Circumcision can be a touchy subject. Parents are in the unenviable position of having to make this important and permanent decision for their sons with a lot of conflicting information. Those who choose to fully investigate the issue find an overwhelming spectrum of opinions amidst the facts, and most will encounter heated debate in the media, their social circles, or even within their own families. They hear from staunch defenders on medical, cultural, or religious grounds. They hear from others who consider the procedure unnecessary but relatively benign. They hear from those who see it as a human rights violation, ethically no different from female circumcision common to other cultures.
As you may have guessed, I am among those who hopes cultural change will make circumcision a distant memory. In the future, I suspect we will all be scratching our heads in disbelief that this is what we used to do to almost all our baby boys.
How do parents make this decision? For many, it is taken for granted as “just something you do.” Others do ask the question, “Should we or shouldn’t we?” and when their health care providers emphasize the touted health benefits of circumcision, they understandably take that at face value and proceed without further investigation. Then there are those who do more research and have more discussions and agonize over it. Of those, some come to an informed decision they feel good about and go ahead with the procedure, confident that this is the best decision for their child. Others who learn about the function of the foreskin, the reality of the procedure, and the gaping holes in the arguments in favor of it come away from their inquiries determined and empowered to leave their sons intact.
Sometimes, the decision to have it done has nothing to do with any health care professional’s recommendation or parental conviction about the procedure’s benefits. I have seen mothers sobbing as they send their babies to be circumcised, saying they do not want to do it and wish they didn’t “have to.” I have seen them do it anyway, even as the doctor who is about to take the baby assures them that it is an elective procedure they are free to decline, and that many parents are doing just that. These parents seem to be unable to let their own intuition and parental authority trump the enormous internal and external pressure they feel to follow this deeply ingrained cultural practice.
So what are the medical arguments in favor or circumcision, anyway? Whereas previously the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control were relatively neutral on the subject, their latest guidelines lean more toward recommending the procedure. Briefly, the benefits cited are a decrease in the incidence of treatable urinary tract infections in the first year of life (with the risk of UTI’s still being low for babies with intact penises); reduction in risk of penile cancer (already very rare), and reduction in risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, based on studies of adult men in Africa undergoing circumcisions. Ease of hygiene is often cited as a benefit as well. In a recent Huffington Post article, Dr. Morten Frisch did a fine job of addressing the newer guidelines, explaining all the reasons why newborn baby boys’ genitals ought to be left intact, and pointing out the problems with the arguments in favor of routine infant circumcision. Click here to read the article.
This is the first in a series of stories about circumcision from various perspectives–parents who had it done (those with and without regrets), parents who didn’t, adult men who had the procedure and those who didn’t, nurses and nursing assistants who assist with the procedure, and doctors who perform it.
I’ll start with my story.
My first exposure to circumcision was 20 years ago, as a nursing student doing my maternal-child health rotation on the postpartum unit. It was my day to be in the nursery and I was told I would observe a circumcision. Up to that point, I hadn’t given circumcision any real consideration. If I thought about it at all, I viewed it as “just something we do.” I can tell you I thought about it a lot afterward, because it made quite an impression on me.
First, the nurse strapped the baby to the “circ board.” I could see that alone was very distressing to the baby. I wondered what he was thinking. I was shocked, horrified and heartbroken by what followed. The baby screamed hysterically in pain throughout. Afterward, he looked glassy-eyed and shell-shocked. The procedure I witnessed was pretty much identical to the one in this video:
Routine Infant Circumcision from N.Y on Vimeo.
I was flabbergasted that this whole set-up could be treated as a normal and routine happening—that it seemed to be OK with everyone present. I was struck by the obvious desensitization of everyone involved, how oblivious everyone seemed to the baby’s suffering. (I don’t blame them—no doubt, this is a natural adaptation to be able to do the job day in and day out.) I wondered if the parents knew what was really going on here. In that moment, I decided that if I should ever have a son, circumcision was not going to be part of his experience. At the time, I had no knowledge of all the other reasons to leave newborns’ penises intact—I made that decision based on the procedure alone, and the fact that it is an elective surgery. In the weeks that followed, I did a lot of reading about the history of circumcision and the nature of the foreskin, all of which reinforced my resolve.
