Baby’s First Non-Elective Surgery

I feel like you just have to acknowledge that we are created/designed well.  You can understand it through the lens of evolution, creation, or some hybrid, but you gotta see that our bodies are a miracle of efficient complexity, and complex efficiency.  The same is true for all plants, animals, insects.  Everything just makes a lot of sense, from the level of DNA all the way up to the way our fight or flight limbic responses are able to somehow translate themselves seamlessly into even modern theaters of threat in order to, for instance, avoid a car accident.  We’re just made so well.  I tend to trust the design, when in doubt.  Like the question of breast feeding versus formula — I’m highly, highly, highly skeptical that a company looking to make a buck is going to create a product that can hold a candle to what time and nature’s infinite genius has produced — human breast milk, and the entire bonding process of its delivery.  It’s amazing that every mammal’s breast milk contains a ratio of protein (as caloric percent) that scales alongside how quickly that newborn needs to double its birthweight.  Human babies double their birthweight in six months, and human breast milk is 5% protein.  Cows?  47 days, at 15% protein.  Baby rats double their weight in only 4 days, and rat mother’s milk is 49% protein.  Obviously all the proponents of drinking cow’s milk for the protein should make the switch to rat’s milk; that shit is jacked.    

Often we go against nature because brave new science and then, pikachu, it turns out we didn’t even have the tools yet, or the perspective, to understand what we were manipulating.  One especially heartbreaking example of this was thalidomide, prescribed to pregnant women in Europe as a preventative for morning sickness, in the late 50’s.  Out of 10,000 pregnancies affected, 40% of those babies died at or around birth, and the other 60% survived, with horrifying disfigurements.  I won’t say more because it’s too sad and frankly gross, but just Google “thalidomide babies”.  Of course it’s unknown how many additional pregnancies resulted in miscarriage, due to the drug.  

Now, I have to say that because of my perspective, which came from how I was raised, no authority on earth could coerce me to take a drug for anything, certainly not morning sickness, if I was pregnant.  I would lay in my own vomit daily before I would do that.  So it’s a little crazy to me that that many women were like, “Ok great, I’m sure nature in all its infinite and subtle glory can’t hold a candle to you assholes with your prescription pad.”  I don’t see myself getting suckered that way.  Why?  Because I trust the way nature/god/evolution made us, infinitely more so than someone with an agenda. 

Even when people sicken and die from multi-system failure, as I used to see all the time when I worked in critical care, it’s never a matter of “what went wrong?”  It’s always a matter of “how are you even still alive”.  The self-abuse our bodies can withstand is outrageous.  

All this brings me to my point, today, which is the penile foreskin, and the problem of routine circumcision.  It looks to me that, aside from a little static here and there, this is not something we’re even remotely close to looking at or thinking about or meaningfully critiquing.  It’s one of the world’s most commonly performed medical procedures, and about 40% of the men on earth are circumcised, about half of those for religious or cultural reasons, and the other half because, hey, why not.  We don’t even think about it; it seems totally normal.  But realize, for just a second, how strange it actually is.  We’re mostly able to acknowledge that most things about us are designed very well, ingeniously in fact, but we randomly take this one aspect of the male reproductive system and decide that it’s bad, wrong, and dirty, and we simply cut it off.  We don’t really even understand what it does or why it’s there, or what our lives might be like if we left it alone.  It’s extremely unfashionable, uncomfortable even, for us to talk about it or ask any questions.  We have an aversion to thinking critically about any aspect of it.  But we do it to almost half the boys in the world, changing their bodies forever, without their approval, and vaguely in connection with the Bible.  God told Abraham to circumcise himself, his household, and his slaves.

Did you hear that??  Abraham was a slaveholder.  He should be cancelled, and circumcision should be cancelled.  

Anyway, people in the Bible at least argued about circumcision.  Moses went back and forth with it, relative to various wives and various sons.  Ultimately, the Lord said it was a go.  I feel like that had to be a pretty crazy time, to the extent it’s historical.  I mean, imagine: there’s a new religious trend trending, involving a removal of some of your literal penis.  It’s like that meme where someone rolls up in a car and says, “Get in, loser — we’re cutting off part of our dicks.”  Why would you get in that car?

