Friday, May 17, 2013

RED HERRING: The Abortion Debate

I always find it entertaining when a circumcision advocate thinks s/he is being so clever to bring up the abortion debate. It's amusing to watch them congratulate themselves because they're so sure they've caught intactivists in an inconsistency.

The quip goes something like this:

"You intactivists are the same people who support abortion. You support killing an unborn child, but are up in arms about a tiny piece of skin?"

The wording varies from person to person, but overall, the accusation that intactivists are all pro-abortion, and the attempt at dismissing intactivists based on this accusation is the same.

Straw Man
There are many things wrong with bringing up the abortion debate, particularly in the fashion in which circumcision advocates do, beginning with the straw man accusation that all those who protest the forced genital mutilation of infants also happen to be pro-abortion.

Scarecrow: I haven't got a brain... only straw.
Dorothy: How can you talk if you haven't got a brain?
Scarecrow: I don't know... But some people without brains do an awful lot of talking... don't they?
Dorothy: Yes, I guess you're right.

The fact is that there are intactivists on both sides of the abortion debate. There are intactivists believe that it is a woman's right to choose whether or not she wants to carry a baby to term, and then there are intactivists who believe it's wrong to kill an unborn child.

Intactivists on BOTH sides of the abortion debate, however, agree that circumcision should be the choice of the individual male to whom the penis in question belongs.

Red Herring
The truth of the matter is that the abortion debate is nothing more than a diversion to distract from the crux of the argument; a red herring.

Why does the crux of the argument always seem to elude people? Are people being willfully ignorant? Or are they simply that dense?
Intactivism is about CHOICE for the individual.

Though the standpoint is different on each side, choice is at the crux of both sides of the abortion debate, be it choice for the unborn child, or choice for the mother.

For this reason, being in favor of circumcision of infants is inconsistent with either side of the abortion debate.

A person who is "pro-choice" could not consistently argue "my body, my choice" for women, while ignoring the same principle violated in healthy, non-consenting children. 

 (Unless you're male...)

If you are "pro-choice," it is hypocritical to be arguing "my body, my choice" for girls and women, but tossing this argument out the window when it comes to boys and men.

If you are "pro-life," it kind of defeats the purpose to be fighting for his "right to life," but not for the right to his own body.

"Protect the unborn child..." (until he's born)

Why is it wrong to chop up a child within his mother's womb, but perfectly OK to be cutting off parts of his penis just as soon as he comes out?

I repeat; being in favor of circumcision of infants is inconsistent with either side of the abortion debate.

"My body, my choice" applies to both men AND women.

A child's "right to life" includes his right to his own body.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Phimosis and Circumcision in Japan

Honen Fertility Festival, Tagata Shrine, Japan
Readers: Notice the foreskin in the banner, and the wooden phallus

Japanese culture has always fascinated me. I studied abroad in Japan, and decided I would one day like to go back to work as an English teacher, so I could travel around and see the sights.

It is no surprise that I was interested in the ways Japanese perceived the male penis, circumcision, sexuality, nudity and the like, so during my time as an English teacher, I did my fair share of investigating and poking around (pun absolutely intended), so I'd say I have a very good idea.

Some time ago, a distressed person posted some pictures of a Japanese manga-style penile surgery pamphlet on a forum I used to frequent, wanting to know what it was about. Others began to get worried that the pamphlet meant that somehow circumcision had taken root in Japan, and that the forced genital mutilation of children existed there also.

After having looked through the pictures, I decided to post my insights, so that the readers could understand that there was actually nothing to worry about.

I've decided to post a heavily modified version of that response here, so that readers can get an insight on how the penis and circumcision are viewed in Japan.

In advance, readers should know that although my observations are based on my own personal experiences, they are but one person's observations, and are not to be taken as gospel truth. What I share here is knowledge I have gathered on my own, talking to my Japanese friends, going to Japanese bathing facilities, and looking through Japanese literature. My Japanese is very limited, and there maybe nuances that I may be going over my head. The pictures are also very blurry and some words are hard to make out, so I acknowledge others may have more accurate interpretations of what is being said.

