Mass Culture and Genital Integrity

I learned this morning that there is a Canadian organization called the Association for Genital Integrity that’s “committed to raising public awareness of the issues surrounding infant male circumcision.”

I learned this because I found this table on their website that suggests that Prince Edward Island has the highest proportion of male infants circumcised in Canada: 29.5% in the year 2003. This is remarkable mostly because it contrasts so sharply with the rate in neighbouring provinces (Newfoundland, 0%; Nova Scotia, 1.1%; New Brunswick 14.9%) and with the Canadian average of 13.9%.

Setting aside any of the medical, moral or religious arguments about circumcision, this dramatic difference would seem to be a fascinating route into understanding more about mass culture: here we have a domain completely free of marketing and advertising, with no great financial upside for anyone (doctors get paid $129.49 on PEI to circumcise a child under 12), in an area of life that’s not often discussed around the dinner table.


Marian's picture
Marian on January 5, 2007 - 20:17 Permalink

I think the issue here is what is culture. Circumcision is one of those things that has a lot to do with traditional beliefs. Is is mass culture at all? Or is it traditional culture? What do you mean by mass culture?

Alan's picture
Alan on January 5, 2007 - 22:00 Permalink

Wouldn’t it be more likely with a small and aging medical population that any traditional beliefs would not so much be of the culture but those of the doctors recommending the process because they did it that way in the 50s and 60s when they were trained?

Kevin's picture
Kevin on January 6, 2007 - 18:39 Permalink

Today’s doctors are trained alongside the doctors who operate in the other provinces — and a goodly portion of Island doctors were not islanders (small “i”, I guess) until they began their practice here. If all that’s true then their recommendations are not significantly at play here. Unless those who were born here are making these recommendations *vastly* disproportionate to those of their colleagues.

I don’t know the “ins” of PEI’s medical system; if this is the result of doctors recommendations, could it be so that this falls to a very small number of doctors? (Anyone who’s had a child circumsised care to say -anonymously if that’s helpful- if it was recommended or an autologous choice?)

It’s a fascinating stat Pete, I wonder if there are other metrics out there with similar characteristics.

If our toursim geniuses get hold of this information expect a campaign directed at two of the three “Peoples of the Book” to try to boost the sagging fortunes of Cavendish :)

Isaac's picture
Isaac on January 7, 2007 - 14:54 Permalink


As a relatively new father on PEI of a boy we didn’t get circumcised — it was never pushed, nor is it any longer automatic as it once was (say 20-odd years ago when if you didn’t mention anything, your kid was circumcised). It was presented as an option — they were very careful about not mentioned any pros or cons, but if I remember correctly, one you had to pay for, and that only one or two doctors actually did anymore.

My guess from the little polling I’ve done, is father’s tend to want their boys to look like themselves, so populations with high circumcision rates tend to stay high (see basically automatic circumcision 20-odd years ago above).

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on January 7, 2007 - 18:13 Permalink

Isaac, I’ve heard the “want their boys to look like themselves” argument before, and I’ve never understood it. I don’t doubt the sincerity of those who feel those way, I just don’t understand the inclination.

Dale's picture
Dale on January 8, 2007 - 07:16 Permalink

A few years ago I read an excellent article in Men’s Health magazine about infant circumcision. It provided some facts and numbers, discussed pain, risk, etc. After reading it, I swore I would never ever do that to my child. A couple of years after reading the article, I found myself sitting in the hospital holding my brand new son in my arms. The impact that the Men’s Health article had made on me had not worn off, and when a nurse brought up the subject I made it very clear that we would not be circumcising our boy. I was surprised then when the nurse seemed to want to try to convince me otherwise, informing me that she had had her own three sons circumcised because she felt it was the best choice to make. In my case, Isaac, I did feel like it was being pushed on me, and I didn’t appreciate that nurse’s tactics. She did discuss the pros and cons, and I felt she didn’t really attempt to provide an unbiased viewpoint about it either. I believe she would have been able to influence parents with less conviction. That was my experience anyway.

