This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Saturday, 24 November 2012


Has anyone  read Alex Hailey's Roots? The part where the protagonist, Kairaba Kunta Kinte, is told that as part of his manhood training, part of his fotowould be cut off? And then the author goes on to describe how it was done. (Whether the book was plagiarised, as claimed here, is not germane to the current discussion.)
I am among the few non-Muslims in India who are circumcised (Jews in India are too few even to signify).
It was because I had this problem called phimosis. It happens when the foreskin is so tight that when it rolls back over the glans (as is normal during sex or during an erection) it can't come back again. It's not uncommon, but because the majority of the world's population is circumcised (West Africa, for example, has seen circumcision practised for many thousands of years, as has Egypt - check the illustration, dating from 2300 BCE), and we in the uncircumcised part of the world do not talk of such things, it's not much known. I had this problem. It first manifested when I was 16, when I woke up one morning with the foreskin retracted behind the glans, which was swollen and huge because of the blood accumulated behind the constricting band of skin. I had no idea what it was that had happened. I was terrified and mortified. And also because I had no communication with my parents on such issues, I did not mention it to them. I could barely walk. But I still went to school somehow, and walked back (three kilometres either way). By the next day it was worse than ever and I forced my dad to take me to a doctor who pulled the foreskin back, agonisingly, without anaesthesia (later as a medical student I discovered anaesthesia ismandatory for this procedure). The swelling went down very fast. This doctor said I should come back after a few days for a circumcision. Also no one had ever told me to wash the glans of the penis with soap and water to remove the smegma deposits (which can incubate yeast infection and also cause cancer). After a few days the problem recurred (I woke up and pulled the foreskin back just in time) and when I went back to this doctor he said there was no need for circumcision and it would be "OK when you are married(?)" Another medical myth there. Anyway, my dad went "Why did you never wash it?" I answered: "Did you ever tell me to? How the hell would I know about it if you don't tell me?" Remember what I said about parents being responsible for their children’s sex education?
Later I kept on having problems like this. I got to being phobic about sleep because I used to get terrified lest I get an erection during dreams and get the foreskin stuck again. Also on at least two occasions I stopped at crucial points with girls because I got terrified of getting the foreskin stuck (once it did, too, but after a long time I got it back again.) Of course the girls involved were unhappy and I never had that chance with them again.
Ultimately I got a reluctant ("Why do you want it at all?") surgeon to remove my foreskin in June 2000. I'm convinced it's among the best moves in my life. It caused a hell of a lot of trouble for a month or more, sheer undiluted hell, but afterwards I have been able to have sex and also to sleep again.
(Oh - I just want to make clear that when I say "circumcision", I meanmale circumcision, not the condemnable female variety, in case anyone has a doubt.)
But, my personal choice, in the Indian scenario, to be circumcised, is not exactly a free choice anyone can follow. A dear friend writes about how she got her grandsons circumcised so they would not be teased because they look different, in locker rooms and so on. In India it’s not a matter of teasing – whether one is circumcised or not may make a difference between life and death. Quite literally. Because, during our periodic bouts of religious mayhem, it’s not unknown for men to be stopped and stripped by religious gangs and killed, or released, on the basis of their being circumcised or not (all circumcised individuals automatically being Muslim in the eyes of both Muslims and Hindus). And also when the World Health Organisation recently released areport saying that circumcision halts the spread of HIV, Indian health officials said in private that they could not possibly agree to the report, whatever the truth of it, because they would be promptly accused of trying to spread Islam. As though HIV cares about the religion of the person it is infecting.
Compared to all this, the issue of a boy’s locker room embarrassment looks, frankly, not very overwhelming.
But as long as he gets circumcised, it’s better than nothing. Of course I am not suggesting that we should stretch out our kids on the ground and take unsterilised bronze knives to their foreskins...
But even that might just be better than nothing. 

According to a web-site I came across, circumcision decreases penile sensitivity up to four times - and this is an allegedly scientific article from softpedia.

Now, you'll agree, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

I'm circumcised. I got circumcised due to phimosis that had made me virtually impotent and at a relatively advanced age. And in my opinion it's the best thing that ever happened to me, for reasons that I have discussed here.

As for sensitivity, after circumcision there is a drop in sensitivity - this is true, and is necessary because there is such extreme sensitivity after circumcision with the naked glans rubbing on underclothing that walking is a torture for up to a month. But the drop in sensitivity is a temporary phenomenon. During sex the glans is engorged and hypersensitive and of course vaginal secretions and lubricants make sure the glans isn't dry. So the theory that a dry glans is desensitised is false.

