I got into a debate on circumcision recently and I thought I'd offer my thoughts on this touchy subject. I'm against forced circumcision of any kind, on both males and females, unless there is a clear medical necessity. I think it's child abuse and it should be illegal to circumcise anyone under the age of 16. I would support a law that enforced this and that made no religious or cultural exceptions. Here are some of the reasons why I'm against forced circumcision which I personally think should be a moral no-brainer.
I'm against forced circumcision because babies and young children do not have the capacity to consent to having a part of their genitalia cut off. They are the most vulnerable members of society and to force circumcision on them is to violate their right to bodily integrity.
I'm against forced circumcision because it removes sensitive nerve endings that are there for sexual sensation, and it dulls sexual pleasure. This can cause sexual dysfunction in men and make it harder to achieve an erection or have an orgasm. In women, female circumcision seeks to remove the ability to have an orgasm entirely, denying them nearly all sexual pleasure for the rest of their lives.
I'm against forced circumcision because it is often done in unhygienic conditions and where there is no anesthesia given to the baby or child. This has lead to many deaths and medical complications that have impaired the sexual abilities of those who've had it done sometimes for the rest of their lives.
I'm against forced circumcision because the claims that it prevents AIDs and other STDs have been overblown or outright lied about. As reported in Psychology Today, the studies claiming circumcision reduced risk of HIV infection "had many flaws, including that they were stopped before all the results came in. There have also been several studies that show that circumcision does not prevent HIV (Connolly 2008)." Additionally, "In the USA, during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 90s, about 85% of adult men were circumcised (much higher rates of circumcision than in Africa), and yet HIV still spread."
I'm against forced circumcision because of the psychological damage it can have on those who it's been done to. As reported in Psychology Today, the pain experienced during circumcision can alter the brain, making people "more sensitive to pain later in life (Taddio et al., 1997)."
For these and many other reasons I think forced circumcision is a human rights violation. If someone wants to have a circumcision voluntarily and they are at least 16, I have no problem with them getting circumcised. They must be made aware of what they're getting into and give consent and that means that babies and young children by definition will not be able to have this.
I definitely think that if it weren't for religion's influence on circumcision, the very idea of it would not be taken seriously and its obvious violation of human rights would be much more obvious. Imagine if no one had ever been circumcised and someone today just came up with the idea of forcing it on our infant boys or girls. We would think they're insane. But because the tradition goes back millennia and because it's rooted in the traditions of several religions, we somehow overlook how barbaric and immoral it is.
A natural question would be how I can consistently be against forced circumcision, and yet also be for the right for a woman to have an abortion. After all, the fetus doesn't consent to being aborted, right? Well I see a difference. First and most importantly, the fetus, I argue, is not an independent person; it is physically attached and dependent on the woman's body and cannot survive on its own. For that reason it is not an independent person deserving of the full shebang of human rights. A child who is born is a completely independent person deserving of bodily integrity. Second, fetuses in their early stages when 90 percent of abortions take place do not even have a fully formed brain and feel no pain. Third, an abortion terminates the life, which means the fetus doesn't have to live with and experience the abortion for years. That is not the case for circumcision, where the effects will have to be lived with for the rest of the person's life. That might mean 80 or 90 years of a person dealing with a mutilated sex organ and this can cause tremendous psychological damage. This causes suffering which abortion doesn't do. So I think one can consistently be against forced circumcision of children and support a women's right to an abortion as they are two different issues involving different factors.
I personally would not circumcise my son if I had one, and I'm not sure I could have a son with a woman who strongly disagreed with me on this. But I have no plans on having kids so this won't likely ever be an issue with me. But who knows?