Sunday, July 3, 2011

My Response To Gordon Haber's Justification Of Child Genital Cutting [NSFW]

Two weeks ago, author Gordon Haber contributed an essay to the modern religious debate website (accurate description?) (“KtB”).

In the essay, Haber describes how he allowed a “brit milah” or “bris” ritual genital cutting ceremony to be performed on his son last December.  After some minor post-op bleeding, Haber became nervous about whether he’d made the right choice and spent a week researching circumcision online. He came across a number of Intactivist websites, but he dug into the issues and ultimately concluded:

“Here, then, is my advice. Jews and Muslims should do it if they like, and everybody should use anesthetic. However, since the procedure can never be entirely painless, I wouldn’t blame any parent for leaving it out—or on. That’s why if one day my boy is blessed with a son of his own, I hope I will remember to butt out. And until they can come up with some real arguments, intactivists should do the same.” ~Gordon Haber, "Uncovered"

I jammed out a quick response, applauding Haber for attempting to address the issues around genital cutting in a logical way, but pointed out a couple of his missteps that led to his wrong conclusion. On Friday, KtB printed my response (many thanks to KtB!), followed by an ad hominem-filled rebuttal from Haber.

I wasn’t going to respond, but one of Haber’s supporters goaded me, and I bit. What follows is a paragraph-by-paragraph takedown of Haber's attack against me and other Intactivists.

Haber says: “The Barefoot Intactivist’s response to my article evinces a global error: he assumes that if I disagree with him, I must be biased. Nevertheless I gave his criticisms a careful read, as I always want to own up to my own “missteps.” In the end, while the Barefoot Intactivist (hereafter referred to as “the B.I.”) does make one or two decent points, ultimately his letter suggests that either (a) he has some issues with reading comprehension or (b) he’s batshit crazy.”

Haber says: “As much of his letter was tangled, I’ve numbered my rebuttals:”

Here we go. First Haber says I’m assuming he’s biased because he disagrees with me -- in reality, my response called him out on his bias exactly one time, in response to a specific, incredibly biased remark: Haber called the foreskin a “bit of skin.”

Actually, what we call the foreskin is easily 12-15 square inches of skin (depending on where the cut is made - think the size of an index card), and it’s loaded with erogenous nerve endings.

Haber’s “bit of skin” comment revealed the highly biased premise of his entire article -- that chopping off that “bit of skin” is no big deal, because, after all, it’s just a “bit of skin.” I called him out on this.

This is what a flaccid, intact penis looks like (with foreskin retracted on the left). Note: If you are afraid to look at a picture of a penis, you really shouldn’t be writing articles defending circumcision.
Image from:

Before Haber even gets into my arguments he starts with ad hominem attacks, saying that I either lack “reading comprehension” or I’m “batshit crazy.” You’ll notice this tactic throughout Haber’s response, as opposed to the calm, rational tone of both his original article and my response to it.

You see, it appears I offended Haber by offering factual information about the harm of circumcision, and he was angered enough that he decided to respond with insults rather than addressing my valid arguments.

Remember, Haber allowed part of his own son’s genitals to be amputated based on the flaws in his reasoning that I exposed. So it’s perfectly normal that he would get upset when confronted with facts about the harm of genital cutting.

Now, the heart of our debate involved three topics:
(1) The physical anatomy of the penis and whether the foreskin contributes to sexual pleasure;
(2) Whether amputation of the foreskin reduces HIV prevalence; and
(3) Whether male genital cutting should be compared to female genital cutting.

Before we get into these issues, though, I think it’s important we establish what exactly it is we are talking about. What is circumcision?

Circumcision is the amputation of the foreskin of the penis. Contrary to popular belief, the foreskin is not a discrete entity, but rather a part of the contiguous penile skin system. The amount of skin cut off is entirely up to the person doing the cutting. Based on my own unscientific observation of YouTube videos online, it appears that easily around 50% of the penile skin is typically cut off in infant circumcisions (more on this later) -- sometimes significantly more, sometimes significantly less.

