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The Unkindest Cut? Gay Men vs. Male Circumcision

by Peter Cassels
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday May 31, 2011

In what will be a first for the nation, San Francisco voters will consider a controversial ballot measure to ban circumcision for males under the age of 18 in the November election.

Each violation would result in a $1,000 fine and there's no religious exemption.

If voters approve, a ban would certainly face court challenges from the city's large and politically powerful (Diane Feinstein, e.g.) Jewish community, not to mention Muslims. Both religions trace the practice to the biblical injunction God gave Abraham in the Book of Genesis and have been practicing infant circumcision as a religious rite for thousands of years.

Groups opposing the ban are already lining up against it, but supporters passionately assert that circumcision is medically unnecessary and nothing more than genital mutilation.

One only has to visit websites whenever the subject is discussed to see how many readers ardently condemn the practice. They have been doing so for years.

For most, the controversy has been under the radar until widespread news coverage of the San Francisco ballot measure. Santa Monica voters may consider a similar referendum in November 2012.

Because California is often the trendsetter in American culture, there may be similar moves to ban circumcision elsewhere, unless such efforts are quashed by court rulings that it's unconstitutional.

'Intactivists' State Their Case
"Intactivists," as those opposing circumcision call themselves, offer a litany of reasons why it's wrong.

They are men and women, gay and straight, who have formed organizations with members in all 50 states and some foreign countries. For several years, intactivist contingents have marched in gay pride parades in San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Vancouver, Canada.

Intactivists say circumcision traumatizes infants, sometimes results in their deaths, suppresses feelings in the penis and interferes with sexual pleasure and performance. They also point out that the vast majority (perhaps 85 percent) of males in other countries are uncut.

They dismiss out of hand contentions by the medical community that circumcision helps prevent STDs, as well as HIV.

An AIDS Preventative?
Medical experts beg to differ, however.

Studies in Africa, where most men are uncut and HIV is transmitted mostly through heterosexual sex, showed a 60 percent decrease in infection if they were circumcised. No similar research has been done among men who have sex with men.

Dr. Kenneth Mayer, medical research director at the Fenway Institute in Boston and professor of medicine and community health at Brown University, is an internationally known researcher who has studied HIV/AIDS since the early days of the epidemic. He believes that the foreskin can harbor cells containing HIV, which can then be transmitted to the urethra where microbes can cause infection.

"It is reasonable to assume that men who are exclusively tops and are uncircumcised have an increased risk of becoming infected through insertive anal intercourse," he explained in referring to gay sex. "If someone is a bottom, it does not seem relevant."

"I don't understand people wanting to ban circumcision when there are clearly health benefits," Mayer added. "It doesn't make sense and seems to be a little misguided," particularly in San Francisco, which has had so much experience with HIV/AIDS.

A Cultural Anachronism?
The intactivists argue forcibly against such health reasons. For many of them, the matter is personal. For many of them, it's as much a human-rights issue as female genital mutilation as practiced in many African nations.

Lloyd Schofield spearheaded the successful petition drive to get the circumcision ban on the San Francisco ballot. "No one is speaking up for men's rights," he contended. "That's why we are doing this."

He pointed out that no medical society in the world maintains a policy of recommending circumcision for health reasons. "In 1971 the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement that there's no medically valid reason for it," Schofield reported.

The U.S. "is really the odd man out," he continued. "In Europe, virtually no men are circumcised and no one has a problem with it. Even in Israel it is being questioned."

Schofield cited the book "Marked in Your Flesh" by cultural anthropologist Leonard Glick. It traces the practice of removing the foreskin to Greco-Roman times when Jews wanted to set themselves apart from other cultures. Glick is among those advocating an end to circumcision.

Cutting off the foreskin not only mutilates the penis, it also endangers the life of infants, Schofield maintained. Between 150 and 200 baby boys die each year in the U.S. from undergoing the surgery, but people are unaware because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn't have a proper reporting structure, he contended.

"What is reported is hemorrhage or shock," he explained. "It's never directly linked to circumcision on the death certificate. Parents sue and it's settled with secrecy agreements. It's horribly distressing for them."

Next: Desensitizing the Penis


  • bengi, 2011-05-30 08:11:24

    It didn’t hurt me

  • JPtheROBOT, 2011-05-30 11:15:08

    Didn’t hurt me either. Anti-circumcision folks have a ton of misinformation in their heads, not the least of which is the "destruction" of sexual tissue. In American circumcisions anyway (which are usually performed low and tight), the way the incision is made the penis essentially heals with the foreskin pulled back. The sexual tissue is still there, it’s only the outer skin that’s removed. These "inactivists" probably also think giving a child braces when they don’t want them (because they’re too young to see why they’re important) is some form of torture. At least kids with braces remember THAT pain.

