Image by Serge Melki
Circumcision is a tough, contentious topic. There are very passionate proponents of it, and equally passionate opponents of it. But if you’ve been around for any length of time, you know I’m not one to shy away from controversial topics. That’s why we’re going to tackle the topic today.
I believe that all parents want the best for their children. And I know that that is going to look different for every family. I will not judge you if you choose something I wouldn’t choose. I won’t call you a bad person or a bad parent — that’s not fair.
All of that said, I am going to stand up and recommend against circumcision. If you’re pro-circumcision, hear me out. I’m not calling you a baby mutilator. I promise not to be rude to you. But I want to share some information with you today, on why parents choose to avoid circumcision. I also want to address some of the most common arguments for circumcision, and why I don’t think they’re good ones.
If you’re still pro-circ at the end of this post, I still won’t judge you. But I want you to promise to read through this and really think about it. Just for information.
Reason #1: To Look Like Dad/Male Family Members
One common reason that parents give for circumcision is that they want their son to “match” his father or his older brothers. While I understand the issue of family pride, I don’t think that altering a child’s body through cosmetic surgery is worth it for this reason. Boys and their fathers do not compare penises — and an adult’s penis and a child’s penis do not look the same anyway. I know many father-son pairs who do not “match” and none have ever had any issue with it. This honestly feels like a big deal to some, but it really isn’t.
Reason #2: In Case They’re Ever in a Nursing Home
A lot of people argue about what might happen to a boy if he is ever an adult, in a nursing home, who gets a lot of infections because he isn’t circumcised. Many have horror stories of older men who had to undergo the operation, or who suffered from the pain of multiple infections.
But here’s what it’s really important to understand: those men didn’t suffer from infections because they weren’t circumcised. They suffered from infections because they weren’t cared for properly. Nurses should be taught to retract the foreskin (in adults, not babies!) to clean under it while bathing the men. This is a very simple way to prevent infection. Plus, there is no way to know if your son will ever be in that position. Why would you make a permanent choice in infancy on the off chance that he might be in a nursing home with poorly trained staff in 80 years?
Reason #3: My Doctor Said It Was a Good Idea
Here’s the thing…no major medical organization officially recommends circumcision. Some recommend considering it, but none outright say that it is a necessary or good procedure. If your doctor, personally, says it’s a good idea, then that is one person’s opinion. It really shouldn’t be weighed any more heavily than any other person’s opinion. There are just as many doctors out there who think that circumcision is a bad idea. I know that many want to trust their doctors, but major surgery on a newborn isn’t a small matter. Many doctors are under-educated on circumcision and the benefits of leaving boys intact, especially older doctors. Please don’t take your doctor’s word for this.
Reason #4: Most People Do It; Don’t Want Teasing
Circumcision rates are falling rapidly. Overall rates are around 56% right now, and in some areas for some birth years are as low as 30%. There is no overwhelming majority of boys who are circumcised anymore; it’s pretty evenly split.
As far as teasing, I have to ask…do you make major parenting decisions based on what other peoples’ children might think? I know I don’t. Besides, from what I’ve heard, being the person who stares at another boy’s penis and says something about it is worse than being the owner of the “unusual” penis. (Not that, as I pointed out above, being intact will be “unusual” anymore anyway.)
Reason #5: It’s Healthier/Cleaner
Many parents have some of the other reasons on this list, but for them, it comes down to this point. They believe that circumcised penises are healthier, cleaner, and easier to care for.
In fact, this is not true. An intact penis is extremely easy to care for. In infants, only the outside needs to be wiped. They should not be retracted at any point in time (doing so could cause pain, bleeding, and scar tissue). Keeping an intact boy clean is just as easy, if not easier (especially in the early weeks — no wound to care for).
As for healthier, there’s no solid evidence that circumcision — removal of healthy, normal body tissue — is “healthier.” Some say it may prevent HIV. Teaching safer sex practices (like not having multiple partners and using condoms) is a much more effective and less permanent way of reducing such infections. Using the potential for HIV infections (a risk that only occurs — at least as it pertains to circ or no circ — from sexual behavior) to advocate for circ is major overkill. We don’t remove girls’ breast tissue so that they don’t get breast cancer…or end up with an STD because their breasts were a turn-on to men. There are safer, less invasive ways to promote health.
