2.02.2010

Circumcision: The Uncut Version

I love this blogger. This particular article was so appreciated, though. It's just too bad that circumcision is still America's dirty little secret.

Sadly, many new parents do not even research circumcision. This is just as disappointing to me as when they choose to keep their sons intact, but do no research and therefore don't care properly for them. When we just blindly make decisions, especially those about our children's health (Vaccinations, elective surgeries, feeding, etc) we aren't just hurting ourselves, or our kids...but the population as a whole.

If you circumcise your son because it's "Just what everyone does" what other things are you going to alter in the name of popularity? Will you get your daughter a boob job in high school if "everyone else is doing it" according to rumor? Because that's all that myth is, a rumor. Roughly, only half of US boys are being circumcised today. In some areas, like the West Coast, that number is as low as 30%. But, I won't make an argument for something as important as circumcision based off of location. After all, perhaps you're on the East coast which boasts a disgustingly high circ rate of 90% in some areas. And after all, you may move someday.

I'd much rather convince you of the ill effects of infant circumcision with FACTS. To do so, I'm going to list common pros that are given in favor of circumcising young infant boys. Then, I'm going to explain why they're bull shit.

"My husband is circumcised, I don't want him to wonder why he doesn't look like daddy"
-This is a very common reason for wanting to circumcise an infant. But, let's just think about this for a second. What other body parts of your husband's need to match? If your son's ears are different, are you going to alter them? No. And hey, your son won't have the same genitalia as you, but you'll explain that to him, that boys and girls look different. So why not explain to him that his daddy had a surgery as a baby to remove his skin, but you didn't do that to him because *insert whatever reason here, like "You were born perfect".* I can tell you that your son, if he has any questions at all about dad's privates, will probably be more interested in why he has pubic hair and why daddy's penis is bigger than his. You don't go around performing elective surgeries on people so they match. We're all different and unique...this should involve a life lesson, not scalpels.

"All his peers will be circumcised and I don't want him teased in the locker room."
-If a child is going to be teased about something, there's little you can do to prevent it. He could be teased for having a small penis...you're not going to get it enlarged. Plus, this excuse works on the assumption that guys are going to be checking each other out in the locker room. In the rare event that someone were to poke fun at your kid for having a foreskin, there are many retorts your son could shoot back, like "Why are you checking out my junk, jealous?" or "At least I'm not lacking in that department and have my whole penis." There's no reason to alter your perfect infant because someday, someone in some random situation may tease him. Plus, I remind you that the circ rates are dropping, drastically. The boys of today are being left intact, much like the rest of the world (85% of the men in our world have their foreskins).

"Well, those two reasons aside, it's better for his health. It's cleaner, it's easier to clean and he won't spread STDs as easily."
-No, no, and, no. To understand this you have to first understand how the foreskin functions. In infant boys, the foreskin is fused to the glans (head of the penis) much like your finger nail is attached to your finger. When your baby pees, it flushes out the inner part of the foreskin (and remember that urine is sterile) so this works to keep your son clean. Also, by keeping his foreskin, you prevent feces from his diaper from touching his urethra or getting under his foreskin, and therefore, prevent the chance of him getting foreign bacteria in his urinary tract. Older studies suggested that circumcised boys were less likely to get UTIs. There are more studies that show no difference and others that show that intact boys get them less often. Regardless of what the truth is, girls are more prone to UTIs than either circumcised OR intact boys, and we treat them with proper hygiene and antibiotics, no surgery.

Now to clean, let's imagine this: An intact boy requires NO special care. Because the foreskin is fused to the glans, you do NOT retract it, ever. This could cause pain, tears, and adhesions. Instead, you wipe only what you see, like you wash your finger. If you circumcise your infant, you'll have much more to do. During the healing process, you'll be taking care of a wound, in a diaper. Afterward, you'll have to clean any skin that was still left very thoroughly so that he doesn't get an infection. You may also have to worry about the freshly cut skin trying to heal back to the glans, usually resulting in adhesions. Advice on this varies from "do not retract" (like in intact boys) to "you must retract to prevent the adhesions or break them" so there's really no TRUE information on what to do. When the intact boy retracts naturally (sometime between infancy and puberty, but most commonly toddlerhood) he can retract, rinse and replace at bathtime. No soaps, just water. No harder than if he lacked foreskin.

