While mandated by some religious and cultural traditions for thousands of years, and not without certain benefits to health, is circumcising newborns before they’re old enough to consent wrong?
Welcome to Skeptical Sunday, a special edition of The Jordan Harbinger Show where Jordan and fact-checker, comedian, and podcast host David C. Smalley break down a topic that you may have never thought about, open things up, and debunk common misconceptions.
On This Week’s Skeptical Sunday, We Discuss:
- Male circumcision is the oldest known human surgical procedure, with historical records and archeological evidence dating the practice back to ancient Egyptians in the 23rd century BCE.
- While circumcision is mandated by numerous cultural and religious traditions and enacted for health reasons in certain parts of the world, is the practice of altering someone’s body before they’re old enough to give consent wrong?
- Some medical professionals believe the preventive health benefits of elective circumcision of male newborns outweigh the risks of the procedure.
- What special interests are involved in recommending or not recommending circumcision as a standard procedure?
- What’s the deal with so-called female circumcision — or, as it’s more accurately known, female genital mutilation (FGM)?
- Connect with Jordan on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. If you have something you’d like us to tackle here on Skeptical Sunday, drop Jordan a line at email@example.com and let him know!
- Connect with David at his website, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, and make sure to check out The David C. Smalley Podcast here or wherever you enjoy listening to fine podcasts! If you like to get out of your house and catch live comedy, keep an eye on David’s tour dates here and text David directly at (424) 306-0798 for tickets when he comes to your town!
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Resources from This Episode:
- Male Circumcision: Integrating Tradition and Medical Evidence | The Israel Medical Association Journal
- Cutting to the Point on Circumcision | WebMD
- 4 NY Babies Get Herpes from Jewish Circumcision Rite in Past 6 Months | The Times of Israel
- Ritual Male Circumcision: A Brief History | Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh
- The Cases For and Against Circumcision | Healthcare Triage
- Here’s a Brief History of the Rise and Fall of Metzitzah B’Peh — The Blood-Sucking Circumcision Ritual | New York Daily News
- Female Circumcision: The History, the Current Prevalence, and the Approach to a Patient | University of Virginia School of Medicine
- Five Ways to Help End FGM/C | The Global Goals
801: Circumcision | Skeptical Sunday
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Special thanks to Peloton for sponsoring this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:08] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger, and this is Skeptical Sunday, the special edition of The Jordan Harbinger Show, where fact-checker and comedian David C. Smalley and I break down a topic that you may have never thought about, open things up and debunk common misconceptions — topics such as why the Olympics are kind of a sham, why expiration dates are nonsense, why tipping makes no sense recycling, banned foods, toothpaste, chemtrails, and a whole lot more.
[00:00:33] Normally, on The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. We have long-form interviews and conversations with a variety of incredible people, from spies to CEOs, athletes to authors, thinkers, and performers. If you're new to the show or you want to tell your friends about it, I suggest our episode starter packs. These are collections of our favorite episodes organized by topic to help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on the show — topics like persuasion and Influence, disinformation and cyber warfare, China, North Korea, crime and cults, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start, or take a look in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:01:15] This is a controversial one. For some circumcision is a regular part of life. For others, it's a very important religious ritual, and for a growing number of activists, it's awful mutilation without merit. So rather than getting myself in trouble, let's see what comedian fact-checker David C. Smalley has to say about it.
[00:01:33] David C. Smalley: Yeah. Thanks, Jordan. I appreciate that.
[00:01:35] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:01:36] David C. Smalley: Look, you know, indoctrination is powerful when you're midway through your 30s before you even start to consider that it might be a little weird to chop off a piece of a baby's penis.
[00:01:47] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. But when it's part of your culture, you just start accepting it without question. I have one favorite ask for this episode. By the way, let's not do a bunch of corny puns about circumcision. It's a serious topic. I just wanted to nip that in the bud from the get-go here.
[00:02:03] David C. Smalley: Clever.
[00:02:04] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:02:04] David C. Smalley: Yeah. And I promise I'm not going to be all weird with a bunch of dumb jokes in this one. And if I start, just tell me to cut it out. So, this episode was going to be an hour and a half, but I decided to trim it back a little.
[00:02:16] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. So how common is male circumcision?
[00:02:20] David C. Smalley: Okay. So according to WebMD in the '60s and '70s, about 90 percent of boys in the United States were circumcised.
[00:02:27] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[00:02:27] David C. Smalley: But that trend is shifting. In 1996, circumcision rates declined to about 65 percent, although rates differ depending on demographics, of course. So like 80 percent in the Midwest, like 68 percent in the Northeast, 64 percent in the South, and only 34 percent in the West. And there's also racial differences. For whites, it's about 81 percent compared with say 65 percent of blacks and 54 percent of Hispanics.
[00:02:56] Jordan Harbinger: I would think whites from the south would be the most circumcised.
[00:03:00] David C. Smalley: What have I been leaving my webcam on when we're done here?
[00:03:03] Jordan Harbinger: I was just thinking the most religious people in the Bible belt would be more likely to circumcise their kids.
[00:03:09] David C. Smalley: Yeah. That makes sense, and religion definitely plays a role, but the global stats may actually surprise you. So it's mostly common, I think, we all know with Jewish and Muslim countries.
[00:03:21] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:03:22] David C. Smalley: But places like the Gaza Strip, Morocco, West Bank, Afghanistan, Iran, Western Sahara, Yemen, those countries are between 99.1 to 99.9 percent circumcised.
[00:03:34] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:03:35] David C. Smalley: The US is about 80 percent today, and it's much lower in other parts of the world, including like most of Europe, Asia, Latin America. Canada is only like 32 percent. And it's about 25 percent in the UK. And apparently, the more Catholic you are, the less likely you are to be circumcised.