  • , 2011-05-30 12:06:13

    It hurt me. My parents weren’t religious, but had me circumsized. It caused some nerve damage and I don’t have much feeling anywhere except the head and the bottom of my shaft. I usually can’t cum in any situation other than jacking myself off, and I need a perscription lotion so that I can cum without rubbing myself raw. That was a great thing to go through as a teen. Circumcision is an absolutely horrible practice to do to someone without their consent. It’s not even close to having braces... it’s like taking out all your permanent molars for no reason. If braces mess up your mouth, if can be fixed. If circumcision messed up your junk, it’s forever. That estimated 200 deaths is nothing to compare to the number that just get mutilated by the process. There are even cases where the penis was destroyed entirely.

  • , 2011-05-30 15:17:50

    Story has many inaccuracies. The author should have researched the issues further before reporting on this issue. The article claims circumcision helps to prevent HIV transmission in male to male encounters. The CDC released a US study last year which found there is no difference in HIV transmission rates in MTM (male to male) between intact men and circumcised men. The article also states no research has been done which is false. The author should have done a quick search on the CDC website and The article also states that the foreskin harbors HIV, which then transmits "microbes" to the urethra. HIV is a virus, not a microbe, and I have never heard of such a pathway described before in medical literature. Safe sex is the only way to prevent STD infection, notions that circumcision will keep one safe is sheer nonsense, and I’m shocked that the author and this site would suggest otherwise.

  • , 2011-05-30 15:28:42

    The headline for this article makes no sense. Are gay men somehow opposed to intact men, or is being gay and intact mutually exclusive? And how many more times must we endure the Shakespearian cliche of the "Unkindest Cut" when a circumcision story is published.

  • , 2011-05-30 16:27:44

    trading erogenous tissue for a potential decrease in disease should be up to the individual. It is a human rights violation to force this on anyone unable to consent. No physician would remove any other healthy part of the body. How it became acceptable in our country is bizarre. It has been forced on so many men, it is seen as normal, but the cut penis is anything but normal. Its mechanics are irreversably damaged. PE and ED are rampant in America, we should be ashamed. Physicians need to educate parents, not collect $$$$ cutting their children. Can you imagine trying to export circumcision to Russia or Italy? They’d say "get the f*** out of here"! And American doctors are pushing this on black Africans, just like our American infants, the most vulnerable victims!

  • , 2011-05-30 17:57:17

    So everyone knows, it’s not just gay men who are opposed to infant circumcision. There are plenty of us straight guys out there too. I think the difference is, straight guys are spread out across America, whereas many gay men transplanted themselves to San Francisco.

  • , 2011-05-30 18:57:54

    JPtheROBOT,doesn’t know anything about circumcision. Routine infant circumcision removes all of the foreskin. The only way some foreskin is retained is if the circumcision is a partial circumcision and is requested by the adult having it done. Further, as far as bengi and JPtheROBOT are concerned, they both seem psychologically hurt. Isn’t that why they’re in deep denial about having a damaged, less masculine sex organ.

  • , 2011-05-30 22:24:26

    Its not about you JPtheRobot or benji, its way beyond you. Does everything have to shoot from your hip? I suppose if murder didn’t bother you then it would be okay? What a couple of narcissists.

  • , 2011-05-30 23:35:19

    You boys may not remember it hurting but you’ll also never know what you’re missing out on either.

  • , 2011-05-31 00:53:46

    Wawer/Gray 2009: Circumcising Ugandan men made them 50% MORE likely to transmit deadly HIV to their female partners.

  • whatUneverknew, 2011-05-31 11:14:27

    This has NOTHING to do with possible or improbable medical benefits. I can show you how it would be beneficial to remove all of your teeth, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok for me to hold you down and take them. The issue is the individual’s right to refuse the amputation of a healthy body part. PERIOD.

  • , 2011-05-31 12:26:46

    I am sick of people posting that sexual pleasure before and after prepuce amputation is subjective blah blah blah. The issue is very clear. The parts cut off have stretch and touch sensors. One touches or is touched at these parts, one stretches or one is stretched at these parts and the result is pleasure. Remove the parts, the result is removal of pleasure from ones life for good. What is subjective? Circumcision removes the most sensitive part of a man’s penis. The five most sensitive areas of the penis are on the foreskin. The transitional region from the external to the internal foreskin is the most sensitive region of the fully intact penis, and more sensitive than the most sensitive region of the circumcised penis.

  • , 2011-05-31 14:28:45

    Can you cite a study that Ugandan men who get circumcised are more likely to transmit HIV? Because I think you’re lying.