As far as STDs are concerned, no study really has the truth established. Those that say intact men are at greater risk, or rather carriers, of more infections (like HPV) are grossly incorrect and make little sense. The most commonly quoted study is about a group in Africa, where they taught the freshly circumcised men safe sex practices and provided them with condoms, but not the group they left intact. They also didn't factor that the freshly circumcised men weren't having sex while their penises healed. They found that the intact men contracted HIV more often than their cut counterparts, based on their poor approach of collecting this data. This study was, on top of it all, cut short (no pun intended). We can also look at the population of America and conclude this study makes no sense. Our own HIV/AIDS rate is quite high to that of other industrialized counter parts, yet, we have an astoundingly high circumcision rate (about 90% of grown men in the US are circumcised, as this was the rate about 20-some years ago). So, how is it that we have such a high rate of HIV/AIDS when we also have such a high rate of circumcision? That makes no sense...

On top of that, to argue in favor of surgery on infants, to possibly reduce the risk of STD transfer in adults is irresponsible. Instead, we need to teach our children how their bodies function, how STDs are transferred and contracted, and push safe sex. THIS is what will protect your son or daughter, not a false sense of protection because they were circumcised (or their partner is).

"But uncircumcised penises are soooo gross!"
-Really? How attractive is YOUR genitalia? If a man you were really in to took you home, and you started to fool around, and he caught a glimpse of your goods and never called you again because it was "so gross" he'd be labeled an asshole. Most genitals are not very attractive, female or male; circumcised or not. We are all made differently and none of us "match". To discount a person because they have foreskin is incredibly shallow. Just like a man discounting a woman for having an extended clitoris, longer labia, or not having her clitoral hood removed is shallow.

There is nothing gross about the state of a man's (or infant's) natural penis. This is how they are SUPPOSE to look; without tight skin or dark circle scars. We tend to be afraid of what we don't know, but that doesn't make it's ok. It's just ignorance to how a penis is suppose to look. If your son's toes were oddly shaped and ugly, you wouldn't remove them. They are part of him, and you love every bit.

"Well, I've never actually seen one. I didn't mean it was gross looking because of the skin, I meant because of all that nasty stuff that builds up in there!"
-If you've never seen one, how do you know it's nasty? Oh, because of rumors and stigmas surrounding intact men in America. Well, we're talking about infants, for one. Remember how I said the glans and foreskin were fused? Yea, there's nothing "building up". And, the "stuff" is called smegma. This is a natural lubricant produced by the body, you have it too. It's your discharge. It keeps your pH balance normal, it keeps you lubricated for sex, it keeps your skin there soft. Everyone needs to practice proper hygiene, circumcised men included. In the end, a dirty penis is a dirty penis. Most intact men take extra care to keep themselves clean, partly because there is such a stigma about having a foreskin. In order for smegma to build up, the man needs to really lack in caring for his man bits, and this would probably be no different if her were circumcised, and I doubt you'd put EITHER penises in your mouth. But again, we're talking about infants, and whether you need to worry about his for YOUR son...so again, the answer is no. For the first portion of his life, his foreskin is self cleaning, after that, you teach him how. After that, it's up to him whether he'll be a slob or a Mr. Clean kinda guy. Regardless, it's nothing to remove body parts over.

"If it was unnecessary, they wouldn't do it."
-Many insurance companies, and state medicaid, are no longer covering circumcisions. Certain hospitals have banned the procedure as well. I've heard, first hand from friends/aquaintances, quotes in the range of $350-$1500 to have the surgery performed on their newborn. The reasons given "It is not medically necessary, it is a preference." My co-worker and I were discussing this issue one day. She was telling me that she had taken him (her son) to the pediatrician to get it done, because the hospital didn't perform the. The pediatrician told her the procedure was not covered by her insurance because it was considered a cosmetic surgery, and it would cost them $400. She debated it, but he told her that there was absolutely no reason to do it, that many boys today aren't getting circumcised, and told her proper care (not to retract). He's 5 and while her intentions walking in to the pediatricians office that day were to circumcise him without a thought or any research, she told me how happy she is that it wasn't covered and that he remained intact. I'm pretty sure he'll be happy about that, too!

If there are any other reasons you've heard for someone wanting to circumcise, I'd love to hear them. If you've been considering it and are still confused, have more questions, etc I would love to address that.

There are so many decisions for new parents to make, and it's important that you're informed. What I found when researching circumcision was that EVERY pro-circ benefit could be debunked with medical facts. That was enough for me. Why expose my perfect newborn boy to the risks of bleeding, pain, MRSA staph infection, decreased sensitivity and genital integrity if there were no benefits to it?

