I hear this phrase a lot from people. Many, many people think that circumcision is simply something that everyone does. Certainly, for several generations, this is what Americans have done. However, over the past several years, that has changed. And there are a lot of reasons for that change, although many people are still unaware of what those reasons are. So, I’m going to share some of those reasons today.
1. Foremost, circumcision is not a medical decision. It is a cosmetic decision. Many parents do not understand this; they believe that there is a medical reason for removing the foreskin. It used to be believed that there were medical benefits to removing it, but now that we have better scientific studies, and are better able to share the information we find, we know that the perceived benefits are really not there. Circumcision does not lower rates of HIV (1, 2, 3), STDs, Urinary Tract Infections, or cancers.
2. Many people feel that parents do not have the right to have a cosmetic surgery done on an infant who may not have wanted the surgery to be performed.
3. Many people believe that a circumcised penis is cleaner and easier to care for. In fact, it is harder to care for when the parents will be in charge of caring for it. The foreskin is generally self-cleaning. When the boy is a baby and young child, all that is required for an intact penis is washing the penis just as one would wash any other body part. When the child is old enough that the foreskin is no longer fused, he can retract the skin on his own and wash with soap and water in the shower. This is not difficult.
Caring for a newly circumcised penis involves checking at every diaper change in the beginning to make sure baby isn’t losing blood from the surgical site. It involves keeping the wound clean and dry – in an area full of urine and feces. It involves putting ointment on at every diaper change to ensure that the wound doesn’t stick to the diaper. And if an infection sets in, it involves caring for the infection. This is much more involved. And, as circumcised boys age, they still have to apply soap and water at shower times – just like the intact boys.
4. Many people believe that most boys are circumcised, and their son will feel different or outcast if he is left intact. Again, this is not true. Only in Israel are the majority of boys still circumcised. This is because in Israel, the majority of boys are Jewish and are circumcised for religious reasons (although many Jewish families are choosing not to circumcise now). In America, only about 33% of boys are still routinely circumcised – and we are still doing more routine infant circumcisions than the rest of the world. About 80% of the world’s population is not circumcised (and please stop and consider that if 75% of Israel’s population is circumcised, this means that mathematically, almost all other countries do almost no routine circumcision to get to that 80%).
In America, the rate of circumcision varies widely by state and region, but no matter where American families live, the majority of boys in America are no longer circumcised and the rates are continuing to decline. Even if the rates in a given area are currently high, the fact is that the rates will continue to drop.
5. Many people believe that it is better to do the circumcision on a newborn, when the baby will have less pain and won’t remember it. This is COMPLETELY false for a variety of reasons.
The pain a male who is older than a newborn experiences during surgery is minimal, since anyone older than a newborn is given anesthesia. Newborns are almost always circumcised without any type of anesthesia or pain medication at all. After the surgery, an older male will be given pain medication to alleviate the pain until the wound heals. A newborn is given nothing for the pain from the wound.
Mothers are often told that their sons “slept right through” the surgery. The only stretch of the imagination that makes this possible is when a newborn baby is so traumatized by the pain, that their bodies are not able to process it any longer and the baby looses consciousness. This happens often. But the baby does not drift gently off to sleep, as he does in his mothers arms. The baby is screaming, crying, choking, and basically being tortured until his body cannot stand the pain any longer.
Often, the pain of circumcision causes the baby to become so lethargic or uncoordinated that they are not able to breastfeed for several days or a week (1). This can cause problems with mom’s milk supply coming in, and lead to a spiral of breastfeeding problems. Expectant mothers who are planning to breastfeed should take this into consideration when deciding whether or not to circumcise.
6. Circumcision removes a piece of skin that will be the size of an index card in an adult male. That piece of skin serves many purposes. It houses the majority of the nerve endings in the penis. It creates lubrication, which aids in sexual intercourse with benefits for both partners. It protects the glans from chafing. It keeps out foreign substances. (1)
Removing this piece of skin, on the other hand, can cause many problems. Scarring can make it difficult or painful to have an erection – and erections happen naturally in all males, throughout all stages of life, unrelated to sexual arousal, unless there is another medical issue at hand. Scar tissue can cause the erect penis to pull (slightly, or very much) to one side, which can be uncomfortable, or even painful to sexual partners, and embarrassing for the owner of said penis. Circumcision can lead to problems which make it difficult to get or maintain an erection. And. probably least of all, circumcision scarring can be unsightly, causing embarrassment or discomfort for the male.
7. Many people believe that circumcision is a simple, painless, low risk procedure, with no negative side effects, akin to trimming fingernails. Again, this is completely not so (1). At a minimum, many baby boys are disfigured by botched circumcisions, daily. It is not uncommon for a boy to loose the function of hi penis after a botched circumcision. Some boys have actually lost their entire penis after a botched circumcision. And worst of all, in the United States of America, an estimated 117 baby boys die every year from complications of circumcision.
Let’s think about that again, shall we? One hundred seventeen baby boys die every year solely because they have an elective procedure done. To put that in perspective, 8 baby boys the same age will die in car accidents – yet most parents cannot imagine being in a moving vehicle with an unrestrained newborn.
Baby boys die from several different complications of circumcision, including “anesthesia reaction, stroke, hemorrhage, and infection.” (1) The sad part is that every single one of these deaths is completely avoidable, because this is an elective procedure in newborns.
So, when someone says, “Why on Earth would anyone not circumcise their son?” we all know seven very good reasons not to.