Thought I feel incredibly passionate about this topic, and I believe all infant boys should be left whole, I’m going to try to present facts in a way that is non-judgmental.
First, a little information about what circumcision is, and how the foreskin works…
Circumcision is the amputation of some or all the foreskin tissue on a male. The foreskin is a normal, functioning body part that every boy is born with. In infants and young boys, the foreskin is attached to the head of the penis (glans) and serves as a protective sheath, acting much like a sphincter. The foreskin is made of fibrous tissue that opens just enough to allow urine to pass out, and then closes to prevent urine and feces from causing issues with the urinary tract and penis. The foreskin will naturally separate from the glans over time, allowing the foreskin to become retractile. Circumcision makes the glans become an external organ, toughening the skin and lowering sensitivity because it is no longer protected by the foreskin.
Circumcision was not commonly practiced until the 1800′s. It was touted as the “cure” for masturbation. At that time, it was believed that masturbation was the cause of all sorts of ailments, including insanity.
This is currently the only cosmetic procedure performed routinely on a patient without their consent.
Moving on to some myths and misconceptions:
1. Cleaning an intact penis is more difficult than cleaning a circumcised penis.
This is simply not true. For infants and young boys, you simply clean what is seen. Wipe the penis like a finger when doing diaper changes, and during baths, simply wash the outside with mild soap and water. There is no need to retract the foreskin to clean underneath, and in fact, doing so would be quite painful for the child. Once the foreskin becomes retractile on its own (anywhere between 5 and 15 years old on average) your son can simply pull back the foreskin when bathing, wash and rinse well, and then replace the foreskin over the head of the penis. Teaching your son to properly bathe himself isn’t difficult.
2. A boy should look like his father/brothers. Or, He will be made fun of in the locker room.
I don’t know many fathers who compare their penis to their sons, do you? The fact of the matter is, your son will never have a penis that looks exactly like his fathers. If your husband or significant other was missing a limb, would you remove your sons limb to match? If your sons nose wasn’t enough like his fathers, would you give him a nose job?
As for the locker room argument, chances are that by the time your son is changing for PE in school, circumcised boys will be in the minority. The rate of infant circumcision is declining as more information comes to light about it.
3. Circumcision prevents disease. (Cancer, HIV, AIDS, other STD’s.)
Cancer: It is true, if you cut something off it can’t give you cancer. But the rate of penile cancer in the United States is lower than the rate of breast cancer in men. In fact, more infant boys die from complications during circumcision (117 per year on average) than men who die from penile cancer. The United States is the only country in the entire world where infant circumcision is routine. About 70% of the entire world is intact.
HIV/AIDS/STD’s: The World Health Organization and UNAIDS have come to recommend circumcision as an HIV/AIDS preventative measure. Infant circumcision is not a valid form of HIV prevention.1 The WHO and UNAIDS stance is for adult males, not infants. Since when is an infant at risk for sexually transmitted diseases?
Even WHO/UNAIDS agree that circumcision is not a totally effective means of preventing HIV. “Circumcision is much less effective than condom use at preventing HIV transmission. If used correctly every time a person has sex, condoms provide highly effective protection against HIV infection, whereas circumcision only prevents around 50 percent of infections. Even if a man has been circumcised, he must still abstain, be faithful or use condoms to substantially cut his risk of infection.”2 (One should note that this study was done in Africa, where the rate of HIV transmission is much higher than in the United States.) Also good to note: “Any circumcised man having regular unprotected sex over time will ultimately carry the same risk of HIV exposure and increase the risk of his partner, especially if he falls prey to the belief that he is protected from HIV. Already, throughout Africa, men are beginning to believe that they do not need to wear a condom because they are circumcised.”3
One might assume that if circumcision helped prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS, that the United States would see a correlation between the number of circumcised men and a low number of HIV/AIDS cases. However, the United States has the highest rate of routine infant circumcision among all industrialized nations, with about 70% of adult males in the country being circumcised. We also have the highest rate of AIDS.
4. A circumcised penis is cleaner than an intact penis.
A circumcised penis is no cleaner or dirtier than an intact one. Suggesting that circumcision will make for a cleaner penis is ludicrous. Both men and women have a prepuce. (Foreskin or clitoral hood.) Women have more naturally occurring bacteria in the genital area than men. We do not suggest circumcision for women as a means of cleanliness, we simply promote proper hygiene, so why would we use cleanliness as a justification for infant circumcision?
5. Female circumcision is worse than male circumcision.
They are both equally heinous.
Even the most “mild” form of female circumcision (Type IV, “pricking,” poking the clitoral hood with a needle to withdraw a single drop of blood. No erogenous tissue is removed.) is illegal in the United States. All forms of female circumcision have been illegal in the United States since 1997.
Male circumcision removes the most sensitive part of the penis. 4 The foreskin contains roughly ten to twenty thousand fine-touch nerve endings. 5 (I have read more recently that it is actually 20-40k.) The clitoral hood contains only 8000 of these nerve endings. Both male and female circumcision significantly diminishes sexual function and pleasure.6
One could play devils advocate and say that female circumcision is far less severe than male circumcision based upon the number of nerve endings removed and the resultant lack of sensation. And yet the vast majority of people would say that female circumcision is worse. Why the double standard? In a country where we all must fight for the right of equality, shouldn’t genital integrity be equal among the sexes?
6. I’m Jewish, so my sons must be circumcised.
More and more Jewish men are voicing their opinions on keeping their sons intact. Jews Against Circumcision provides information on how to speak with your Rabbi about not circumcising your son, including an alternative to the “Covenant of Blood” for those wishing to convert to Judaism. You can even have a traditional naming ceremony in the form of a Brit Shalom. (As opposed to a Brit Milah.) 7
7. Infants can’t feel pain, so it’s better to do it when they’re young.
Infants can feel pain. They actually have a higher sensitivity to pain than those who are older. Doctors often provide inadequate pain relief, and sometimes none at all. Because most circumcisions are performed around 3 days old, doctors are still unsure of the dosage of pain medication that would be sufficient for the procedure. The most common form of pain relief during circumcision is a penile nerve block. However, because the top and bottom of the penis are controlled by different nerves, the nerve block can numb the top of the penis and leave the bottom as if no numbing was provided at all.
This is a video of an infant circumcision. You can not watch that and tell me that child was not in excruciating pain.
To wrap up…
Routine infant circumcision is an unnecessary, painful, cosmetic procedure often performed for social reasons. Not a single medical organization in the world recommends circumcision for infants. 8 The United States is the only country in the world where infant circumcision is routinely practiced, but thankfully that number is going down. (~32% of all infant boys in 2009.)
Please consider leaving your son intact. Even if you yourself are pro circumcision, why not let the choice be his? He can always be circumcised later in life, but you can put his foreskin back. Allow your son to make such a life altering decision for himself.
- “Circumcision of infants or other minors has no place among HIV control…; proposals such as these should be rejected.” ↩
- Circumcision & HIV ↩
- SAMA denounces circumcision of infants. ↩
- Reference this chart from the British Journal of Urology. ↩
- Losses from Circumcision, Dr. Peter Ball, MB ↩
- SAMA denounces circumcision of infants. ↩
- Info about the Brit Shalom. ↩
- The AAP stance on RIC. ↩