Now, I know what you think I’m gonna do, and maybe I’ll do it — catalogue all the reasons having a foreskin might be good, or at least neutral, thing, or conversely why the prescription of circumcision might be harmful in ways we hadn’t really thought of, like thalidomide, or pointless, like the way women everywhere are proscribed Lipitor despite zero clinical evidence suggesting its efficacy in a female population.  But I mainly want to just take a big step back and look at the big picture: why would we take any part of the human body and consider it guilty til proven innocent?  Useless til proven useful?  How stupid would it be for me to sit here and list the potential pros and cons of a pinkie toe, or eyelashes, or clavicles, or all the different vertebrae?  Similarly, it always makes me a little headachy when people act like they need some scientific, empirical reason to eat a particular plant food.  I actually dated a guy once who scrutinized everything I ate, as a vegan, based on some assumption that food was, like, a clinical relationship for me.  “Now, zucchini — what’s in that?  Why is that good?  Are blueberries good?  What do they have in them?”  We’re finally, scientifically, producing evidence that a broad variety of whole plant foods is actually super important to the microbiome of our guts, where much of our circulating dopamine is produced, offering us a robust enzymatic profile, with accompanying resilient physical and mental health.  There are as many reasons as stars in the sky to eat a broad variety of whole plant foods, and the fact that we haven’t “discovered” most of them yet should be no deterrent.  And anyway, when do we subject our fast food and our gas station cinnamon rolls to the same rigor?  Why does it take a congressional act for us to eat fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes, but some shit in a box gets a pass?  Our thinking around routine circumcision is exactly that schizophrenic.  

All male mammals have some type of foreskin, and only humans cut it off.  This totally coheres with the Bible thing, right, where humans are supposed to regard ourselves as not-animals.  The fact that only half of the routine circumcisions performed are categorized as “religious or cultural” means that we’ve had to half-ass some science-y type justification for the rest.  Ask anyone, literally anyone, why we circumcise baby boys, and they’ll say some combination of the following reasons: because the foreskin is dirty, it promotes infection, it’s hard to clean, I don’t want my kid to be hazed in the school locker room or rejected by female love interests.  That’s about the crop.  So fully half of those reasons are, basically, bandwagon.  I don’t want my kid’s genitals to look different from the other kid’s genitals.  I personally think that’s a stupid reason in itself to cut off part of your kid’s body but it’s actually the best reason, in the scheme of things.  Imagine a world where boys aren’t circumcised, and that entire reason goes away. 

When you break it down to nations on earth, 80% of them don’t practice circumcision and never have — for instance Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Scandinavia, Russia, China, Japan, etc.  We just *think* it’s really normal because it’s really normal here, in the US.  I’m sorry but you can’t tell me all those guys, in all those countries, are just walking around with dirty, infected dicks.  In his essay titled “Circumcision: the Uniquely American Enigma”, Edward Wallerstein writes,

So called “health” circumcision originated in the nineteenth century, when most diseases were of unknown etiology. Within the miasma of myth and ignorance, a theory emerged that masturbation caused many and varied ills. It seemed logical to some physicians to perform genital surgery on both sexes to stop masturbation; the major technique applied to males was circumcision. This was especially true in the English-speaking countries because it accorded with the mid-Victorian attitude toward sex as sinful and debilitating.

The most prolific enumerator of the health benefits of circumcision was Dr. P. C. Remondino. In 1891 this physician claimed that the surgery prevented or cured about a hundred ailments, including alcoholism, epilepsy, asthma, enuresis, hernia, gout, rectal prolapse, rheumatism, kidney disease, and so forth. Such ludicrous claims are still disseminated and possibly believed. The book was reprinted in 1974, without change, and the Circulating Branch Catalogue of the New York Public Library (1983) listed the Remondino book, showing a publication date of 1974. One physician, writing in Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality (1974), called the book “pertinent and carefully thought out.”

