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Reflections on Genital Autonomy 2012

I was fortunate to attend the recent symposium in Helsinki and was greatly encouraged by the presentations. Here are some of the highlights:

David Smith, a symposium host, NORM UK General Manager and Chief Officer of Genital Autonomy emphasized the outreach that is going on between his and other organizations in the UK, specifically support and counseling groups for victims of FGM. MGM victims are acting as trainers for staff so that operations can be expanded to support both men and women.

Morten Frisch presented his large-scale population based epidemiological study on the consequences of male circumcision to men and their female partners. The greatest harm exposed by this study was how male circumcision affected the ability to reach orgasm. A threefold increase of the circumcised men reported difficulty in attaining orgasm compared to intact men. Surprisingly the female partners of circumcised men demonstrated an eightfold increase in difficulty in reaching an orgasm compared to partners of intact men. This scrupulously designed study, once published, elicited a slew of outrageous blow back from the pro-circumcision lobby along with vicious personal attacks that he was obviously unprepared for.

Gert van Dijk, a medical ethicist at the Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG), discussed the association's strong denunciation of MGM as a violation of the child's right to genital autonomy, but has stopped short of calling for a ban that could drive the practice underground. In a discussion with him afterward he explained that women in the Netherlands coming forward to complain about the damage done to them by FGM were instrumental in criminalizing the practice. I encouraged him to press for a ban on MGM despite the aforementioned misgivings. Pointing out that men are usually ridiculed and discounted whenever they speak out on MGM and legal protection was therefore even more important for them.

Frederick Hodges gave two fascinating presentations, debunking the myth of near universal circumcision in ancient Egypt. Citing x-rays of King Tut (he was intact) and a reexamination of hieroglyphics, including the well-known pictograph of a supposed circumcision scene (most probably genital shaving). Full (radical) circumcision was not practiced at all and some priests and slaves endured a dorsal slit rather than tissue removal. Frederick also discussed the MK-ULTRA research program. A CIA funded study from the early 50's that circumcised boys in orphanages to study their reactions to circumcision. The purpose was to study how an individual's will could be broken and reshaped. Unsurprisingly the boys did suffer immediate and severe psychological trauma. Some reverted to denial over what was done to them while others never recovered during the length of the experiment.

The highlight of the four day event for me was the surprise addition of Ann Lindboe, Norwegian Ombudsman for Children's Rights. Disarmingly warm and unaffected as she was unequivocal in her support for a ban on MGM. In order to maintain impartiality in the position, the Ombudsman is appointed directly by the King for six years and cannot be fired for any recommendations made. Ms. Lindboe is a pediatrician and is personally knowledgeable of the harm(s) caused by circumcision. In an outreach to the Jewish community Ms. Lindboe visited the Simon Wiesenthal Center for a discussion and was told by it's officers that she was being disrespectful. After asking how she could be more respectful she was told that she needed to agree with their right to circumcise male minors, "I cannot do that" was her response. I spoke with her in a small press conference officiated and filmed by James Loewen after the presentation where she answered my question about the Norwegian reaction to the Frisch study (muted due to the subject matter), along with questions from Tim Hammond, Dan Strandjord, Paul Mason and of course James Loewen. I introduced her to Robert Van Howe and they discussed his extensive clinical studies that would be of value to her.

I was encouraged to hear from others how happy they were that the conference did not get sidetracked into a discussion on religion, but stayed solidly on topic. Sami Aldeeb did a fantastic job of presenting. When a member of the Finnish Muslim Council compared baptism to circumcision Sami refused to let him get away with it, the inaccuracy was acknowledged and we moved on, bravo Sami.

This is a brief synopsis from my perspective and in no way discounts or discredits any of the other moving presentations and discussions that we shared. It was a privilege to attend this symposium and I am grateful to have been there.

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Bay Area Intactivists members Tina Kimmel (left) and Lloyd Schofield (right) pose for a photo during the Genital Autonomy 2012 symposium in Helsinki, Finland.