It makes me so sad to hear women express their heavy regret over having circumcised their sons. Whether they circ'd due to misinformation, tradition, or pressure from others (family, friends, husbands or doctors), those that become fully informed after the fact and come to regret having allowed the procedure all say the same thing - "I wish I'd known then what I know now."
My heart goes out to them.
There are so many myths out there, from physical to emotional to cultural, it's easy for a woman to allow her son's foreskin to be cut off without giving it a second thought. After all, it's just what's done.
I remember thinking that at one point. When I first brought the issue up before our son was born, I was willing to let my husband decide - I figured hey, he has a penis, he'll know best. Thankfully, my (circ'd) husband didn't think it was necessary to put our son through that sort of pain. Up until that point, I had thought that everyone circumcised their sons, that it was just the proper thing to do. But after my husband said he didn't want it done on our son, I started researching the issue for myself. By the time our son was born, there was no way I would ever have him circumcised. I am so grateful that I had that information (and a husband who was inclined against the procedure anyway) and don't have to live with that regret.
The most frequent myth I hear about circumcision is that a circ'd penis is cleaner. There is simply no truth to this at all. With an intact infant's penis, you wash it the exact same way you would a circ'd infant's penis - just like a finger. No retraction required. Just wash the outside. An infant's foreskin is fused to the glans underneath, much the same way your fingernails are fused to your nail beds. At some point before puberty, the foreskin will become unfused, at which time the child will simply retract the foreskin to clean beneath during his shower, just as he would wash any other part of his body. It is no big deal.
By contrast, an infant's circumcised penis needs daily attention during the first two weeks, to make sure the cut edges do not adhere to the raw surface of the glans. It is very common for the leftover foreskin to begin adhering to the penis, even months down the line, requiring the skin to be pulled back again. I've recently talked with two mothers who say their sons currently flinch whenever the mother reaches to clean the penis - both of them circumcised boys whose remaining foreskin ahered and needed to be pulled back again several months ago.
Simply put, a circ'd penis is no cleaner than an intact one, nor is it any easier to keep clean.
The Foreskin's Purpose
I don't think this could possibly be stressed enough - the foreskin has a purpose.
The foreskin is not an "extra". It is an integral part of the penis, a God-given protection for the head (glans) of the penis - please don't take that away from your son.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
The glans at birth is delicate and easily irritated by urine and feces. The foreskin serves to shield the glans. With circumcision, this protection is lost; the glans and the urinary opening may become irritated or infected, causing ulcers, inflamation, and meatal stenosis (a narrowing of the urinary opening). Such problems virtually never occur in uncircumcised penises. The foreskin protects the glans throughout life.
The Circumcision of the Bible
"But God commanded circumcision in the Old Testament, so there can't be anything wrong with it."
If you are Jewish, then please, circumcise your son. But circumcise him in the manner done traditionally. Jewish people circumcised their sons on the eight day after birth. It has since been discovered that on the eighth day, the amount of prothrombin (a blood-clotting protein) present is elevated far above normal levels — and it is the only day in the male’s life in which this will be the case under normal conditions. If surgery is to be performed, day eight is the perfect day to do it. Vitamin K and prothrombin levels are at their peak.
Furthermore, the Jewish form of circumcision removed only a tiny piece of the tip of the foreskin, not the amputation of the entire foreskin that is done today.
Jewish law requires circumcision, being a blood covenant, to be performed using a razor-sharp surgical knife, making the tiny cut instant and nearly painless. Hospitals, on the other hand, use clamps which completely crush and sever the skin, the nerve endings and the blood vessels in a lengthy procedure causing extreme pain and trauma to the child. This may even cause the child to withdraw into a state of neurological shock in response to the sudden and massive pain. In the year 2000, the FDA issued a warning about circumcision clamps, which it said can cause laceration, hemorrhage, penile amputation, and urethral damage.
Jewish circumcision is also different because the child is not strapped to a board, but held on a pillow by a loved one. He is given a wine soaked rag (and Tylenol and/or EMLA cream in many cases) and prayed over during the ceremony.
So please, if you are Jewish, perform the ritual circumcision on your sons as commanded by God, and perform it in the traditional manner. If you are Christian, then do not circumcise your sons, for as it says in God's Word:
"Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commands is what counts." 1 Corinthians 7: 18-19
To me, this is the single strangest argument for circumcising a child: "But his father is circumcised!"
I just don't get this one. I have a brother and he and my dad certainly never compared their penises. When would this issue ever come up? One would hope that a father, rather than wanting his son's penis to look the same as his, would instead want what is best for his son.
The "locker room" argument is equally invalid, as the circ/uncirc rate in North America now is nearing 50/50. In 2006, 56.1% of newborn boys were circumcised in the USA.
No Reason to Circumcise...
Not one single medical organization recommends circumcision, but instead strongly recommend against circumcision. Many people will be hard-pressed to even find a doctor who will perform circumcision without giving you a very hard time about it, as it is so very unnecessary.
Paul M. Fleiss, MD, wrote an incredible article on the case against circumcision. It covers the issue clearly and thoroughly.
...But Every Reason Not To
The risks of circumcision are many, all for a purely cosmetic surgery that is recommended against by all major medical organizations. Circumcision can interfere with the success of breastfeeding. It affects an infant's behaviour, shattering their trust and leading to withdrawal and damaging the mother/infant bonding. It can have a multitude of complications, both physical and psychological. It is not worth it.
Please, make a fully informed choice. Don't circumcise your son based on a myth or pressure from others. One of your duties as a mother is to protect your son, so please don't expose him to the risks and trauma of newborn surgery and life without a protective foreskin. It's there for a reason.
There are more resources than I could ever hope to list over at Mothering.com. The National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers and The Circumcision Information and Resource Pages are both excellent resources as well.