For a great first time parent article, check this out: http://www.circumstitions.com/Itsaboy.html
Here's a group of doctors opposing circumcision: http://www.doctorsopposingcircumcision.org/
For a quick, easy fact-checking decision maker, look at this: http://circumcisiondecisionmaker.com/
To find out why this group is fighting for baby boy's rights, go here: http://www.intactamerica.org/
Already raising an intact son (or pregnant with one who'll stay that way) join us here:
*Raising Intact Boys* on cafemom.

22 comments:

sallymoon said...

What is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right. I was lucky enough to marry a very educated man who refused to allow any son of his to be circumcised. I did tons of research on the subject and I found no logical reason to circumcise and every reason to leave the foreskin intact. Every body part has a function, and the body works better with all of its parts intact.

Sylkozakur said...

I blogged about my circumcision decision. Like most, I did just enough research to justify a cosmetic procedure. My husband,however, refused. Happily, my boy is intact, & I'm ashamed for ever considering it

Restoring Tally said...

I don't understand why circumcision is a decision. Circumcision removes healthy tissue from a healthy baby. Circumcision is unnecessary for the baby.

I was circumcised at birth. I would have much preferred that my parents had never considered the circumcision decision and had left me as I was born. I am restoring my foreskin and experiencing the joy of having a foreskin, even a restored one. Restoring has convinced me even more that circumcision is not in the best interest of the child.

Kate said...

Sylkozakur, I see that a lot, but usually, because both parents want it done and refuse to see any information for what it truly is. That is why when I was researching I looked at the pros and then searched to see if they could be debunked, and sure 'nough, they could. Thankfully, you learned the truths before having the procedure done. I know so many moms who regretted the circ afterward, but by then it's too late (for that child).

Tally, thanks so much for commenting! Whenever I mention that there are many men who are working to restore their foreskin, I am told it's a lie; that no man would be upset they were circumcised but all the men they know who weren't are mad! I hope restoration goes well for you, I know it's a long process and you cannot obviously fully restore your actually foreskin but I hope you are successful and happy!

TD said...

Hi Kate,

As another restoring man (and father of an intact son), I can tell you that there are many of us out there (estimated in the hundreds of thousands) who are furious at having not been given the option of bodily integrity, and who are working to change the status quo, both legally and culturally.

One of the major justifications I'm hearing resurface (after being debunked for many years) is the penile cancer myth. Penile cancer affects about 1 in 100,000 men in the majority-circumcised US. In Europe, where the vast majority are intact, the number is about the same. Circumcised man CAN still get cancer, and it usually shows up at the circ scar - the site of trauma. The American Cancer Society even says the main risk factors for penile cancer are smoking, hygiene and risky sex practices. They state that circumcision should NOT be used as a cancer prevention strategy.

Women are more than four times as likely to develop a vulval cancer, but at no time do we suggest preemptive amputation of healthy tissue in female minors.

We need a cultural shift in this country. If you look at the cultures who still practice genital cutting on minors around the world, it's not distinguished company to be in. We should be leading the way toward human rights, not trailing the rest of the industrialized world.

Jessica said...

Also, about the Africa study, all they were able to "prove" is that it made it less likely for men to get infected. It did nothing to lower the chances of spreading it to their partners.

The only other reason I've heard of is supposedly lower chance of women getting cervical cancer, because supposedly there is less risk of men spreading the HPV virus. Even if that is true (and the evidence isn't very conclusive), it would be unethical to treat infant boys for a potential problem in adult females. Treat the person who needs treated.

Stephanie said...

FABULOUS POST!!! I am the mother of a happily intact 3.5 year old...I will never understand people wanting to or even considering this COSMETIC surgery!!! Makes me sad, and kind of sick to my stomach!

I'd also like to note that my mother was intelligent enough to keep my brother intact....and he's 28 and never had a problem, my son's father is 45 and never had a problem...as are both of my grandfather's...never had a problem...and yes, I asked....as I wanted to be sure I was making that correct decision (which I knew I was but wanted to be able to tell people that YES you can be elderly and intact, and you can live your life intact and not "have problems")

Thanks for all your wonderful insight! I am linking this to my blog!

Charity Ann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bernadette Noll said...

Nice post. I will definitely send this to anyone who is actually pondering what to do. My own two boys can't even believe that there was a time when cutting off the skin of a penis was done as a matter of course. I always think of this question applied to any other body part - to cut or not to cut. It would be considered inhumane.

Smrt Mama said...

