Meet the ‘Intactivists’ Claiming Circumcision Violates Human Rights
Intactivists blame rape culture on circumcision, in a bizarre interview with Fatherly.
It wasn’t until Anthony Losquadro was in the military that he first suspected that there was something missing from his penis. Up until meeting members of the anti-circumcision “intactivist” movement, he had never thought about his own lack of foreskin. Then he did. He thought about it a lot and the more he thought about what had been taken from him, the angrier he got. Finally, he decided to track down the now-retired doctor who had circumcised him. “Why would you do this to me?” he asked. He was not satisfied by the response.
“He didn’t have an answer,” Losquadro told Fatherly during a protest hosted by his anti-circumcision organization, Intaction, in New York City’s Union Square. “To me, that summed up the whole thing: We do this to children for no reason.”
Losquadro is not alone in mourning the loss of his foreskin or in considering circumcisions unethical acts of harm, perpetrated on infants who cannot consent. When Fatherly met up with Losquadro, he was standing with his associate Christopher (he declined to give his last name) in front of a truck covered in photos of adult men posing with their own baby pictures, emblazoned with the message “I DID NOT CONSENT.” A hard-to-ignore electronic banner ran unsubstantiated, pseudoscientific claims, such as “GENITAL CUTTING REMOVES 20,000 NERVE ENDINGS AND REDUCES SENSATION.” The centerpiece of unexpected pop-up was a baby doll, strapped down with a medieval-looking Gomco clamp bolted to his penis. Observers could press a button to set menacing, scissors-wielding hands into motion as the baby let out piercing screams.
The pair spoke with Fatherly about their objections to circumcision, and a transcript appears below. It is important to note that most of their claims are unscientific, ahistorical, or both (there is certainly no evidence that circumcision began as a way to prevent masturbation; their claim that circumcised men have inferior sexual sensation has never been substantiated; their equating female genital mutilation to circumcision betrays poor understanding of anatomy; their insistence that all studies showing the benefits of circumcision are flawed or restricted to Africa is patently false). Still, it is worth noting that they seemed to be protesting in good faith. These are men who don’t want boys to get hurt. And surely that impulse to protect is deserving of both respect and consideration.
Here’s what Losquadro and Christopher think about circumcision research, the double standard boys face in America, and the wild theory that circumcision contributes to rape culture.
How do you guys think circumcision became the status quo in the U.S. specifically?
Anthony Losquadro: It started to keep boys from masturbating, most definitely. First, they tried to stop men from masturbating, but it was a hard sell, so they decided to go after parents to get them to circumcise their babies. It was a marketing effort that took off from there.
What makes the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and many other institutions wrong about the public health benefits of circumcision?
AL: Basically it’s based on three studies in Africa, three trials that show a benefit and everything else is a derivation from the data they obtained.
AL: There was the U.S. Naval study which showed no benefit, and studies that show biases in these pro-circumcision studies. These researchers have made their life’s career out of promoting circumcision.
But why would anyone lie about circumcision preventing disease?
AL: I don’t know. You’d have to ask them. Maybe they wanted tenure or grant money for the university. They were told to go out there and find an answer to the African HIV problem and they came up with something. There’s like 10 different biases in the study, researcher expectations, participant dropout.
Those seem to be limitations that come up with studies in general. How are you not just picking and choosing who and what you want to believe?
Christopher: It’s true that there are biases in all studies, but they have shown that if there’s a benefit, it’s small and what we’re giving up is the most sensitive parts of our penis. This is a huge loss for almost no benefit, and no individual benefit, only a public health benefit.
Why isn’t a “public health benefit” like eradicating HIV enough?
C: Because you still have to wear a condom. All of the studies say that if circumcision reduced the chances of contracting HIV it’s by a small amount. You still have to put a condom on. So really any time you tell someone to get the procedure done because it’ll give you less HIV, that’s going to give them a false sense of protection.
So you don’t think it’s worth it for even a small reduced risk of HIV?
C: It cuts off the most sensitive part of your penis, because of that it changes men’s experience with sex significantly. Sexual experience is subjective, of course. But when you’re literally cutting off parts you get sensation from, you will no longer have that sensation. Men already complain about condoms reducing sensation, so combining that together makes them even less likely to wear a condom.
