Thursday, October 01, 2009

A Dad's View of Circumcision

This father (and smart man) wrote a great article on his experience and decision to keep his son intact. He needs some encouragement for absolutely doing the right thing by protecting his son ~ in case any intactivists out there would like to leave him a comment. :)

Post Here on newparent.com

And Here on momversion.com


My wife and I were concerned that our son might one day develop an ear infection, and our research indicated that, although extremely rare, it is possible for an ear infection to lead to more serious health problems … so, just hours after he was born, we had a doctor cut off his ears.

Completely insane, right? Then can someone please tell me how it ever became “routine” for parents to have part of their newborn sons’ penises lopped off?

The entire premise seems unconscionable to me. I’m supposed to believe that a healthy baby boy is perfect in every way except for that piece of skin covering the head of his penis? The same piece of skin that every baby boy is born with? Sorry; I’m not buying it.

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, she decided that, seeing as how I’m the one equipped with a penis, she would leave to me the decision about what to do with our son’s.

Full disclosure: My parents had the newborn me circumcised. I was born in 1970, a year that marked the beginning of a decade during which, according to Wikipedia, 91% of all male babies born in the U.S. were circumcised. I don’t blame my parents for their decision, given how prevalent male circumcision was at the time. That said, if given the chance for a do-over, I’d opt for staying intact.

As for my son, I had pretty much made up my mind from the word “go,” but I still did some research before setting anything in stone.

One of the pro-circumcision arguments I heard was that removing my son’s foreskin would remove with it the possibility that he would experience confusion or negative feelings about the fact that he looked different from his circumcised father. This did nothing to sway me any more than if I’d lost a limb earlier in life and someone suggested that, for uniformity’s sake, I have that same limb removed from my infant son’s body.

A related pro-circumcision argument I heard was that my uncircumcised son might feel embarrassed or self-conscious when the day comes that he shares a locker room with his circumcised peers. This also didn’t move me. I figured that, by the time he’s old enough to be in a locker room, he and I will have long ago discussed his uncircumcised penis, and that, in general, if his mother and I have done a relatively good job of parenting him up to that point, he’ll be comfortable with himself regardless. I also weighed in the fact that, thankfully, my generation seems to be less inclined to circumcise than was my parents’ generation (the previously referenced Wikipedia entry notes that circumcision of newborns in the U.S. had dropped to about 56% in 2003, the year my son was born), so it seemed like a safe bet that he wouldn’t be the only uncut guy in the locker room.

Other pro-circumcision arguments included findings about a decreased risk of contracting or passing along sexually transmitted diseases, but other corollary factors — to include the population used in the studies (one of the more widely referenced studies was conducted in the third-world country of Uganda) — caused me to question the applicability of those arguments as regarded my son, and proponents on both sides of the issue admit that practicing safe sex plays a far greater role in preventing the spread of STDs … so, again, I was far from convinced that circumcision was the answer.

And not that I needed any further convincing from the anti-circumcision crowd, but if I had, the potentially disastrous results of a botched circumcision would have been more than enough to persuade me. I can hardly imagine the guilt I would have felt if I had subjected my son to an unnecessary surgical procedure that had resulted in a bad outcome (and I’d argue that having part of your penis cut off is a bad outcome in and of itself). The thought of electively doing something to a newborn that could result in excessive bleeding, infection, or death, or that for the rest of his life could affect his ability to function sexually, was unacceptable, no matter how infinitesimal the odds of such an occurrence might be. Those odds dropped to zero when I decided to not have him circumcised. That was good enough for me.



My response to this post:

It is outstanding to read that you, as a young (cut) father yourself, took the initiative to dig into the research literature on this topic a bit more before cutting your own son -- not to mention acknowledging his basic human right of genital integrity. Kudos to you for this - someday he WILL be utterly grateful to you.

I am a professor of human sexuality with a specialization in health topics surrounding birth and babies. The prepuce ('foreskin' in boys or 'hood' in girls) and circumcision are subjects I have studied extensively and have had the opportunity to teach on at the university level for the past decade. The myths and misconceptions surrounding this topic are asinine. Even our medical personnel do not know what they are talking about most of the time. There is NO WHERE that accurate, research-based information is taught on the subject in the United States (not even in medical school). So it is no wonder most people end up getting their information from pop media news pieces and well-meaning (often misinformed) relatives.

