New Mama Musings

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Circumcision Decision

When my husband and I first found out we were expecting I hoped it was a girl so I wouldn't have to face the circumcision decision. For my husband the decision was already made -- of course a baby boy would be circumcised, just like he was and just like his two teenage sons were. I wasn't so sure but honestly knew very little about the subject.

But we are having a boy. And I very nearly just let my husband's decision stand, since, after all, he is the guy in this relationship.

However I needed to do a little research first, and in my quest for information I became more and more convinced that I would not let this happen to my son. As I shared the articles and photos with my husband his resolve started to slip, and finally he agreed not to circumcise.

So, this is what I learned:

1. Circumcision has a questionable history in this country. It started in America during the Victorian period as a method for curtailing masturbation but did not become common until the Cold War, the same era in which childbirth became medicalized and breastfeeding was discouraged.

2. The foreskin has an actual function. In babies it's attached to the glans and helps keep it clean. It also helps protect and lubricate the glans throughout a man's life. And during sex the foreskin enables the penis to slip back and forth non-abrasively.

3. There are risks associated with circumcision. These include infection, scarring, tight erections, surgical mistakes, and loss of sensitivity.

4. Circumcision is not just a little snip. It removes a great deal of skin relative to the size of a newborn penis. The procedure actually removes the entire covering of the penis -- what we see as the shaft in a circumcised penis is not normally seen at all naturally.

5. Circumcision is extremely painful. Even when babies are given anesthesia the injection itself hurts and the medication is not always given time to kick in. Then there's the time it takes for the wound to heal, during which babies are rarely given anything for the pain.

6. Circumcision is traumatic. The baby is strapped down to a board, his genitals are scrubbed, his foreskin is slit, an instrument is inserted and the foreskin is ripped off. Even if the pain medication is totally effective, I can't rule out the trauma the baby must feel being trapped and tugged at, not understanding what is happening or when/if it will end.

7. The pain and trauma of circumcision have long-lasting effects on an infant, despite the belief that the infant won't remember the procedure. Studies have found that pain affects feeding behavior and mother-child bonding. Common sense tells me that even if I don't remember events from my childhood -- and I personally remember very little -- it is those events that shaped my psyche and helped dictate the person I am today. And isn't a mother's instinct to soothe a crying baby and keep him from pain and harm? Why then is the pain and trauma of circumcision written off with a "he won't remember it"?

8. Circumcision is not the norm. Only about ten to fifteen percent of the world's men are circumcised; the vast majority of those are Muslim. It's virtually unheard of in Europe. You might be surprised by some of the celebrities who are uncircumcised; I personally couldn't resist pointing out to my husband that his hero David Bowie was among them.

9. The uncircumcised penis requires no special care. During the boy's first few years of life the foreskin and the glans are attached; the connecting tissue dissolves over time. In fact, the penis is best left alone and should never be forcibly retracted. Once a boy discovers that his foreskin can be retracted without pain he merely needs to rinse under the fold with warm water. That's it.

10. Even mainstream medical organizations are moving away from recommending routine circumcision. And that's saying a lot.


  • Not that it matters, but I am soooo glad that you & your husband aren't cicumcising your son. My almost 10 year old son was circumcised (due to stupidity) & I
    will never forget that. OMG! It was horrible! When talking about circumcision, I hear my poor baby's screams & cries in my head. From that point on, I always swore that if I ever had another son, that he would NOT be circumcised.

    By Anonymous Joie, at 11:33 PM  

  • Good for you! My 4 week old son is also intact, and seeing him, I can not fathom how people send their newborn baby boys to have this brutal procedure done to them. As circ rates continue to decline in the US, it is comforting to know that soon, intact will be the norm. Cosmetic surgery on the genetalia of an infant is simply revolting.

    By Blogger dynamohumm6, at 6:51 AM  

  • Now David Bowie is even hotter to me. :)

    By Anonymous chasmyn, at 2:53 PM  

  • Excellent list, I heard about it
    from the forums and
    have sent it out to my mailing list.

    One improvement I'd like to suggest.
    If you could go through and change the
    word "uncircumcised" to "intact", I
    think it would read better.

    One day your son will thank you for
    your protection of his body.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:58 PM  

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