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about NOHARMM and Circumcision
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How does NOHARMM differ from organizations like NOCIRC and NORM?
As a men's organization, does that mean NOHARMM doesn't welcome women's participation?
Isn't NOHARMM's terminology a little harsh (genital cutting, mutilation, intact, etc.)?
Circumcision is thousands of years old and hasnt seemed to have harmed people like the Jews and Moslems. Are you saying theyre damaged?
Why does NOHARMM focus only on male genital cutting? Doesn't it care about female genital cutting?
What do you mean the U.S. is the "largest offender"?
Circumcision is like immunization, isn't it?
Don't most people prefer circumcised partners?
Childbirth is painful, why can't men take a little pain from circumcision?
Isn't losing a foreskin pretty trivial compared to what they do to girls in Africa?
Arent you trying to piggyback on the FGC issue?
Why do some people say that male and female genital cutting shouldn't be discussed together?
What have FGC opponents stated publicly about male genital cutting?
If circumcision is so bad, why don't men speak out about it?
How did circumcision start in the first place?
If NOHARMM is for children's rights, where does it stand on abortion?
What about parental rights and peoples religious freedoms?
Why does circumcision persist in the U.S.?
Who supports circumcision?
How can I help?
1. How does NOHARMM differ from organizations like NOCIRC and NORM?
NOCIRC is a general information clearinghouse on all aspects of issues related to genital cutting of male and females. NORM provides moral support and technical assistance to men seeking foreskin restoration. NOHARMM is a mens organization promoting research into adverse outcomes to mens health from circumcision; education to and activism by men on this issue; as well as litigation to advance human rights. back to FAQ list
2. As a men's organization, does that mean NOHARMM doesn't welcome womens participation?
We welcome participation by everyone. We realize, however, that the denial of the abuse caused by circumcision has lead many non-intact (circumcised) men to actively support the practice, or at the very least, to remain silent about its harm. These acts of complicity by men themselves are a major barrier to breaking the cycle of genital cutting perpetuated onto our sons. NOHARMM encourages men to speak out for the rights of children to physical integrity and self-determination. back to FAQ list
3. Isn't NOHARMMs terminology a little harsh (genital cutting, mutilation, intact, etc.)?
Much of the language our culture uses to describe this practice is cloaked in euphemisms. Its a "benign" procedure; it's offered as a "service" to parents; it only involves "a little snip" of "extra skin" that "doesnt hurt" and "isnt remembered"; and it has "no effect" on a males life. An intellectually honest discussion of this issue acknowledges anatomical reality, recognizes that infant circumcision offers no significant compensating benefits for the loss of the functional prepuce, and validates the experiences of children, as well as the damage endured by the men they become.
"Circumcision" is a euphemism that often betrays the reality of its effects. In societies that impose it on boys and girls, however, "circumcision" is commonly used in the vernacular of that culture. Women and men living in circumcising cultures refer to themselves as "circumcised," not "mutilated." While "mutilation" is the technically correct term used outside the circumcising culture, it creates resistance within the culture to the change proposed by abolitionists. "Genital cutting" is a reasonable term that does not hide behind euphemisms, yet is still technically correct and keeps the channels of dialogue open.
Men and women who are not circumcised are intact - not "uncircumcised." "Uncircumcised" suggests that they should be circumcised. Do we call those who have not been subjected to tonsillectomy, appendectomy, mastectomy or sterilization: "untonsillectomized," "unappendectomized," "unmastectomized" or "unsterilized" ? The opposite of intact is non-intact. Increasingly, men who are regaining their genital integrity through foreskin restoration are referring to themselves as "uncircumcised" to indicate that they are reversing the negative effects of circumcision. back to FAQ list
4. Circumcision is thousands of years old and hasnt seemed to have harmed people like the Jews and Moslems. Are you saying theyre damaged?
