By Lena Nyhus / iQvixen
Now don’t get me wrong, I think Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an incredibly bright and brave woman who makes a true difference in the world and I thoroughly respect her work, but while I completely agree with her opinion on female genital mutilation (FGM) I reserve the right to disagree with her stance on male genital mutilation aka circumcision.
Following the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendation to allow a nick in the clitoris as a symbolic alternative to more intrusive female genital mutilation rituals (the lesser of two evils argument) Ayaan Hirsi Ali voiced a strong counter argument; allowing any ritual even a nick – which is still genital mutilation by the way – is sending a signal that we as a society accept the basic premise, that women are inferior beings with an evil sexuality that should be harnessed. Of course, any society that considers all humans created equal cannot accept such an attitude; as Ayaan Hirsi Ali has put it on a different occasion ‘Tolerance of intolerance is cowardice‘.
Read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s response to AAPs FGM recommendations here
But as right and just Ali is on the stance against FGM, she is wrong – both factually and morally – when claiming that male genital mutilation is less invasive.
How foreskin functions
Cutting away the foreskin from the penis is not just removal of skin. It is the amputation of a highly specialised extremely sensitive organ with several different functions.
Firstly, the foreskin is actually more sensitive than the glans (the head of the penis) as it contains thousands of sensory functions and nerve endings and can be compared in sensitivity to the facial lips or the nipples. Who in their right mind would allow anyone to cut the nipples or lips of a child – and without anaesthesia at that?! The sensitivity is a vital part of the male sexual enjoyment. And in fact male genital mutilation (aka circumcision) was first introduced in Victorian England as an attempt to curb men’s sex drive, while in other cultures it was an alternative to the sacrifice of children to God.
Secondly, the male foreskin is designed to protect the glans. Amputation causes the glans to callous lowering the sensitivity in the penis and potentially causing sexual dysfunction. Beneath the foreskin the intact penis enjoys a slightly moist environment that keeps the glans soft and smooth.
Foreskin also provides a gliding function which is important during sex both with and without a partner as it heightens pleasure and protects the glans during the act. A fact that both intact and restoring men can bear witness to.
Scarring and smaller penises
The amputation of foreskin causes scarring around the shaft of the penis. Callousing of the glans. And some types of circumcision are even designed to reduce the size of the penis.
Contrary to what many people believe the foreskin in many young boys is not separated from the glans, so it has to be peeled from the glans in order to perform the amputation. During ritual circumcisions the foreskin is typically torn of the glans with the nail (and no anaesthesia, remember) while it is done with an instrument and perhaps local anaesthetics when the foreskin is surgically removed.
Casualties of war
While it is difficult to argue – from my perspective at least – that a smaller less sensitive sexual organ with limited functionality is a good thing, it is the normal and expected outcome of the male circumcision. However, some foreskin amputations do not go as planned.
Sometimes the scar tissue causes intense pain during erections, sometimes it simply prevents erections. Sometimes the cut simply does not heal, causing it to bleed uncontrollably, sometimes the child dies during the procedure either from bleeding of from traumatic shock caused by the pain, sometimes the child acquires castration anxiety that follows them through life, sometimes post traumatic stress disorder, sometimes the knife slips or there is an infection in the wound and the penis has to be amputated as a result of the genital mutilation.
The examples are horrible and seemingly endless. A quick search on the internet reveals thousands upon thousands of personal accounts from victims of botched circumcisions and their parents who fervently regret exposing their children to the genital mutilation. Tales of circumcision related suicides are frequent.
All across the world there are thousands upon thousands of men who have been exposed to so-called normal successful circumcisions but feel violated and invaded not to mention inhibited in their sexuality. Many of them attempt foreskin restoration either manually or surgically. Either way it is a frustrating process and it will never return the full functionality and sensitivity of the original foreskin.
However, even if male genital mutilation (aka circumcision) had been completely safe it would still in its basic form be a procedure designed to reduce penile sensitivity and ultimately to curb male sexuality. That is wrong. It is a sex crime. Is is an assault on the male sexuality and the child’s bodily integrity. (As much as I oppose genital mutilation of children – regardless of gender, cultural background or parents religion, I will defend the adults right to paint their genitals blue, hammer nails into them, pierce them or even get circumcised, as long as they act completely on their own accord).
That’s where Ayaan Hirsi Ali is wrong. Boys deserve the same right to bodily integrity as girls do. And boys are subjected to the same lies about circumcised genitals being more clean and similar nonsense. It is easy to care for an intact penis and intact organs are not more at risk of cancer or STDs than mutilated genitals.
Defending children’s’ rights to bodily integrity is a simple human rights issue but in her eagerness to champion the rights of girls all over the world Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes the excusable but none the less vital mistake of belittling the abuse boys are subjected to. That is not fair and it is beneath Ali to make that distinction. Children deserve to grow up with bodily integrity, protected from assaults on their genitals – assaults on their sexuality. Children – not just girls. Not just boys. Children!
Let’s protect the children of this world from genital mutilation (aka circumcision) – regardless of gender, cultural background or parents religion.
After blogging this piece professor Morten Frisch MD made me aware of an interview in which Ayaan Hirsi Ali strongly object to male genital mutilation, so as it turns out it I don’t disagree with her after all. I’m glad. Here she is. Enjoy!