Please Don't Circumcise

If you're about to have a baby or a grand-baby--or if you know someone who fits that description--the subject of circumcision will probably come up sooner or later. There is a lot of misinformation about circumcision going around, even from doctors, because so many people in the US circumcised their boys in the past that some doctors don't have a lot of experience with boys who aren't circumcised. Here are some of the misconceptions and myths that I feel need to be addressed and better understood by new parents who are making this decision for their baby boys:

1) It's just a "little flap of skin"?

The truth is, it is 15 square inches of functional tissue, rich with blood vessels and several different types of nerve endings, the frenulum, and a ridged band, and it serves more than one purpose. One is to protect the glans. The glans is supposed to be moist and supple, like the inside of your cheek. This link contains pictures that show the difference between the two if you'd like to see for yourself. The foreskin and frenulum is also the most erogenous part of a man's body, and has several functions during sex, including providing a gliding action so there is less friction for him and his partner, and providing lubrication. This article illustrates some of the important sexual functions of the foreskin.

2) It's "just a snip"?

Babies' foreskins are fused to the glans in much the same way your fingernail is fused to your finger. Before it can be removed, the foreskin has to be torn away from the glans. This is true whether your doctor uses a traditional technique or the "plastibell" method. There are many videos of circumcisions you can watch on YouTube that prove that it is anything but a little "snip" if you have the stomach to watch them. I've never been able to get very far into one. (This is an excellent video that has a ton of great info. in it. The circumcision procedure starts at 10:24 if you want to watch it. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I had to fast-forward and mute, so I'm not sure exactly what happens. I just know it's an informative video overall, and that it happens to also show an actual circumcision procedure for those who want to know what that looks like.)

3) Boys need to be circumcised so they look like their dad / brother / friends / kids at school / etc.?

There is no other time in a child's life that parents would find it acceptable to alter their child's body in order to make it match someone else's. Boys look different from their dads in lots of ways, and those differences can be easily explained and even celebrated.


It's also important to note that 80% of the world's men are intact. Outside of the Jewish and Muslim world, that number is more like 95%. Even in the U.S. the numbers are falling, especially in the West. Overall, the U.S. circumcision rate is around 60%. So if you're circumcising just so your son won't get teased, there is pretty much the same chance of getting teased for being circumcised as there is for not at this point.

4) It's cleaner?

Brushing your teeth is much more difficult than keeping an intact penis clean. When boys are young, the foreskin is fused to the glans. You don't need to do anything more than wipe it off the way you would a finger. As they get older, often not until puberty, the foreskin is able to retract. Teach them to pull it back and rinse it with water. Soap is unnecessary and even harmful, as it disrupts the healthy pH balance of the area.

Also, the foreskin actually protects the meatus and glans from bacteria. That's part of its job.

5) There are health benefits?

This is a hotly debated topic. There may or may not be health benefits. Some studies suggest there might be. Others show the opposite. Medicaid and many insurance companies have stopped covering circumcision in many states because the American Academy of Pediatrics determined that there is not enough evidence of a health benefit that outweighs the risks enough to recommend it. And recent studies that are being touted as proof that circumcision can help prevent AIDS are extremely flawed. (Not only that, they're dangerous because people are having sex without condoms thinking they are unable to get AIDS because of their circumcision when that is anything but the truth.) BUT, even if there were a clear health benefit, there is no other time in any person's life that healthy tissue is removed just because it /might/ become a problem later in life. Some argue that circumcision could reduce the risk of penile cancer, but penile cancer occurs in older men, and even then only 1 in 100,000 men will ever get it. On the other hand, over 40,000 women will die this year from breast cancer, but we would never dream of removing a healthy baby's breast tissue in order to keep her from possibly getting breast cancer later in life.

6) It looks better?

This is a matter of personal opinion, and the only reason some people think it looks better is because that is what they're used to. If you are circumcising just for looks, that makes this a purely cosmetic surgery on a body part that hardly anyone will ever see. It is never okay to perform cosmetic surgery on an infant. Besides, how many parents are going around thinking about how much better their grown son's penis looks compared to someone else's? If your grown son or his partner want his penis to look different, they can make that choice, but how do you know they won't think an intact penis looks better? It can always be done later, but it can never be undone.

7) They might need to have it done later in life?

Many of the cases where it needed to be done later in life could have been avoided. Many people believe they need to retract their young son's foreskin and clean underneath it with soap. (Some doctors will tell parents this, or will try to retract the boys' foreskin themselves. You should never let a doctor or anyone else retract your son's foreskin. For more information, see this informative article.) This causes tearing if the foreskin is still fused to the glans, and the soap disrupts the natural pH balance and irritates the sensitive skin. This can cause phimosis and UTIs, which then causes the doctor to recommend circumcision. But even if a boy does have phimosis or UTIs, there are alternative treatments that often work if they are used rather than going straight to circumcision. Steroid cream can correct phimosis in 65 - 95 % of patients, and in severe cases that don't respond to steroid cream, the foreskin can be cut with a dorsal slit to correct the problem rather than being removed entirely. UTIs can be treated with antibiotics, the same way we treat girls who get UTIs.

Note: Many doctors will tell parents that their son has phimosis when he is a toddler or young child. There are two kinds of phimosis: physiologic and pathologic. Physiologic Phimosis is 100% normal. This is the way all little boys are born, and it is perfectly normal for the foreskin to stay attached and/or be difficult to retract all the way through puberty. Only when he is entering sexual maturity is it a problem if the foreskin doesn't retract. This is the time to try steroid creams and, if that doesn't work, to resort to a dorsal slit to correct the phimosis. During the period when the foreskin starts to separate, there can be balooning and some irritation. These are all normal phases of separation and are not reasons to circumcise.

