Beaker Bitch-Snip It Good: U.S. Mulls Making Circumcisions Routine

This isn't a post about women specifically, but it is about an item some women care a great deal about: penises. The U.S. government's Center for Disease Control (CDC) is considering promoting routine circumcision of all American males. They hope cutting off men's foreskins will also cut their risk of transmitting HIV/AIDS. But the CDC's study shows that circumcision does not reduce HIV transmission among the group most at risk in the U.S.: gay males.
10223.jpgWhoa baby!

Almost 80 percent of American males are circumcised already and many consider circumcision a routine surgery for cultural reasons as well as to reduce the risk of infection. But some people, especially some men who had no say in the matter, push back against the norm.

Obviously, anything that science can do to stem the AIDS epidemic is a welcome discovery. But it's not clear at all that recommending all American males get circumcised would have a significant impact on HIV in America. Groundbreaking studies showed that in Africa, circumcision could reduce transmission of HIV up to 50 percent. But those studies focused on heterosexual sex. The CDC found that the HIV transmission rate among American gay men was the same regardless of whether or not they possessed a foreskin. It looks like circumcision doesn't provide the same protection against AIDS during anal sex as it does during vaginal.

Personally, I find it troubling to promote a surgical procedure on millions of people without their consent (even if they're too young to do anything more than pee and gurgle) without some solid stats proving it could save their lives later on. It's bunk to recommend circumcising all men based on research showing it may only benefit the straights.

by Sarah Mirk
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Sarah Mirk is the former host of Bitch Media’s podcast Popaganda. She’s interested in gender, history, comics, and talking to strangers. You can follow her on Twitter

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17 Comments Have Been Posted

Umm, what about the fact

Umm, what about the fact that baby boys are getting their genitals sliced with no anesthetic? Just because they're too young to do anything more than pee and gurgle doesn't mean it's not incredibly painful.

I don't know from what

I don't know from what standpoint you are coming from or where you are getting your information, but I worked on a maternity floor and saw several circ's and they do get a local anesthetic. Maybe this isn't standard procedure or something, I don't know, but I never saw a circ that didn't get an injection of numbing agent that also made them very sleepy. The injection was actually the only part where they cried. I don't really have a position on it strongly one way or the other. Not being equipped with a penis I don't know everything about it, but my husband has told me from a personal standpoint and as a physician that he is glad that he was circ'd and would want the same if we ever had a male child. I don't know about the effect on HIV/AIDs, but he said that circumcision virtually eliminates the risk of penile cancer completely. Whether the CDC should make it a guideline or not...does it really matter? People will still have the choice not to follow it just like vaccinations or whatever else they recommend.

keep it real

my mom is a labor and delivery nurse, and mentioned that certain physicians she works with are no longer allowed to perform circumcisions because they've made enough mistakes. that, coupled with the fact that I have heard no real medical reason for snipping, is why I am pro-keeping-it-real. but, I told my husband he has the final say since he is more familiar with the equipment. he's done enough research to also be in the keep-it-real camp.

in terms of AIDS ... I would also teach my son to have safe sex, so I would hope he'd be smart enough to wear a condom unless he was in a committed relationship and they both knew they were disease-free.


Um... has anyone told these people about condoms? Do we NEED to go the stupid way around this? Circumcision MAY reduce your risk by 50% (if you only engage in vaginal sex)... OR, you could teach that boy to put a condom on it, reduce the risk of all other STIs, and the risk of pregnancy. And nobody had to have surgery!

As a friend pointed out when we had this discussion on Facebook, let's all get preventative double-mastectomies! It'll reduce your risk of getting breast cancer by 100%!!!

Bodily autonomy

I mainly take issue with the idea of the government having the ability to decide what goes into, remains in, or in this case, is removed from my body. Just as I have a problem with any anti-choice or anti-drug legislation, I have a huge issue with forcing my son to get circumcised as a baby. I have friends who were uncut until they were adults, and they made the choice to either remain uncut or to get cut. That's the way I'd prefer it to be.

Regardless of whether or not it is under the guise of public safety, I take issue with the government dictating what happens with anyone's body.


Sorry, I completely missed that it was only a GUIDELINE!!

Much of it still holds true, though, and it does open up a slippery slope in my mind. (Even if it's true, man, do I hate that phrase!)

The Group Most at Risk in the US?

I know the post is about penises, but consider this from

"During the 1990s, the epidemic shifted steadily toward a growing proportion of AIDS cases among black people and Hispanics and in women, and toward a decreasing proportion in MSM (men who have sex with men), although this group remains the largest single exposure group. Black people and Hispanics have been disproportionately affected since the early years of the epidemic. In absolute numbers, blacks have outnumbered whites in new AIDS diagnoses and deaths since 1996, and in the number of people living with AIDS since 1998."

Note also that group most at risk of contracting AIDS--black men--cite their exposure as a result of intravenous drug use. While the margin of error on those stats might be worth considering, it's important to note that when thinking about preventing future cases of AIDS, baby white boys who might grow up to be queer white men aren't really the demographic most at risk. That is to say, we should be talking about women, specifically women of color.


It seems that late last night I suggested that black men spoke up as a single, homogenous, collective body and declared that affliction with HIV/AIDS was related to drug use, not sex. That's quite wrong. What I meant to write was that the *majority* of black men diagnosed with AIDS related illnesses cite intravenous drug use as the point of exposure, according to

While I'm here, I might as well say also that the margin of error might be worth considering because recent scholarship on the Down Low scene suggests that covert same-sex relations are more prevalent than most stats can possibly represent. It's not scholarship per se, but here's a (problematic?) article from NYT for anyone interested:

Sorry for the mistake!