I attached two clips below to establish a frame of reference for our discussion. The first is a hospital circumcision, narrated by the doctor himself, beginning with his pooh-poohing the disclosures to the mother, all the way through the clearly ineffective anesthesia and finally the foreskin amputation. The second video is a Jewish “bris” ritual, which I included to illustrate its similarity to the hospital circumcision (with respect to the surgery performed.)

Worth noting is that both of these videos were put up as advertisements, one for the doctor’s services, one for the mohel’s*, so hopefully I won’t be accused of picking out particularly gruesome circumcision videos here.

*A mohel is a Jewish ritual circumciser

Video 1 -- Hospital Circumcision

Video 2 -- Jewish “Bris” Circumcision

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way...

Haber says: “(1) The B.I. points to a study that at first glance demonstrates that uncircumcised men have more penile sensitivity, which would help prove the intactivist assertion that circumcision destroy sexual pleasure. I actually thought this study was interesting until I got to the bottom and read that it was funded by the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers (NOCIRC), and that this organization “was involved in the design and conduct of the study; collection and interpretation of the data; and review, or approval of the manuscript.”

Haber first admits that the study, which shows that the five most “fine-touch” sensitive parts of the penis are amputated during circumcision, is “interesting,” but then he completely discards it because it was funded by NOCIRC.

Nevermind that the design of the study was sound. Nevermind that it was published in the British Journal of Urology.

Video -- Sorrells Discusses The Methodology Behind His Penile Sensitivity Study, And Common Methodological Problems With Earlier Studies. “If you’re gonna do science, you need to, as much as you can, set up a study that may indeed prove you wrong. You must be as objective as possible.”

Full study:

In fact, despite Sorrells’ study on penile sensitivity being widely cited by critics of circumcision, there has never been a legitimate published critique of the study made by circumcision advocates. The closest was a letter written by Waskett and Morris, two notorious circumcision fetishists, neither of which have any medical credentials. (Morris is known for calling on the state to institute compulsory male infant circumcision.)

Video -- Brian Morris Calls For Compulsory Circumcision (This Is The Man Who Critiqued Sorrells’ Penile Sensitivity Study)

But no, we should disregard Sorrells’ study because it was funded by NOCIRC. My question for Haber -- who do you think is going to fund a study about the negative effects of circumcision in the U.S., the epicenter for foreskin cluelessness in the world? Who do you think NOCIRC is made up of? Does NOCIRC stand to earn profits by discouraging circumcision?

How is this any more noteworthy a conflict then the Circumcision/HIV studies conducted by a woman (Dr. Wawer) who has built her entire reputation and career on “researching” the benefits of circumcision?

Sorrells is a medical doctor. His study was conducted in a research university setting and published in a well known peer-reviewed medical journal. We are now four years removed from its publication, and the veracity of the study’s results have never been seriously challenged.

Haber says (cont’d): “While I do think that it’s reasonable to suggest that uncircumcised penises are more sensitive, I’m not going to put much stock in this particular study.”

Okay, here’s another study for you. This one’s from South Korea, where circumcision has apparently taken hold after being exported by American military doctors 60 years ago. Based on a survey of 373 sexually active men, all of whom had been circumcised after the age of 20 years old, 48% reported a decrease in masturbatory pleasure after circumcision, vs. only 8% who reported increased masturbatory pleasure after circumcision. This is even more remarkable considering they are self-reported answers from men who live in an overwhelmingly (80%) circumcised culture, thus are likely to be biased towards believing circumcision is favorable.

Full study:

Now, to quickly pick apart a circumcision/sexual pleasure study that has gotten a lot of airtime recently from the mainstream press. This study is based on a survey of men who participated in the Uganda circumcision/HIV studies, and claims that there is no difference in sexual satisfaction between men who were circumcised and men who were not circumcised. A few problems with the study:
  • Unlike the Korea study, the circumcised men in this study were never asked to compare sexual pleasure before and after circumcision. In fact, the men were not asked about pleasure at all, only about desire and satisfaction.
  • The men were only given two levels of possible satisfaction as options: “Satisfied” and “Very satisfied.” The published study does not even give us the data on “Satisfied” vs. “Very Satisfied,” but rather groups them both together and tells us there was no change in satisfaction. Were men less likely to be “Very satisfied” after circumcision? We don’t know, because the data was never published.
  • The above also applies to the survey questions on sexual desire and others. All this study is telling us is that people were satisfied with sex and had “medium/high sexual desire” both before and after circumcision.
  • Selection bias -- they are taking men who volunteered to be circumcised as adults, circumcising them, and asking them about sex afterwards. This, after telling the men that circumcision is healthy and prevents disease. Are we supposed to believe that neither the fact that the men selected themselves to be circumcised nor the fact that they were told it was a healthy, disease-preventing measure had an impact on their survey answers?
  • The survey was conducted two years after circumcision. What about negative sexual impacts 5, 10, 25 years later, as what’s left of the penis is left to become keratinized (calloused) through exposure to air and rubbing on clothing?
  • Conflict of interest: This survey was conducted by the same team (headed by Dr. Wawer) trying to prove that circumcision prevents HIV. Establishing that the foreskin does not benefit sexual pleasure was required in order to promote the results of their HIV study.
Full study:

Haber says: “(2) The second paragraph of the B.I.’s letter is a mess, three ill-considered sentences that will take ten to refute. Here goes:”

Haber says: “The B.I. argues that the complication rates from circumcision that I quote “are complete garbage—nobody collects real data.” However the study in question did indeed use “real data” from hospital records. In addition, the authors acknowledge some limitations of the data—one sign of a good-faith study. And yet still they conclude that circumcision is a “relatively safe procedure.” In other words, the B.I. rejects a disinterested study because it doesn’t support his bias.”

Haber says (cont’d): “He then asks, “Is somebody waiting there to ask you how your circumcision went 16 years later when you become sexually active?” This question is a non-sequitur—it’s less about the data than about the fallacious intactivist belief that millions of circumcised men can’t possibly be enjoying sex with their horribly mutilated penises.”

Haber completely ignores my argument (maybe it just went over his head?), which is that any negative sexual impact of circumcision is unlikely to be noticed for many years: possibly when a boy reaches puberty and starts masturbating, when he becomes sexually active, or maybe not even until many years later after the penis is fully calloused and/or damaged from excessive friction.

How is a study of circumcision complications in babies addressing any of the sexual complications a circumcised man could have? Here are just a few of the possible complications that the studies Haber is referring to would never catch, because they would have to follow up 5, 10, 15, 25 years later:
  • Skin bridges
  • Tight, painful erections due to too much skin being cut off
  • Curvature due to uneven cutting.
  • Twisting of the penis due to the upper & lower skin rotating prior to healing at the circumcision site.
  • Excessive scarring.
  • Numbness from keratinization.
  • Pain during sex from excessive friction due to lack of mobile skin.
Here is a gallery of botched circumcisions if you think I am inventing all of these:

Haber says my insistence that none of these complications have ever been measured in hospital complication rate studies is a “non-sequitur.” How is that a non-sequitur? Answer the question, Haber -- who is checking up on kids 15 years later and asking them how their dick works when they start masturbating? How many of these kids are having tight, painful erections from so much skin getting cut off? Who is checking up on 40-year old men asking them if they have any feeling left in their penises after decades of keratin build-up to the exposed glans and remnant inner foreskin? That’s not a non-sequitir -- but your response was.

Video -- Vocalist Jason Paige Sings About His Botched Circumcision

Haber then mocks my argument by satirically paraphrasing it as “millions of circumcised men can’t possibly be enjoying sex with their horribly mutilated penises.”

Where did I ever say any of that? Haber is so completely incapable of refuting my actual argument that he has to invent fallacious arguments to put into my mouth to refute. Okay, you got me,  that statement -- which I never said --  is completely, utterly fallacious, as you pointed out. Not sure how to even respond to that. Moving on...

Haber says: “Finally the B.I. asks, “And isn’t having part of your penis amputated a complication?” Well, no, since a complication is a result of a procedure, not the procedure itself.”

Haber says: “(3) The B.I. writes that the size of the foreskin is 12 to 15 square inches in an adult male. (From what I could learn it’s more like 10 to 15 square inches, but never mind.) That does sound like a of skin—until you learn that the average human has about 3000 14 to 18 square feet of skin.”