I also want to mention that in Finland, where circumcision is pretty much unheard of, the number of men who need to be circumcised for medical reasons is less than 1 in 16,000. So the fear that he'll eventually have to have it done sooner or later is unfounded. You wouldn't have his tonsils or appendix removed to avoid a future, possible problem, so you shouldn't remove his foreskin for this reason either.

8) It's better to do it as a baby than an adult?

There are actually many reasons it's better to do it as an adult if you're going to ever do it at all. Some of those reasons include:
1) Baby boys cannot receive general anesthesia; men can.
2) Men can tell someone when they're hurting during recovery and take pain medicine. Babies can't.
3) Circumcision often disrupts breastfeeding. This isn't a problem for a man, obviously.
4) A man's circumcision wound can heal in a clean environment; a baby's heals in a diaper.
5) The baby's skin can try to reattach to the glans because that is the way a baby's penis is supposed to be. A man's foreskin has already naturally detached over time, so there aren't adhesions or skin bridges like there often are for babies.
6) The doctor can tell exactly how much skin to take off with a man; with a baby, he has to guess because there is no way to know exactly how big the baby's penis is going to get and how much skin he will need. Doctors often take off too much, causing painful, tight erections, or too little, causing skin bridges and adhesions. There is much more of a chance for error on a tiny baby's penis than a man's.
7) In almost all cases of infant circumcision, the frenulum is destroyed, partly because of the much smaller size of everything the doctor has to work with and partly because of the way the foreskin is fused to the glans at birth. On the other hand, the doctor can preserve the frenulum when performing a circumcision on a fully-developed man.
8) And, finally, the man knows why he is in pain. A baby is simply in pain and doesn't understand why. Not only that, but a recent study showed that babies are about 4 times more sensitive to pain than adults. It's true that they might not remember that pain, but it's not okay to put a baby through unnecessary pain just because they won't remember it.

9) The risks are negligible?

One of the biggest risks that doesn't get talked about much is meatal stenosis. This happens in at least 10%, some studies say as much as 30%, of circumcised men and boys. And it often requires corrective surgery. One famous example is Jimmy Kimmel. He has had to have 2 surgeries as an adult because of meatal stenosis (narrowing of the urethra, making it difficult to pee.) Intact men do not have this problem because it arises from the loss of the foreskin's protective effect. Without the foreskin, the glans rubs against clothing every day, causing a layer of callous to build, which causes the urethra to narrow.

Other risks include hemorrhage, infection, scarring, difficulty urinating, loss of part or all of the penis, and in some cases, even death. Complications happen in even the best medical settings with the most highly trained practitioners. Some complications require additional surgeries in the future to correct problems. How likely these things occur is debated, but any chance of death or dismemberment should discourage us from performing an elective, essentially cosmetic, surgery on a minor who is unable to consent to the procedure.

There are also problems with the doctor taking too much or too little foreskin, causing either painful, tight erections, curvature or bowing, and/or a hairy shaft, or, on the flip side, adhesions and skin bridges. The process of tearing the foreskin from the glans can also cause pitting and other injuries to the glans.

Furthermore, 100% of the boys who are circumcised feel pain, both during and after the procedure, and 100% of the boys who are circumcised lose an important part of their anatomy, not just a "little flap of skin." (See point 1)

10) It's part of my religion?

Some Christians think it is part of their religion to circumcise, but the New Testament actually says that circumcision is done away with the Law; that Christ fulfilled the Law and there is no longer any reason to circumcise. One example is in Galatians 6:15 - "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature."

For Jews and Muslims, I would just like to give you one thing to think about: There are Jewish parents around the world who are deciding to have a Brit Shalom rather than a Brit Malah and to let their sons decide as adults whether they want to make the covenant of circumcision for themselves. Ask yourselves how much more meaningful a covenant is to a man who had learned all he can about it and decided to make that sacrifice for himself than it is for a baby, who doesn't know what's happening? If you'd like to learn more, here is a great website to get you started. Likewise, there are Muslims advocating against circumcision as well, who cite scriptures in the Qur'an as reasons not to circumcise, such as this one: "Allah is the One who made the Earth a habitat for you, and the sky a structure, and He designed you, and has perfected your design." (Qur'an 40:64)

In conclusion:

To sum up, there is no good reason to remove healthy tissue from a perfect, healthy baby, born the way God/nature made him. It is illegal in America to even make the smallest cut on any part of a girl's genitals before she is 18 years old, even for religious reasons. Why is it okay to completely remove an important part of a boy's genitals? This is a double standard, and I hope more people will come to believe that boys have the same right to body integrity that girls do. I've heard people say that men never complain about being circumcised, but I've talked to many men who are unhappy that their parents made that choice for them. www.norm.org is a great place to start if you or someone you know is unhappy with your/their circumcision. You can find information and support there for foreskin restoration. You can never recover the specialized nerve endings, the frenulum, or the ridged band, but you can recover some of the foreskin's functions.

5 comments:

  1. Wow! I hadn't known all this before because, really, we stopped researching it as much when we learned we were having a girl and didn't need to make this decision. It's all good to know, though, because the topic DOES come up. Thanks!

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  2. Excellent post! You address all the misguided reasons parents give to cut their sons' perfect bodies. I am so glad circumcision rates are now dropping in the U.S. and more and more American boys will grow to men with whole bodies, to use and enjoy as God/Nature intended. Well-done!

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  3. Now if we could just go back in time and share this with my parents while they were pregnant with me.

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  4. Very well written and great points! Thanks for sharing!

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  5. Very well written and great points! Thanks for sharing!

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