“If God thought men should have a foreskin on their penis, they would have been born with one.”
I remember being fascinated in 8th grade when my friend’s mom taught the sex ed portion of Health class and was not embarrassed at all because she was used to such open conversation in her house. Can you imagine a 14 year old completely comfortable with her mother teaching her friends about sex, STDs, and condoms? Kind of bizarre, right? A couple of years earlier we had gotten the movie about (said in hushed tones) menstruation… and when our teacher at the time said that we could talk to any teacher if we needed to get (more hushed tones) products from the school nurse we could, that even MALES knew about it! I wanted to DIE thinking about talking about that to my teacher, haha! So my friend’s open attitude was eye-opening to say the least. It was also my first step to realizing that the human body is a universal thing, and discussing some aspects of it is completely normal and healthy. (I am sure my little sister wished that I had come to this conclusion before I made her go buy my products at the store because I was too embarrassed.) Therefore, sometimes I feel comfortable talking about things that others may find too frank.
The information within this post is “adult” in nature, and can be embarrassing for little eyes and teenage eyes. Heck, it’s probably embarrassing for some adults’ eyes (though if said adult is sexually active and/or considering circumcision for themselves or their child, it *shouldn’t* be!) So…Run. Run FAR AWAY if you don’t like the topic of (*whispers*) penises (or is it penes? I’m going with penes!) You may notice that this post is photo and graphic-free. I’m not even including a picture of a crying baby to try and emotional blackmail anyone. With any luck, my own children (who are unlikely to even read this blog) will scroll past a long, boring, picture-less post.
I ran into a debate on the internet recently about circumcision. I won’t go into personal details simply because sons/husbands tend to be uncomfortable with their mother/wife discussing their anatomy (who knew ?!?) but let it be known that within my family I have a mixed bag of circumcised and intact.
Despite having chosen circumcision for one or more of my sons, I am now a pro-intact, anti-*routine* circumcision advocate. When I get asked, “Why?” I think back to the the times I did have a son circumcised. I sent him off with a nurse, shut my hospital room door, took a shower to block any crying I might hear, and stood there and cried for my baby under the running water. I was so sad that they were going to be in pain, and confused why I HAD to put them through this. I had no idea at the time that *I didn’t have to*. That I was doing something out of tradition and ignorance, NOT from a well-informed choice. I was sick to my stomach during diaper changes looking at the bleeding and hearing the pain in my sweet newborn’s cry (and to be honest made Mark do most of them until the penis was healed.) But I was naive (or stupid) enough to not question the emotions I was feeling and prevent them by saying “No!” I just thought it was something you did. I don’t remember what happened to make me step back and say, “Whoa! I have a CHOICE here! My son deserves a choice!” I think it was a friend saying she didn’t circumcise her son because she didn’t think it was necessary. It was at that point that I realized I needed to study the facts more.
This post is essentially how I respond when someone asks me why I switched my “stance” (because let’s be honest, I didn’t have a “stance” in the beginning, just a rote decision) on circumcision. I’m also going to focus on about 8 or 9 things that I personally encounter most often in circumcision discussions and why I think people’s rationale is often misguided and faulty. At the end of my post I have some helpful links for those who are considering circumcision that will contain statistics and facts and links to videos of circumcision (I desperately believe that any parent should HAVE to watch a circumcision being performed before they allow their son to go through one!)
1.) The number one thing I get asked or encounter is (and you may think, “How odd! Women ask her about this a lot?” For full disclosure, most of these “conversations” took place on pregnancy “expectancy clubs” which are message boards for women who are pregnant and want to chat with other women. I do NOT approach women and bring up this topic!) “How will you explain to your children why some are intact and some aren’t?” And my answer is I have said and will say, “Son, I made choices based on what I knew. As I got wiser, I made different choices based on what I researched. I am sorry I didn’t do the research first, and I hope the knowledge I have now helps you make informed choices for your own child someday.”
