Of Circumcision, Internet Arguments, Actual Science, And Common Sense

If you want to pick a fight on the Internet among entitled white people, there’s really nothing better than circumcision.

Seriously. People care about this. People care about this a lot. And we’re about to see this online pissing match erupt again since the American Academy of Pediatrics has announced they’re pro-tip-removal.

Here’s the thing: A lot of the arguments for and against are built on some pretty awful assumptions about people instead of anything resembling science.

Let’s start with what this really boils down to: that circumcision can help reduce the risk of getting an STI. This is absolutely true. The problem is that people are treating this as a magic bullet and not analyzing their own assumptions.

I mean, I get it. You hear “Men with foreskins have a higher chance of getting HIV” which is technically true, although the reality has been greatly exaggerated, or that circumcised men have a fifteen percent lower chance of getting prostate cancer due to sexually transmitted diseases, and, being a new parent, you freak out.

Of course, nobody ever stops to point out the obvious: Namely, that any disadvantage a foreskin may offer can be pretty effectively mitigated by, oh, I don’t know, using condoms. You know, condoms? The most effective method of preventing STI transmission among men bar abstinence? Those things men engaged in an active sex life need to be using? Those?

That’s really the thing. It’s one thing to point this out for a population that is opposed to condoms. Nearly all the circumcision studies about HIV have been conducted in Africa, where getting the population to use condoms has been difficult to say the least due to cultural conflicts. It’s not really worth getting into here, but suffice to say, the West has not done a great job of bothering to understand African concerns about, well, anything.

It’s quite another thing to argue that Westerners can’t convince people who are members of their own culture to use condoms. Here in the US, the problem seems to be that most people believe that men just stone-cold will hump anything with no regard for their health, because everybody knows the penis turns off a man’s brain and becomes a orifice seeking missile once erect with a loathing of condoms. There’s totally a kill switch in the base of the penis.

In other words, rather than teach our young men to not act like total @$$holes with a disregard for the health and safety of both themselves and others, we might as well just reduce their STI risk any way we can up front and, even better, tell them this, so they’ll engage in sexually risky behavior with no protection. Call me crazy but I’m not sure that’s such a great argument.

Meanwhile, once you leave out the bigots in the anti-circumcision crowd (remember, Jewish and Muslim faiths both practice circumcision), you’re left with… well, basically people pissed off they were circumcised as babies. The big argument is that circumcision “reduces sensation”, but frankly, I’d like to know where that data comes from. It seems to be an assumption more than anything else. It’s not like these guys know from personal experience.

There are also arguments that it violates human rights, which would make sense if you had a human right to a flap of skin, which you don’t. The only really reasonable argument is that it’s an unnecessary medical procedure and if you’re concerned about it, why not let your kid make his own decision instead of making it for him?

If you’re wondering, I come down firmly on the side of “It doesn’t matter”. There’s no really compelling science either way. There are billions of men walking around with shields up and shields down and neither have a health problem that can be directly tied to having a foreskin.

In short, let’s have some sanity and intelligence in this Internet argument. Please?