Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The big deal about circumcision

Recently a friend shared this link with me, and I want to share it with all of you:

I here quote the very beginning (it is a lengthy post, but well-referenced, and I HIGHLY recommend it).
I am posting this as a mom who is first, Jewish, and second, who has two sons who are circumcised. Since my pregnancy with my third son, however, I have researched the issue of circumcision and have left my third son intact, as will be this fourth son due in October. Below are a few of the reasons I made this decision. For anyone planning on giving birth in the future, this information is critical to protect your unborn sons. I am certainly in no position to judge anyone who has circumcised sons, as I have no stones to throw. However, I would like to share what I have learned and hope that it does some good to protect future little boys...
Please, if you are in your childbearing years, take the time to read through the research before making this choice. It's not a little thing to make a decision about your child's genital integrity, whether they are female or male. (I confess that, with what I know now, it truly boggles me that so many people can be staunchly opposed to female circumcision, yet think that male circumcision is ok...it is really the same thing, even if the details look different.)
I grew up thinking that circumcision was normal and a good idea...no one had ever taught me otherwise, and I figured it wouldn't be so common if it wasn't good. A few years ago though someone said something to me that made me start wondering...so (as I tend to do) I started researching. As most of my readers probably know, I try to avoid resources that are anecdotal or emotionally-charged, and just stick with hard scientific facts inasmuch as it is possible to do so. The medical evidence on circumcision is quite one-sided--circumcision is unnecessary, painful, and probably damaging (some things are difficult to test or prove, and at least one study on this subject had to be stopped early because they concluded that the baby boys involved were being too traumatized to ethically continue the study...but there are indications that circumcision can do real and lasting harm).
As I said, visit the link I posted above. She has LOTS of links to references and resources that are well worth your time to visit.


About two years ago, when Bear was a fairly new baby, I posted about intactivism (or activism in favor of intactness--non-circumcision). I don't really have anything new to say, or any better ways to say it, but I do think the topic bears repeating, so today I am just going to re-post what I wrote before.

"I did then what I knew how to do. When you know better, you do better." ~ Maya Angelou

I've been a little hesitant to post anything on this topic, because I know members of my extended family read here, and I think that many of them disagree with me on this topic. But I was recently part of a conversation that made me realize that I should talk about this, and most especially to the people I care about.
My baby son is intact. That means that his body is precisely as God made it--we did not cut off part of his penis. Circumcision may be common, but so was the black plague and smallpox. Just because something is common doesn't mean it's good or right. I don't like to make any kind of major decision without doing the research--so I did it. I studied from sources like the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and so on. Sure, there are a lot of emotionally-charged hotheads out there preaching against circumcision, but there is a lot of careful, logical information as well. And it all says the same thing--there is no good reason to circumcise unless your God requires it. The only faiths I'm aware of that call for circumcision are Islam and Judaism. My own faith has scriptures which are blatantly against circumcision (Moroni 8:8 Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me.) SO, there is no good reason for me to cut my son.

There are many arguments in favor of routine circumcision, but none of them hold water. I'll just run over the ones I hear the most:
1) Looking like Dad--so, if my baby's nose doesn't look like mine, shall I get him a nose job? Shall I get him color contacts if his eyes are a different shade than mine? Really, this must be the strangest reason ever for a cosmetic surgery on a baby
2) Looking like other boys--well, circumcision rates in this country are on the decline...somewhere around 50% at present, with various areas ranging from 35% to a high of about 65%. Most of the rest of the world (with the middle east as the exception) has MUCH lower rates.
3) Risk of penile cancer--penile cancer is very rare. Even among high risk groups, studies indicate that the difference in penile cancer rates between circumcised and intact men is something like 0.03%. Not statistically significant. In other words, it's too small to be considered evidence or 'proof' of anything...
4) Hygiene--underneath the foreskin is something called smegma. It is a lubricant-not unlike the fluids which women have in their genital regions. It not only lubricates, but also works much like snot--it catches anything that may get in there and flushes it out. So, actually, the intact penis is MORE hygienic than the circumcised one.
5) Risk of infections--see #4
6) More likely to give wife infections--see #4
7) Harder to wash--um, have you ever washed a little girl? Furthermore, during childhood an intact penis is about as complicated to wash as a finger. Anybody want to cut off their fingers in an effort to make handwashing simpler? I didn't think so! And in adulthood, well, an extra two seconds in the shower to rinse in and out, and voila, cleanliness is still easy.
8) Lower risk of STDs and AIDS--well, the studies that have suggested this have not taken into account things like socio-economical status or sexual habits...they have just said oh, this man is intact or this man is circumcised, and let's see who has STDs. The studies are biased. Frankly, a little education and monogamy would solve a whole lot more than cutting off some skin.