Another thing not really mentioned here is how everyone goes apeshit over female circumcision. "SO barbaric!" people screech--oh wait, just like male circumcision. And they're both fucked up for all the same reasons. But I digress; the main thing I wanted to say was this-- for anyone who's interested, check out It's a great resource, super informative (and there's a really terrifying video of an actual circumcision, not for the faint of heart, complete with unparalleled, blood-curdling baby screams).

c'mon now. I am completely

c'mon now. I am completely anti-male circumcision, but I do not believe it's effects are anywhere near as detrimental as FGM. Let's talk about how they both unnecessarily alter a person's genitals, stripping the agency of the male and female children. But saying they're the exact same thing? I don't think so. Reduced pleasure =/= NO pleasure. Foreskin removal =/= being sewn up.

More on the "turtle dick"

Yes, there are people who actually refer to the uncircumcised penis that way. Moving on.

Another issue to consider in the snip or not to snip debate is that removing the foreskin from the penis leaves the glans (head) exposed to more day to day friction, the end result being that the nerves become less sensitive (aka, contact is potentially less pleasurable during sex). I can't help but feel that if that fact were advertised a bit more, uncircumcised penises would see a rise in popularity.

Oftentimes people say that they worry about uncircumcised penises for health reasons, but I don't quite buy it. If we aren't worried about a woman's capability to urinate after sex to help prevent UTI's, or to wash her vulva, why are we hung up about a man's ability to maintain personal hygiene and wash his own penis (foreskin and all)? It's not that difficult. Personally, I think most men are circumcised for aesthetic purposes. People are so used to the appearance of the circumcised penis, that the unaltered version is seen as confusing, strange, or maybe even disgusting. It's another case of the non-normative being rendered unattractive.

With great foreskin comes great responsibility

The few men I have, er, encountered who are uncircumcised did not realize (or did not care) that it requires somewhat more maintenance in the hygiene department than a circumcised penis. To avoid being vulgar, I will not go into details, but the fact remains that a circumcised penis stays cleaner, which can prevent inflammation and infection beyond STDs. Additionally, irrespective of gender, no one wants to put a bacteria ridden penis into any body orifice. To compare this to female "circumcision" is beyond ignorant. As one poster above notes, it's not "circumcision" when it is performed on women, it's genital mutilation, serving no purpose but to deprive women of sexual pleasure.

My fiance ins't circumcised

My fiance ins't circumcised (only because he was a month premature), and I plan on having lotsa babies with him and I will NOT be circumcising my boys (if I have any, which I hope I do!). If they want to be circumcised later on in life, fine. That's their choice. I've heard of hospitals circumcising baby boys without their parents' permission. I would be beyond livid if they did that to my kid. I just don't think it's something that should be forced upon a boy. And I will be teaching my boys to wait until marriage to have sex, or to use condoms if they choose not to. Same as if one of my kids was gay. I would tell him the same thing.

Bunk? Really

<I>"It's bunk to recommend circumcising all men based on research showing it may only benefit the straights."</I>

Let us assume that it is true that circumcision offers HIV prevention benefits to heterosexuals only. Let us assume (very generously) that 1 in 5 men are homosexual or regularly dabble in homosexual sex. I have no way of knowing my baby's sexual preference at birth, but there's an <B>80% chance that this procedure will benefit my baby, and you think that's BUNK?</B>

I guess only advice that benefits 100% of people 100% of the time is legit.

Then let him decide if he

Yep, Really.

As a person born without a

As a person born without a penis I would never feel comfortable making that decision for my son. My husband happens to have been born with one, so although I will provide whatever input might come up should I have a little boy some day, the final decision will rest with him. This is just me, I cannot speak for anyone else. However, I will not tolerate being called names should my son be circumcised. My personal belief is that:
1. pain is part of life; get over it, get use to it
2. if my husband thanks his parents every day for having it done to him, it cant be that bad and I trust him
3. parents do things that they believe are the best for their child, that is all anyone can do
4. yes, I have been called cold-hearted many times, but an infant's prefrontal cortex is not formed yet. they cant remember anything until it is
5. if you decide to have your son circumcised (or any man in your life decides to do so) researching surgeons is necessary, just like any other surgery whether minor or not

I am 100% against cutting

I am 100% against cutting off your child's body parts unless medically necessary. The AIDS reduction point is really inapplicable to the developed world -- relying on circumcision to prevent AIDS is really foolish when condoms are so widely available. IMO it's a rationalization. The same goes for "hard to wash". If I can keep my clitoral hood clean, men can keep their foreskins clean. People don't own their children, and we can't just go around lopping off their body parts on a whim. If he wants the AIDS prevention benefit or the ease-of-cleaning benefit, he can always decide to get circumcised later. OK, so it's not as comfortable to do it when he's older, but it's *possible*, while AFAIK, "uncircumcision" is not. I would be horrified if someone cut off my clitoral hood without my consent, knowing I could never get it back.

"Uncircumcision" is

"<a href="">Uncircumcision</a>" is possible; there are pulling exercise that can be done to stretch the skin and "reform" the foreskin. That said, I do not think circumcision is any healthier provided the child is taught proper hygiene; and I do believe that circumcision reduces pleasure. I also believe that nature put that foreskin there for a reason and I see no reason to remove it.

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