Until now, I have left this delicate, controversial subject to other bloggers because I know what I have to say is against what most “natural parenting” blogs will tell you about circumcision, and frankly, it’s not an issue that I feel that passionate about, one way or the other. My husband and I did our research, discussed it at reasonable length, and chose to have the procedure done on our two boys. It’s a decision that I don’t regret. I have friends who identify with the “intactivist” movement, and so I have been fairly low key about that decision up to this point. However, I recently have decided that because my decision IS so different from most crunchy parents, I want to speak out and say what I feel needs to be said.
We decided to circumcise for a number of reasons. None of them would be reason enough alone for our choice, but collectively they made a good enough case for us. They include medical, hygiene, cultural (our family culture), aesthetic, and even to a small degree, religious reasons. I really don’t want to hash those reasons out here, it was a personal choice and it’s not up for debate what we do in our family. For that matter, it’s none of my business what you do in your family, and I respect your choice either way.
And that is really what this post is about, parental choice.
You see, I’m not passionate about circumcision, but I am passionate about a parent’s right to choose how to parent their child, and I don’t think it’s the government’s job to tell parents how to do it. The recent attempt of San Francisco to ban circumcision is wrong, just as it was wrong of them to attempt to ban fast food restaurants from including small toys in their happy meals to make them more appealing to children. The comparison of circumcision to unhealthy kid’s meals is not at all comparable as to the magnitude of that parental decision, but the bottom line is, what kind of society do we want to live in? Our freedoms are being challenged on so many fronts and the principles of freedom are little understood by much of our population.
Parents make many choices for their children that will have a permanent effect on what kind of adults they grow up to be, and short of child abuse, parents need to be given the freedom to make those choices. While their children are under their jurisdiction, parents need the freedom to decide between public, private, and homeschool. They should be able to choose whether or not to vaccinate their kids. They should be able to choose the diet their children will have, including breastmilk or formula. They will choose the child’s religious behaviors and patterns. They will decide what they will wear, where they will live, and who their friends will be. They will make medical choices for their children. Discipline, hygiene, etiquette, and family routine are all choices made by parents. Parents love their children, know their children best, and MUST be trusted by society to make those choices for their children’s welfare. Even if we decide not to circumcise our future boys, I will never support a ban on the practice because that’s not the kind of society I want to live in. I’m glad that we no longer routinely circumcise our infants, and the 56% rate of the USA at this time is a testament to the fact that we really are free to choose for our children.
That’s the main point I wanted to make.
However, I have been a little obsessed with researching circumcision in preparation for this post, and there are a few items I want to address before closing. The anti-circ crowd has some excellent reasons not to circumcise and they have been duly noted. There is a part of me that wonders if we did the right thing. The pro-circ crowd also makes many good points that have been reassuring to me. On a scale of one to ten, ten being on the pro-circ side, my husband and I are about a 6. I have read so much material from both sides, and have especially looked for testimonials from men who have had it both ways, as well as the attitudes of men who have never known the other way of things.
First I want to clarify the difference between male circumcision and female genital mutilation (FGM), also often referred to as female circumcision. Male circumcision refers to cutting off the foreskin. FGM refers to cutting off the clitoris, and often, more. Circumcised men have happy, healthy sex lives, and the Victorian idea that introducing its practice would stop masturbation was a complete flop. Premarital sex didn’t change when circumcision was introduced. FGM on the other hand DOES stop young women from masturbating. In fact, it usually shatters any hope that the young woman will ever have an orgasm, ever. Depending on what stage of FGM is performed, the young woman may have a difficult time ever becoming a mother as a result of FGM as well. FGM on a boy would be like cutting off the whole head of the penis, or even more! In history, the best example of male genital mutilation that comes to my mind is the castrati singers (boys that were castrated so they would keep their boyish soprano voices). I shudder when I recall that part of my music history education. However, there is a medical equivalent of male circumcision in a girl, and it’s called hoodectomy, which is the removal of the clitoral hood, or female foreskin. This procedure is becoming more popular here in the USA to successfully treat women with anorgasmia. Hoodectomy is also sometimes performed for hygienic and aesthetic purposes. This is the true equivalent to male circumcision; FGM truly is not.