How much of a benefit would you need to see from circumcision for it to be justified?
C: It would need to cure cancer or something like that.
So it would have to be 100 percent?
C: Maybe not 100. But for you — what would you have to gain to give up your clitoris?
I’m not answering that, and I have a hard time equating male circumcision to female genital mutilation. Why do you consider them equivalent procedures?
C: Female genital mutilation isn’t a single thing, it’s a wide range of modifications to the female genitals.
AL: It’s a spectrum. There’s four types and subtypes. Type one is the removal of the clitoral hood, which is the anatomical male equivalent of the male foreskin. So that is illegal under U.S. federal law for women. So why do we protect girls on that and boys have no rights?
C: There’s not a hard distinction between the four types. It’s just convenient for the WHO to put things into categories. So there’s got to a be a point where anyone can agree that they’re equivalent.
Why does it matter that there are multiple types of female genital mutilation?!
AL: Because everyone lumps FGM into one thing. We’re saying type one genital cutting is also what we do to boys.
C: How much of the vulva can you cut off before it’s worse than circumcision?
The custom of removing a clitoris isn’t for an even marginal public health benefit, and doesn’t so much lessen sexual experience as obliterate it. That’s why I don’t think we can call them the same thing. Circumcised men still have the capacity to enjoy sex, no?
C: Women who have been subjected to genital cutting, many of them who have had their clitoris removed, can still have orgasms. This idea that it obliterates their sexual experience — sex happens in the brain.
If sex happens in the brain, then how can you possibly know that circumcised men aren’t enjoying sex as much as they could be?
C: What we do know is that circumcised men have much more of a variety of things they try sexually, presumably because they’re not getting as much out of the actual intercourse. That’s my interpretation. No one has figured out a way to make that connection.
AL: Let’s put it this way. You ask an intact man if he’d give up his foreskin and he’ll say hell no, but there are thousands and thousands of members of our organization who are upset about being cut.
That’s an emotional argument, not a scientific one.
AL: I don’t agree with that.
C: Why do you want this to not be the case?
I’m just not convinced that there’s no health benefit or that it’s sexually or psychologically harmful. Are there any potential harms that I’ve missed?
C: This isn’t talked about much in the intactivist movement, but I think we’re teaching men that they don’t have agency over their bodies. And I think that definitely contributes to a lot of the violence against women, because if you don’t have agency over your body then why does anybody else? We’re teaching people that we don’t value their sexual experience, their genitals, why would they value somebody else’s? And I think that is at least a little bit of the problem with rape and other violence against women.
So you think there’d be less assault and rape if men were given the choice as adults?
C: I think we could look at other cultures who don’t do the same thing and look at their rates of violence against women. We don’t have to speculate because we have the answer.
And what is the answer?
C: Uh huh. [nods to indicate yes]
AL: I’m not going to speculate on things or hold myself as an anthropologist or social scientist. But to this New York City guy, it would seem to make sense that when you treat somebody that way — that parts of their body are valueless — maybe they would treat other people the same way.
It does seem like you both believe that the world would be a better place if it weren’t for circumcision. Since parents are given the choice and fewer parents are making the choice to circumcise, then when will it be enough?
C: She’s looking for a soundbite that she can put something not so nice down on us. Something really extreme.
I am asking what the endgame is.
AL: I believe we have to educate people to help them make a better decision than what they’re doing now. I don’t think anyone can force beliefs on parents or people. That approach just doesn’t work. So by giving more parents more information about this, we hope they can make a better decision.
Is there a rate other than 100 percent of parents no longer circumcising their kids that would satisfy the intactivist movement? Is there a concrete resolution to this?
AL: I don’t know that there will ever be a number where we say we’re packed up and done. I think it exists in the human psyche to tamper with someone’s genitals for some reason because it’s been around for so long. I don’t believe as an intactivist that I’m going to change something that there’s a historical record going back tens of thousands of years. I don’t think we’re ever going to get it down to zero and I don’t think our job is ever going to end.