Saturday, October 3, 2009

Our Perfect Son

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:

Thank you for caring enough about your son's genital integrity to educate yourself!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thank you for posting this! I have never seen a video of a circumcision, just knew we would not be doing it to our boys. That video was so sad and it made me feel so awful for those little babies! Hopefully your blog will help people to make informed decisions!

  3. Having only been blessed with daughters, I never had to make this decision. I am glad that you are making well researched, thoughtful decisions for Kiernan!!!

  4. Well, now logging into blogger doesn't log me in, lol. Go figure. I prefer this method, but it figures that this time I'd REMEMBER to log in before posting!

    You did forget to mention that in Africa, those same arguments are made for female circumcision as are made for male circumcision here. Yet, here, we automatically recoil at the idea of female circumcision and know it's wrong to force that choice on someone--but boys?

    Also, if it prevented HIV, then Africa, which is the most circumcised country in the world, wouldn't have the highest HIV rate. Chew on that.

    And a quick correction--Medicaid ceased to cover circumcision in the early 2000s, as it's a 'cosmetic' procedure, like breast implants, as far as they are concerned. Most insurances then dropped it.

    Awesome post, Dionna, as always!! And I'm trying to convince myself not to watch the damn video. After all, I've never had any intention of doing that to any little boy and I've seen enough penis surgery watching a man pierce and insert an implant into his own >_< Leave it to men to decide how their bodies should be modified, it shouldn't be any one else's decision.

  5. Heather - according to the sites I found (in the footnotes), the U.S. is the most circumcised nation (not Africa), and there are still states where Medicaid covers circumcision. One of the Medicaid sources was a Feb. 2009 article from the Salt Lake City Tribune (but I refuse to cite to it b/c it has misinformation about circ & HIV). The US stat I'm fairly certain can be found that Fleiss Google book preview I linked to. :)

    The video is horrible, but it's definitely not the worst video I could have chosen - there are many more graphic ones available if you really need to convince someone.

  6. Great post Dionna, I will be sharing it! I would like to mention that while it's great that K. knows the difference between girls and boys, as a mother of all daughters (and as a woman!) I always cringe inwardly just a little bit when I see or hear someone say "..and girls have a vagina". Female genitalia is much more than just the vagina. Girls can't even see their vaginas! Without getting into a long rant about how the word "vagina" came from a word meaning "sheath" (like its only function is to surround a penis, bleah) I will just say that I taught all my daughters to refer to their external genitalia as their vulva, and as they became old enough to understand that there are different parts I taught them the words for labia, clitoris, vagina, etc.

  7. Great post, Dionna. This is definitely something I feel strongly about. I don't believe violence against children should be tolerated in any form. If it isn't your body, it isn't your decision to make.

  8. FANTASTIC post!!!! Great information!!! I also chose to keep my son intact, as I feel it would be a violation of his human rights to rip apart his tiny penis!
    People who do this to their sons make me SICK SICK SICK!
    Congrats mama! You are great!

  9. Thank you for speaking out on this topic. It really is important to share the information, because as you said.. SO MANY parents are not getting all the information beforehand!

    The foreskin is healthy, sensitive, functional, erogenous genital tissue.. it is painful and permanent to have it cut off. It is a violation of human rights to do this to an non-consenting infant!

    Please, everyone, speak out more! It is so important!

  10. Awesome post! My son is also intact, for those same reasons. God bless!

  11. OMG!

    I had never even thought about circs, because i don't think it's very common here (Portugal) but to read and see that!

    How can they condone female genitalia mutilation and allow this!?

    It's the same rudy thing! If i didn't like it before i'm dead set against it now. And the silly "reasons" they give to do it!How can anyone believe it?

    And the video...even though it's not everly graphic made me cry... it's so obvious the poor little ones are in pain and wondering way did their loving parents bring them to the evil man thats hurting them!

    I could never do that to any one let alone my own flesh and blood.

    Thank you Dionna, for another eye opening piece!!

    Blessed Be

  12. I feel so sick after watching just part of that video. The heartbroken screams made me tear up. I can't stand it.

  13. Great blog, Dionna! You are to be sooo commended for leaving your little boy's body just the way it is. Thanks so much for talking about this publicly. What a great midwife you had too :).

    I just want to address something Heather said re: Medicaid and circumcision. Medicaid has only stopped paying for it in 16 states. The rest of which are still stubbornly clinging to it, all while Medicaid funds are stretched to the limit. Unthinkable, huh?

    This tri-fold gives the full scoop on the current situation.

    Good news is, Medicaid is a state government program, and it's your state, your Medicaid! If you live in one of these states, there ARE other people who are working on the problem.