1st Photo

My first observation was that the cartoon drawings, which look like they were taken out of a pamphlet for a particular doctor's office, were a bit dated. In Japan, there are many "clinics" aimed at male clientele.

The heading of the 1st picture reads "包茎手術," (hokei shujutsu) or "phimosis surgery," which implies that the surgery is being offered as a solution for phimosis. In the past, and still today, circumcision is seen as a solution for phimosis, known as "hokei" (包茎, lit. "wrapped stock") in Japanese. Visitors to Japan will still see ads for these "clinics" announcing their "services" to a vulnerable male audience.

As you can see, it is showing examples of an unhappy penis, whose foreskin cannot retract when erect. After the surgery, however, the penis is "happy" because the head can now see the light of day.

This pamphlet is announcing a procedure that won't "stand out" (目立たない, medatanai), where the scar is "hidden." There are two types, the type where the scar rides up close to the corona, so it doesn't "stand out," and the type where the scar is near the base of the penis. The idea is that the scar doesn't "stand out" because it's either too close to the corona, or as far down to the base that nobody notices. (Because nobody wants to be seen with an ugly scar, you know?)

So patients can choose from either type.

"Leave your phimosis to Dr. Yoshizawa!", says the comic doctor in the first picture.

You see three series of pictures to your left.

The first is is a "common penis." Or "正常なペニス." (seijo na penisu)

It's hard to read, and I can barely make it out, but it says "the head of the penis usually protrudes." Perhaps this might be normal for Japanese. Or, perhaps, a false "normal" that was introduced to sell this "service."

The second is called "false phimosis," or "仮性包茎." (kasei hokei)

It reads, "the head of the penis is covered, but becomes uncovered upon erection." (Actually, THIS is the common, normal penis.)

The last series is called "true phimosis." Or, "真性包茎." (shinsei hokei)

"The head of the penis is covered, and does not become uncovered during erection."

The picture in the middle says "a typical circumcision procedure." Or, "一般的な包茎手術." (Ippan-teki na hokei shujutsu.) This is literally translated as "a common phimosis operation," which indicates that circumcision is usually only performed as a measure for phimosis, real or perceived.

This one's hard to make out so I can't read it. But I think it says something like "in a common circumcision, there is an ugly scar left over in the middle of the shaft."

In walks the doctor saying "I can perform an exceptional job, hiding your circumcision scar for you, up close to the corona, or down close to the shaft."

(Well, not exactly in those words, but that's the idea.)

2nd Photo

The doc offers a penile lengthening procedure. It's very hard for me to read the text.

It shows three types of "small penises."

Penis A (from right to left) "This is the best I can do!"

Caption: "In actuality, this penis is small."

Penis B (I think it reads, [too small and blurry to read]) "This penis' shaft is buried in the body.)

Penis C Fat makes the penis looks small. (I think...)

The doctor seems to say "This is where my expertise comes in. Leave it to me!"

(Really doc?)

3rd Photo

This is the page that was getting people's panties in a bunch.

The heading says "Childhood Phimosis." (子供の包茎, kodomo no hokei)

"From the age of 6 on, a child can have the procedure done and he can go home immediately."

Lower set of pictures, from right to left:

(I can barely make it out...)

"A phimosed penis will restrict the growth of the glans. However, if you perform the operation in childhood, by the time the child is 18, the head will have grown, giving it a bigger appearance."

This pamphlet must have been written before Japanese studies showed that "phimosis" is normal in childhood.

See an article on the retraction of the foreskin here.

And obviously, the whole glans thing is a crock. Perhaps the doc was appealing to parents who wanted to give their child more prowess.

4th Photos
Heading: "Silicone Balls"

This doctor offers men the option of getting silicone balls implanted in their penis.

Again, offering a man more for his tackle box.

Not worth it to me to read any further.

5th photo

Heading: "Pipe Cut"

In reference to a vasectomy.

Needs no explanation.

Joseph4GI sez...
As I've said before, from my own experience, having lived in Japan as an English teacher, I can give my own insight.

