Our Circumcision Decision

It happened like this: we found out we were having a boy. Being who I am (a research fiend) I immediately started researching the ritualistic removal of the foreskin. I encountered the entire spectrum of opinions, from an aunt who said “Cut. Always cut.” to the guy on a blog comment thread who condemned me for leaving the final decision to my husband. I have also found that mothers (friends and family) who chose to circumcise feel the need to apologize to me for it…but I believe that every parental decision is made with the best intentions and the hope that it is truly the best course for their family, which makes an apology (to me at least – I’m intact) unnecessary.

Luckily, every medical professional I encountered gave me the same response: “he can always have it removed later, but you can’t put it back.”

This was our ultimate decision: we would leave him as nature made him and if he wants to alter that later in life, we will support him.

We were actually not swayed by the arguments that circumcision is “barbaric” or “cruel.” (Although, personally, I feel that any unnecessary pain inflicted on a newborn is cruel.) What it came down to was that the reasons for it just weren’t good enough, and the risks were just too risky.

Reason #1: It’s cleaner and there’s less of a risk for STDs.1

Actually, it’s only cleaner if you fail to wash your intact penis…and the only surefire way to decrease your risk for STDs is to be sexually responsible.2

Reason #2: You have to retract/remove the foreskin or the penis won’t “function properly.”

I have many intact adult males in my life and to my knowledge they all function fine. In fact, forced retraction causes more problems than it solves.3

Reason #3: The foreskin will get infected.

Only if you insist on retracting it before it is time. Clean it like a finger and if it does get irritated, have some sitz baths and antibiotics (if necessary) and move on. Getting the occasional urinary tract infection isn’t cause to remove the urethra, is it?4

Reason #4: He won’t look like his dad if he’s intact and dad is circumcised.

Darn. He won’t look like mom, either.

Reason #5: (as a friend of mine told me) “We’re Jewish. It comes with the package.”5

We are not Jewish, and although I respect the millennia of tradition that comes with a bris… it is not my heritage and I may or may not be sending that friend a few of these articles:

Which brings us to the risks:

Risk #1: Mutilation6: I know a young man whose poor penis was seen to by a cosmetic surgeon after his bris…because the rabbi butchered it. No, thank you.

Risk #2: Death7: It happens. It’s horrible. It’s unthinkable. It’s preventable.

I might get in trouble for telling you this last part, but as it was actually the deciding factor for my husband, here goes: the thought of navigating the wound on his penis and the umbilicus and learning how to care for the rest of our newborn son was too much for my husband. The few times he changed our nephew’s diaper before the umbilicus and circumcision healed he was tense and stressed out about it. If not circumcising helped keep my husband a calmer new father, then we would skip that step.

So there you have it: we opted out of the newborn male surgical procedure and happily left our son intact.

Further information from a few well-known and reliable sources:

Photo credit: Peaceful Parenting

About The Author: Emily Bartnikowski

Emily B emmieb My NPN Posts

Emily is a wife, mother, photographer, and aspiring novelist. She blogs about parenting and life at Embrita Blogging.

16 Responses to Our Circumcision Decision

  1. Lauren

    I find it fascinating that circumcision is such a big deal in America. I am American, but I live in England and have all 3 of my babies here. I know no one here who has circumcised their son. No medical professional ever spoke to us about it when we had our son. I presume people arrange a religious service with their rabbi if they are wish their child to be circumcised for religious reasons.

    I wonder why it is the done thing in the USA and virtually unheard of over here.

    (I also know no men who wish they had been circumsized as babies for any of the potential health reasons mentioned in the article. They all just shudder at the thought!)

  2. Jose

    Parents should research circumcision and make an informed decision for the health & well-being of their son.

    Male circumcision is a safe, popular, healthy & beneficial procedure for individuals & parents to choose. It provides benefits such as 12x less likely for UTI, +22x less likely for cancer, 28% less risk for herpes, 35% for HPV & 60% for HIV/AIDS. The risks are about 0.2% and are typically minor & easily corrected.

    • Mel

      I’m just wondering where your stats are from?
      Please remember also that correlation does not mean causation.

    • Lana

      Jose the UTI thing is a sham.. because the foreskin is stuck to the glans penis until the child is years old.. sometimes until puberty. Urine and feces cannot get under there and it is sterile unless retracted, even if this wasn’t so it wouldn’t give them a UTI it would just irritate the glans. UTI is caused by bacteria growing in the bladder or kidneys and often because the child has urinary reflux (some pee goes back up the urethra) circumcision neither fixes nor prevents this. Girls on the other hand DO get urine and feces in their genitals. and so they get 5X the UTI’s of boys but they get antibiotics. We don’t hack their genitals off. there are 20,000 fine touch nerve endings and a G-spot that are lost to circumcision. A woman only has 8ooo.
      As for the penile cancer thing- 5oo+ boys in developed countries world wide die from being circumcised. Penile cancer doesn’t even have a statistic it is lumped in with the 300 OLD MEN who die of other genital cancers- prostate and testicular cancer. And so I can not agree that it is a healthy decision to choose to remove the most sensitive part of somebody elses body. Check out Dr Sears for some facts. It is time to put this silly practice aside just like we have blood letting.. it’s got about the same effectiveness

  3. Ed

    As an intact male, I am glad you made the right decision.

