Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Bristol Compromise Part 3: Promoting Male Circumcision

The City of Bristol is at the forefront of tackling Unnecessary Female Circumcision at a local level in the UK – at the same time the city actively promotes, encourages and supports Unnecessary Male Circumcision.

In this post we look at how the city, which takes a zero tolerance approach to any form of Unnecessary Female Circumcision, is at the same time actively supporting, promoting and encouraging Unnecessary Male Circumcision in Bristol. 

Rather than take a zero tolerance approach, its approach is to encourage more parents in the city to circumcise their boys in local health services. A similar approach was proposed by Somali parents in Seattle to support their culture of both circumcising boys and girls (note this compromise was proposed in 1996 not 1966 as the attached linked article suggests – for a much fuller analysis of the Seattle Compromise click here)

In the case of The Seattle Compromise, the idea of symbolically nicking the clitoral hood of Somali girls in medical settings was dismissed, whereas removing their brothers’ foreskins for non-medical reason is permitted.

The same is true in Bristol, in that there is no compromise for Somali girls whose parents cannot turn to health services to perform a small symbolic nick on the clitoral hood (the female prepuce) – and city workers are working to prevent anyone taking a girl living in the city to another country to have this procedure performed. However, parents are encouraged to bring their sons into the city’s health services to have their foreskin (the male prepuce) removed for no medical reason.

Whereas the City’s Leaders call Unnecessary Female Circumcision “Female Genital Mutilation” and take a “zero tolerance” approach to this practice – Unnecessary Male Circumcision has been renamed “Safe Circumcision” and is promoted to local communities by the NHS.

This process of offering to perform Unnecessary Male Circumcision on boys living in Bristol at NHS facilities for no medical reason and long before the child is able to consent to having part of their body unnecessarily removed, began five years ago.

In 2007-08 Bristol Primary Care Trust (PCT) facilitated a dialogue between representatives of the local Muslim community and health care providers around the development of affordable and safe male circumcision services in Bristol. 

Known as the “Bristol Male Circumcision Project”, this process was overseen by the PCTs Equality Lead, David Harris. The result of this process was the creation of an NHS-led health campaign promoting, supporting and encouraging local parents to bring their sons to the “Bristol Circumcision Service” for Unnecessary Male Circumcision which the health service locally now calls “safe circumcision”.

The Bristol Circumcision Service is promoted by NHS sponsored circumcision leaflets carrying pictures of happy, smiling babies, children with their mums and dads and is supported by:

Bristol Male Circumcision Campaign Group

The Bristol Circumcision Service is supported and promoted by the NHS and run by the local Eastville NHS Medical Practice with procedures paid for by the children’s families. A charged service for older boys is provided at the Bristol Children’s Hospital and promoted by NHS consultants at the hospital such as Dr Mark Woodward.

The ethical dilemma that health practitioners have wrestled with is that thousands of boys in the city are at risk of Unnecessary Male Circumcision which has traditionally been performed in synagogues, community centres, restaurants, private homes and other non-medical settings.

This non-medical approach causes complications – in 45% of cases in one study in Oxford – and in the worst cases death – such as the case of the baby boy who bled to death in Oldham.

As it is not illegal to circumcise boys, Bristol’s health bosses have come to the conclusion that the right action to take is not to campaign or advise against Unnecessary Male Circumcision, but to “strongly encourage” parents to use the NHS to circumcise their sons.

What is notable from this process is the absence of the police and the domestic violence partnership and the children’s safeguarding board and local schools – who are actively telling families that female circumcision is “wrong” whilst their NHS partners are “strongly encouraging” the same families to circumcise their sons for no medical reason other than it’s safer than doing it in a local restaurant.

The NHS locally also runs the 4YPBristol website which offers young people in the city information and advice and the issue of circumcision shows up in the advice given to boys about masturbation.

Here the City’s leaders tell young people that it’s “natural and healthy for both boys and girls to masturbate (and) it’s also totally ok if you don’t want to – it’s your body and your choice”.

It’s interesting to note that the same Bristol’s health bosses who are telling boys “it’s your body and your choice” are not applying the principle of “your body your choice” when it comes to removing a boys’ foreskin.

Even though the same health bosses are advising boys that removing their foreskin will have a negative impact on their sexual experience and inhibit their ability to masturbate in a “natural and healthy” way saying:

“The most common way guys masturbate….basically involves the hand ‘pumping’ the penis, making the foreskin go back and forth. This doesn’t mean that guys who have been circumcised can’t do it, but they need to be more careful in case the area gets sore. Lube can help with this.”

The other significant group missing from this process is Bristol's Jewish community which, it seems, continues to practice the ritual circumcision of baby boys in community settings without recourse to the NHS's "safe circumcision" service. 

Finally, in addition to Unnecessary Male Circumcision being performed in community settings and NHS facilities in Bristol, the procedure is also available for non-medical reasons in a private circumcision clinic.

The overall message that the City of Bristol's leaders are giving to parents who want to perform medically unnecessary rituals on their children's genitals is that for GIRLS we have a zero tolerance approach and for BOYS we strongly encourage you to use are tax-payer supported service.

Click on the links below to read to the two related posts:



  1. But what if they made female circumcision "safe" too?

    Yes? No?

    You know, so as to protect girls from "unsafe" circumcisions?

    Yes? No?

    Absolute hypocrisy.

    Genital mutilation, whether it be wrapped in culture, religion or “medical safeness” is still genital mutilation.

  2. All children must be protected from genital surgery! Genital cutting has no reason to exist. Relying on religious or cultural excuses is shameful.

  3. I must say that I think the 4ypbristol website is the most promising site that I have seen yet discussing masturbation for teens. It is making the clear distinction between intact and circumcised boys which seems to be completely glossed over so much of the time. I can see the potential for boys who have been circumcised to start to think about what has been done to them. They will then very quickly be able to find out the truth on the internet and maybe start asking questions that their parents will not find easy to answer. If I and many others of my generation had enjoyed the easy access to a wealth of information at the stroke of a few keys I am sure that our lives would have been very different. Bring on the revolution! Power to the foreskin.

  4. I suffered the loss of the best part of my penis in 1947, just before it fell out of favour in the UK. Masturbation was always a poor experience, and now I don't orgasm in intercourse, just as 19th century doctors promised. Rabbi Maimonides admitted that circumcision was done to spoil sex, and it does.

  5. I think that male circumcision is fine as it has some medical grounds to support but female circumcision is neither safe nor have any medical reasons to do so. As for doctor without responsible officer, they should check their status with GMC for revalidation.