Male and female circumcision are equally wrong

Listen to this excellent interview with philosopher and ethicist Brian Earp on a podcast from the organisation Philosophy 24/7. Click the image to hear the podcast.

Female circumcision is regarded as a violation of a human right. The World Health Organization says “It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women.” But male circumcision, practiced in various cultures and prevalent in various religions, barely generates any controversy. Brian Earp argues that the parallels between the two are much closer than people are usually willing to acknowledge.

Sex education

Sex education for boys is woefully inadequate in the United Kingdom. This statement was clearly demonstrated on the Graham Norton Show (BBC) when it came to light that Sir Patrick Stewart did not know until late in life whether he was circumcised or intact. Please see this report of the program in the Telegraph.


There is a lot of anatomical detail passed down to girls in sex education but virtually none passed down to boys. The problem with anatomical detail and boys is that any discussion of the foreskin and what it is for (it is not just spare skin), will swiftly lead to the undermining of all the usual excuses and justifications given to boys for the removal of their foreskins.  Are sex educators prepared to perpetuate the current myths and poor science that allows society to continue the practice of removing healthy functional tissue from boys’ genitals? Or will sex educators try to move society towards a world where all children are free to grow up with the genitals they were born with?

“Unspeakable Mutilations”

Men are coerced by society to keep silent if they feel damaged by circumcision. A man complaining about what is essentially a sexual assault will be greeted with statements like “Oh you’ve just got a problem” or “You’ve got a bee in your bonnet”. Almost never will they be greeted with sympathy or any understanding. Watson’s book does an enormous amount to break the silence and to encourage a compassionate view of men who have had an unnecessary procedure forced on them.

DSC_0865crop26wWatson’s introduction to the book is a neat summary of the well documented harms caused by male circumcision. The papers published by various academics and scientists working in the fields covered by human biology have all concluded that the foreskin which is removed by the act of circumcision is a functional and specialised component of the male anatomy. Academic papers can be a challenge to digest, Watson’s introduction is easy to comprehend and gives excellent references if the reader wants to study the subject of physical harm further.

The heart of the book is the light it shines onto the psychological damage caused by non-therapeutic male circumcision. Watson examines what little evidence there is in the the academic sphere and goes on to provide the stories of 50 men, from a wide range of cultures and ages, who tell us about their journeys from the discovery of what has been done to them, to the harm it has caused, and their reaction to that harm. Often men who have taken this path arrive at a positive or at least optimistic place.

What can no longer be in doubt, thanks to Watson’s book and the brave men who tell their stories, is that some men do suffer a significant amount of damage as a result of an anachronistic and inappropriate medical practice. Some men may claim to be unharmed and even be happy with their circumcision but the question lingers about how comfortable you are knowing that a large number of men do suffer in silence from the misguided parenting and the unnecessary medical treatment they have received. Surely the prudent course of action is to let the child mature and then make his own decision.

Doctor brings compassion to medical practice

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Reclaiming My Birth Rights by Adrienne Carmack MD

This is a book that is part autobiography and part thought provoking tour through medicine as it is practiced in America today. Doctor Carmack looks at pregnancy, childbirth, circumcision, unnecessary genital surgery and the early years of parenting with a knowledge of medicine and a compassionate, open mind. I would recommend this book to anyone considering having children. After three different birth experiences Doctor Carmack has a lot of valuable experience to pass on to prospective parents.

That medicine is a practice with it’s own culture should come as no surprise. What is surprising is Carmack’s exposition of the extent to which that medical culture as opposed to medical science influences the practice of medicine. Drug companies and the influence they exert on medicine are insightfully analysed and criticised. The overuse of antibiotics and the misuse of vaccinations is clearly explained. The companies that market baby formula obviously don’t market breast feeding but the importance of breast feeding and co-sleeping with your children is quite rightly stressed, by Carmack, as being both natural and safe.

The encouraging aspect of this book is that there are people questioning cultural norms such as our over reliance on the medical profession, when a visit to an osteopath, physiotherapist or other alternative practitioner may be all that is necessary. The core of this book is how to achieve the balance between living and growing in society rather than just existing in society and letting life take it’s toll on our health. Carmack views health as not just the absence of illness but the total wellbeing that is achievable with a balanced life.

My own journey towards a balanced life has been very different to the author’s but it is progressing. As a person who has made the change from victim of male genital cutting to activist opposing non-therapeutic genital surgery I applaud Doctor Carmack’s realisation that non-therapeutic genital surgery on males and intersex children is inherently harmful and her robust rejection of the practice is most welcome.