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Genital Mutilation of Children: Failure of Humanity and Humanism

James W. Prescott
Institute of Humanistic Science

In support of the petition to the Council for Secular Humanism's 25th Anniversary World Congress: Toward A New Enlightenment— (October 27-30th, 2005, SUNY, Buffalo) to Endorse The Ashley Montagu Resolution to End the Genital Mutilation of Children Worldwide: A Petition To The World Court, The Hague

Violence against women and children represents the greatest barrier to peace and egalitarianism on this planet. Sexual violence, in particular, is a characteristic of every modern human culture and questions must be raised as to the origins of this enduring quality of gender inequality. Homo sapiens is the most violent primate on the planet.

Understanding the sexual violence inherent in the genital mutilation of children—the first act of sexual violence—requires an understanding of the broader roots of human violence that defines and supports cultures of violence. The genital mutilation of children is an act of sexual violence that is supported by cultures of violence.

It is the intent of this essay to draw attention to how cultures of violence are formed which must begin with an understanding of how individuals are formed to become violent or peaceful. It is not possible to have a culture of violence without its individual members being violent. It will be shown that radical transformations of culture itself are needed, if an end to the genital mutilation of children and an end to the sexual violence against women and children in human cultures are to be realized. Central to these transformations is the elimination of gender inequality in human societies where woman is defined as morally inferior to man and where pain and suffering are moral virtues and physical pleasures of the body are equated with sin and moral evil.

The Crucifixion, an act of divine filicide, is the archetype of Western Civilization where pain and death of the body is equated with a moral good (Good Friday) that was called "love"—"God loved the world so much that he gave (murdered) his only Son, that everyone who has faith in him may not die but have eternal life" (John 3:16-17). His "Chosen People" and the Roman soldiers were merely pawns in God the Father's master plan of "divine filicide" to save the world from his own botched creation. God the Father was responsible for the "Word Becoming Flesh" and no one else (John 1:1-14).

The Virgin Mary, as the archetype of sexual purity, was equated with a moral good; and Mary Magdalene, an alleged prostitute, as the archetype of moral sin (Leloup, 2002; King, 2003; Prescott, 1995, 2004).

But there are other roots to this great gender inequality where Aristotle observed: "Also, as regards, male and female, the former is superior, the latter is inferior, the male is ruler, the female is subject" (Politics, Bk. 1, ch. 4). Pythagoras gave explicit moral characteristics to gender: "There is a good principle which has created order, light and man; and a bad principle which has created chaos, darkness and woman." (Quoted in Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (1953).)

This view of woman as the embodiment of sin and wickedness is a central tenet of Judaeo-Christian beliefs: "Woman is the origin of sin, and it is through her that we all die." (Ecclesiasticus 25:24); and "As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active power in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active power..." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Pt. 1, First Part, Q. 92. Art. 1 Reply Obj. 1); and "Holy virginity is a better thing than conjugal chastity (St. Jerome, Sermon 354). (Seldes, 1985).

These are the historical philosophical-religious roots of gender inequality, sexual Puritanism and violence against women in Western Civilization.

Developmental Neuropsychology

Advances in the developmental neuropsychological and behavioral sciences over this past half-century have documented that violence and violence against children and women, in particular, have their roots in aberrant development of the emotional-social-sexual brain that is induced by sensory deprivation of physical affectional relationships that begins with failed affectional bonding in the mother-infant/child relationship and by failed sexual affectional bonding in developing youth relationships (Prescott, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1996).

An understanding of how the developing brain is encoded and programmed from birth that makes possible life values and behaviors that are either peaceful, harmonious and egalitarian or their opposites of violence, aggression and authoritarianism are essential, if the genital mutilation of children is to be eliminated from human societies.

