Should Australians have the right to decide which parts of their genitals they keep?

Here is an outrageous idea. Or, at least, an idea that may seem foreign to many Australians. I believe that I should have the right to choose which parts of my genitals I keep and which parts I want to have sliced off and thrown into the medical waste bin.Circumcision consent

But it seems that many Australians don’t agree with me. Or that is what it seems when they support the act of pinning down an infant boy and cutting off part of his penis. Most call it circumcision, but I prefer to avoid this euphemism and call it what it really is: genital cutting, partial penis amputation, or even (brace yourselves) genital mutilation. ‘Oh no’ I hear you gasp. ‘It’s only mutilation if we do it to a girl, right? Even if its a tiny symbolic nick. If we cut off 30-50% of the penile skin, surely that can’t be called mutilation. And besides, we do it in Australia, and the Government pays for it through Medicare, so it can’t be mutilation. Can it?’

But what about the medical benefits? You can put forward an argument for amputating any body part based on the medical benefits of doing so. You could amputate a baby’s big toe to reduce the risk of ingrown toenails, or cut off their ears to reduce skin cancer. I challenge you to suggest one body part where there wouldn’t be a benefit in chopping it off (please suggest a body part as a comment below if you are up for the challenge). But with all these other body parts, the use of that part is considered, and medical ethics and plain old common sense prevail. The penis seems to be exempt from all of these concepts.

And by the way, even if there was any truth to these so-called medical benefits, most of them are related to sexually transmissible diseases, and I didn’t have sex when I was a baby. In fact I didn’t have my first serious sexual encounter unti l was 20. And my partner in this encounter has been my only partner and now wife for the last 12 years. I was hardly at risk of HIV or other STD’s which the pro-cutting crowd try desperately to prove are more prevalent in men who have all of their genitals. Besides, at the age of 20, even if I had decided to lead an ‘at risk’ lifestyle, I could have decided to either get myself circumcised for a marginal reduced risk at best, or wear a condom.

But getting back to my ‘outrageous’ statement. I wasn’t wasn’t given the right to choose for myself. And it seems that most Australians think that’s OK. Otherwise, like me they would be joining the intactivist movement and lobbying government to bring an end to the practice. But the most important thing they could do would be to simply stop cutting their babies. Most have, with rates now less than 1 in 5 and shrinking every year. But it seems that many who wouldn’t circumcise their own children will still support parents who decide to do it to theirs.

Maybe I am wrong. In this age of gender equality, self-determination and the growth of the human rights movement, perhaps Australians do support the concept of genital autonomy. Where do you stand?

Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom /


7 thoughts on “Should Australians have the right to decide which parts of their genitals they keep?

  1. Making the routine circumcision of minors illegal raises a host of issues under the heading of parental rights, an overbearing nanny state, and religious liberty. I prefer that the circumcision of minors stop because it becomes widely accepted that such circumcisions are potentially damaging to adult sexuality, and hence are very sexually uncool. However, for our popular culture to make this transition requires that men and women put in the public domain, using the internet and not always anonymously, very private aspects of their personal sexual journeys. Thousands have done just that, and so we are moving towards the goal I prefer. I am especially amazed at the candor of thousands of women.

    It is very curious that Australian and Canadian cities have surgeries that specialise in infant circumcision, but New Zealand does not.

  2. If someone tampers with the genitals of a child in the absence of need, it’s a sex crime.

    If someone cuts into another person in the absence of consent or urgent medical need, it’s a serious criminal assault.

    Society should no longer turn a blind eye to the behaviour and actions of circumcisers.

  3. Its basic human rights isnt it? You decide yourself whether you leave your genitals surgically unaltered or have them modified? I’m surprised that in the 21st Century genital cutting of minors still occurs?

  4. I’m not a big fan of the “rights” paradigm as a way to tackle RIC. One immediately gets into a fruitless debate about children’s vs parental rights, not to mention all the religious freedom stuff. It’s also not how the great majority of parents (who don’t circumcise) think about the issue, not the least reason being that currently parents *do* have the legal right to circumcise their sons, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

    Rather, it seems to me infant circumcision is *unethical*, in the absence of compelling medical reasons, primarily because its irreversible nature denies the child the opportunity to make their own decision at a time when it becomes relevant for them (ie post puberty). This ethical argument applies equally to doctors and parents, Muslims and atheists, and is grounded in the ethics of personal autonomy, which has overwhelming support in developed nations.

    • The distance between “rights” and “unethical” is not a great one.

      RIC declined in the UK, New Zealand and Australia because more and more doctors (and professors of medicine) agreed that some circumcisions were botched, and a few led to fatalities. The evidence that circumcision “prevented” anything that could not be prevented with a daily shower and responsible sexual practices, was nonexistent. Circumcision has faded in most of the English speaking world,m when it is seen as useless.

      The surest way to send RIC to the scrap heap of medical history, is for circumcision to be seen as sexually uncool. This perception is growing, especially among young mothers, and that can be demoralising for today’s older men. But the vast majority of parents will not circumcise their sons if it is commonly believed that circumcised men are inferior in bed. This perception is a surer path to RIC’s demise than making it illegal.

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