To Cut or Not to Cut? Infant Male Circumcision

by Zachary Moore

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.

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5 Responses to To Cut or Not to Cut? Infant Male Circumcision

  1. tswayne says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. It’s rare to find calm commentary on this topic.

    For learning about “basic boy parts” — well, there’s nothing much special to know, especially with babies. But you can ask around. That’s what my wife and I did as 2 moms of a son. After a few baby playdates where diapers get changed, you’ll be aware of whose boys are also uncircumcised. If you can’t find anyone this way, ask a good friend. In my experience, families most likely to forego circumcision are expats, 1st-generation Americans, and the “crunchy granola” demographic (I am the latter, in many respects, so I say it with love).

    As for father-son differences, in your son’s eyes, the differences between kid and adult will seem more obvious than any missing skin. But it’s a good opportunity to start talking about how everyone is different and there’s no one way a person “should” look.

  2. KayKay says:

    My son is 24 years old. I didn’t circumcise him. I had a lot of pressure from my in-laws, but I just couldn’t do it. He is a very happy, healthy, sexually active young man and frankly, I think he is one of the nicest people I know. I like to think not circumcising him has something to do with his wonderful personality! That’s my theory anyway. He has no issues with it and has never told me he wishes I had circumcised him. It is not an issue and never has been. He is intact and I am so glad that is what I decided to do. I am his mom and his father is circumcised. It was not an issue for my husband either. We made this decision together.

  3. intactive activist says:

    My wife & I have 2 daughters, now grown, but decided early on that if we did have a son he would be left intact, just as I am. We taught both of our girls that circumcision was sexual mutilation to the highest degree. You wouldn’t cut the genitals of a baby girl so why would you cut a baby boy? Cleaner? Not a valid argument! So he’ll look like daddy? Come on, how times have you compared your penis to your dad’s? For religious reasons? Probably one of the worst reasons I can think of to cut off part of your son’s penis! Both daughters married cut guys and when they became pregnant the issue of circumcision came up. Both daughters held their ground and now I have an 8 year old INTACT grandson and hopefully another one on the way. But, rest assured, no matter the sex, it will be INTACT. My grandson knows of our special link and has asked questions that I joyfully answer in age appropriate language. His dad even told him that grandpa would be better equipped to answer those questions. A foreskin is more than a flap of skin. It serves a purpose. It protects the head of the penis and keeps it sensitive instead of all dry and course. And, in any type of sexual activity it works like it was designed…to slide back and forth in its own skin requiring no artificial lubrication and no tearing of the partner’s sensitive parts. And, it just feels good, too, just ask any intact guy! I don’t know about you, but I want my children to grow up to have a healthy sex life. Sex on their own terms when they are old enough to take on the responsibility that comes with it. And, I want future unborn generations of boys to have the same opportunity afforded to them. So, say NO to the medical profession that profit$ from cutting your baby boy, say NO to the nosiness of friends and relatives who try to convince you otherwise…let your baby boy be born into a world that is bad enough, much less having part of his penis cut off at the very beginning!

  4. ml66uk says:

    (I tried posting this earlier with supporting links, but it didn’t go through, so I’m posting again without the links. Sorry if it appears twice.)

    Good call! Raising an intact son isn’t difficult though – easier than having a circumcised son. Just don’t attempt to retract him, and don’t let anyone else do it either, not even a doctor. (Apparently it’s not uncommon for US doctors to try this, which here in the UK sounds crazy).

    AAP – “Care for an Uncircumcised Penis”
    “foreskin retraction should never be forced. Until the foreskin fully separates, do not try to pull it back. Forcing the foreskin to retract before it is ready can cause severe pain, bleeding, and tears in the skin.”

    Canadian Paediatric Society
    “Keep your baby’s penis clean by gently washing the area during his bath. Do not try to pull back the foreskin. Usually, it is not fully retractable until a boy is 3 to 5 years old, or even until after puberty. Never force it.”

    RACP policy statement on male circumcision
    “The foreskin requires no special care during infancy. It should be left alone. Attempts to forcibly retract it are painful, often injure the foreskin, and can lead to scarring and phimosis.”

    Both the AAP and CPS suggest that early retraction is a lot more common than seems to be the case. A Danish study (Øster) found that only 23% of boys could retract by the age of 6-7, and an average age of ten. Why would anyone know or care though? We don’t go poking around in the genitals of small girls.

  5. Saul says:

    We always circumcise in our family. Me and my bruvs are proud to b circumcised and all the nephews have had their cocks done. I think it looks better and is easier to keep clean. Circumcised all the way!

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