Saturday, February 27, 2010

IMHO: Cut the Hysteria over Circumcision

My weekend morning routine includes turning on the computer, and checking links to comments and news items emailed overnight. Lo and behold, I read that a fellow here in Massachusetts has (yet again) filed a bill trying to restrict circumcision.

First, an explanation. Yes, anyone in Massachusetts can file a bill through their legislator, under a provision called “right of free petition.” Whenever a legislator files such a bill “upon request” (meaning: “I’m only doing this because my constituent asked me to”) it’s usually considered the kiss of death.

Still, it bothers me. The author of this bill, and those who share his views, don’t just regard circumcision as unnecessary; they equate it with clitoridectomy and other forms of female genital mutilation.

Before I state my own position on the matter, a bit of disclosure. Yes, I was circumcised in infancy. I’ve never felt traumatized or damaged because of it. But I’ve endeavored to base my own views on research, not just personal experience.

The problem with equating circumcision with clitoridectomy is anatomy. The foreskin of the penis is not analogous to the external part of the clitoris. It’s more accurate to equate the foreskin to the clitoral hood (the flap of skin that partially covers the clit) and the clit with the glans (the head of the penis).

One can certainly argue that removing an infant boy’s foreskin is rarely necessary – but to equate it with removing a grown girl’s clitoris is both inaccurate and insulting, both to the women who have been actually traumatized, and to the millions of Jews and Moslems who consider circumcision an important rite of passage for their infant sons.

Does this mean that, were I to have a son, I’d insist on having him circumcised? No. Unless a doctor showed there was a medical need or benefit, I’d rather not. But I would also not impose such a decision on any other parent. In my eyes, an alternative to the draconian proposal cited above would be to give every parent considering circumcision all of the facts, so that they could make an informed decision.

Expressing concern – sure. Offering facts and choices – absolutely. But histrionic distortion – count me out.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sexual Misinformation: A Thin Line Between Complacency and Ignorance

Recently, I read a news item online about the results of a survey. Turns out, many young adults are not as savvy as they think about sexual matters. Among the points discussed, many folks between 18 and 35 actually believe that having intercourse standing up will somehow reduce the chances of getting pregnant.


I'm sure many religious liberals would express shock that this level of ignorance exists in America today. But, we shouldn't be. After all, our Federal government has been pushing so-called "abstinence-only education" around the country. When you fund programs which actually discourage condom use and promotes stereotypical views of gender, we should expect that many of the youth continue that process of self-deception.

What I really wonder about -- or worry about -- is how liberals unwittingly contributed to the problem.

Liberals express strong beliefs in education, and in openly discussing sexual issues. The flip side of that is the belief that, because you are more knowledgeable and open than others, that this is enough. Unfortunately, that's not always the case.

I've often wondered, for example, how many congregations go through the process of becoming a "welcoming" or "open and affirming" congregation to LGBT folks, feel satisfied with that process, and then do nothing more. I wonder about clergy who preach one sermon a year about sexuality -- perhaps the same ones, slightly edited and updated -- yet do little in promoting education and social justice in that area.

The fact is, in a culture filled with mixed signals about sexuality, gender and relationships, we cannot and should not be content with an occasional class or public pronouncement. The process of learning and transformation is continual, and at times even painful.

Social conservatives often oppose such measures, citing a fear of a slippery slope that, once one aspect of "traditional morality" is questioned, it is inevitable that the entire package is challenged. It's time to admit that they are right -- and, more importantly, that it is essential. Jesus said: "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." That means confronting the myths and misconceptions which have kept so many enslaved by fear, shame and misery. Including ourselves.