The prepuce organ (certainly NOT 'just skin') is one that all mammals - both boys and girls (men and women) are born with. This organ (amputated via circumcision) has MANY vital, important functions and purposes (health, immunity, protection, sexuality, etc). Drs. Fleiss and Hodges (who have studied the prepuce and circumcision for 30+ years) wrote an excellent book titled, "What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Circumcision". I highly encourage everyone to read it. In the meantime, a chapter excerpt on "The Functions of the Foreskin" is here.

In response to someone else mentioning that they cut their son for reasons of 'cleanliness' - this is completely absurd. The prepuce is a self-cleaning organ AND in infancy and childhood it is 100% securely attached to the glans (head) of the clitoris (in girls) and penis (in boys). There is NOTHING you need to do to care for or 'clean' an intact baby's penis. One of my colleagues in pediatrics once told new parents the only thing they needed to care for their intact son was a ruler - to slap the hand of anyone who tried to 'mess with' their son's foreskin.

The best pediatric word of advice: INTACT = DON'T RETRACT. ONLY CLEAN WHAT IS SEEN.

If you haven't already checked out these articles on protecting our sons, they are outstanding resources by doctors in the field of human health and sexuality:

Protect Your Intact Son


Medical Tests: DO NOT RETRACT


Only Clean What is Seen

Ask the Experts

As far as the whole STD/HIV myth is concerned - fact of the matter is that every empirical study we have done in the United States over the past 30 years show that intact men above and beyond have less disease and illness of every kind (HIV included). In addition, on a worldwide scale, the U.S. has the highest rates of HIV of any developed nation and we also have (by far) the highest rates of circumcised adult men. The countries where 99% of men are intact have the LOWEST rates of STDs and HIV. This alone tells us something. The latest news report from Africa shows (no surprise here) that HIV is INCREASING rapidly among the groups of men who were circumcised.

In response to another person mentioning religious freedom to genitally mutilate our sons...We (in the U.S.) have outlawed, through the FGM Bill, any mutilation of baby girls for religious or non-religious reasons. Hopefully soon we pass the MGM Bill and afford our baby boys this same basic human right. The U.S. is the only developed, Western nation in the world to continue this practice - we speak out against female genital cutting but continue to do the same to 50% of our boys. Such hypocrites we are! Especially when the 2 forms of circumcision (male and female) in the United States share a common history.

I would encourage anyone who believes they are genitally cutting for religious reasons to dive into the subject further as well. If you are Christian, you will find that it is FULLY against what the early Christians taught, and how it is presented in the NT, by Jesus' followers, and the Christian Church.

If you are Jewish, hopefully you are well aware that cutting the blessing in antiquity was done in a MUCH different fashion than in modern day U.S. culture where we amputate the entire prepuce organ. While early Jews sliced the prepuce as a blood sacrifice of part of the covenant, Americans started the amputation practice in the late 1940s in an effort to curtail masturbation among men/boys. Thankfully, many Jews today are opting instead for a Brit Shalom rather than cutting their perfectly born sons.

I suspect there may be other fathers out there who read your words...Penn & Teller have recently done a few pieces that especially speak to fathers. As long as you're okay with their (sometimes crude) language, I'd encourage you to check out their documentary pieces.

Again, congrats to your son for having such an amazing, smart man as his father!! :)

Well done.

--


(I could not help but respond to another extremely misinformed comment left on this blog)


MrsM ~

It is frightening how misinformed you are. The prepuce organ has SO MANY monumentally important functions and purposes. It is certainly not a 'worthless piece of skin' - in fact, it is not even skin - it is a complex, multifaceted organ. PLEASE do a little more research on the topic. For starters, see The Purpose of the Prepuce.

In addition ~ while the stats you pulled from online CDC documents are not quoted in context, (and therefor not accurate) a few things should be pointed out about the supposed claims of prepuce amputation leading to greater health:

STDS:

The U.S. has the highest rate of circumcision of any Western nation (by FAR the highest as our rates are 50% and the next closest is Canada with a rate at 9%). We also have the HIGHEST rate of all STDs of any Western nation (including HIV). Developed nations where 98-99% of their boys/men remain intact have the lowest rates of STDs (including HIV). If circumcision 'protected' against diseases (which it certainly does not - it does JUST THE OPPOSITE)...but if it did, we would NOT see these figures to such an extreme and obvious degree. Again, reviewing some of the primary purposes of the prepuce will explain why we see these numbers.

The prepuce makes and emits its own antibodies, antivirals, and antibacterials -- it is a self-cleaning, protective organ that serves the immune system. The prepuce, the eye lids and the mammary glands are the only body organs that produce all these immune-supporting concoctions. For all these reasons it is not surprising that just this week the latest news from the African 'study' on Circumcision & HIV is that ALL the areas where we have been circumcising adult men in Africa are seeing exponentially higher rates of HIV. In addition, the study was ended early because so many WOMEN were contracting HIV from their circumcised male partners.