So, routine circumcision always rested upon a flawed premise, and wouldn’t have gained momentum at all except as a typically Victorian barrier to masturbation (inadvertently launching the lube industry), and now we’ve simply confabulated together a vague narrative of justifications since we’re so unaccustomed to thinking about it clearly.  

Here, as I threatened, is a list of the sixteen top reasons males should have a foreskin, which AGAIN let me qualify seems silly to even enumerate because I think we should just keep all the body parts we’re born with because they’re probably important whether we understand why or not.  So just for the sake of being thorough, and via facts compiled by the Bloodstained Men nonprofit, the foreskin:

Protects the infant from contaminants, infection, and meatal stenosis.

The foreskin is fused to the head of the penis in infancy, providing protection. The preputial sphincter at the tip specifically serves as a simple barrier that keeps out environmental contamination. It is not designed to be pulled back in infancy or childhood. Meatal stenosis (narrowing or closing of the urethral hole) occurs in approximately 10% of circumcised boysand sometimes requires painful corrective surgery.

Protects the adult glans from chafing and loss of feeling.

When the mucosa of the glans are exposed to chafing, the glans protects itself by keratinizing[3] (similar to a callous). Foreskin keeps the glans internal, as it is supposed to be. The more the glans keratinizes, the less it can feel.[4]

Stores and releases natural lubricants.

With natural lubricant,[5] men with foreskin generally do not need lotion or lubricant for sexual activity. Women benefit from the lower risk of friction and dryness that a man’s foreskin provides. It also serves to seal in the female sexual partner’s lubrication, preventing it from losing its effectiveness.[6]

Feels good for its owner with specialized pleasure nerves.

The foreskin is densely innervated with multiple types of nerves.[7] These nerves respond to stretch, fine touch detail, temperature, and more. Foreskin feels really good.

Delivers pleasure to the male’s partner.

The presence of the male foreskin is inherently pleasurable in intercourse. In particular, it stimulates the female clitoris in certain sexual positions. 

Rolls/glides rather than rubs. This helps prevent friction and dryness, eases penetration, and provides pleasure.

The mechanics of sexual activity are changed dramatically with circumcision, from rolling to rubbing. Circumcised males “tend to thrust harder and deeper, using elongated strokes,” but intact males tend “to thrust more gently, to have shorter strokes, and tended to be in contact with the mons pubis and clitoris more.”[6] Also, the sliding/gliding motion of the foreskin over the glans and corona is deeply pleasurable for the male and makes initial insertion of the penis easier and more comfortable for both partners.

Keeps the head of the penis warm, moist, and comfortable.

Like the eyeball, inside of the cheek, and vagina, the glans is designed to be a protected internal organ.[3]

Provides sensory feedback, giving the man greater control of the sexual experience.

The structures of the foreskin provide full, natural levels of neurological feedback, which allow robust control over erection, arousal, and orgasm.

Facilitates erection and ejaculation when wanted.

The foreskin contains the most pleasurable parts of the penis. This complete sensation, elimination of friction and pain, and other functions reduce the risk of erectile and ejaculatory problems.[8]

Helps prevent erection and ejaculation when unwanted.

The foreskin protects the glans from being aroused at inappropriate times, reducing involuntary erections. Feedback helps prevent premature ejaculation.

Maximizes penile length and thickness.

It’s common sense: if you cut part of something off, you make it smaller. This has been observed by professional journals, including one which found that the penises of circumcised males were an average of almost 1 centimeter shorter.

Feels details as well as the fingertips can.

The specialized nerves don’t just feel good – they feel well.

Increases sexual arousal.

Apocrine glands in the foreskinmay release pheromones, signal chemicals that help encourage sexual arousal in the man’s partner. The foreskin also prevents discoloration of the red/purple/pink head of the penis, preserving the sexual signal conveyed by this natural coloration.

Defends against harmful germs.

Specialized cells provide defense against unhealthy microbes.As long as the man washes occasionally with water, not soap, the microbial balance of the area remains healthy and infections are prevented.

Prevents painful erections.