To be fair, most providers use anesthesia now, and a typical circumcision looks more like the one in this video:
It’s an improvement, but the use of anesthesia does not make it painless. The local anesthetic injections obviously hurt. It doesn’t always appear to take away all the pain of the procedure, although sometimes there is less crying than what you see here, and some babies don’t cry at all after the initial injections. In either case, there is post-op pain. And there is still a minority of providers who inexplicably do not use anesthesia.
What about the health care providers who perform the procedure? Most circumcisions are done by obstetricians, with fewer being done by pediatricians, family physicians, and midwives. There are of course those (most?) who believe it to be either benign or beneficial. How many see it as a heartbreaking yet unavoidable part of their profession? I often wonder what that spectrum looks like. What percentage of providers performing circumcision feel deeply conflicted about it and would prefer never to do the procedure again?
I don’t believe I would ever choose do the procedure with my own hands. That said, I can see how a provider could do them even if he or she objects to the practice (and for reasons beyond needing the job for which it’s a requirement). I can relate, because I often went out of my way to assist with them when I worked as an assistant nurse manager on a postpartum unit, even though it wasn’t part of my regular responsibilities. Some of the staff who assisted with circumcisions actively comforted the babies and were clearly very much aware of their suffering, while others seemed to approach it as a purely clinical event of little significance. As painful as I found it to witness, part of me wanted to be there, just in case the baby could feel the loving presence of someone who appreciated the magnitude of his experience. Just in case that made a difference somehow. I could see reluctant providers extending that mindset to actually performing the procedure—perhaps some feel that since the baby will be circumcised one way or another by someone, they will do it with as much care and compassion as they can muster. On the other hand, if there were an increase in providers unwilling to perform routine circumcision, that might spur more parents who take it as a given to consider the decision more carefully.
When you look at the medical benefits of circumcision, it all sounds good at first glance, but the practice of performing surgery on all newborns to reduce the risk of these problems borders on ludicrous when you apply the same logic to other situations. Should we start surgically removing baby girls’ labia so they don’t have to learn to clean between the skin folds? If we found that some form of female genital mutilation resulted in a small decrease in risk of urinary tract infection in the first year of life, would we start performing those procedures on all our newborn baby girls? What if we found that the same procedures might decrease the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections because of the resulting changes in the nature of the post-operative genital skin, decreasing the amount of mucous membrane, which is more permeable to disease-causing organisms? Would we then start performing that procedure on all our newborn baby girls? Or might we refrain from surgically altering their genitals at birth and instead focus on safer sex practices when they are older? While we’re at it, breast cancer is much more common than penile cancer. Should all girls have double mastectomies at puberty?
These examples may seem extreme, but the point is this: we don’t remove healthy, functional body parts on a routine and widespread basis because it’s possible for those body parts to become infected or cancerous. If we started doing so with other body parts, where would that end? This conjures up some absurd images and scenarios. We would not adopt a brand new surgical procedure to be performed on all newborns for the same health reasons used to justify circumcision.
We need to finally admit that in this country, aside from the minority of circumcisions done for religious reasons, the real reason this routine procedure endures and continues to be promoted by health care professionals is due to cultural convention, not health benefits.
Health benefits are touted in the case of routine infant circumcision because we are already doing it and we want to keep doing it. So we use those arguments as justification for continuing a practice that we’re already doing for other, less defensible reasons—cultural convention, conformity, and unwillingness to question “the way we’ve always done it.”
I will admit that at times in the past, I have shied away from a full discussion with expectant parents. I kept it short and watered down, knowing I was unable and unwilling to suspend my bias on this particular topic if I discussed it in any depth. I no longer take that approach. This is the gist of what I now tell parents–to-be who are undecided about circumcision:
- I disclose that my personal bias is pretty strongly against routine infant circumcision. I suggest they also do their own research and have a discussion with their pediatrician, keeping in mind that the pediatrician likely has biases of his or her own.
- The foreskin is sexually functional, highly sensitive erogenous tissue.
- It is extremely straightforward and easy to teach boys with intact penises to clean themselves. Hygiene is simply not a valid reason to have this procedure done.
- There have been some modest health benefits demonstrated in some of the studies, namely in the prevention of urinary tract infection in the first year of life, possibly sexually transmitted infections, and penile cancer. These conditions are, respectively, relatively rare and easily treatable, otherwise preventable, or exceedingly rare. As such, if this were a new procedure, we would certainly not adopt the widespread practice of surgically removing functional genital tissue in healthy infants for these reasons. In light of that, the primary reason this procedure endures seems to be cultural custom. In addition to some possible health benefits, there are risks, as with any surgical procedure. (We give this handout to outline the risks and benefits.)
