I bet a few (most?) of my friends on Facebook have had the thought that I am off my rocker for posting about circumcision lately. Honestly, a few years ago I would have thought the same thing. I never, ever, EVER thought that this would be something I would care so deeply about.
Admittedly, I didn’t do enough research before Colin was born in Arizona in 2007. I had read a few mainstream “pro & con” articles, and some of the pediatricians I interviewed touched on it, but like most things (including his name!) we were wishy-washy before we checked into the hospital.
When I met him for the first time – the single most amazing wonderful spectacular mind-blowing event of my life – I was literally IN SHOCK about how perfect he was.
A little bit later, the pediatrician came into the room and said, “First thing's first: Are you going to have him circumcised?”
Really? THAT is the first thing? REALLY? It just seemed so ludicrous to me in the midst of my new-mommy glow. I looked down at him. He was just. so. perfect. “Um…no…we’re not doing that to him.” Not the welcome to the world I envisioned for this perfectly whole wonderful gentle peaceful little being in my arms.
Fast forward to a couple months ago at Reid’s 4 month check up here in Germany, where he was born (my second son). I hadn’t given a single thought to the whole thing until Dr. Schaffer took off his diaper and, with a look of surprise said, “Wow, you’re American and he’s intact. That’s great!”
At that moment it struck me as funny that I literally didn’t give it a thought this time around. It wasn’t offered at the hospital in Germany, and it wasn’t even mentioned by a soul until Reid was 4 months old here, but in the U.S. it is the "first" thing?
That sparked something in me, and I started doing some research that very night. One of the first things I read on an intactivist website was, “Circumcision: the more you learn about it, the more you’re against it.” That has held true for me as I have continued to read and research all these nights since.
The single most striking argument against circumcision, in my mind, is that it is in fact not “just a useless piece of skin” as we have been taught to believe in the U.S.. The five most sensitive areas on the penis - significantly more sensitive than any other - are all in the foreskin.
As many as 70,000 (some experts say upwards of 100,000) highly-sensitive specialized nerves and 50-80% of the penis’ sensation are removed during circumcision, with the variance due to where the cutting attendant decides to make the cut. I simply could not fathom taking this away from my children for any of the supposed “pros” of circumcision. What would I say to them if they asked me later on why I thought it was okay to do that to them? How could anyone justify that?
When we hear that this is done to baby girls in other cultures, we are shocked and horrified. But we don’t recognize the utter hypocrisy in what we are doing to our precious infant boys.
I am so lucky to have had that initial experience with Colin. I have realized that if Reid had been born first, I might have just "gone with it" because "it's what you do" since my birth experience with Reid was traumatic and we did not experience that immediate magical bonding (we have more than made up for it since then ♥). There are many other important functions of the foreskin, but this one to me is the most striking. For more info, see the links at the bottom of this page on 'purposes of the prepuce' or Google 'foreskin function'.
Some will say “it’s cleaner” or “more hygienic" to circumcise infant boys. Interestingly, women get more infections and actually make more “smegma” than men, but we don’t suggest that we clip any extra skin from baby girls. We have these things called “baths.” Besides, I cannot think of many things less clean than a fresh surgical wound that sits in urine and feces ::shudder::
We get bacteria under our fingernails, but we don’t remove them at birth: we wash our hands. We get cavities, but we don’t remove our teeth: we get fillings. We even get athlete's foot and other unsavory things on our feet, but we don't remove our toes. You see where I am going with this.
Some will point to “less cancer” but only 1 in 100,000 men get penile cancer. 1 in 8 women get breast cancer, but we do not routinely perform mastectomies at any point in a girl's life to prevent it. If you think about it, if there is "less" of an organ, you have "less" of a chance of something going wrong with it. Maybe we should give smokers' lungs a lil "snip snip" in the name of preventative medicine!
My favorite myth is UTI prevention. Why the hell would you perform amputation surgery to prevent something that can be easily and quickly treated with ANTIBIOTICS? And is uncommon in boys to boot?
There is a lot in the news about AIDS and circumcision lately, as well. Even if these three trials were done well (which they weren't) or were conclusive (which they are not) or were related to the lifestyle and culture in the U.S. (which they aren't), circumcised or not, you still need to practice safe sex. Would you have unprotected sex with an HIV positive partner if you were circumcised and your risk of contracting HIV might be somewhat lower than an intact man? Of course not. You have to wear a condom anyway, so what’s the point? Additional interesting information on this subject can be found at The Nuts and Bolts of HIV in the USA and why Circumcision Won't Protect Men. See also, Doctors Reject Circumcision as HIV Prevention. There are excellent links and an interview with "America's Doctor," Dr. Dean Edell, on this very topic here.
