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Boys will be boys

October 17, 2009
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I don’t have strong feelings about circumcision. I don’t know why, I feel like I _should_ have strong feelings about it, considering how noninterventionist I am about health care in the first place. But I guess it has something to do with the amount of intimate experience I have with uncut men–and that’s practically none.

My husband, on the other hand, does feel quite strongly about not circumcising the baby. So begins my anxiety, it would seem, because I had a dream last night that one of my children had been circumcised without anesthetic at about the age of 10. Elder son is, already, but had enough left over that as a youth, during physicals, doctors would remind me that it wasn’t too late to take care of that if we wanted to. Will that happen as the baby gets older? And what will I do when I can’t retort “he already is circumcised, you nitwit?”

Meanwhile, a friend of mine with a newborn son was recently appalled when her pediatrician apparently retracted her son’s foreskin at his first checkup. She (and I) were appalled; isn’t that not supposed to be possible before the baby is about two?

What can I expect from this decision? We live in a rural area, and already the attention our decision seems to be getting makes me think we’re making an unusual choice for this region. How can we explain to younger son why his dad and elder brother look different? How can I bring this topic up to Elder Son to get his opinions on it? (I’m considering asking my husband to talk to him about it, but that’s still kind of a strange stepfather dynamic to ask for.)

I know there are people who see circumcision as mutilation. I, to be honest, am ambivalent; I see their point of view but also understand the point of view of those who see it as normal. But I find it odd that most people clamoring about this are women, and would honestly prefer to hear from men about it. Because that’s the one perspective I don’t have.

In the meantime, I’m going to follow my husband’s wishes, but I just wish I could feel better about it, and wonder how much time I’ll have to spend defending his decision and protecting the baby from those who would try and persuade me otherwise, if that makes any sense.

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. justaguy permalink
    October 17, 2009 9:57 pm

    Are we so ignorant to think that only in America the skin of a man is dirtier than in the rest of the world? Or that only American men are so stupid, that only they are devoid of the ability to clean themselves properly?
    Is it not more the ignorance of the American parent (women who have never seen, and men who have never experienced) to choose to amputate part of their child for asthetics/cleanliness/look like father reason?
    Perhaps we need to all take a moment and realize that some men will resent the decision made by their parents, and others will at least have the opportunity to do something about it.

  2. October 17, 2009 11:49 pm

    As a man circumcised at birth, I, too, was ambivalent about circumcision. It was my normal condition. At least I felt that way until I learned more about circumcision.

    I am now undoing the effects of my circumcision by restoring my foreskin. Many men are finding out that they miss their foreskin. They, like me, are also restoring their foreskin to regain what was taken from us at birth. See http://www.RestoringForeskin.org and http://www.foreskin-restoration.net/forum to read stories of men who wish they had never been circumcised and are doing something about it. I am not yet finished restoring, but the difference is amazing.

    Another factor is that many of those men are very upset with their parents for having them circumcised. This is particularly true of the younger men, who can easily research circumcision on the Internet and wonder why their parents ignored the evidence available to them. Those young men want all the bits that go with their sex organ.

    Also, see http://www.nocirc.org/publish/ for information on the care and handling of a young boy’s penis, both intact and circumcised.

  3. Paul permalink
    October 18, 2009 3:38 am

    Just because something was common doesn’t mean it was right. If anything, parents who chooose to circumcise now have a lot of explaining to do. Especially when the truth about it is all over the internet. No other developed country does it. There are reasons for this.

  4. Joel permalink
    October 18, 2009 6:17 am

    The foreskin is healthy, sensitive, functional, erogenous genital tissue. So, as a man with that tissue, I can’t help but feel distraught at how difficult this decision is for some people.

    That foreskin doesn’t belong to you in the first place, and it certainly doesn’t belong to the people who are asking you why it wasn’t done. Peer pressure is no reason to circumcision, but I’m sure you already realize that. I guess I just want to say.. DON’T DO IT!

    My older brother was, and I have no idea about my father.. but I am certainly glad that I wasn’t. Did you know the foreskin has the same type of nerve endings as those found in the fingertips and lips? That isn’t tissue a knife should be going ANYWHERE near.

