Circumcising Baby Boys: To Cut or Not To Cut

Last night, I asked my mom why she and my dad decided to circumcise my brother when he was born. She replied that she’d left the decision entirely up to my dad, and, apparently, part of my dad’s rationale was that he didn’t want him to stand out from the crowd and be subjected to ridicule in the locker room in gym class. (In retrospect, it’s ironic now that my brother killed himself as a result of other social ostracism.)

The topic of circumcision has come up in conversation with friends numerous times over the years. I know many men who were circumcised early in life and are glad to not have foreskin. Other men I know are proud of their “intact” status and are thrilled to have their foreskin.

(See also: Male Genital Mutilation, my previous post on circumcision)

As a teen, I assumed that because I did not have a penis, deciding whether or not to circumcise a baby boy would primarily be up to his father — knowing full well that his father would probably do to our son what was done to him. After all, dick-splicing seems to be a tradition in many families, with or without religious justification. It wasn’t until much later that it dawned on me that the majority of circumcised men have no memory of having foreskin, so why should their opinions be any more valid than mine?

Hearing that my brother was given an unnecessary surgery as a partial result of a social norm made me sad.

I reflected these feelings to a friend of mine who had recently been circumcised.

My friend, now in his twenties, had suffered with phimosis (where the foreskin cannot retract over the head of the penis) for a number of years. Although the condition usually strikes men much, much older than him, the pain he experienced got to be so great that on a holiday break, he had his foreskin surgically removed.

What’s unique about my friend (at least in the context of my social circle) is that because he was circumcised later in life, rather than in infancy, he has experience living both with and without foreskin. Because of the pain he endured, he has vowed to circumcise his sons at birth as a preventative measure, since phimosis is common among older men. Part of me questions if his bias is partially motivated by the heavy shame he felt growing up as the only fellow in his friend group who was uncircumcised, and the self-hatred of his penis that it bred.

Now, I’m curious.

Beschlonged creatures of the internet, what are your thoughts on circumcising children?

14 comments

  1. Well as a circumcised male Jew, let me say that I’m quite happy with that fact and that I’m glad my parents followed their at least three millennia old tradition. I’m amused by those writing in who are implying that it is “mutilation” practiced by the “barbaric” customs of people. There are only perhaps 7 or 8 million Jews in this world who might take exception to being characterized this way and of course that number is dwarfed by at least 1.5 billion Muslims. However, let me be charitable and consider that the writers are non-believers. Well guess what, neither am I really. I might be considered a Deist in that I don’t believe that there is a Creator(s) that watches over the doings of humanity, yet I don’t rule out that some unknown “Creative Force” might inform the Universe. Nevertheless, I don’t believe there is an entity in the sky that gives a damn about what I do with my penis, or what women do with their vaginas.

    By the same token, I am fiercely proud of being a Jew. Considering that this small slice of humanity has made contributions to history way beyond the size and political importance of its populace, is a point of pride with me. While I’m not a believer in a personal god, I love the traditions of my ethnicity, one of which is circumcision. So it devolves down, as always, into the personal.

    Aesthetically, I’ve never felt weird about being circumcised and this was true throughout the gym locker rooms of my teens, when at least 50% of the guys were uncircumcised. In fact foreskins seemed somewhat ugly to me and.certainly looked hard to keep clean. Since I’ve never had another penis, I can’t really comment on the fact that lack of a foreskin has diminished my sexual feeling, but I can say that lack of sexual feeling has never been a problem in my life, far from it.

    The characterizations of some commenters here seem rather extreme and emotion based. The comparison of clitorectomy to circumcision is at best specious and has been included no doubt to add an emotional impact to the points the writer’s were making. Clitorectomy’s are barbaric because they are directly related to a woman’s sexuality. Literally billions of males who are circumcised might contest the allegation that their sexuality has been diminished, because of the excision of their foreskin.

    As an analogy let’s look at the abortion issue. I am completely pro-choice of course and totally believe in a females right to choose. I also believe in abortion and believe it is a viable option for women who are experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. Yet I would respect the decision of any woman who chooses not to have one because of her religious beliefs. By the same token I would never be in favor of the State requiring a woman to get an abortion against her religious beliefs. By the vehemence of some of the comments above, I get the impression that some writers would bar the circumcision of babies and require that they would have to reach “the age of consent” before having one. To my mind, that would be an intolerant position, equating with some religious people, who would enforce their religious beliefs against a woman’s right to choose.

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  2. definitely NEVER, EVER mutilate a healthy non consenting person.

    This guy you speak of, sounds like he simply didn’t take care of himself. Phimosis isn’t an issue unless there is trauma related to the penis which causes scar tissue which is notoriously not as stretchy as normal skin.

    He may have even been able to gently stretch it out over a few months on his own.

    It’s only in ignorant USA and other societies that sexually mutilate males that these problems happen so often.

    Someone very likely forcibly retracted his foreskin as an infant or young child which caused him scarring and resulted in the issues he has had.