    Contact anyone on this list,

    or join us on Facebook
    "End Taxpayer Funding of Infant Circumcision- (your state here)"

  14. In nursing school I had to assist in a bunch of circs. It was awful. Not to mention tying them down which the baby's hate too! I calmed the baby in one that they had to stop in the middle due to baby's urethra being off a little. It was awful.

  15. If I knew then what I know now I would not have circumcised either of my boys. When they are grown and have children I hope that I can help them to see that it's not necessary and to not do it.

  16. Thank you for all your hard work in getting the word out. You're awesome Dionna!

  17. Ahh, I guess since it's no longer covered in my state, I thought it was nationwide. That's terrible :(

    I meant to say "one of the highest rates" -- that was a typo. Still, the US and Africa still both have very high circ rates and high HIV/AIDS rates, so it's clearly a crock of poop that it's beneficial in any way.

    The pictures were bad enough. Whenever I hear about something terrible happening to someone, I can't stop myself from immediately sitting in their place, what they must feel like and it depresses me, that's why I don't want to watch it. My empathy runs too high.

    That said, I'm probably going to try anyway. Call me a masochist *rolls eyes*

  18. OMG, that last scream from that poor sleeping little boy... :( I've never heard a baby scream like that and I thought Naomi's cries sounded like she thought the world was ending sometimes :( I've heard some heartfelt, upset crying and that was like baby rabbits dying. :(

  19. Thanks so much for posting this information, it is so valuable for parents to read about. Every boy and girl deserves the right to choose what they want to do with their own bodies, and genital body modification surgery should be treated like tattooing, and only done when the person is 18 and chooses what they want to do for themselves. You may be interested in the functions of the foreskin site at
    You have a lucky boy!

  20. I think what breaks my heart more than anything is that most parents who decide to circumcise their sons do so on the assumption that it's the only choice. In those circumstances, the real villains are the doctors who circumcise without educating the parents.

  21. Excellent post! This should be required reading for all parents-to-be. :-) I like how it is very factual and backed up with references. No fear-mongering here. :-)

  22. Tell you what, you do what you think is best for your children and I'll do what I feel is best with mine. But don't tell ME what I can or can't do especially with complete nonsense like this post.
    Why don't you go parent your own child and stop worrying about other babies' penises?

  23. Sarah - I'm not certain you read through the whole post, since I don't see any one place where I "told" parents what to do. I asked people to read and consider the information, I asked parents to make an informed decision. If you have made an educated, informed decision about whether to alter your son's penis, at least you haven't done it blindly. But 46% of parents are never even given information on circumcision by their doctor - do you really think many of them are bothering to do research elsewhere?

    I cannot stop worrying about other children. Do you propose that we just leave abusers to their own devices and not worry about the children who are beaten, starved, ignored, and forgotten every day? No. Someone has to speak out for the innocent. And as long as there are parents who are making life and body altering decisions for helpless newborns without sufficient education on the subject, I will not be silent.

  24. Thank you for speaking up, Dionna. Our country as a whole has decided that we must speak out against female genital mutilation. We should be standing up for all children and also speaking out against male genital mutilation. Violence against children is just that, whatever name you put on it.

  25. Sarah---Why do you feel like you have to defend your decision? This is only an informative post. In no way was it offensive. Did it make you question your decision? There was nothing in Dionna's post that was untrue. Most of it was based on fact and not opinion. My "opinion" is that circumcision is violent. It is also my opinion that parents be as informed as possible before making any long term decision for their child. But most of all I believe with everything that I am that every baby, boy or girl, should be given the opportunity to choose how their genitals, among other things, look, feel, and function. The facts just make it a no brainer.

    You can come on to this informative blog and spew your "rights" as a mother to mutilate your son(s) but you are being defensive and not objective. If you really feel that you made the right decision don't just tell us it your baby and you can do it if you want to. Inform.

    Dionna---yet again impressive. I believe Medicaid is still covering circs here in VT but things are in the works.

  26. This is a great post, Dionna. Before my son was born, dh and I were in disagreement on whether to circ. He didn't believe me that almost half of baby boys are left intact now, so we asked an O.B. nurse at OPRMC and she told us that she figured at least 97% of boys at that particular hospital were circ'd. :( We need more people like you out there, spreading the word!

  27. Excellent stuff.

    I would just like to add that the USA and Israel are the only countries in the world where a majority of their infant boys are circumcised. I suspect many people in the USA assume its much higher in the rest of the world than it actually is.

    Also where did parents get the right to circumcise from? It was passed to them in the early 1970s by doctors. When birth became hospitalized, the US circumcision industry simply claimed the right to circumcise all boys they could get their hands on. Seeking parental consent was optional. Got that?