The crux of this struggle and its resolution is to be found in the answer given to the question: What is the morality of pain and pleasure in human relationships? These moralities are determined from how the developing brain is encoded and programmed with pain or pleasure during the formative periods of brain development. Pain and pleasure are the neuropsychological bridges to understanding the philosophical, theological and cultural concepts of moral good and evil, where pleasure integrates the emotional-social-sexual brain with the later developing neocortical brain that mediates cognitive thought, language and moral value systems.

Any infant/child knows whether it is loved or not through its experiences of pain and pleasure that are known long before the neocortical brain develops to permit the understanding of cognitive language and moral values. It is in these first life experiences of pain and pleasure and how they are encoded in these developing two cultural brains that determine how morality is defined and which behaviors are called moral or immoral; and whether compassion or sociopathy/psychopathy are born.

The outlines of this developmental neuropsychological theory of moral behavior was first presented in my essay "Before Ethics and Morality" that was published in The Humanist, 1972; in "Body Pleasure and The Origins of Violence" in The Futurist and reprinted in The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists, 1975 and elsewhere; in "Genital Pain or Genital Pleasure: Why the One and Not The Other", The Truth Seeker, 1989; and in many other papers that provide the scientific foundation for this thesis, many of which can be found posted at
http://www.ttfuture.org/Prescott; and

Selected websites and their linkages that provide a wealth of information on the aberrations and harm inflicted by genital mutilation of children (male and female) are:

The series of International Symposia on Circumcision sponsored by NOCIRC (National Organization of Circumcision Resource Centers) can be found at: http://www.nocirc.org/symposia/. Attention is drawn to the Universal Declaration On Circumcision, Excision and Incision that declared genital mutilation as a violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (First International Symposium on Circumcision, 1989) which developed into the "Ashley Montagu Resolution to End The Genital Mutilation of Children Worldwide: A Petition To The World Court, The Hague" that was published in the proceedings of the Fourth International Symposium on Sexual Mutilations (Denniston and Milos, 1997), which is posted at http://www.nocirc.org and http://www.montagunocircpetition.org. Many national and international authorities have endorsed this resolution including Nobel Laureate Francis Crick; Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire; and Jonas Salk, Founder of The Salk Institute. Drinan (2004) has noted the modern struggle to free women from tyrannical religious traditions:

Some of the rules articulated by the world's major religions, however, continue to subordinate women... Of course, some practices have been utterly discredited; one could point to the new awareness of and protection against female genital mutilation. (p. 135)

In at least one case, the United States granted asylum to a woman who was threatened with genital mutilation in her country of origin. The court held that female genital mutilation is a form of torture—a practice absolutely prohibited by international law. (p. 143).

Are there other beliefs, traditions, and practices injurious to women that would also merit condemnation? (p. 143).

The CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) condemns all of the handicaps and disabilities that women have inherited from the centuries during which they were treated by custom and by law as inferior, or at least subordinate, to men (p. 140).

The pioneering and life work of Fran Hosken and her Women's International Network (WIN) News to eliminate female genital mutilation and to clarify its primary origins have been internationally recognized and a summary of her work was presented at the First International Symposium on Circumcision which can be seen at:

In this article Hosken (1989) identifies the primary motive for FGM (female genital mutilation):

Excision, by cutting out the most sensitive tissues of a woman's body, extinguishes sexual sensitivity, pleasure and response to touch. The elimination of female sexual pleasure is the reason most frequently given for the genital mutilations, which is to keep "moral behavior of women in society" and "to assure the faithfulness of women to their husbands"—who usually have several wives. In many ethnic groups, for instance in Mali and Francophone West Africa, the operation traditionally is performed just before marriage, as a puberty rite; it is claimed that a woman can be accepted into adult society and get married only after she is operated upon.

In the Sudan and the Middle East, and in Moslem societies, for instance in Somalia, it is said that a woman is incapable of controller her sexuality—hence she must be excised or infibulated or she will disgrace her family. Women who do not have their genitals mutilated are considered to be prostitutes (pp.22-28).

