Over the many years I have been advocating for the rights of baby boys to their whole, intact bodies, I have engaged in countless discussions on the topic. Some people have never given circumcision a thought, but once they are asked to think about it they immediately “get” that circumcision is a human rights violation. Some react by vociferously defending circumcision, and put forth facts and arguments that they believe bolster their position, and others simply want to end the conversation. Not surprisingly, people from the latter group sometimes return with arguments, questions, or even agreement. As you can imagine, I have gained a reputation for being – depending on the crowd – either a fascinating guest or an unwelcome annoyance at social gatherings!

Even while, by now, I truly have no problem talking about the foreskin, penises, circumcision, sexual dysfunction, female genital cutting, or any related topic, I do remember how difficult it was at the beginning when somebody would challenge me with arguments I knew were wrong, but to which I hadn’t yet formulated a cogent response.

I know that other intactivists have the same problem. So I thought it might be useful to lay out some talking points, or simple answers to questions or arguments I commonly hear. Here’s part one. First you’ll see the question (or argument) in italics, and then my counterpoint.

There are so many more important causes. Why are you wasting your time on this? I see infant circumcision as a human rights issue, and wouldn’t you agree that human rights should top the list of worthy causes? Furthermore, protecting babies and children ranks among the highest of human rights causes because they are unable to speak out or advocate on their own behalf.

You people are really weird.  It’s strange to me that you think my position is weird. Frankly, when I first starting thinking about circumcision, I thought it just didn’t make sense that half of the human race “needs” surgical correction after being born. To me, it seems weird to chop off any normal, healthy body part – let alone, the end of someone’s penis.

You are obsessed with penises. Actually, I think it’s the people who want to cut off foreskins who are obsessed with penises. My belief is simply that baby boys should be left in peace. As a pediatrician I know says, “Don’t just do something – stand there!” In other words, leave that baby’s body the way God – or nature – made it.

You’re not a man. Why do you care so much about this? You don’t have to be a man to know that babies – all babies – deserve protection from forced surgery on their genitals. You don’t have to be Jewish or Cambodian or Sudanese to care about genocide, or African-American to care about racial equality. It is everybody’s business to stand up for people whose rights are being violated.

I’ll let my husband decide; he’s the one with the penis.  If you accept that a child cannot legally consent to a surgery that is unnecessary, then you must agree that the child’s right to be protected cannot be suspended on a whim by a Father, or anyone else. If your husband were missing a finger, would you let him make the decision to cut off your child’s finger, or would you step in to protect your baby?

What about religion? Circumcision is a Jewish thing. You must be anti-Semitic. Most people don’t realize boys from Jewish families represent a very small fraction (a few thousand) of the one million infant circumcisions that occur in the U.S. each year. In turn, only a few of those circumcisions are performed in keeping with religious ritual. The rest are carried out mostly by doctors in medical settings, even though the surgery is not medically indicated and violates the rights of the babies who undergo it. I believe all children have a right to bodily integrity, girls and boys, from families of any religious or cultural affiliation. Finally and not surprisingly, growing numbers of Jewish parents are choosing to forego the painful practice of circumcision and are leaving their sons intact.

Why are you telling other people what to do? Circumcision should be a personal choice.    You’re right! Circumcision should be a personal choice, and the person making that choice should be the person whose body will be permanently altered – and who will have to live with the consequences of the surgery.

A boy should look like his father.  You wouldn’t abandon your baby if his eye color was different from his father’s (or mother’s) eye color. You wouldn’t seek to surgically alter any other body part of your child’s to make it conform to his parent’s looks. So why would you be concerned that a baby’s “private” parts (with an emphasis on “private”) should match his father’s?

My next post will deal with some of the “hygiene” and “disease” arguments. Do you have suggestions for other questions or objections that you’ve found challenging and that have left you wishing you had a more compelling response? Let me know.