circumcision in most cases but a lot of Doctors are oblivious to them.
    Religious freedom ends where someone else’s body begins, the law banning Female Genital Mutilation proves this.

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  10. Great article!

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  11. I LOVE this article.  Well done.  I do think it would reflect reality better if you mention that Jews and Muslims are the primary cutters.

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