Circumcision ads are very common in Japan, but they usually offer circumcision as a solution to phimosis, real or perceived, or in the context of "male enhancement." You'll often find these in male oriented books, such as older boys' comics, or girlie magazines. You'll see these ads right next to other "male enhancement" ads, such as pumps, pills and other surgical operations that will make you "better in bed." (You saw the "lengthening," and the silicone implants... some clinics claim to be able to make the head of the penis look bigger... I wonder how...)

Some clinics offer "help" to growing boys, and actually offer pretty good advice. On their websites they'll tell you that if you have "false phimosis," you don't need surgery, and they also offer ways to help without surgery. They will say that if you have "true phimosis," that the best thing for you is surgery. Obviously, not always true, but hey. Clinics need to make their money somewhere.

If you live in Japan, and you have Japanese friends, at some point you'll be invited to go out to a bathhouse or hot springs. (銭湯, sento, and 温泉, onsen, respectively) The Japanese don't have qualms with nakedness, and thus you can see everything clearly, and people don't seem to mind.

From my experience, circumcision tends to be much more common in the older generation, and less common, if even present, in the younger generation. My guess is that perhaps many of the older generation were circumcised in childhood because they were diagnosed with "childhood phimosis" as indicated above. The younger generations tend to be all intact, with some exceptions. (Phimosis diagnosis perhaps? Or perhaps some poor dude whose parents were duped into an operation?) From what I was able to see in the bathhouse, children are NEVER circumcised.

Rolling Back the Foreskin
There is also a phenomenon that can be observed; the older generation has this custom of rolling back their foreskin in the bathhouse. I remember thinking my landlord may have been circumcised (he and I were good friends, and he used to invite me whenever he went out with his buddies), but then one time I caught him with his foreskin down, and he had quite a lot of overhang. With a single motion his foreskin was tucked behind the head of his penis, and he looked circumcised.

So then, some men may look circumcised, when they're actually not. In my experience, younger guys tend not to do this; most younger guys leave their foreskins down and don't care.

Japan is a mixture of different cultures, old and new. I wonder if this foreskin rolling phenomenon is old, or if it's new, created when foreigners tried to import circumcision into the country... I wonder if the idea of "childhood phimosis" existed before the West tried to bring in circumcision, or if it was invented afterwards...

So who gets circumcised in Japan?
I've asked a lot of people about circumcision in adulthood and childhood; my landlord, a few friends and acquaintances, and actually, random people I've met, and they all tell me the same thing. No one really gets circumcised unless they really need to, or if they want to out of style. Children are never circumcised. The people I've asked tell me the idea of circumcising newborns is so foreign that it's not even an option at Japanese hospitals.

One time, I went with a Japanese friend to a baby ware expo they held in the area where I used to live  (she was pregnant, and she asked if I could come along, so I did). There were many booths here and there for many things. Pampers was there, along with Toys R Us (yep, they're in Japan too), various name brand stroller manufacturers etc. There were some booths that offered advice on basic child care, such as bathing, breastfeeding, hygiene etc... I know I shouldn't have been afraid to find some sort of booth pushing RIC, but I somehow was. I was very relieved to stroll around the grounds, and not have found a single cutter in sight. No doubt Japanese parents would be HORRIFIED to see something like that here.

What IS "Phimosis?"
The word for "phimosis" (包茎 hokei) in Japanese is ambiguous. It can mean one of three things:

1. A penis whose foreskin cannot retract the way a normal penis can. (So called, "true phimosis.")

2. A penis who's foreskin does retract, but which still covers the head of the penis. (So-called "false phimosis." Essentially, the Chinese characters for "hokei" are "wrapped stalk.")

3. A penis which isn't circumcised.

In other words, the word for "phimosis" can refer to a penis with a foreskin, whether or not it is suffering a muzzled condition.

Thus, in Japanese, when a man says he has "hokei," it doesn't necessarily mean that he has a problem. If somebody says s/he prefers somebody that is not "hokei," it doesn't mean that s/he prefers somebody that is circumcised; rather, that person usually means s/he prefers it if his/her partner's foreskin can retract normally. (i.e. doesn't have "true phimosis")

My guess is that there are many Japanese men who got circumcised who didn't need the procedure, but may have been duped by a greedy doctor trying to make a buck.

