Setting the Record Straight
Here we address common questions about genital autonomy.
In the history of civil and human rights movements in the US, LDEFs have been instrumental in advancing legal recognition of the rights of women, racial minorities, LGBTQIA+ people, the disabled, immigrants and other groups in need of greater protection under the law. Examples of such funds include Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the National Organization for Women.
· Type I: Partial or total removal of the clitoral glans and/or prepuce (female foreskin covering the clitoral glans).
· Type II: Partial or total removal of the clitoral glans and labia minora (inner folds of the vulva), with or without removal of the labia majora (outer folds of the vulva).
· Type III: Infibulation (narrowing of the vaginal opening by cutting and repositioning/ stitching the labia minora, or labia majora, with or without removal of the clitoral glans and/or prepuce (clitoral hood/female foreskin).
· Type IV: All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
[Source: World Health Organization (2022): Female genital mutilation]
· Type I: excision or injury of part or all of the skin and specialized mucosal tissues of the penis including the prepuce and frenulum (circumcision, dorsal slit without closure).
· Type II: excision or injury to the glans (glandectomy) and/or penis shaft, (penectomy) along with Type I MGM. Any procedure that interferes with reproductive or sexual function in the adult male.
· Type III: excision or destruction of the testes (castration, orchidectomy) with or without Type II MGM.
· Type IV: unclassified: includes pricking, piercing or incision of the prepuce, glans, scrotum or other genital tissue; cutting and suturing of the prepuce over the glans (infibulation); slitting open the urethra along the ventral surface of the penis (sub-incision); slitting open the foreskin along its dorsal surface (super-incision); severing the frenulum; stripping the skin from the shaft of the penis; introducing corrosive or scalding substances onto the genital area; any other procedure which falls under the definition of MGM given above.
[Sources: Wikigender: Male Genital Mutilation (MGM) and Circumcision Information Australia: Male and female genital information]
In the US we tend to view genital cutting through an artificially gendered lens, where all female genital cutting (FGC) is illegal and all male genital cutting (MGC) is legal. A more honest approach about where to define the legal limits about genital cutting of any child would not be based on gender but on the degree of harm, as this video illustrates.
No accurate statistics are kept anywhere in the world about the exact incidence of or complications associated with female genital cutting (FGC) and male genital cutting (MGC).
Globally, about 200 million females are affected by FGC  and about 1.5 million males are affected by MGC (extrapolated from [5, 6]). This represents about 5% of the world’s females (extrapolated from [1, 2]) and over 35% of the world’s males . Each year, about 3 to 4 million girls are at risk of genital cutting [3, 4] and around 27 to 28 million boys are at risk (extrapolated from [5, 6]). Globally, around 7 boys are subjected to genital cutting for every 1 girl .
In the US, it is estimated that around 500,000 females are either affected by or at risk of FGC . Based on the total US male population , around 70% of adult males (115 million) are affected by MGC . In the U.S. each year between 1.2 million and 1.5 million male newborns and children are subjected to medically unnecessary genital cutting [11, 12]. Because of the relatively small U.S. population of Jews and Muslims, religious circumcision of boys accounts for less than 2% of all MGC.
1 The World Bank (2021): Population, Female
2 UNICEF (2022): Female genital mutilation
3 World Health Organization (2022): Female genital mutilation
4 Equality Now (2022): Female genital mutilation
5 The World Bank (2021): Population, male
6 Miani, A. (2022). Neonatal male circumcision is associated with altered adult socio-affective processing
7 NOHARMM: Statistics on human genital mutilation
8 Equality Now (2022): Female genital mutilation in the United States
9 U.S. Census Bureau (2021): Female persons, percent (male by extrapolation)
10 Morris, BJ (2016): Estimation of country-specific and global prevalence of male circumcision
11 Maeda, JL (2012): Circumcisions performed in U.S. community hospitals (2009)
No. Unlike the US, where only boys are circumcised, there is virtually no society in the world where only girls are circumcised. In all cultures that circumcise girls, boys too are circumcised. In a strange twist of ‘gender equality’ in those societies, circumcision rituals confer a special status upon both sexes
Intersex is an umbrella term used for a variety of situations in which a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the strict binary boxes of “female” or “male.” There are many different ways someone can be intersex. Some intersex people have genitals or internal sex organs that fall outside the male/female categories and sometimes doctors do “corrective” surgeries on intersex babies and children to make their bodies fit binary ideas of “male” or “female”. Other intersex people have combinations of chromosomes that are different than XY (usually male) and XX (usually female), like XXY.
