NYT: Can’t tell apples from oranges

It is a sacred tenet of the anti-circumcision movement that each person should be left to define himself and his experience without interference — whether in sex or identity or any other area of life. In fact, it is the very foundation of why the movement exists. Therefore, it isn’t particularly upsetting or disturbing to most people who are against circumcision to hear that some men either like or don’t care that they were circumcised as infants. In fact, the whole issue begs the question.

Obviously, it is those who are unhappy with the decision made for them by parents and in some cases doctors who are at issue. However, as if to poke the “anti’s” in the eye, the New York Times, as has been its habit of late, has run an opinion piece that purports to speak for most men, implicitly lumping men circumcised as adults in with men circumcised as infants. No wonder it’s reviled by so many.

The piece curtly points out a small British study that purports to show that most men in this particular study, if measured by self-reports on satisfaction post-op, seem to come out satisfied. Now perhaps a 62% rate of satisfaction seems impressive to some people, but to me it is a disaster. If 38% of the men said they were not satisfied or less than satisfied, that’s no small number for a self-selected group who voluntarily went under the knife! If it were me, I would want much better odds than that — measured longitudinally.

Still, it is one thing to look at a self-selected group who have undergone circumcision voluntarily and it is quite another to look at a group that was forced to be circumcised in infancy. They are hardly comparable.

Granted, many of the latter group may have positive or no opinions on their own status, but so what? Sexual satisfaction is a very broad topic, partly penis-focused, partly psychological, partly a whole lot of something else. It doesn’t particularly help your case to simplify to the point of meaninglessness. Why not just give the conclusion, forget the argument, and say, “This I believe!”? Otherwise, it just shows your poorly disguised bias or your lack of critical thinking skills.

See it for yourself, next page.

The Claim: Circumcision Adversely Affects Sexual Satisfaction


Three studies in Africa recently  endorsed circumcision to prevent H.I.V. infection. Which raises an age-old question about circumcision: does it make sex better or worse? Some scientists argue that it lessens sexual pleasure, by removing foreskin that contains thousands of nerve endings; others disagree.

Studies have mostly sought to examine the question by looking at adults who undergo the procedure for cosmetic, religious or medical reasons. Most studies have found that it leads to decreased sensation — which some men say is good, and others find a drawback.

A 2002 study in the journal Urology looked at 123 adults who underwent the operation and found that most experienced both decreased sensitivity and improved satisfaction. “Over all,” it said, “62 percent were satisfied with having been circumcised.” A study of 150 men, published in 2005 by British urologists, found that 38 percent experienced improved sensation after circumcision, 18 percent reported less sensation and 44 percent experienced no change.


Most men do not report any decrease in satisfaction as a result of circumcision.


O’Connor, Anahad. The Claim: Circumcision Adversely Affects Sexual Satisfaction. New York Times. April 10, 2007.


About David Wilton

fronterizo, public defender, intactivist, gay
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