Monday, April 14, 2014

The Kind Mama: Alicia Silverstone on Circumcision

Excerpt from Alicia Silverstone's latest book, The Kind Mama: A Simple Guide to Supercharged Fertility, a Radiant Pregnancy, a Sweeter Birth, and a Healthier, More Beautiful Beginning, available online and in bookstores April 15. Learn more from Silverstone at her website, TheKindLife.com


One day, I was wondering out loud to Christopher whether we should circumcise our baby if we had a boy. My instinct was that it just didn't feel right, while Christopher was more curious about whether not circumcising would mean our kid would feel different. We both decided to give it some thought and maybe let the universe speak its piece. One day, Christopher was out running errands, and in a shop he came across a group of cute girls. Risking looking like a total perv, he asked if any of them had had sex with a guy who was uncut. "Yeah," one said. "And how was it?" "Best sex of my life." Score one for no circumcision.

Then we were at a pediatrician meet-and-greet, and the doctor spoke about how unhealthy he felt circumcision was - that it made the penis shorter, that it was more painful, and that it was basically deemed unnecessary in the medical community. Hmm.

After that, I was hanging out with a friend and her son at the pool, and I noticed he wasn't circumcised. "Is that an undone penis?" I asked. "Yeah," she said. So I asked, "Has it ever been an issue that his penis was different than his dad's?" "His penis wouldn't match his dad's anyway!" she said. "His dad's is so much bigger and has hair all over it. And by the time they do look more alike, they're not going to be side-by-side comparing." Good point.

Then Bear was born. I was raised Jewish, so the second my parents found out they had a male grandchild, they wanted to know when we'd be having a bris (the circumcision ceremony traditionally performed 8 days after a baby boy is born). When I said we weren't having one, my dad got a bit worked up. He couldn't understand why not - I mean, it's what our people have been doing for a really long time. Then he started listing reasons for doing it, like uncircumcised penises were hard to keep clean and can get infected, and that it doesn't hurt the baby - although I'm pretty sure most babies scream and cry at their bris. But my thinking was: If little boys were supposed to have their penises 'fixed,' did that mean we were saying that God made the body imperfect? He made all this incredible stuff, and then he just happened to make the penis wrong?

When Christopher, Bear and I were over at our friend's house hanging out in the pool, I started talking about my dad's not-so-happy reaction about Bear not being cut. And I told them about my dad's concern that Bear wouldn't fit in; that he worried about other kids giving Bear a hard time because he looked different. As if on cue, the four other moms there lifted their naked little babies out of the pool - not one was circumcised.

We're in a new world! According to a 2010 analysis from the National Center for Health Statistics, the percentage of newborn boys who are circumcised in this country dropped to 58.3 percent from 64.5 percent in 1979. (1) All those old ideas about why not to do it are totally outdated. A recent review by the American Academy of Pediatrics looked at the data from the past decades to see if there were really, truly any medical benefits to circumcision. Their conclusion? Nope! (2) And according to baby doctor genius and father of eight, Dr. William Sears, not only are there no medical benefits to circumcision, there are actually some pretty weighty drawbacks. The foreskin is packed with nerves (more than any other organ, actually), and removing it can diminish sexual pleasure. It helps protect the head of the penis, which, while also super-sensitive, was meant to be an internal organ. When it is exposed and is constantly rubbing up against clothing, it can become desensitized, which is also bad news when your son starts getting frisky. (3)

Then there are the risks associated with what it is, in truth, a minor surgery: hemorrhage, infection, septicemia, gangrene, disfigurement, or, if too much foreskin is removed, the need for skin grafting later in life. (4)

In case you're still not convinced that you wouldn't be committing your child to a life of bad Hebraic karma, consider that in Israel more and more parents are opting to celebrate the first week in their baby's life with a brit shalom (the "covenant of peace"), a ritual alternative to circumcision. (5)


References

1. Nicholas Bakalar, "US Circumcision Rates Are Declining," New York Times, August 22, 2013, http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/22/u-s-circumcision-rates-are-declining.

2. William Sears, M.D., "Dr. Sears Statement on Circumcision," Peaceful Parenting, October 27, 2009, http://www.drmomma.org/2009/10/dr-sears-statement-on-circumcision.html.

3. Ibid.

4. England and Horowitz, Birthing From Within, 188.

5. "Incisive Arguments," Economist, July 7, 2012, 51.


