Common misconceptions about genital mutilation (aka circumcision)

Yesterday I received a message from a friend on my new Facebook-page

Thanks for inviting me. Personally, my circumcision at birth (I was born in Canada where the procedure was routine) had never been a problem physically or psychological. However, I believe that a child has the right to an intact body, unless removing a part of it is medically necessary. Removing a boy’s foreskin is not medically necessary. If an adult male would like to have this procedure carried out then that is his choice. I would, however, caution against seeing a direct equivalence between female genital mutilation, which, as far as I can tell from the literature, always damages the woman’s genitals and causes her enormous physical problems. Other than that, I applaud your work.

Best wishes


And here my answer to him…

Dear Anonymous

I completely agree and relate to your position (didn’t realise you were Canadian btw, somehow thought you were British), however you are wrong when it comes to the comparison of male vs female genital mutilation.

The most common form of male circumcision is actually more invasive according to the UN than the most common feminine type. And many men suffer from PTSD, scarring and sexual malfunction later in life.

I have a chart showing that somewhere. I’ll just find it for you. Thinking that female genital mutilation in general is worse than male genital mutilation is a very common misconception and I suspect one of the most important reasons that circumcision is still accepted in so many societies world wide.

If you don’t mind I would like to feature (parts of) this correspondence on my blog to illustrate the communications challenge, that the intactivism cause faces. Would that be alright by you?

Genital Mutilation Index / Circumcision comparisons

Genital Mutilation Index – comparisons of circumcision types

He elaborated..

Yes, that would be fine. I guess my point was that you never hear of a woman that is not bothered that she was “circumcised”. In every case where a young girl – as opposed to a woman choosing for cosmetic reasons to have surgery, where damage may or may not be done – is circumcised for cultural reasons, it leaves physical damage. Whereas there are men, like me, for whom the procedure has not left any lasting physical damage. While there are some who have been scarred both psychologically and physically by it.

My response…

In terms of male genital mutilation Professor Morten Frisch study from last year suggests that a significantly higher number of circumcised men suffer from sexual dysfunction than intact men, they just don’t necessarily connect it to the circumcision.

And perhaps that goes for some women as well. For instance millions of women in Indonesia are circumcised, but we only hear of the few who oppose their situation for instance Ayan Hirsi Ali.

May I quote your entire mail for the blog or would you prefer to remain anonymous?

– He allowed me to post it, so here you go.


2 thoughts on “Common misconceptions about genital mutilation (aka circumcision)

  1. …you never hear of a woman that is not bothered that she was “circumcised”…

    I think you may find that this is not true. I’ve only talked to a few women about FGM who were themselves mutilated, but none of them seemed bothered. That’s why it’s important to concentrate on the fact that it was not chosen by the recipient, rather than the fact that they were ‘bothered’.

    In addition, the Irish FGM Act (for example) opposes any form of mutilation of female infants, not just harmful or lasting mutilation. Male circumcision persists, it is permanent. It is certainly not always obviously harmful, but it is (almost) always the removal of healthy flesh. The fact that that many circumcised men are not ‘bothered’ does not mean they should not have had the choice.

    Generally, sexually active men do not choose circumcision for themselves unless there is some medical reason for it, perceived or real. We know that from African mass male circumcision programs, where the vast majority of people opting to be circumcised are not sexually active; often they are just teenagers. This is why infant circumcision is being mooted; it appears that those promoting the programs think parents are willing to consider it for their children. I’m not sure why that is.

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