Snip snap

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SEXUAL, health and aesthetic norms do not vary much across the West. Male circumcision is an exception. Over half of American boys are snipped, compared with 2-3% in Finland and Britain. The procedure is justified in America on grounds given little credence in Europe: that it makes genitals cleaner, nicer-looking and more socially acceptable.

Circumcision first became popular in the late 19th century as a supposed cure for masturbation—and health problems from headaches to tuberculosis. After the second world war it became associated in America with hygiene and wealth; in other rich countries governments (which paid for most health care) were unconvinced of its merits.

Over 80% of American men are circumcised. Parents worry that uncircumcised boys will be teased in the changing rooms; fathers often want their sons to look the same as them “down there”. Many parents think foreskins are hard to clean, says Georganne Chapin of Intact America, a group lobbying against infant circumcision. But if men can become astrophysicists or master carpenters, she says, surely they can learn to wash?

American doctors routinely ask new…

The Economist: International