Actor Russell Crowe railed against circumcision in a profanity-laced tweet last week, calling the ancient and still-popular practice “barbarism.” This month, Colorado becomes the 18th state (California among them) to stop funding circumcision with Medicaid. And in November, San Francisco residents will decide whether to outlaw the procedure outright when they vote on the “Male Genital Mutilation” bill.
Once the norm in the United States, the practice of slicing off a boy’s foreskin shortly after birth has become less common, and more controversial, in recent years. On the one hand are Jews and Muslims with religious and cultural reasons for making the cut, and statisticians convinced the practice reduces the likelihood of urinary tract infections and HIV. On the other are outraged “intactivists” stumping for “genital integrity,” arguing that lopping off the penile hood violates infants’ bodies, reduces sexual sensitivity, and was only popularized in this Puritanical nation as a (clearly futile) means of discouraging masturbation among naughty boys.
Outside the United States, circumcision is prevalent only in Muslim nations, Southeast Asia, Israel, and South Korea. It’s rare in Europe, Latin America, and most of Asia.