In the days when I was uncircumcised I was still a virgin (I had several opportunities to have sex but couldn't do it because of my phimosis - I was deeply phobic even of sleeping and getting an erection that could potentially trap my foreskin behind my glans, causing massive swelling and incredible pain, forget about sex). All my orgasms were from masturbation, so the only field of comparison open to me is masturbation. In those days I could stretch a masturbation session to last up to ten or fifteen minutes if I wanted. Or if I were in a hurry I could do it in two minutes or so. Till today I can do the same. How long it lasts depends on my mood, my state of arousal, how slow I take it and the time available. When I was uncircumcised my orgasms during masturbation were intense. After circumcision the intensity dropped drastically but the nerve endings adjusted and within a year of circumcision my orgasms were as intense as they always were. So, again, I do not think circumcision ruins sensitivity.

Also, according to WHO, circumcision allows a drop in HIV infection rates up to 60%. This is the result of a scientific study. The softpedia article makes claims but makes no attempt to provide any proof. 

I must say this though - circumcision is awfully painful. Not the actual procedure, which is under local anaesthesia. I mean the aftermath. The first month is hell on earth. First the penis rubbing on the clothes, and after that intense itching from the healing skin as it dries. And you can't even scratch. I remember going around the house doing chores the day after being circumcised and suddenly noticing drops of blood trailing behind me...

Yes, I think circumcision is good. No, I don't think one should wait till adulthood to get it done. I should hate anyone else to go through what I went through. And, no, I don't think circumcision is part of some kind of vast conspiracy to decrease male sexual pleasure, either.

So when I read articles like the one above, and also relate them to the articles (more in the nature of adverts, really) promoting foreskin reconstruction surgery, I seem to smell a rat in the works.

Like so many other procedures, it seems to be a case of inventing a problem in order to cure it.