[00:03:52] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:03:52] David C. Smalley: Brazil is like 65 percent Catholic and only 1.3 percent circumcised. And the lowest stat I found on record at worldpopulationreview.com is 0.1 percent. And I was surprised to see that, that's Vatican City.
[00:04:07] Jordan Harbinger: That really narrows it down. You got to wonder who the one or two circumcised guys are over in the Vatican. Yeah, man. Some jokes just write themselves. So it sounds like if you're circumcised, you're in the minority.
[00:04:19] David C. Smalley: Right. So about 62 percent of men across the entire world are uncircumcised, but that still means that about 1.5 billion men are circumcised. I check myself.
[00:04:32] Jordan Harbinger: Well, we appreciate your dedication to the facts.
[00:04:34] David C. Smalley: Absolutely.
[00:04:35] Jordan Harbinger: It sounds like you took a look over a urinal divider, a statistically significant number of times without getting caught. So you must be pretty stealth.
[00:04:42] David C. Smalley: Are you kink shaming me right now?
[00:04:44] Jordan Harbinger: Never. Never.
[00:04:45] David C. Smalley: Okay.
[00:04:45] Jordan Harbinger: Of course. No. But that explains why you're banned from most shopping malls in the greater Los Angeles area. So the controversy around that is obviously that it's a practice of mutilating the genitals of a baby, which it clearly sounds horrific, but it had to start somewhere, and I'm guessing religion had a lot to do with it. I can't even imagine how that first conversation went.
[00:05:05] David C. Smalley: Right. You want to role-play it? Let's just see how it would go.
[00:05:08] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Yeah. Let's give it a try. Sure.
[00:05:10] David C. Smalley: Okay. Okay, here we go.
[00:05:13] Hey, congrats on the baby. Sarah and I are, we're so happy for you guys.
[00:05:17] Jordan Harbinger: Thanks. His name is Prometheus. We're super proud.
[00:05:21] David C. Smalley: Okay, cool. Hey, I was thinking—
[00:05:25] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:05:25] David C. Smalley: Uh, well, I mean, I was looking at his penis.
[00:05:28] Jordan Harbinger: What?
[00:05:30] David C. Smalley: Yeah, I was thinking, maybe we should, just, you know, chop a little bit of that off.
[00:05:36] Jordan Harbinger: What? Why?
[00:05:39] David C. Smalley: Uh, just a little too much penis there I think.
[00:05:42] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. You know, there is a lot there. Don't mean to brag. Yeah, we should chop some off that, that works.
[00:05:47] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:05:48] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:05:48] David C. Smalley: So let's prep him. Should we do some anesthesia or something?
[00:05:51] Jordan Harbinger: No, that hasn't been invented yet, so, nah.
[00:05:53] David C. Smalley: Oh, right. Uh, okay, well, I mean, babies probably don't feel pain.
[00:05:58] Jordan Harbinger: They definitely do. Yeah.
[00:06:00] David C. Smalley: Yeah. But who's he going to tell?
[00:06:01] Jordan Harbinger: You're right. Let's go for it. Let's do that.
[00:06:04] David C. Smalley: End scene.
[00:06:06] Like that's the only way that it possibly could have. And now that we've offended about 40 percent of the world, let me actually answer your question. So, believe it or not, according to PubMed, male circumcision is the oldest known human surgical procedure.
[00:06:23] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[00:06:23] David C. Smalley: There are historical records or archeological evidence dating the practice back to ancient Egyptians in the 23rd century BCE.
[00:06:30] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:06:31] David C. Smalley: And in 2005, the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh published a paper showing an Egyptian painting dating back the 2300 BCE showing circumcision in action.
[00:06:43] Jordan Harbinger: Geez, how did that make it to the Western? You got to wonder what the archeological evidence. It's a fossilized foreskin. What? How did this make it to the Western world after that?
[00:06:53] David C. Smalley: So the first person actually named to be circumcised and recorded is allegedly Abraham—
[00:06:59] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:06:59] David C. Smalley: —which is why both Jews and Muslims are so strongly tied to circumcision. So I would say Christianity.
[00:07:04] Jordan Harbinger: But is there anything commanding everyone to do this?
[00:07:07] David C. Smalley: Religiously?
[00:07:08] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:07:10] David C. Smalley: See now you're getting into my specialty.
[00:07:11] Jordan Harbinger: Penises.
[00:07:14] David C. Smalley: You know, I'm talking about religion, Jordan. I mean, I'd probably have less stress if I just focused on penises. But yeah, look, I've studied it for like 20 years. Religion, not penises.
[00:07:25] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:07:25] David C. Smalley: The first mention of circumcision is actually in Genesis 17. So God appears to Abraham and he promises that his descendants will become a great nation and inherit the land and the price for this covenant is that Abraham must get circumcised at 99 years old, by the way.
[00:07:41] Jordan Harbinger: Ooh, yikes. Yeah.
[00:07:42] David C. Smalley: And he must also circumcise all the males in his household at that time and agree to circumcise all of the males who are his descendants. There's no specific commandment of circumcision in the Torah. That's what was later known as the first five books of the Old Testament. But there are laws demanding it in the Talmud, which is the oral law. And virtually, all rabbis agree that it's a required ritual for Jews.
[00:08:09] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. So it was just a deal with God originally?
[00:08:13] David C. Smalley: Yeah. Like, I guess, a negotiation that we clearly lost.
[00:08:17] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:08:17] David C. Smalley: Like, I mean, I can't imagine ending any deal by being like, "Okay, fine. And to show you I really mean it. I'm going to cut off a piece of my penis." Yeah.
[00:08:24] Jordan Harbinger: It's not explicitly commanded. It's strongly suggested. It's encouraged.
[00:08:30] David C. Smalley: Well, so like most of these things that we would have to deal with having to do with the Bible or religious text, it just really just depends on which version of the Bible you have. So the RSV, mentions circumcision 73 times. The NIV is like 65 times, and the number changes depending on which version you're reading.
