Saturday, August 26, 2017

Self-Serving FGM Myths That Persist

It's been a while, and I was thinking a post on my blog is long overdue. Believe it or not, your blogger does have a life outside of intactivism; a family to raise, bills to pay, a job to be at. I really wish I had more time to dedicate to this, as I believe it to be a worthy cause.

At any rate, this post was touched off by a recent private message war on Facebook.

It seems that people that both defend the forced circumcision of males, but oppose the forced circumcision of females have an arsenal of canned responses that they're ready to fire off at any given moment. Furthermore, it seems that they haven't given these responses much thought, for upon further investigation, one can see the logical fallacies in their arguments.

It never ceases to amaze me how the same person can present an argument in favor of male infant circumcision, but for whatever reason, the same argument fails when used in favor of female circumcision, and vice versa, an argument used against female circumcision that would also work against male circumcision, but for whatever reason, doesn't apply.

One can witness male circumcision apologists trying their hardest to have it both ways, going through mental gymnastics to make their arguments work.

I shall talk about the points raised in my latest exchange on Facebook Messenger without naming any names to save the person embarrassment.
"Americans do not practice barbaric, pointless practices that leave females in pain for the rest of their lives like genital mutilation also commonly called "female circumcision"."

Here are the myths this statement is imbued with:
  • Male infant circumcision isn't barbaric
  • Male infant circumcision isn't pointless
  • Female circumcision always results in pain for the rest of their lives
  • Only forced female genital cutting can be euphemised with the word "circumcision"

This statement is rather flawed, because it relies on a straw-man argument. FGM is "barbaric and pointless mutilation" because it "it leaves females in pain for the rest of their lives."

While FGM does have disastrous results in some cases, this simply isn't true for most women. Even the WHO acknowledges that there are varying degrees of severity for FGM, and that the worst form of FGM, also known as "infibulation," or "pharaonic circumcision," is actually the rarest. A New York Times article says it is as low as 15%. Actually, most women in Africa who have been circumcised don't complain, according to Catania and Johnsdotter. The majority of women in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia are circumcised, and, like American parents regarding male circumcision, they don't see what the big deal is.

A circumcised African woman sounding off

A circumcised Malaysian woman speaking her mind

This is important to point out, because some of the biggest arguments that advocates use to justify the forced genital mutilation of boys in America are that:
  • Boys don't remember what happened to them as infants
  • Adult men don't complain
  • Adult men enjoy sex (the converse argument being that circumcised women don't)

Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The same argument that would justify male infant circumcision would justify female infant circumcision, but it somehow just doesn't, or people would rather continue to belief myths that simply aren't reality, because what is true for adult circumcised in America, is true for adult circumcised women in say, Malaysia, Indonesia and countries in Africa.

So it must be asked.

Is pain and/or whether or not it can be remembered in adulthood what makes the forced genital cutting of minors "barbaric, pointless mutilation?"

Is pain and whether or not it can be remembered the issue here?
The fact is that most men weren't circumcised as infants. That's an American or Jewish phenomenon. Most men who are circumcised in the world are circumcised at later ages, when they can remember what is happening to them. I don't hear anyone decrying the fact that scores of men die yearly in initiation rituals in Africa.

A girl is circumcised in Bandung, Indonesia

A boy is circumcised in the same city.
"Nothing to see here... He can still have sex. It's OK."

On with the next part of my exchange:
"If male circumcision was anything like this female "circumcision" practiced in parts of the world, they would have their entire penis removed and not just a flap of skin that can get constricted later in life."

Here are the myths this statement is imbued with:
  • Female circumcision is all one and the same
  • All female circumcision completely removes the equivalent of the entire penis
  • The foreskin in males is merely a flap of skin that can and usually always does, get constricted later in life
  • The potential for problems is enough to justify the removal of a body part

Even the WHO recognizes that there are varying degrees of severity of female circumcision, and that not all remove the clitoris, which the person wants to equate here, with the entire shaft of the penis. As I have already said above, the worst kind of FGM is actually the rarest form.

The question then becomes, would FGM variations that are as severe, or even less severe than male circumcision as it is justified in the United States, be justified?

Is FGM justified so long as it is as severe, or less severe than male infant circumcision as we know it?

I invited the person arguing with me to look at this paper published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, where authors propose just that. Not too long ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) itself tried to justify what they called a "ritual nick."

The fact of the matter is that, even in the most severe cases of FGM, it is simply impossible for the clitoris to be removed in its entirety from the female vulva. As Catania argues, only the tip of the clitoris can ever be removed, leaving plenty of clitoris behind in a woman for sexual stimulation. Even women who have undergone infibulation are still able to enjoy sex and experience orgasm. The claim that female genital cutting renders a woman a sexual cripple for the rest of her life is simply categorically false.