2.) Often, women will ask, “Why do you care about my son’s penis?” Basically, people who are anti-routine circumcision believe that it is a human rights issue. We don’t care about your son’s penis. In fact, I’d rather NOT know which route you have chosen. But we do care about human rights and the right for each person to have autonomy – the ability to make choices for their own body. Because it is basically a cosmetic procedure it is taking away a male’s choice to make the decision for himself. It violates a helpless being’s most private and vulnerable part of their body and permanently alters the function of their sex organ. The argument often is, “Well, I’d choose to have open heart surgery without his permission!” but this is not a good comparison. Fixing the heart to save a life is not on the same level of removing skin from the penis. Vaccinating children without their “permission” is also an oft-made comparison. Those who choose to vaccinate their children do it because the benefits greatly outweigh the risks, unlike circumcision. And saying “Well, someday the foreskin *could* cause problems!” is also problematic. We don’t remove the appendix from infants at birth, even though they too can cause problems further down the road. Also, we worry about it as a social issue. We want to correct decades of misinformation, and faulty statistics.
3.) “I Let my husband decide; he has the penis.” The problem with this thinking is, men who choose to go forward with circumcision typically are circumcised themselves and are making the choice because it’s what they are familiar with, not because they are making an informed decision. Also, fathers are familiar with their OWN penis and it’s lack of foreskin, not with their son’s penis and his possession of foreskin. So why not let the SON decide when he is mature enough to make the decision for himself, since it’s HIS penis? (The validation is often that adult circumcision is painful. But that’s okay…then the adult can make the informed choice of whether the pain is worth it. Infants don’t get that choice, and it’s unreasonable to believe that infant circumcision is pain-free. Anecdotal stories such as “My child was peaceful/sleeping during his circumcision” are used as proof, despite it being well known (though studies) that an infant will often shut down, freeze up, or fall asleep as a defense mechanism when feeling pain, fear or overwhelmed (feelings newborns have!) Sure, some places use numbing medication now, but they wear off. Anyone who has had a fingernail ripped from it’s bed and torn off knows that it hurts long after the incident itself.
4.) Boys should looks like their dad/brothers. The likelihood of a son’s penis looking just like a father’s is pretty unlikely. Nor do I envision a father gathering his sons around him, dropping trou and comparing. This is especially true when the child is most likely to catch a glimpse of daddy and wonder why he looks different…when he is young. If that happens, he’s more like to notice that daddy’s is bigger or has hair around his than the amount of skin at the end of it. Another problem I have with this issue…we don’t treat females the same way. I am a DD bra size. My girls may end up being built smaller than I am. I am not going to go out and get them implants so they can look like me. The very thought of it is appalling…and yet we don’t think that way when it comes our sons and their father’s penses. Claiming that the boy will be made fun of in gym class is becoming more and more irrelevant as well. The circumcision rate is low enough (just over half of newborns in the USA are circumcised) that he won’t be the only one.
5.) Cleaner. No, they aren’t. That is all user dependent. (*Note* if you leave your child intact, please don’t retract, and don’t let your doctor retract!!! Wash the penis with water. Soaps can cause irritation and pain. It maybe be years, into adolescence, when the foreskin is retractable. Until then, clean it/teach your child to clean it like they would their fingers.) If a child is taught how to properly clean their penis, they will have a clean penis…whether it is cut or intact. And frankly, I personally think getting a girl clean with all her folds and crevices is much more difficult and time consuming than either cut or intact boys!
6.) “Circumcised penises look better. Intact penises are “ugly.” I think it’s what we are familiar with. Women in Europe don’t seem to have the same belief…is it because they are naive? No, it’s because they were raised around intact penises. And lets face it, and perhaps be a little crude here. Penises aren’t exactly the most attractive part of the body anyway (third worst looking, in fact, behind feet and knees, if I may opine!) and in their most important state (*wink*) they look the same (although the intact male won’t have a scar on his.) Again, the fact is, the rate of circumcision is dropping in the USA, and as it continues to do so, “Ugly” will quickly become “Normal.”