Despite these efforts and those of many others, including the United Nations, female genital mutilation continues worldwide. The Federal Genital Mutilation Act of 1993 (PL 104-208, September 30, 1996) declared female genital mutilation a crime but not for male children, a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Why is equal protection not given to male children, as given to female children in America, with respect to genital mutilation?

This resistance and inequality was also experienced when this writer with Hanny Lightfoot-Klein and Marilyn Fayre Milos, petitioned the 1992 Western Regional Conference of Amnesty International, USA (San Francisco, CA, Feb. 14-16) to declare circumcision an act of "torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which they refused to acknowledge as relevant. This Resolution was rejected with an approximate 2 to 1 margin. Three reasons were given for its rejection:

  1. The newborn does not experience pain;
  2. Interferes with religious practices; and
  3. Requires action by Amnesty International, London.

This same Resolution was introduced to the 1992 Eastern Regional Conference of Amnesty International by Goldman (1996) and was similarly defeated by a similar vote margin. For further details see http://www.montagunocircpetition.org.

However, it is an enigma that the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU); American Ethical Union (AEU); American Humanist Association (AHA); and Council For Democratic and Secular Humanism (CODESH) have all refused to endorse the Ashley Montagu Resolution, when requested by this writer. This despite the publication of Montagu's (1995) essay, Mutilated Humanity, by the American Humanist Association, which conferred upon him its 1995 Humanist of the Year Award. The Humanist, inexplicably, violated our agreement that they would publish the Montagu Resolution in exchange for publishing Mutilated Humanity, which was presented at the Second International Symposium on Circumcision in 1991.

The failure of humanistic organizations—but not by individual humanists—must be understood within the broader context of culture, whose institutions continue to support the genital mutilation of children. One answer to understanding the failure of modern humanist institutions to prevent the genital mutilation of children worldwide are their fears that they would offend the Jewish and other religious faiths that command genital mutilation of children, although there is a growing movement within Judaism that opposes circumcision (Pollack, 1997; Goodman, 1997).

The reasons given for female genital mutilation are also the primary reasons for male genital mutilation, as stated by Moses Maimonides in The Guide of the Perplexed: (1190/1974).

Similarly, one of the intentions of the Law is purity and sanctification, I mean by this renouncing and avoiding sexual intercourse and causing it to be as infrequent as possible, as I shall make clear (111:8);


Similarly with regard to circumcision, one of the reasons for its is, in my opinion, the wish to bring about a decrease in sexual intercourse and a weakening of the organ in question, so that this activity be diminished and the organ be in as quiet a state as possible... The bodily pain caused to that member is the real purpose of circumcision (111:49). (Maimonides/Pines, 1190/1974). (Emphasis mine).

The above citation of Maimonides was given in this writer's reply to Rabbi Nathan A. Barack's letter to The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, titled "A brief for licentiousness', which was a critique of my article Body Pleasure and The Origins of Violence. My letter of reply was titled: "Violence, pleasure and religion" (March, 1976). This article and letter exchange can be found at http://www.violence.de.

This ethic of sexual Puritanism is strongly affirmed in the Code of Jewish Law (Maimonides/Ganzfried, 1963), where it is stated in Code 150: Laws of Chastity:

150:17. Semen is the vitality of man's body and the light of his eyes, and when it issues in abundance, the body weakens and life is shortened. He who indulges in having intercourse, ages quickly, his strength ebbs, his eyes grow dim, his breath becomes foul, the hair of his head, eyelashes and brows fall out, the hair of his beard, armpits and feet increase, his teeth fall out, and many other aches besides these befall him. Great physicians said that one out of a thousand dies from other diseases, while nine hundred and ninety-nine die from sexual indulgence. Therefore, a man should exercise self-restraint.

