In spite of some recent medical claims that circumcision reduces the transmission of HIV/AIDS, this is simply not true. Circumcision research finding that HIV/AIDS transmission is reduced was conducted in third-world countries, with different cultural contexts from our own, and in which access to safe sex protection is limited. Guess what is a lot more effective at preventing the spread of HIV? The winning duo of communication AND condoms, neither of which require permanent cosmetic surgery on your child’s genitals.
Frequently, you’ll hear people say that it is “cleaner” to circumcise. This is untrue and shows a complete lack in yours (or your child’s) ability to keep his body clean. An infant or toddler boy’s foreskin does not retract and needs no special care. In fact, do NOT forcibly retract it (or allow anyone else to do so), as it would be similar to pulling someone’s nails from their fingers! If you (or your child) can keep his bottom, armpits, ears, and nostrils clean, CONGRATULATIONS! You have all the skills you need to practice healthy intact hygiene! And if you heard a story once about intact old men in nursing homes whose penises were gross and unclean, welcome to the world of subpar care in nursing homes. Anybody caring for residents IS properly trained in how to do genital cleaning, but that is one part of their jobs that frequently gets done poorly. Better education and supervision of CNAs and caregivers is a better solution than cosmetic surgery.
As for the connection between circumcision and prevention of penile cancer, this research is frequently misunderstood. Additionally, I am again unconvinced that routine infant circumcision is the answer anyway. After all, I’m sure that amputation of nipples and surrounding breast tissue in my daughter would reduce her future risk of breast cancer, but in the absence of genetic indicators that would be an absurd “preventive technique.” If I removed my infant’s ovaries, she’d be less likely to contract ovarian cancer. If I removed my child’s testicles, he’d be less likely to develop testicular cancer. Lopping off a perfectly good body part based on a minuscule chance that a future illness might develop is not a sensible prevention strategy.
2) It isn’t your body.
This one is a no-brainer for me. As a parent, you are the guardian of your child’s body. Your job is to protect your child, to keep him safe, and to send him into adulthood as whole and unharmed as you can. If the thought of what they do to your child when they circumcise him bothers you enough that you are upset or have to leave the room, that’s probably your maternal instinct encouraging you to be his protector. Why would you ignore that maternal urge?
And WHO CARES if your child looks “different” from Daddy? When you take your family pictures, do you ask the men in the family to display their penises so that you can admire the family resemblance? No! And if your son does notice that he looks different from his dad, or older brother, or friend, that’s a perfect opportunity to begin instilling confidence in and comfort with his body. Explain what circumcision is: “Some people get their sons or themselves circumcised, which means to remove part of the boy’s penis — the foreskin.” Then explain why you didn’t circumcise him: “We knew that it would hurt you, and that it isn’t necessary, so since it’s YOUR body, we wanted to let you make that decision once you are old enough to decide for yourself. That’s why you are intact and (whoever) is not.”
What about if kids at school tease him when he gets older? You know… The “locker room” thing! What if they do? How would you teach your child to respond to teasing over any other issue? For starters, building confidence with positive talk about his intact and whole body will instill an innate bit of bully-proofing. Also, think of how you’d react if he were teased for your other natural family choices. If the kids teased him for having home-packed pita sandwiches and fruit for lunch, would you cave and send him with lunch money for mystery meat? If the kids teased him for his mom wearing her baby in a sling when she came to school meetings, would you stop babywearing in public to appease the bullies? Where do we draw the line on which issues we cede to bullies?
It is simply not your body. His choice, his body. When he is an adult, he can make the call for himself. And if your first response to that statement was “There is NO WAY an adult man would choose to get circumcised at that point,” then why do you think it is an okay thing to do to a child without his consent?
3) It reduces sensitivity.
There was a time in which the dominant cultures were firmly against masturbation as a serious sin. Circumcision, which reduces sensitivity in the glans, was seen as a way to reduce masturbation. This contributed to its spread in Christian nations, even though the New Testament is clear that Christians are not required to circumcise their sons. (As a side note, there are growing movements in both Islam and Judaism to move away from the practice as well.)
In any case, the foreskin itself is packed with nerve endings that receive and transmit sexual pleasure and sensation. Plus, the foreskin covers and protects the glans, which have even more nerve endings! When the glans is left protected with an intact foreskin, it feels soft and tender, like the inside of your cheek. When the glans is left exposed after circumcision, it callouses over and toughens, making it less sensitive to touch. While you may not want to think of your infant or son being sexual, if you raise him to become a healthy adult one day he will be in a relationship where he is having sex. It is not your place to limit or modify his sexual organs for no good reason.
4) The foreskin has a sexual purpose.
Beyond the fact that circumcision removes protection from the glans and lessens sensitivity, the foreskin also serves a purpose during intercourse. Many partners report that sex with an intact partner is less painful, requires less lubrication, and is more pleasurable than sex with a circumcised partner. This is because the foreskin helps the penis to glide in and out. Again, while you may not care to devote much thought to the sexual function of your child and his future sexual partner(s), you should not have the right to make decisions that impact another’s ability to have normal sexual relations.
5) It’s not reversible.
It may be that you’ve never heard of or thought much about foreskin restoration, but apparently it’s a real thing, and many men who were circumcised as infants are now trying to use devices and procedures to “reconstruct” a foreskin with what little spare skin around the glans that they can stretch. While this can be successful at recreating something like a “foreskin” to protect the glans once again and aid in intercourse, it is not always successful, especially when the original circumcision left little or no skin to work with. Few things are as heartbreaking as watching a beloved partner try to regain something that was taken from him when he had no choice or autonomy, and to see him struggle in vain, only to eventually give up.
The way I see it, if I choose to leave my son intact and he regrets my decision, he is free to choose circumcision with a simple surgery once he is of age. If I circumcise my son’s penis while he is too young to choose and he later regrets it, he faces a long, difficult, potentially painful, and perhaps futile road to attempt restoration. I’d rather leave him the choice.
For more information on circumcision and care of your son’s intact penis, check out the following pages: