Although modern opponents to circumcision quite often question the efficacy of circumcision in general, major opposition centers on routine infant circumcision. Opponents object to the fact that newborn boys are subjected to a procedure with questionable benefits, carries serious risks and is being performed without the boy's consent. T. Hammond asserts that every human has a right to a whole and intact body and that, where minors are concerned, "the unnecessary removal of a functioning body organ in the name of tradition, custom or any other non-disease related cause should never be acceptable to the health profession." He says that such interventions are violations of individual bodily rights and "a breach of fundamental medical ethics principles". Other also see genital cutting of children as a human rights issue. They oppose the genital modification and mutilation of children, including routine infant circumcision and female genital cutting. Several anti-circumcision organizations also oppose the sexual-reassignment surgery of infants with ambiguous genitalia.
Opponents of circumcision see circumcision as unnecessary, harmful and unethical; some want the procedures prohibited. Current laws in many countries, and laws in several U.S. states, prohibit the genital modification and mutilation of female minors, with some exceptions based on medical need. Opponents of circumcision assert that laws against genital modification and mutilation of minors should apply equally to males, females, and also to involuntary sex reassignment. Opposition to circumcision does not imply bias against persons having any particular genital status, and those who agree with Genital Integrity accept the right of individuals to make informed choices about their bodies.
The Genital Integrity Ribbon was created by the "National Organization to Halt the Abuse and Routine Mutilation of Males" (NOHARMM). The pink ribbon symbolizes girls and blue symbolizes boys. The ribbon as a whole can symbolize intersexed people.
The practice of circumcision is thought to have originated in Africa.
The Ancient Greeks believed the foreskin to be important, and thought it a thing of beauty. They invented specific words in relation to the foreskin: posthe (ποσθη) was used to describe the part of the foreskin that covered the glans, and by some as the whole foreskin or penis; Akroposthion (ακροπσθτου) was used to describe the tapered bit of the foreskin that extended beyond the glans and posthon (ποσθων) meant one who had a large foreskin. The Greeks valued a long foreskin in relation to the length of the penis, at the same time valuing a small penis over a larger one. They pathologised an inadequate foreskin (one that did not cover the glans), calling the condition lipodermos. Some went to great lengths to artificially create a long Akroposthion, tethering it with a kynodesme (κυνοδεσμη, literally a "dog leash") and tying round the waist in order to pull it longer by traction. The Greek historian Herodotus (484–420 B.C.E.) ascribes circumcision to the Colchians, Ethiopians, Phoenicians, Syrians, and Macrones, as well as to the Egyptian priestly caste. He also reports, however, that the salutary influence of Greek culture induced the Phoenicians to abandon circumcision. Other people, he says, unless they have been influenced by the Egyptians, leave their genitals in their natural state. Later Greek writers such as Strabo (b.64 B.C.E) were horrified at the practice of the cave-dwelling tribes living around the Red Sea as well as those of the Hebrews and Egyptians. The accounts of Greek historians show that Greeks likened the circumcised penis (and exposed glans) to primitiveness, barbarity, backwardness, superstition, and oppression.
Since the first converts to Christianity were Jews, it was initially thought that circumcision should be required to become Christian. But the apostle Paul said that God's messenger on earth, Jesus, formed a new relationship with humankind, and this made the old Abrahamic covenant of circumcision obsolete: "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything," ( Galatians 5:6). "Was anyone already circumcised when he was called? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone uncircumcised when he was called? Let him not seek circumcision." (1 Corinthians 7:18) He also said that God made every part of the body as he wanted it. (1 Corinthians 12:18)
The Romans often made laws prohibiting circumcision, affecting the Jews living within the Roman Empire. In 167 B.C Antiochus(175–165 B.C.) gave a decree that punished any mother who circumcised their son with death. According to Tacitus, Antiochus "endeavoured to abolish Jewish superstition and to introduce Greek civilization." Adrian also forbade circumcision. Antonine initially forbade circumcision but later allowed Jews their religious practice. Marcus Aurelius though revived the edict of Adrian. During the reign of Constantine all Jews were once again forbidden from practicing circumcision. Any Jew that circumcised his slave was punished by death. In the 6th century Justinian forbade Jews from practicing their faith. In the 7th century Jews were asked to renounce their faith including the practice of circumcision and be baptised. If they did not their property would be confiscated and they would be banished from the country. the Saracens persecuted the Jews of Spain and took away their children to be raised in the Christian religion. Jews suffered greatest during the 15th century due to the Spanish Inquisition. The practicing of Judaism was abolished and Jews were forced to renounce their faith. Circumcisions were secretly performed though - even on dead Jews - so that the law of their fathers could be carried out.
Threatened exile, exorbitant taxation and confiscation often caused Jews to conceal their circumcision status. This first occurred during the reign of Antiochus. By the aid of appliances, the skin was forced to hang over the glans. Marcus described the instrument as a long copper tube which carried the penis, the weight of which forced the skin down over the glans. The apostle Paul refers to these practices in his epistle to the Corinthians "was anyone called being circumcised, let him not be circumcised." the instrument is not though to have been much use in fooling anyone.
Early Christians were reluctant to adopt the practice of circumcision. Often Christian missionaries to Africa were shocked to find that converts were insisting on their time-honoured practice of circumcision.
The Catholic church took a stand against circumcision when the Ecumenical Council of Florence (1438-1445) ordered: "all who glory in the name of Christianity, not to practise circumcision either before or after baptism, since whether or not they place their hope in it, it cannot possibly be observed without loss of eternal salvation.
One author writing in 1772 in a book entitled Philosophical researches on the Americans thought that circumcision popularity was based on climate and region. He claimed countries of more northern latitude would be reluctant to adopt circumcision and that circumcision was only popular in Africa to repair an inherent genetic defect which gave them a long foreskin. Countries that do not circumcise have often held antipathy for those that do. Often being circumcised was a sign of disgrace.
Until Victorian times, circumcision was widely regarded with repulsion. In 1650, English physician John Bulwer in his study of body modification, Anthropometamorphosis: Man Transform’d, or the Artificial Changeling, wrote of the loss in sexual pleasure resulting from circumcision: "the part which hangeth over the end of the foreskin, is moved up and down in coition, that in this attrition it might gather more heat, and increase the pleasure of the other sexe; a contentation of which they [the circumcised] are defrauded by this injurious invention. For, the shortnesse of the prepuce is reckoned among the organical defects of the yard, … yet circumcision detracts somewhat from the delight of women, by lessening their titillation." The English historian Edward Gibbon, author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, referred to the practice as "a painful and often dangerous rite", "singular mutilation" practiced only by Jews and Turks.
The first formal objection to circumcision within Judaism occurred in 1843 in Frankfurt. The Society for the Friends of Reform, a group that attacked traditional Jewish practices, said that brit milah was not a mitzvah but an outworn legacy from Israel's earlier phases, an obsolete throwback to primitive religion. With the expanding role of medicine came further opposition; certain aspects of Jewish circumcision such as Brit periah (which involved peeling back the foreskin with the fingernails and scraping out the mucosal lining) and Brit metzitzah (which involved the sucking of blood from the circumcision wound) were deemed unhygienic. Between 1805 and 1866 at least eight outbreaks of syphilis in various parts of Europe were attributed to infected mohels. This forced circumcisions to be supervised by a physician. Later evidence that syphilis and tuberculosis— two of the most feared infectious diseases in the nineteenth century — were spread by mohels, caused various rabbis to proclaim metzitzah to be dispensable.
As circumcision became more popular among non-Jews (gentiles) in the late 19th century, authors started to question the procedure: "The mutilation of the genitals among the various savage tribes of the world presents a strange and unaccountable practice of human ideas, which one is not able to reconcile with any reasoning power. Why such customs should be in vogue none can tell at the present time; but we must suppose that at some period they had their significance, which in the course of ages has been lost, and the practice has been handed down from generation to generation." (J. Henry C. Simes, "Circumcision" (1890), p. 375)
In the 75-year period (1875 to 1950) there was virtually no opposition to routine circumcision in the United States. The first serious questioning of the practice did not occur until late 1949 when Gairdner published The Fate of the Foreskin in the British Medical Journal; this began to affect the practice of circumcision in Britain. In the 1930's it is estimated 35% of British boys were circumcised; by the mid-1980's this rate had declined to 6.5%. If the most recent rate of circumcision remains unchanged 3.5% of British boys will be circumcised by their 15th birthday.
Opposition to circumcision also exists among Jews in Israel. Even though there is often pressure from family to circumcise their sons, a small but growing number of Jews are choosing to forgo the procedure.
According to Marilyn Milos and Donna Macris, "The need to defend the baby's right to a peaceful beginning was brought to light by Dr. Frederick Leboyer in his landmark work, Birth Without Violence in 1976. The development of the Internet helped the Genital Integrity movement to spread its message. Those opposed to circumcision began creating websites in the mid-1990s, and this process has continued. This period also saw the formation of Genital Integrity organizations in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and South Africa. In response to consumer demand for accurate information on circumcision, The National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers (NOCIRC), was formed by Marilyn Milos, R.N., in 1985. The organization's stated objective is to secure the birthright of male, female, and intersex children and babies to keep their sex organs intact. Protest rallies have been held in the USA and other areas. NOCIRC have consistently criticised the American medical community's circumcision guidelines.
NOCIRC, the International Coalition for Genital Integrity, and Stop Infant Circumcision Society launched the First Genital Integrity Awareness Week in Washington, D.C. during the first week of April, Child Abuse Prevention Month. The 12th Annual Demonstration/March Against Infant Circumcision took place during March 29 - April 3, 2005.. From 2004 to 2007, the organization MGMbill.org sent a proposed bill to the US Congress and 15 state legislatures to extend the prohibition on genital modification and mutilation of minors to include male and intersex children. The proposed bill has not been endorsed by any member of Congress.
The Bay Area iNtactivists Group (BANG) in the San Francisco region takes part in baby fairs, the Solano Stroll, Gay Pride marches and other events. An interview broadcast on Outlook TV in April 2006 emphasises genital integrity for boy, girl, and intersexed babies.
The proceedings of several of these symposia have been published in book form.
Boyle et al. suggest that "As we enter the 21st Century, appropriate legal action must be taken to safeguard the physical genital integrity of male children.