    The vast majority of the world is not circumcised, and the amount of men who need to be circumcised when older is INCREDIBLY small. You are right about not retracting, so just make sure your child’s doctor understands completely and explicitly before handing him over (as well as any babysitters, or diaper changers).

    Protect your son, don’t let them take away what will one day become a large part of his favorite part, if you know what I mean.

    • justaguy permalink
      October 18, 2009 6:54 pm

      I cannot believe you don’t know the status of your father! It is one of the most common reasons parents choose to circumcise. How dare you not to know.
      See how crazy this argument is when making the choice based on “fathers’ status”.

      • October 18, 2009 8:28 pm

        Justaguy: please don’t attack other people who comment on my posts, ESPECIALLY for things they don’t have control over, or I will smite you with my moderation fist of steel. Some folks don’t even know their fathers all that well, much less the status of their genitalia.

      • Joel permalink
        October 18, 2009 11:39 pm

        Just to clarify, my father and I (and my brother and I) do have a close relationship. The reason why I don’t know the status of my father is because I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at him naked growing up. Perhaps this is different for some families. During potty training, all I can remember noticing was that his was far larger. I would guess that most people can’t even remember back that far, so where exactly this comparison becomes relevant, I am not sure.

        I do believe that if he had been circumcised, my hypothetical concern about myself looking different could easily have been put aside, if they had simply told me that he had to have an operation done when he was a baby, but luckily I never had to have something as painful as that done. Seems like a simple one-sentence solution to that whole issue, no?

      • October 19, 2009 2:26 am

        Joel: Very helpful insight re: the simple answer to the question, and will help also if there’s a so-called locker room issue early on! Thanks!

      • Joel permalink
        October 19, 2009 4:00 am

        Helen: Maybe it was simply my school, but the locker room situation was never the way its described in the media, and I am under the impression that as our society has become more politically-correct, we’ve adapted our locker-rooms to not require nudity among all the boys of the class. At my school, many would change in stalls, meanwhile the rest of us would simply leave our same underwear on and only change our gym shirts and shorts to our regular clothes. We were not forced to take showers with all the boys. I believe this is generally the case these days.

        But, I do think should a situation arise, simply letting your child know that his body is healthy, and sensitive, and normal, maybe even show him some art, a photo of the statue of david, let him know that he is perfectly fine the way he is, and he will GET it (and he’ll be thankful). Especially these days, the chance of him being the only person with a foreskin in his class is statistically very unlikely. The rates have come down a lot in recent years.

      • October 19, 2009 4:10 am

        I just meant in the context of “I’ve seen other boys and they look different,” whether it’s bathroom, locker room, whatever. πŸ™‚ Thanks Joel!

  5. Rachel permalink
    October 18, 2009 8:00 am

    With Elder son being so much older, I believe you may find yourself in a whole new mommy world when your baby is born. These are the days where we have to defend ourselves no matter what we choose. It’s sad, but sickeningly true.

    If you don’t circ, you’ll be one of “those” APer mamas. If you do circ, you’re a mutilator.

    As a non-circing mama, at the very least, you have the AAP on your side.

    Here is a link to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Circumcision Policy Statement: http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/reprint/pediatrics;103/3/686.pdf

    Like I said on one of my blogs, I’ll be posting about our issue again. I believe all is well despite what happened.

  6. Dave T permalink
    October 18, 2009 8:37 am

    Hi,

    First off, the foreskin should never be retracted by anyone other then the boy himself. It’s the poking and prodding that creates problems. So I would watch the doctors carefully and even let them know your feelings on retracting beforehand.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about any ramification from NOT circumcising your son.
    Circumcision is an irreversible surgery and by not doing it you are giving your son a choice.

    I totally wish I was never circumcised, as it has caused serious desensitization. I would have been so thankful if my mother has chosen not to do this to me and left me intact.

