Leave Your Son’s Penis Alone:

April 9, 2007

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Well, I’ve spent the past week researching circumcision in order to be able to present accurate information and “informed consent” to the expecting parents I work with. I’ve done this with many issues so far, and I really do try to present as unbiased a presentation as possible. I myself have 3 children, and I have personally been through the major decisions, like where to birth and whether or not to vaccinate. And although I feel strongly about both of these issues, I can understand that different people come to different conclusions for their own lives, and I have to respect that.

But I cannot do that with the issue of circumcision.

I have a stack of studies, articles, pamphlets, pictures and video. And there is not one paper, one sentence I have read that would EVER make routine circumcision (that is, circumcision done for any other reason except religious beliefs) plausible enough for me to act unbiased.

What might even convince the most conservative parents is that even the medical community, for the most part, does not recommend routine infant circumcision. That is music to my ears, really, since almost every other issue has my beliefs at odds with those of most doctors. But, circumcision we can agree on. Did you know that the US is the ONLY country to practice non-ritual circumcision?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has said that “the data is not sufficient enough to recommend routine neonatal circumcision” (1999), and the Work Group on Breastfeeding for the AAP discourages any “stressful procedures” since they may interfere with breastfeeding. There is even an organization called Doctors Opposing Circumcision (DOC) which is trying to get medical doctors to stand up and refuse to be part of this barbaric procedure. They focus not only on the physical abuse of this “surgery”, but the fact that any surgery must be done for a valid reason and that performing routine circumcisions are a violation of the medical ethics-namely the first rule which is, First, Do No Harm.

There are lists of “myths” that have been perpetuated about leaving your son intact (non-circumcised). For those that haven’t done the research yet, “cleanliness” is the biggest hurdle. Somehow it has been communicated that being intact is less clean, more difficult to keep clean, etc. There is absolutely no medical anything to back this up, and the proof is in just doing it. Keeping an intact penis “clean” is no different than teaching your son to brush his teeth or clean his ears. It is just a ridiculous and invalid argument that has somehow survived.

Other “myths” revolve around rates of infections (like UTIs) or percentages of cancer in those that are left intact. I have not read one medical study that has made me rethink my bias, because the evidence just isn’t there. The American Cancer Society has said, (in response to the possibility of increased penile cancer rates in those left intact) “circumcision is not of value in preventing cancer of the penis”.

So, if the medical evidence is not there, why do parents in the US feel the need to do this to their baby? Circumcision rates are definitely declining, down from about 90% to as low as 35% on the west coast. Clearly, there are parents that are not following the pack any more but many still are. Why??

I have heard so many fathers argue that because they were circumcised, their boys should be. What on earth kind of reasoning is that? That’s like saying your kids should be blind if you are, since you live your life just fine and can manage ok. Don’t we want what is BETTER for our children?

And the argument about “looking different” than everybody else. First of all, that can’t hold up as the circumcision rate declines. More and more boys every year are being left intact, and it is not as “weird” as it used to be. But really, what are we trying to teach our boys? That we made a conscious choice to remove a vital, natural, normal part of their bodies so that they could avoid some teasing?

My favorite illustration of this concept is from a pamphlet “When Your Baby Boy Is Not Circumcised”, written by Edward Wallerstein.

”If parents are comfortable with their decision, it is easily explained. In one family, the father was circumcised and the son was not. At about age 3, the boy asked his father about the obvious differences. The father told his son: “When I was a boy, they thought it was a good idea to cut off that part of the penis”. The son thought for a minute and said: “That’s dumb.” And that was the end of the discussion.”

If you are still not convinced, take a look at a video of a circumcision by clicking on one of the related links. If you can manage to get through the whole thing, you might be asking some different questions of yourself. And one day, your son may thank you.

Circumcision Video

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  1. Meredith Ryan says:

    Thank you for this article. It seems there are so many parents out there who feel it is ridiculous NOT to circumcise simply because it’s just what’s always been done. What a terrible reason to hurt your precious baby! The myths you have mentioned die hard but if more people will talk openly about this subject and share this information we will soon see a change in the way this “surgery” is viewed.

  2. Meredith Ryan says:

    Thank you for this article. It seems there are so many parents out there who feel it is ridiculous NOT to circumcise simply because it’s just what’s always been done. What a terrible reason to hurt your precious baby! The myths you have mentioned die hard but if more people will talk openly about this subject and share this information we will soon see a change in the way this “surgery” is viewed.