An intact man is safe from “not enough skin” erection problems. The foreskin is a part of a whole penile skin system – it expands and moves along with erection. In addition, the frenar band massages the glans during sliding/gliding, regulating blood flow and preventing the erection from becoming “too hard,” which can happen with some men.

Prevents pain after orgasm.

Without correct protection and mechanical function, some men experience a burning or other pain after ejaculation.

Final note: the foreskin has various other sexual, cosmetic, neurological, and other functions. For example, it provides protection from cold, burns, and trauma, and it contains a rich network of blood vessels to support good penile function.

So, I think it’s annoying that we essentially look at an organ that does all these things and say: yep, it’s gotta go.  I think men should have the option, once they turn eighteen, to go get an anesthetized circumsion as a legal adult, if they so choose, just like any other elective surgery, but we should stop choosing for them.  I think Sandra Bullock should stop repping her “penis facials”, made from the presumable foreskins of Korean babies.  I think foreskins should remain attached to little baby boys because clearly they’re there for a reason.  I think we should normalize foreskins and stop telling ourselves crazy stories about why we cut them off.  I think every man out there who is circumcised should love and accept himself and what happened to him without necessarily advocating that it keep happening to his sons or male babies in general.  

Another really important part of this conversation is the psychological damage to males.  Did you know that circumcisions are often performed with no anesthetic?  In her article titled “Circumcision’s Psychological Damage”, Dr. Darcia F. Narvaez writes, 

In a study by Lander and colleagues (1997), a control group of infants who received no anesthesia was used as a baseline to measure the effectiveness of different types of anesthesia during circumcision.  The control group babies were in so much pain—some began choking and one even had a seizure—they decided it was unethical to continue. [NO SHIT SHERLOCK]  It is important to also consider the effects of post-operative pain in circumcised infants (regardless of whether anesthesia is used), which is described as “severe” and “persistent”…Research has demonstrated the hormone cortisol, which is associated with stress and pain, spikes during circumcision (Talbert et al., 1976; Gunnar et al., 1981).  Although some believe that babies “won’t remember” the pain, we now know that the body “remembers” as evidenced by studies which demonstrate that circumcised infants are more sensitive to pain later in life (Taddio et al., 1997).  Research carried out using neonatal animals as a proxy to study the effects of pain on infants’ psychological development have found distinct behavioral patterns characterized by increased anxiety, altered pain sensitivity, hyperactivity, and attention problems (Anand & Scalzo, 2000).  In another similar study, it was found that painful procedures in the neonatal period were associated with site-specific changes in the brain that have been found to be associated with mood disorders (Victoria et al., 2013).

Hm — trauma, sensitivity to pain, anxiety, hyperactivity, attention problems, and mood disorders?  Sounds like every American dude I know.

Dr. Narvaez goes on to say that there’s quite a bit of overlap between the psychological affects of early childhood sexual abuse and early childhood medical procedures involving the genitals.  That seems like a no-brainer to me.  Infants aren’t like, “Oh this is fine because the Lord said.”  Her article is really worth a skim, I’d check it out if I were you.  

Now, my partner Nick gets upset when I talk about this because he feels that female genital mutilation is so much more obviously cruel, unjust, barbaric, and devastating that any focus on any practice of this nature should be leveraged, first, on behalf of women, and I agree.  In those areas of the world where FGM is the closest alligator to the boat, yeah, let’s unfuck that.  But it’s the same root problem.  Routinely taking a scalpel to young people’s genitals is a practice that deserves a lot more scrutiny than it’s getting, whatever the gender of the victim.  

So, back to my original point, to me it seems clear that we don’t have a great track record of surgically or pharmaceutically improving upon nature, except in cases where something has obviously gone awry, and I think we should avoid tampering with systems that we don’t adequately understand, of which the miraculous human body is certainly one.  If circumcision is so great, and so justifiable, and so desirable, then let adult males make that choice for themselves, with adequate anesthesia on board.  How many of them would actually choose circumcision?  It could be 100% for all I care — just let them choose it.  I hope we figure this out before I die and reincarnate as a male.            

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