As for the arguments I’ve heard pro circumcision, I too have heard the flimsy “fathers want their boys to look like themselves” argument, and I don’t get it either, Peter. One of the more interesting arguments I’ve heard — and this was given by a woman — is that she would want her boy to be circumcised because she has experienced sex with both circumcised and non-circumcised men, and she enjoys it more with men who are circumcised, therefore her son should be circumcised so his future partner(s) will enjoy sex with him more. What the @*%&! What about HIS sexual enjoyment? The aforementioned Men’s Health article indicated that men who are NOT circumcised derive more pleasure from sex. (How this was determined, I don’t know, but I don’t think it really matters). What does matter is that we humans need to stop thinking we have the right to make these kinds of decisions about our children’s bodies for them. If a boy decides (when he is old enough to make that decision) that he wants to “look like his father” or that he wants his girlfriend to “better enjoy sex with him”, then that should be his choice, not ours as parents. It is sad that 29.5% of our Island boys have been genitally mutilated due to such frivolous beliefs. Perhaps education is the problem. Not that I think Islanders are any less educated than other Maritimers, but I do truly believe that fewer parents would make the “circumcision decision” if they were better informed.

Kevin's picture
Kevin on January 8, 2007 - 14:39 Permalink

On pros and cons: to my utter astonishment I learned that doctors actually used to believe that newborns don’t feel pain in the same way as adults and that their crying and blue-faced screams — while being circumcised without anesthetic — was just baby fussing. I hope there are no circumcisions being done without anesthetic today.

There are accidents: a number of boys have lost their penis completely in botched procedures and there are famous attempts to raise them as girls by simply dressing them as girls, giving them dolls to play with, and giving them a girl’s name. This nonsense is easy(er) to “get behind” if you consider one’s sexual orientation to be a choice; as adults these forced-transexuals live as broken damaged people — just like straights who feel compelled by social taboo to live as gays (I’m reversing that for emphasis).

On the pro side, circumcised men are about half as likely to contract AIDS from vaginal intercourse.

Ann's picture
Ann on January 8, 2007 - 19:21 Permalink

Talk about coming back to haunt you:

One of my personal weaknesses is a tendency to favour the new over the old. Put something in a shiny new wrapper and call it

oliver's picture
oliver on January 10, 2007 - 09:33 Permalink

In what way is the rate of circumcision in PEI relative to the other provinces “mass culture”? Maybe PEI’s rate is exactly what you’d expect if circumcision status and the decision to circumcise were totally private. The provinces may show statistically significant differences in the kind of dental floss they prefer too. The explanation need not be interesting or even cultural. e.g. Could be genetics, climate, height above sea level or a mix of factors, with a different mix determining the result for each province and with not one depending on any talk specifically about floss or foreskin.

Elaine's picture
Elaine on January 23, 2007 - 16:48 Permalink

I don’t know what to think! I’m pregnant and expecting my second child. We don’t yet know if it will be a boy or a girl as it is too early to tell. My first child was a girl, so my husband and I never had to deal with the issue of circumcision. I am Jewish and my husband is an atheist. He is circumcised (a result of automatic hospital procedures) and has never complained about it during the twelve years we’ve been together. Enjoyment of sex had never been an issue for us, either. However, a few years ago, my mother-in-law voiced her opinion on circumcision as mutilation and now my husband is uncomfortable with the tradition of circumcision for our child, should it be a boy.

This a huge issue for us as it is a matter of tradition for my heritage and while I am not that religious at all, my questions is this: What if our son, at 25 years old, decides that he is very close to his Jewish heritage and would like to become orthodox? What if he would only feel a part of is culture if he were circumcised? Would it not be more painful and take longer to heal at 25 than at a week old? I do believe that babies feel every bit of pain, but I would think that such a procedure would do less harm as a new born than an adult. Is there any research on the psychological effects as a baby?