When I had my first child, I had never really researched circumcision. I knew it was something the men in my family had done, and I also knew my son’s biological father was intact (although at the time, I didn’t know the word “intact,” and just thought of him as “uncircumcised”). After my son’s birth, the nurses asked me about when I wanted him circumcised, and his biological father said he recommended against it. When I asked him why, he simply responded: “It isn’t necessary.” With that short response, it was decided. We didn’t circumcise our son.
Four years later, by then married to my now and forever life partner, I was again pregnant. Wondering whether or not we would have a boy or a girl, we began to discuss whether or not we would circumcise a son. On the one hand, my husband was circumcised and had never given it a second thought. On the other hand, our oldest son was intact. One way or the other, we were going to make a decision that would leave any new baby boy looking different from someone in the family. So we began to research.
We spent hours researching online. What we discovered was that circumcision wasn’t just unnecessary– it actually removed a perfectly functional part of the male anatomy, reducing sensation and making intercourse less comfortable. What’s more, the more we researched, the more troubled we became by what we were beginning to see as a major human rights violation. Having been made aware of what the circumcision took away from him, my husband initially became angry, and later disappointed, that such a permanent decision had been made about his body, for no medical reason, and without his mature consent. We didn’t feel that circumcision was necessarily bad (any more than we believe a tattoo, or body piercing, or cosmetic surgery is inherently bad), but that performing such a procedure on someone not old enough to give consent was a violation of his basic right to self-determination.
Each of us, as an adult, has the right to determine within the law what happens to our own body. Each of us, as a parent, has the right to make medical decisions necessitated by illness or injury regarding the treatment of our children. None of us holds the right to remove a perfectly functioning part of our children’s bodies– particularly one so significant to their eventual sexual health, and particularly when sexual health is so significant to their future relationships. We now have three sons, all intact.
All the time, my husband and I find women saying, “Oh, well my husband wanted our boy to look like him.” My husband was secure enough in his manhood to want his child to be able to choose whether or not to have part of his genitals removed. We find women saying, “I don’t want him being teased in the locker room.” My husband and I constantly speak with our sons about circumcision, and what it’s robbing from those put under its knife before the age of consent. We are building up their confidence in how wonderfully their bodies have been made; this is the best preventive against conformity to potentially unhealthy peer norms as the basis for self-esteem.
If, one day, one of our teenage or adult sons made an educated and informed decision to be circumcised, we would support him wholeheartedly in his choice. The point isn’t whether or not circumcision itself is a good idea; the point is giving our children dominion over their bodies. How can we teach our children that their bodies are their own, not to be violated by another, if we ourselves have endorsed the most basic violation of our newborn sons’ bodies?
Looking like Dad has its place. Boys want to grow up to be tall, and strong, like Daddy. However, at some point we have to stop the cycle of misinformation. We have to choose what is right over what is easy. We have to give our sons the best, instead of worrying about the norm. That kind of love and courage takes a special kind of father– full of confidence, comfortable with his manhood, and protective of his son.