Stats And Subjectivity

by Chris Bodenner

I had never even thought to question the ethics of circumcision before reading Andrew's passionate take on the issue a few years back. His case is very persuasive. But so are the points Hanna raised earlier today, namely this one:

[A]ll that research of specific areas of male sensitivity (Andrew cites some here) has always struck me as dubious. Erotic pleasure is a rich and complicated thing. Specific percentages of sensitivity can't possibly sum up the experience.

I'll go one step further: Is sensitivity that important to begin with? Well duh, of course it is on a basic level. But what if a slight decrease in sensitively actually heightens sex overall? In other words: The guy lasts longer. And that's generally better for everyone involved, no?

When I checked out Wikipedia's many cited studies on "ejaculatory function," most are not statistically significant - and those that are balance out. So my hunch seems unfounded. Furthermore, what if decreased sensitivity from circumcision hinders the game to begin with? But studies on "erectile function" are also inconclusive. So are those comparing "satisfaction."

Studies are a red herring, however, when it comes to the ethical part of the debate. Even if there are no discernible differences between cut and uncut on average, there are still many individuals who are better or worse off from a procedure their parents imposed. As one reader puts it:

It’s my dick. It’s my dick. It’s my dick. It is no one else’s dick but my dick.  And I should have the choice to circumcise it when I am old enough to make that decision.

Then again, if you were circumcised as a newborn, how would you ever know the difference? Wouldn't your range of sensitivity adjust accordingly? (Unless the procedure was botched, of course.)

It's an incredibly nuanced debate, which, by the looks of the many passionate emails to Hanna, won't go away soon.  In fact, many of its themes - namely, of parents making an irreversible medical decision for their child - are similar to the ones found in her Atlantic piece on transgender children; I highly recommend it. Here's a taste:

For years, [transsexuals have] been at the extreme edges of transgressive sexual politics. But now children like Brandon are being used to paint a more conventional picture: before they have much time to be shaped by experience, before they know their sexual orientation, even in defiance of their bodies, children can know their gender, from the firings of neurons deep within their brains. What better rebuke to the Our Bodies, Ourselves era of feminism than the notion that even the body is dispensable, that the hard nugget of difference lies even deeper?