    Protip : NEVER force ANYTHING on a child, it’s all got plenty of room to grow. and any damage caused to a child will be amplified in an adult.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If it’s not yours and there’s nothing wrong with it right there and right that second, you don’t get to make that call. This is really not a difficult concept. This is Medical Ethics 101. If I had been put through this barbaric practice, I would probably not be speaking to my parents at all today.

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  4. Hello… uncut penises are the norm, not the other way around. Just because the dad was mutilated does not mean the son must be too. It is a dark and ignorant practice just like female genital mutilation.

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    1. Is uncut the norm in Canada? Uncut is obviously the natural, but where I am (eastern US), cut is much more common. I also wouldn’t quite compare it to female genital mutilation (that’d be more like a penectomy), but I completely agree that it’s unnecessary to continue a tradition of mutilation from father to son.

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      1. I believe the the most common form of FGM is the clitoridectomy, which is the partial or total removal of the clitoris, along with the prepuce (clitoral hood). Male circumcision is the removal of the prepuce (foreskin) alone. The prepuce has an enormous amount of sensory cells. It is described as a ‘primary, erogenous tissue necessary for normal sexual function’.

        In Canada, about 32% of males are cut for non medical reasons (44% in Ontario and Alberta, down to 12% in Quebec and 7% in Nova Scotia. (wikipedia)

        In the US the incidence of male non-therapeutic infant circumcision varies widely by region. The Western Region reported an incidence of 24.6% in 2009, while the North Central Region reported an incidence of 76.2%, The Northeast Region reported an incidence of 67% and the Southern Region reported 55.7%. The overall incidence of circumcision in the United States stood at 54.5%, the lowest figure reported over the previous two decades. (wikipedia)

        Of course there is no comparison to the degree of damage that circumcision does to women as compared to men, and we should not refer to FGM as female circumcision, as it normalizes the savageness of the act.

        Any kind of elective genital surgery for non medical reasons should only be performed at or beyond the age of maturity. To mutilate infants for whatever reasons is wrong, as they can not consent.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Yeah, I’m circumcised, absolutely no regrets. Most of the women I have been with prior to my wife found uncircumcised unattractive, and my wife finds them downright disgusting (I found out in retrospect that she would not have dated me if I was uncircumcised). I’ve never met anyone that felt that I was less attractive without foreskin… I don’t think you can fault a parent either way on this call.

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    1. I’ve heard similar sentiments from female friends. I would not be surprised if the complaints of unattractiveness are a matter of a lack of exposure. Preferences for the look of certain body parts is typically relative to the culture in which a person lives every day. If uncircumcised penises were the norm, I would expect many of the same people complaining now to instead complain about the ugliness of circumcision.

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      1. That may very well be the case! I did notice that, when I lived overseas, the women I dated there were very interested in the circumcised look. Or so it seemed, it may just have been that they had never seen a black penis before.

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  6. Simple! We do not remove or permanently alter any body part of other human beings regardless of their age or what is between their legs. However they are free to do so for whatever reason when they are able to give their personal and informed consent.

    Circumcision may have solved your friends problem but it was not necessarily the most reasonable solution. And it does not justify doing it to his children… women can also get phimosis yet removing the clitoral hood is never employed as a “preventative” measure for infant girls. His experience does not represent those of his children. He was able to evaluate his treatment options, understand the risks and give informed consent.

    Medical opinions are heavily influenced by cultural habits and social norms. Normally, doctors try to remedy any problems and preserve healthy tissue at the same time. At least this is true for other parts of the body. Curiously, different principles of “medicine” and ethics are applied only to male genitals in places where it has become normalized.

    Phimosis is most often the result of tissue damage from early retraction of the infant foreskin, before it separates from the glans and becomes retractable. And it is mainly caused by overzealous cleaning by parents, irritation from chemicals etc or bad advice from ignorant doctors. Which is understandable in cultures that practice genital cutting, that after several generations of circumcised men and their partners, they would have a rather poor understanding of normal male anatomy. The problem is ignorance not anatomy. Phimosis and similar problems in older guys is typically related to underlying conditions like diabetes or bad hygiene. There are non surgical and less invasive surgical options available to treat or prevent phimosis.

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  7. Infant circumcision is wrong. An infant cannot consent to surgery, and your friend was likely to have been given the surgical option without a doctor trying to prescribe a topical cream or stretching exercises.

    I was circumcised as an infant. Being that I have a bleeding disorder that my parents did not know about, I’m lucky to have lived through it. I, like all circumcised men, have a disfiguring ugly scar on my shaft. I also happen to have two adhesions that my mutilator wrote off as something that would just disappear in a few years. I’m 26. Thanks to the loss of my foreskin and frenulum, I can no longer feel an orgasm although I am capable of ejaculation. This along with the keratinization (hardening and drying) of my glans has lost me so much sensation that I am experiencing impotence before I’m even in my thirties.

    117 infant boys die from being circumcised every year, as many deaths as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. There are no medical benefits, only sexual repression.

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I absolutely agree that because a baby cannot consent to being circumcised, it should not be performed. My friend was lucky to have regained “100% of the sensation”, as he put it, though he acknowledged that not everyone who is circumcised does. I have every intention to not circumcise my babies, and I want to encourage others to look before they leap on this irreversible decision.

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