Anti-circumcision activists outside the "mobile education unit". (All photos by Erica Euse)
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the philosophy of Anthony Losquadro, an anti-circumcision activist. Losquadro is the executive director of Intaction, an organisation that has been informing the public about the harmful mental and physical effects of circumcising baby boys since 2010. On Saturday, Intaction unveiled their mobile education unit, a large truck plastered with photos of men sullenly holding their baby photos with the text, “I did not consent.” Inside the truck are massive screens that play videos castigating the practice of cutting baby wieners.
When I visited the truck on Saturday afternoon, it was strategically parked across from the New York Medical Centre on First Avenue in Manhattan, a hospital where thousands of baby foreskins have been and will be chopped off. Intaction plans to take to the streets in their new mobile unit, travelling the Tri-State Area and stopping at college campuses and other hospitals. All this talk of baby boners is not for nothing – according to the Centre for Disease Control, the rate for circumcision has dropped 10 percent over the past 30 years, and part of that decline is likely thanks to the outspoken efforts of new grassroots organisations like Intaction.
Losquadro and his crew hope to continue to decrease the practice of circumcision through more education and awareness. To understand the importance of the foreskin, why they see circumcision as genital mutilation and how the tradition of circumcision has been perpetuated, I sat down with Losquadro outside Intaction's mobile education unit for a little chat.
VICE: Why is Intaction out here?
Anthony Losquadro: American society discounts the anatomical function of the foreskin. It is a natural body part that all mammals have, and it contains 20,000 specialised nerve endings, which serve an important function, and it’s very painful and stressful to remove it. It is primarily done in America and the Middle East. Europe, South America and Asia – they don’t practice this. There, it is the exception rather than the rule. Here in America, it is the rule rather than the exception, but that trend is changing.
How prominent is circumcision in New York?
Right now, according to New York State health statistics, only 42 percent of boys in New York are being circumcised. To some extent, doctors are pushing it, and the registered nurses on the maternity ward floors. A lot of it is out of ignorance, practice and custom.
What is Inaction’s main goal with this campaign?
Our main goal is education and awareness. My experience is that once people stop and think about it, they realise how ludicrous it is to circumcise a baby. Today, with the internet, it's very easy to get information. Whereas, in the past, they had to rely a doctor’s guidance. Now they can research it on their own and fall back on common sense. If he is healthy and it is a normal body part, why are they removing it?
Doctors sometimes cite medical reasons for why babies should be circumcised. Are those valid?
There are really no medical reasons to amputate a healthy body part. They have claimed that it can prevent HIV, but it is not a reliable means for prevention. A lot of studies that have been cited have been called out by doctor’s groups in Europe. They say that the studies are biased because they are done by researchers who have spent their life being vocal proponents of circumcision.
How has circumcision continued for so long?
Throughout the ages they keep coming up with new excuses for circumcision. It originally started in America during the Victorian age, the age of sexual repression, as a way to keep boys from masturbating. If you cut off the foreskin, they will have less pleasurable sensation in the penis. Then that theory wore thin, so they came up with new ones. They said it’s for better hygiene. Then they came up with HPV and HIV. Now they are trying to claim that it prevents prostate cancer. The United States has one of the highest rates of HIV infection for a Westernised society; we also have the highest circumcision rate. So where is the benefit?
People have been very supportive of ending female genital mutilation abroad. How is this different?
I have travelled to a lot of international conferences focused on all forms of genital mutilation. Other countries tell us, “How can you come here and tell us female genital mutilation is wrong when you do male genital mutilation in your country? You are hypocrites.” We have no standing when we are trying to tell African nations not to circumcise women, when we are doing it to our sons.
Are the men in the group mostly circumcised or not?
It's a mixed group. The majority of the men have been circumcised, and they are unhappy about it. This is something that has been put into the closet. Where can you discuss that you are unhappy that you have been circumcised? There is no venue. That is why organisations like Intaction are providing that venue. We aren’t going to make jokes about it. It's an uncomfortable subject to talk about, so people like to make jokes, but it is a serious issue. It’s a form of men’s rights.
What about foreskin restoration? What is that about?
It is a type of skin expansion process that surgeons use, meaning that if you place the skin under tension for a long enough period of time, the skin cells will grow to relieve that tension. There are various methods that they use to put tension on the skin of the penis to pull it forward and attempt to restore the foreskin. It isn’t a perfect situation. It's also kind of a long process because skin doesn’t grow that fast; it takes years. A few men have done it, and a lot of men are attempting to do it, but our primary mission is trying to keep babies boys from [being circumcised]. Right now there are probably half a dozen circumcisions going on in this building and the hospitals in the area. It happens every day, and most of it is ignorance.