- Yes, it hurts. There is no way around that. Even when anesthesia is used, that involves several injections of lidocaine into the penis. This causes pain not only due to the needle sticks, but also the significant volume of the anesthetic that must be injected into the tissue to achieve adequate anesthesia. Think of a Novacaine shot you had at the dentist, and imagine a newborn baby experiencing that in his most sensitive area. And it doesn’t always work perfectly. Either way, the baby is strapped to a board with outstretched arms and legs restrained for the procedure, and most babies are clearly distressed by this alone. After the procedure, there is post-op pain. The glans of the penis is red and raw from the adherent tissue between the foreskin and the glans being separated with a surgical tool before removal. (These are the unembellished realities of the procedure. I think it’s important for parents to know exactly what is involved for their babies so an informed decision can be made. I don’t feel it’s responsible or respectful of parents’ intelligence to sugarcoat or gloss over this information.)
- Many parents are understandably concerned about cultural conformity. At this point, less than 60 percent of boys in the U.S. are circumcised. A boy with an intact penis will look like plenty of other boys in the locker room.
- If you have any doubts at all, consider that once it is done, it cannot be undone.
Here are some of the questions I hope to explore through this series:
- If health care providers must routinely, day in and day out, perform or assist with an elective procedure that inflicts pain on newborn babies, to what extent must they desensitize themselves to newborns’ experience in order to cope with this aspect of their work? How might the answer to that question differ depending on whether the provider is in favor of the routine practice, or believes this is unnecessary cosmetic surgery at best? If desensitization is required to be able to do the job, how might that desensitization challenge our ability to provide sensitive and compassionate care in general?
- Questioning the acceptability of this practice as a culture would require many adult men to consider how they feel about having been circumcised themselves. It would also prompt many parents to revisit the decisions they have already made for their children and consider whether or not they would make the same choices today. How much of our unwillingness to question this practice as a culture is due to understandable avoidance of this potentially painful inquiry?
- If a boy’s very first experience of his penis is pain and trauma, what unseen yet profound imprints might that make on him, psychologically and sexually? Good luck studying that. We can only speculate.
What questions come up for you? Please share your questions, thoughts and experiences in the comments.
Part 2: a mother of two boys who had one of her sons circumcised and left the other intact shares her story. (Subscribe using the link at the top left of this page to receive new posts via email.)
Part 3: When one parent has religious reasons to do it, and the other has philosophical reasons not to.
© Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2015
35 thoughts on “Stories About Circumcision: One Midwife’s Perspective”
Circumcision was something I struggled with a lot when I was pregnant with B. I hadn’t given it much thought prior to becoming pregnant with him but every time I thought about in the months leading up to the birth I would start to feel sick to my stomach. So I went and did some research and then approached my husband. He had never imagined questioning circumcision. He is circumcised and just assumed that our son would be as well. But after a lot of discussion, reading, and more discussion we decided that we would not do it. For us, it came down to a few main points which you made very well in your post.
First, the limited research for the benefits of circumcision. Second, the idea that it is basically genital mutilation, removing a functioning normal piece of the body due to the possibility of a rare disease or for convenience of hygiene, and the pain that goes along with that as well as the unknowable psychological consequences. Third, and when it came down to it the one that made the decision clear for me, was that it is my son’s body and as you state, once done cannot be undone. He is free to decide later in life if he would like to have a circumcision – I simply did not feel that was my decision to make for him.
Thank you for starting this discussion, Camille. There are so many things surrounding pregnancy and childbirth that are seen as taboo to discuss but are really are so important get out into the open.
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Thanks so much for sharing your decision making process, Alyssa. The informed consent piece is an important one that I didn’t really touch on.
I’m with you on this one and feel quite strongly that it is genital mutilation and should be used rarely and only in the case of abnormalities that require it for treatment.
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2 of my boys are circ’ed and two are not. The first underwent the procedure because Daddy is circ’ed. Number 2 was circ’ed because his brother was, and we didn’t want them to compare and feel weird about themselves. Numbers 3 and 4 were home births and it would have taken extra effort to get the procedure done, and neither my husband nor I cared enough to get it done. I think when I was younger and the first decision was made, I worried about things like the locker room and being teased by peers, or by women when they grew up. I had it in my head that they would suffer if it wasn’t performed.
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Stories like yours illustrate the fact that all we can do is make the best decisions from where we sit and with the information we have at the time–and it’s OK to rethink things! Thanks so much for sharing.
This was a powerful read,Camille. I couldn’t watch the videos as they both got me too upset. I chose not to have my boys circumcised. I didn’t want to inflict such pain on them particularly fresh out of the womb. I think this procedure is barbaric and hope along with you that it’s a distant memory someday. It took talking with the pediatrician and several discussions of the facts before my husband was comfortable not having it done. But what really did it for him was talking with his first son, my step son, who had it done when he was 7 because he kept getting infections. Turns out he feels strongly that had he been shown the proper way to clean and care for it he would have been fine and doesn’t believe it needs to be done. Being so much older when he had the procedure, it was very painful for him. And hard on my husband and my mother in law to witness. My mother in law kept pushing me to have it done and it was the first thing she asked me when I got home from the hospital with my new baby. Here I am exhausted from the experience trying to get my barrings my first day home and she’s taking me to task for it asking me to reconsider like I just doomed my child to lifelong issues. It took time to get her to see it another way. Lots of pressure and fear around this topic. I’m so glad you addressed it and that parents get to benefit from your wisdom!
Thank you for sharing, Ellen. It’s commendable that your husband was even willing to consider both options with his first son being one of the minority of kids who ended up having it done later. Interesting to hear your step son’s perspective. There’s no good data on it, but there is speculation that some of the UTI’s are caused by the foreskin being retracted before it is ready, creating microtears in the tissue that provide an entry point for bacteria.
As a mother of only 1 child, there are things I would do differently. For most of my motherhood I have felt strong and confident in my choices (I chalk this up to my being an old lady of 35 when my son was born). But this is one I view as a failure. I didn’t do the right thing. I did what “everyone” does. I don’t even know who circumcised my child, maybe it was the OB. I don’t even remember when it was done (I will ask hubby, I THINK he went with him for it, or something like that…). Today, I wouldn’t circumcise. It’s his BODY! Why would I cut off a piece of him? Crazy!
Melissa, I bet you didn’t receive any information during your prenatal care suggesting that not doing it is a reasonable option. It is so culturally ingrained, and we’ve all been conditioned to see it as no big deal, which is probably why you don’t even remember the details. And needless to say, we all have parenting decisions behind us that we would do differently today. Thank you so much for sharing.
I’ll start by saying I wouldn’t let myself watch the videos. I could barely take it when they had to do the blood scrape thing on my baby’s heel for his bilirubin test when he was jaundice. So yeah…strapped down, screaming baby…couldn’t do it.
Here’s my story:
A while back my older sister became a bit of an intactivist. She doesn’t have kids and I don’t know what sparked her to feel that way (I should ask), but she was suddenly very passionate about it. She felt it a barbaric practice. At the time I’d given it very little thought. My knowledge of circumcision was limited to its existence and its religious ties and that was about it. I didn’t have children and wasn’t even in a relationship at the time, so its relevance in my life was about zero. I recall giving it a fraction of a thought before deciding since I didn’t have a penis it wasn’t really my choice, so I’d leave it up to my eventual kid’s eventual dad. My sister found that outrageous. Having a penis shouldn’t automatically allow you to make decisions about someone else’s penis. But I sort of left it there and didn’t think much of it after that.
I remember later visiting a friend in the hospital shortly after the birth of her son. I knew she sort of held the same opinion as me…let dad decide. So there we all sat when the nurse came in and asked if the baby was to be circumcised. My friend turned to her husband for his response. He nodded his head, his expression giving a resounding and macho, “Ohhhhh yeah” and I think my opinion change on the spot.
I realized in that instant that this wasn’t a decision that dad should be making alone from a place of ego, vanity or pride (or even tradition for that matter), but rather this was a decision that parents should be making together for the health of their child. I remember feeling annoyed that she had left herself no voice in the decision, even though I’d previously thought I’d do the same thing.
By the time I had my son the thought of circumcision was repugnant to me. I did all the reading about supposed health benefits and came to the conclusion that those same benefits could be reached through good hygiene, healthy living and safe sex. So if there was no real tangible health benefit, what was left? Tradition? Societal conditioning? Were those reasons good enough for me to permanently alter my son’s body without his consent? To cause him pain? No. The answer was a resounding no.