All individuals, regardless of gender, race or religion, who have had genital cutting imposed upon them as unconsenting children bear various degrees of physical, sexual or psychological wounding. In the movement to protect male children from this, there are many Jews, Moslems, Africans and others from circumcising cultures who can attest to the harm this practice has inflicted on them. Strong family, religious, and cultural influences have, until recently, reinforced denial of these consequences and made it taboo for men to talk openly about their harm. Consequently, the long-term consequences to men of infant circumcision have never been scientifically studied. The human ability to adapt to and cope with this wounding or to remain silent under these pressures varies among individuals, but does not justify the wounding. back to FAQ list
5. Why does NOHARMM focus only on male genital cutting? Doesn't it care about female genital cutting?
NOHARMM stands in solidarity with women in the struggle against female genital cutting. In the U.S., however, these traditional practices cannot be accurately recorded because of their low numbers, yet there are at least a half dozen U.S. organizations devoted exclusively to its eradication. One organization, NOCIRC, works to eradicate both male and female genital cutting. Because the United States is the largest offender in the world when it comes to genital cutting of males, NOHARMM became the first organization in the world to work exclusively to defend the rights of the male child to physical integrity and self-determination. back to FAQ list
6. What do you mean the U.S. is the "largest offender"?
Over 75% of the worlds males are genitally intact. infant circumcision rates in other medically advanced nations are: Canada (<20%), Australia (<10%), Britain and the rest of Europe, Central/South America and Asia (<1%). The U.S. is the last developed nation in the world to circumcise the majority of its newborn males for non-religious, non-medical reasons. The U.S. national average rate of newborn circumcision is 60%. Thats more than 1.25 million babies subjected each year to genital cutting; over 3,300 children per day; one baby every 26 seconds. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (1994), the rate is lowest in the Western U.S. (<34%) and highest in the Midwest (>80%, with some hospitals exceeding 95%). back to FAQ list
7. Circumcision is like immunization, isn't it?
No. Immunization involves injections. Circumcision is surgery, which results in the permanent loss of a healthy, functional body part and has long-term physical, sexual and psychological consequences that have yet to be studied. Unlike immunization, which affects children of both genders, circumcision usually targets one gender and is rooted in cultural custom, religion and social myths. With the exception of some African cultures, where both boys and girls are circumcised, the custom of circumcision is imposed only on male children, as in the United States. Many medical associations recommend immunization, but no national medical association in the world recommends infant circumcision. See: Vaccination and Infant Circumcision are Not Comparable
back to FAQ list
8. Don't most people prefer circumcised partners?
Infant circumcision is not a question of what "most people" prefer, since they are not the ones having their sexual organs cut. Altering, or promoting the alteration of, someone else's body without their consent simply to suit another person's sexual preferences is not only incredibly selfish, it's technically criminal assault.
9. Childbirth is painful, why can't men take a little pain from circumcision?
This is not a valid comparison, for numerous reasons. Birth is essential to life, circumcision is not. While birth is an unavoidable natural physiological process, circumcision is an avoidable man-made custom. For women, the question of giving birth, or not, is a conscious choice, while children have no choice in being circumcised. Also, a baby's experience of pain during birth is not a valid excuse for subjecting him to more pain from circumcision. While adult women prepare for and transcend the pain of birth, science has learned that trauma and pain to babies have negative lifelong consequences, which is why it should be minimized. Clearly, the pain of being born does not discriminate on the basis of gender, but in our culture, only boys are subjected to the pain of circumcision. Finally, this is not an issue of circumcising men. We are subjecting innocent babies to painful genital alteration.
10. Isn't losing a foreskin pretty trivial compared to what they do to girls in Africa?
Genital mutilation is not an issue of severity, its one of sovereignty. If eradication of FGM were based solely on the notion that it harms health, one would expect womens leaders to support a reduced form of cutting, comparable to male foreskin amputation, under hygienic and anesthetized medical conditions. That they are virtually unanimous in their opposition to even a "nicking" of the female foreskin indicates that the issue goes beyond severity and is one of sovereignty. Genital cutting of healthy unconsenting individuals fundamentally violates individual autonomy. In both forms of circumcision, adults usurp the child's right of choice before the child has any knowledge or ability to exercise sovereignty over her/his reproductive organs.
Those who dismiss the importance of the prepuce (foreskin) are unaware that male and female genitals evolve from the same embryologic tissue and share more anatomical similarities than differences. The prepuce is the most densely nerve-laden part of the penis with specialized anatomical structure and functions that serve a male throughout his life. The prepuce, while small in a baby, accounts for about 50% of an adult males penile skin, approximately 15 square inches of erogenous tissue.