  3. Jan says:

    Maryn, I'm with you. I'm also a CPM and have this same “bias”, as you call it. I circumcised my first son because I was uninformed and left the decision to my husband (and my son was born in the hospital, where having it done was easy and mindless). But 8 years later, my 2nd, homeborn son was left intact. So I've parented boys both ways and really regret my thoughtless choice to deprive my older son of a part of his body that has many functions. Our bodies don't come with parts they don't need!! And really, it wasn't my choice to make. Cleanliness?? Oh , please…. Our daughters are much more difficult to clean, but we don't talk about just cutting it all out.So I too have not been able to present the information as “just another option”, as if one choice is just as good as the other. As with breastfeeding, there is only one “right” choice in this issue. And so I tell my clients that I will be presenting them with information. I send them a detailed email with links to many articles and a couple of videos. I discuss it with them at length. And then, I have to let it go. Most of my clients do not choose the procedure, but some still do…. and I just don't get it. But I feel better for having tried to stand up for the genital rights of their sons.

  4. jordan681 says:

    The “clean” argument always irritates me, simply because people bandy it about without even THINKING.

    “Oh it's so much cleaner.” Can this be said from experience? How many people saying this had a foreskin, and then got circumcised and saw the “difference?” How many of the people saying this are women, who never even HAD a penis?

    Do people ever stop and think that a woman also develops “smegma?” Why is it only acceptable for a woman to take care of this problem with a shower, but not a man? If an anatomically correct penis is left to collect smegma, yes, it will begin to smell. But you know what, so will an unwashed vulva. WHY is THIS not a problem? “Meh but female circumcision is different…” and then people change the subject because “clean” doesn't cut it anymore.

    As for the reduced UTIs, simply google “Haaretz” and “UTI.” In Israel, it has been found that circumcision UPS UTIs. Figure THAT one out. I also know many men on Facebook who, despite their circumcisions, get constant UTIs. I want to find each and every one of these cases and staple it to Thomas Wiswell's HEAD.

    The “because daddy is” argument fails when you think of any other body part. What if daddy lost a testicle to cancer? Or his prostate? Could a father then tell a doctor “doctor, I lost a testicle, and if my son is allowed to keep both testicles, then he will just not look like me. Remove my son's testicle!”? And, is the doctor expected to oblige because “well, his parents said…”?

    When are father and son EVER going to sit around comparing penises? And shouldn't a guy be worried if his girlfriend told him “Wow! You look just like your dad!” (stole that one…)

    It really is astounding that even though the American Cancer Society has said that circumcision can't be used to prevent penile cancer, circumcision proponents can't seem to get this one off their list. In late newspaper articles, people can actually be quoted saying that circumcision “might” prevent prostate cancer. PROSTATE CANCER. HERE IN THIS COUNTRY. WHERE 80% OF THE MEN ARE CIRCUMCISED, yet 1 in 6 MEN GET PROSTATE CANCER. Are these people SERIOUS. The word “desparate” comes to mind.

    But here is the bottom line; with out an actual medical condition that commands prompt circumcision, how is it that doctors are even PERFORMING circumcision in healthy, non-consenting infants, let alone elicit some sort of “decision” from parents? What other procedures are doctors obliged to perform on healthy, non-consenting children on a parents' whim? Or is his duty NOT to medicine?

    When writing all these articles and “studies,” why doesn't ANYONE address the ethic of permanently disfiguring a healthy, non-consenting child's most intimate organs? FOR LIFE???

    Some people INSIST that circumcising a healthy infant isn't “injury, mutilation or physical harm.” What are they SMOKING. The AAP was let known by human rights activists that we will not allow doctors to perform as much as a “ritual nick” in girls. We are up in arms about a “nick” that wouldn't remove anything, but ripping a child's foreskin from the head of his penis, sticking it through a clamp, crushing it and slicing it off is perfectly acceptable??? Double-standard, thy name is America.

    May one day infant baby boys enjoy the same human rights and protection as baby girls.

  5. anonymous says:

    you are by far the dumbest bitch that ive ever knew. yes it is much cleaner. i am a male, i do have a penis. i was 19 when i had to have a circumcision because it got infected. do you know how bad it hurts when you have to have one at the age of 19? yea you cant feel it when your a baby. Its not done just out of religious beliefs. Besides, how nasty looking is an uncircumcised penis? do you like suck on a slug look alike. cause i know you give crazy head. or would you rather have a clean cut mushroom head with some definition for ya.

    and btw jordan, how the hell do you call it mutilation? you dumb ass, stupid cunt son of a bitch. your all fucking idiots.

  6. Puppyinablender says:

    I'd just like to ask exactly how does disagreeing with what most people say make you a 'free-thinker'? You're just as conformed as everyone else. You're just conformed to your 'free-thinking' ways as the conservatives are to their conservative ways. Sooo you can't REALLY define that as 'free-thinking'. I say that parents should have the right to choose whether or not they want their son circumcised, whether the answer be a yes or a no. I know plenty of guys that have a circumcised penis and are happy with it, likewise with the uncircumcised. Yes, forced circumcision is stupid, but so is not allowing people a choice whether or not they want their own son to be circumcised…because there is nothing wrong with either one of them. I think uncircumcised ones look a little funny though, but that's just me. Also, I know some guys that are uncircumcised that wish they had been when they were younger because there is no way in hell that they're doing that now. Too painful.

