The benefits of circumcision are exaggerated, we should end it

Monday February 15 2016

Pokot children undergo a series of rituals before being initiated into manhood, at Tiaty sub-county, Baringo County on January 23, 2016. PHOTO | CHEBOITE KIGEN | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Pokot children undergo a series of rituals before being initiated into manhood, at Tiaty sub-county, Baringo County on January 23, 2016. PHOTO | CHEBOITE KIGEN | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

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Many years ago when I was seven or eight, I happened to be using the urinal at the same time as my friend Samuel.

A cursory glance his way revealed that we had differences in the trouser department that I hadn’t expected. Small boys aren’t all the same, as it turns out, when they get stripped down.

I asked him about our differences and he filled me in. We looked different because I was circumcised, while he wasn’t.

Blame my sheltered life. I had no clue about this mysterious thing.

Previously, the only other person I had seen naked was my older brother, but there weren’t any differences in anatomy. Turns out I wasn’t the stock version, I had been modified.

Samuel asked me questions about the procedure that I couldn’t answer primarily because I couldn’t remember it.

I had no memory of a foreskin. I was missing a part of me and didn’t even know it.

I found out later that I had achieved “manhood” a few months after being born.

No one bothered to inform me of my elevated status as a man in the intervening years.

Samuel got his chance to be a man years later when we were in Class Five, and held a big party to celebrate.

During the party, we kept asking him “Is it true you can’t walk for weeks due to the pain? Do they put it on a sling?”

Recently, there was a report by Unicef detailing the millions of women globally who had been circumcised.

The numbers were much worse than we had thought. The report revealed that in some countries, 98 per cent of women had been circumcised.

Circumcision of women is now called genital mutilation. It has become verboten, a crime now at par with murder, perhaps the only traditional African practice that White people can confidently condemn without being called racists.

For men, circumcision is tolerated, expected, and in some countries celebrated.

If it is an international scandal that the prepuce of a woman is removed to satisfy religious and cultural views, why is it okay to do the same to boys?

If parents of baby girls do not have the right to practice an invasive, traumatic body modification to fit an idealised religious or cultural standard, then it is wrong for the parents of boys to do the same.

Close to two thirds of males on earth are not circumcised, circumcision is primarily a religious expression.

Some think that the foreskin is a vestigial organ like an appendix. You don’t even notice if you lost it as a child.

The foreskin is not just a useless piece of skin, it provides lubrication, protection and has erogenous capabilities. It is after all a piece of skin filled with nerve endings.

Some people claim that circumcision prevents infections. It is easy to dispel this ridiculous idea without resorting to the available medical reports available.

Many Western European countries have publicly funded health services.

If there really was money to be saved in the future by circumcising baby boys, you can be sure Margaret Thatcher would have pushed it through the British health service.

All the claims on the benefits of circumcision are either exaggerated or plain wrong.

A condom is a greater barrier to disease than circumcision, which shoots down circumcision as a prophylactic argument.

Women are more at risk of disease, infection, odour, and disease than men due to their physiology.

Why is it that men are told to chop off their foreskins due to the likelihood of future infection but women are not asked to get rid of their clitorises?

The perceived benefits of the surgery are also questionable.

The British Medical Association doesn’t think male circumcision is worth it. The Royal Australasian College of Physicians agrees with them.

The Canadian Paediatric Society concurs. The Royal Dutch Medical Association subscribe to this view.


WHO would find it hard to agree because some of its members believe that circumcision is a command from a god.

So it has to sit on the fence to appease religious fanatics in America and the Middle East.

Unless a child is in danger of disease, no operation should be attempted. There is risk of injury every time a child is circumcised.

Last year, we heard that a South African man who received a penis transplant was able to impregnate his girlfriend.

He lost his member in a botched circumcision procedure. It really is the height of folly to risk a child’s penis for a cultural/religious ideal.

Hundreds of children have died in South Africa due to botched operations. There are whole websites with scores of photographs highlighting botched circumcision procedures in South Africa. 

There is no answer of course to those who believe that male circumcision is a religious command.

I would however ask why the same courtesy is not extended to Mungiki when they want to circumcise girls.

Labiaplasty, more trendily known as the “Toronto trim” is an increasingly popular cosmetic surgery in the West.

This is interesting because the definition of FGM according to World Health Organization is “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

This definition does include slicing off sections of the labia which would make many forms of labiaplasty, including the one that was the subject of that 2012 documentary “Sexy Baby” as FGM.

However, if you are an adult, you can have yourself mutilated. FGM is illegal, but labiaplasty is okay despite it not being a medical procedure.


The difference between Toronto trim and FGM is not the degree of incision, it is the age. Women wanting labiaplasties are European adults, FGM happens on Asian and African children.

The rule should be if you want to modify your genitals for either religious or cultural reasons, you should be 18 years first regardless of your sex.

You should also be offered counselling because your problems are more psychological than physiological.

Ritualistic hacking of male genitalia is an insidious tradition of dubious worth. The benefits of circumcision are exaggerated, but the risks are real.

It is a cultural anomaly that hangs on due to fear and ignorance. We should get end it.