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Circumcision: the kindest cut, or the cruelest?

Circumcision: the kindest cut, or the cruelest?

By Alice Bradley

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?

Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

...

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

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Anne Prince
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Anne Prince

When my husband and I were interviewing the doctor who ultimately became our pediatrician (19 yrs ago) he said neither yay nor nay, that it was a personal choice and that was that. Since hubby wasn’t – we decided not to since after all he would teach him how to stand and pee (and miss the bowl!). We just had to keep retracting his foreskin when we changed his diaper a little at a time and all would be well. Well, at age 11 or 12 he had to be circumsized as the foreskin did not retract all the way.… Read more »

Christine
Guest

I don’t have children (yet) but my fiance and I have discussed this in passing, and we believe we aren’t going to go with the big snip. If he were Jewish or Muslem or there was some big reason to do it, I would cave. As I see it, it seems pretty pointless and more about a vague idea of improved cleanliness and a bit about how it looks. I think I made up my mind years ago though in a college lecture course where the guest lecturer was an OB/Gyn who said she was vehemently against it because they… Read more »

Becky
Guest

All three of my boys have had the snip snip. We know a few adults (yes, more then one) that have had issues later in life and had to get it done as an adult. I wouldnt wish that on anyone.

Elizabeth
Guest

We were so relieved when the ultrasound tech said we were having a girl. No more circumcision debate!

becks
Guest
becks

We circumsized our son. My husband was circumsized, so that was a major factor. I had never actually seen a penis that wasn’t circumsized until I did research on the issue. I guess the bottom line for me was hygienically speaking, I think it’s the right choice. My mother works in a nursing home and she says the old guys who aren’t circumsized don’t always recieve the proper care that the foreskin requires. Women I work with all have stories about nephews and cousins being circumsized at age 5, 8, 10 because of repeated infections. I stand behind my decision.… Read more »

Fawn
Guest

Fortunately, I did not actually have to make this decision, but DH and I talked about it before our little girl was born and had decided we were against it. We’re not Jewish, so there just didn’t seem to be any reason for it. I understand that there are even Jewish families that are turning against the practice these days.
It just so happens that DH *is* circumsized; he remembers having it done (around grade 1, I think) because it was medically necessary (fuzzy on the details). So sometimes it is warranted, sometimes there are reasons.

Gillian
Guest

In April or May, we will have our first child, a boy. At first, my husband was very pro and I was very against circumcision. I slowly won him over to my side. I view it as basically a cosmetic surgery, unnecessary. My husband did, too, he just liked the idea of tradition, and I really think he wanted his son to be the same as him. I read in the NY Times Magazine recently that boys who have been circumcized, especially ones who did not receive anesthesia, are harder to console and cry longer several months later when they… Read more »

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

We did it. His dad had it when he was a baby, and he’s fine. I hear it’s cleaner. Why does it have to be such a big deal? I think this is a private choice, not one that needs to be discussed everywhere.

Ariel
Guest

Well some people think it’s okay to cut the labia and clitoris on little girls too- which is repugnant in every way. I view it in the exact same light- i.e. something horrendous.

roughmagic
Guest

My 5-year-old got snipped nearly first thing in the hospital for pretty much the same reason as your Henry — his dad’s Jewish and I had no compelling reason to object. My husband also made the perfectly reasonable point that he thought it would be important for my son to “look like his daddy”. We live in the rural Midwest where the nearest mohel is 200 miles away, so a bris wasn’t an option even if we wanted one, and we were meh on that. I’m not squeamish, but my husband is, so he got his dad to witness the… Read more »

Mona
Guest
Mona

We did not circ our sons, even though my husband was as an infant. He actually made the call and I was glad that was what he chose. And like Alice, my husband makes all important decisions! No – but let’s face it – I don’t have a penis and most boys in the US still are circ’ed and I felt that the social pressures were something better weighed by someone who had the same equipment. I have no idea what it’s like to be a 13 year old boy and the person who does gets a weightier vote, IMHO.… Read more »