    If it’s not supposed to be there, nature would eliminate it for us. Along with all the good reasons you stated :)

  4. Amy

    Wonderful post! I, also, had to make this decision and once I researched I realized, “Woh, there is NO reason TO circumcise.” My little boy is whole, thank you very much :) My husband likes to say, “I didn’t have the choice, but my son does, the generations of genital mutilation has stopped with my son.” Here’s our story: http://amyelizabethsmith.wordpress.com/2010/09/21/the-circumcision-decision/

  5. {Not Quite} Susie Homemaker  

    Thank you for this post! It sounds very much like the thought process my husband & I went through when I was pregnant with our son- we ultimately left him intact, as well. I am glad you posted this though because I still get told from family members that we “should” have circumcised him, so it’s nice to have a very put-together article with sources & everything all ready for me so I can just point them here next time they say something! :)

  6. Amy  

    Thank you for this to-the-point article. As we considered circumcision my former husband, who was intact, wondered if it may be better. He was not circed because of being born at home and without health insurance. Although he never had any problems he wondered if there may be benefits.

    We found that the purported benefits were unfounded – research unreliable – and that more than anything it is not in line with a person’s genital-bodily integrity to remove a part of the body that serves a valuable function. Writing that brings me to the realization that even parts not serving a “valuable” function can still be left intact if they aren’t posing harm.

    When in doubt with the information you read about circumcision, seek an alternate source. There are organizations that are pro-circumcision and they will attempt to sway an opinion in their favor.

    Ultimately, it’s a boy’s penis and he ought to be the one making decisions about it. While I respect the fact that parents currently get to make this sensitive decision for their children, I often ask the bold question “Would you want a piece of the most sensitive part of your body, that serves a function, cut off at birth?”

    Truth is truth.

    We can only stick our head in the sand for so long. :)

  7. Alicia C.  

    Great post! Both of my sons are not circumcised and have NEVER had infections, etc. My oldest is 13 and he said that, in the locker room banter, he’s found that the “weird” kids nowadays are the ones who ARE circumcised! LOL

  8. Emily  

    Thanks for the responses! I’m so glad you found this helpful.

    And Alicia – I’ll be curious to see if that trend continues!

  9. Jennifer  

    As a mother who did not know the risks for my first boy, and was subsequently educated before my second arrived, I find it important to share where the perceived information could be misunderstood. Thanks for such a well researched and cited article that puts things in perspective.

    To address the few items the other comment mentioned:

    Circumcision is no longer as “popular” as it once was. The number of boys circumcised falls each year. It is no longer a popular decision. Circumcision is uncommon in Asia, South America, Central America, and most of Europe. The American Association of Pediatricians (AAP) issued a statement in 1999 saying that the benefits of circumcision are not significant, that it is not medically necessary, and that the AAP no longer recommends it as a routine procedure.

    UTI can easily be dealt with by administration of antibiotics and is not a reason for surgery. Good hygiene is far more effective at preventing infections, without the lasting effects of surgery. There is also information that says breastfeeding lowers risk of UTI, as well. http://www.drmomma.org/2009/12/how-foreskin-protects-against-uti.html

    The risk of penile cancer is less than the risk of complications from a circumcision. According to the American Cancer Society, the risk is decreased by less than 0.01%. They do not consider circumcision effective at preventing penile cancer. They do not list it as prevention. The risk of complication for circumcision is, according to all sources, at least ten times higher than the rate by which it supposedly decreases risk of penile cancer. http://www.fathermag.com/health/circ/acs/

    As far as STD’s go, nothing goes further than teaching our children about safe sexual practices. Circumcision is no substitute for a condom.

    For even more links to information then is even posted here, please check this article: http://codenamemama.com/2010/03/01/circumcision-common-concerns/

  10. Emily  

    Yes, thank you, Jennifer! I’d never heard anyone say that it reduces Cancer risk, and I’m glad that you addressed it.

  11. Alex

    http://www.motherchronicle.com/circumcision.html

    This is the best circumcision article I have found. Thought I would share it ….

  12. Jewish Intactivist

    Jewish Groups for Genital Integrity

    Beyond the Bris: Jewish Parenting Blog
    http://www.beyondthebris.com/

    Jews Against Circumcision
    http://www.jewsagainstcircumcision.org/

    Jews for the Rights of the Child
    http://www.jewsfortherightsofthechild.org/

    Bris Shalom Officiants by Mark D. Reiss, MD
    http://www.circumstitions.com/Jewish-shalom.html

    Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective by Ron Goldman, PhD
    http://www.jewishcircumcision.org

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