Haber again completely avoids my point: that the foreskin isn’t just “a bit of skin” but 12-15 square inches of skin. He makes an irrelevant comparison to the total amount of skin surface area on the human body. What’s your point? You could say the same thing about infibulation in a female (cutting off the labia & clitoris and sewing up the vaginal hole) -- probably only a few square inches of skin are removed. No big deal, right, since the body has 14-18 square feet of skin?

You could say the same thing about cutting off a man’s entire penis. No big deal, right, since it is only a fraction of his total body mass? Uh, wrong.

The important point is that 50% (HALF) of the penile skin is being cut off. See below:

There’s actually an even more important element here. Not only is a massive amount of penile skin being removed in circumcision, but a large percentage of the most sensitive tissue, which is everything on the inside of the fold, or the “inner skin,” including specialized penile structures like the “Ridged Band” of nerve endings and the frenulum. (See Sorrells’ study above.)

Try this little touch test on your own penis. Touch the part of the skin between the head (glans) and the circumcision scar. It should be fairly sensitive. This is the remnant inner foreskin, whatever the doctor/mohel was kind enough to leave you.

Now touch the part between the base of the penis and the circumcision scar. You should notice that it is significantly less sensitive, probably even less sensitive than your inner thigh, for example. The difference should be similar to how it feels when you touch the inside of your palm vs. the back of your hand (the palm is much more sensitive).

It turns out the most sensitive sexual tissue on the penis is on the inside of the foreskin -- in other words all of the area that is supposed to remain covered at all times except when the penis is erect. Makes sense, right?

Sorrells found that the most touch-sensitive part of the circumcised penis is actually the circumcision scar, where you’ll find the severed endings of all the nerves that were amputated during circumcision.

Haber says: “(4) On the relationship between circumcision and HIV, the B.I. contradicts himself. First he claims that there is evidence against the link between circumcision and lower rates of HIV infection. Then he claims that circumcision to prevent HIV doesn’t work “outside of a clinical trial setting.” Which means that it works in a clinical trial setting. Which means that there is evidence that circumcision makes it harder to contract HIV.”

I should have been more clear here. My point was that circumcision does not work in the real world to prevent HIV. It only works in a fabricated clinical setting due to a number of flaws that call into question the validity of the results of the studies.

I’m not going to spend a ton of time on this, because others have already done a much better job than I could hope to do. I suggest you start with these two critiques (you can check their references for more info):

A couple of quick things to consider from these clinical trials:
  • They were performed in Africa.
  • The men who were circumcised also received counseling on condom use.
  • While the number of total men in the trials was large (a couple thousand I believe), the number of men actually infected with HIV during the trials was quite small, particularly in comparison to the number of men who completely dropped out of the studies. Keep that in mind when you hear people quoting “50-60% reduction” figures for HIV incidence.
  • The same studies also found that men who were HIV-positive were actually more likely to pass on HIV to their wives if they had been circumcised. (That’s the infamous Dr. Wawer -- the queen of pushing genital cutting as HIV prevention -- speaking in the link.)
More importantly, babies are not even sexually active. If a consenting, sexually active adult believes that amputating a significant part of his penile skin and nerve endings will help him reduce his chance of catching HIV, then he is more than welcome to do so. Forcing this on a non-consenting child on the other hand -- based on clinical studies that are questionable at best and contradict all available real-world data (see below) -- is totally unethical. It’s also weird. There’s this invention called condoms...

Haber says (cont’d): “The USAID study does indeed assert that “There appears to be no clear pattern of association between male circumcision and HIV.” However, the study looks at a number of factors—socioeconomic characteristics, risk behaviors, protective behaviors, etc.—involved with HIV contraction. Thus it is disingenuous to claim that this study refutes the link between circumcision and HIV prevention—especially if the link has been proven in a clinical setting.”

The USAID data shows quite clearly that there is no real-world evidence of circumcision having any benefit whatsoever for HIV prevention on entire populations that practice it. The study is very straightforward, and there is nothing disingenuous whatsoever in the way I presented the information.

Circumcision as HIV prevention just does not work in the real world. Ask the families of all the American men who died of AIDS in the 1980’s.