Megan
Guest
Megan

I think we need more information about the studies linking intactness and HIV because anecdotally if you look at the US that has a high rate of circumcision among sexual active males we also have a tremendously high HIV infection rate compared to countries that not circumcise. And while penile cancer may be higher in intact males its still an incredibly rare cancer. I do not think the benefit of preventing a very rare cancer is worth the risks of circumcision. Mostly I think about the issue from genital integrity standpoint. Since there aren’t any immediate medical benefits to circumcision… Read more »

Will
Guest
Will

I am neither a mother or a father. I am an 18 year old male who has negative views on infant circumcision. There is no logical medical reason to circumcise. Penile cancer is very rare Girls statistically get more then double the number of UTI’s of uncircumcised baby boys. Any sexually transmitted disease can be almost completely blocked with condom use. And honestly, if your son is not practicing safe sex, you have bigger parenting issues you should be focusing on then circumcising. Really what it comes to is that parents are scared, and they want whats best for their… Read more »

Mallory
Guest
Mallory

We had to make this decision four months ago, when our son was born. I had been on the fence about it, but my husband (who is circumcized) was adamantly against it. I’m really glad now that we didn’t have it done, primarily because it isn’t medically necessary, and I don’t feel like I have the right to make that choice for him. It’s not *my* body. If our son chooses to get circumcized when he’s older, that’s his perogative.

Annabelle
Guest
Annabelle

What an interesting and timely post! I’m pregnant with our first and asked my husband about this very issue about a week ago. he said that the issue came up in a group conversation a few months ago (I was not there) and after a bit of discussion one of the other guys said, “likelyhood of getting a blow job is dramatically increased… I’m for it.” That seemed to settle the issue in the minds of the men present.

Slim
Guest
Slim

We didn’t, because we are goyim who would prefer our sons use other methods of reducing the risks of sexually transmitted diseases.
Isn’t the penile cancer thing a myth? Or is the myth a myth perpetrated by anti-circers? My mind reels. My boys romp on, sans foreskin. All is well.

Aimee Greeblemonkey
Guest

I really believe circumcision is a personal choice for each family, but yes – we did *not* do the ole snip snip. We had read the the literature (also 5+ years ago during the stone ages of the internet) and came down more on the side against it, but I also left it up to my husband – who was surprisingly *more* against it than I was. Then our son came 8 weeks early and we got caught up in the NICU for 6 weeks. Did you know circumcision is that LAST thing they do when your baby has been… Read more »

Annemie
Guest
Annemie

Same situation, different decision. I told my husband when we got pregnant that it was his call, and his immediate response was that if we had a boy, he’d be trimmed. (Jewish upbringing, Jewish mother, ’nuff said). However, as we neared our due date, I started to encourage (read: nag/beg) him to think it through more carefully. When he claimed Judaism as a reason, I asked when he had last gone to synagogue. Why not just have him wear a yarmulke? How is this any different from infant baptism, with the obvious exception of blood? His argument about looking the… Read more »

Beth
Guest

We chose not to circumcise our son, and although it was a pretty easy decision for us and he’s doing great, I respect others’ decisions to circumcise (except in cases in which circumcision is forced on an older child — completely unacceptable and traumatizing). As for the study on AIDS transmission being less likely among circumcised males, going by the article cited, the study was conducted in Africa and the other variables are not mentioned, so I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in it. It’s very easy for people to hear one piece of information and neglect to get… Read more »

Lisa C
Guest

As a friend of mine put it, “I don’t make decisions about parts I don’t have.” She let her husband make the decision, as did I. It was still dreadful. I gave my husband the duty of changing the gauze and applying the vaseline. I didn’t feel too badly about the deciion, though, because my brother-in-law had just been circumised due to a series of infections. Apparently the healing process takes a lot longer when you’re in your late 20s.