Read more from Alicia Silverstone in her new book, The Kind Mama: A Simple Guide to Supercharged Fertility, a Radiant Pregnancy, a Sweeter Birth, and a Healthier, More Beautiful Beginning and at her website: TheKindLife.com 




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25 comments:

  1. Such fantastic commentary by a mama living wisely in so many areas today. It is a breath of fresh air to hear her speak to a number of parenting topics, and this one spurs me to love her even more! Buying the book, and several copies for expecting friends. Thank you!

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  2. THANK YOU for speaking up and dispelling the 'everybody's doing it' myth! My husband and I were also raised Jewish, and you'd be surprised to find the number today who are keeping sons intact --- a lot more than let on at first conversation. ;)

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  3. Oh, the timing is ironic! I just made my husband watch Clueless with me (for his first time) last night and now I love it even more! Definitely getting a copy.

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  4. I will now feel good about buying her Kind Life products, which I had really wanted to try, but would have refused if she had cut her son! WOOOOHOOOOO!!!!!!

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  5. Sounds like there's a new book on my wish list!

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  6. I saw her on Kelly and Michael and loved the interview!! She spoke about so much and you can tell she does her research! Every parent is different but it is a refreshing view from Hollywood!!

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  7. How I love thee Alicia Silverstone...although you had me at Clueless, you ain't no more!

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  8. I can relate to 100% of this article, except the part where all of her friends' kids are intact. We seem to be the only parents in this backwoods crazy area that is more concerned with our child's health than with a parents' selfish desire to be what they think is 'normal.'

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  9. Excellent article. I have to laugh - I have noticed that folks are quick to discuss the horror of genital mutilation in other countries, but will become silent when circumcision comes up. Sorry - it is genital mutilation no matter whose entrenched custom it is.

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  10. And if I didn't love Clueless enough...! Circumcise my sons? As if!!

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  11. I'm buying this book just to support her.

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    1. I am going to buy the book just to support her too! :)

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    2. Funny thing - my husband saw this today when he was out and about with our kids and sent me a text to ask me if I already bought the book (knowing I probably did) and said, "If you didn't - I'm going to." Ha! Even the peaceful parenting papas are wanting to support Silverstone with this new book!

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  12. Spot on. I'm an intact 38 year old man born and raised in Oklahoma, without a single issue arising from being whole. I may disagree with your views on veganism, I applaud you for your position on circumcision.

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  13. I chose not to circumsize my son and that was 22 years ago. He has never had a problem.

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  14. It's so important for celebrities to speak out on this topic, and those raised Jewish have an important contribution to the conversation challenging traditional faith-based beliefs. Kudos to her!!!

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  15. Have always liked her. Just another reason to. :)

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  16. Don't cut your kids penis off. Its a pretty simple and rather logical idea.

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  17. We are discovering more and more about important microbiomes and how they are important to our immune systems. Removing the foreskin definitely changes the characteristics of that particular microbiome. I'm with the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" camp in terms of medical interventions.

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  18. I like her even more. If I ever have a son, I will not cut. I won't pierce my daughter's ears either. That's her choice...

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  19. A great read. She is gorgeous and so gentle with her children.

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  20. I love the fact that her article isn't a rant by a mum who was absolutely convinced of her position beforehand and, in many cases, vocal in a really aggressive way about the 'other opinion'. I do feel that gentle, chatty, explanatory articles like this - but making sure to include research links - do more for the genital autonomy case than highly emotive ones do.

    However, it is hard to speak for those of you who are in the US and living this 'problem' as it is almost unheard of/never considered in Britain and Sweden unless you are a member of a specific Faith group and I am not party to those conversations or media articles targeted solely at those faith groups. I do so hope that any form of automatic genital surgery will become a thing of the past really soon.

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  21. woo! yay for foreskin. I have an intact boy of 2.5 and have never had a seconds concern over his penis. never had to care for a bloody open wound in a diaper, never had to apply Vaseline or gauze... foreskin for the win!

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  22. Way to go Alicia.

    For about 14 years I have maintained a site called "Celebrants of Brit Shalom" which lists more than 180 rabbis, cantors and lay leaders who will officiate at non-cutting naming ceremonies- Brit Shalom. This list is constantly being upgraded and 80% of our states are represented by at least one celebrant. Many Canadian and other foreign celebrants are also listed. See http://www.circumstitions.com/Jewish-shalom.html

    As more and more Jewish families are opting out of circumcision, the number of uncut, genitally intact Jewish boys are increasing. Many of them will have a Jewish education and a Bar Mitzvah. These intact men are starting to take their place in adult Jewish communities all over the world.

    Mark D. Reiss, M.D.

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