I was grateful that I didn’t have to debate this issue with my husband when the time did come as he doesn’t come from a culture where this is the norm. Our decision to leave our son intact was the natural and right decision for us both. For us all.
I’ll close with: I do remember that in the class we took at the hospital where I gave birth that I asked about it. I’d read a couple stories online about babies being circ’d without consent and I was really worried that could happen. The nurse who ran the class on behalf of the hospital told me that it wasn’t the “default” to circumcise, and that it would never be done without parental consent. So that was a relief. Unfortunately now my biggest concern is medical professionals that don’t know that my baby’s intact penis should be left alone. I’ve been advised by one nurse and one doctor already to be sure to pull back the foreskin while cleaning him. Ugh!
Thanks for taking the time to share your story, Kristen! I also appreciated not having to fight or debate with my partner about this, since he comes from a culture where circumcision is not the cultural norm. But I made this decision long before I met him, and if I had ended up with someone else and had to fight, I would have. And I would have won.
And yes, the misguided advice from medical professionals to “pull it back” too early is an issue. I just had that conversation with a family member who was told the same thing for her two-year-old. Following that kind of advice could be a contributor to the higher incidence of UTI in the first year of life–creating micro tears around the urethra and thereby an entry point for bacteria.
I’d like to think had I been married to someone where circumcision is the cultural norm that I would have fought for my child and won. But then I think about that case in Florida where a judge actually ordered the child to be circumcised and it makes me all the more glad that I didn’t have to fight the fight. Though I will certainly do my part to help spread the word that it’s not a necessary procedure and make clear the reasons I spared my son from that.
Meanwhile – good to know about the UTI and micro-tears. I knew it was unnecessary (and sort of defeated the purpose of leaving him intact), but now I’ll be sure to make any doctor/nurse/family member who deals with my son aware as well.
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Thanks so much for this! Its important to re-think anything that is “automatically” done.
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This is a great article.
I have two boys, one is almost two and the other is seven months old. I’m Pregnant again but don’t know the gender yet. Both of my boys are intact and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I didn’t have them circumcised because I feel the procedure is barbaric and ultimately useless, even if done for “religious” reasons. I can’t have a logical conversation about it with my boyfriend because he keeps saying what if he was Jewish. For one, I wouldn’t date a Jew, not because I’m anti-Semitic but because I’m agnostic. His side of the argument goes out the window as soon as those what ifs are brought into the equation. I try to point out the risks and the amount of pain it inflicts on a baby. I also bring up the risks it can have later in life to be circumcised. Plus, other developed countries don’t really circumcise and their populations are healthier. America also have worse maternal mortality rates than countries like Germany and France despite having all this ” healthcare.”
A very thorough and thought provoking piece of writing! My rather simple (or perhaps not) question is, how can the literal skinning and amputation of an infant’s penis be considered anything other than lawful torture? (I have reason to believe that anesthesia is used a lot less often than reported, but even when used, as you point out, the post op pain of this amputation must be excruciating.) Compound that with this surgery being optional–as in, not addressing pathology, and not used as a treatment of an existing problem–and we have a recipe for utter insanity; among other red flags, I believe your mention of the desensitization of practitioners points to this. I am confounded daily by the absolute cognitive dissonance of both parents and medical personnel that must occur in order for RIC to continue in this country! And it leaves me heartbroken and ashamed.
Thank you for the compliment, Sharon, and for sharing your thoughts. “Cognitive dissonance”–yes, that’s it exactly.
Ever since I became pregnant and invested in the process of growing, and soon to be raising, a baby- I took every opportunity to educate myself, with a particularly holistic mindset. I gave birth to my son at home with a team of midwives and my husband. The power of that moment has seemed to only increase with the passing of time and bonding that I’ve shared with my son. My heart truly aches for parents who have little to no education on these majorly important topics. It makes me sick inside. I’ve become so affected by my education and experience, that I have spent nights thinking of ways to formulate arguments against the idea of circumcision alone. I was so grateful to come across this article on Facebook that seems to take all of my frantic saddening thoughts and seamlessly tie them together. I couldn’t have worded it better, and it’s already taken flight to my friends and family sharing their experience in response to reading your article.I hope this material becomes available to all families in the making. I’m grateful to you for taking the time, effort and heart to bring awareness to our society. Thank you!
Brittany, thank you so much for your kind words. I am so glad this is helpful to you and I thank you for sharing it with your family and friends.