  • eJohn, 2011-05-31 17:54:24

    I’ve endured a lifetime of discomfort, pain (physical and emotional), recurrent infections requiring massive and lengthy doses of antibiotics to cure, which have now caused life-long digestion issues ALL because of a (botched) "perfectly routine circumcision." Do NOT try to tell me it’s not a big deal. My penis should have been left alone so that *I* could decide what to do with it, not some quack doctor looking to pocket an extra fee at my expense.

  • , 2011-06-05 10:00:28


  • Roger Hausen Melo, 2011-06-11 09:02:44

    I am not circumcised and want to keep it that way. Circumcision is unnecessary unless you have a medical condition. It is nothing less than mutilation. Regarding the smell, it is just a matter of hygiene. I guess if you are born in a country where the majority of the male population is circumcised, there might not be anyone to teach you how to wash it properly :-/

  • , 2013-07-13 19:19:31

    International doctors’ organizations condemn the AAP’s stance on circumcision Since the anniversary of the AAP’s statement is coming soon (the AAP’s statement was made on August 27, 2012), it might be worth it to do a news story about the condemnation of the AAP’s statement on infant male circumcision by 38 doctors representing various international medical associations. This is groundbreaking and historic. Why? When was the last time you have heard of so many doctors and their organizations condemning another doctors’ organization? I am including a reference to the American Academy of Pediatrics own journal which presents the international condemnation of the AAP: Cultural Bias in the AAP’s 2012 Technical Report and Policy Statement on Male Circumcision

  • bengi, 2013-07-14 01:27:25

    It didnt hurt me and it feels and works just fine. I guess some guys aren’t as lucky as me. Besides I don’t like sucking on an uncut penis

  • , 2013-07-15 10:42:01

    "It didn’t hurt me," "it didn’t hurt me," "it didn’t hurt me." Why are you still trying to convince yourselves "it didn’t hurt me?" You have nothing with which to compare, so how do you know? If one of your eyes had been removed at birth, would you say the same thing? What if you had lost your penis? It has, does, and will happen again. Would that be "okay?" What about the boys who will die and/or live with varying damage of which they don’t approve? But in the end, its not about you, its about the bigger picture. Its like people who take LSD. If "it didn’t hurt me," then it must be okay for everyone. WRONG!

  • bengi, 2013-07-15 12:22:46

    Oh my goodness, which anonymous person are you? Are you a woman ranting about something that didn’t even affect you in any way? Can’t a man that has had this procedure done to them be allowed to comment on the effects it had on them without being crucified like I am talking for every man out there and saying its not going to hurt anyone? Who are you to ask "Why are you still trying to convince yourselves "it didn’t hurt me?" Yourselves?? Who are you trying to convince anything? Obviously the procedure hurt some men in one form or another but not all. I am one of the fortunate ones that it never effected in any form or fashion. PERSONALLY... I have seen and touched a few uncut penises and I am very thankful that mine was cut when I was a baby when apparently I was too young to even know it was being done to me. One more thing.... If you want to take LSD.. go for it. Its not going to affect me either way. Live your life the way you want and don’t try CONVINCING everyone else how to live theirs.

  • , 2013-07-20 21:15:15

    To Anonymous poster from 2011-05-31 14:28:45 Sorry that it is late in coming, but the reference that "Ugandan men who get circumcised are more likely to transmit HIV" is here: Wawer MJ, Makumbi F, Kigozi G, et al. Circumcision in HIV-infected men and its effect on HIV transmission to female partners in Rakai, Uganda: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2009;374(9685):229?37. You might try to do some research before you condemn people of lying! Brzlusa, proper hygiene includes waiting to retract the foreskin until it retracts naturally on its own. Furthermore, do not use harsh soaps or bubble bath. Mild soap and/or water will do the trick. When the foreskin becomes retractable in the teen years or adult years, it can be pulled back, washed, rinsed, and returned to its proper position.

  • , 2013-07-23 12:10:22

    No, bengi, I’m not trying to convince people of anyway to live their lives. Adults can do what they want, TO THEIR OWN BODIES. Get it? Leave the bodies of children alone until they are able to make their own decisions. If you had a whole penis, you wouldn’t want it any other way. Eighty five percent of men internationally are intact and they aren’t queuing up for mutilation. Its men like you who enable genital mutilation to go on because of your glib attitude, of which I’m glad to not be a part. You can’t stand that someone is raising the possibility that the scar on your dick is for nothing good. Its not telling you what you want to hear. The worst thing about genital mutilation is that is creates more genital mutilators. Your reaction is like those mutilated women in Egypt who defend FGM.

  • , 2013-07-27 17:48:56

    I like bengi’s comment: "Live your life the way you want and don’t try CONVINCING everyone else how to live theirs." I only wish that the doctors would have left my foreskin alone. Then I could "live my life the way I want."

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