    If only there were a way to ask babies if they WANTED to be circumcised or not…. hmmmmmm… maybe we should invent something that'll help us with that decision instead…something involving a time machine and something that reads brain waves…

  7. Parents DO have the right to choose circumcision or not, but by not providing some kind of information that goes against the status quo, we AREN'T truly giving parents a “choice”- or more specifically, an informed choice. And as far as the comment, “there is nothing wrong with either of them” (circumcised or intact), I'd say this. You're right- because, it isn't so much whether a penis is circumcised or not. It is the fact that, as you mentioned, we cannot ask these babies and it is being done before they can make a decision for themselves and their bodies. And finally, being against circumcision could not be defined as “conformist” as it is a fact that circumcision rates are higher in the US than any other country. Clearly, the majority does still circumcise, but thankfully, the rate of boys being left intact is on the rise.

  8. @Puppyinablender: Last time I checked, every baby in the world says a loud “NO!” to circumcision. We just don't listen to them screaming and crying as part of their penis is removed. Parents don't have the right to inflict this on children, girls or boys. No way. End of story.

  9. vikinggirl says:

    Puppyinablender you make the same ignorant assumption so many people make in discussing this subject… Why do you claim a baby feels less pain being circumcised than an adult? This is simply the biggest myth of all….Just because a baby can't express in words how traumatised he is by the pain of being cut (and of the raw wound he's left with) that doesn't mean he isn't. Causing pain to an newborn has been shown by scientists to do IRREVERSIBLE damage to their underdeveloped nervous system. Put simply they are not ready to cope with pain the way an older individual is.. It's OVERWHELMING for them. Please read this article by British scientists at the forefront of pain research and weep at the damage being done to thousands of America's sons, every single day and the lies doctors tell their parents when they say, he 'it hurt but he won't remember it'

    And even leaving aside pain, what about complications? The risks of circumcising are far far greater in the neonatal period – he's got an underdeveloped immune system so is more vulnerable to being overwhelmed by infection (babies die of infection caught through the circ wound every year), he can die from losing just 2 tablespoons of blood (which you wouldn't even see outside his nappy), and the damage done from ripping the foreskin from the glans and exposing the latter to unaturally to urine and abrasion means he's got a 2-10% chance of suffering a narrowed urethra. This may be why many circumcised men experienced pain on urination during their childhood, and is probably why adults who were circumcised as infants are twice as likely to report urethritis..

    The only reason you want to do it to a baby is because he's helpless and can't fight back. Why not come clean and admit that?

  10. Thank you, Maryn, and the other CPMs who have commented, for speaking up for baby boys. The volume of the voices of midwives is increasing all the time. Keep up the great work. Here's a link to a lawyer at Doctors Opposing Circumcision talking about the “marketing” of male genital mutilation over the past 50 years.
    Gloria Lemay, Vancouver BC Canada

  11. Amber C. says:

    I'm sorry, but YOU are the one who needs to do a little free thinking, it shouldn't be left up to a parent whether or not they are allowed to mutilate their child's genitalia, because it isn't their genitalia. You know, in some places in Africa it is perfectly normal and acceptable to mutilate a little girl's genitalia, her mother and other female relatives hold down her arms and legs and sew her labia together so that she can't have sex before she is married. They find this necessary because traditionally a man won't marry a woman that hasn't been mutilated in this way. That is “circumcision” in that country, you know whats funny is, their men are intact. Now just think how you'd feel if your daughter were the one being circumcised…

    Anesthesia is much more easily administered to an adult for the removal of foreskin, and at least then its HIS choice!

  12. Pilotdrew says:

    Parents have a choice?? Right!!
    My son is now 7 months and was born with Cystic dysplasia (Born with only one working Kidney and it is placed in the pelvis) . The nephology doctors have recommended circumcision for my son as his ureter is shorter and will be more prone to bladder and kidney infections.
    After this we have tried for 7 months and have now been told we have to wait till he is now 1 yrs old. I cannot believe all of the religious anti-Semitism in your article and ignorance on your part and it seems the medical industry has done the same. It seems to have more difficult for people to get this done as a choice for our children. I tell you this as a father I want to do the best for my son and my family and children in general. If my son is blocked by any doctor or physician from getting this procedure and my son ends up losing his only working kidney due their religious bias and ignorance I will bring a world of pain financially and otherwise to their door steps. It people like you fanatics that want to push their beliefs on everyone else makes me sick! You should be ashamed of yourself. Let people believe what they want and do what they want without you trying to shove your crap down our throats?
    Choice my ass! Grow up and let us chose what is good for our children!!

  13. Myles says:

    Anti-semitism in the article?

    LOL, whut? 



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We are mamas and midwives who decided to do birth differently– and bring others along with us. We are radical, fun to work with, and great at (lovingly) calling people on their bullshit to help move us all towards a new more beautiful world. With 12 children and over two decades of midwifery between us, we’ve learned a thing or two along the way, and Indie Birth is our space to share it all with you.

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