Your story could be my story. I too saw my first circumcision in my OB clinicals in nursing school. Having never given it any thought prior, after watching 11 heart wrenching procedures in which only one used any comfort measures, I was appalled and eventually wrote my clinical ethics paper on the subject. Thank you for being bold in your discussions with expectant parents and for encouraging the conversation here. I am proud to say that my son is fully intact and I am so glad I was exposed to this reality BEFORE I had my first child.
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Reblogged this on Inside Pale and commented:
This is great:
I have many intact relatives, some in their 90s and late 80s, and none of them have ever had any problems with their foreskins. They told me that the reason their sons, born in the 50s, were circumcised was because doctors were regarded as gods back then, and one did not dare to question a doctor. The doctors cut their sons without even asking. I guess people were more compliant towards authority figures back then. When you cut a baby, you set up a situation where he is likely to cut his own sons, as a way of validating his own genital mutilation. Fortunately, the tide is turning, and within 10 years, forced genital cutting will become virtually unknown in the US.
We can only hope you are correct. This torture has gone on way too long and damaged millions.
I wish you would have been my midwife with my first child/son! It’s all about kindly informing/educating in a respectful way! It can be quite a paradigm shift for some, including myself. Something that I wish was brought up more was the religious side. I used to think,”well if it was part of the law of Moses and god was ok with it, it couldn’t be that damaging right?” Most people don’t know that biblical circumcision was NOT removal of the foreskin! It was a tiny cut of the foreskin. If I would have known that, I never would have circumcised my first two boys. My third boy is intact and I am so grateful I had this information before he was born. Also most people do not know the function of the foreskin (including men!) and believe it is a pointless piece of skin. It’s all about knowledge! Thanks for the article!
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As an American who moved to Australia years ago this makes me extra glad I moved! I’d add that this article demonstartes how timid people are to question barbaric norms. Professor Milgram’s research was right! Even people, such as the author of the above article, who know how harmful male genital mutilation is are reluctant to criticise it too harshly. For example:
“There have been some modest health benefits demonstrated in some of the studies, namely in the prevention of urinary tract infection in the first year of life, possibly sexually transmitted infections, and penile cancer.”
Um, how about pointing out that those studies were all pseudo-science and that for some strange reason rates of UTIs, STDs and cancer are lower in other industrialised countries wich don’t practice MGM?!
Hurts?! No, it hurts when someone gets a needed vacination or medication or stubs their toe. Tearing off, crushing and cutting the most sensitive part of someone’s body is torture. You might as well say that raping a young girl ‘may produce some discomfort’.
How about just telling parents the truth ‘It has no medical benefit, it’s torture and if you do this to your child then I don’t want you as a patient.’ When I was born to American parents in England years ago and they enquired about circumcision (they tell me that they didn’t ask to have it done they simply asked ‘why don’t the British circumcise?’) the nurse told them quite firmly ‘because it’s pagan and barbaric.’ That sorted the issue and I continue to be very pro-British decades later 🙂
When my son was born in Australia there was no decision to be made because circumcision is banned in public hospitals so there was nothing to discuss: it never came up. See for example the following article: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/circumcision-to-be-banned/story-e6frf7kx-1111114161755 note that circumcision had already become extremely rare in Victoria many years before it was actually banned. Also, the Health Minister quoted in the article is now the Premiere of Victoria (the equivalent of what Americans call a Governor). I mention Australia because it demonstrates that in countries where circumcision/MGM was once common taking an ethical approach of ‘just saying no’ works a lot better than the poitically correct American approach of giving everyone, even perverts and terrorists, ‘equal time’ and being ‘sensitive to differing viewpoints’. How about just doing what’s right? If one can’t condemn child sexual abuse then what can one condemn?
Finally, I am not judging parents who were lied to by the medical establishment. I am judging parents who knew better and still did it and health care workers who behave not like profesionals but like passive aggresive concentration camp workers refusing to take responsibility for their actions.
I appreciate the questions you raise about how strongly people should speak out about this. You may be right that many of us are too timid. As I said in my article, that is evolving for me–I have only recently started counseling parents as strongly as what I describe above, which is still inadequate in your eyes.
This is food for thought. That said, I won’t be telling expectant parents that I won’t care for them if they choose this. Parents are making this decision within a cultural context that still views this as the norm. Thankfully that is changing, but cultural change doesn’t happen overnight, even if we scream about it and insult people. I don’t think banishing patients and likening health care providers to concentration camp workers is likely to convert very many people. I choose compassion and education.