Diagram of internal female anatomy taken from Wikipedia
    Other facts that I invited this person to observe are that worldwide, 70% of males are intact, and that there simply isn't an epidemic of men experiencing the "problems" she presents. I invited this person to consider that other body parts are susceptible to disease, but that they aren't removed at birth. 1 in 8 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. 1 in 6 American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. The rate of men developing problems that may require surgical correction is approximately 1%.

    The external labia are also "flaps of skin," which could be affected by disease and infection. It is one of the areas affected by cancer. So should these be removed as well?

    I'd like to point out to my readers how the argument that "it could cause problems later on" only works when addressing the male foreskin.

    Continuing with my exchange:
     "Males with constricted foreskins have to have the foreskin removed or face serious infections."

     Myths repeated here:
    • The foreskin is prone to problems
    • The problem is usually a constricted foreskin
    • All men with constricted foreskins develop problems including serious infections

    I keep asking people to look at reality. Because what is that reality? That 70% of all men in the world are intact, and that there simply isn't an epidemic of constricted foreskins and "serious infections."

    The fact of the matter is that true phimosis is actually quite rare, occurring at a rate of about 1%. Some men may have non-retractile foreskins that have nothing to do with phimosis, but the majority of these men live their lives with no problems. Infections, when they occur, can usually be taken care of with conventional medicine, just as they are taken care of in women, when they develop infections.
    Some men do need surgery, but these cases are rare. What is the reason for the exaggeration? The person is trying to justify male circumcision. Of course, inner and outer labia have their own problems and diseases they are prone to, and some women must have them removed, but let's not talk about why early removal of them in girls is justified.
    The exchange continues:
     "Having the foreskin removed is what male circumcision involves while in female circumcision, they basically cut deep into an area full of nerves and blood vessels, a very horrible, completely barbaric practice that serves no rational purpose. It is only cruel in every way imaginable."
    Myth purported:
    • The foreskin is not an area full of nerves and blood vessels

    I want readers to notice how hyperbole is quite justified when speaking out against female circumcision, as is minimization when speaking in favor of male infant circumcision. The opposite is true; any attempt at minimizing FGM is met with hostility, and speaking about any detriment to male infant circumcision is "hyperbole."

    Female circumcision is horrible, completely barbaric, serves no rational purpose, and only cruel in every way imaginable. Really? That's not what people who do it think. I hope it's obvious now that the grounds on which female circumcision is attacked, and on which male circumcision is defended is all self-serving special pleading. The conflicting rationale that only works for or against the circumcision of one sex are a necessary result of cognitive dissonance; the mental acrobatics necessary to holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind.

    Research shows that the most sensitive area on a man's penis is in the transitional region from the external to the internal part of the foreskin, also known as the mucocutaneous junction, and that this is removed by circumcision. 

    Diagram from Sorrells et al. study on penile sensitivity

    Of course, the foreskin is also an area full of nerves and blood vessels, 20,000 nerves to be exact, however, in the mind of the person I'm having this exchange with, it isn't a problem to cut these off in boys.

    The person persists and responds, recycling the same rationale, and repeating what this person already said before in even louder tones:
    Saying that you can still have an orgasm if your clitoris is cut off is like saying that you can still use your arm if it is cut off.  Yes, you can still have vaginal orgasms as one still has a vagina.  However, a female can't have a clitoral orgasm if they have no clitoris and truth is that most females have clitoral orgasms far easier & more frequently than vaginal orgasms.

    Why does anyone try to make excuses and make up lies to defend female genital mutilation where the truth is that there is no excuses for clitoris removal regardless!  It is equivalent to removing a male's penis head where most of a male's nerves in his sexual pleasure zones are located.
    Even after I presented evidence the contrary the following myths persist:
    • Orgasm and/or sexual enjoyment is simply impossible without a clitoris
    • The clitoris is always and completely removed during FGM
    • Intactivists are trying to defend FGM
    • Clitoral removal is equivalent to removing the glans penis in the male
    • The glans is where most of a male's nerves in his sexual pleasure zones are located
    They say you can take a man to knowledge, but you can't make him think.

    Science and research are proving all these myths to be false, yet they persist.

    It is actually possible to orgasm after losing the glans. There are videos of men ejaculating post penectomy. (Go to X-Tube and search "penectomy.") It is also interesting to note that transsexuals who undergo surgery are still able to enjoy sex without their penises.

    Not that this justifies cutting off children's penises in any way; I'm just trying to dispel the "can't enjoy sex" myth and why it fails as any arguing point.