[00:08:47] Jordan Harbinger: Those are Bible versions? I've never heard of these RSV, NIV.
[00:08:52] David C. Smalley: Yeah, NIV, it's like the revised standard version. You've heard King James Bible?
[00:08:57] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I've heard that. Mm-hmm.
[00:08:58] David C. Smalley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. New International Version, new English translation, English standard version. There's so many different types of the Bible.
[00:09:06] Jordan Harbinger: So there's eight less in the NIV. It appears the editors just clipped it out. That's consistent.
[00:09:11] David C. Smalley: Mmm. Okay. I hope someone is counting.
[00:09:15] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:09:15] David C. Smalley: Look, in Galatians and Romans, which are both thought to be written by Paul, we get the idea that the Apostle Paul wasn't quite on board. And this is one of the funniest things in the Bible to me that I'd never hear anybody else talking about. When Paul talks about circumcision, he actually sounds a little nervous, like he's trying to downplay the idea and be all philosophical. In Galatians 5:2, he says, "Look, I Paul say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you." Like, he's like his date is coming to be circumcised and he is like, "Look man, let's try—
[00:09:47] Jordan Harbinger: Let's talk about this.
[00:09:48] David C. Smalley: —but it's pointless. Yeah. Like, let me tell you something, let me tell you something. I dunno if you've seen that meme, the guy about to be pushed off a cliff. Like, let me tell you something, let me tell you something,
[00:09:56] He says in there, he goes, "I testified that every man who accepts circumcision, that he's obligated to keep the whole law. For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything." And then, in Romans, he goes, he says, "For circumcision, indeed is of value if you obey the law. But if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the presets of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?"
[00:10:29] Jordan Harbinger: It's like negotiating. It's like my toddler trying to get a snack after bedtime. Like, "Well, it doesn't count. I'm technically eating it before I brush my teeth tomorrow night?"
[00:10:38] David C. Smalley: Right. Exactly. And then, he says, that a Jew is one inwardly.
[00:10:45] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:10:45] David C. Smalley: It's like an internal journey. And he's like, circumcision is a matter of the heart, man. It's by the spirit, not by the letter. He's basically like when you think about it, aren't we all already circumcised, bro? So he was using some like clever philosophy to try to get out of that one. But that's the New Testament stuff where they started rethinking it, you know, which is why most Catholics and Protestants are moving away from circumcision and it's the really ultra-Orthodox Jews and Muslims who hold onto it.
[00:11:14] And according to Jewish law, circumcision is the physical representation of the covenant between God and Abraham described in the Old Testament or the Torah, and is required for the inclusion of males in the Jewish faith born into it or not.
[00:11:30] Jordan Harbinger: Wait, so if you convert later on in life—
[00:11:33] David C. Smalley: Yep.
[00:11:34] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:11:35] David C. Smalley: Expected to be circumcised as an adult.
[00:11:37] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[00:11:38] David C. Smalley: And if you're already circumcised, you may be thinking, "Hey, I'm already circumcised so I can." You're not out of the woods. They still stab your penis to make it bleed.
[00:11:47] Jordan Harbinger: Oh man.
[00:11:47] David C. Smalley: You know, to please the Lord.
[00:11:48] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Of course.
[00:11:49] David C. Smalley: I mean, even if it's one drop of blood, they have to poke the penis and get penis blood for you to be Jewish. I actually read an article of a, of a Progressive Jew who was like, "No, you don't have to be circumcised." Like it was the title of the article and they got a lot of attention and in there they're writing like they're liberal and progressive and they're like, "It's okay. You don't have to get circumcised, but we will stab your penis to get blood from it because we're liberal," you know? It's so funny to me.
[00:12:19] Jordan Harbinger: Sorry to slice in here, but we need to take a break for our sponsors. We'll be right back.
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[00:13:43] You got to wonder what that process is like. It's, "Get it over quick. I don't want to see the needle go in," kind of thing. Oof.
[00:13:49] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:13:50] Jordan Harbinger: This reminds me, when I was in Israel, I actually met this Finnish guy who was in his late 20s probably living in Israel. And he had converted or was in the process of converting, and he got circumcised as an adult. And I remember I was living there at the time, he was in the same sort of dorms as me. He was out for a good couple of weeks there. And we all felt pretty bad for him because, I mean, we talked about nothing else for that day because we're like, "He got circumcised, isn't he like 27 years old?"
[00:14:16] David C. Smalley: God.
[00:14:16] Jordan Harbinger: What's that like? And we asked him questions and he is like, "Guys, I can't talk about this anymore today." I don't know how much they're like, "You know, let's make this quick and painless." I think it's a religious thing. They're just, they get you and it's extremely painful and you know exactly what's going on and you see the whole thing.
[00:14:34] David C. Smalley: That's terrifying.
[00:14:36] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:14:37] David C. Smalley: Yeah. Again, I mean, you know, we are making a big deal about it because it's not part of our culture necessarily, but—
[00:14:41] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:14:42] David C. Smalley: —for some, they may not mind, they may not care that much, but for me, I'm like, I can't imagine being committed to anything enough to do that now.
[00:14:49] Jordan Harbinger: Good point.
[00:14:50] David C. Smalley: Or being married and your wife's like, "One more thing—" I'd be like, "I'm out." Like, we're not doing that. If I've just stabbed my penis to join your group, I'm not joining your group.
[00:15:00] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:15:00] David C. Smalley: That's just not going to be a thing I do. And maybe that's part of the deal. They're like, they want to root out the weak or something.
[00:15:04] Jordan Harbinger: That's right.
[00:15:05] David C. Smalley: I don't know.
[00:15:05] Jordan Harbinger: If you won't stab your penis from me, you're never right for this group.
