Monday, 13 February 2012

28,000,000 Africans To Be Genitally Mutilated By UN

The news a week or so back that the UN & WHO plans to encourage the genital mutilation of 28,000,000 African men to ensure that they don't contract HIV (That's right: circumcised men can't catch AIDS) made me think a post about the whole bizarre phenomena might not be amiss.

Being English, circumcision has always seemed a rather strange, foreign & frankly barbaric practice to me. Until a couple of years ago, I, like many others, believed it an almost exclusively Jewish religious practice, & had literally no idea that as many as 60% of all American males had undergone genital mutilation.

Which is what it is, of course: mutilation. There is no difference between taking a scalpel & cutting off part of the healthy genitals of a female infant & taking a scalpel & cutting off part of the healthy genitals of a male infant. Male & female circumcision are carried out in many parts of the world by the same religions, or were until relatively recently, & for similar reasons. There is no society that practices female circumcision that does not also carry out the same practice on its males. The only difference being that female circumcision is illegal in just about every nation in the world & considered by us all to be just about the worst thing imaginable, whereas male circumcision is legal everywhere, & at most a source of amusement.

How did this come about? How did one of these come to be seen as the ultimate horror to all civilized folk & the other a respectable 'medical procedure' in the most powerful country in the world? Why did America of all places adopt such a practice when the rest of the developed world continued on as perfectly happily without it as they always had before?

To answer this, we have to go back a hundred years or more. In Europe, Victorian-era fear of sexuality, & the popularly held belief that masturbation resulted in physical & mental illness, led to straitjackets, electric shock devices, & the apparatus pictured above becoming commonly advertised in the backs of newspapers & widely implemented among the upper & middle classes - the logical end result of 1600 years of legalized Christianity.

In America, though, a different approach became widespread thanks largely to John Harvey Kellogg, an American medical doctor - & yes, the guy who invented the cornflake. Wikipedia tells us:
He was an especially zealous campaigner against masturbation; this was an orthodox view during his lifetime, especially the earlier part. Kellogg was able to draw upon many medical sources' claims such as "neither the plague, nor war, nor small-pox, nor similar diseases, have produced results so disastrous to humanity as the pernicious habit of onanism," credited to one Dr. Adam Clarke. Kellogg strongly warned against the habit in his own words, claiming of masturbation-related deaths "such a victim literally dies by his own hand," among other condemnations. He felt that masturbation destroyed not only physical and mental health, but the moral health of individuals as well. Kellogg also believed the practice of this "solitary-vice" caused cancer of the womb, urinary diseases, nocturnal emissions, impotence, epilepsy, insanity, and mental and physical debility; "dimness of vision" was only briefly mentioned.  Kellogg worked on the rehabilitation of masturbators, often employing extreme measures, even mutilation, on both sexes. He was an advocate of circumcising young boys to curb masturbation and applying phenol (carbolic acid) to a young woman's clitoris.
In his Plain Facts for Old and Young, he wrote: “ A remedy which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision, especially when there is any degree of phimosis. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases. The soreness which continues for several weeks interrupts the practice, and if it had not previously become too firmly fixed, it may be forgotten and not resumed... ” 
As an alternative to this he also recommended
“..the application of one or more silver sutures in such a way as to prevent erection. The prepuce, or foreskin, is drawn forward over the glans, and the needle to which the wire is attached is passed through from one side to the other. After drawing the wire through, the ends are twisted together, and cut off close. It is now impossible for an erection to occur, and the slight irritation thus produced acts as a most powerful means of overcoming the disposition to resort to the practice ”

Well, the long & the short of it is that Kellogg's ideas took off, & in America became the norm. Circumcision became accepted for men raised there - as it had been for Jewish men for countless generations - as something your parents did to you as a child 'For Your Own Good' - because they cared for you - & continues to this day to be referred to as a 'medical' procedure, even though for practically all of the infant boys who are made to suffer the ordeal, there is no medical reason or benefit to it whatsoever, & in fact introduces life-threatening dangers: in America more than 117 boys die of complications arising from circumcision each year.