When it comes to any of the "medical" reasons given for infant circumcision, all you have to do is look at Europe, where the surgery is simply not done. Is there a raging STI/AIDS epidemic in Europe because of all that foreskin running around? No. In fact, HIV rates are much lower than in the U.S., where we should have protection from the disease because of the high rate of circumcision, right? Are there legions of adult men lining up for the procedure because of all the problems their pathological foreskin has caused them? No. Many problems "caused by" the prepuce in the U.S. are, unfortunately, actually caused by American medical professionals not knowing the correct way to care for a natural penis. (The foreskin should never be retracted for any reason by anyone other than the person to whom it belongs.)
You will also hear people say they want their baby's penis to look like their dad's penis. I personally do not recall comparing my genitals to my mother’s, but maybe we were weird. I still don’t see what would be so awful about having an honest conversation about the fact that some parents have circumcised in the past, and some don’t. “My parents decided to do this to me when I was born, but we thought you were perfect the way you were born and wanted to leave the choice up to you.” Would it be so traumatic to have that conversation? Or the “locker room comparison” reason. Today, according to the CDC, about 68% of boys in the U.S. are left intact. As the tide turns, I would think that the boys who are missing a body part will be the ones to suffer.
Some people think it's less painful for a newborn. Anybody who says this doesn't realize that A) an older person can be safely and adequately anesthetized (unlike a newborn) and can express the need for pain medication afterward and safely receive it, and B) a baby's foreskin is tightly fused to the head of the penis just like your fingernail to your finger -- so it has to be ripped away first. An adult's foreskin has already separated naturally, so this excruciatingly painful part of the procedure is unnecessary. Furthermore, there is some guesswork on a baby's penis -- it hasn't grown at all and is still very tiny. Remove too little and the procedure may have to be repeated, too much and he will suffer from painful erections for a lifetime. Again, because the adult's prepuce will have already separated, and his penis is already full-grown, this is a non-issue. Not to mention the fact that at this point, the owner of the penis will have a say in the decision.
The bottom line is: if somebody strapped you down and removed part of your genitals without your consent, would you feel like your rights were violated? What if someone did the same to your daughter? I cannot understand how it could be considered different for a little boy. I recently read an online discussion between teenage boys on the subject and one said, "Every time I look at my mutilated dick, I want to punch my mom in the face." It's shocking, but he has every right to feel that way. His basic human rights were violated.
Living in Europe -- where circumcision surgery is simply not done -- has shed light on my own cultural bias. Here, there aren't babies, little boys, or even grown men walking around with any medical issues due to their intact foreskin (as they are cared for properly), or resenting their parents for making the choice to keep them intact. There are no debates, no concerns, over boys feeling different in the locker room, no parents stressing over how to explain why daddy or anybody else looks different. There are no babies welcomed to the world with an act of violence against them, no mothers sobbing in hospital beds filled with grief and regret over letting someone hurt their perfect newborn baby. In short, they are blissfully ignorant of all the strife associated with infant circumcision, and their boys are not suffering because of this. Instead, AIDS rates are lower here. Rumor has it that European men make excellent lovers, which is not surprising as they have all the parts nature intended them to have. And the vast majority feel that what U.S. parents do to their baby boys is barbaric - and they're right! Just step back and think about it for a moment. We are taking knives to babies' genitals! For no reason...
There are so, so, so many more reasons and myths out there, and I could go on, and on and on, but alas I am a busy mom and Reid just woke up and I put him in the neglectasaucer so I could finish this. I really encourage you to evaluate your ideas about this issue, which is such a hidden but significant part of our culture. The rest of the world simply does not circumcise for non-religious reasons. Why did it become custom in the U.S. you might be wondering? To prevent masturbation, which was considered "self abuse" at the time. Yes, I'm serious. And even among the religious, the attitudes are swiftly changing. Some of the most passionate intactivists today are Jewish fathers, mothers and doctors.
I just can’t stop... [Hold on Reid! I’m gonna getcha...] and I haven't even really been able to touch on the things that can and do go wrong with circumcision surgery... A good starting point to continue reading: Are You Fully Informed? It may be a good question to ask.
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Audrey Bryk is a full-time mom currently living in the Taunus hills of Germany. She hopes to return to the states one day to find a generation of American children blissfully ignorant of the practice of genital mutilation.
Read More from Bryk:
Foreskin: It's Not 'Icky'
Read More from Bryk:
Foreskin: It's Not 'Icky'