Sara
Guest
Sara

We didn’t do it. I didn’t want to. Husband did. It came down to whether or not we wanted to add the expense to the list of hospital bills already accrued from the pregnancy, since for insurance purposes, the C word is an elective procedure. I did leave the decision up to my husband, and he made the final call in favor of our budget. I think he’s not entirely happy with the decision, though. So we don’t talk about it much. It is what it is. And fortunately, he does at least defend our choice to family–not telling them… Read more »

fredr
Guest
fredr

Although there is much denial, Circumcision causes the masculine prepuce to dysfunction. The function of the male and female prepuce is to enhance sexual desire. Its nerves link to the reproductive parts of the brain. Severing these nerves at birth leads to reproductive brain chemistry malfunction from disuse atrophy. Brain chemistry malfunctions lead to anti depressants. When people go off their medications, leads to campus shootings like VA Tech and NIU. When left undiagnosed, circumcision induced suicidal depression can lead to paranoid delussions leading to 9/11. There you have it in a nut shell.

Noelle Carrino
Guest
Noelle Carrino

I had my son circumsised the day after he was born four years ago. The only reason I did it was because my husband insisted. We are not remotely Jewish, my husband just wanted it done “so he would look like everyone else”. When I got my very upset infant back from the nursery that day and after I looked at that chopped monstrosity that his little penis had become I swore I would never do that to another child of mine. If I ever have another boy, he will stay just as he came into the world. By the… Read more »

Someone Being Me
Guest

Its not something I felt particularly strongly about. My husband was the one who actively encouraged the circumcision as he didn’t want his son to be made fun of like the guys he knew in high school who weren’t. I also looked at it from a religious standpoint. My husband’s father wasn’t circumcised until he was an adult and he explained to my husband that is not something you want to put off. Best do it when they won’t remember it. My husband was in the room when they did my son’s and he barely cried. He was asleep when… Read more »

Liza
Guest

During my first pregnancy, the impassioned pleas of people on both sides, especially anti, kinda made me nervous.
I ended up declaring that no one was going to know the answer to our decision unless they were on sufficiently intimate terms to find out directly. Change his diaper and the information is yours.

Stacey Green
Guest
Stacey Green

We had our son circed 7 years ago on the advice of all 5 pediatricians I interviewed, and my brother who is a nurse. He has horror stories of elderly adult males getting nasty penile infections because it is so hard to maintain the hygiene of an invalid. Add to this that the American Academy of Pediatrics states that there are valid medical reasons to consider circing, and that the Centers for Disease Control is currently considering strengthening their recommendation of circing because it reduces the likelihood of HIV and other STD transmissions, and I think circing is definitely the… Read more »

caramama
Guest

Although my husband and I ended up with a girl, we had discussed this issue prior to knowing the sex of our baby. I didn’t have feelings one way or the other, but my husband felt strongly against circumcision for our children. He does not agree with it even for religious reasons, as he equates it with female circumcision/genital mutilation/cutting, which is also done for traditional and religious reasons. Also, his research suggested that there was no significant health difference as long as proper hygiene was practiced. There are plenty of men who are not circumcised who have never had… Read more »

Kathy
Guest

I did not circumcise my son. My husband and I did a ton of research and found that there are no medical benefits even though there are a ton of claims to the contrary. The American Academy of Pediatrics is saying there aren’t any medical benefits. We also found that leaving the skin protects the glans (head), which is a very sensitive area. Uncircumcised males apparently have greater sexual pleasure. We decided to leave it as is. It’s probably that way for a reason.
We haven’t had any issues with infection. He’s 2 1/2.

anonymous
Guest
anonymous

i find it disturbing when someone thinks that FGM(female genital mutilation) and male circumcision are the same thing. FGM removes all the surrounding tissue including the clitoris. male circumcision only removes the foreskin which on women equates ONLY the the clitoral hood.
if intactivists want to have a SERIOUS debate then they need to make sure they are comparing apples to apples.
btw…i have two sons and both were circ’ed shortly after birth.