One clear side-effect of the circumcision propaganda campaigns in Africa is that many men on the continent now think they don’t need to use condoms if they get circumcised. The perception among the people is that circumcision is like a permanent condom, or a vaccine against HIV. If you’d been paying any attention to the circumcision news in Africa you’d have seen this over and over by now. Moving on...

Haber says: “(5) On the topic of comparing male to female genital cutting, I find it a little strange that a grown man who runs barefoot and emblazoned with anti-circumcision slogans is telling me “to check my emotions at the door.” “

Again with the ad hominems. Rather than address the issue, Haber is trying to establish that only a crazy person would compare male and female genital cutting. I asked him to “check his emotions at the door,” because in his original post, Haber refused to address the similarities between male and female genital cutting, and chose instead to discard the topic offhand as “bullshit” without any explanation whatsoever.

Haber says (cont’d): “Anyway, my point was simply that male and female genital cutting are not analogous. Why? Because men and women have different parts and are circumcised for different reasons.”

You are correct, men have penises and women have vaginas/vulvas (congratulations on recognizing this). That doesn’t mean male and female genital cutting aren’t analogous (more on this below), and you are wrong when you say the two are done for different reasons (more on this below).

Haber says: “Intactivists like to obfuscate these facts by focusing on the “severity” of circumcision, not gender. I suppose they believe that if they can erase the difference then everybody will be just as incensed by male circumcision as they are when a female is mutilated.

Wow, you actually got something right! Except, it’s not “obfuscating facts” when we try to objectively talk about genital cutting in terms of severity, instead of gender. It’s called eliminating sexism. You want to know what sexism in genital cutting is? It’s when you call it “circumcision” on boys, but “mutilation” on girls, in the very same sentence.

As of 1996, all forms of female genital cutting have been outlawed by federal law, down to the slightest pinprick. That means boys have no legal protection from having half or more of their penile skin removed*, despite all of the significant sexual impact and risk of further complications (see above), whereas girls are protected from having a single drop of blood drawn from their genitals.

Even the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) pointed out this gross double-standard last year, when they foolishly suggested the U.S. government relax its anti-FGM ban to allow for a “ritual nick”.

*Note: Circumcision of boys is quite clearly illegal -- it’s violent sexual assault on a child. For the purposes of our discussion, however, it’s also clear that boys are currently being given no protection from this crime in the U.S.

So congratulations, you got something right: Intactivists think people should be just as outraged by the forced genital cutting of little boys as they are with the forced genital cutting of little girls. That sounds perfectly logical to me.

Video -- Difference Between Male & Female Circumcision
Haber says (cont’d): But most females are circumcised out of a male obsession with sexual purity and fear of female sexuality. Ultimately female circumcision is about patriarchal control. Male circumcision is about religion, or a rite of passage, or (yes) a misplaced obsession with hygiene. Of course there are similarities between male and female circumcision, but it is ridiculous to suggest a direct analogy.”

So how is it that males have no protection from a much more severe form of genital cutting than the ritual nick that is banned for females?

According to Haber, it’s because:

Female circumcision is all about:
  • Fear of sexuality
  • Control
Whereas Male circumcision is all about:
  • Religion
  • Rite of passage
  • “Hygiene”

Because of this clear difference of intent, Haber says it is “ridiculous to suggest a direct analogy” between male and female genital cutting. Haber has mistakenly separated the purposes for male cutting vs. female cutting based on his own cultural biases.

As we will see (using Haber's own terms) this is what the reality of genital cutting actually looks like:

Male AND Female circumcision are all about:
  • Fear of sexuality
  • Control
  • Religion
  • Rite of passage
  • “Hygiene”

This is where even the most basic history lesson on circumcision could have saved Haber. Let’s start with religious circumcision -- nobody knows exactly how it started, but it’s very much about controlling and reducing a man’s sexuality. Famous Jewish scholar Maimonides had this to say:

“As regards circumcision, I think that one of its objects is to limit sexual intercourse, and to weaken the organ of generation as far as possible, and thus cause man to be moderate. Some people believe that circumcision is to remove a defect in man’s formation; but every one can easily reply: How can products of nature be deficient so as to require external completion, especially as the use of the fore-skin to that organ is evident. [...] The bodily injury caused to that organ is exactly that which is desired; it does not interrupt any vital function, nor does it destroy the power of generation. Circumcision simply counteracts excessive lust; for there is no doubt that circumcision weakens the power of sexual excitement, and sometimes lessens the natural enjoyment.~Moses Maimonides, “The Guide For The Perplexed,” 12th century, p. 646-647

Even to Maimonides the function of the foreskin and the purpose of circumcision were obvious. Why else would you cut off part of a man’s penis but to reduce his sexuality?

