13.9 Wrapping Up: Revisiting Circumcisions

Revisiting Circumcisions

At the beginning of the chapter we asked some questions regarding circumcision What is male circumcision? What part of the body does it affect? Is it a good idea? How does male circumcision compare to female circumcision/female genital cutting?

Male circumcision involves the removal of the foreskin of the penis. As diagrammed in Figure 3 (in 13.4),the foreskin is a thin flap of skin that covers the head (glans) of the penis during the flaccid state and retracts when the penis is erect. Risks associated with this procedure include pain, bleeding, infection, possible damage to the penis, and loss of sensitivity of the penis. Benefits of the procedure include a reduced occurrence of urinary tract infections, reduced risk of sexually transmitted infections, and reduced risk of penile cancer. The medical perspective on circumcision has shifted over recent years, from it being declared completely elective and medically unnecessary by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1999 and 2005, to a revision of this stance in 2012 in light of new evidence. The academy’s current position states:

“American Academy of Pediatrics found the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks, but the benefits are not great enough to recommend universal newborn circumcision. The AAP policy statement published Monday, August 27th, says the final decision should still be left to parents to make in the context of their religious, ethical and cultural beliefs.”

There is a procedure of “female genital cutting”, also known as “female genital mutilation”, or sometimes “female circumcision”. This process involves one or more of the following: the removal of the clitoral head, removal of the labia minora, and the stitching together of the labia majora, leaving only a small hole through which urine and menstrual fluid can leave the body. This process is distinct from male circumcision because there are no medical benefits to the procedure, there are frequent complications and dangerous side effects including extreme pain, hemorrhaging, possibly increased transmission of sexually transmitted infections, chronic urinary tract and genital tract infections, painful complications with sexual intercourse, complications with childbirth (including risk of death to the infant). Many of these risks can result in death.

  Check Yourself

Science alone cannot answer whether male circumcision or female genital cutting are morally or ethically correct, but the data of the effects of these procedures and an understanding of the reproductive anatomy can certainly inform discussions of the morals and ethics of the procedures. As seen in the case of male circumcision, the position of physicians and medical organizations may change as new evidence comes to light.

As we conclude this chapter and prepare for in-class discussion, be sure to return to the chapter goals and objectives.


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The Evolution and Biology of Sex Copyright © 2020 by Sehoya Cotner and Deena Wassenberg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.