Sara
Guest
Sara

so I can’t believe I’m going to complicate the issue BUT– my husband was not circed originally (being Italian). At 9, he had to be. BUT the drs did a hemi-circumcision. That’s right. This type allows for increased sensation but solves the whole cleaning thing. We opted for the same for our son. Ta da! There is a third option!

rathernotsay
Guest
rathernotsay

This is such a stressful decision! I sincerely hope that our second is another girl and we don’t have to worry about it. My two cents is that I dated a guy in college who was not circumcised (b/c his dad was a European Catholic) and I found it a little unpleasant. There was always a distinct smell even though he was an obsessively clean person and I had lots of yeast infections which stopped when we stopped dating. Also, it tore at one point and he had to have a really painful surgery. Purely anecdotal, I know, but I… Read more »

Jocelyn
Guest
Jocelyn

We saw no reason to circumcise our son. He’ll be his own person. I don’t expect him to instantly have long hair or a beard (as his father does), so why should he have a damaged penis (and the potential for irreparably altered synaptic connections in his brain)? We wished for his entry into our family to be full of love and warmth and shelter, not painful betrayal. Birth is hard enough. His genitals are his own. The integrity of his body is a personal responsibility, not a familial “choice”. The atrocities of previous generations need not be inflicted on… Read more »

edj
Guest

I think it’s a personal decision. I really don’t think it’s fair to compare it to female circ, however, which is brutal and always causes problems later in life. Male circ seems to prevent some problems later in life.
My fav take on the problem is an old article by Dave Barry, about a group called RECAP. I have it in a book, but I’m sure it’s somewhere on the internet, as is everything else.

emjaybee
Guest

See,just having the same equipment still doesn’t entitle you to decide for another person, in my view, and I have never understood “looking like Dad.” A young boy does NOT look like his dad in that respect, and after puberty, they aren’t going to be showing their stuff to each other. It’s my son’s body, and his choice, when he’s grown, whether to keep it or trim it. They used to take kid’s tonsils and appendixes out a lot more on the principle that those things tended to get infected, but they don’t now. I feel the same way about… Read more »

Veronica
Guest

I don’t think I would have my boys circumcised (I only have a little girl at the moment) unless there was a medical reason to have it done.
That said, I am not going to question someone elses decision to have it done.
However, I am in Australia and it isn’t really a common procedure here anymore.

Christie
Guest
Christie

You’re definitely right that the AAP is of no assistance. However, the World Health Organization, who is more reputable and less worried about being PC than the AAP, is pro-circumcision. You can look up their stances if you’re curious. As far as the comment from someone else, the funniest thing is I’m AGAINST infant ear piercing. You’re right, it’s pain for aesthetics. However, circumcision is not. Nor is it mutilation. Anyway, to the OP, probably the best thing you can do is do more research, from UNBIASED organizations and science journals. Doctors Against Circumcision would say that it was torture… Read more »

Howard
Guest
Howard

When my son was born there was no question that he would keep all his parts. A foreskin is a very useful and extremely erogenous structure. All mammals are born with one. Are we so arrogant that we think “nature” made a mistake? Circumcision is irreversible. Once the foreskin has been wacked off – it is gone for ever, and there are many men out there who are really bitter that someone stole that choice from them. Scandinavia has a circumcision rate of 0.006%, so they obviously treat problems medicaly, not surgicaly. It seems that in North America most “problems”… Read more »

amy
Guest
amy

I’m having a hard time reading any of the comments about having to have circ’s later in life due to non-retraction (normal until/through puberty people) or infections (not related to foreskin… circumsized men can get infections too). I personally think babies go through enough rings of he!! to get here that they don’t need yet another procedure done once they make it. Needless to say I’m not fond of piercing infant girls’ ears to make them pretty either… make of that what you will. My son had a bladder infection, that my MIL tried to tell me had to do… Read more »

Nicole
Guest

My son was born while we were living in the Czech Republic, where circumcision is very uncommon. We would have had to work pretty hard to get him circumcised, and I was rather against it anyway. I did tell my husband that since he was an expert in all things penile that he should have the final say, but in the end we both decided that “looking like daddy” was not reason enough to seek out elective surgery on a baby. Honestly, though, I can’t understand why this–like so many things in parenthood–get so frackin’ heated every time they are… Read more »