    Let's explore this idea that removing part of the body doesn't affect its function.

    You can still see with one eye. You can still taste if I cut off the tip of your tongue. Who sees better though? Who tastes better? Likewise, who feels more? Who has better sensations?

    The bottom line
     Is it truly a matter "severity?"

    Because even the WHO recognizes that not all FGM removes the clitoris. The WHO and AAP acknowledge that some forms of FGM are as severe, if not less severe than male infant circumcision.

    Is it a matter of "pain?"

    Because women circumcised as infants don't remember it either. And girls can be anesthetized as males can be.

    Is it a matter of sexual enjoyment?

    Because the great majority of circumcised women will tell you they enjoy sex and can orgasm just fine, just as the great majority of circumcised men will tell you.

    The bottom line is this:
    Unless there is clear medical or clinical indication, the forced genital cutting of ANYONE is a gross violation of basic human rights.
    Arguments that only work in favor or against forced circumcision of one sex, but not the other, are self-serving, ad-hoc, special pleading.

    Even if female circumcision could be made "painless," and "less severe" than male circumcision, it would still be wrong.

    Even if it could be proven that female circumcision would prevent scary diseases like HIV and cancer, forcibly doing it to non-consenting girls or women would still be wrong.

    When an action is a basic human rights violation, how much sex a person can still enjoy afterward is secondary, if not irrelevant.


    1. Dear Joseph,
      it is always worth reading joseph4gi,

      our fight is not about
      the forced circumcision of males,
      but about a world-wide ban of the
      the non-therapeutic circumcision of males.

      Intactivists are not fighting against
      forced circumcision of females,
      but against
      FGM - i. e. Female genital Mutilation (see the WHO classification: FGM type I, II, III IV).

      Please think about
      "Ngaitana – I will circumcise myself" = FGM.

      Think about the
      Ndiyindoda! I`m a man!, yelled f. e. by the Xhosa boy Nelson Mandela.

      Let us stop
      non-therapeutic circumcision of girls or boys under the age of 18 years.

      Joseph, please say NO
      to the lates suggestion of Brian D. Earp (Does Female Genital Mutilation Have Health Benefits? The Problem with Medicalizing Morality),
      who wants children (child = human being below 18 years of age) be asked about a "voluntary" circumcision.

      "A girl or boy below 18 years of age is not able to consent in her FGM / his MGM.

      Best regards,
      Cees van der Duin


      Kindeswunsch auf Beschnittenwerden auch für Mädchen bald Gesetz?

      Britischer Medizinethiker fordert das verstaatlichte Befragen des männlichen oder weiblichen Kindes nach dessen baldiger Genitalverstümmelung (MGM oder FGM)

      1. Look, I'm not sure about you, but as for me, myself, I oppose the forced genital cutting of either sex.

        I believe if a person wants to get circumcised, given the facts, it is his or her right to do so, of course, when that person is of age and is fully informed.

        What I have a problem with is forcibly taking a person and forcibly cutting off part of their genitals against their express wishes.

        Coercion is not consent either.

        I believe the first step in ending forced circumcision, as well as the non-therapeutic circumcision of any sex, is holding doctors responsible.

        Under any other circumstance, reaping profit from performing non-medical surgery on a healthy, non-consenting individual already constitutes medical fraud.

        Ideally, men or women of age who want non-therapeutic cosmetic genital surgery should have this done by a plastic surgeon who specializes in this, and not a medical doctor who is supposed to be practicing medicine.

        Perhaps you think all genital cutting is mutilation in all cases, and men and women shouldn't even have the option for genital cosmetic surgery, but, in my opinion, this argument is beyond the scope of my blog, which focuses on forced, non-therapeutic surgery in healthy, non-consenting minors.

        I believe whatever alterations a person wants for their body is their business.

        "My body, my choice."

        This should apply to both sexes.

        I read Brian Earp when I can, and I'm sure there must be a misunderstanding, as it doesn't sound like him to suggest children be asked about "voluntary circumcision." He would argue the opposite; that coercion is not "voluntary."

        I shall read the paper you reference.

      2. I have read Brian D. Earp's paper. In it he suggests that "children should be free to grow up with their genitals intact—no nicks, cuts, or removal of tissue." Not at all what you claim in your comment.

        The paper is excellent and better articulates what I've stated all along, that making "pain," "severity" and "medical benefits" the basis of the argument for or in favor of genital cutting is going to backfire.

        Intactivists need to stick to the crux of our argument which has been, is and always will be choice, self-autonomy and individual human rights.

    2. Thank you very much, Joseph, for your answers.


      The challenge for intactivism

      Intactivism is infiltrated by strategists, who want to reduce the age of "informed consent" down to 15 or 12 years (or younger).

