I have debated writing about this topic for awhile but I have decided I am going to go ahead and throw it out there since it is a hot topic and something I feel is very important to research and discuss.
What do 85% of the men in this world have but it removed in the most common surgery performed in America?
Answer: A foreskin!
When I was in high school I had to do volunteer hours and I chose to do mine in a newborn nursery at a local hospital. I remember seeing this thing that looked like a torture device for infants, and I didn't know what it was for:
I would scoop up the newly circumcised boys and try to soothe them. I would pray that I would never have a boy because I never ever wanted to subject him to that pain. At the time I didn't know I had a choice. It became a sore spot in my heart and an experience that would forever shape me.
So many of you are reading this and saying "And.....???"
Well, did you know that no health organizations in the world recommend circumcision? It has no proven medical benefits, the benefits are regarded as "potential." North American culture has adopted circumcision as "normal" and we often see it as "cleaner" and want our boys to look more like their fathers. What is so interesting to me is that so many of us don't bother to question the practice of circumcision on our tiny infant sons but if our children needed a tonsillectomy or ear tubes we would be weighing the pros and cons and getting second opinions. We are told the procedure is simple and the baby won't feel much pain. We hand our little boys to the doctor trusting that we are doing the right thing. But what if we aren't?
The practice of circumcision is fear-based and excuses for circumcision always have been consistent with the dreaded disease of the day. For instance, in the late 1800s it was thought to cure masterbation (now we all know that isn't true). As time went on it was thought to cure tuberculosis, insanity, hip joint diseases, convulsions, bloody noses, and night terrors. For a long version of this history please click here. Now there are studys that are trying to prove that circumcision prevents HIV/AIDS. These studies have been regarded as flawed by many but the media continues to advertise these claims in an irresponsible manner. If this is true why does America have one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates as well as one of the highest circumcision rates? What a false sense of security to those who will use that in lieu of safe sex. It also doesn't prevent penile cancer and is not recommended by the American Cancer Society. Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) are also a reason a lot of parents site for circumcising their sons. Unfortunately, this claim holds no water as it would take 195 circumcisions to prevent one UTI, which can easily be treated with antibiotics. See this link for more info. Yeast and bacterial infections can occur if the forskin is not properly cared for or if the foreskin is prematurely retracted. These can be treated with antibiotics and creams without unneccesary surgery. Keep in mind that girls get far more infections than boys and our first resort is never to cut their genitals.
So now that we have moved past that issue, what about the hygiene issue? Is a foreskin really that hard to keep clean? As a mom of two intact boys I can tell you it is not at all. Before your son is retractable you do not have to wash under the foreskin at all. In fact you should not attempt to retract the foreskin. It will retract on it's own sometime between two years and puberty. Premature retraction can lead to infections and other complications that can lead a doctor to recommend circumcision. You just clean it like a finger. After the foreskin is retractable all that has to be done is a quick splash of water with the foreskin pulled back and that is it. No harsh soaps needed! We live in a country with running water and there is no reason to be scared of the "unclean" penis. Little boys can be taught to clean their private areas just like little girls. No harsh bristles or clorox bleach needed...just rinse and go!
So let's talk about the father/son penis mismatch scenario. How important is it that a son's penis look like his father's? When a boy sees his father naked and compares himself for the first time the first thing he will probably notice is hair. Should we run out and make a mini-penis toupee so father and son match? Mothers and daughters don't match either. Should we run out and involve plastic surgeon so daughter has breasts to match mom? Of course not! We often project our own insecurities on our children and it is so easy just to say "Back when daddy was a baby he had his foreskin taken off. Now we know that wasn't the best thing to do so we left yours alone so you could have all of your penis." And while we are on the topic let's talk locker room teasing. Who is going to point out somebody's penis is different for fear of being teased for being gay? In the unlikely event it does happen you can teach your son to say "Eww, dude why are you looking at my junk anyways?"
Is the foreskin just a little piece of skin? Not at all! It is a highly sensitive and functional sexual organ.
A foreskin protects the head of the penis, which is by design an internal organ. When the foreskin in removed the head of the penis becomes calloused and desensitized. When the foreskin is removed sexual pleasure in the male is reduced and in women it takes away the gliding action that reduces the need for lubricants. So don't let someone convince you that the foreskin is "just a piece of skin." It is a functional part of the male penis that is an important part of their sexual well being.
Is circumcision safe? I find that most people have heard a foreskin horror story but never a circumcision horror story. The truth is that baby boys are harmed by circumcision. Not only is the penis size and sexual fucntions reduced but there are risks of bleeding, infection, scarring, skin tags, removing too much skin, bowed penis, meteal stenosis, buried penis, skin bridges, loss of penis, and death. These things are 100% preventable by chosing not to circumcise.
Does circumcision cause pain? Yes, it absolutely does. Babies feel pain when they are circumcised. Even if the numbing patch (EMLA) is used the sensation of the foreskin being torn from the glans is like ripping your nail off of your finger. Using any kind of local anesthetic is painful because needles and lidocaine hurt. The recovery is also painful as a raw penis is rubbing up against a soiled diaper and can cause great pain and discomfort. No matter how you slice it (pun intended) this procedure is not pain free. There have been studies that have shown that infants who are circumcised have increased stress hormones and are more sensitive to pain later in life. If a circumcision has to be done as an adult he can be given anesthesia and pain medication. Generally speaking most men don't have to be circumcised as adults. The horror stories that people are eager to share about foreskins often involve a doctor who is not familiar with how to care for the foreskin or problems originating from premature retraction of the foreskin.
Lastly, is circumcision ethical? Is is okay to remove a healthy, functioning body part from someone who is not able to consent? This procedure, once done, cannot be undone. Should we perform surgery to prevent potential disease? We do not perform routine tonsillectomies because we might get recurrent throat infections. We don't pull our teeth out in case we get cavities. Why remove a healthy organ? It makes no sense. Because a circumcision has no proven medical benefits it is technically a cosmetic procedure. Why should it be okay to perform a cosmetic procedure on an unconsenting newborn? And why is it considered a birth defect when a baby is born without a foreskin but "normal" when we take it off a week later? The truth is that people in America have seen the foreskin as a problem for many years when in reality we are the ones that are creating the problem. I have always liked the bumper sticker that says "If a baby was meant to have a foreskin he would have been born with one."
Of course I am not writing this as a criticism or a guilt-laden lecture. I merely want to share with my readers my thoughts and feelings on circumcision based upon my research and personal choices. I highly encourage you to do your own research. Watch a circumcision video and read as much as you can get your hands on. Remember that it is okay for you to make a choice that is against tradition or culture.
Here are some informational websites:
American Academy of Pediatrics' stance on circumcision:
I also want to let you know that if you have chosen to circumcise your boy I am not placing any judgement on you. It is not my intention to make you feel guilty for the choices you have made for your children. I just want to encourage you to question this procedure and do some research on it's benefits and risks.
Off to bathe my baby boy!