Returning to the initial topic, here's the thing:

HIV is spread by the exchange of bodily fluids. Circumcision does nothing to prevent the exchange of bodily fluids. Why then is the WHO supporting this program? If you still have to use a condom after being circumcised so as not to catch AIDS, why bother circumcising African men in the first place?

The U.S has the highest rate of HIV infections in the western world, yet also has the highest rate of male circumcision of all developed countries: clearly, circumcision does not prevent the spread of HIV. It seems likely that whatever health benefits show up statistically are more likely to be related to the religious life an orthodox Jew or Muslim is practising rather than the act of circumcision itself. It seems also likely that the impetus for the WHO program is coming from sources with a religious &/or imperialistic agenda. The whole thing is very strange, very scary, & very suspicious too.

Please don't mutilate your children. And please don't support the mutilation of other peoples children, either.


  1. 1870-1930, prophylactic circumcision gradually became more common in the UK. 1930-50, about 35% of British boys were circumcised. The practice was especially popular with boys born in greater London maternity wards. After the NHS announced in 1950 that it would not reimburse the procedure, it soon
    faded away. The crucial fact to appreciate about British routine circumcision is that the higher one was on the British class ladder, the more likely one had a bald penis. A large majority of boys attending Eaton and Harrow were presumably circumcised, but the practice was largely unknown amongst the large mass of Englishmen who live for football and who play darts in pubs.

    The scholarly book on the rise and fall of circumcision in the UK:
    Darby, Robert (2006) A Surgical Temptation. University of Chicago Press.

    Darby's website:

  2. In the other English speaking countries, Ireland excepted, infant circumcision was introduced in the early 20th century and quickly became quite fashionable, esp. among the hospital born. In New Zealand, the practice disappeared after the Crown defunded the procedure in 1969. Between 1970 and 2005, Canadian provinces gradually defunded the procedure. While the Australian taxpayer covers part of the cost, most Australian maternity wards no longer offer the procedure. In Australia and Canada, most circumcisions are performed in pediatric surgeries to outpatients, and are not counted by the Ministry of Health. The circumcision rate in Australia (Canada) is estimated to be about 10% (30%), with the rate varying widely by state (province).

    Continental Europe and Japan never circumcised. Today, circumcision is the norm in only three advanced societies: Israel, South Korea, and the USA. The Israeli medical association claims no medical benefit for circumcision. In the 1960s, South Korea began circumcising boys between the ages of 10 and 16. It is strongly suspected that it did so out of a desire to imitate American practice. Nowadays, about 15% of South Korean boys are circumcised at birth in the American fashion, and another 60% are circumcised by the time they leave school.

  3. In the USA, much was written between 1870 and 1920 advocating routine circumcision. This was also an era where the scientific training of American doctors was highly variable and often bad. No branch of the American public sector registered and licenced physicians. A majority of USA medical schools, so called, of that era were not affiliated with a university, and did not teach medicine as grounded in the scientific method. What has not been answered to my satisfaction is why parents paid any attention to the charlatans claiming all sorts of prophylactic benefits for infant circumcision. I suspect that circumcision spread because it was a lifelong status symbol: it meant that one was born in a hospital to an educated family that was not short of money.

    100-130 years ago, the only moral sexual outlet was PIV between married couples. Masturbation was seen as especially bad, because it required no partner, much less a willing one. The idea sprang up that it was the foreskin's mobility that made male masturbation possible, and that circumcision, by abolishing the foreskin, made men were incapable of enjoyable masturbation.

    The late 19th century was when the dangers of microbes and the role of human waste in propagating disease, were first understood. For the first time in human history, there was a compelling medical and public health reason to teach boys to keep clean under the foreskin. The starchy prim women caregivers of that era saw having to examine and to talk about the penis of a boy in their care, as a daunting indignity. Circumcision was embraced as creating a penis whose cleanliness required no attention, just sitting in a bath 1-2x a week.