40 percent of people with penises worldwide are circumcised. You criticize this practice. Why?
Victor Schiering: Actually, you should say it differently: a third of later men get part of their genitals cut off as children without their consent. Coercion is the precondition for a mass phenomenon to occur here.
You mentioned the wording. Female genitals are referred to as genital mutilation, male genitals as circumcision. Do we need to change these terms?
Seidenberg: We are concerned with child protection, regardless of gender. I use the terms depending on the context. For myself, I want to talk about mutilation. Cutting off the foreskin is a genital injury and a violation of my right to physical integrity. But I do not want to force it on anyone, so I’m generally talking about cutting the foreskin off or amputating the foreskin.
You had surgery when you were a baby. How did you come to see this as a problem?
Seidenberg: Mainly because my brother asked me about it. I used to think it was better. It was part of my Jewish identity. Then the physical altercation began. And over time, I realized that I was damaged.
How does he look?
Schiering: By cutting off the foreskin, you irrevocably lose the most erogenous tissue on the male penis. They often have arches on their genitals. And often not the opportunity to be able to masturbate without pain because you have little or no flexible skin on your penis. Many people use lube because otherwise it hurts.
Seidenberg: The fact that the glans is not covered creates unwanted stimuli, and it can sometimes interfere with sleep – for example with an erection.
Ten years ago, on May 7, 2012, a court in Cologne sentenced a boy to be circumcised for bodily harm. At that time, the worldwide day of genital self-determination began. Shortly afterwards, ritual circumcision became legal. What has happened in the meantime?
Schiering: The legislature has allowed not only ritual foreskin amputations, but all medically unnecessary ones. A lot has happened since then, especially in the medical sector. There, and not in the field of cultural religion, 90 percent of the interventions take place in Germany. This shows that it is not about a cultural war, but that it is an issue that affects society as a whole. The new medical guidelines from the German Society for Pediatric Surgery provide very few reasons for an amputation of the foreskin.
The law that allows the cutting of the foreskin is often based on religious freedom. Critics are accused of promoting anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim prejudices …
Seidenberg: I personally felt that the verdict in Cologne ten years ago was an attack on my Jewish identity. But through my study of the subject, I realized that Jewish life is not threatened by it. Social diversity is strengthened when all people, regardless of origin and gender, are granted their right to physical integrity.
Hygienic reasons are often used as arguments or that the risk of HIV infection is reduced.
Schiering: The cultures that practice this are always trying to find justifications for it. In the 19th century it prevented masturbation, today it prevented disease. You can always cut off body parts that do not get sick afterwards. Penis cancer is one of the rarest diseases in men, breast cancer is a very common and sometimes life-threatening disease in women. Nevertheless, no one would cut off the breasts of young women preventively and without their consent – even if a certain number of women could be saved in this way.
In a Mens Health article from 2020, the foreskin is described as a “luxury option”. Why is there so little knowledge about it?
Seidenberg: It is a completely patriarchal understanding to say that it is not important for a person with a penis to have his whole body. It was very important for me to notice what was being done in the women’s and queer movement. Especially when it comes to emotions or your own vulnerability. As a man, there is not much we can fall back on.
Should circumcision be banned?
Schiering: Physical injury to children is prohibited. We just argue that the same standards apply to the foreskin as elsewhere. Restricting the genitals with knives is always a form of normalization. Children will not be asked if they agree with this. This situation must be faced by the legislator. We have three laws in Germany: Depending on how a child looks between the legs, it experiences different degrees of protection. And it can not hold in a society that is committed to equality before the law.