But how did circumcision get started among non-religious people in the U.S.? Believe it or not -- it was introduced by medical doctors in the 1800’s to “cure” or reduce masturbation and excessive sex, which were believed to cause a number of diseases. This is all over the medical literature from the mid-to-late 1800’s through the mid 1900’s. Here is one particularly damning quote from a medical journal:

"To obtain the best results one must cut away enough skin and mucous membrane to rather put it on the stretch when erections come later. There must be no play in the skin after the wound has thoroughly healed, but it must fit tightly over the penis, for should there be any play the patient will be found to readily resume his practice not begrudging the time and extra energy required to produce the orgasm... We may not be sure that we have done away with the possibility of masturbation, but we may feel confident that we have limited it to within the danger lines." ~E.J. Spratling, MD. Medical Record, Masturbation in the Adult, vol. 48, no. 13, September 28, 1895, pp. 442-443.
(Do click through and read the whole article, it is even more amazing in context.)

And before you laugh at the clear futility of trying to get men to stop masturbating -- think of the difficulty for all those who suffered tight circumcisions (just as instructed by the good Doctor Spratling above), and also of the aforementioned Korean study with almost half of respondents reporting reduced masturbatory pleasure post-circumcision.

Indeed, circumcision has affected American masturbation culture to the extent that even Eminem raps about “jerking off with Jergens.” A European would have no idea what Eminem was talking about -- men with their whole penises don’t need artifical lubrication to masturbate.
Eminem -- Excerpt from “The Real Slim Shady”
It's funny; cause at the rate I'm goin when I'm thirtyI'll be the only person in the nursin home flirtingPinchin nurses asses when I'm jackin off with JergensAnd I'm jerkin but this whole bag of Viagra isn't working

Here are some more references to medical circumcision as masturbation cure:

Though it never became mainstream, circumcision was also promoted to cure masturbation in girls around the same time period. This was “legal*” until 1996, and insured by Blue Cross Blue Shield until 1977. See this video:

Patricia Robinett, author of “Rape of Innocence: Female Genital Mutilation And Circumcision In The USA,” tells her story about being circumcised in Kansas in the 1960s here:

Haber also claimed that female circumcision is not “religious” or related to a “rite of passage.” This is absolutely false. Many cultures practice female circumcision as a deeply rooted religious ritual, and circumcision is often seen as a rite of passage of for both boys and girls in cultures that circumcise both sexes. Here, a religious figure explains female genital cutting on an Egyptian talk show. The vast majority of women in Egypt are circumcised to this day.

Female Genital Cutting In Egypt

Here is an interesting quote about female genital cutting from a NYTimes article on female genital cutting:

“This is not done with ill intent. This is actually done to embrace the child, to bring the child into the fold of the community.” ~Zeinab Eyega, executive director of the Sauti Yetu Center for African Women, a group based in the Bronx that works to end female genital cutting

Sound familiar?

As far as hygiene -- women have plenty of skin and smegma-making capabilities too, and hygiene/cleanliness is cited for girls in countries that practice female circumcision the same way it is cited for boys here in the U.S.


Why is FGM/FGC performed? Hygiene and aesthetic reasons: In some communities, the external female genitalia are considered dirty and ugly and are removed ostensibly to promote hygiene and aesthetic appeal.”

Sound familiar?

YES -- male circumcision is performed to reduce/control male sexuality.
YES -- female circumcision is performed as a religious/rite of passage ceremony.

Obviously male and female genital cutting are technically different, since one is performed on a penis and the other on a vulva. There are also varying degrees of severity in both male and female cutting -- as I pointed out in my original letter, I am not comparing the average male circumcision to the most extreme female infibulation. But male and female genital cutting are actually very similar in terms of both intent and outcome.