[00:15:08] David C. Smalley: You're not worthy of me.
[00:15:09] Jordan Harbinger: That's right. That's right. Would you stab your penis from me, hypothetically, right? Nope.
[00:15:14] David C. Smalley: That's going to be my new thing for, I'm going to start, as I'm booking comics to do shows with me. I'm like, "Are you willing to show up on time and be paid not very much money, and only have two alcoholic drinks, and stab your penis, get your own hotel room?" They're going to be like, "Wait, back up one."
[00:15:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Only two drinks?
[00:15:29] David C. Smalley: Yeah, that was good. Those lucky newborn babies, man, they're circumcised early before they realize what's going on. So it's a traditional ceremony called a briss. Some say bris or brit malah.
[00:15:43] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:15:44] David C. Smalley: Or brit milah, where the foreskin of the penis is removed by a religious figure known as mohel. And that typically happens on the eighth day after birth. So a mohel is going to be the rabbi that performs, you know, something like this. And mohelim, mohelim is like—
[00:16:02] Jordan Harbinger: Plural.
[00:16:03] David C. Smalley: —plural for mohels, like mohels. So most mohelim are not medically, although training and certification is available through the Israel Ministry of Health.
[00:16:13] Jordan Harbinger: Seems like a good idea, generally, if you're going to be cutting the tip off of a baby's penis, but, you know, whatever.
[00:16:18] David C. Smalley: Most do not.
[00:16:20] Jordan Harbinger: Just wing it.
[00:16:21] David C. Smalley: The procedures performed as a celebratory event too, and it's typically clean, but the conditions are not sterile. And usually, you know, the family is there watching and then they have bagels.
[00:16:32] Jordan Harbinger: Oh gosh. I could be mistaken, but I heard — and tell me if this is some nonsense. I heard something about sucking the blood from the wound of the circumcision in some Jewish traditions. Is that real? What's that about?
[00:16:45] David C. Smalley: Okay.
[00:16:45] Jordan Harbinger: And I mean, using your mouth to suck the blood out, not just like using a machine or something.
[00:16:49] David C. Smalley: Yeah. I'm going to explain this, but I feel like there needs to be a graphic warning here.
[00:16:55] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:16:56] David C. Smalley: What you're about to hear is definitely disturbing and it's absolutely going to be the uncut version.
[00:17:01] Jordan Harbinger: The uncut version, indeed.
[00:17:02] David C. Smalley: Yeah. Keep counting. So it's a ritual called metzitzah b'peh, and it's where the mohel cleans the circumcision wound by sucking the blood from the baby's penis.
[00:17:13] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:17:14] David C. Smalley: And there are some people that go, "Of course, I've heard that." And other people are horrified right now.
[00:17:19] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:17:19] David C. Smalley: It's a real thing. And it gained national attention in 2012 when a mohel in New York City put his mouth on a baby's circumcised penis sucked the blood, and then the baby contracted herpes.
[00:17:30] Jordan Harbinger: Oh no.
[00:17:31] David C. Smalley: And then died two weeks later in the hospital.
[00:17:33] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, that's terrible.
[00:17:34] David C. Smalley: And ABC News reported that it's a 5,000-year-old religious practice, but it's only primarily seen in Ultra-Orthodox or some Orthodox Jewish communities, and has caused an alarm among city health officials. In 2003 and 2004, three babies including a set of twins were infected with type one herpes, and the cases were linked to the same type of circumcision ritual and one of the boys died. The times of Israel reported in 2020 that four infants contracted herpes within six months of that same year, and they were all hospitalized. They were ultimately treated with IVs and later released, and they go on to say that adults can carry in in their saliva—
[00:18:16] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:18:16] David C. Smalley: —like a type of herpes that causes minor symptoms in adults, but potentially serious symptoms in newborns. So it affects us differently, obviously.
[00:18:24] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, man.
[00:18:25] David C. Smalley: A herpes infection, a newborn baby can cause brain damage and even death.
[00:18:28] Jordan Harbinger: I didn't know that. I thought it was just cold sores.
[00:18:31] David C. Smalley: Yeah, no.
[00:18:32] Jordan Harbinger: Oof.
[00:18:32] David C. Smalley: I mean, their tiny bodies just don't have the immune system yet to fight it off.
[00:18:36] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:18:37] David C. Smalley: The New York Daily News published a piece back in 2017 covering it, saying, metzitzah b'peh which literally means oral suction is first mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud, which remember is the oral law which dates back to the fourth century. And in there, Rev Papa says that any mohel who doesn't do metzitzah b'peh is risking a baby's life somehow arguing that it prevents infections. So it's literally backwards, medically and scientifically.
[00:19:06] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[00:19:06] David C. Smalley: And in 1831, a German professor published a handbook for mohelim. He tried to demonstrate that there was no evidence showing the ritual serves any sort of therapeutic or medical purpose at all. And in fact, he tried to show that it could actually harm the baby. And then, six years later, a student of Rabbi Moses Sofer, a leading Talmudic scholar, asked him about several babies who appeared to become sick after they were circumcised by a mohel who did oral suction. In a famous response published in a journal in 1845, Rabbi Sofer concluded that metzitzah b'peh does not have to be done orally. So they can just refer to it as metzitzah, meaning it's just going to be the suction. It doesn't have to be oral. And instead, a mohel could use a sponge to clean the wound. But many Jews find that to not be considered orthodox, so they continue with the oral suction technique today.
[00:19:59] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, man, it's so tragic for someone to die from something. So look, I get it's religious. As a society, we find ourselves between respecting religious freedom and protecting babies from harm. And also, it's next level gross. Any way you look at it. Sorry, Orthodox Jews. We're normally cool, but that this is uber weird for the rest of us to hear.
[00:20:20] David C. Smalley: Exactly. I personally will always put babies over ritual every day of the week.
