While Kieran hasn’t reached that stage where he has discovered the real joy that is his penis, he is well aware of its existence. He can also distinguish between “boyyyys” and “guuuuls” and is more than happy (at 21 months) to inform a complete stranger that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina. He’s also entirely too young to care that I’m about to “out” him on the Internet:
Kieran is intact (aka "uncircumcised").
You might find it amusing to know that one of the main reasons Tom and I decided not to circumcise Kieran was for the benefit of his future sexual pleasure. That’s right. We actually had a discussion (before we even knew whether Kieran was a boyyyy or a guuul) about the fact that someday, our potential son would be saying a silent thank you to us (or maybe out loud, who knows what would happen in the moment) for allowing him the blessing of having the full range of penile sensation. (More on that below)
Another of our main reasons? The fact that circumcision just isn’t necessary under our system of beliefs. And I’ll tell you the secret of what tipped the scales for Tom (I was convinced as soon as I saw pictures/video of what actually happens in a circumcision): it was our last appointment with our midwife. We were sitting around chatting and I broached the subject: “Can we please talk a little bit about circumcision?” My midwife looked up in surprise before responding: “For two people who recognize the benefits of a natural, unmedicated birth, immediate and exclusive breastfeeding, and responding to your baby’s needs, I’m surprised that you’d even consider mutilating your new baby’s penis.” Tom got it.
I'd like to share some of the information I've found on circumcision. Too often, American parents are culturally pressured into cutting their sons, but they are not exposed to any of the facts that would likely lead them to make a different decision. 46% of new parents are not even provided circumcision information by a doctor! (1) I encourage you to share this post with your pregnant friends and family; the best decisions are informed ones.
There are at least four big arguments expounded by those in favor of circumcision. I'm going to address each one in turn, and I'll give you several more reasons that support leaving your sons intact. (I implore you to read this, even though it is a bit lengthy. If you are a parent, you should never make a body-altering decision for your child unless you are fully informed. If you are not a parent, you should be aware of the facts of the most widely performed and wholly unnecessary medical procedure that insurance companies (and, consequently, you) pay for. If you have time, you should also check out Penn & Teller's half hour episode on the subject: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. And one more from Penn here.)
Myth #1: Circumcision prevents disease.
Fact: Circumcision does not protect against getting or giving sexually transmitted diseases (STD's). Rather, the foreskin and its intact mucous membranes act as a barrier to infection. (2) There is also no link between an intact penis and cancer. (3)
Circumcision does not prevent disease:
Despite an overwhelming lack of evidence, doctors have been claiming for decades that circumcision prevents all kinds of diseases: from AIDS to tuberculosis, cancer to poor eyesight, epilepsy to mental retardation, and many more in varying degrees of incredulity. No other medical procedure has been credited with preventing such a wide variety of diseases. (4) In reality, circumcision began in the United States during the Victorian era. Its function? To punish boys for masturbating. Even into the 1970's, medical textbooks recommended that doctors perform "routine circumcision as a way to prevent masturbation." (5) Following are quotes by two American doctors:
A remedy for masturbation which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment. In females, the author has found the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement. (6)
To obtain the best results one must cut away enough skin and mucous membrane to rather put it on the stretch when erections come later. There must be no play in the skin after the wound has thoroughly healed, but it must fit tightly over the penis, for should there be any play the patient will be found to readily resume his practice not begrudging the time and extra energy required to produce the orgasm. . . We may not be sure that we have done away with the possibility of masturbation, but we may feel confident that we have limited it to within the danger lines. (7)
As Americans grew more liberal in their attitude toward sex, cutting proponents needed more effective arguments than masturbation prevention to encourage circumcision. Hence the panic-inducing reports that intact men are more likely to get cancer and STD's - specifically, AIDS.
The myth that circumcision prevented cancer is credited to Abraham Ravich, a New York urologist who fought bitterly for compulsory circumcision. One of Ravich's most incredible lies (completely unsupported by any medical evidence) is that "foreskin caused cancer in whatever body part it came in contact with." He believed in a fantastical "smegma virus," which migrated from the foreskin to infect its owner and his sexual partners. (8)
More recently, several studies (sponsored, incidentally, by circumcision advocates) have been released linking circumcision to lowered HIV rates. (9) For purposes of these studies, doctors circumcised a group of African adult males. After a short observation period, the doctors concluded that circumcised males contracted HIV at a lower rate than the intact males. What you did not read in their reports, however, is that the newly circumcised males were required to remain abstinent after their foreskins were cut off; this fact, coupled with the early termination of the studies, lends itself to the conclusion that the studies were skewed in favor of the advocates' (predetermined) findings. If the studies continued in time, it is likely that there would be little to no difference in HIV rates between the two groups of men. It also went unreported that these same circumcision advocates had previously done observational studies (where they simply kept track of men who were already circ'd; they did not circ the men). The observational studies failed to show any clear protective effect of circumcision. (10)
The amount of virus present in the body (called the "viral load") "is the chief predictor of the risk of HIV transmission. . . . Male circumcision would not reduce viral loads[,]" so circumcision is an illogical means of reducing infection. Furthermore, "[t]he United States has the highest rate of HIV infection and the highest rate of male circumcision in the industrialized world. Male circumcision, therefore, cannot reasonably be thought to prevent HIV infection." (11)
Remaining intact is medically beneficial:
So if circumcision doesn't prevent disease, are there any medical benefits to keeping one's foreskin? Yes, yes, yes!
- Protection: "Just as the eyelids protect the eyes, the foreskin protects the glans [the "head"] and keeps its surface soft, moist, and sensitive. It also maintains optimal warmth, pH balance, and cleanliness."
- Immunological Defense: "Glands in the foreskin produce antibacterial and antiviral proteins . . . . Plasma cells in the foreskin's mucosal lining secrete immunoglobulins, antibodies that defend against infection."
- Proper Circulation: "Circumcision interrupts the normal circulation of blood throughout the penile skin system and glans. . . . The blood flowing into major penile arteries is obstructed by the line of scar tissue at the point of incision, creating backflow instead of feeding the branches and capillary networks beyond the scar." This backflow may obstruct the flow of urine, which can necessitate corrective surgery.
- "Circumcision harms the developing brain: . . . [C]ircumcision has long-lasting detrimental effects on the developing brain, adversely altering the brain's perception centers. Circumcised boys have a lower pain threshold than girls or intact boys." There is also evidence of "deeper and more disturbing levels of neurological damage . . . ."
- The consequences of circumcision: One in 500 babies will experience surgical complications from circumcision. "These complications include uncontrollable bleeding[,] fatal infections[,]" gangrene, pathogenic bacteria which can lead to infections and death, and the tragic mistake of a completely amputated or cauterized penis. (12)
- Circumcised penises are actually more prone to infection: The foreskin acts as a shield to the glans, protecting it from urine, feces, dirt, and bacteria (particularly during the diaper-wearing years). A circumcised male does not have this protection, so he will be more apt to get irritations and infections, including infections of the urinary tract. (13)
Moral of the disease-prevention myth? Please, please don't circumcise because you think it will make your child healthier. That simply isn't true: you would actually be harming him.
Myth #2: Circumcision is more sanitary and easier to take care of.
Fact: A natural penis requires no special care. In fact, a circumcised penis is actually less clean than an intact penis. (14)
Please continue to read this post at my new site. Here is the direct link: http://codenamemama.com/?p=24
Thank you for caring enough about your son's genital integrity to educate yourself!