What’s a tipping point? The phenomenon is well-researched and documented in sociological literature, but it was popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s book by the same name.
“The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate.”
What does this mean for intactivists?
Here is a graph depicting the circumcision belief tipping point. It was originally published on Intact America’s Facebook page, where it got a lot of interest and commentary.
With regard to Americans’ beliefs about the male body, a tipping point will be reached when having a foreskin becomes not just acceptable, but popular. Once we’ve reached that tipping point, the idea of circumcising a baby will be unpopular — even unthinkable.
How do we get there?
Reaching a tipping point requires a change in people’s beliefs — not just their behavior. People who have studied social change (including Malcolm Gladwell, mentioned above) have concluded that to reach a tipping point, you need 20-25 percent of the public to accept an alternative to the current status quo. Research conducted in 2014 by a respected polling firm hired by Intact America shows that, right now, about 12 percent of all Americans oppose circumcision, and 14 percent are undecided. We need to aim to convert that “undecided” group! Targeting those who adamantly defend circumcision is a waste of time — for now. Many of them will get onboard later, once the tipping point has occurred.
That’s why it isn’t enough for intactivists to target our advocacy mainly toward expectant parents. Currently, new moms- and dads-to-be are living in a society that is unfamiliar with — even hostile toward — intact male genitals. That’s not a conducive environment for raising an intact boy. Every trip to the doctor, every diaper change by the day care worker — or even by Grandma — invites raised eyebrows, negative comments and bad advice.
That’s why Intact America is reaching out to the general public, to convert those “undecideds.” That’s why we’re aiming our message — that intact genitals are healthy and normal, and that the foreskin is good — to people of all ages and backgrounds. That’s why our social media messages target young and old, gay and straight, and Americans of every ethnic persuasion.
Because everybody needs to understand that intact genitals are not just a human right — but that they’re healthy, normal and good ! That’s how we’ll reach the tipping point; that’s how we’ll change the way Americans think about circumcision.
These are exciting times at Intact America. A rapid succession of developments is pointing to a breakthrough for the intactivism movement. Here are five indications that American public opinion is turning our way.
- Our latest national opinion survey, conducted this year, shows that 1 out of 4 people surveyed said they believe that baby boys should be kept intact. That means we’re approaching “The Tipping Point,” when we reach a critical mass of people who will tip the scales in our favor. Historically, Americans have been slow to accept social change. But once the ball starts rolling, it rarely stops.
- For decades, the mainstream media has ignored the truth about the harm and distress caused by circumcision. But on October 11, 2021, The New Yorker published “A Botched Circumcision and Its Aftermath,” an essay by the renowned fiction writer Gary Shteyngart. He wrote about the emotional and physical pain he has endured for decades since his circumcision at the age of seven. His essay was poignant and powerful, and ignited multiple conversations online and in person. That’s what we want—to get people to stop and open their eyes to what circumcision really entails.
- We leveraged the Shteyngart article to heighten awareness of the intactivist movement. Our letter to the editor of The New Yorker, one of just three on the subject posted on the letters page, further educated readers about the needless danger of cutting away healthy, protective, and erogenous tissue from a baby boy’s genitals. For example, the letter noted that 11 percent of pediatric surgical malpractice lawsuits involve circumcision. The letter also informed readers that doctors in the rest of the world do not circumcise male children and asked why Americans allow doctors to profit from cutting the genitals of baby boys while fighting to outlaw the practice of female genital cutting here and abroad.(One of the other two letters published was written by a urologist, who made several unfounded claims. Chapin wrote to him directly to challenge his assertions. You can read what she wrote here.)
- This fall, a definitive study was published in the Journal of Urology showing that in Western societies, there is no association between a man’s risk for acquiring HIV and his circumcision status. For years, doctors in the U.S. have used questionable African studies to justify cutting children’s penises to lower their risk of acquiring HIV. The new study repudiates that theory, with researchers finding that HIV risk is virtually identical between intact and cut men living in the West.
- Earlier this fall, intactivists Lisa Braver Moss and Rebecca Wald launched a group called Bruchim to foster inclusion of intact Jews and their families into organized religious life. Braver Moss and Wald say the need is great for their initiative because many Jewish people are choosing to welcome their sons into Judaism with a non-circumcising, naming ceremony called Brit Shalom, or “covenant of peace.”
