Circumcision: the kindest cut, or the cruelest?
It’s the day after Valentine’s Day, and I’m thinking about circumcision. I assure you this is a coincidence.
So! Those of us who have birthed baby boys are faced with the inevitable question: to snip or leave intact? In most of the world, the majority of boys are left as nature intended, but here in the States, circumcision is a relatively routine procedure. As for our son, I was all for leaving well enough alone. My husband, however, is Jewish and felt strongly about the issue, so I deferred to his wishes. As I do in all things. Hang on, I have to plump his throw pillows.
And I’m back! So yes, our son was circumcised. I’m making light of the issue, as is my way; in truth it was a difficult decision, there were many heartfelt discussions, and in the end we made our choice. We didn’t do a bris because I am a coward, and also because I wanted the procedure to be completed in a hospital and not in my grubby, germ-filled living room. My husband could have the circumcision, if that’s what his bloodline demanded, but we would do it in a sterile environment, as my anxiety-riddled heart required. So it was done, and all was well.
Now, this all went down over five years ago, before I knew there were people who believed that male circumcision was a horrific, abusive procedure. ( I think the Internet didn’t even exist then. We all wrote emails on our Etch-a-Sketches, which we then sent to each other via pneumatic tubes. I’m a little fuzzy on the past.) I mean, I knew there were arguments against it, because I’m not a complete moron, but I had only a vague sense of how heated the debated had become. The arguments against circumcision run the gamut from it being an unnecessary removal of part of a healthy organ, to the idea that it can cause significant disfigurement and impairment of sensation. Mothers Against Circumcision argues that circumcision does far more harm than good, with complications being vastly underreported.
What to believe? Recent studies have shown that AIDS HIV transmission is much less likely among circumcised males. (The risk of infection, however, is actually increased if recently circumcised men don’t wait until the wound is healed to resume sexual activity. Ow.) Other studies have shown circumcision is associated with lower rates of other sexually transmitted diseases and infections; the risk of penile cancer is reported as three times higher for uncircumcised men. Circumcision opponents, however, believe these studies are nothing more than scare tactics. In fact, the organization Doctors Opposing Circumcision implies that circumcision makes transmission of AIDS HIV more likely.
(Updated view from the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2012: “Evaluation of current evidence indicates that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks; furthermore, the benefits of newborn male circumcision justify access to this procedure for families who choose it.”) The American Academy of Pediatrics is of little help in the matter, having taken a more-or-less neutral stance on the matter. Their conclusion is that although there may be benefits to circumcision, it should be a personal decision and not a routine procedure. By no means do they characterize circumcision as abusive or damaging.
So, dear readers, what’s your take on the issue? Did you have to make this decision, and if so, which way did you go?Published February 15, 2008. Last updated April 22, 2017.