BRIAN EARP: Circumcision – a sexual harm?

“Gender, Genital Alteration, and Beliefs About Bodily Harm” — Lecture by Brian D. Earp delivered at the 23rd Congress of the World Association for Sexual Health, Prague, May 29th, 2017. A critique of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ 2012 policy on circumcision, showing that their assessment of benefit and risk was unsound.

For a formal paper discussing some of these ideas, see: “Cultural Bias in American Medicine: The Case of Infant Male Circumcision” in the Journal of Pediatric Ethics.

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Was Spencer Elden abused on Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ album cover?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know he suffered genital cutting without his consent. That much is clear.

In this #metoo era, where is the outrage that someone took a knife to his genitals and then his mother allowed the display of that fact to the world on 30 million album covers?

Ordinary people shouldn’t view non-sexualized nudity of children as, well, sexual! But I would venture that most do.

Ordinary people should respect the bodies of babies. Most American parents and American medicine don’t.

My verdict in light of Spencer Elden’s lawsuit against the band is that he was not abused because of the nudity. He was abused because he was made to be the face of our secret American shame and what it reveals about the American way of birth and parents that don’t protect their children.

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Robert Darby, Rest in Peace

Robert DarbyRobert Darby has passed away. He was the author of A Surgical Temptation: The Demonization of the Foreskin and the Rise of Circumcision in Britain (1st Ed., 2005).

While I never met him personally, I knew him from his writings and collaborations with others, particularly Steven Svoboda (ARC Law) and Brian Earp.

Brian sent out this email (edited slightly to remove contact info) with details of their collaboration and Robert’s death.

Dear friends and colleagues,

It is with extreme sadness that I write to tell you that Robert Darby has died. Rob was a giant in the fight for children’s rights. He was a learned historian, a moral philosopher, a skeptic, a literary critic, and an activist in the cause of social justice (on so many fronts). Whatever area of scholarship he took up, his contributions were always brilliant, measured, and deeply-informed. He made important contributions in several fields, from medical history and sexuality studies to anthropology to bioethics. With J. Steven Svoboda, he wrote the landmark paper, “A Rose By Any Other Name: Rethinking the Similarities and Differences between Male and Female Genital Cutting,” published originally in Medical Anthropology Quarterly and later expanded and republished in an edited volume (here). This was a truly brave essay, shattering dogmas with impeccable erudition and a gentle touch, paving the way for future scholars to think the unthinkable and say the unsayable in the name of protecting all children from medically unnecessary genital cutting.

His book, A Surgical Temptation: the Demonization of the Foreskin and the Rise of Circumcision in Britain (Chicago University Press, 2013), is a modern classic: a disturbing, astonishing, and painstakingly researched account of the insidious power of cultural and sexual prejudice to undermine medical practice. Rob’s sparkling wit and vast understanding come through on every page.

He was a profoundly moral person, using his energy, skill, and intellect to advocate–day after day–for the most vulnerable among us. He lived his life with incredible wisdom and virtue, as a loyal friend, a patient colleague, a careful scholar, and tireless defender of human rights.

Rob’s work and spirit have touched the lives of so many. He was a kind and sensitive person. For me personally, he was a dear friend and constant mentor, through good times and bad. To say he will be missed is not enough.

There are two short notices of death published in local Australian newspapers. Please consider leaving a memory or condolence.

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[ … ]

Now is a time to grieve. We will look to ways of properly honoring Rob’s memory and celebrating his life and work in the coming months.

Brian D. Earp

New Haven, CT

April 23, 2019

Robert and his contributions will be missed.

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Paul Mason, Rest In Peace

Travis Wisdom writes via ARC:

Friends, it’s with great sadness that I’d like to inform you all that Paul Mason, Chair of the Australasian Institute for Genital Autonomy, and Former Children’s Commissioner of Tasmania, died last night. Paul was a family law barrister in Brisbane, and a passionate advocate for children’s rights for over three decades. In 2008, he became an inaugural joint patron of the UK-based global charity, Genital Autonomy. I first met Paul at a genital autonomy conference at Keele University in Staffordshire, England, one year before I studied in the UK. Paul was the first person to encourage me to bring my genital autonomy advocacy and scholarship to Australia, and to pursue my PhD at Adelaide. He will be remembered for his tireless efforts to protect children’s right to physical and mental integrity and for his vision of a world in which all children are protected from medically unnecessary, non-consensual genital alterations.

Paul presented at the 15th International Symposium on Genital Autonomy and Human Rights, organized by Marilyn Milos of Genital Autonomy – America, which was held May 4-6, 2018, in San Francisco, California. He seemed a little weak, but otherwise sharp as a whip and just like himself. Sad news, indeed.

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SOUTH AFRICA: Are circumcised men safer sex partners?

Turns out the answer is no.

A new study published August 1, 2018 in PLoS One suggests that medically circumcised men over 40 carry higher rates of HIV than intact men or men circumcised as part of an initiation ritual earlier in life.

The authors conclude:

Medically circumcised older men in a rural South African community had higher HIV prevalence than uncircumcised men, suggesting that the effect of selection into circumcision may be stronger than the biological efficacy of circumcision in preventing HIV acquisition. The impression given from circumcision policy and dissemination of prior trial findings that those who are circumcised are safer sex partners may be incorrect in this age group and needs to be countered by interventions, such as educational campaigns.

The unstated fact is that men will not opt for circumcision unless it is protective standing alone. Those who do opt for it believe it is. And as such, these circumcised men generally cannot be counted on to adhere to all the other prevention practices and messages when they believe circumcision is protective by itself.

Evidence on the ground, and more formal research generally, will surely bear out the fact that circumcision as a risk reduction measure is incompatible with all the other risk reduction messages and practices, given the loss that circumcision necessarily entails.

And hence, you have the foundation for why infant circumcision is the new focus and emphasis of male circumcision campaigns in Africa. Infant circumcision is the antithesis of voluntary medical male circumcision or VMMC. The proponents of circumcision have shifted their focus. I expect this study will be leveraged in their argument to force circumcision on infants, a population without the capacity to consent or resist.

(As an aside, I would speculate that the reason circumcised men who participate in circumcision initiation rites have lower rates of HIV is because they also are part of a larger culture that reinforces other messages of sexual restraint.)

Citation:  Rosenberg MS, Gomez-Olive FX, Rohr JK, Kahn K, Barnighausen TW (2018) Are circumcised men safer sex partners? Findings from the HAALSI cohort in rural South Africa. PLoS ONE 13(8): e0201445.

Download PDF: Rosenberg et al Circumcised Men Have Higher HIV Rates – S. Africa – August 2018

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