And, in case you have heard the rumors or believed them, let me set you straight: circumcision HURTS LIKE CRAZY. Grown men get general anesthesia if they choose to have it done. Babies are lucky to get a local. And then, while they have a raw, fresh wound, they are put into snug diapers which not only rub the wound, but also expose it to urine and feces on a regular basis. Mmmmm, just what you want on a wound in the most sensitive part of your body, isn't it.

As I pointed out to my friend--I spent 9 months of pregnancy doing everything I could to protect my baby. That isn't going to change just because he's now living outside of me rather than inside. I will still protect him.

I want to make a comment for those who noticed that I use the word 'intact' rather than 'uncircumcised.' The prefix 'un-' suggests that something was incomplete. The penis was meant to be the way it is; it is not an incomplete circumcision, it is intact. I realize that there are circumcised men out there who may feel hurt at the thought that they are not the way they were meant to be. Unfortunately, that is exactly true. Generations of the blind following the blind (or the circumcised following the circumcised) have injured countless boys and men. I cry thinking of it. I wish I could restore to you what was taken without your permission...but unfortunately I cannot. All I can do is try to spread the information in the hopes of protecting future little boys. "...when you know better, you do better."

Every day when I change his diapers or bathe him, I see my son's healthy, intact body. It is just as we made him. It is just as God designed him. It is how he was born, and it is how he is meant to be. Who am I to take away his choice to be intact? Every day when I see his intactness, I remember that I chose to respect my son. It reminds me to respect everyone. I think this world could use a little more respect.

15 comments:

Summer said...

Thank you.

Christa said...

Thank you for the verse in Moroni. I will for sure be using it the next time I get asked by that lady in our ward.
I just can't bare the thought of putting my child through so much pain, so early in life, just like the doctors who abandoned their research. I remember sitting in the Progressive Care Nursery with Cora and a mother in there had flown a doctor in to preform her sons circumcision because he was "the best" at making it pleasing to the eye later. I just listened to her go on and on and on about how handsome his penis would be later in life. Then I said, so are you going to watch? She of course said no, why would someone want to watch an aweful procedure be done on their child. I said exactly...I wouldn't even be able to stand in the hall knowing it was happening.

Emily said...

The cleanliness/hygienic argument is the one that gets me the worst. As a female, and mother of three more females, I can promise you the care and cleaning of an intact penis cannot possibly be more complicated or "difficult" than a vagina. If keeping an intact penis clean is too much trouble to bother with it, then the female circumcision rate should be higher than it is.

thefeministbreeder said...

I have to circumsized sons, and I really hope I have a girl next time so I don't have to make this choice again. I would do it again, but I'd really just rather not have to.

We made the choice to do so based on a few reasons, however vain or ridiculous they seem to some people, they made sense to us at the time. Even though there is evidence to support not circ'ing, we still made the choice to do so with our second son because I just didn't feel like I could do it to one, and not another. My first son has gotten the shaft (no pun intended) in so many ways - born by cesarean, not breastfed, fed babyfood out of jars, never worn. My second son is my granola child - born by VBAC, breastfed still, fed homemade baby food, cloth-diapered, worn everywhere. And when it came right down to it, I just didn't my sons to say "why does mine look different than his" and for me to have to say "well, mommy didn't turn granola until your brother came along, and we decided that circumcision is cruel, therefore your brother didn't have to have it done." Jeeez.... I can't even imagine that conversation - like it was good enough for him but not good enough for his brother.

I know I'll be put through all kinds of uncomfortable conversations with these kids, but this is one I just did not want to have - especially when I still do believe we made choice with the best of intentions. I have to be perfectly frank and honest, I've been adult male uncirc'd ones, and I was really grossed out by them. Plus, I've known men who've decided to get circ'd as adults, and because it's so much more painful then, I figured it would be more loving to get it over with when they're younger.

It might seem like screwed up logic to some people, but we're okay with it -- as okay as we can be given that we can't undo our initial choice to circ' our boys.

Caroline said...