    Here are a couple great sites that discuss male infant circumcision.

    http://www.asnatureintended.info
    http://www.circinfosite.com
    drmomma.blogspot.com/2009/06/circumcision-information-for.html

  7. Bob permalink
    October 18, 2009 2:13 pm

    You’ve likely gotten more comments from women since most straight men don’t have experience with and without foreskins. There’s not decent sample pool for a good debate — the only men with a strong position are those who have been circumcised later in life, and they generally chose circumcision for one reason or another, which certainly biases their opinion.

    So, as a debate goes, the best you can do is make the most informed medical decision you can based on reliable evidence.

    As far as my personal conversations with other men have shown, I find uncircumcised men find circumcision odd, and in some cases quite vocally. Circumcised men, on the other hand, tend not to have any regrets, and often find foreskins disquieting.

  8. October 18, 2009 6:15 pm

    As a man circumcised at birth, I really wish my parents had not made that choice for me. I would have preferred to have all my bits, thank you. Please do not be ambivalent about routine infant circumcision.

    Many men are finding out that they miss their foreskin. They, like me, are restoring their foreskin to regain what was taken from us at birth. See http://www.RestoringForeskin.org and http://www.foreskin-restoration.net/forum to read stories of men who wish they had never been circumcised and are doing something about it.

    Another factor to consider is that many of those same men, particularly the younger ones, are upset with their parents. They wonder why, with all the information against routine infant circumcisin on the Internet, their parents ignored that information and still had them cut. Many of their stories are in the above two websites.

    • October 18, 2009 8:38 pm

      It’s not that I’m ambivalent about RIC, it’s that my elder son is circumcised based on his father’s wishes at the time; in both my sons’ cases I’ve deferred to the wishes of their respective fathers. To be ambivalent doesn’t mean that I don’t care. I do. But I can’t honestly say that this is something I have passionate feelings about the way I do about childbirth. That is the metaphor that brings me the most understanding, honestly. Just as I do not want my childbirth experience mucked about with by routine interventions but DO understand that there are valid medical indications for interventions, I feel like I should hold to that standard for my second son. But how do I reconcile that with the fact that my elder son is circumcised? He certainly doesn’t seem to care one way or the other about it, that I can see. But at the same time, I remember when he was returned to me after his circumcision–his face was red as if he had been screaming, and I felt awful.

      But in being ambivalent, what I’m saying is that I don’t feel it behooves us to judge parents who circumcise their boys–and I cannot and will not. But what I want from this conversation is the ability to defend our decision from those who would judge *us* for *not* cutting, especially if it comes from the healthcare camp.

      • October 18, 2009 9:29 pm

        Your oldest son will think what he thinks. An honest, frank discussion with him may resolve any issues for both of you. It is important to remember that life, and parenting, does not come with an instruction manual. We learn from our experiences and strive to better ourselves. This often results in later decisions being better than earlier ones. In this case, you have learned a lot in 17 years. You cannot undo what is done, but you can do the right thing now.

        As for those pressuring you to circumcise or questioning your decision, I think my response would be to ask why are they concerned with my son’s sex organ? I would then explain that I respect my son’s body and don’t believe in unnecessary surgery. If they pursue it, they are being boorish. Unless the person appears receptive to learning, I would then say that the subject is private between you and your son and the discussion is closed.

        As for the so-called medical benefits, routine infant circumcision as a preventative measure for HIV is wrong on so many levels. First, babies don’t have sex. Second, who knows what cure will be available when the boy is old enough to be sexually active. Third, 80% of sexually active men in the US are circumcised. Cutting the remaining 20% will not appreciably affect the HIV and AIDS rate in the US.

        Another so-called health benefit is the different rate of urinary tract infections UTIs between circumcised and intact infants. See http://www.cirp.org/library/disease/UTI/ for an insightful analysis of that issue. It should be noted that UTIs are rare and often easily treated with antibiotics.

        Penile cancer is another so-called health benefit. Penile cancer is so rare that I never heard of it until I started hearing the pro-circumcision rants. The American Cancer Society does not recommend circumcision to prevent penile cancer. http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_2X_Can_penile_cancer_be_prevented_35.asp Men are almost 1000 times more likely to get breast cancer than penile cancer, but no one seems to be talking about preventative mastectomies for men.