Although male genital cutting often exists in areas without female genital cutting, we know that wherever female genitals are cut, male children are also genitally cut. Its perverse to excuse one cruelty by invoking a worse one. The genitals of both sexes should be left intact without encouraging a "dreadfulness competition" between assaults on little girls or boys. back to FAQ list
11. Arent you trying to piggyback on the FGC issue?
Not at all. Cutting the genitals of males and females is imposed almost exclusively on defenseless children. Cultural and gender influences that surround genital cutting may differ, yet the undeniable common denominators make this a question of principle when the bodies and rights of children are being violated, regardless of whether the victim is a boy or a girl. There are many similarities in attitudes held by those in circumcising cultures. Circumcision advocates resort to trivialization of these customs and irrational defenses. Many women who oppose cutting the genitals of girls understand how cutting boysgenitals is a feminist issue. Circumcision of boys has also been addressed by feminists in the media. back to FAQ list
12. Why do some people say that male and female genital cutting shouldn't be discussed together?
In reality, these issues are two sides of the same coin. Many African and Western opponents of FGC privately agree that MGC should also be eradicated.
The political situation of women in Africa, however, makes it difficult for them to even speak out against FGC. They indicate that their struggle would be hampered by also publicly opposing genital mutilation of male children. Some believe that challenging tribal male circumcisions might cause potential male allies (in the fight against FGC) to become defensive about their own circumcised condition, thereby diminishing critical male support. Many believe that opposition to MGC must come from African men themselves. We agree, and NOHARMM is ready to support men in those cultures seeking to protect the genital integrity of their sons as well as their daughters.
In Western societies, however, where MGC is present and where women enjoy greater freedom and power, there is no valid reason for them to remain silent about the need to protect the genital integrity of all children, including boys. back to FAQ list
13. What have FGC opponents stated publicly about male genital cutting?
Shamis Dirir (Coordinator, London Black Womens Health Action Project, interviewed in NOHARMM Health & Human Rights Advocate/July, 1997 - full interview)
" (B)oth male and female circumcisions raise the same human rights questions. Our mutual fight is against ignorance. People like us, those who have the pain, are the best fighters, because we know the pain of circumcision. What happened to you, you cant change it, but you can help to stop it from happening to other children."
Fran Hosken (Founder, Womens International Network, quoted in Circumcision: Medical or Human Rights Issue? in Journal of Nurse-Midwifery, 37 (March/April 1992) pp. 87S-96S:
"Human rights are indivisible, they apply to every society and culture and every continent. We cannot differentiate between black and white, rich and poor, or between male and female, if the concept of human rights is to mean anything at all."
Hanny Lightfoot-Klein (Author, Prisoners of Ritual: An Odyssey into Female Genital Circumcision in Africa) on p.193 of her book: [ order ]
"The reasons given for female circumcision in Africa and for routine male circumcision in the U.S. are essentially the same. Both falsely tout the positive health benefits of the procedures. Both promise cleanliness and the absence of "bad" genital odors, as well as greater attractiveness and acceptability of the sex organs. The affected individuals in both cultures have come to view these procedures as something that was done for them and not to them."
[She has also stated to NOHARMM that "Childhood genital mutilations are anachronistic rituals inflicted on the helpless bodies of non-consenting children of both sexes."]
Soraya Mire (Somali filmmaker, Fire Eyes) in her endorsement of the video Whose Body, Whose Rights?
"The painful cries of little boys being circumcised remind me of my own painful experience of female genital mutilation. It is the norm in my culture to mutilate girls, as it is in the U.S. for boys. It really terrifies me to know this. Hopefully this film will educate Americans about the harmful effects of male genital mutilation."
Gloria Steinem (Introductory remarks to panel discussion of FGM, part of the "About Women" series held by the 92nd Street Young Women & Mens Hebrew Association, New York City, 6 October 1997)
"I would like to remind us that we all share patriarchy, which is the pillar of almost every current political system, capitalist or socialist. And it has a rock bottom requirement, the control of womens bodies as the most basic means of production, the means of reproduction. This control is used to determine how many workers a family, group or nation has and who owns children These patriarchal controls limit mens sexuality too, but to a much, much lesser degree. Thats why men are asked symbolically to submit the sexual part of themselves and their sons to patriarchal authority, which seems to be the origin of male circumcision, a practice that, even as advocates admit, is medically unnecessary 90% of the time. Speaking for myself, I stand with many brothers in eliminating that practice too."
"...Yes, there is a difference in degree that we experience in our different patriarchal cultures, and also in suffering, but not in the kind of social control and not in its purpose."
"...There is even a similar religious justification for this control in all of our countries."
"...Let us together see what we can do to preserve the wholeness of our bodies, and our minds, and our emotions."