Though circumcision is rare in Japan, it appears the Japanese are about as in-the-dark about phimosis and the normal intact penis as are Americans, and both countries could benefit from an overhaul to their medical curricula.

The word "phimosis"

The Greek word "phimosis" actually refers to a specific condition. It actually refers to a stricture in the foreskin in the penis WHEN AND IF it is caused by Balanitis Xerotica Obliterans (BXO). In this one specific case, some doctors recommend circumcision to alleviate the problem, however others claim to know how to cure it without surgery. If the foreskin is simply narrow and does not allow the glans penis to pass through, the narrowing is called "preputial stenosis," and can usually be remedied without surgery.

Read more on the word "phimosis," what it meant in antiquity, what it came to mean during the circumcision years, and what it technically refers to today, here.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Faces of Genital Mutilation

If you have to make a face like this man and woman are making in these pictures, then you know very well that you must be doing something wrong to a child.

Kurdish girl being circumcised

Men circumcising a newborn boy

Taking advantage of a smaller, weaker person, is the very definition of "abuse."

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Of Ecstacy and Rape, Surgery and Mutilation

Male circumcision has been called "rape" and/or "mutilation" before, and many, even amongst intactivists themselves, object, either because they themselves find it inappropriate, or because they're afraid others might, thus pushing people away from the message of intactivism.

But are "rape" and "mutilation" so different from male circumcision, that comparing them is inappropriate, if not insulting?

What is rape?
Rape is the act of forcing another person to perform sex acts against his or her consent. The act may involve the usage of drugs to impair a victim's judgement, or even memory.

Traditionally, rape happens when a man forces a woman to perform sex acts on him. However, rape between two men, two women, and yes, even a woman forcing another man, is also possible.

When are sex acts NOT rape?

When both people are consenting adults, sex between two people is not rape.

Consent is the difference between ecstacy and rape.

When one person is forcing another person to perform sex acts against his/her express wishes, then rape is being committed.

What is mutilation?
The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word "mutilation" as thus:

1: to cut up or alter radically so as to make imperfect (e.g. the child mutilated the book with his scissors)
2: to cut off or permanently destroy a limb or essential part of ; cripple
When are these things NOT "mutilation?"

When either of these things are performed as a matter of medical necessity, and there is no alternative option, they are not mutilation.

In addition, when these things are performed upon the request of a consenting adult, they are not mutilation.
Medical necessity and/or informed consent is the difference between surgery and mutilation.

What is circumcision?
In males, circumcision is the excision of the fold of flesh that covers the head of the penis. The procedure may or may not involve the use of drugs to kill the pain or impair the judgement of the person in question. Though there are speculative medical pretexts for circumcision, it is usually performed for cultural, traditional or religious, non-medical reasons, on healthy, non-consenting minors ranging between the newborn and pre-pubescent period, sometimes as far as the post-pubescent period. Very few circumcisions take place as a matter of actual medical necessity.

How is circumcision like rape?
At the crux of the intactivist argument is the principle of consent.

Circumcision can be compared to rape, because it is taking advantage of a minor to forcibly perform a permanent, disfiguring procedure on his sexual organs without his consent.

As in rape, the principle violated is the principle of consent, and the fact that pain killing drugs are used, and/or that the male victim may not be able to recall the event is irrelevant.

When is circumcision NOT like rape?

When it is performed on a fully consenting adult.

As in rape, the principle violated is that of consent.*

Because another, otherwise intelligent person, is forcing circumcision on another, non-consenting person, without his consent, sometimes against his express wishes, circumcision can be comparable to rape.

*Sometimes circumcision may be medically indicated in a minor that is not able to consent. When it has been determined that circumcision is medically indicated, and there are no other methods of treatment, circumcision is not comparable to rape. Reserving surgery as a very last resort is, however, standard medical practice governing all other forms of surgery.