7.) Healthier/Health Concerns on older men. “But circumcision prevents penile cancer!” The penile cancer rate is incredibly rare at 1/100,000. Many, MANY more women will have breast cancer but we DO NOT cut off the breast buds of infant girls. UTI’s are also far less common in boys than girls, so it’s also small worry. Another claim is the prevention of HPV…but I find it odd that we are having surgery done on an infant based on what his sex life *may* be in the future. And if circumcision was so protective of HIV/STDs, why does the USA have a higher rate of circumcision AND a higher rate of HIV/STDs than other countries?) And what about the anecdotal stories you hear about women who have worked in nursing homes and have seen men who needed to have circumcision because the older man didn’t take care of his intact penis? Or about your best friend’s cousin’s sister’s husband’s nephew twice-removed who had to have a circumcision because of infections when he was 24 and was really mad at his mom for not doing it when he was an infant? The amazing fact is, circumcisions done on older children and older men are much higher in the USA because it’s a urologist’s first line of defense in treatment (though this too is evolving as more males are staying intact.) The rate in countries around the rest of the world that don’t circumcise (pretty much every country that isn’t high in Muslim or Jewish populations) is vastly lower, even with those dealing with health issues. Doctors in those countries treat it in other ways, just fine. In those countries it’s a last resort. And one other note. In nursing homes, men with intact AND circumcised penes often need help with cleaning. As do women and their genitals. It’s the nature of the beast that as we age it gets harder to take care of ourselves properly. By then we’ll be having our noses and butts wiped for us too, but we accept that as reality, and give proper care to those who need help. Those who don’t get proper care, get infections.
8.) Religious reasons:”But it commands us in the bible to circumcise!” There was much in the Law of Moses that was done away with when Christ fulfilled that law and began a “higher” law and relieved people of the “yoke” of circumcision. (Jewish people do not accept the New Testament as cannon, and therefore continue to follow this practice. It should be noted that their method of circumcision is much more minimal than the circumcision that happens at hospitals and doctor offices. It should be noted that there are many Jews who do not condone circumcision.) For an LDS viewpoint, read HERE. From Moroni 8:8: “Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me.”
9.) “I really hate it when male circumcision is is compared to Female Genital Mutilation! Boys are circumcised for hygienic reasons. Girls are circumcised to limit their sexual behavior, which is barbaric!” Both procedures are called “circumcision” by those who support it, and both are called “mutilation” by those who oppose it. Both procedures have advocates who claim it has significant health benefits and is “cleaner.” Both have advocates who think it “looks better.” Factually, some Female Genital Circumcision/Mutilation procedures actually removes less tissue than a male circumcision does. Both can affect sexual health, cause hemorrhaging or other health issues, pain, and trauma. One scary fact, both FGM and RIC (routine infant circumcision) were performed by gynecologists in the USA as a common treatment for masturbation, homosexuality and insanity. FGM was covered under Blue Cross insurance until the 1970’s. Sounds pretty comparable after all, doesn’t it? Especially because the number one reason to do both is “tradition.” “But, but…FGM is forced upon women from men without their consent!” (I’m pretty sure infants aren’t giving consent when their parents are “forcing” RIC on them.) And yet only one of them is considered by most people as a human rights issue and is illegal in the USA before the age of 18. (For the record, I do NOT put FGM and RIC on the same level, but I do think they have things in common and can understand when people choose to compare the two.)
I know this is probably way more than you ever wanted to know about “Jen’s opinion on routine circumcision.” I do want to reiterate that as I stated above, I don’t care what other people choose for their sons and in fact don’t want to know. I have had a few friends who were pregnant with boys specifically ask me why I changed my mind and the above is information that I collected for them. I firmly believe that knowledge is power. One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou when she said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
And as promised, here are some links that I find to be helpful. Many of these websites have pictures or video of circumcision. They also have explained in better detail and included cites of the things I have posted above. And something many of them do is go over the BENEFITS of circumcision which I did not cover in my post.Stanford School of Medicine’s Circumcision Page An EXCELLENT resource!
Try to find this book to read: “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Circumcision”
“Concerning the new AAP position statement on circumcision. This statement may be read in its entirety HERE. Many people feel that this is an extremely flawed document, and that the evidence presented does not warrant the conclusions. The AAP itself is a trade organization for pediatricians, and as such its greatest concerns are the professional, legal, and financial interests of its membership. A collection or responsesto and critiques of this document may be found at this LINK. For all of its flaws, this document does not in fact recommend that all infant boys be routinely circumcised.”
Peaceful Beginnings (A great resource for for pregnancy and newborn care in general as well!)
Child Circumcision: An Elephant in the Hospital (Contains pictures of circumcisions, video of it, and other pictures of adult anatomy. Do NOT consider this safe for work or school viewing!!!!!)
BabyCenter’s Intact Messageboard Information Post Contains many of the above links, plus other videos that I am not comfortable linking too, plus a a lot of statements from around the world on circumcision.