Practical Parenting: Circumcision

There is a lot of false information going around about circumcision — that it’s important for proper hygiene, that it lowers the risk of contracting STDs, that the infant can’t feel it or that it carries no risk of injury or death.  Parents make this decision for their child based on this misinformation, but when things go wrong, their sons are the ones who get hurt.

Circumcision, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the removal of the foreskin, a piece of skin which covers the head of the penis.  The head, or glans of the penis has a similar function to the female clitoris, so the foreskin is similar to the clitoral hood in women — one of it’s functions is to protect the highly sensitive glans.  The foreskin itself also serves a sexual function — the highly sensitive nerves found in the foreskin can enhance sexual pleasure, not only for the man but for his partner as well.  Nearly a third of baby boys are circumcised shortly after birth, and in the Jewish culture it is considered an essential rite of passage.  Most American women have never seen a circumcised penis.

Here are some of the more common reasons parents give for circumcision:

Reason #1: Circumcision is important for hygiene.

This is essentially saying that the vagina would be easier to keep clean if it weren’t for those pesky labia.  That may be true, depending on your definition of clean, I guess.  Lots of things would be “easier to keep clean” if we simply removed a part of our body — ears, bellybuttons, nostrils, between our toes — but instead of removing it, we simply learn how to clean around it.  What a concept.

Reason #2: If he is intact, he will be teased.

This may be very true.  He might also be teased if he has red hair, or freckles, braces, glasses, is fat, is learning disabled, is gifted, has a lisp, has a unique name, is gay, stutters….

Kids can be cruel.  Cutting off a perfectly healthy part of his body doesn’t make him any less tease-able, I’m afraid.

Reason #3: It’s better for his health.

Once upon a time, circumcision was claimed to reduce chances of a boy contracting HIV and other STDs, as well as reducing his chances of getting penile cancer.  These claims have recently been disproved.  The best thing a man can do to prevent HIV, STDs, and penile cancer is to practice safe, non-promiscuous sex — cut or uncut.

Reason #4: He can’t feel it anyway.

Please tell me you don’t believe this.  Can he feel when he gets a shot?  Can he feel you touch him? To think that he can feel everything else but not someone cutting off a piece of his body is just ludicrous.  If someone tells you this, please just laugh in their face.

Here are my thoughts on circumcision:

1. It’s cosmetic, therefore technically unnecessary.  

2. It carries some risk. 

Less than 1% of boys who undergo circumcision will either during or after the procedure.  I mean, that’s still about a 99% chance they won’t, so the risk isn’t HORRENDOUS, but if there’s no health benefit, and arguably no social benefit, is there any reason to take the risk?

And even if they don’t die, what if they botch it?  I once heard the story of a man who realized during puberty that he had a botched circumcision, when the skin of his penis wouldn’t stretch enough during an erection.  Ouch.  What would you rather your child endure — some teasing in the locker room, or learning to associate arousal with pain?  Oh, and one rejected skin graft later, this man is now without a penis entirely.  But hey, at least he didn’t get penile cancer, right?

Or in the 60s, when some doctors took a little bit too much off the top and cut off the penis entirely.  Luckily they convinced the baby’s parents to raise him as a girl, so nobody was any the wiser.  I’m sure that ended well.

My point is, if there was some actually benefit to it, 1% could be an acceptable risk.  But if it carries absolutely NO benefit, why chance it?

3.  Whose choice should it be?

What’s the rush, anyway?  Why do we circumcise as infants?  Couldn’t we just let them make the decision for themselves when they’re old enough to understand it?  Are we afraid they wouldn’t make the choice we want?  This isn’t like getting a little girl’s ears pierced — foreskins don’t grow back.  If he doesn’t like it, he’s pretty much stuck with it.

4. It’s becoming more popular.

If you are considering circumcision because you are afraid of locker room or lover’s lane (Eek! An uncut penis!”) drama, rest assured that circumcision rates are actually plummeting in the last decade.  Over two thirds of all boys born in the US in 2010 were uncircumcised.  So, there might be more intact penises gracing the locker rooms, and any lovers may be more accustomed to the sight as well.

I don’t care if you circumcise or not.  There’s not a HUGE risk, after all.  Just know that you can’t believe everything you read on the internet — an uncircumcised penis can be just as healthy as a circumcised one.  Rather than cut him, teach him how to care for himself, practice safe sex, and let him know that if he ever wants to change it, it’s his body and his choice.  Armed with that knowledge and power, he can have a very happy penis.  And isn’t that what we all want for our little boys?

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