Next, I address the “his body, his choice” argument. As a parent, you have jurisdiction over that body while your son is under your care, and you will make many choices regarding that body during your years as his parent. Circumcising your infant is a permanent decision, but you know what? NOT circumcising your infant is a permanent decision too, as it is the only time in a boy’s life where the procedure can be done without stitches, and with the boy having no cognate memory of the procedure. I have read testimonials of young men who resent that their parents circumcised them as a baby and are now undergoing foreskin restoration. BUT! I have also read many testimonials from men who were not circumcised as an infant and had a medical need later in life and they bemoan the fact that their parents didn’t circumcise them as an infant. It’s terribly embarrassing to be circumcised while you are in Jr. High. Men choose to be circumcised for all the other reasons as well, and love the results. Furthermore, I have read testimonials from circumcised and intact men from birth who are very happy with their body. The American Academy of Pediatrics neither recommends nor condemns infant circumcision, rightfully making it the parent’s choice.
In closing I have what I hope will be comforting words for you as a parent, regardless of your choice.
If you choose NOT to circumcise, or, to use more friendly language, if you choose to leave your son intact, you have a growing number of supporters. Your son will probably not have any issues in the locker room. It isn’t medically necessary, and the chances of him getting a UTI, or any other diseases as a result of being left intact are very slim. The foreskin does serve a purpose in protecting the penis head, and if your son decides he wants to be circumcised later in life, he can always make that choice later. One word of advice, which you probably already know, is to clean only what is seen. Don’t force the foreskin to retract before it is ready, and don’t let anyone else do it either! Only the owner of the foreskin should make it retract. Many of the “problems” people experience due to the foreskin are a result of prematurely pulling the foreskin back. Other problems come from not keeping it clean, so teach your child to clean properly down there. Be matter-of-fact about it and don’t obsess, and your son will have a healthy attitude about his foreskin. There are many healthy, uncircumcised men out there and there is no reason to think that your son won’t grow up to become one of them. Here is a good website that will give you information to validate your choice: http://www.circumcision.org/
If you DO choose to circumcise, there are still a lot of supporters. Regardless of what the other camp may say, there ARE medical benefits to being circumcised. Having established that, the debate is whether or not those benefits warrant infant circumcision. There are other factors that come into play as well, such as hygiene, religious, aesthetic, and cultural reasons, all of which individually can warrant your choice. You are your son’s parent, and it is nobody’s business what you choose for your baby, or why. There is a plethora of reasons to satisfy society that circumcision is okay. For what it’s worth, all of the men in my family were circumcised as infants, and all of them are happy with it. There are also males in my sphere of acquaintances who were circumcised past infancy and wish it was done when they were a baby. I know this because they told me when I researched for our own sons. My recommendation is to use anesthesia for your little boy though. If they get a shot to numb the pain, PLEASE know that it takes five minutes for the litocaine to be affective, and that there are many doctors who get in a hurry and don’t wait. That happened to my second son. Now we know better. Also, sugar water is an effective pain relief for infants. My first son benefitted by having a sucker. In the Jewish Bris ceremony, the infant is often given a kind of sweet wine that apparently is very soothing for the infant. I will also add that one of the main complications from circumcision is skin adhesions, or skin bridges. This is easy to prevent. While your son is healing, gently pull the skin away from the penis head during every diaper change to make sure that the skin doesn’t stick to the wound. In closing, circumcision is not just a failed experiment of the Victorian era, or a political error of modern America. It has been practiced for thousands of years in cultures around the world. Here is a good website that will give you information to validate your choice: http://www.circlist.com/
Ultimately, while the debate rages on over the internet, the choice of what to do with your son’s foreskin is only one parenting choice. I recommend that you do your research and make the choice and be done with it. Don’t beat yourself up for a previous choice if you have changed your mind on the issue for your future sons. There are pros and cons to both, and you have a lot of other things to consider in your parenting journey. Good luck!
For now, I’m going to leave this debate and turn my thoughts to some of my other concerns as a mother. For example, what’s for dinner tonight?