We are encouraged by all this progress. You may see other signs of the difference we are making, and please tell us in the comments below.
But to really end male child genital cutting, we have to stop every participant who profits from or finances this $2 billion industry. Intact America is now crafting a multipronged strategy aimed at shining the light on all these actors: circumcision equipment makers; hospitals that make the space, equipment, and medical professionals available for the surgery; doctors who do the cutting (and nurses who assist), as well as those who reap fees from repairing “botches”; and the insurers that waste the public’s money by paying for the useless and harmful practice of removing boys’ normal genital tissue.
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The United States is now the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic, and our medical resources are stretched thin. There is a shortage of health care professionals to care for the thousands of terribly ill COVID-19 patients who have flooded our hospitals, which is why the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams asked health care providers to cancel or postpone all adult elective procedures to avoid overwhelming hospital systems. The Surgeon General warned that every elective surgery could spread this deadly virus within a facility. Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, after a few weeks’ realization that the pandemic is going to be with us for a long time, hospitals are resuming elective surgeries, with little discussion about the principles or priorities that underlay the Surgeon General’s recommendations.
That said, his guidance did not go far enough. In particular, it failed to address the fact that many elective procedures for minors could and should also be evaluated as to their need. A glaring example of a surgery that is not just a non-priority during a pandemic but utterly useless at any time is – ironically – also the most commonly performed pediatric surgery in America. Newborn circumcision treats no illness and could be completely abandoned with only positive benefits for children and for the nation’s health overall. Of course, this procedure is sold by physicians and nurses to parents, who “elect” to cut their baby boy’s genitals, and the patient is given no choice; if he were, I suspect he’d opt to forgo the surgery and remain intact. (One of my favorite bumper stickers of all times says: 10 Out of 10 Babies Say NO to Circumcision!)
Boys who are circumcised spend, on average, an extra six hours in the hospital, increasing the risk that they and their mothers will be exposed to COVID-19 and other infections. It is just appalling to me that doctors and hospitals engage in cutting the genitals of infants, even when the risks associated with the pandemic are so apparent.
Yet, it’s clear from the reports I have seen that doctors and nurses continue to press parents to circumcise their newborn boys, and that it even extends to cases where the mother is COVID-19-positive! In early April, the American Academy of Pediatrics published its “Initial Guidance: Management of Infants Born to Mothers with COVID-19,” which specifically states, “Well newborns should receive all indicated care, including circumcision if requested.”
What the guidance does not say, but should, is that the American Academy of Pediatrics itself has always stated that there is not sufficient scientific evidence to recommend routine newborn circumcision. To that, we add that circumcision is a harmful intervention that no professional medical society recommends, that it is performed on patients who are not sick, and that it robs babies of an essential erogenous part of their natural penis.
Intact America has launched a petition drive to demand that the Surgeon General tell hospitals to stop performing male child circumcisions at this critical time. Nationwide, doctors perform 3,000 newborn circumcisions each day, or more than one million unnecessary surgeries every year. Each day, the procedure consumes 6,000 surgical masks, 6,000 pairs of protective gloves, and other supplies that could be better used to protect frontline health care workers from COVID-19 and to treat sick patients.
We have also contacted nearly 20,000 administrators and clinicians from thousands of hospitals around the country requesting that they stop all newborn circumcisions. Health care professionals need to understand that cutting newborn genitals both wastes precious resources and increases the risk of exposure to COVID-19 by babies and their mothers.
COVID-19 has brought pain and suffering to millions in the United States, and the U.S. health care system will be forever changed by this pandemic. One would hope that both experts and the general public will begin to accept that it’s necessary to prioritize our overall use of medical resources to ensure that supplies, equipment and personnel are available – and equitably accessible – for when they are truly needed. Fortunately, more and more Americans are ready to accept the wisdom that intactivists have advocated for years: suspend routine newborn circumcisions and keep all children whole, as nature intended.
We can use this pandemic as an impetus to stop cutting boys’ genitals—just as we refuse to allow cutting the genitals of girls. We can break the circumcision habit, and thus move closer to a consensus that keeping a boy intact (“uncircumcised”) is the normal and desirable thing to do. In his book, “The Tipping Point,” Malcolm Gladwell, explains the concept: “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”
We look forward to watching the flames. Help us by signing our petition today.
Intact America calls on American hospitals to cancel newborn circumcisions to save precious resources and protect babies.