  28. DH and I couldn't decide whether to leave DS intact or not. He wanted him circumcised, I didn't want anyone hurting him. Since we couldn't come to an agreement, we decided to leave him intact and let him decide for himself when he's grown. (I guess that means I won :D)

    Since then I've become very involved in the intactivism movement and will continue to fight for the rights of baby boys, no matter what other people say. No child should be cosmetically altered against his or her will.

  29. Thanks for this great blog! I'm so happy to know there are so many parents out there giving their newborn sons the best gift they could possibly give them. As a parent, we chose to leave our son (and two daughters) intact. Now they are healthy, happy young adults, and I hope they make the same wise choice when the time comes for them to become parents. It's time to rid the world of this barbaric practice!

  30. And, to Sarah... yes WE (the government) WILL tell you what you are and are not allowed to "do your children". You are not allowed to circumcise your infant daughters. In the U.S. that's against the law! It's time that boys received equal protection. Get over your remorse and anger and educate yourself.

  31. My surgeon elected to give my son a circusicion during a medical procedure without asking me, he never asked and reading all this shit just makes me feel like shit, you know it's great that you support something, but not everyone has a choice you know, I have thought long and hard about suing the hospital but I can't afford it, now I just feel more shitty after raeding this...I support non circusicion, but you have not left any room for anyone else to leave here feeling good except those that do.
    I am a terrific Mom:(

  32. Someone whose thoughts:

    I'm sure you are a terrific mom, and this article was in no way meant to condemn parents who had their choice taken away from them. Your situation is not unheard of, I wish I knew if there was a way for you to get justice. I recommend checking around MDC's forum called "The Case Against Circumcision": You might find families who have had similar experiences. Even if you cannot get a settlement, perhaps the surgeon who did this to your son will receive professional consequences.

    Circumcision is so ingrained in the American conscious that most parents don't think they have a choice - it's a given that our sons will be cut. The things that you and I believe about leaving babies intact is the minority, but it is only by speaking out that we can save other babies.

    Please don't take offense; join me in educating other parents about the way things *should* be. It should never have crossed that surgeon's mind to mutilate your son. Let's make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else.

  33. Wonderful, informative and extensive posting! I agree that every parent should read this article during pregnancy to help them in the decision to leave their sons whole and intact! Thank you.

  34. VERY well-written & cited article!!!
    Thank you VERY much for writing it! You made some excellent points & are very convincing (of course, I'm biased!).

    Being Jewish, it was a tough decision that I struggled with for a very long time because of the tremendous amount of family pressure. Leaving my son whole and perfect is a decsion that I continue to feel good about at every single diaper change (and he's 2!)!!!

    I look forward to the day when our boys have the same rights & protection as our girls do.

  35. Tremendous, well referenced article. Very effective ending photos comparing a healthy intact penis to a circumcised one.

  36. Excellent Post!! Thank you for putting together several aspects of accurate and valid research out there surrounding the prepuce and circumcision.

  37. SomeWhoseThoughts: I am SO SORRY that someone did that to your son without your permission!!!! I wish you could sue them; you may want to contact a lawyer anyway to see if they will do something without money up front. Of course you're a terrific mom - and I don't think the post could have addressed people who are victims of an obvious crime like that! Don't feel shitty; it's not your fault that this happened. I recommend that you reach out to the folks at Doctors Against Circumcision or - they may be able to help you, and help prevent terrible things like that from EVER happening to ANYONE else.

  38. Wonderful article, I'm so glad my baby boy is intact! And I'm happy to see men posting that they agree with you. I find that the largest barrier to changing our society's attitudes about circ. is men. It was done to them, so they have to "justify" it and rationalize it, thus expecting that it be done to their sons too. Otherwise, they feel like, well, less of a man. Pun intended

  39. Yikes, just read that post from "Sarah".

    Sarah, as a fellow mommy, I am guessing that you love your children more than life itself. I'm very sorry if you read this article and thought anyone was telling you otherwise. But something dangerous has happened to our society. We, as parents, are taught to just buy whatever the doctors sell us is "good" for our babies. There is a growing culture out there of parents who just aren't buying it anymore. And we're trying to give other parents the okay to question (not condemn) but question what everyone else is just accepting at face value without a second thought.

    If your children were circ'd, you probably didn't wake up one day and think "Gosh, I'd like to hurt my baby, think I'll go get him cut". I'm sure you figured that the doctor told you to, so it must be the right thing to do. And no one is saying you were a bad parent. So please don't get defensive, because it's not all about you. It's about newborn babies that can't speak for themselves.

    Think about all of the good parents who were brought up to think that spanking was okay, lived in a culture where it was completely and totally accepted, and now have to face their grown children and feel terribly guilty about it because "experts" told them to do it. Do you think they go onto anti-spanking blogs and condemn the people for encouraging parents not to whack their kids???

    No matter how far you travel down the wrong path, turn back. Peace and love, my fellow mama.