[00:20:27] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:20:28] David C. Smalley: But it's not always that simple. On my David C. Smalley podcast, where I talk with religious leaders quite often, some of them have come on and defended circumcision by discussing some, what they call health benefits and how it helps to avoid some potential problems. In fact, they've kind of proven somehow that like God had foreknowledge and protected us by giving us circumcision. And at first, I would push back on that, but then they start bringing some literature and facts and things pointing to it. So I fact-check them and it turns out they're not entirely wrong.
[00:20:59] Jordan Harbinger: Wait, so there are actual health benefits to being circumcised. I would love to hear that my own foreskin did not die in vain.
[00:21:06] David C. Smalley: Well, now, everyone is just imagining your penis, so I'll let it pass.
[00:21:11] Jordan Harbinger: They just let it wash over you.
[00:21:15] David C. Smalley: Very, very small thought to have.
[00:21:17] Jordan Harbinger: It's not a lengthy thought.
[00:21:18] David C. Smalley: No.
[00:21:19] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. Anyway, continue.
[00:21:21] David C. Smalley: I just want to keep our facts together, and I know it's hard to get to the bottom of this because everyone who addresses this has some kind of agenda. So when you ask the question about the health benefits, I want to quote a few sources and then get to the bottom of it.
[00:21:35] Jordan Harbinger: All right.
[00:21:36] David C. Smalley: It seems that even WebMD selectively quotes, like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the AAP. So they have an article cleverly titled, this is WebMD, they cleverly titled their article Cutting to the Point on Circumcision.
[00:21:51] Jordan Harbinger: I see. We're not alone in making sure this is really corny in every possible opportunity.
[00:21:57] David C. Smalley: It's irresistible, Jordan. I think everybody wants to do it. So they say that WebMD quotes the AAP, but they selectively do so. So their quote is this, I'm quoting from WebMD. They say, "The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement saying it does not endorse routine circumcision," which is kind of accurate.
[00:22:17] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:22:17] David C. Smalley: But it also makes it sound like the AAP is against circumcision.
[00:22:21] Jordan Harbinger: That is what it sounds like.
[00:22:23] David C. Smalley: Right. Well, I actually read the entire AAP policy for this episode. And WebMD seemed to leave out some important context. So the policy actually says, and I'm going to quote from AAP now, which is the same policy that WebMD had access to quote, "Systematic evaluation of English language peer-reviewed literature from 1995 through 2010 indicates that preventative health benefits of elective circumcision of male newborns outweigh the risks of the procedure. Benefits include significant reductions in the risk of urinary tract infection in the first year of life, and subsequently in the risk of heterosexual acquisition of HIV and the transmission of other sexually transmitted infections."
[00:23:09] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[00:23:09] David C. Smalley: "The procedure is well tolerated when performed by trained professionals under sterile conditions." There's a caveat.
[00:23:15] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:23:16] David C. Smalley: "With appropriate pain management, complications are infrequent, most are minor and severe complications are rare." Then it says this, "Male circumcision performed during the newborn period has considerably lower complication rates than when performed later in life."
[00:23:32] Jordan Harbinger: Like if you're 27 and living in a dorm in Israel and putting up—
[00:23:35] David C. Smalley: Right
[00:23:35] Jordan Harbinger: —frozen peas over it after the fact. Yeah.
[00:23:38] David C. Smalley: Yeah. Not ideal. Not ideal. But then that's when they say, "Although health benefits are not great enough to recommend routine circumcision for all male newborns—"
[00:23:48] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[00:23:48] David C. Smalley: "the benefits of circumcision are sufficient to justify access to this procedure for families choosing it, and to warrant third-party payment for the circumcision of male newborns. So they're essentially saying that the benefits outweigh the risk, so it should be covered by insurance.
[00:24:05] Jordan Harbinger: It still sounds like a lot of fence sitting. All right, so the AAP says it has significant reduction in the risk of a UTI during the first year of life. So that's something at least.
[00:24:16] David C. Smalley: Well, it was for a moment. And again, I'm suspicious of everyone and their agendas.
[00:24:22] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:24:23] David C. Smalley: I then had to look into what they meant by significance.
[00:24:26] Jordan Harbinger: Good call.
[00:24:26] David C. Smalley: Yes. Here, we have a comedian fact-checking the American Academy of Pediatrics, but it's necessary. So as it turns out, the cohort studies that they cited reported what they called a tenfold increase in urinary tract infections in boys who were uncircumcised, which does sound significant.
[00:24:44] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:24:44] David C. Smalley: But in statistics, that's what's known as a relative term because yes, it was tenfold. But what does that mean? Uncircumcised infections were only at 1.1 percent.
[00:24:54] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[00:24:55] David C. Smalley: So when circumcised infections dropped to 0.1 percent, that's a tenfold reduction, even though it's only about one percent difference.
[00:25:03] Jordan Harbinger: Right. It's minute. Yeah.
[00:25:05] David C. Smalley: Yeah. And so as a Healthcare Triage says, and I'm going to quote from them, they say it's really hard to argue that this decrease is worth a permanent surgical procedure, especially given that we don't really have data from randomized controlled trials. They also point out how a reduction in penile cancer is often used as another justification for circumcision, and those in favor of circumcision claim that men who are uncircumcised have a three times greater chance of developing penile cancer. But again, we're back to that relative statistic thing where penile cancer is already so rare that over 300,000 infants would need to be circumcised to prevent one case of penile cancer per year. And it's important to note that the authors of the study also admitted that 80 percent of those involved in developing the study were circumcised.
[00:25:57] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to Skeptical Sunday on The Jordan Harbinger Show. We'll be right back.
