Leave foreskin alone! Or at least that’s the sentiment at the beach. Take a drive to Galveston and you’ll spot controversial billboards springing up on Broadway. The new signs urge expecting parents to skip the snip.
“Circumcision: unnecessary, painful and risky, causes lifelong sexual harm,” one board reads.
Whether you view the practice as genital mutilation, as harmless as piercing ears, or somewhere in between (docking spaniels’ tails?), the bold signs are sure to catch your eye.
Strangely, the anti-circumcision organization credited on the billboard, Intact America, didn’t have anything to do with putting up the sign.
Intact America executive director Georganne Chapin told the Galveston Daily News that it’s probably funded by “a supporter who decided to take matters into his own hands.”
“There are many grass roots organizations out there pushing for this same cause,” Chapin said.
Although not part of the group’s efforts, Intact America gave its full support to the signs. Chapin is steadfast in her belief.
Chapin told the Galveston Daily News, “Our mission is to do away with forced, unconsented circumcision of children. The United States is interesting in that we’re one of the only countries in the world that does this.”
Chapin is only half-right. Many countries circumcise. It’s a religious tradition for both Muslim and Jewish people and most prevalent in the Muslim world, but numerous non-Muslim and non-Jewish countries recently adopted the practice at the insistence of the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO asserts that circumcision diminishes the spread of AIDS and estimates that 664,500,000 males aged 15 and over are circumcised (30 percent of the world’s male population).
Organizations like Intact America contest foreskin’s link to an increased risk of AIDS transmission.
The Centers for Disease Control have yet to reach a verdict. They’re expected to provide recommendations to the public about circumcision, but those studies are ongoing.
Meanwhile, a San Francisco man is advocating an all-out ban. Lloyd Schofield wants to push through a ballot measure making it a misdemeanor to circumcise anyone younger than 18. To make it on to the November ballot, the ordinance needs more than 7,100 signatures by April.
Like Intact America, Schofield sees the practice as mutilation. On his website he argues that damage from the procedure “ranges from excruciating pain, nerve destruction, loss of normal, natural and functional tissue, infection, disfigurement and sometimes death.”
Those who practice the procedure say those risks are exceedingly rare, and are more than offset by the benefits, including a reduced risk of urinary-tract infection and lower rates of sexually transmitted disease in adulthood.
Houstonians have yet to react to the billboards. However, in San Francisco, the response to Schofield’s no-circumcision is more cultural than scientific with appeals to religious freedom. The Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Board of Rabbis of Northern California and the American Jewish Committee issued a joint statement asserting that the practice is “of fundamental importance in the Jewish tradition.”
Unless the Centers for Disease Control find overwhelming evidence against circumcision, it’s highly unlikely it will ever be outlawed.
Still, on the whole Americans are changing their ways. In a presentation at the International Aids Conference in August, a researcher noted that only 32.5 percent of baby boys born in 2009 were circumcised, a sharp drop from the 56 percent that were circumcised as recently as 2006.