We circumsized our boys and agonized over it with our first!! We went back and forth. We thought a lot of the benifits it had from both sides. Really the main reason we did decide yes was just the mere fact that their dad was. Now that it’s said and done… I’d do it differently!! We could have stopped the tradition with my husband and started a new one!! I would most likely help to change this with my grandkids if I’m so lucky!
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I’m a 31 year old, uncircumcised man and I’d like to weigh in on growing up intact and my thoughts now. First, I am so grateful to my parents that I am not circumcised. My father overcame THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE and decided his sons were better off not being circumcised, even though he was. Make no mistake, this is the battle and nothing about inconsequential risk or reward will change a man’s mind that is insecure with himself and fears for his son’s sexual future. We are biological creatures and the sexual success of our offspring is rightfully a driving force in our existence and decision making. You must either hope the mother is empowered and confident enough to overrule the father or that the father has matured to a point to accept something integral to himself is not the ideal.
I first became aware that penises were a thing to care about around 3rd-ish grade when a friend of mine pointed out that mine was different from his and our other friend’s in the bathroom. I noticed that while almost no other white children were intact, many black children were, so, at least in my region, circumcision was largely a white phenomenon. Fast forward a few years and I realized why I was different and was slightly self conscious about it, but not enough to change my activities in any way. I still skinny dipped with everyone else and had a normal confidence level with girls (which is to say, no confidence at all) through high school.
In college when sexual activity became a normal occurrence, I quickly became aware that some girls were very put off by an uncircumcised penis (a very few, but I had that experience early). Of course, the mechanics of sex are greatly improved with a functional foreskin which counterbalanced any negative perceptions I encountered. Without going into detail, I think my sexual confidence and opportunities were overall normal to slightly improved due to the exotic element.
Of course, growing up an outlier in terms of the appearance and function of my penis, I looked into the issue. Why would so many do such a thing when it clearly had no negative impact on my life? The benefits are all clearly minuscule and tangential to the procedure and I’m shocked that a parent would consider them as a valid reasons. Why not do an appendectomy and tonsillectomy, and get those troublesome future wisdom teeth while your’e at it. I mean, lowering the risk of STD transmission through irreversible damage to membranous areas is insane. Why not a quick hot poker into the vagina of all the newborn girls? Take a moment to understand how barbaric that sounds and realize that it would not really be any more invasive. Clearly, cultural inertia is the only reason this practice exists.
I would like to mention, that at no point did anyone have to teach me to clean my penis. Mothers think of their imminent newborn as a perpetual babies and my think cleanliness is a factor, but we all do grow up and the first time your baby lifts their legs while you change their diaper, you understand how quickly they learn. If anything, most young boys must be taught that our penis is clean enough and to leave it alone. The amount of shame that must be taught to a child that they neglect the cleanliness of their genitals cannot be corrected for with surgery.
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Thanks so much for sharing. This comment should really be published on its own somewhere! I could pick out at least a dozen gem quotes here, but this one in particular is so dead on: “You must either hope the mother is empowered and confident enough to overrule the father or that the father has matured to a point to accept something integral to himself is not the ideal.” Beautifully written story, thanks!
I have heard a lot of baby cries… this one is off the charts not normal. there is a hungry cry a tired cry and then there is a outrageous painful cry. no way would I ever voluntarily let my baby boy go through this. that cry makes me sob. makes me think how barbaric this ritual is. when is going to stop?
I was needlessly mutilated as a child which was fairly uncommon in England in the late 1960’s. I was teased and mercilessly bullied for having a “half dick” as soon as I started school at 5 years old. I grew to hate my parents for what they had done to me and ran away from home at 15 never to return and have never seen them since that day. I was so bady cut – between 75-80% of my penile skin was removed – I needed reconstructive surgery in my late teens. To this day the loathing I feel toward them is indescribable. My own two sons are normal, whole, well adjusted people.
Excellent article! All children, regardless of gender, culture or parental religion, have a fundamental right to keep all their healthy, functional body parts. Since an infant is incapable of religious beliefs, imposing an irreversible body alteration on him violates the freedom to choose his own religion as an adult. It differs from religious education, which can be changed. My body belongs to me!
Thanks, Greg. Excellent points about babies being incapable of religious beliefs and deserving of religious freedom as adults, and the distinction between permanent body alteration and religious teachings.