[00:26:01] This episode is sponsored in part by Peloton. It's very helpful for people who are looking to take on a new fitness skill or a routine. Everything is designed to be as simple and streamlined as possible from easy-to-use touchscreen interfaces to a ton of class options, personalized recommendations. There's all these on-demand classes, including cycling, running, strength, the rower, which I actually really like. Rowing is great for a full-body workout, which means you're going to be engaging multiple muscle groups all at once, including your legs, core, arms, back. That stuff helps you burn more calories naturally, build more strength, improve your overall fitness. It's better than just isolating one body part and going ham on it. I mean, sometimes that's fun, but I prefer the full-body thing. That said, one of the main reasons that I'm actually into Peloton right now, and especially the new Peloton Row, is because I cannot afford to get sick. I've got the business to run. I've got little kids. My parents are here for the next several months, and gym, at least around me, they're gross. I don't want to name and shame, but the people there are not careful. There's a lot of people using it as like a second home kind of, and I get that it's impossible to be careful when you're working out, when you're breathing heavily, but that's not really comforting to those of us who are trying to avoid whatever plague is going around and then bringing it home to the family. And also, like me, some people may feel more comfortable working out at home rather than in a public gym setting. There's no people judging you. There's no waiting for a machine. There's no dirty or broken equipment. I'm not wiping off other people's sweat and drool that they've somehow slathered all over the place. Also, you can really go for it and be gross yourself, if that's kind of your thing. I mean, that's the hallmark of a great workout anyway. I'm also disgusting when I'm working out super hard and I'm often working out with my trainer. Yes, we incorporate the Peloton gear into my workouts, even with my online trainer, and it's always a bit weird working out with an online trainer in a gym, even if the Wi-Fi is decent, which you know, hit or miss. That, and bringing my laptop to a gym is a bit awkward, not just because there's no good place to put it, but because somehow gym dude bros have carelessly stepped right on my laptop several times. I'm not sure how they managed to do this, but I guess when you're so freaking self-absorbed that your workout is 60 percent staring at yourself and flexing in the mirror, you might just not really be watching where you're going. Last, but not least, if you are one of those people who makes loud ass grunts when you work out, you know who you are, then home is probably the best place for you to do your workouts. In fact, please do stay home. We all don't need to hear that. Back to the safety, element with the COVID-19 pandemic, norovirus, the flu. I don't even know what else is going on, but I've got vulnerable people in the house like I said. Working out at home. It may just be a safer option for some people, and it definitely is for me. I've also done the math, losing my voice, being out for a few days, even a week that already pays for all the gym equipment, maybe a gym membership for a year, and all the Peloton stuff I could ever buy. The only issue is I like working out with a group, but in the privacy and safety of home. And I still want the motivation of a coach in a community, which actually makes Peloton really perfect for what I'm looking for here. So if you're in any of those camps like me, go ahead and try our Peloton Row risk-free with a 30-day home trial, new members only. Not available in remote locations. See additional terms at onepeloton.com/home-trial.
[00:29:09] Now, for the rest of Skeptical Sunday.
[00:29:12] I've never even heard of penile cancer, so there's something else I can have nightmares about—
[00:29:16] David C. Smalley: There you go.
[00:29:16] Jordan Harbinger: —moving forward. Yeah, you're welcome. Everybody else too. Have you heard of that before researching this penile cancer?
[00:29:23] David C. Smalley: I had, yeah.
[00:29:24] Jordan Harbinger: I had never heard of that. I mean, it makes sense that it's possible, but, oh, man. Okay. So it can reduce some harms. But is it really worth going through all of that for such a tiny reduction in the chance that something would go wrong?
[00:29:36] David C. Smalley: Yeah. So that's why, as of now, they're leaving it up to the parents. And the AAP's agenda with how they worded it is really just to get it covered by insurance for families who may not be able to afford it, but are trying to do it for their religious values.
[00:29:49] Jordan Harbinger: What about the mention of reducing sexually transmitted infections?
[00:29:53] David C. Smalley: So this is probably the strongest argument. 2005 study titled male circumcision and the risk of syphilis, chancroid, and genital herpes, which was also covered on Healthcare Triage says that a systematic review of 26 studies found that circumcised men are at lower risk of syphilis or chancroid and there may be some protection against herpes, but it's less significant.
[00:30:19] Jordan Harbinger: Unless you get it from the mohel sucking your freshly circumcised baby penis.
[00:30:24] David C. Smalley: Always an asterisk there. Yeah.
[00:30:26] Jordan Harbinger: What is chancroid? I don't even know what that is either.
[00:30:28] David C. Smalley: So it's an STI with deep painful sores on the penis.
[00:30:33] Jordan Harbinger: Ugh.
[00:30:33] David C. Smalley: So please don't Google it and click images. I don't want you to see all my selfies. No, it's awful. The things I do for this show, Jordan.
[00:30:44] Jordan Harbinger: Ugh. You said the AAP, the pediatric association also mentioned helping with HIV contraction. That seems like a good benefit to have a less of a chance of that. Did you find anything on that?
[00:30:54] David C. Smalley: Right. And again, with the relative statistics, it reduces your chances by about two percent, but even more so, it prevents people from spreading it. So there's the personal argument that if you're circumcised, you have a two percent less chance, which doesn't seem much of a statistical difference.
[00:31:11] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:31:12] David C. Smalley: But the Healthcare Triage estimates that for every 10 to 20 males who are circumcised one fewer man might contract HIV over a lifetime. So a million circumcisions could theoretically prevent about 66,000 cases of HIV.
[00:31:27] Jordan Harbinger: Up to this point, we've only discussed male circumcision, but I've definitely heard of female circumcision as well, especially in other countries.
