Phalluses and Fallacies
Some faulty ways of thinking that lead to circumcision


Thanks to Sarah Thompson of southeastern Indiana for the comments in the boxes, adapted from her messages to other mothers.

1. The fallacy of the vivid instance

"I knew someone
who had a terrible problem with his penis
and had to be circumcised.
Better to do it early."

A single vivid instance, like an urban legend, gets told and retold. Meanwhile thousands of inconspicuous contrary instances go unreported.

Everyone has heard of someone who lived to a ripe old age while smoking like a chimney. Some foolish people think that proves smoking is harmless. The many who smoked and died young are "lost from study" and do not generate any anecdotes.

In the same way, problems with an intact penis, followed by painful surgery, make a story; quietly enjoying an intact penis doesn't. The vast majority of intact men, a good majority of the men in the world, never have any problems with their foreskins. None of them would thank you to have had them circumcised in infancy.


1a. The FOAF

"I knew someone who knew someone
who had a terrible problem...

The "someone who knew someone" is known in urban legend studies as a "Friend Of A Friend" or FOAF. While you may trust your friend, and they may trust their friend, the trail of FOAFs usually proves to be endless and never leads back to an actual event. (Some AIDS stories can be traced back to the Black Death!) Even if true, one incident can generate retellings far in excess of its actual importance.


2. The fallacy of the Eternal Child
i.e. Considering the effect of circumcision only on the baby, not on the man he will become.

"Parents have to make a lot of decisions for their childen."

The implication of this statement is that not only can the child not decide for himself whether he wants part of his penis cut off, but that he never will be able to. Rearing a baby is very much a matter of the present. The baby is hungry now and has to be fed now. While parents imagine him growing up to manhood - one of parenthood's commonest daydreams - circumcision is one of the few decisions parents make at birth that irrevocably restricts the man's options. Circumcisionists compare it with teaching him one language rather than another, but the parents must teach him one, and he can always decide to learn another later. He can not decide to grow a foreskin.

I find myself passing out this web address (the Gallery of Intact Men) all the time, and in my opinion, simply seeing these pictures should make any mother rethink whether it is within her right to choose to circumcise.

As you look at any of these beefy hunks, I would like you to imagine an old lady, (about 60 or so - his mom). Imagine her in an ugly housedress with a big pair of scissors, and she shuffles in from one side of the frame and says, "Oh my goodness Paul, I don't like your dick that way at all! I didn't want you to have that" - SNICK!

The idea of his mom taking a piece of his penis is very crazy when you are looking at a ripping adult man with a manly-sized penis... but is it any less crazy that [parents] inflict that same crime against his anatomy when he is a little baby?


3. The fallacy of assuming circumcision is (and will always be) the norm

"Isn't everyone?"

Here is what I think is going on... you think that a penis is a circumcised penis. If I said "penis" to you, the picture in your mind is circumcised. The pictures in your health books are circumcised and your sexuality is also circumcised. So a circumcised penis is what you measure normal from. If I say foreskin, you don't think penis, you think "extra", because foreskin and all the related anatomy, are not included on *your* mental penis (or, for that matter, the mental penis of most American men and women).

OK, now If I showed you a picture of a guy whose glans was cut off in an accident, you would feel a gut wrenching type of "Ouch!" to your mental penis:
"That is less than a penis"
"That penis is hurt"
"That penis is MISSING a part."

Now if there was a group of, I don't know, old rodeo coyboys, who were missing parts of their crotch because of accidents, and they were to tell you that they have very satisfying sex lives and they are very comfortable with their penises. Now, what if you were lucky enough to take one of these old buckaroos home and found that you also had a good time despite the injury he had suffered. OK, good for you, silver spur award!

But - is the logical conclusion to this to cut or mangle a baby's penis? If you like your buckaroo, OK, fine. But where do people think that they can start picking and choosing which parts of their child's sex organ the child will be allowed to keep?

The human penis anatomy has a foreskin. Your mental idea of a human penis should have one too. Pick up an art history book, pick up a National Geographic. Pick up a European fashion magazine... all the male models are intact. Rent a French movie, rent an Italian movie. Work on it. Realize that this practice is very isolated in only our country. In the rest of the world, no one cuts their baby unless [they think] they are driven by G-D. When your baby is born, accept him for beautiful, just the way he is. Abandon a compulsion to cut him. It is a lot easier for you to restore your mental picture than it is for a mutilated man to try to restore what was take from him against his will.


4. The fallacy of antiquity

"Circumcision is the oldest surgical procedure, dating back to the Egyptians...."

Many social evils, such as slavery and footbinding, lasted a long time before they were abolished. Great age does not prove benefit or harmlessness. Many social goods, such as equality of the sexes and humane treatment of animals, are relatively recent.


4a. The fallacy of novelty

"Circumcision has just been proved to be effective against ...."

Circumcision is constantly being reinvented as "modern", "up-to-date" and "fashionable". (If people remember that it has been "modern" before, it can be rebranded as "retro".) Somehow people are able to overlook the fallacy of coupling this with Fallacy 4.


5. The fallacy of the parent's big decision

"Parents should research the matter carefully..."

The whole presentation of "Circumcision - YOUR decision" is fundamentally biased towards cutting.

