Sunday, 28 September 2008

Circumcision

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.

Cleanliness

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

Matching Pairs

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

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.

19 comments:

  1. When he is of age, let the owner decide for himself if he wants to alter his genitalia. It's nobody's else's business.
    Thanks for your interesting article.

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  2. Hey, I just stumbled upon this post (the whole "next blog" thing).

    I find it is confusing that you want people to "make a fully informed choice" regarding circumcision, but then provide a list of anti-circumcision activist websites as a source of info.

    Using one of these sites to learn about circumcision is a little like going to John McCain's website to learn about Barack Obama. Kind of silly!

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  3. I am so glad you asked me why we were going to do it. If not we would have planned for it. We really just weren't sure until the day after he delievered. Nothing,I mean nothing worked out to set it up and we knew that was God. Thank you! I agree with this all! I think people should keep in mind all these things.

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  4. Anon, the information is out there for people who want it. I listed sites that I found to be useful, accurate, and informative. What would be "silly" is providing a list of pro-circumcision sites when every major medical association says there is no need for circumcision in the first place. :) I can appreciate your point though; thank you for taking the time to comment.

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  5. I can't believe people think you should take seriously someone who would advise you to amputate a healthy normal body part of someone else's body without consent when no national medical association on earth endorses routine circumcision.

    But when circumcision and scripture are discussed, some will want to believe that circumcision is ok.

    95% of the world's Christians do not circumcise. The official Catholic policy forbids it. Circumcision is NOT part of Christianity.

    Some verses you didn't mention which also support this: Romans 2:29, Romans 3:30, Acts 15:10, I Corinthians, 12: 18, Galatians 5:6, Galatians 5:2, Galatians 6:15, Philippians 3:2, Colossians 2:12, Matthew 9:12

    For me, it just comes down to the fact that foreskin feels REALLY good, and it's HIS body, so it's morally HIS decision.

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  6. This is an interesting blog. My mother actually said the whole "Matching the Father" thing, so my brother is circumcised, and he had his grow together as well so we had to take him back to the doctor. However, like you, I always figured this would be my husbands choice.

    I was raised as a Muslim before becoming a Christian, so I ALWAYS believed every man must have a penis that looked like my baby brothers (how sad, huh?). I do remember going with my Mom (who isn't Muslim, but since my father is my brother went through the procedure) to have my brother circumcised. I had to leave the room ( I was only 8) because his screaming upset me. I cried almost as much as he did. So I'm not sure I'll have it done when and if we have a boy. I feel like it's extra work to have to deal with (cleaning it, checking it).

    Here's another interesting thought, it's funny how as a society we accept male circumcision as a normal thing, but how female circumcision is considered disfiguring and mutilating. I'm not saying female circumcision isn't terrible, but here's a thought, why isn't male circumcision on the same page?

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  7. I'd always thought "it's just what you do." It took a few passing comments to get me to do the research myself (both for and against, to be fair) and I discovered that there just wasn't a reason to circumcise. After realizing that, I also realized that if there were no reason other than "it's just what you do," that I didn't want my baby's first experience with life to be painful and unnecessary.

    Rich, on the other hand, was the one with the "match the father" argument. He's circumcised so he said he wouldn't know what to "do" with an intact penis, or how to show him how to take care of it. Then entered the cleanliness and cleaning under the foreskin arguments, which I countered - the same as you said, actually, that you just wipe it off, same as a finger, and that you don't retract the foreskin to clean it, in fact that causes problems, that it's self-cleaning like a vagina... etc. He still wasn't convinced!

    When I ended up having to have a c-section, I told Rich, "If nothing else about this is going to be natural, we are not circumcising." He agreed, lol.

    And I haven't had one problem with my baby's intact penis. The foreskin was red once. For a day. And that was it. My nephew was circumcised and I remember my sister talking about having to take care of it and, bleh, what a pain.

    Though in the hospital, the doctor said she was going to do such-and-such at the same time as the circumcision, until I told her, "We're not circumcising." I don't even remember them asking, it was just kind of assumed until I said no. Surely I would have had to sign a form or something...

    Anyway, I didn't know about the Jewish circumcision being totally different like that. That's actually pretty cool.

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  8. Well done post, Cynth. I actually learned a lot, even if it made me squirm a bit. ;) I'll remember this if I ever get married and have sons.

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  9. This was a good read! I am 23 weeks pregnant with my second boy, and my first is circumsized, however I am really debating wheather or not to circumsize baby-to-be. You have given me a lot to think about!

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  10. Shannon and I have decided that if we have a boy, we will not have him circumcised. If it weren't for you and other ladies who have shown me this information however, I would have never given it a second thought.

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  11. I'm glad you posted this. I don't want to circumcise but my husband is for it because, you know, it's the "natural" thing to do. Ha. Hopefully I'll be able to convince him before the time comes.

    In response to another noter, though, I just want to mention that there is no official Catholic policy towards circumcision, although there are strong Catholic arguments against it based on this passage from the catechism:

    "Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law."

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  12. Hi,
    ^^ there is no official Catholic policy towards circumcision ^^

    - - - - -

    Hmmmmm. Tell that to multiple pontifs (from Eugene IV in 1442 to most recently Pius XII in 1952) who all affirmed the "Cantate Domino" from the 11th session of the Council of Florence:

    "[The Holy Roman Church] . . . strictly orders all who glory in the name of Christian, not to practise circumcision either before or after baptism, since whether or not they place their hope in it, it cannot possibly be observed without loss of eternal salvation."

    -Ron

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  13. Wow, I truly had no idea. When my son was born my husband and I just thought that circumcision was the normal thing to do. The doctor was very matter of fact about it and offered no argument against it. Wow, I feel the mommy guilt kicking in right about now.

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  14. ^^ I feel the mommy guilt kicking in ^^

    Screw that! You acted with good intentions based on advice you thought was competent. You do have a right to ask your doctor why he/she didn't tell you that no national medical association on earth endorses routine circumcision.

    Get over the guilt by speaking out. Also, keep and secure your child's medical records including the fact that no diagnosis of defect or pathology was made before the amputation. In most jurisdictions he will have until some defined time past his 18th birthday to bring legal action for malpractice (against doctor, hospital, insurer). HE was the patient, and a doctor asking laypeople (you) if a patient should have a body part lopped off is malpractice, and wasn't in HIS interest.

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  15. Hilty Sprouts, I've very sorry that this information caused you to feel guilty - that is not the intent at all. We all do the best we can with the information we have, and we can't hold ourselves responsible for things we didn't even know to question. Like you said to me in another comment recently - there's only so much we can do. :) It's what we do once we do have that information that we are truly responsible for.

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  16. I just came across this post. I am so torn with this topic. My toddler was circumcised, and my husband is also. I am 36 weeks pregnant with baby boy #2, and upon doing research on the subject I feel like I want this son to be intact. I felt horrible after my son got his done. My husband, however says that he and my toddler are circ'd, this one will be too. I am up against a wall with this one :/

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    1. What a difficult situation to be in. I'm so sorry. I have heard from many families with an older circ'd child and an uncirc'd younger one; when handled matter-of-factly, it seems to become a non-issue. If your husband is open to it, he may find the official statements of various medical organizations to be a neutral source of information on current circumcision recommendations.

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  17. I can't love this post enough!!!

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