American Circumcision is a documentary presenting the articles of faith of a group calling themselves “intactivists” who believe males should be given a choice whether to have the procedure done. The medical argument against waiting is that the benefits of circumcision are realized for infant boys through adulthood: if left until men can decide for themselves the risk of infections and disease is (slightly) higher.
The documentary features two evidence based medical scientists talking about the health benefits of circumcision painted as evil and out of touch. They are contrasted with a parade of very passionate people making emotional arguments against the scientific evidence.
Their motivation seems to be a deep body horror that infant boys are being mutilated, that they can feel the pain of the operation, that it is somehow traumatic despite the fact that infant brains cannot remember pain. There is much discussion of the damage to sexual sensitivity done to boys and of the trauma of the operation.
Fascinatingly, there is a real body mod practice most people would find horrifying for the truly dedicated “intactivist” who wishes to reinstate his foreskin. The foreskin restoration enthusiast uses a combination of pinching devices, weights, and elastin cream to stretch the foreskin. Enough of this self-torture (a great deal is required to be effective) and the penis will appear as though it was never circumcised. The descriptions of the intensity, time, and determination necessary to achieve this seem to put it almost into the realm of fetish practice.
Some of those interviewed conflate female genital mutilation with circumcision. Circumcision is a loss of a small amount of extra tissue of an infant boy vs the heinous practice of female genital mutilation, done up to her mid teens, which 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 reason” which renders the female incapable of enjoying sex. It is ridiculous to compare the two.
“…a deep body horror that infant boys are being mutilated, that they can feel the pain of the operation, that it is somehow traumatic despite the fact that infant brains cannot remember pain. “
Turning away from the documentary to do some research reveals the medical consensus that there is some benefit in disease risk mitigation that results from circumcision, but mostly in cultures where hygiene and education is less advanced than in the developed world.
As a circumcised male, I find the phrase “intact” as a reference to uncircumcised men to be pejorative and offensive. I have no memories of the procedure. I grew up thinking this is how we look out of the box. An early sex partner mentioned she thought I had a very lovely scar. I was not aware I had a scar, was ignorant of the whole situation. Being circumcised has had no impact on my life at all, as far I can tell. There are some young (and older) men in the documentary who, upon reflection, have found cause for rage and recrimination toward their parents for having it done. Each to his own, I suppose.
Using the term “intact” is certainly meant to persuade in this film, which is a propaganda piece against circumcision presenting anecdotal evidence and logical fallacies.
Life comes with many occasions for pain and discomfort. When the long term benefits clearly outweigh the short term pain we don’t think twice about submitting children to it and explaining it later. We also live in a culture where body modifications many would consider horrific are just fashion, though clearly appropriate only when self-selected by adults of age. The body horror argument is specious and unsophisticated. The film gratuitously shows an infant being circumcised. I daresay most of us do not have the medical training context or experience to watch any surgery, so this will naturally be disturbing and uncomfortable. It is not horror.
The tone and approach of the film seeks to cast doubt on scientific evidence the same way religious extremists, UFO believers, or conspiracy theorists would. If you’re a person who cleaves to evidence based science, it’s a hard film to watch because the scientific method takes a beating in all the emotional histrionics. If you’re a person more interested in a classical romantic approach to the world, proceeding more by feeling, intuition and esthetic conscience than by boring old facts, then it’s a hard film to watch because it will seem to expose yet another awful thing humans have conceived to make this brief existence more terrible than it has to be.
In the final analysis, both the potential benefits and potential harms resulting from circumcision are minimal for boys in the developed world. Parents can make the decision based on religious tradition, medical evidence, or just because that’s how it’s always been done in their family, either to circumcise or not and feel fine about the choice.
American Circumcision (2017). Written and directed by Brendon Marotta. Starring Georgeanne Chapin, Jonathon Conte, Dean Edell.
6 out of 10
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— American Circumcision (@circmovie) April 26, 2018
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