Joe
Guest
Joe

I think the most interesting thing about this whole debate is that the only people who seem to have a problem not circumcising their sons (for non-religious reasons) are Americans. Unless you are Jewish or Muslim, nobody circumcises routinely in any other part of the world. Why is that? The medical circumcision rate in the rest of the world is often on the order of a few in 100,000. Why is it that Americans seem to have problems with their foreskins? Just about any benefit put forth is either a myth or such a trifle it is laughable. UTIs, if… Read more »

Jewel
Guest
Jewel

My (circumcised) husband had no more right than I to make the decision; since he doesn’t have a foreskin, he _does not_ have the equipment. He has only his cultural conditioning and his prejudices. I look at it like this: Who owns the child’s body? Either God owns his body or the child owns his body. Neither the mother nor the father owns the baby’s body. If you believe God owns the child’s body, then you should circumcise if and only if you are Jewish, since Jews are the only people who have received a direct command from God to… Read more »

Alice Bradley
Guest

Ugh, Dwayne, I can’t believe I did that. You’re right, confusing HIV with AIDS is idiotic and offensive, and I’ll make the changes now.

Alice Bradley
Guest

Oh, Nicole, I love you. Roving gangs of mohels! Ba ha ha!

Tammy
Guest

I’m in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” camp. All the “if you don’t get your son circumised, he’ll be sexually unpopular, yet he’ll somehow contract HIV anyway” arguments seem to focus on a statistical minority. Also, I’m squeamish.
Fortunately, my husband agrees with me, despite being circumcised himself. He doesn’t quite get the argument that fathers and sons should have matching penises (penii?). He asked if our (theoretical) daughters should get boob jobs so that they match mine. Good point, that.

Sonja
Guest

We thought about this issue before both of our children were born and had decided not to circumcise. Then we had two girls and it wasn’t an issue. Aha! That wasn’t particularly interesting, nor did it add anything to this topic. But wait! Both my partner and I got pregnant via artificial insemination, and the sperm bank we used is called Rainbow Flag Health Services, and in their contract is a stipulation that the recipient (of the sperm) agrees NOT to circumcise their child. I’m not really sure that’s legal nor how they would go about enforcing that stipulation. But… Read more »

Laura
Guest
Laura

I left my 7 yo intact. Routine infant circumcision (ric) is a painful surgical procedure that is without medical justification. No medical organization in the world actually recommends that infants be circumcised to prevent anything. The study on urinary tract infections was shown to be skewed as it used many preemie males that were left intact. We all know that preemies have higher rates of infections. And it is true, as noted in a previous post that girls are much more likely to have a UTI, yet they are treated with antibiotics, not surgery. Penile cancer–men are more likely -intact… Read more »

Laura
Guest
Laura

Wanted to add…you do kow why circumcision started in the US right–to lessen masturbation. I wonder why removing the foreskin would lessen it…hmmmm…well it must be because the foreskin is a very pleasurable thing to have!

Shandra
Guest
Shandra

We are Canadian, and hospitals don’t do circumcision as a matter of course… you can, if you can find an ob who does it, pay for the procedure. We didn’t. No problems thus far.

indie
Guest

After doing a lot of research, I did not circumcise our son. As for the HIV studies, a more recent study in the U.S. showed that it did NOT work. I think that there were flaws in the Africa study. Either way, it is simply not ethical to promote the removal of a portion of the genitals to possibly help prevent a disease which can be prevented with a condom or monogamy with an uninfected partner. I’ve never understood the UTI argument either. When I get a UTI I simply drink real cranberry juice (not cocktail). If that didn’t work… Read more »

Sue Sinclair
Guest
Sue Sinclair

The arguments in favour of circumcision have never resonated with me. Previous posters have covered all of the good counters to the common pro-circ claims (hygene, societal pressure, STI rates, etc.). They are all flawed in my mind. In any case, my reaction to them wasn’t nearly as emotional as it is now, after finding out exactly what is invovled in the proceedure as well as the risks. I saw this video (as well as others) and was physically ill. It is horrifying to me. Sometimes I wonder if people really understand what is involved when they make this choice… Read more »