Condoms prevent STDs and HIV - not circumcision.

Cancer:

Men have a higher chance of getting BREAST CANCER (0.7% likelihood) than they do of getting penile cancer (0.09%). To argue that circumcision decreases the rate of penile cancer is like arguing that if we keep kids locked inside their bedroom their whole life they won't get struck by lightening outside. It is absurd. Yes, if you cut an organ off your body, you will not ever get cancer in that organ. Cut off the breasts, we will not get breast cancer. Skin a person, and we won't see melanoma. Maybe we should severe all organs & limbs & live as vegetables.

Cervical Cancer:

First, cervical cancer is (again) very rare. Second, it is easily treatable when malignant cells are found on the cervix - they are simply scraped off. It is one of the least 'scary' forms of malignancy. Third, only the rarest few strains of HPV are linked with cervical cancer (HPV is what we are 'worried' about when we talk about intact men spreading diseases to women). Fourth, repeated peer-reviewed, empirical, valid and reliable studies done in both the United States and Canada have shown that there is NOT A STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE in the rate of cervical cancer between those with sexual partners who are cut vs. intact. Specifically, the odds of getting cervical cancer go from 0.72% to 0.49% in large groups of women whose partners are intact vs. cut. Rather, what DOES significantly increase a woman's chance of contracting HPV (but not necessarily getting cervical cancer) include: having sexual partners without condoms prior to the age of 17; having 6 or more sexual partners without condoms; having sexual partners who have been with prostitutes. Again, condoms prevent HPV (and some cervical cancer instances), not circumcision.

UTIs:

Women/girls have a 900x greater likelihood of getting a UTI than men/boys. Should we cut off the prepuce organ of all girls at birth? Obviously they would 'benefit' more than the boys... No, of course not. Because UTIs are minor and EASILY and quickly treated with antibiotics. Among men/boys UTIs are very rare anyway, and when they do happen, they are almost always due to an unknowledgeable adult messing with/forcibly retracting/over-cleaning a baby boy's penis. UTIs RARELY occur when the prepuce organ is left alone. It has its own antibodies and sphincters to protect it from any invaders or infection. The prepuce is securely adhered to the glans (head) during infancy and childhood. The way we could better prevent these is to educate people on the prepuce: DON'T RETRACT! ONLY CLEAN WHAT IS SEEN!

Your statements remind me of something Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon recently told The New York Times in an interview. Ungar-Sargon is the Jewish film maker of the highly informative documentary, CUT: Slicing Through the Myths of Circumcision. (Watch/Buy Here: www.cutthefilm.com) After spending years researching this topic and studying with some of the 'experts' in the fields of human sexuality, human health, religion, history, and genital cutting, he concluded, "Circumcision was a cure in search of a disease. When you look through history, you see that whatever the scary disease of the generation was, that was the one that circumcision would help prevent. So in the early 20th century it was syphilis, a scary disease that there was no cure for then. Later, it was cancer. Then UTIs, and now HIV."

I wholeheartedly agree with what others (and Ungar-Sargon) have said -- genital cutting and the amputation of a healthy, functioning body organ from a non-consenting human being is a severe violation of human rights. If we did such a thing to a dog, we would be charged with animal abuse. And what we do to babies due to our own ignorance is certainly more criminal than that.

2 comments:

  1. YAY! I loved this post so much. In fact I referenced it in one of my newer blog posts opposing circumcision. Your son is very lucky, Daddy :) <3

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  2. Coming of age in my place and time, I was almost always the only intact fellow in the locker room. Given that my parents and my doctor had told me absolutely nothing about circumcision, I felt very self-conscious.

    But I think there were important positives. But I was never mocked or humiliated in middle or high school. I now appreciate that post high school, what my genitalia are like is strictly my business. Being intact did much to increase my sympathy for sexual minorities, especially the intersex and transgendered. Most of all, being intact led me to being more cautious and less triumphalist in my dealings with the fair sex.

    When I finally met the woman I married, I soon discovered that she climaxed every time with me, often more than once. For my part, I could enjoy intercourse with a condom. I discovered how the foreskin interacts nicely with his and her natural secretions. How playing with the foreskin and frenulum stimulates male precum, which my better half calls the "best known lubricant. You men lubricate, we women just get wet." 6 years of awkwardness as a teenager, followed by decades of better married sex -- I think I (and my spouse) got the better part of that bargain!

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