Nahid Toubia, M.D. (Sudanese physician, in FGM and Responsibility of Reproductive Health Professionals - Intl Journal Gynecology & Obstetrics, 46 (1994) pp. 127-135:
"The unnecessary removal of a functioning body organ in the name of tradition, custom or any other non-disease related cause should never be acceptable to the health profession. All childhood circumcisions are violations of human rights and a breach of the fundamental code of medical ethics. It is the moral duty of educated professionals to protect the health and rights of those with little or no social power to protect themselves." Additional Toubia excerpts relevant to male genital mutilation.
Alice Walker (Author, Possessing the Secret of Joy, and filmmaker, Warrior Marks) on "Talk of the Nation" National Public Radio, 11/9/93:
"I think it (male circumcision) is a mutilation. In working with FGM we often find that the battle is such an uphill one that we hope that the men who are working on this issue of male circumcision will carry that." And latter in the interview: "In all of it we have to try to think about what is being done from the point of view of the person to whom it is happening, namely the children." back to FAQ list
14. If circumcision is so bad, why don't men speak out about it?
They do! Under current cultural conditions, however, most non-intact men still remain ignorant about the important functions of the prepuce and are enculturated to believe that circumcision is beneficial. Many dont yet know how to identify their harm, while others believe that such effects are "normal" or a "birth defect". Still others deny that they were harmed at all. Until now, many non-intact men who were aware of being harmed felt that no recourse was available to them, or were embarrassed or feared ridicule.
Things are changing. Read the Synopsis of Awakenings, our preliminary poll of over 600 circumcised men about the physical, sexual and psychological consequences of this genital alteration they did not choose. back to FAQ list
15. How did circumcision start in the first place?
Lengthy but worthwhile scholarly articles on the anti-sexual origins and history of human genital mutilation are found in James DeMeo's The Geography of Genital Mutilation, James W. Prescott's Genital Pain vs. Genital Pleasure, and Karen Ericksen Paige's The Ritual of Circumcision.
Many people believe that circumcision began with the Jews as a hygienic ritual. This is not correct. This belief results from us projecting a 20th Century rationale (hygiene) onto an ancient sacrificial blood ritual. Cultural anthropologists generally agree that genital sacrifice evolved from earlier rituals of child sacrifice of the first born, which was a common among some cultures as a way to appease their God and to gain His favor (a male-imaged god).
Circumcision is a pre-Judaic rite. The earliest recorded instances of male and female circumcision are among the Egyptians. To this day, modern Egyptians still circumcise boys and girls. When Jews adopted circumcision "as a sign of a Covenant between God and His Chosen People," hygiene was never mentioned. What is mentioned is a "land deal." In return for cutting the genitals of their babies and spilling infants blood, Jews are promised by God (Genesis 17): "I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land you are living in, the whole land of Canaan, to own in perpetuity." The true intent, however, of this sacrificial blood ritual is either to spiritually purify males or to cement patriarchal tribal loyalty, or both.
While Jews did not invent circumcision, they did invent foreskin restoration. The earliest records of restoration are among Jewish males of the Hellenic era. The original Jewish circumcision (bris millah) only circumcised (literally, "to cut around") the tip of the foreskin, leaving most of the foreskin intact. This was enough, however, to expose the penile head (glans), which was frowned upon in Hellenic culture, much the way some people today are offended by public exposure of womens breasts. In an effort to not offend the surrounding culture during nude sporting events or in public bathhouses, Jewish men kept their foreskin remnant stretched over the glans, eventually re-covering it. [Many circumcised men today use this method to regain their genital integrity. The process, called epispasm, is today a medically recognized technique (on other body parts at least) to grow new skin.] In 140 A.D., however, rabbis became aware of this "obliteration of the covenant" and instituted a radical procedure that stripped away the entire foreskin from infants, making any attempt at adult restoration exceedingly difficult. This drastic removal of the entire foreskin cannot truthfully be called circumcision. What most Jews practice today, and what became the model for "circumcision" in America, is actually radical posthectomy [posthe=Greek for foreskin + ectomy=to cut off or out].