They call it “female circumcision”, but it isn’t.
A recurrent theme in my writings – because it’s something I see so often and so repeatedly expressed – is the fundamentally anti-sexualnature of religion and religious practices. And when I mean anti-sexual, I mean anti-woman, because virtually all religious measures to suppress sexuality primarily target women. About the only exception I know to this rule are the members of some Hindu sects who drive spikes and so on through their penises to kill sexual ability – and, it would seem to follow (in their minds at least) sexual desire.
Now, another repeated motif of human civilisation through the ages has been the modification of the human body. Tattoos, body piercing, body painting and so on have been going on so long as there have been human beings on the planet. Another little thing that has been going on since ancient times is circumcision, the ancient practice that the Egyptians probably borrowed from the West Africans who have been doing it since at least five thousand years, and which involves the removal of the foreskin from the penis. It’s often thought the Jews invented circumcision and were copied in turn by the Muslims, but it is just not so. It’s far older than that.
Of course, circumcision as I just described it is for males only, and it’s claimed to have health benefits. I’m not quite sure how some of those health benefits, those claiming circumcision stops HIV and so on, will play out with further research. And it does decrease the sensitivity of the glans. But I’m circumcised, and I can personally attest to the efficacy of circumcision in one respect. I was a long time sufferer of a problem known as phimosis which made me functionally just about impotent and which was cured by circumcision. Otherwise I’d have remained a virgin to this day.
Now, of course, body modifications aren’t restricted to men. Women are, perhaps naturally, as much or more prone to bodily adornment as males. And that’s all fine – just as long as it’s voluntary. And, of course, as long as it does no actual harm.
There is one extremely cruel rite of female body modification which isnot (normally, at least) voluntary and which is definitely not harmless. They call it “female circumcision”, but that’s a misnomer, a euphemism if you like. A much better term for it would be female genital mutilation (FGM), and that’s how I intend to refer to it henceforth in this post.
Female circumcision, the partial or total cutting away of the external female genitalia, has been practiced for centuries in parts of Africa, generally as one element of a rite of passage preparing young girls for womanhood and marriage. Often performed without anaesthetic under septic conditions by lay practitioners with little or no knowledge of human anatomy or medicine, female circumcision can cause death or permanent health problems as well as severe pain. Despite these grave risks, its practitioners look on it as an integral part of their cultural and ethnic identity, and some perceive it as a religious obligation.
This mutilation may be of various forms (check this link for details): it may involve cutting off of part or all of the clitoris – the only organ in the human body (of either sex) whose exclusive function is to give pleasure. It may involve partial or total removal of the labia as well. In extreme cases the entire labia would be removed and the vagina sewed shut, leaving a small opening for urine and menstrual blood.
Now, recall what I said about culture and practices a few days ago. Then I was talking of the eating of a songbird, which, as a result of this eating, had become endangered, and I’d mentioned in passing, hunting heads – a “cultural” practice which had been banned and forced out of existence.
And also remember what I said just above about the fundamentally anti-female nature of religious practice. Here we have those two hoary old shibboleths, religion and culture, coming together with another ugly little dweller in our collective cupboard – male chauvinism. Collectively, they created a bastard child – FGM.
So, what’s the rationale behind female genital mutilation? It’s that other issue all wrapped up in tradition and “culture” – female “purity” and “honour”, which are equated with female celibacy. Now which woman is mostly likely to remain celibate? The woman who gets no pleasure out of sex at all, right? And in a relationship, which woman is – by this viewpoint – most likely to remain faithful to her man? The woman who gets no pleasure at all out of intercourse, so that she can’t think of any reason to have sex with anyone except the man to whom she has been given – and that out of a sense of duty.   
So, FGM is, shorn of all the verbiage about religion and culture, just a way of depriving women of sexual pleasure in order to make them subservient to the male. That’s it. It’s the female version of the Hindu who wraps his penis round a stick to kill all sensation in it by destroying the nerves. But it’s not voluntary.
With regard to something else, I had said, let me quote myself: It’s long been my opinion that left alone, any society will inevitably gravitate towards liberalism. It’s only a society that feels itself under threat that looks towards fundamentalism and conservatism.   
A culture that thinks it’s under threat of physical liquidation by another will usually retreat to its roots and drag out stuff from its basement that it would never normally have looked at again, dust it off, and enforce it – because it’s part of that culture’s tradition.
In Mau Mau From Within, General Karari Njama (one of the very few educated men to have taken part in the Kenyan anticolonialist revolt) speaks of how initiates into the ranks of the Mau Mau had to swear an oath that, among other things, required them to vow to have their daughters “circumcised”. Njama wrote of how it made him, as an educated person, uncomfortable, but he accepted it because it was part of the anti-British uprising, as well as the cultural baggage of his Kikuyu people. He said he wouldn’t have actually “circumcised” his daughters, but it’s a moot point, because at the time he did not have any.
Of course, in this world, religion is used as a cover for a lot of appalling things, and it’s not too surprising that it’s been brought in to justify female circumcision as well. So, FGM is often associated with Islam – though it’s not exclusive to Islam, many mullahs have at various times said that it’s part of what the Prophet Muhammad prescribed and hence an integral part of the religion. Apart from the question of whether backing FGM is liable to improve the status of Islam in the eyes of the disinterested observer, it’s not even agreed among the mullahs as to whether FGM has any place in Islam. For a discussion on Islam and FGM, as well as the Prophet Muhammad’s views, see here (you may need to click on "skip this ad" in the top right hand corner before you can see the page itself).
And it's not just Islam
Female circumcision is currently practiced in at least 28 countries stretching across the center of Africa north of the equator; it is not found in southern Africa or in the Arabic-speaking nations of North Africa, with the exception of EgyptFemale circumcision occurs among Muslims, Christians, animists and one Jewish sect, although no religion requires it.
Nowadays, FGM is officially banned in most countries, even in Africa. With Eritrea having banned it and Egypt planning to ban it, onlySomalia, which has no central government, and Sudan still hold it legal. But given the fact that it’s mostly done informally by untrained practitioners, the ban has very little actual meaning.
Girls in Somalia are circumcised before the age of five years, usually by female family members, although it is also performed legally there in some hospitals. Uncircumcised women are seen as unclean. The most common procedure is "fibulation," which involves removing and suturing most external genital tissue (i.e. the most extreme form of FGM), leaving only a posterior opening. In 1995, it was estimated that 98 percent of Somali women had undergone female genital mutilation.
Get this clear, it’s not the East African equivalent of a ring in your vulva. No.
Of course the opening can’t remain closed like that either. Just depriving a woman of all sexual pleasure isn’t enough. Once the woman is wed, her vagina needs to be cut open again for sexual intercourse – joyless for her and painful to boot. And then when she gets pregnant – as she will, given the fact that in these cultures women are thought to be baby producing machines – the vaginal opening has to be cut open even further to allow birth of the baby. They call it the "three feminine sorrows".
Compared to this the less extreme forms of FGM might almost look like good deals, but we shouldn’t fall into that trap. Whether it’s just the prepuce of the clitoris being removed or the entire female external genitals being cut away, and whether it’s done by a specialist in a hospital or by an older woman with a rusty knife, the procedure has absolutely no benefits and no indisputable religious sanction, something that doesn’t, of course, stop some “religious leaders” from shoving their oar in. You can’t cut away any of a little girl’s vulva and say you have the right to do it. You don’t. Period.    
Incidentally, please notice that the older female family members are the ones who were most often the practitioners of this barbarity. No wonder that
despite the social pressures to continue the tradition, many women who have undergone female genital mutilation believe the most important of her sorrows is the loss of trust--a sense of betrayal by her own mother.
It also proves yet another point I’ve repeated ad nauseam – women are their own worst enemies in the battle for equality. If the women would refuse to do it, do you imagine FGM would survive?    
Now, where I stand in this is as follows: personally, I think blocking someone’s access to sexual pleasure, whether temporarily or permanently, and especially so as a part of a power trip, is a crime against humanity. And, yes, just because it’s not from my culture doesn’t mean I can’t say it’s wrong.
Hell, this is one of the things that make me believe there might be something called absolute evil, after all.

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