      The high pressure of conformity, for instance, in the Xhosa tribe, but also among many Muslims for example in Turkey, Iraq, Indonesia, will not allow the (f. e. 12 or 15 years old) boy or the Sunni-Shafiite girl, or Shia-Dawoodi-Bohra girl, to say no to circumcision (MGM or FGM).

      Brian D. Earp, professionally active as a kind of philosopher and medical ethicist, obviously works on a change in public awareness as well as the subsequent amendment to criminal law. His goal seems to be (see case Jumana Nagarwala), to implement the so-called "mild sunna" resp. Khatna (FGM type I or IV) into the Law (in the US, in GB, etc.), if the surgery is a desire of the "Gillick competent" child.

      His trick is the use of that so-called Gillick competence. The "gillick-competent" child, 15 or 12 years old or perhaps even younger, can supposedly agree in any medical surgery (even without the parents' knowledge), can (consequently) consent to the FGM or MGM. And a "voluntary" FGM or circumcision is, unfortunately, no longer an ethical problem for Brian Earp. This idea must be stopped. Everyone has a right to reach her or his 18th birthday with intact genitalia - and FGM is FGM, be it unvoluntary or "voluntary".


      Brian D. Earp, Rebecca Steinfeld (Gender and Genital Cutting: A New Paradigm), April 2017

      Fully informed, Gillick-competent[vi] individuals (male, female, or intersex) should be allowed to choose NGC for themselves, if they wish, under conditions of valid consent." (...)

      [vi] Gillick-competence refers to an ability to give valid consent prior to an age of legal majority


      Children (child is a human being under 18 years of age) must be absolutely protected by us adults before any medically unnecessary surgery.

      Earp talks about the self-determined child, the child with his own opinion, etc.,
      but the most important thing is missing in his texts:
      the girl or boy must be (at least) 18 years old.
      Earp always says "children", and this is not 18, but younger.

      Any softening of the FGM standards should be prevented, also a "de minimis" FGM (FGM type Ia, or FGM type IV as ritual nick, pinprick etc.) must not be allowed.

      So, in short, I emphasize the value of the age limit 18 years.

      I would like to wish Joseph4GI a lot of success in the future as well.

      Best regards,
      Cees van der Duin

      1. Cees,

        Intactivism is the fight for genital integrity, self-autonomy and choice for healthy, non-consenting individuals.

        True intactivists recognize that coercion cannot be "voluntary." This is the problem with the "mass circumcision campaigns" in Africa being carried out by American organizations. They call it "Voluntary Male Medical Circumcision" (VMMC) but then target underage children, or try to coerce parents into "volunteering" for their children.

        I'm not sure where you are getting this idea about Brian D. Earp, that he is some sort of "strategist trying to reduce the age of informed consent down to 15 or 12," but this sounds completely out of character.

        I know of the case in Chicago, and I have read the paper you reference, and I'm afraid none of this supports your accusation that Brian D. Earp is trying to attempt some kind of "trick."

        An adult man or woman choosing to undergo surgery for cosmetic reasons has never been an ethical problem for most, if not all intactivists.

        There are *some* intactivists who are extremists and who believe circumcisions should not be ever be carried out, even if an adult person requests it, but they are few and far between, and most level-headed intactivists break with such extremists.

        We have always argued that a person should be able to choose what he or she wants for him or herself, and we have always recognized that children are too young to make this decision. Additionally we speak out against coercion and feeding men and parents deliberate misinformation to get them to agree to circumcision for their children.

        As far as I am aware, Brian D. Earp opposes the forced genital cutting of healthy, non-consenting individuals of any age or sex, and it would be unlike him to argue that a child of 12 or 15 should be considered capable of making an informed decision about this.

        If, as you say, he is trying to argue that a "self determined child under 18" should be considered capable of agreeing to circumcision, I'm ready to break with him, as he would be no better than those pushing so-called "VMMC" in Africa.

        I am with you; only an adult person over the age of 18 should be asked for his or her consent. And even still, coercion, either by society or religion is not "voluntary" or "consent."

        Softening FGM standards to allow a "pinprick" or a "ritual nick" would only lead to the eventual allowing of all other forms of FGM.

        I am sure that Brian D. Earp opposes both lowering the age of consent and allowing mild forms of FGM, and is trying his best to warn of the consequences with his papers.

        There must be some confusion.

        Thank you for reading my blog and for voicing your concerns.


    3. Hi, Joseph,

      Do you have a source for the "20,000" nerves claim? I've seen MGM supporters try to discredit intactivists who cite this figure.

      Terrific article, thanks for your efforts.