A Roanoke man wants Richmonders to get on the anti-circumcision bus.
As part of his push to end circumcision in the state, William G. Stowell recently took out an advertisement on the back of a GRTC bus for NoCirc, the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers.
NoCirc wants to end male circumcision. Stowell, who claims to be the only man in America to win a settlement against the doctor who performed the operation on him, has become the movement's poster boy.
Reached by telephone in Roanoke, the 25-year-old says that speaking to a reporter was "only slightly awkward," because his co-workers at a call center weren't aware of his foreskin advocacy. "I'm not ashamed of what I do," he says of his activism. "It's just a delicate social situation."
There was nothing medically abnormal about his procedure, but in a group shower at summer camp when he was 14 years old, he noticed another camper with a foreskin and it got him thinking.
"I had always known what circumcision was, but at the time I had never put two and two together," he says. "After I found out that someone had taken part of my penis, I was very, very angry." The feeling didn't go away.
He got involved with the anti-circumcision movement through the Internet. Stowell filed suit days before his 20th birthday and settled out of court. He's not allowed to disclose the amount he received, but says he used it to set up a fund to help others pay for similar legal action. "Good Morning America" and Newsweek featured his suit. Now he's brought the crusade to Richmond.
NoCirc asserts that circumcision began in America in the 1800s as a way to discourage masturbation, and since then, people have rationalized it as medically appropriate.
"If you look at the reasons they perform female circumcision in Africa and why they do male circumcisions in America, it's fundamentally the same reason," Stowell says. "They've been socially trained to think that one is horrible and one is hygienic."
The American Medical Association, The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Cancer Society do not recommend routine circumcisions and point to studies indicating that such procedures provide minimal health benefits and may prevent both partners from fully enjoying sex.
Stowell says his work has been paying off. Medicaid won't pay for the procedure in 16 states, although it does in Virginia. In 1996, Congress passed a law banning the practice for women. Stowell wants the same protection extended to men.
Still, how can you miss something you've never had?
"I know a lot of men who say, 'I'm circumcised, I'm fine,' and I think that's preposterous," Stowell says. "They're just trying to justify the fact that they've been sexually mutilated." S