Both male and female circumcision:
  • Amputate parts of the genitals
  • Reduce sexual sensation (by design)
  • Are forced on non-consenting minors
  • Are considered religious rituals / rites of passage
  • Are considered cleaner/more hygienic in cultures that practice them
  • Are performed in the bush (see South Africa Khosa tribal circumcisions, for example)
  • Are performed in hospitals (girls are often circumcised in sterile hospital conditions in Egypt & Malaysia, for example)
  • Result in numerous cases of horrible sexual disfigurement each year
  • Result in numerous deaths each year
Here's an excellent photo essay comparing male & female genital cutting:

It’s not a surprise, then, that some outspoken critics of male circumcision are actual victims of female circumcision, like Soraya Mire, who sits on the board of directors for Intact America.

So yes, it’s high time we start looking at genital cutting in terms of SEVERITY, not gender. And in my book, ALL children -- boys, girls, and intersex -- deserve protection from even the slightest unnecessary pinprick to the genitals.

You may have different values. But to say that it is okay for one sex to be genitally cut but not the other? Pure sexism and an incredible double standard.

Haber says: “The Barefoot Intactivist ends his letter by suggesting that I’ve made “leaps of faith” in my discussion of circumcision. Perhaps this is a not-so-subtle-reference to my religious leanings, perhaps not. Either way he forgets that I end my piece by writing that I wouldn’t blame anybody for not circumcising their children, even Jews—not exactly a ringing endorsement for circumcision. But that’s not good enough for him. Like a lot of obsessed cranks, intactivists are unable to comprehend such subtleties.”

More ad hominems. “Obsessed cranks.” “Unable to comprehend subtleties.”

Haber says: “If the Barefoot Intactivist wishes to run around without shoes in order to save little boys from the alleged horrors of circumcision, he is free to do so. But he might do well to read a little more carefully—and perhaps even take a class in critical thinking at a local college. Because clearly he doesn’t really understand terms like “evidence” or “bias.” And until he gets this stuff straight, he’s just another kook co-opting the language of argumentation and science.”

More ad hominems. Seriously?

Haber, you did a couple days worth of research, decided that you were an expert, and concluded that we were all full of it. You couldn’t handle the idea that the people arguing against circumcision maybe, just maybe, knew something that you didn’t know. Unfortunately your son has to live with the consequences.

People make mistakes. The Intactivist movement was founded by parents that allowed their own sons to be circumcised before learning about the harm. Parents' basic instincts are being undermined by vague, hypocritical circumcision policies published by major US medical organizations like the Amerian Academy of Pediatrics. There's no excuse, though, for your columns slamming Intactivists like myself with ad-hominem attacks, simply because we are trying to warn other parents.

Hopefully you can research more and come to grips with the reality of child genital cutting before you or anyone in your family has another son. In the meantime, please try to educate yourself before writing any more columns on this topic.

Here are a few excellent books I can recommend (all written by Jewish authors, coincidentally) if you'd like to get past the sound bytes and learn about the topic in-depth.

~Barefoot Intactivist

Georgetown University -- 30-Minute Lecture On Circumcision


  1. This is FABULOUS!!! I LOVE IT! Thanks for the great response Barefoot Intactavist! As always you amaze me with your knowledge and brilliant repartee.

  2. A man for whom the circumcision of healthy, non-consenting infants is a religious obligation, regardless of the presence or absence of any "benefit," regardless of how much more or less "severe" it is than female circumcision, who had his own son circumcised last December, none the less, is going to try and school somebody on the difference between "bias" and "evidence?" Really?

    Is this some kind of joke?

  3. B I, you have done an outstanding job replying to this. Well done!!!

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  5. Excellent article. So well written, informative, logical. I especially liked your explanation of the similarities in genital cutting of both genders. Yes, he was wrong by saying how male and female forms of cutting are carried out with different motivations and intent on the part of the cutter, but a further point is... even if he had been right, and there were different motivations for male and female cutting, it still wouldn't mean the results were therefore different. I mean, the baby being cut doesn't care whether it is for religion or to inhibit sexuality or whatever... it's still the same act. There is such a lapse of critical thinking in this and in so many of his comments, e.g. the reasoning that it is OK to amputate that much skin because it is a small percentage of the total skin on the body... wow. And he rejects so many claims without doing research or addressing the basis of them. Thank you for offering a clear minded response.

