Saturday, August 11, 2012

Genital integrity advocates: Can't we all just get along?

There have been a couple of recent blog entries that have brought increased awareness to a reality I've suspected for some time but have ignored. Many anti-FGM advocates are neutral to—or even openly hostile to—the campaign against male routine infant circumcision (RIC) and non-consensual male circumcision. Common sense would indicate that an individual against genital mutilation of one gender would be against genital mutilation of the other gender.

This topic has fostered the ire of others in the I2 community resulting in a number of discussions on Twitter. Maria of Barrel of Oranges upstages my blog post here with a compelling and comprehensive post in her blog Circumcision: Human Rights Make no Anatomical Distinctions and the guest post in Martin S. Pribble's blog Circumcision: Human Rights Make No Anatomical Distinctions – By Maria Bangs.

The subject of people who are anti-FGM but who are indifferent to or support MGM has been a source of frustration to me for some time. Recently, the blog entry Male Circumcission [sic] and HIV/AIDS by ExquisiteLady opened the door for me to discuss this issue. I learned of ExquisiteLady through retweets of @NoFGM1 on Twitter. I have her blog in my RSS reader. She highlights many of the struggles that African women face as well as important issues relevant to women in general including child abuse, rape, depression, HIV, and FGM. Another blog post, Male circumcision and FGM are not equivalent from Margaret Nelson covers similar territory.

Misperceptions and Myths

It cannot be taken for granted that just because someone is knowledgeable regarding a human rights issue affecting one gender that he is knowledgeable about the human rights issues facing the other gender. Many anti-FGM folks seems to suffer from the same misperceptions and myths that those in favor of male circumcision suffer from. These myths and misperceptions include:

  • The foreskin is merely a flap of skin
  • The foreskin is merely a "foreskin" and nothing more
  • The foreskin has no function
  • The foreskin does not affect sexual pleasure for men (or women)
  • Those who have been circumcised suffer no negative physiological or emotional effects
  • Circumcision has health benefits
  • Circumcised men are able to fully enjoy sex and masturbation

All of the above statements are false.

It is quite shocking to me that many anti-FGM advocates claim health benefits for male circumcision while, in the same breath, reiterating that FGM has no health benefits! There is medical "evidence" for health benefits for FGM that revolves mainly around claims of hygiene and bacteria (e.g. UTIs, STDs, etc.) reduction. These claims are similar to the "evidence" used to defend male circumcision on medical grounds. Medical benefits to genital cutting are irrelevant: these are human rights issues.

FGM and MGM are the Same Issue

Statements have been made that FGM and MGM are fundamentally different issues. For someone without adequate information or perspective, I suppose this is an understandable viewpoint. This viewpoint is incorrect, however.

Men are circumcised for reasons of culture, hygiene, health, religion, ego (father won't admit he was wronged so commit wrong on son), and to control sexuality. These are exactly the same reasons why FGM is performed. This point is made crystal clear by the web page Similarities in Attitudes and Misconceptions toward Infant Male Circumcision in North America and Ritual Female Genital Mutilation in Africa. Kudos to the FGM Network for not trivializing MGM.

Men are victims of forced circumcision both as infants (in countries like the USA) and as adults (in Africa). This is similar to non-consensual FGM. Eighty-five percent of FGM victims suffer from Type I/II types (see Female genital mutilation on Wikipedia). In countries such as Egypt, the FGM is often performed in a hospital setting such as is done with MGM in the US. I have no interest in trivializing FGM: my statements are to illustrate the similarities between these two evils.

Anti-FGM advocates have claimed that men can have normal, healthy sex lives even after circumcision while FGM robs women of all sexual pleasure. Many FGM victims can still experience sexual pleasure—including orgasm—just as MGM victims do.

Many women defend FGM just as many men defend MGM. This isn't a simple issue of men oppressing women or women oppressing men. Religion, culture, shame, and tradition all have influence on the desire to cut the genitals of one's children.

The following list enumerates a number of blog entries and news articles that back up my claims made here and provide additional information:

Cultural Oppression and Severity

There is no doubt that there are many forms of FGM (e.g. infibulation) that, along with surrounding cultural practices, are worse than male circumcision. Cultural practices that control women's sexuality, cause permanent harm and disfiguration of genitals, and result in disease have no place in a modern society. This vile treatment of women needs to stop.

A difference of severity in some forms of FGM is not a reason to trivialize MGM. If one is consistent and logical, being neutral to MGM requires accepting that some forms of FGM are OK as well. Anti-FGM and anti-MGM advocates are both campaigning for dignity of the innocent and for human rights. Renewed interest in the bogus and discredited health benefits of male circumcision (particularly with regards to its use as a "surgical vaccine" in the fight against HIV) has re-invigorated an interest in FGM for the same purpose. The male circumcision campaign in Africa has backfired and has resulted in the increased rate of infection among women and men in areas with high rates of HIV.


As long as male circumcision is considered a "valid" medical procedure, FGM will continue. Anti-MGM advocates or "I2 Advocates" are universally against FGM. It is time for anti-FGM advocates to stand in solidarity with us to fight this scourge on human civilization together.


  1. Great post! Imagine if everyone against FGM joined forces with all those against BOTH FGM & MGM. We'd have an army. Imagine if we spent more time talking about how they are similar rather than discussing how they are different?

  2. Thank you for pointing me to your blog and mentioning my blog( you for filling in the gaps. You are a great blogger and together we can make a difference in the lives of those without a voice

  3. Just spotted this post and am not sure how I missed it originally. Great stuff! Thanks for saying exactly what a lot of us in the intactivist community are also feeling. I said much the same to Abigail Haworth recently following her article in the Observer: and was fobbed off by her. I also noted that the entirely reasonable and innocuous comparison of FGM and MGM by Ronald Goldman in response to her article was removed by moderators. (I still have a copy saved before it was removed). The message seems to be that men are second class citizens where the fight against forced genital mutilation is concerned.