While male and female genital mutilations in tribal cultures are associated with puberty or pre-marriage rituals, circumcision in Western English-speaking countries began only 100 years ago as an anti-sexual Victorian attempt to prevent or cure masturbation. Masturbation was erroneously believed by the public and physicians to cause a wide array of mental and physical ills. Circumcision was carried out on boys and girls. Intact males of the time knew instinctively, though not scientifically, that the gliding mechanism of the nerve-laden foreskin during intercourse and masturbation is highly pleasurable. They naively believed that amputating the sensual gliding mechanism of the foreskin would make it impossible for boys to masturbate. As the U.S. custom of circumcising boys grew, so did all the medical myths with which North American culture still struggles.
A more detailed history of ancient and modern circumcision is discussed in the scholarly book, The Joy of Uncircumcising! by Jim Bigelow, PhD. It also discusses the methods and rationale for foreskin restoration. [order] back to FAQ list
16. If NOHARMM is for children's rights, where does it stand on abortion?
Circumcision cannot be compared to abortion. Every person is endowed with basic rights that are recognized under international human rights treaties, simply by virtue of their birth. ["All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." Article 1 - Universal Declaration of Human Rights] Under these treaties, the "rights" of an unborn fetus are not addressed.
From a practical standpoint, abortion ends a life that will never be born, or grow up with a sense of consciousness or become autonomous. In circumcision, an adult permanently alters the genitals of a child who will grow up, develop a sense of body image, and become an autonomous decision-maker. The circumcised individual will have to live with the physical, sexual and psychological consequences of someone else's decision over his/her body.
While there is a wide range of personal opinion on abortion within the genital integrity movement, neither NOHARMM nor any affiliate organizations take any official position on abortion. back to FAQ list
17. What about parental rights and peoples religious freedoms?
Some people claim parents have to make a lot of difficult decisions that are painful or that children may not like, such as making kids eat vegetables, limiting TV habits, what school to go to, immunizations, etc. None of these can be compared to permanent surgical alteration of a childs genitals. Every individual is born with inherent human rights to physical integrity and self-determination, as well as other rights outlined in numerous human rights treaties signed by almost every nation in the world. Rights and freedoms of one individual are protected only insofar as they do not harm or infringe on the rights of another, including our own children. ["In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others..." Article 29.3 - Universal Declaration of Human Rights]
When the genital cutting is done in the name of religion, it is the parent's religion which motivates the procedure and not the religion of the person whose genitals are being surgically altered. Children bear their own right to freedom of religion, independent of the wishes of their parents or guardians. Children subjected to mutilation or scarification as a religious marker have not asked for or consented to the procedure. A parent's consent is therefore clearly insufficient. Moreover, it is precisely in the interest of preserving freedom of religion that ritual infant or childhood genital mutilations of either gender should not be performed.
For a further overview, we suggest you read some of the articles under the Legal, Constitutional and Human Rights Library of our Litigation Program, beginning with Ted Pongs concise essay, Circumcision: A Critical Issue of Human Rights. back to FAQ list
18. Why does circumcision persist in the U.S.?
Genital cutting of male children in the U.S. persists because its a social custom. The custom is reinforced by medical myths based on junk science; widespread sexual ignorance, silently complicit circumcised men; disempowered mothers; the financial motivations of doctors, hospitals, and health insurers; the refusal of government officials to act on behalf of children for fear of offending parents and religious minorities; and a power structure populated by men and women with irrational attachments to the practice of circumcision. For a deeper look at these factors, read the excerpts from Easy Questions/Hard Answers: Circumcision in American Society in Ann Briggs book, "Circumcision: What Every Parent Should Know." back to FAQ list
19. Who supports circumcision?
Its rare for intact men or women to support the removal of healthy functioning sexual tissue from an unconsenting child. Those who do usually have something to gain from it (e.g., respect for "upholding" tradition, support for "political correctness/culturally sensitivity," justification for what was done to them or what they did to their children, support for what they personally find sexually attractive, or, in the case of doctors and religious circumcisers, financial gain). The most ardent supporters of genital mutilation are men and women who are circumcised, trapped in a cycle of abuse handed down to them, which they perpetuate onto their children. In cultures that circumcise females, the males are also circumcised. The blindness of these men to their own mutilation can be an impediment to having any compassion for the mutilation of their daughters. Not all circumcised men and women, however, support genital cutting customs. Increasing numbers of non-intact men and women are learning the functions of natural male/female genitals and how their human rights were violated. We are speaking out! back to FAQ list
20. How can I help?
Join us! Take action to secure childrens inherent human rights to their physical integrity and self-determination. Ideas for activism are listed under our Advocacy program. back to FAQ list
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