As a mother, childbirth educator, and prenatal yoga teacher, I find circumcision to be one of the biggest areas of conflict and confusion among parents-to-be.
When I became pregnant with our first child, a baby boy, it was a topic that quickly surfaced as something that needed deep attention and discussion.
My husband, who was circumcised as a baby, naturally thought that we would circumcise our son. Many men feel it's important for their son to look like them. But I like to point out, as I did with my husband, that their sons will likely never have a penis that looks exactly like their father's … much less even have the desire to compare.
My husband was also concerned that our son might be teased for looking different from most other boys his age. However, what many people might not know, is that this surgery has actually been consistently declining in the U.S.
Ultimately, my husband and I chose not to circumcise our son. And I'd like to share seven reasons why we hope more parents-to-be will consider doing the same.
One thing to note: Anyone who might be reading this who has already circumcised his or her son, please know that this piece is not meant to judge or offend. As parents, we are constantly making choices for our children and doing what we think is best for them based on the information we have at the time. This article is for all the parents-to-be out there who have never explored this choice.
1. Evolution suggests it's probably there for a reason.
Did God or Source Energy or whatever you want to call that which created your perfect little baby boy get it all right — two eyes, a nose, 10 fingers and toes — except for this one part at the tip of every boys’ penis?
With thousands of years of evolution contributing to the perfection that is the vast majority of healthy baby boys, why would nature only mess up the penis, over and over again on every single human male?
This is arguably the most important anatomical area for nature to get right. Messing up the penis would certainly inhibit procreation and carrying forth our great species.
2. Uncircumcised men might enjoy better sex.
A study published in BJU International showed that the foreskin is the most sensitive part of the penis, with specialized nerve receptors directly connected to pleasure centers in the male brain.
Plus, research shows that men who were circumcised as adults report less sexual pleasure after the procedure, possibly because of the loss of these nerve endings. And a 2013 study concluded, "This study confirms the importance of the foreskin for penile sensitivity, overall sexual satisfaction, and penile functioning."
As adults, we all have areas on our bodies where we think we could “stand to lose” a bit. But the penis? This seems like the last place a grown man would voluntarily remove anything.
Foreskins are all different sizes and shapes (and each person performing the circumcision is different), so removing this skin has a unique impact. However, one thing that is true for all is that the procedure ultimately results in less of a penis — not more!
3. The procedure is painful.
Research indicates that infants might experience pain similarly to adults — meaning that circumcision is likely an excruciatingly painful and traumatic procedure. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has noted research revealing that “neonatal physiologic responses to circumcision pain include changes in heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation and cortisol levels.” It confirms that "the research is clear that infants experience pain."
I found that most parents are completely unaware of what is actually done during a circumcision, and if they were privy to all the details, it's doubtful they'd still allow it.
Generally, your fully conscious baby boy will be strapped down in a four-point eagle position with his arms and legs restrained at all corners of a plastic board. He will likely be given some kind of topical pain relief. Next, a device will be used to separate the foreskin from the glans of the penis. After getting a secure grip, a scalpel is wedged between the foreskin and the glans of the penis (similar to separating a fingernail from a finger), and his foreskin is amputated.
While the rate of complication is low, the risks include bleeding, infection, inflammation of the penis opening, and even permanent injury, if too much is removed.
4. Circumcision's health benefits are not conclusive.
Over the years, circumcision has been touted as the cure to just about every malady you can imagine — paralysis, tuberculosis, epilepsy, bed-wetting, headaches, poor eyesight, hysteria, mental retardation…shall I go on?
The problem is that as each of these claims has inevitably been disproved, new “cures” arise, usually focusing on the current fears and pathologies of the time. Most recently, research has shown that circumcision can lower the risk of HIV — but as the AAP notes, “behavioral factors appear to be far more important risk factors … than circumcision status.”
In fact, the most recent policy statement on circumcision from The American Academy of Pediatrics, in 2012, stated that “the benefits are not great enough to recommend universal newborn circumcision … the final decision should be left to parents to make in the context of their religious, ethical and cultural beliefs.”
5. An uncircumcised penis is more naturally lubricated.
Just as an eyelid protects the eyes, the foreskin protects the head of the penis (aka the glans) and keeps this moist membrane from becoming dried out and less sensitive.
In addition, although I’ll be the first to admit that "smegma" might be one of the worst words in the English language, this white emollient produced under the foreskin can actually be beneficial. Some studies have suggested that it may be why uncircumcised men require less lubrication during sex. Plus, the extra skin on the foreskin may enable the penis to slip in and out of the vagina with less friction.
6. There are other ways to honor religious traditions.
Are you planning on circumcision because your religion requires it? This is definitely a deeply personal question, but you should at least consider how this act represents your deep and abiding faith.
If you're not going to follow a literal biblical interpretation of all of the laws of your religion, maybe you should consider this one a bit more critically. A growing number of religious parents are choosing not to circumcise, and creating symbolic ceremonies for their families instead.
7. An infant isn't able to give his consent.
Is it even ethical? It seems like this question is pretty simple. It’s the child’s body; it’s the child’s rights. Remember: This procedure is irreversible. Why not let your son choose — when he is an adult — whether he wants to cut off the most erogenous part of his penis?
Plus, you wouldn’t think about circumcising your newborn baby daughter, would you? Most sane Americans think that's just a barbaric practice done in developing countries where female oppression still prevails. But if it’s not something you would do to your daughters, why would you do it to your sons?
I understand how this choice can be very hard for a circumcised father. By choosing not to circumcise your son you are, in a way, acknowledging that something that was done to you might not have been in your best interest. It’s often easier to stick your head in the sand and say, “I turned out okay.” And maybe you did.
But you also might simply not know what you're missing. Show your baby boy that he can trust you to protect him. Remember, this decision is an important one for the man that your newborn son will one day become.