  6. The long post above is one of the very best I have ever read. Congrats to the BI!

    Haber has put on himself a duty to be a politically correct parent and right thinking tolerant person. Moreover, he believes that he has satisfied that duty by claiming to have no objections to parents, even Jewish ones, who decline to circumcise their sons. He further believes that that because he is a nice PC guy in this respect, he has earned the right to be free of criticism for having circumcised his own son. In fact, the only way to earn that right is by not discussing his son's circ status in any public forum. I am astounded by the willingness of contemporary parents to mention on the internet whether or not they circumcised their sons.

    Haber places the burden of proof on us intactivists, and believes that parents should have the option to circumcise their infant sons until it is proved harmful. I say that baby boys should enjoy the benefit of the doubt, especially given that formal statements issued by the medical associations for the UK, Australasia, and the Netherlands recognise that routine circ can be damaging.

    Haber concedes that if circumcision is harmful, even religious Jews should refrain from doing it. In fact, there is evidence that routine infant circumcision is harmful: the Kapila and Williams literature survey in the 1993 British Journal of Urology; Sorrells et al (2007); the brand new Danish study on sexual dysfunction in adults.

    But we need more data. It astounds me that even though about 100 million American and Canadian baby boys were routinely circumcised last century, there is not a single study, based on a random sample of North American cut and intact subjects and their spouses, seeking to determine whether circ status matters for premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, vaginismus, female orgasm, etc. We do have studies based on small self-selected samples of Australian and New Zealand women who have been intimate with both kinds of partners, and they are damning for circumcision. We badly need related studies based on larger stratified random samples of North American women.

  7. First I wish to applaud Ms Rosenberg's comment above.

    Brian Morris is a professor of virology at the University of Sydney's medical school. He is neither pediatrician nor urologist nor expert or human sexuality. I doubt he ever sees patients. Waskett is a British software engineer and computer geek.

    Advocates of circumcision believe that the letter by Morris and Waskett demolishes the conclusions Sorrells et al. All M&W did was to question the statistical methods employed in Sorrells et al. I believe that the data analysed in Sorrells et al (and mainly collected by Tina Kimmel) speak for themselves, without having to be fed to statistical software. Statistical methods mainly serve to warn us when our sample sizes are too small for the numerical findings to be reliable.

  8. I also love everything you've said, BI. And I hope to G*d that Haber and any reader who found him/herself nodding along with his original essay will read what you have written here. I just wanted to add another problem to the long list of problems with the HIV/circ connection: Even IF there is a 50% reduction in risk of contracting HIV (for the man--there has never been a "benefit" found for women, or with homosexual sex), the actual benefit would look something like this: (Now I am quoting a post by a friend who is proficient with statistics)

    "For 100 partners the risk difference is 0.01306% at the maximum effective potential. At the minimum (based on the collection of studies) the risk difference is 0.00312%, again for 100 partners. For 10 partners (a much more realistic estimate given the U.S. average is 7) the risk difference is 0.00131% and 0.00031% respectively.

    So even IF circumcision lowers the risk of contracting HIV in heterosexual female to male cases (which is what the studies say), the actual benefit to U.S. males is effectively zero."

  9. This was truly a pleasure to read. Your arguments are logically sound and address every angle of this important debate. It really is remarkable how many studies, statistics, facts, and arguments must be brought into this discussion when it really is common sense that cutting part of a baby's penis off is just wrong on so many levels. Shame on the anyone who forcefully cuts the genitals of children, and hopefully in the near future these people will be held accountable for their crimes and put in jail or worse.

  10. Excellent job. I wish every parent in the world considering circumcision would read what you've written here.

  11. Thanks for your efforts in addressing this issue. I feel sorry for Haber, but more so for the minds he's negatively influenced. I'm no longer able to argue with these people because its like explaining the colour of the sky to the colour blind. I commend your endurance and patience.