How is circumcision mutilation?
From the definitions the online Merriam-Webster dictionary gives us, it is the first definition,
 1: to cut up or alter radically so as to make imperfect (e.g. the child mutilated the book with his scissors)
that applies to both male and female circumcision, because it is "cutting up" or "altering radically so as to make [them] imperfect." 

Circumcision advocates often try to dismiss the notion that male circumcision is "mutilation" using definition 2,  

2: to cut off or permanently destroy a limb or essential part of ; cripple
"because the foreskin is not a limb or an essential part of" a person.

If by the 2nd definition male circumcision isn't "mutilation," then female circumcision isn't "mutilation" either.

Some may make the claim that female circumcision destroys a woman's ability to experience orgasm, but research shows this claim to be false. There are varying degrees of female genital cutting, and scientific evidence shows that even women undergoing the most severe form of female genital cutting are still able to experience orgasm. It is demonstrably proven that a clitoris is not necessary for experiencing orgasm and a satisfying sex life. For further reading on this subject, please click here.

When is circumcision NOT mutilation?

When it is performed as a matter of medical necessity, and there is no alternative option, circumcision is not mutilation. (This is actually standard medical practice that governs all other forms of surgery.)

In addition, when it is performed upon the request of a consenting adult, it is not mutilation.
Medical necessity and/or informed consent is the difference between surgery and mutilation.

Consent is at the center of the intactivist argument
Ladies who are interested in getting their labia removed, their clitoris permanently exposed, or any other surgical alterations to their genital organs can find the appropriate surgeon and schedule an appointment.

The removal of the clitoral hood and external labia are known as "clitoral unroofing" and "labiaplasty" respectively.  They are perfectly legal for the appropriate surgeons to perform at the request of the interested woman.

Forcibly performing any of these acts on a healthy, non-consenting minor constitutes "genital mutilation," and is punishable by law, and there is no exception for "religious beliefs."

The difference is consent.

There is nothing wrong with male circumcision, if, indeed, becoming circumcised is the express wish of the adult male in question.

It is forcibly circumcising a healthy, non-consenting minor which is a problem.

Tattoos are beautiful to some. There is nothing wrong with a tattoo, as long a person is giving his full consent. A person interested in getting a tattoo need only walk into a tattoo parlor and make the proper arrangements, s/he is free to do as she wishes with her own body.

US sailor agrees to have his body tattooed

It is forcibly tattooing a person against his or her wishes which is a problem.

An Auschwitz survivor displays his identification tattoo

Yes, I am against forcibly piercing a minor's ears as well.

The foreskin is not a birth defect. Neither is it a congenital deformity or genetic anomaly akin to a 6th finger or a cleft. Neither is it a medical condition like a ruptured appendix or diseased gall bladder. Neither is it a dead part of the body, like the umbilical cord, hair, or fingernails.

The foreskin is not "extra skin." The foreskin is normal, natural, healthy, functioning tissue, with which all boys are born; it is as intrinsic to male genitalia as labia are to female genitalia.

Unless there is a medical or clinical indication, the circumcision of a healthy, non-consenting individual is a deliberate wound; it is the destruction of normal, healthy tissue, the permanent disfigurement of normal, healthy organs, and by very definition, infant genital mutilation, and a violation of the most basic of human rights.

I don't compare circumcision to rape; without consent, or a medical necessity, circumcision IS rape.

I don't compare circumcision to mutilation; without a medical necessity, circumcision IS mutilation.

Is male circumcision "rape?"

Here. You decide.

In Indonesia, an infant girl undergoes "sunat" to fulfill religious and cultural tradition.

Not too far away, an infant boy undergoes circumcision for precisely the same reasons.
(Notice the mother: "Shh! Quiet!")

It is only through sexist double-think that we allow ourselves to feel disgust for only one of these pictures.

The views I express in this blog are my own individual opinion, and they do not necessarily reflect the views of all intactivists. I am but an individual with one opinion, and I do not pretend to speak for the intactivist movement as a whole, thank you.


Related Posts:
Circumcision is Child Abuse: A Picture Essay

Politically Correct Research: When Science, Morals and Political Agendas Collide