Is male circumcision bad for you?

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Argument: Is male circumcision bad for you?

Richard Wamai and Ronald Goldman discuss.

Richard – No, it isn’t bad for you!

For thousands of years many cultures have taken a piece of skin from the end of the penis. If is so bad for you, why would they do it?


Richard Wamai is an assistant professor of Public Health at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. He does research in HIV/AIDS – male circumcision and health. He comes from Kenya.

Is male circumcision bad for you? The answer is, of course, that male circumcision (MC) does no harm. In fact, when the World Health Organization (WHO) and, later, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP – the largest association of paediatricians in the world) looked at the best scientific evidence on MC for adults and infants. They decided that there are more health benefits than the small risks. The benefits include protection against a lot of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. And a circumcised penis improves sex. It is more attractive to women and good for health. When it is only for religious or cultural reasons, it gives a feeling of identity with the religion or the culture. But people are still against MC. Their ideas are not supported by good research or by academic and medical experts. So there must be other reasons. People in Germany are against MC but in Germany last year politicians voted four to one that infant circumcision is not against children’s rights and is not bad for their health.

People have strong feelings about MC perhaps because it is about an important sexual organ but circumcision for men and infant boys is not harmful.

Ronald – Yes, it is bad for you!'

Most people don’t want circumcision. They think it is harmful like cutting off other natural, healthy body parts.


Ronald Goldman, Ph.D is a psychological researcher, educator, and Executive Director of the Circumcision Resource Center in Boston, a non-profit educational organization. Dr Goldman is internationally known for his work on circumcision and is the author of Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma and Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) agree with MC for personal, cultural, financial, and professional reasons. No medical organization finds any proven medical benefit for circumcision, and European organizations are against circumcision. Circumcision is painful and a shock to the system. Some infants do not cry because they go into shock. After circumcision, infants change and behave in different ways and it changes the relationship between mother and child. If drugs are used, they do not stop the pain. There are many medical risks including, in unusual cases, death. Some doctors refuse to do circumcisions for moral reasons. Circumcision takes away about a third of the part of the penis which gives sexual pleasure, including several kinds of sensitive nerves. The result is that the penis becomes less sexually sensitive. In an adult the foreskin, which covers the penis, is about 75 square centimetres. It protects the head of the penis, increases sexual pleasure, and makes sex easier. Circumcised men are more likely to have sexual problems. Their female partners have more sexual problems, too. Studies on circumcision and sex show different results but it is for those who agree with circumcision to find better proof that it really is a problem.

Men who have problems with sex are angry that they have lost their choice and say they feel sad, sexually anxious and find it more difficult to show their feelings. Psychological factors affect everything. Circumcised men often find it difficult to accept the harm it does and they even find they agree with information which agrees with circumcision.

Richard - No, it isn’t bad for you!

What you say about circumcision and the foreskin is wrong, and it is not supported by good research. Saying something is true does not make it true even if it sounds possible. It does not mean that because only about 30 per cent of men are circumcised that it is bad for you. Almost everything you say has been examined in good large scientific studies and proved wrong. Most of the studies are on websites such as Clearinghouse on Male Circumcision and and are supported by organisations such as the WHO, the AAP and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

And what you say about the AAP and WHO is wrong. You seem to say these things to support what you believe. Everyone knows that MC has medical benefits. We can be sure that circumcision is not bad for sex.

Ronald - Yes, it is bad for you!

The organisations like the AAP, WHO, and CDC are difficult for people around the world to believe. These organisations only see one side of the argument. The AAP also has legal and political reasons to defend circumcision. Countries that do not circumcise see the value of the foreskin and the psychological effects of taking it away. Those who agree with circumcision show only the ‘benefits’ and receive millions of dollars of funding for that view. This makes their research look weak and not reliable. The ‘expert’ who works for the WHO and agrees with circumcision promotes the sale of his own circumcision devices! Those who are against circumcision often work as volunteers trying to help protect males from this terrible surgery.

It is interesting that doctors who are circumcised agree with circumcision. They agree with circumcision, say it is not harmful, and ignore psychological factors. All this helps them avoid thinking about the emotional problems of their own circumcision. So they accept medical ‘authorities’, and do not question the reasons behind so much bad research and all the wrong policies.

Psychological factors do not disappear from those who say MC is good. Actually, these factors increase as these people show less attention to detail, agree with others easily, and are afraid of talking about it, as wrong ideas about circumcision spread like a bad illness.

Psychologists know people seem to repeat trauma. Circumcision is a psychological issue not a medical issue.

Richard - No, it isn’t bad for you!'

It is OK for people who are against MC to have their own opinions but they do not accept the science. Educated people will see that criticising the AAP, the WHO and the CDC and simply saying that MC is bad for you is wrong. The fact is that the AAP, the WHO, the CDC, UNAIDS and others (whose members include uncircumcised psychologists) have carefully examined hundreds of research studies. They have thought about the evidence for and against MC and say that MC is fine for infant males, older boys and men. They have explained its many benefits for disease prevention. They find no bad effects on sexual function, sexual sensation or sexual satisfaction or human rights. No one will believe them if they simply accept the extreme views of the opponents of MC, or if they come to conclusions which disagree with the scientific evidence.

International medical, policy and funding organizations, governments, civil society groups, human rights, gender and women’s health organisations, and young people in many countries support MC. Men need to understand that there are many more benefits than risks. They need to understand that in their life-time up to half of uncircumcised males may have health problems linked to the foreskin. MC produces good health and economic benefits. It would be very wrong not to give the choice of MC to males who want it or to parents choosing it for their infant boys. People who agree with MC think it is a good idea for more males to have it for good health and to save lives.

Ronald- Yes, it is bad for you!'

What you said is wrong. John Ioannidis, a well-known researcher, has found mistakes in the literature which is for MC. He shows much of medical research gives the wrong idea and the wrong information and it is accepted by many medical people. Ioannidis says that scientific results may often be simply showing how much the researchers are in favour of MC. Researchers seem to find the results that get them the money to pay for the research. At every step in the process, there is a chance to show wrong results. He says that researchers often hide opposing views. They ignore the harm circumcision does. I asked the WHO’s pro-circumcision ‘expert’ to describe the anatomy and functions of the foreskin. He didn’t know! Psychological and sexual harms of circumcision are reported by clinicians and circumcised men. Women with sexual experience prefer uncircumcised men. Other studies find more sexual difficulties for circumcised men and 4.53 times greater possibility of using drugs for sexual problems. Thousands of unhappy men have had their foreskins restored. Questions about harm are still not answered. Pro-circumcision researchers often ignore feelings and common sense. Don’t make that mistake. Watch a circumcision video and trust your feelings. Imagine having your foreskin cut by force. Common sense tells you that losing 75 square centimetres of skin has negative results, and unnecessary, painful surgery on a natural, healthy, functioning body part is harmful.

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