September 10, 2022
On Thursday freelance writer Elizabeth Broadbent posted an article titled, "6 Reasons I Believe Circumcising Your Son is Genital Mutilation." The article began by referring to the 2015 story of the Florida parental dispute:
Now she’s changed her mind. And Hieronimus [sic] is on the run with now 4-year-old Chase, who “is aware of what is happening and is terrified by the procedure.” The court has agreed to rescind the arrest order if Chase’s mother will sign the consent form for circumcision.
It's not a promising start when the author misspells a key name and refers to a seven year-old story as contemporaneous. Alas, the rest of the article is filled with so much false and misleading information, the article practically refutes itself.
1. I believe this practice is unjust and performed on people who can't consent so I have to speak out.
Parents are responsible for all types of procedures and activities for their children who can't or don't consent. For instance, children do not consent to painful vaccinations and blood tests. Many children object to eating vegetables or making their bed or going to school for 13 years. The government recognizes that parents act in their children's best interests. Similarly, circumcision provides a boy with medical, religious, or cultural benefits.
Circumcision opponents do not speak on behalf of all babies. A baby doesn't have the ability to understand, much less make a decision, on the procedure. A 2015 YouGov survey found that 86% of circumcised American men were happy or unconcerned with their circumcision status, while just 10% wish that they were not circumcised. By comparison 67% of uncircumcised men were happy or unconcerned with their status, but 29% wish that they had been circumcised at birth. In other words, an uncircumcised man was three times more likely than a circumcised man to regret his parents' decision.
2. This country is rife with misinformation about male foreskin.
Ironically the author promoted misinformation in the very section where she complained about misinformation. She wrote that just 45% of boys receive anesthesia during the procedure, linking to a 24 year-old study. Since that survey was released, the AAP recommended in 1999 - and reiterated in 2012 - that all patients undergoing circumcision should be provided adequate analgesia. A later study found that by 2003, 97% of residency programs were teaching the use of anesthesia for circumcisions. So the 45% figure is at least 20 years out of date, and it's likely that most circumcision patients are receiving pain relief.
3. I want foreskin to be the norm.
The author stated that the circumcision rate in the U.S. is about 77%, linking to a study by pro circumcision authors who contradicted some of her other claims. A U.S. circumcision rate is not definitive. The Centers for Disease Control reported that the national circumcision rate had declined from 64% in 1979 to 58% in 2010. Meanwhile in 2020 the anti-circumcision group Intact America reported that the rate was 75%. Our article The circumcision rate discusses national and global trends.
The author claims that an uncircumcised boy would be teased by his classmates at school. Many intactivists think otherwise, saying that fears of teasing are exaggerated, and no boy would risk being caught looking at another boy's genitals in the locker room. Intactivists insist that fear of teasing is not a valid basis for a parent's circumcision decision.
4. I want to prevent unnecessary deaths.
Broadbent wrote that "the journal Thymos found that over 100 baby boys die as a result of routine infant circumcision." Actually Thymos didn't find anything; the journal simply served as the publishing platform for a paper that made the claim. Dan Bollinger, the study's author, is the vice chair of the Intact America board of directors and a longtime anti-circumcision activist. While researcher bias doesn’t automatically discredit a study, readers should be particularly skeptical when considering a paper in which data, analysis, and conclusions support the researcher‘s partisan agenda.
Bollinger claimed that 117 boys die from causes related to circumcision in the United States each year. He admitted that the figure was a "rough estimate." His calculation was based on two faulty assumptions. First, he assumed that circumcision must be the cause of a higher rate of male perinatal mortality than female perinatal mortality - despite a significantly higher mortality rate for perinatal boys versus their female peers even in non-circumcising cultures. Second, he assumed that the mortality rate in the first two days of life would continue over the next 28 days. The 117 figure is so off base that even in their 2012 response, the European critics of the AAP didn't mention Bollinger's figure when discussing circumcision deaths. It's more likely that the actual annual mortality rate is close to zero - out of an estimated 1.3 million neonatal circumcisions performed annually.
It's somewhat ironic that the author compared the false number of circumcision deaths to the deaths caused by Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, since intactivists have falsely claimed that circumcision causes SIDS.
5. I care about sex.
She linked to a paper that cited a study from Belgium which reported that circumcision decreases penile sensitivity. Researchers conducted an unscientific online survey that recruited men via leaflets left at train stations in various locations throughout Belgium. The survey likely suffered from self-selection bias, and the sample would not include men who didn’t use trains or who don’t respond to leaflets. The authors admitted that “the sample is not representative of the general male population, but biased towards highly educated men.” Significantly, “many participants in their self-evaluation survey could not identify correctly whether or not they were circumcised.” Furthermore, most circumcisions in Belgium would be performed for medical reasons. As the AAP Task Force on Circumcision concluded regarding a similar study of Danish men, the subjects would likely be unrepresentative of a group of men circumcised as infants.
A 2016 Canadian study found that the foreskin, while more sensitive to fine touch, was not more sensitive to heat and pain than areas on the penile shaft. Researcher Jennifer Bossio concluded that "circumcision does not appear to remove the most sensitive part of the penis." This study utilized standardized measures and was less susceptible to self-selection bias. The existing evidence indicates that circumcision does not affect sexual pleasure.
6. I also care about female pleasure.
Broadben linked to intactivist website Dr. Momma, which cited Sex As Nature Intended It. The book is based on a survey that completely violated standard survey methodology. The survey was conducted over a period of several years. Respondents were recruited via an ad placed in an anti-circumcision newsletter. Survey questions featured prejudicial terms and were structured to elicit responses favoring uncircumcised sex. Some questions were added or reworded during the survey period. The researcher admitted that she conducted the survey specifically to make circumcision "a women's issue."
Canadian researcher Jennifer Bossio also conducted a survey of women and found that more women preferred a circumcised penis for vaginal sex, oral sex, anal sex, and mutual masturbation. The respondents reported that a partner's circumcision status had no significant effect on vaginal lubrication or pain of penetrative intercourse.
Writers are free to express a preference on the circumcision decision. It seems that the majority of articles are based on information that is false or misleading. It would be nice to read an article that is based on actual facts and science-based studies. Unfortunately 6 Reasons doesn't provide that level of accuracy.