Is Circumcision the Same as Ear-Piercing?

circumcision, ear piercing
Which is worse: her pierced ears or her brothers circumcised penis?

In the never-ending disagreement about the morality of routinely cutting a newborn boys’ foreskin, many opposed to circumcision call the procedure barbaric and emotionally scarring. They compare it to female genital mutilation.

Those defending removal of the foreskin sometimes invoke ear-piercing. They say, if proposed bans against circumcision prevail, it follows that taking girls into Claire’s boutique for baby’s first gold posts should also be outlawed.

But that’s all pretty extreme. Weird, too. We’re fighting a penile one-upsmanship in a society where basically half the boys are intact, the other half permanently unsheathed.

Amitai Etzioni, sociologist and professor of international relations at George Washington University, writes over at, that if the laws are going to interfere parenting practices regarding the penis, they should consider ear-piercing, a procedure with a significantly higher rate of complications.


About 20% of baby girls suffer minor complications from ear piercing; about 3% suffer major ones. Complications include swelling, drainage, infection, bleeding, cyst formation, large scars and trauma. Surely such piercing should be banned before anyone bans circumcision.

But the rate of complications resulting from circumcision is lower than ear piercing, between 0.2% and 0.6%, with some bleeding as the most frequent complication.


Good to know. Feels relevant. We conclude that any procedure opening the skin is a calculated risk. If there’s a good reason and the risk is relatively low, then the conscience is clear! Etzioni’s really made a point!

Ahhh, but then. Then! We must have a winner. For Etzioni, that’s any circumcised member of Club Penis. Etzioni cites studies that say there are health benefits to circumcision (e.g. AIDS and UTI prevention), that’s where I start seeing the mouth move but no longer hear the words. Because that may be true in Africa. But the uncircumcised Western penis gets off (ahem …) just fine.

The thing is, neither procedure is necessary — but neither is barbaric (which FGM most certainly is and as a person who supports laws against FGM, I think it’s barbaric to compare this actual life-altering, painful procedure to foreskin removal). If you’re making a decision you can live with as a parent, your son’s gonna be fine.

The best discussion about circumcision that I’ve read — no, I’m not referring to Russell Crowe’s Twitter feed! — is this essay by Rufus Griscom (I’m not saying this because he signs my paychecks). Though there are angry and passionate people both for and against circumcision, I think the majority of parents with sons fall somewhere in the middle. The reason that tips us slightly more toward one side than more than a gut feeling or kinda preference than something we’d stake the entire merit of our parenting on.

Same goes for piercing ears.

Photo: Gisela Giardano via flickr

Article Posted 5 years Ago

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