And in Code 151: The Sin of Discharging Semen in Vain:

151:1: It is forbidden to discharge semen in vain. This is a graver sin than any other mentioned in the Torah. Those who practice masturbation and cause the issue of semen in vain, not only do they commit a grave sin, but they are under a ban, concerning whom it is said (Isaiah 1:15): 'Your hands are full of blood;" and it is equivalent to killing a person. See what Rashi wrote concerning Er and Onan in the Sidrah of Vayeshev (Genesis 37), that both Er and Onan died for the commission of this sin. Occasionally, as a punishment for this sin, children die when young, God forbid, or grow up to be delinquent, while the sinner himself is reduced to poverty.

Reinforcing this theology of masturbation (sexual pleasure), as moral sin, is the statement in the Vatican's Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics that masturbation is "an intrinsically and seriously disordered act" (Vatican, 1975).

Larue (1989) provides an illuminating overview of the religious traditions in circumcision.

Duffy (1963, 1989), a medical historian, has chronicled how these theological views on sexual pleasure, particularly masturbation, strongly influenced 19th century medicine. Citing numerous medical sources of that time which believed "Loss of semen was considered a real danger to males" and "In my opinion, neither the plague, nor war, nor smallpox, nor a crowd of similar evils have resulted more disastrously for humanity, than the habit of masturbation: it is the destroying element of civilized society"; and quoting Dr. A.J. Bloch, of New Orleans, in an article titled "Sexual Perversion in the Female" (1894) declared that female masturbation was a "moral leprosy"; and that the diagnosis of masturbation was quite common as the cause of mental disorders.

This long history of tragic theological and medical error gave rise to the use of chastity belts and other devices to assure virginity and to prevent masturbation, which inflicted pain upon the genitals, where circumcision was medically justified to prevent or cure the many claimed physical, mental and moral disorders associated with sexual pleasure—masturbation. Inexplicably, these moral values and medical, legal errors influence modern medicine today in their support of circumcision (http://weber.u.washington.edu/~gcd/DOC/altern.html; Prescott, Milos and Denniston, 1999; http://www.montagunocircpetition.org).

The reciprocal inhibitory relationship between pain and pleasure and their moral values must be understood as driving the primary warfare between male and female where the feminine (pleasure-peace) is subordinated to the masculine (pain-violence) and why alleged fetal pain is honored more than the pain of dying cancer patients when 95% of anti-abortion congressman voted to deny medical morphine to dying cancer patients (Prescott, 1986). Questions must be raised about the willingness of "Pro-Life" forces to film a "fetal murder" to demonstrate a political point rather than stopping the "fetal murder". This is not the first instance where "Pro-Life" forces have been shown to be lacking in concern for the unborn.

DeMeo (1998) provides a significant review of the history of child abuse, sexual repression and genital mutilation that he proposes has it origins in the deserts of Saharasia. DeMeo's theory of origins conflicts with the origins proposed by Prescott (1975, 1977, 1979, 1990, 1996).

Table 1 summarizes the complexity of how pain and pleasure are encoded in our two cultural brains, which determines what kind of individual we become and what kind of culture is formed, i.e. peaceful or violent. When these two cultural brains are encoded and programmed with pain and somatosensory affectional pleasure deprivation, the result is the neurodissociative brain that mediates the neurodissociative behaviors of depression, social alienation, authoritarianism and violence; conversely, when the two cultural brains are encoded and programmed with pleasure and the absence of pain, the result is the neurointegrative brain that mediates peace, egalitarianism, joy and happiness. It should be noted that reciprocal inhibition is the controlling principle of brain function and behavior, e.g., depression and happiness; anger and joy; peace and violence; egalitarianism and authoritarianism; sleeping and waking; cannot coexist together at the same time in the same body.

In overview, millions of years of evolutionary mammalian biology that constructed the sensory pain and pleasure systems of the body, which instructs us that pain is a signal of harm and injury to be avoided and pleasure is a signal that something is good and to be sought, has been inverted by the theistic, patrilineal cultures to its opposite, namely that pain, suffering and deprivation is the path to salvation and is a good to be sought; and pleasures of the body are sinful and immoral that leads to personal damnation and is an evil to be avoided.