Thank you for posting this! Excellent! There is a movement that is growing rapidly to end Medicaid funding of non-therapeutic circumcisions.

http://www.coloradonocirc.org/files/handouts/Medicaid_and_Circumcision.pdf

Please visit our Facebook pages too

http://apps.facebook.com/causes/187477?m=3f1cca43
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=46666993580

Alaska
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=106628603776

Heather said...

Thanks for posting this. So sad that so many boys are put through this for such shabby reasons.

I have once circumcised and two (soon to be three) intact sons. It still makes me sad that he had to go through that and feel that it had a lasting effect during his infancy and on his personality. But, I also feel pretty frustrated with that whole situation because they didn't even tell me when they were going to do it and I was still undecided. If that were to happen now, oh boy would they have fight on their hands!

Like you said, when you know better, you do better. Live and learn.

Sarah said...

Hey Jenni...we have the same timing as I posted on this yesterday and shared a letter from a friend of mine who had her 1st and circ'd and left her 2nd son intact. I was very touched by her experience.

alisaterry said...

A friend of mine has all daughters and is pregnant again. After reading that link she has made the decision not to circumcize if it is a boy.

For me, no medical or psychological arguement ever compares to the shear fact that parents are removing a healthy body part WITHOUT THEIR CHILD'S CONSENT. This fails every type of ethics test, especially since these same parents wouldn't dream of doing it to their daughters.

Hugh7 said...

thefeministbreeder: "I just didn't [want] my sons to say "why does mine look different than his" and for me to have to say "well, mommy didn't turn granola until your brother came along, and we decided that circumcision is cruel, therefore your brother didn't have to have it done."

Let me get this straight: you had decided it is cruel, but you went ahead anyway, to spare your own feelings? Doesn't that make it more cruel? Sorry, but I can't read it any other way. I wish parents would look a bit further ahead than the childhood years. Now both your sons are going to have to live out their whole lives (probably seeing little of each other) with the consequences of your decisions.

Circumcising babies is at least as painful as circumcising adults, and adults can take care of their own pain control. The true need for it lifelong is very low - less than one in 6000 in Finland, where it has never been customary. And "grossed out"? Seven out of ten men in the world would gross you out.

Heather: if you hadn't signed the form, it was illegal for them to go ahead. It may not be too late to sue.

Christa: the verse in Moroni is foreshadowed in Gal 5:2 "...if you become circumcised, Christ is of no value to you." and many others by Paul.

Britman said...

Just found this site. Forgive me but I find it hard to understand the apparent dilemmas, when no decision is needed. I am 60, British male, intact. All my brothers were intact, (from school showers, I observed most of my peers were intact). My two sons are intact (men now - I assume they still are intact- but that is now their choice). My sons were breast fed, exclusively, up until about 5 months old, then weaned, but still fell asleep to a night-time cuddle/feed from my wife until one year or just older. I do not wish to criticise, but to us there was never any decision about circumcision, it was not talked about, offered by the hospital, or even considered. In much the same way as the breast-feeding, the natural way was the only way, and best for baby.

RasJane said...

I hate that "look alike" argument the worst. I've heard it maybe 2x since adopting my boys. I just give a look. Y'know. To say, "well, if it were all about looks, where does that leave our family?"
Good post

Threads of Light said...

Thank you for your post, it's good to have this sort of information to arm future parents with knowledge that isn't so readily available - and certainly not provided by most health care professionals.

I chose to keep my boys intact because their father was, and for no other reason, because I didn't have any other reasons to refer to at the time. So probably they would have been cut had their father been circ'd.

I am so glad things worked out the way they did, though I do wish I'd had the knowledge then that I now have.

Once again, thank you for addressing such a sensitive issue.

Mommy Bee said...

I also have one cut son and one intact son...when you know better you do better. I have to agree with the prior commenters who said that having cut one son is no reason to cut another one... I wish I had known more earlier, but I didn't. I wish that circumcision was not so common in this country, but the best I can do right now is try to tell people what I've learned, in the hopes that somewhere I'm protecting some future little boy. Yes, a lot of boys and men have been cut in the past...a lot of people died in the holocaust too...that doesn't mean it's a good reason to do it again.

Jenna said...

I just had this discussion with my husband the other day. I've never wanted to circumcise -- he always thought it was the prudent thing to do. But after talking with him, I think I've changed his mind. I specifically cited that scripture, as well.

Katie said...

Britman - I don't know if you've subscribed to comments, so hopefully you see this.

You are not being critical at all! The way your culture sees circumcision is EXACTLY what we are fighting for over here in the US! Believe me, we are astonished that it is even a decision too!

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