According to the children’s ombudsmen of the Nordic countries, male circumcision is a form of genital mutilation and they’re fighting to ban the practice. Representatives from Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Greenland all recently met in Norway with doctors and surgeons who agreed on one thing: the fight for the right to keep foreskin.
In a campaign, which launched in September, they concluded that the procedure is in conflict with the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which says, “Children should have the right to express their own views and be protected from traditional rituals which may be harmful to their health.”
In other words, the boys should wait until they’re old enough to decide for themselves. This all began when a 16-year-old Icelandic boy asked if his parents had the right to circumcise him when he was a baby. The matter was brought to the attention of Iceland’s children’s ombudsman, Margaret Maria Sigurðardottir.
“The leading health professionals here in Iceland, who also signed the Nordic statement, believe that circumcision without medical indication, of a person who is unable to provide consent violates fundamental medical-ethical principles,” Margaret told me over the phone. “They have therefore refused to perform such procedures.”
The children’s hospital in Reykjavik completely stopped circumcising boys in 2011.
Reykjavik-based Rabbi Berel Pewzner believes the circumcision ritual should stay.
“I am firmly opposed to such a proposed ban,” said Rabbi Pewzner, who plays an integral role in the Icelandic Jewish community that has grown to include over 100 people across the underpopulated country.
“Ritual circumcision of underage boys increasingly has come under attack in Scandinavia, both by left-wing secularists as well as right-wingers who fear the influence of immigration from Muslim countries,” he said.
“How can any government get in the way of this sacred ritual, which mind you is absolutely safe?”
While it’s a safe procedure, it’s not 100 percent safe. One midwife was found guilty for negligence during a circumcision that caused a four-week-old newborn to bleed to death.
Among its benefits, male circumcision is said to reduce the risk of HIV transmitting cervical HPV, and offer “improved sexual pleasure, since women tend to prefer the circumcised penis for appearance, hygiene, increased penile-vaginal contact, stimulation and marginally better staying power during sex,” writes Dr. Morris in Sex and Male Circumcision: What Every Woman Needs to Know. “Any of these factors can increase the likelihood of the woman reaching an orgasm.”
Religious male circumcision happens practically everywhere. Popular among African tribal groups, it is known to symbolise a rite of passage into manhood or “warrior status”. It is symbolic in other ways, too, to demonstrate a pain that is the male counterpart of menstruation, birth or even hymen-breaking – as well as discourage masturbation among teens.
Some men have had a superb circumcision experience. Dan Ricketts from England was circumcised when he was 21 at the Custom House Surgery in London. He proudly explains the detailed procedure and his healing tale on his website (he also posted photos). On healing day 97, he was still rubbing vitamin E on his scar line.
Meanwhile, some have been circumcised in their 20s but regret it. The CircRegretStories blog says it was "the worst’ decision". “Anyway I used to be able to masturbate and did so a lot,” one guy says. “However, now, I find it very difficult to without a foreskin and I’m just so … angry that I [don’t] have a normal foreskin.”
Some fall in the in-between category. One 34-year-old American had the skin grow back. “Given the elongation, I am considering having a second circumcision,” he said.
No immediate changes are set for the ban. Still, the Nordics hope to make it illegal.
“The circumcision of young boys is a serious matter in our opinion, as it is an irreversible and painful procedure that may cause serious complications,” Margaret said.
“The goal is not to punish parents but rather to educate them about children‘s rights.”