I suppose it’s never too early to begin embarrassing my son, so I’ll take this opportunity to talk at length about his penis. I didn’t think it would be such a hot topic so early in his life, but even before he was born, the question was being posed to my wife and I by nurses, physicians, and other health professionals around us: “Are you going to have him circumcised?” I suppose it’s only fair to share in his embarrassment, so I’ll include my own humble anatomy in the discussion: like most males of my generation in America, my penis was circumcised. And it’s not something I’ve given much thought to until I found out that I was having a son of my own.
To my parents, and to my wife’s parents, there was no question – of course he’d be circumcised! After all, it’s “cleaner,” isn’t it? And don’t we want him to “look like daddy?”
To their shock and surprise, our answer to both questions was: “No.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) statement on circumcision reads thusly:
The AAP believes that circumcision has potential medical benefits and advantages, as well as risks. The existing scientific evidence is not sufficient to recommend routine circumcision. Therefore, because the procedure is not essential to a child’s current well-being, we recommend that the decision to circumcise is one best made by parents in consultation with their pediatrician, taking into account what is in the best interests of the child, including medical, religious, cultural, and ethnic traditions.
In other words, the AAP doesn’t think circumcision is as scientifically warranted as, say, a Hepatitis B vaccine. But it also recognizes that many American parents feel strongly, usually as a result of vague cultural assumptions, that circumcision is a good thing.
Now, there is some evidence for a potential medical benefit from circumcision, but this has primarily been shown so far in populations at high risk for sexually transmitted diseases (e.g., men in Sub-Saharan Africa surrounded by HIV). Indeed, most circumcision worldwide is found among African Muslims, with only 30% of boys circumcised globally according to the World Health Organization.
In America that number is as high as 75%, and here circumcision’s popularity has more to do with 19th century medical anecdotes and Victorian antimasturbatory anxiety than good science, much to most people’s surprise.
The problem is that given my own phallo-anatomical limitation, the intact penis is something of a mystery to me. Although I don’t give a damn about having identical genitalia with my son, it does bother me that I’ll lack knowledge about his basic boy parts. If anyone has suggestions or insights for a circumcised dad raising an uncircumcised son, please do leave them in the comments here.
And, of course, If he regrets our decision, he’ll have our permission to rectify the situation when he’s old enough to choose it for himself. Something tells me, though, that he’ll probably be cool with it.