March 27, 2013
Anti-Circumcision Protesters Cut Into Supreme Court Scene
by Benjamin R. Freed
While most of the thousands of demonstrators lined up outside the U.S. Supreme Court today were there to show their opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act, a handful of people were getting snippy about a completely different issue.
This week marks the 20th annual Demonstration Against Infant Circumcision, a yearly protest in which hundreds of "intactivists" descent upon Washington to clamor for an end to the practice of doctors removing newborn infant boys' foreskin, whether for religious purposes or because it's a standard practice in American medicine.
"Forcing children to participate in blood rituals is wrong," says Jonathan Conte, a San Francisco resident holding a large sign reading "Equal Justice" above a large, graphic photo of a newborn being circumcised. "Religion of one's parents is not a reason to abuse."
Noting that the federal government adopted legislation in 1996 banning vaginal circumcision, Conte wants to see a similar measure adopted that protects penises. While the removal of the foreskin is an ages-old custom in Judaism, Conte says that accounts for only a fraction of circumcisions performed in the United States, where it was adopted as a standard medical procedure for newborns in the mid-19th century.
"That started 150 years ago as a way to curb masturbation," he says. Conte also argues that the reasons for circumcision continuing as a customary operation keep changing, such as AIDS prevention, despite what he says is a lack of evidence. It's also a practice he says is unique to American medicine.
"Most of the world's men have their whole penises, and they're not dropping dead," he says.
To his very open frustration, Conte does not have his whole penis either. He was snipped at birth, and he says he resents his parents for electing to have the operation conducted, as well as the doctor who performed it.
"Every one of my sexual partners has had sex with a mutilated man," he says.
Conte says that a circumcised man of is missing roughly 15 square inches of protective issues around the glans, or head, of his penis, an effect he displays by rolling up a small handbill preaching the ills of foreskin removal. "It permanently alters the form and function of the penis," he says. "The glans is mucosal tissue. It's meant to be covered."
Then there are the effects on the most important functions of the penis. Conte wants to assure people he speaks with that circumcised men—like himself—are still capable of sex and procreation, though in his opinion it can be a bit dodgy.
"I'm not saying cut men can't have sex," he says. "Or that they can't feel pleasure or get erections. Sex without a foreskin is much more abrasive and dry. It's the mechanics of it."
Moreover, the circumcision opponents say the practice is one more example of the U.S. medical system's fee-for-service setup, in which doctors have a natural incentive to perform as many procedures as possible. Only, in the case of circumcision, Conte says doctors are being paid to lop a body part that "years of evolution" haven't discarded.
"Can you imagine if doctors were making money cutting off other parts of healthy baby boys?" he asks.
Conte and his fellow "intactivists" will be in town through the weekend, culminating with a march from the U.S. Capitol to the White House on Saturday. The demonstration will be "extremely diverse" he says. "We have both victims and intact people."