Before I had even given birth to my first child (a girl, it turned out), I knew that I was not going to circumcise a male child. I briefly mentioned my decision with my husband, whose answer was, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
Well, that bridge came two years later when we had our second baby, a son. During my pregnancy, I did an exhaustive amount of research on circumcision, and I also prayed about it and studied scripture, which may or may not matter to many, but it mattered to me. After I had done my research and confirmed my choice not to circumcise, my husband and I had to have a serious sit-down discussion about it.
Not surprisingly, my husband had no qualms about circumcision. After all, he was circumcised himself. Among his reasons for why he did want to have our son circumcised were: “Why not?” “I’m circumcised, and I’m fine.” “He’ll look weird.”
And while I saw his point, I did not accept those as “reasons” to have our son circumcised. But I knew my husband well enough to know that arguing with him wouldn’t get us very far, so I asked him to research the subject, and I gave him some of my resources. We agreed to resume the discussion in a few months. Whether or not to circumcise is a very personal decision for each parent. However, everyone’s reasons for or against it are different.
Here are a few of the reasons I (and eventually, my husband) chose not to circumcise our son:
1. It’s not the “norm” anymore.
One of my husband’s first responses, when I brought up this subject, is that circumcision is “normal” and that most of our son’s peers will have had it done. That statement may have been true when we were children, but it is no longer the case. According to a 2010 New York Times article, circumcision rates in newborn boys were down to 32% of American boys. That means that a majority of the penises your son may end up seeing in the boy’s locker room will be intact. It seems that these days, being circumcised is not as “normal” as it used to be.
2. It’s more than just extra skin.
The foreskin has far more functionality in the life of a male child than most people realize. As a baby, the foreskin keeps a baby’s penis safe, warm, moist, and clean. It allows the head of the penis (the glans) to develop normally. The glans is meant to be an internal organ, much like the clitoris in a female, covered and protected from the outside world. Later in life, an intact penis has greater sensitivity and offers the male more sexual satisfaction because the foreskin has a very high concentration of specialized nerve receptors. Throughout the male child’s life, the foreskin plays an important role in his health and sexual development.
3. There are many risks involved. Just check out these statistics:
Out of 100 Circumcised boys:
75 will not readily breastfeed post-op
55 will have adverse reactions from the surgery
35 will have post-op hemorrhaging to one degree or another
31 will develop meatal ulcers
10 will need to have the circumcision surgery repeated to fix prior surgical problems/error
8 will suffer infection at the surgical site
3 will develop post-operative phimosis
2 will have a more serious complication (seizure, heart attack, stroke, loss of penis, death)
1 will require additional immediate surgery and sutures to stop hemorrhage
1 will develop fibrosis
1 will develop phimosis
1 will be treated with antibiotics for a UTI (urinary tract infection)
1 will be treated with antibiotics for surgical site infection
Of those who do receive pain medication for the surgery (about 4% of those boys undergoing circumcision in the U.S.), some will have adverse reactions to the pain medication injected
Now compare that to these statistics for intact boys:
Out of 100 Intact boys:
1 will be treated with antibiotics for a UTI (fewer if the foreskin is never forcibly retracted)
1 will be told to get cut later in life for one reason or another (fewer if the foreskin is never forcibly retracted)
*The statistics above are the averages from all studies examining the health outcomes of circumcised vs. intact boys between 1989-2009.
4. There aren’t many health benefits.
No national medical organization recommends circumcision, and many nations speak out against infant circumcision. As I researched, I was shocked and disturbed to discover that there never was a medical reason for circumcision when it began to be commonplace in the U.S. The reason why circumcision started was to try to stop young boys and men from masturbating and curb “promiscuous” behavior in men. Um…what? Moreover, circumcision does not prevent AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases, as many of us were led to believe. However, some studies do show that it may aid in reducing the risk of contracting HIV and STDs.
5. Circumcision is very painful, and pain medication is not administered.
Babies feel pain just like we do. They may even be more sensitive to pain because they are fresh out of the womb where they experienced little, if any, pain for the entirety of their existence. Further, babies cannot be given anesthesia or strong pain medication when they are that small. Thus, circumcisions are done while the baby is awake and completely aware of the full extent of the pain of being cut. There are videos out there if you want to see or hear it. I did, and I will never forget it.
You can read more about circumcision here and here if you want to investigate further. As you can imagine, during his research, my husband found that he could not find any solid evidence supporting circumcision. So when we did resume our conversation, we agreed not to have the procedure done.
As I said before, this choice is so personal and very difficult for many parents, especially fathers. But the more you know about a subject, especially irrevocable procedures done on your child, the better you can make a fully informed decision. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you do your homework and then make the best choice you can make as a parent.