Doctors always assign intersex babies a legal sex (male or female, in most states), but, just like with non-intersex people, that doesn’t mean that’s the gender identity they’ll grow up to have (i.e., which gender they see themselves as). This brings up questions about whether or not it’s OK to do medical procedures on children’s bodies when it’s not needed for their health.
Being intersex is a naturally occurring variation in humans, and in most cases it isn’t a medical problem — therefore, medical interventions (like surgeries or hormone therapy) on children usually aren’t medically necessary. Being intersex is also more common than most people realize. Estimates suggest that about 1-2 in 100 people born in the US are intersex.
[Source: Planned Parenthood: What’s Interesex?]
No. Parents have a right to consent to medical or surgical treatments that are essential to protect the health or life of their child. Since non-surgical alternatives to circumcision exist that confer the same benefits that circumcision is alleged to provide, excising part of a child’s penis is not essential to the child’s health or life. Parents also have a duty to protect their child’s rights. Deciding how much of their genitals they get to keep should be up to the child who has to live with the consequences of this permanent genital modification.
[Source: Van Howe, RS (2013): Infant circumcision: the last stand for the dead dogma of parental (sovereignal) rights]
No, because most parents would choose to obey the law and forego circumcision, thereby dramatically reducing the number of children harmed by loss of the foreskin. Parents who insist on circumcision would undoubtedly find a medical or religious circumciser willing to violate the law, so this in no way compares to the danger of abortion bans and “back alley” surgeries by untrained persons. And while medicalization of both male and female genital cutting has been used as a ‘harm reduction’ strategy (in lieu of eradication), numerous legal, ethical and human rights dilemmas remain. In fact, medicalization institutionalizes, legitimizes and perpetuates cultural cutting practices, making them harder to eradicate.
Most religions do not require circumcision of either sex. Of those who do, it’s important to know that religious freedom is not absolute and is not an adequate defense for harming another person or infringing on their rights, even if that person is your child. Religious freedom is not considered a valid defense for allowing parents to consent to even the mildest forms of female circumcision.
Christianity: Circumcision was debated in the early Christian church and it was decided to be of no value and is not required. However, many Christians falsely believe that it’s required “because Jesus was circumcised” or “it’s part of our Judeo-Christian heritage.” Some believe they were circumcised because they’re Catholic when, in fact, it’s because they were raised in an American Catholic family. Outside of the US, most Catholics in the world do not circumcise their sons.
[Sources: What Should Christians Know About Circumcision in the Bible? , Catholics Against Circumcision]
Judaism: According to the Old Testament of the Bible (Tanakh or Torah), circumcision is considered a parental obligation of the father to perform on his son’s eighth day of life, but it does not make the male child Jewish. By the law of the State of Israel and many conservative branches of Judaism, a boy is Jewish as long as his mother is Jewish (or his father in Reform congregations). Having a foreskin makes the child no less Jewish. Progressive Jews in the US, Israel and elsewhere are opting to respect their sons’ bodily integrity and future autonomy by having a non-cutting ritual (Brit Shalom) that is equally available for girls and boys.
[Sources: Jewish Circumcision Resource Center, Beyond the Bris, Bruchim]
Islam: Like female circumcision, male circumcision is not mentioned in the Qur’an. Both are only mentioned in the Hadith, the supplemental writings of what Mohamed was believed to have said about both forms of cutting being desirable. Unlike Judaism, there is no established age in Islam at which the cutting is to be performed.
[Source: Quranic Path: Circumcision – Does the Qur’an Approve It?]
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