[00:31:36] David C. Smalley: Yeah, so that's actually a misnomer and it's the cause of some conflict actually. So this part's going to get way less funny and super serious because the United Nations did studies on the practice of what was called female circumcision, and they kind of took an anthropological approach so they adopted the term female circumcision to be more inclusionary and respectful to those who practice it. And then, the World Health Organization kind of adopted the same terminology based on the United Nations. But at the University of Virginia, they published a paper written by Jewel Llamas in 2017 saying that using that term normalizes the practice. And they're trying to make it comparable to the widely accepted male circumcisions and that it shouldn't be considered as such
[00:32:24] Jordan Harbinger: Uh-huh. Yeah. And I'm going to ask, even though I think I know where this is going, why is it different?
[00:32:29] David C. Smalley: So, most scholars refer to this as female genital mutilation.
[00:32:34] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:32:34] David C. Smalley: Not circumcision. So FGM is how we're going to refer to it moving forward. There is no evidence whatsoever of any medical or health benefits whatsoever. It is solely for the purpose of controlling women and making sex less pleasurable. LIamas writes, for the regions where FGM originated, scholars have proposed three possible functions for this practice.
[00:32:59] The first one draws from theories behind the marriage ability of a woman emphasizing these ideologies of virginity, purity, and sexual restraint that are always upheld in societies where FGM is practiced.
[00:33:12] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:33:13] David C. Smalley: So by reducing sexual pleasure, the procedure is supposed to protect a young woman's sexual propriety or morality, so like demonstrating her obedience and respect required for her marriageability. It's definitely just about controlling women. And in the ancient Egyptian empire, FGM was implemented as a means of perpetuating inequality between the classes with families cutting young girls and women to signify their commitment to the wealthy polygamous men of their society.
[00:33:45] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, wow.
[00:33:46] David C. Smalley: And the second purpose she writes is a means of solidifying one's cultural identity and transition into being an adult member of that society. And then she goes on to say that its third possible function surrounds the idea of protecting the health of women and their fetus. That one really made me go, what the hell are they talking about?
[00:34:06] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I don't understand that one.
[00:34:08] David C. Smalley: So in some cultures, FGM is believed to improve hygiene and somehow increase a woman's probability of conception with intercourse.
[00:34:15] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:34:16] David C. Smalley: So she's going to enjoy it less, but have a higher likelihood of conceiving.
[00:34:20] Jordan Harbinger: Sounds like nonsense to me. Yeah.
[00:34:21] David C. Smalley: Right. There's obviously no medical or scientific evidence suggesting that, and to make matters worse, the people who make these arguments actually claim that physical contact between what they call the toxic clitoris and a baby during childbirth is thought to be potentially fatal to the fetus.
[00:34:38] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my gosh.
[00:34:40] David C. Smalley: Yeah. So the procedure also somehow conserves the recipient's attractiveness. Some claim, medically actually, that the clitoris could potentially grow until it touches the ground.
[00:34:53] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my God, this is so painfully stupid—
[00:34:56] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:34:56] Jordan Harbinger: —and ignorant. Okay, so they're literally cutting and trimming the clitoris. This is barbaric and horrifying, but also this just sounds, this is stone age crap. That's all it is. This is—
[00:35:08] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:35:08] Jordan Harbinger: —stone age nonsense. I'm surprised to hear that they that did that in ancient Egypt, but of course, I'm even more horrified to know that they still do it today in certain places.
[00:35:17] David C. Smalley: Right. And it's much worse than just cutting the clitoris if I could even—
[00:35:22] Jordan Harbinger: Imagine. Yeah.
[00:35:24] David C. Smalley: Yeah. Just imagine how much worse it could be. So for those who really want to dive into this rabbit hole, I've included a link in the notes with a PDF white paper. It's all medical and it's very professional showing illustrated graphics of the five different types of FGM.
[00:35:38] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, man.
[00:35:38] David C. Smalley: So type one is the most tame, right? It only removes — sounds like a dumb sentence, but it only removes part or all of the clitoris. That's the easiest one. Type two is the clitoris plus the labia.
[00:35:52] Jordan Harbinger: Ugh.
[00:35:52] David C. Smalley: And it just keeps getting worse where like literally more and more of the labia, more and more of the skin around it is, is pulled back and removed.
[00:35:59] Jordan Harbinger: Oh no.
[00:36:00] David C. Smalley: And it just keeps getting worse. Types four and five end up with the vagina literally sewn completely shut. And this is why calling it circumcision isn't quite accurate.
[00:36:12] Jordan Harbinger: Obviously people must die from that because just—
[00:36:16] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:36:16] Jordan Harbinger: Just from doing that barbaric crap for sure. But four and five, sewing it shut? I mean, I know people are still doing this today, right? That's what you're about to tell me.
[00:36:25] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:36:25] Jordan Harbinger: Where?
[00:36:25] David C. Smalley: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:36:26] Jordan Harbinger: What's going on with that?
[00:36:28] David C. Smalley: Sadly, about 2 million young girls are at risk of FGM every year in Somalia and Guinea, virtually, all women—
[00:36:37] Jordan Harbinger: Ah.
[00:36:37] David C. Smalley: —experience this. We're talking 98 percent of women in those countries are victims of FGM and in countries like Egypt, Sudan, and Mali, it's upwards of 87 to 90 percent. And in Gambia and Indonesia, about half of young girls are mutilated between the ages of zero to 14. So you're talking about 50 percent of the population.
[00:36:57] Jordan Harbinger: Uh, those poor girls. There's got to be, of course, serious physical complications. But do we know anything about the psychological complications from this. This is so traumatizing for them.
[00:37:07] David C. Smalley: So the World Health Organization warns that immediate effects are obviously severe pain, excessive bleeding, fever because your body is obviously reacting to something terrible happening to it.
[00:37:21] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:37:21] David C. Smalley: Infections because you know the sanitary conditions of what's going on, urinary problems, shock, and even death during the procedure. And then, the long-term effects have more to do with things like painful urination, vaginal problem, itching, bacterial vaginosis, discharge, scar tissue, and keloids.