  • Virtually all such presentations begin with cutting and why it should be done, rather than the foreskin and what it does (and why it should be kept). Many do not deal with those issues at all.
  • The more information that is presented and the more momentous the decision is made to seem, the more parents must feel that they have not decided until they have decided to cut.
  • Every supposed benefit, and paradoxically, every consideration of risk weighs in towards it being something that the parents have to decide TO DO. The consideration of risk only adds to the momentousness (rather like the risks of space exploration) and hence the importance of deciding TO DO IT, especially when so many presentations do their best to minimise the risks.

The Forgotten Ethic:

There is NO NEED to make a Decision about Male or Female Circumcision

Expectant parents often feel compelled - or coerced by spouses, family members, doctors, and nurses - that they NEED to make a decision about circumcision, genital cutting, or genital norming surgery. That is not true. There is no imperative or overriding need to decide. There is no need to rush into cutting a child's genitals.

Seven out of eight men and women alive in the world had parents who never gave genital cutting a thought, and they are happy and healthy with their intact bodies. Only if you are already considering circumcision, or if your child has been diagnosed with a genital problem, should you learn more about genital cutting, its risks, harms, and disadvantages, before making an irreversible decision that you - or they - may later regret.

In 99 out of 100 cases, no decision is the best decision. Not only does not making a decision reduce the his or her risks, but it allows the child to decide, later in life, how their body will appear and function.

- Dan Bollinger, Director, www.ICGI.org

I don't believe in the notion that parents should carefully research the issue, find the best answer and act on it. I have a HUGE problem with the notion that cutting a child's genitals or not is a sane or rational decision that is within the jurisdiction of a parent in their care of the child. Although presenting the pros and cons or researching the options may be the first step needed to turn the tide of culturally brainwashed and conditioned people who think that this is their decision, I think acknowledging the decision, titles like "The Circumcision Decision" "What parents need to know" etc... is a very giant step backwards as far as promoting the concept of a person's human rights to an intact body.

Why? Because it reinforces a parent's right to choose the form of their child's genitals! Parents do not have a right to choose the shape or function of a child's genitals, any more than they have a right to change any other part of someone else's body, or choose the color of their neighbor's house, or the spouse for their grandchild, or the food to be served to the people at table 10. There are certain boundaries people understand are beyond their grasp. Another person's genitals are clearly outside those boundaries, yet every day people assume that they must make a case for or against the wholeness of their infant son.

EVEN IF there were a medical reason - which there is not
EVEN IF there were a cosmetic benefit - which there is not
EVEN IF there were a sexual benefit - which there is not
EVEN IF there were a hygienic problem - which there is not
EVEN IF every argument presented by circumfetishists were TRUE - cutting another person's genitals would still be wrong

Presenting the arguments to promote good decisions is a backwards way to do it because in doing that, we reinforce the power of another person to decide the fate of someone's else's genitals.

Obviously, you have taken this decision with great seriousness and are greatly burdened by the honor you have been bestowed of deciding the fate of this man's sexual anatomy... why don't you do the honorable thing and reject this option? There is honor in compassion and respect. You need to respect his whole body and respect his right to own it. If you need to learn anything, research the function and purpose of the human prepuce. Run a search for "foreskin anatomy", "foreskin function" or "glide effect" If you understood how dramatically taking this from a man will affect his sexual experience for his whole life, and what an integral part of his body it is, you will suddenly be unburdened from this decision, because what is right will be glaringly obvious.


6. The Argument from Ignorance

"I'm circumcised and there's nothing the matter with me."

If he was circumcised in infancy, how can he possibly know? A first approximation has to be that removing part of the genitals makes sex worse, not better.

If a circumcised man says he likes his penis, you have to logically ask- "And do you think that a foreskin would DIMINISH that?" How in this case can LESS be MORE? If you leave your baby intact, he will have all the same sexual anatomy as your husband PLUS MORE. But remember, this is not bestowing EXTRA on him; it is the amount of anatomy he was supposed to have. Circumcised men have LESS THAN that. It is his penis, his anatomy and his birthright. You don't have to do anything but to allow him to keep it.


7. Appeal to Authority

"Doctors know best."

Doctors are human. In the US, many are themselves circumcised and have no first-hand experience of a foreskin. Medical schools teach virtually nothing about the foreskin except how to cut it off. Male cadavers are, of course, usually circumcised and medical students report being told to circumcise, not dissect, those that are not. Some anatomy textbooks portray the typical penis as circumcised.

Medical associations may be hijacked by people with a scalpel to grind, such as Edgar Schoen and Thomas Wiswell. The risk of lawsuits colours their policies: to admit that the foreskin has value or that circumcision is harmful would expose them to legal action from angry men.

A mom was told by her pediatrician that a part of her infant son's foreskin was adhered to his penis and it would need to be removed or it could cause problems with erections.

This "diagnosis" is not untypical but very common and woefully ignorant. (The foreskin normally adheres to the glans for the first several years of life. See Care of the Intact Penis.)


8. The fallacy of the decisive ailment

"Circumcision prevents X, (so you must circumcise)."

This one is currently being mobilised using HIV/AIDS, but it's previously been used with penile cancer, and doubtless others. It's seldom put as crudely as that. The second part is usually left unspoken. The implication is that circumcision is risk-free and loss-free, and that the prevention is 100%. If those were all true, and bodily integrity was of no value in and of itself, and the foreskin of no possible value, sexual, protective or aesthetic (to its owner, not to you), there might be a case. But none of those is ever true, and possible risks and certain losses always need to be balanced against (potenial, future) benefits.

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Sarah Thompson is a 32-year-old work-at-home mother, sculptor, painter and wild bird conservationist, and she comes to Intactivism as an observer of natural beauty who appreciates its balance and design.