It is this inversion of the natural sensory systems of the body from its evolutionary purpose that has turned the body against itself; man against women—woman against man; parents against their children and children against their parents. Homo sapiens now prefers warfare and violence to peace and tranquility for that is how we have programmed our species.

The ending of the genital mutilation of children worldwide cannot be achieved until homo sapiens ends the continuing development of its neurodissociative brain through somatosensory affectional deprivation, which drives violence against the human body, maintains a state of warfare between the masculine and feminine and where pain is a moral good and pleasure is a moral evil.

Accordingly, we must now explain why the pleasures of the body appear to be more desirable. The first reason, then, is that pleasure drives out pain. When men experience an excess of pain, they pursue excessive pleasure and bodily pleasure in general, in the belief that it will remedy the pain. These remedial pleasures become very intense—and that is the very reason why they are pursued because they are experienced in contrast with their opposite.
(Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, Book 7, 384-322 B.C.)
"Therefore, the highest good is some sort of pleasure, despite the fact that most pleasures are bad, and, if you like, bad in the unqualified sense of the word"
(Aristotle Nichomachean Ethics, Book 7, 384-322 B.C).


Aristotle (c350). Nichomachean Ethics.

Barack, N.A. (1976). A brief for licentiousness. The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists. March.

Bloch, A.J. (1894). Sexual Perversion in the Female. New Orleans Med. Surg J (new series) 22:1-7.

DeMeo, J. (1998). Saharasia. The 4000 BCE Origins of Child Abuse, Sex-Repression, Warfare and Social Violence In The Deserts of the Old World. Greensprings. OR.

Denniston, G.C. and Milos, M.F., Eds. (1997). Sexual Mutilations: A Human Tragedy. Plenum Press, New York and London. http://www.nocirc.org/symposia

Drinan, R.F. (2004). Can God & Caesar Coexist?: Balancing Religious Freedom & International Law. Yale University Press. New Haven.

Duffy, J. (1963). Masturbation and Clitoredectomy. The Journal of The American Medical Association. 186:246-248.October 19.

Duffy, J. (1989). Clitoredectomy: A Nineteenth Century Answer to Masturbation. The Truth Seeker (Supplement) July/August.

Goldman, R. (1996). Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma. Circumcision Information Resource Center. Boston.

Goodman, J. (1997). Challenging Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective. In Sexual Mutilations: A Human Tragedy. (Denniston, G. and Milos, F.M., Eds). Plenum Press. New York.

Hosken, F.P. (1989). Female Genital Mutilation: Strategies For Eradication. The Truth Seeker. July/August.

King, K.L. (2003). The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and The First Woman Apostle. Polebridge Press. Santa Rosa, CA.

Larue, G.A. (1989). Religious Traditions and Circumcision. The Truth Seeker. July/August.

Leloup, J.-Y. (2002). The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Inner Traditions. Rochester, VT.

Maimonides, M. (1190). The Guide of The Perplexed. Shlomo Pines, Translator. University of Chicago Press, 1974.

Maimonides, M. (c 1190). The Code of Jewish Law. Solomon Ganzfried, Editor and Translator. Hebrew Publishing, Spencertown, NY. 1963.

Montagu, A. (1995). Mutilated Humanity. pp. 12-15. The Humanist. July/August.

Pollack, M. (1997). Redefining The Sacred. In Sexual Mutilations. A Human Tragedy. (Denniston, G. and Milos, F.M., Eds). Plenum Press. New York.

Prescott, J.W. (1972). Before Ethics and Morality. The Humanist. Nov/Dec pp. 19-21.

Prescott, J.W. (1975). Body Pleasure and The Origins of Violence. The Futurist. Bethesda, MD. Reprinted In: The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, November 1975, pp. 10-20; Jeune Afrique, Hebdomadaire International, April 9, 1976; Adventures In Anthropology (1977), (Kennedy, W.J., Ed). West Publishing Co. St. Paul; Child Abuse: Its Prevention and Treatment, An Inter-disciplinary Approach (M. Van Stolk, Ed.). McClelland and Stewart, Ltd. Toronto, 1978.