[00:37:40] Jordan Harbinger: Oh no.
[00:37:40] David C. Smalley: Keloids are just like a buildup of scar tissue.
[00:37:43] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:37:43] David C. Smalley: They are like these sacks of skin. There's increased risk of childbirth complications and then a need for surgeries later in life.
[00:37:52] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:37:52] David C. Smalley: To connect other issues. And of course, like you just said, psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and low self-esteem, which—
[00:38:02] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:38:03] David C. Smalley: —of course is kind of the entire point of this. So no jokes there. It's just a disturbing practice that should definitely be stopped regardless of religious belief. Like I'd never support anyone having that much religious freedom.
[00:38:15] Jordan Harbinger: I mean, it's a strange thing for both boys and girls to have to go through, but it seems like— at least for the boys, there's some potentially good news or possible benefits, but for the girls, it just seems all bad with way worse complications. All for, of course, the purpose of keeping women like chattel property. Oh, it's so disgusting. I don't even care if people think that this sounds like an ethnocentric perspective. That is so inhuman.
[00:38:40] David C. Smalley: Yeah, it is pretty disturbing and I don't want to suggest that I'm making light of male circumcision either.
[00:38:46] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:38:46] David C. Smalley: I just didn't want to get through a circumcision episode without talking about this, because it's such an important aspect of it. And the male circumcision is clearly still disturbing on some level. But like you said, at least there's some semblance of a hint of a possible positive outcome in some situations, even if it's minuscule or a tiny percentage.
[00:39:05] So sorry to bring the room down, but we should definitely work towards abolishing this. I mean, I've included a final link in the notes for globalgoals.org, and there are specific efforts to end FGM. If anyone is interested in getting involved, I definitely recommend it.
[00:39:20] Jordan Harbinger: Thanks, David. Can we make at least one more penis joke before we go.
[00:39:25] David C. Smalley: No, Jordan because I'm not a dick.
[00:39:28] Jordan Harbinger: All right, thanks, David.
[00:39:30] David C. Smalley: Thank you, buddy.
[00:39:32] Jordan Harbinger: You are about to hear a preview of The Jordan Harbinger Show where we expose how patent trolls shake down innocent victims using legal loopholes in abuse of the system. I
[00:39:41] Austin Meyer: was working at a trade show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where I was sitting there in a s sweltering hot aircraft hangar showing X-Plane my flight simulator to a steady parade of sweaty pilots wandering through the hangar to look at my various wares. And all of us sudden the phone rings.
[00:39:58] Hello. I notice you've been sued for a patent infringement. I'd be happy to represent you for a price.
[00:40:03] And I said, no, I'm not going to settle with somebody I've never even heard of before for infringing on supposed patent I've never heard of before.
[00:40:11] And he said, okay, just remember your defense cost is going to run around three million dollars.
[00:40:15] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:40:16] Austin Meyer: The patent claims to own the idea of one computer, checking another computer to see if the computer program is allowed to run. The patent we were sued on had, as I recall, 113 claims, and every claim was almost the same. In other words, one claim would say, A computer accessing another computer to unlock software. And the next thing would be, software unlocked by one computer accessing another computer. Notice just the same thing over and over 113 times phrased a little bit differently each time. Because since it took us four years and two million dollars to overturn one of those sentences, they had the same thing written down 112 more times so they could put us through this for the rest of our lives.
[00:40:58] Jordan Harbinger: For more with Austin Meyer, including the details of his investigation into patent trolls and why none of us are safe, check out episode 326 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:41:09] Hope you all are liking these. This one is a little bit more rowdy, a little bit rough around the edges. Circumcision, definitely something to poke fun at unless it's FGM, which is something that is just horrifying. Many of you love these Skeptical Sunday episodes. I really appreciate that. We're going to be taking your topics as well, so email me firstname.lastname@example.org if you have ideas. We have a huge list we want to do a lot more of this.
[00:41:31] A link to the show notes for the episode with all the sources that David used for fact-checking. That can be email@example.com. Transcripts are in the show notes. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram, or connect with me right there on LinkedIn. You can find David Smalley at @davidcsmalley on all social media platforms, davidcsmalley.com, or better yet, on his podcast, the David C. Smalley Show. Links to all of that will also be in the show notes.
[00:41:59] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Ian Baird, Millie Ocampo, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Our advice and opinions are our own. And I'm a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer. So do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. Remember, we rise by lifting others, so share the show with those you love. And if you found this episode useful, please share it with somebody else who needs to hear it. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
[00:42:31] Special thanks to Peloton for sponsoring this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:42:35] This episode is sponsored in part by the Mea Culpa podcast. Mea Culpa is hosted by Michael Cohen, who is Donald Trump's fixer, lawyer, right hand for over a decade, he of course, went to prison because he defied his former boss. The Mea Culpa podcast is his redemption tour of sorts. Mea Culpa with Michael Cohen delivers political news, raw and unfiltered. Plus. Michael, well, let's just say he's an opinionated guy. Twice weekly Mea Culpa features the most important people in politics, offering listeners rare insight into what's happening that they can get no place else. His guests are who's who of politics, media, and beyond, especially on the left, as you might guess — James Carville, Joe Trippy, John Dean, Laurence Tribe, Ari Melber, Joy Reid, Kathy Griffin — oh, she's a fan favorite, isn't she? Congressman Steve Cohen, Elie Honig, Neal Katyal, Norm Eisen, Molly Jong-Fast, Sam Donaldson, Ben Stiller. That's probably a fun one. You never know who's going to show up and what they will say. And if you're on the right, you're probably going to hate this podcast. Don't shoot the messenge here. But hey, if you lean left, do yourself a favor, check out Mea Culpa wherever you get your podcasts. Find it in your favorite podcast app.
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