Image via http://www.stopinfantcircumcision.org
Before I became pregnant, things like circumcision never crossed my mind. Then I found out I was having a boy, which I dreaded because I had to make *that* choice... To circumcise or to leave intact? I was pretty sure from the get-go that I would leave him be - why mess with what didn't need messing with? I didn't have a partner to argue with over it. The choice at that point was all mine. I consulted a few friends on the matter - both new parents and peppered pros; both parents who chose to circumcise and those who left their children intact; doctors of mine and my child's. The following are some of the questions I raised (from hearing of potential problems) and some responses I got; additionally there's some commentary from me.
1. Won't boys make fun of him if they see he's intact?
-From an early-50's dad of two: "Aren't you worried when he goes to school that he'll look 'different?' Different isn't always better"
-From a mid-40's dad of three intact boys: "Hell no! What do you think boys do in the locker room? Sit and stare at each other's junk? No one's looking! It's all 'Eyes Up!' in there!"
Additionally, the rates of circumcision in the United States (where it is most prevalently done for non-religious reasons) have been steadily on the decline - In 2010, it is estimated that only about 1/3 of parents chose to circumcise their sons, meaning that 2/3 of boys have been left intact. By the time Kola reaches locker room stage, he may just be in the majority on the turtleneck scale.
2. Should he look like his father "down there" even if his father isn't around?
-From a 20-somethings-mom-friend: "[My husband] wanted our son to look like him. It's hard to convince him otherwise when most of the information refers to it as torture, mutilation, or worse."
-From a 30-something-friend: "You want him to look normal, right? [His Dad] was cut, right? It's not that big of a deal."
I'm not going to go into who specifically I know is or is not intact in my family or what reasons there were behind it (and I know most of them...), but I don't like this logic. I know on my father's side, all of the boys are not intact. My grandma told me. All of her boys were born between 1950 and 1970(ish). There was not an option to not do it - it was just done. On my mother's side, I can only presume that most of the boys (cousins included) are intact - they were born overseas where circumcision just isn't really done (plus they aren't Jewish). I agree that some language might need revamping to appeal to a broader audience in pro-intact literature. Realistically, though, I do feel it is a form a mutilation (as it even states in the Bible per the Letters of Paul) and should be seen akin to female genital mutilation - the prepuce, which is the organ removed in either surgery, is evolutionarily the same organ in both males and females. Whether it's a hood or a turtleneck, it doesn't need to be removed, least of all reasons for aesthetics to make a father feel like his son is... more like him?
Circumcision is a big deal. It's been shown to interrupt the bonding between mother and child; disrupt a healthy breastfeeding relationship; cause emotional trauma later in life; create sexual dysfunction as a man matures. One reason so many American men may be suffering from erectile dysfunction is the abuse their penises are put through by circumcision - they are meant to be sheltered, warm and soft - instead they are hardened, exposed, and calloused, decreasing sensitivity and causing damage in the long run. Not a big deal? I don't agree.
3. Isn't it cleaner? Doesn't it help lower the transmission of STI's and incidence of UTI's?
- From a pediatrician in the hospital, then at Kola's first Well-Check Visit (NOT his regular provider... another at the same practice): "There is plenty of evidence that circumcision plays a role in the decreased transmission of HIV as studied in African populations. It's also much cleaner and easier to care for." At first visit: "Try to start retracting the foreskin if you're not going to have him circumcised. You need to be cleaning in there. You don't want him to get a UTI."
- From Kola's REAL Pediatrician: "There's no reason to retract the foreskin on an infant or child - It will do so on it's own when it's ready. It's a self-cleaning organ, that you don't need to bother with. Just wipe it off when you change his diaper and otherwise leave it be. Call me if you notice any irregularities."
The evidence that circumcision abates the transmission of STIs, particularly HIV, is founded largely in poor scientific reasoning from flawed studies in parts of the world where HIV and AIDS rates are far higher and much more concentrated than in the United States. With proper care and washing, an intact penis is no more likely to catch nasties than a circumcised one (now, there is some compelling evidence that transmission of lesion-based infections, ie. herpes, syphilis, may be more likely in an intact male who does not wash after intercourse). I would hope that my son will be smart enough to use condoms if engaging in intercourse and that he won't be doing it with questionable partners. Condoms fit perfectly well on an intact penis, and there is no shortage of availability. As far as STI transmission goes, if a male is having safe sex (ie. using a condom), the risk for STI transmission goes down considerably to near none.
As far as it being cleaner, this is also not true. Aesthetically, smegma is not a pretty sight - the small white waxy curdles that make their way out of most genitalia. Girls get it, too. And while looking somewhat repulsive, it's actually a sign of cleanliness! Our bodies are miraculous in their means of self-sustainability. Smegma is nothing more than sloughed cells, moisture, maybe some bacteria, that is making it's way out of the moist crevices (we all have 'em) and into the world, ie. being cleaned from the body. It might make it more difficult for a student nurse assistant to insert a catheter, but it's certainly not cleaner.
4. Doesn't it hurt the baby? Don't they use anaesthesia? Do I have to get it done?
From my OB: "It's a quick procedure. There is no anaesthesia, but it's very quick. It's your choice to have it done for him, or not. There's no medical reason to have it done; it's more of a religious or social thing. You don't have to do it."
From my 30-something year old friend of a 3 year old: "It was quick. They took him for 20 minutes and brought him back asleep. He was fine, and it healed within two weeks. He cried when it got stuck to his diaper, but other than that I don't think it bothered him."
Circumcision hurts. Not all procedures are done with anaesthetics. Most are not. A child is strapped - STRAPPED - with arm and leg restraints into a small tray, reminiscent of a dissection tray from the frog lab in high school. A set of forceps are used to manually separate the prepuce from the glans. The prepuce is pulled forward and a clamp is place over the tissue holding it above the glans. A snip is made and done. I watched the following video and knew my decision was made...
My above commentary should explain why I support Genital Autonomy - an individual's right to choose. I am somewhat more understanding of the sacred religious rites that Muslims and Jews perform in the name of tradition, although alternatives are certainly offered (ie. a Brit Shalom). I, regardless, do not feel that it is anybody's choice but one's own when it comes to fates of their genitals. Should a true medical reason arise and the surgery is not a cosmetic one, circumcision is justified. If someone's child, left intact, chooses to have the surgery done at a later point in life, that is their choice, that as an adult, they consent to. Out of all of the mammals inhabiting our planet, humans are the only ones to amputate a useful, protective organ at birth. I hope that this post serves to make future mothers and fathers think before committing to mutilating their child in the name of aesthetics. Yes, I feel strongly about this, and I apologize if I've offended. At some point, we all need to compromise on a bit of humanity. If God intended men to have foreskins, they would be born with them.
We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
What's your take on Genital Autonomy, Routine Infant Circumcision, and Infant Genital Mutilation? Why? Why not? Respectfully share your experiences, thoughts, and questions in the comments section or on the FaceBook.