Reason #6: My Religion Requires It
This is a really touchy topic. I can’t tell you what to believe, or what your religion does or doesn’t require. That isn’t my place.
I would, however, encourage you to look into some of the information out there by people who share your beliefs but who choose not to circumcise. There are growing movements against circumcision in most religions. Christians are not required to circumcise because Jesus paid the price for us, and all outward signs are no longer necessary. (Plus, ancient circumcision wasn’t the complete removal of the foreskin anyway.) More and more Jewish families are opting for Brit Shalom ceremonies now, naming ceremonies instead of circumcision parties. There are lot of options for staying true to one’s core beliefs without performing this procedure.
Reason #7: So He Won’t Remember It
A lot of parents are scared of “what if he needs it later.” They have heard horror stories of older boys, teens, or adults needing to be circumcised and want to get it out of the way in infancy when he won’t remember it.
The thing is, when newborns are circumcised, they aren’t given real pain relief during or after the surgery. They can’t tel us how it feels, but it absolutely causes them pain. Plus, they’re wearing diapers, and their raw wound is getting covered in urine and feces. They also can’t understand what is happening, and circumcision may affect breastfeeding success.
Older boys and men rarely require circumcision. It does happen, but it truly is very rare. Most of the time, it’s related to either a birth defect, like hypospadias, or to improper care in infancy. When boys are forcibly retracted (this should never happen), it can causes adhesions, scar tissue, and possibly phimosis (too-tight foreskin). These complications do not happen in boys who are not forcibly retracted.
Plus, if older boys or men do require circumcision, they are given excellent pain relief during and after the operation. They are fully aware of what is happening to them. They are often able to choose if they want to be circumcised or not. Yes, it’s painful, and yes, they’ll remember it. But it’s honestly safer and better, and rarely needed.
Reason #8: My Husband Wanted It; I Don’t Have a Penis So I Don’t Choose
Many women feel like since they don’t have a penis, this isn’t a decision they should be making. They allow their husband to make the decision instead, since he does have one.
I understand this feeling, as a woman. But the thing is, if you believe it isn’t your decision, then the decision should really belong to your son — the person who owns this particular penis. Wait until he’s old enough to understand what circumcision is and then allow him to choose if he wants it or not. Nobody here is arguing that circumcision should never happen. Men and boys who are old enough to choose it for themselves have every right to get it done.
Your husband gets to choose what he does with his own penis, but your son should get to choose what he does with his.
Some Additional Considerations
I find that a lot of people who argue for circumcision are under the impression that circumcision removes “some extra skin.” They are unaware of all the functions of a normal, intact penis. But the truth is, the foreskin is a normal part of the anatomy with functions and benefits. We can’t discount that when we talk about circumcision. If it were really just “extra skin” then it wouldn’t be that big a deal to remove it.
In fact, the foreskin has many functions:
- More than 20,000 nerve endings (highly sensitive)
- Protects the glans of the penis from chafing or chapping
- Provides natural lubrication during sex (I know, you don’t want to think about this for your baby boy, but it’s a reality)
- Self-cleaning (produces fluid to clean the glans naturally, similar to a girl’s body)
- Protects the meatus (opening of the penis) from infection
- Provides coverage during erection (additional skin from the foreskin ensures that erection isn’t painful or tight)
There are even more, but these are the main ones. Basically, the penis is meant to function with a foreskin. Biologically, it isn’t meant to be removed. It’s like removing our eyelids, or our earlobes — why would we do such a thing, to healthy tissue?
Plus, it’s important to know that around 100 babies per year die from circumcision. These are 100 deaths that are absolutely preventable.
When making a decision about circumcision, please consider all the angles. It’s a very important, and very permanent decision. There are many, many benefits to remaining intact, and few to none from being cut, for most males. This is the biological truth.
I hope that if you started this article in favor of circumcision, that you at least have learned something new. It’s a really important topic.
How do you feel about circumcision?
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