Wonderful post! Thank you so much for breaking down (and then tearing down) all the pro-circ arguments so neatly. I have two intact boys. It never would have occurred to me to want to cut a healthy body part off of a baby. My husband says he appreciates all the information to debunk the pro-circ myths, but that if people had any sense, they'd never have to get past "they're cutting pieces...off of BABIES!"

jen said...

Thank you for your great post - I'll be sure to bookmark it to share in the future (and already did share on FB, thanks to Peaceful Parenting). Our children (2 boys, 2 girls) are all intact - and none of them match their parents :)

Tara said...

Ah, it gets even better! More reasons to support genital integrity, not circ...

1) Circ men are more likely to experience ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION, folks! That's right, it's so desensitized from prolonged overexposure of the nerve endings that it leads to chronic inability to get it up.
2) Related to that is, voila, imagine -- intact men FEEL more in their penis than a circ man can, so their sexual pleasure is much greater. Circ cuts nerve endings as well as removing the covering over that ultra-sensitive tissue (and thus creating the problem of desensitization), so there's a big diff in experience of pleasure.
3) Circ men are more likely to end up with prostate problems.
4) Male circ is exactly the same sort of operation as Female Genital Mutilation, widely abhorred as unethical. Also, FGM desensitizes women in just the same way (albeit worse, depending on the type of FGM), leaving them less able to feel sexual pleasure. How can we judge Africa for its practice of FGM and not see our own practices are just as damaging, even if performed in clean conditions?
5) There is a HUGE bond of trust broken when the people an infant is supposed to count on the most, its caregivers, nurturers, protectors, allow *part of his DICK to be CUT OFF*. The psychological issues, bonding and connection, trust issues, they all weigh in as well and cannot be overcome.
~ Tara McDonald-Tiner

Kate said...

Thank you everyone for adding even more to the conversation! To the men that posted thank you SO much! It's because of men like you who can speak first hand about the negatives of circ that more info and advocacy against MGM is being heard!

And to my fellow mommies of intact sons, keep sharing your stories. It may be enough to help another mother make the best decision for her son.

Tom Sadira said...

From a new father: Excellent article with excellent links. Thanks for sharing all this info and this perspective, and helping to shed light on circ in our culture. I'll share this with new parents I know who might be considering circ.

Kate said...

Tom, I'm so glad this information was useful for you! That's what I love to hear. We all here the other side, the pros, all the time. But rarely are they ever debunked. Hope you can share it with someone else who'll appreciate it as much as you did. Congratulations on your entry into fatherhood, Tom!

Sean said...

I appreciate the insights and information. I do have to say that I am a man that was circumcised as an infant and, despite everything in your blog, I am so happy that my parents made that decision. Thanks mom and dad!

TD said...

Sean, it's great that you feel like your parents made the right decision for you, but your opinion is not universal.

If a child is left intact, he can always make his OWN decision to be cut later. A child who is cut gets NO say in the matter, and may be unhappy with the decision made without his informed consent.

As the latter, the only recourse left to me is years of often uncomfortable tissue regeneration, which will never give me back the dartos muscle or ridged band or the years of normal sex I missed out on. Even so, the gains in sensation and coverage beat the hell out of staying cut. I just wish they would've asked me. I would've said no.

James said...

Hi Kate,

You did an excellent job of deconstructing and exposing the hollow arguments medicos often use to market circumcision to well-intentioned but uneducated parents.

Sadly, some parents who have circumcised their son/s cling to these arguments out of shame and guilt. Others rise above this and have the most powerful stories to tell on the awful violence and damage they failed to protect their son/s from, so that others may learn from their mistakes.

It is brilliant that you're communicating this important information directly to other parents and arming them with the information needed to protect their sons from harm.

It's quite sad that this job is being left to enlightened parents and human rights activists, but the BUSINESS of medicine is to conflicted to act to protect children. Just follow the money.

Picking up on Sean's point, it's true that some men are happy with being circumcised, but not many. Many are ambivalent or blissfully ignorant. There are many others who are seriously unhappy at having the most sensitive parts of their perfectly healthy penis removed and discarded - or sold.

I fall into the 'seriously unhappy' category. Circumcision is probably the single worth thing that's ever happened to me. Since a young child, I have been accutely embarrassed about my surgically-altered penis and this has impacted every area of my life, from relationships, trust in othes to self worth and self confidence.

After years of wondering why my parents would have done this to me (wasn't I good enough?, wasn't I worth protecting?), I finally asked my mother: "There was no discussion; the doctor just came and did it".