  9. October 18, 2009 9:12 pm

    It amazes me that this is still an issue in our society. We don’t cut the clitoral hoods and labia of our girls (indeed, we cannot, as it is a felony), and yet it is considered routine by many American parents (and creates a legal double-standard, but that’s another issue altogether).

    Circumcision removes 20,000+ fine-touch nerve receptors, specialized glands and immunological cells, externalizes the glans (which is a mucous membrane intended by nature to be internal) – and desensitizes it over years of keratinization and chemical exposure, interrupts blood flow to the penis, truncates the penis so that intercourse changes from a “rolling-bearing” function to a “battering ram” function, and leaves a visible scar for life.

    Risks include shock, a spike in cortisol levels that essentially rewires the brain, hemorrhage, infection (including MRSA), cosmetic and functional complications, coma and death. These risks are far less common in adult circ, which includes superior pain management and a superior cosmetic result. Like any permanent body modification, it should be left to the adult owner of the body part to decide.

    Once parents learn the prepuce is to the penis what the eyelid is to the eye, circumcision usually becomes a non-issue. You wouldn’t have your child’s eyelids removed, or his lips, or his ears, right?

    You wanted to hear from men, and I’m happy to weigh in on this. I was cut at birth with a Gomco clamp and no anesthetic. Thank God the German doctor left my frenulum intact and a relatively loose cut that gave me a good start on foreskin restoration. My son, 15, was not cut at birth and has never had any problems. The chances of ever medically needing a circumcision is far less than having a serious complication from the surgery.

    You and your husband are making the right choice – the ethical choice. Don’t let ignorant people hassle you about it. I’ve found the best way to handle the looks of shock when people asked why I didn’t cut my son is to throw the look right back at them and ask, “why WOULD I?”

    Good job! πŸ™‚

  10. October 18, 2009 9:36 pm

    Quick note to Helen:
    I believe justaguy’s comment above was facetious. He was making a point about the “like father, like son” argument for circumcision and not actually attacking Joel’s comment. At least that’s the way I read it. πŸ™‚

    • Kiki permalink
      October 19, 2009 1:58 am

      I read it that way too…he was being cynical. I just blogged about this myself.

      I didn’t circ my son and that was the number one reason TO do it according to everyone else…like father, like son. But I couldn’t get past the fact that 1)it’s not a penis look alike contest 2)my son’s dad had no clue about his father’s penis 3)feeling strongly that the owner of the penis gets to decide what happens with his body.

      If in doubt, I would say let the owner of the penis decide for himself. I use that ‘logic’ all the time and people are just like, “Huh.” Good luck!

  11. Caroline permalink
    October 18, 2009 9:48 pm

    If you’re worried about having to “defend” your position to medical professionals, I highly recommend vising

    doctorsopposingcircumcision.org

    also, here are some doctors in their own words explaining why they are opposed to circumcision. I don’t know what region of the country you live in, but please know that the entire medical community is NOT pro-circ, even if it seems that way.

    http://www.youtube.com/user/Bonobo3D#p/c/BC354EC34E141BD3

  12. Rachel permalink
    October 19, 2009 4:18 am

    If you ask me, the whole “other boys look different” thing doesn’t hold any water, nor does “we want him to look like his father.” Anyone who’s seen more than one penis knows they all look different, just like my rack doesn’t look anything like my mom’s. Teenage girls don’t like undressing in front of each other, partly because of the vast differences in the timeline of development, and I’d imagine that boys are the same way. All our bodies are different, and if we could teach our kids to celebrate that… well, that’s a different conversation.

  13. Dave T permalink
    October 19, 2009 4:57 am

    In my whole school life, I never had to change out of my underwear. I find the “locker room argument” rather bizarre – it never happened to any boy in the locker rooms I was in.
    Regardless, in America, being circumcised is approaching 50%. This means that close to half the boys will be natural. In a few years, it will be the circumcised boys that are in the minority.

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