Prescott, J.W. (1976). Violence, pleasure and religion. The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists March

Prescott, J.W. (1977). Phylogenetic and ontogenetic aspects of human affectional development. In: Progress In Sexology. Proceedings of the 1976 International Congress of Sexology. (R. Gemme & C.C. Wheeler, Eds.) Plenum Press, New York. pp.431-457.
French translation: Aspects Phylogenetiques et Onotgenetiques Du Development Affectif De L'Homme. In: Contraception, Fertilite, Sexualite. Aout, 6, No. 8: 521-534. http://www.violence.de/archive.shtml

Prescott, J.W. (l979): Deprivation of physical affection as a primary process in the development of physical violence. In. Child Abuse and Violence (Gil, D.G., Ed). AMS Press New York pp. 66-137.

Prescott, J.W. (1980). Somatosensory affectional deprivation (SAD) theory of drug and alcohol use. In: Theories On Drug Abuse: Selected Contemporary Perspectives. (Dan J. Lettieri, Mollie Sayers and Helen Wallenstien Pearson, Eds.) NIDA Research Monograph 30, March 1980. National Institute on Drug Abuse, Department of Health and Human Services. Rockville, MD, 1980. http://www.violence.de/archive.shtml

Prescott, J.W. (1986). The Abortion of the Silent Scream. A false and wrongful cry for human pain, suffering, and violence. The Humanist Sept/Oct.

Prescott, J.W. (1989). Genital Pain vs. Genital Pleasure: Why The One and Not The Other? The Truth Seeker July/August pp. 14-21.

Prescott, J.W. (l990): Affectional bonding for the prevention of violent behaviors: Neurobiological, Psychological and Religious/Spiritual Determinants. In. Violent Behavior Vol. I: Assessment and Intervention. (L.J. Hertzberg, et. al., Eds). PMA Pub. NY pp. 110-142.

Prescott, J.W. (1995). Violence Against Women: Philosophical and Religious Foundations of Gender Morality. New Perspectives. (March/April). Hemet, CA.

Prescott, J.W. (1996). The Origins of Human Love and Violence. Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Journal. 10(3): 143-188. Spring.

Prescott, J.W. (1997). The Ashley Montagu Resolution To End The Genital Mutilation of Children Worldwide: A Petition To The World Court, The Hague. In. Sexual Mutilations: A Human Tragedy. (Denniston, G.C. and Milos, M.F., Eds). (Plenum Press 1997).

Prescott, J.W., Milos, M.F., and Denniston, G.C. (1999). Circumcision: Human Rights and Ethical Medical Practice. The Humanist. May/June.

Prescott, J.W. (2004). Must violence, religion go hand in hand? Review of Mel Gibson's "Passion". The Ithaca Journal March 6.

Seldes, G. (1985). The Great Thoughts. Ballantine Books. New York.

Vatican (1975). Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics. The Sacred Congregation of the Faith. Rome, Italy. United States Catholic Conference (1976). Washington, D.C.




Theistic Religions

Disembodied Divine Love



Gender Inequality

Sexual Purity

Addictive Synthetic Drugs


Pain Is A Moral Good


NeuroDissociative Brain


Earth Religions

Embodied Human Love



Gender Equality

Sexual Liberty

Natural Botanical Drugs



Pleasure Is A Moral Good


NeuroIntegrative Brain

James W. Prescott, Ph.D. Presented at: Society for the Scientific Study of Sex: "Sex and the Brain" Midcontinent & Eastern Regions June 13-16, 2002 Big Rapids, MI and Society For Cross Cultural Research 32nd Annual Meeting Feb 19-23, 2003 Charleston, SC

Republished with the kind permission of James W. Prescott. HTML by Joel Schlosberg. Please inform us about any errors you find. If you want to write a translation, please contact Erik Möller.