It would seem we have moved on from an age where doctors can do as they please to babies - and charge for it - to an age where they need to obtain consent from the parents. It is any wonder the health myth's perpetuate?

There's a doctor (Terry Russell) here in Australia (where circumcision is almost dead) who claims to have circumcised 25,000 boys. At $400ea, that's a $10 million revenue just from cutting parts from perfectly healthy boys penises!

Is it too much for a boy or man to wish simply to grow up with all the parts he was born with? Surely not! Healthy boys aren't born needing surgery. A circumcised penis is forever diminished. It looks very different, its natural (rolling/gliding) function is destroyed) and most (around 75%)of the sensitivity is lost forever.

Foreskin restoration can recover most of the natural look, much of the natural function and even some of the sensitivity. Tissue expansion is a scientific fact and therefore restoration is possible.

I have completed this process myself after several years and many thousands of hours with devices attached to the remnant shaft tissue in order to grown a replacement foreskin. For me this has been a real blessing and has provided much healing (both physical and emotional), but of course nothing's ever the same as the original equipment.

Besides Todd and me, there are countless men currently attempting to regrow their foreskins and countless more that simply wish that people who should have known better kept thir hands (and knives) away infants penises.

Thanks again for speaking out on behalf of those too young to speak for themselves.

Kate said...

James, I couldn't begin to tell you how much your comment means to me. As an intact person I can truly say i am extremely happy no one altered my body and this only makes me angry for the many boys who have that right, to genital integrity, away.

Your honest posts here have brought tears to my eyes. I'm so sorry for what has been done to you and continues to be done to way too many boys. I really believe that if more people just had some education on the function of the foreskin and the damages of circumcision, few would stand for it.

Goldie (Goldie@greenmemom.com said...

"Sadly, some parents who have circumcised their son/s cling to these arguments out of shame and guilt. Others rise above this and have the most powerful stories to tell on the awful violence and damage they failed to protect their son/s from, so that others may learn from their mistakes. "

James - This is me. I made mistakes, both circumcision wise and pregnancy/birth wise. I feel this is the biggest problem with families and parenting. Instead of learning from mistakes we indeed cling to these "theories" and propaganda spread fact to hide shame and guilt.

I am one of the not-too-many that learned and grew because of my mistakes. It breaks my heart that my oldest son went through this pain. I regret it almost daily. I am also thankful enough to have wised up & not done this to my second son. (As well as, you know, staying home to have my daughter)..

On the point of some men being happy with being circumcised. I would really like to see a study done on men that are circumcised and the correlation of the need for social acceptance. You know?

Two questions to you, if you read this again... How do I go about explaining this to my son if he ever asks. (I am sure he will, since his brother will be "different")

&

Could you possibly send me more info on this foreskin restoration?

Thank you for your wonderful comment!

James said...

@Kate,

Thank you for the kind words - it means a lot!

@Goldie,

Your comment is really moving. Thank you for sharing. Re-reading my post now seems unnecessarily harsh. I apologize for this. The fact is parents are typically unwitting victims of circumcision along with their sons. Parents should be able to rely on doctors to provide truthful information on circumcision, but like so many issues, parents really do need to do their own research.

On explaining to your son; I wouldn't wait for him to ask. Obviously it's up to you, but you may wish to consider having an open discussion (appropriate to his age) at the earliest opportunity. He may already be wondering. Just keep it lighthearted and explain that doctors sometimes remove the skin from the end of their penis before they leave hospital. I'd tell him that you found out it could be painful for the baby and you told the doctor not to do this to his brother. If you wanted to apologize, you could add that you're sorry that you allowed something painful to happen to him. I would not say ANYTHING to make him feel that his penis is diminished or damaged. The important thing is that he knows why his penis is different to his brother's and that he can talk to you about it at any time. Good luck! You're a brilliant, enlightened mother!

On restoration; this Peaceful Parenting article is an excellent introduction:-
www.drmomma.org/2009/10/restoration-uncircumcising-of-men.html

Lisette said...

Great blog!! :-)
Don't really have a comment to make as you've said it all really well!
Just felt I should point out that while I used to think that foreskins tended to retract in toddlerhood as you've written, it's actually usually much later. Most boys only have fully retractable foreskins at puberty and at 10 only 50% have started to retract. This at least adds weight to the argument that little boys don't even need to be taught how to clean themselves there until much, much later when they will be easily capable of doing it themselves. hey, we teach little girls how to wipe themselves. Do we think little boys aren't as clever?
Really...? *sigh*