Worthwhile Reads: Circumcision

I will not be having my son circumcised. Here are some links that deal with the issue (I do not endorse everything on these websites, and am not claiming that these links are the be all end all on the circumcision issue, only that they raise interesting points and provoke thought on the topic).

The Truth about Circumcision, on Authentic Parenting

12 Reasons to Say “No” to Circumcision, on Natural Family Online

Intact America, a website with information and links

While these links discuss the supposed health benefits of circumcision, my main reason for deciding not to circumcise my son is that I don’t believe parents should physically alter their children’s bodies by cutting off body parts. If my son decides he wants to be circumcised, he can be circumcised as an adult; I will not play a role in robbing him of that decision.

I’m actually really encouraged, because even though I made the decision not to circumcise years before conceiving my son, two different friends approached me about the issue when they found out I was expecting a boy. And I, in turn, have worked to return the favor for anyone I find out is expecting a boy. It’s encouraging to think that word is getting out on this issue.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    Here in Spain, being circumcised as a baby is very very rare nad in general most people in Spain conserve their foreskins but teenagers sometimes have to get a circumcision because they can’t get their glans out of the prepuce (foreskin) enough for sexual PIV intercourse or even certain types of masturbation and that was the case for my brother who had to have one when he was 15? I think. It was a very unpleasant experience for him from having to shave his pubic hair (and how much it itches) to the suture points and the pain post-surgery and at the time, knowing that it was routinely done in countries shortly after birth made think if that wouldn’t be better because even if the operation is simple as a teenager is even more so as a baby and probably way less painful (my brother is bit whiny ‘though). Right now, I’ll have to reevaluate what I thought I knew about the topic and perhaps next year when I’m studying Pediatrics I’ll learn some more on it. Bonus points about my brother’s case is that my father, who is a doctor, was pretty convinced my brother would need to be operated on when he was 7? or so and would tell him that if he didn’t get to pull the prepuce further down he would probably need the fimosis. Years later and my brother had to go to a doctor and get the operation and I thought about it because I imagin I might transmit by my genes that to my child, I don’t really know. In cases when the prepuce can’t be fully retracted in older children it at least increases the difficulty of cleaning which was also the case of my brother’s. Granted this isn’t a case pro-circumcision in all babies but rather my personal dilema.

    • Paula G V aka Yukimi

      Off-topic: I like the preview on comments but it would be awesome if there were more thna jsut last 5 comments since I use that to keep track of the on-going conversations so pleas pretty please with a cherry on top.

      • MadGastronomer

        Seconding. It would also be great if the name of the post the comments are on could come back, too.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        Paula and MadGastronomer – The tech guy just set up the new widget as I’d asked, and there’s a settings page where I *should* be able to change the number of comments showing *and* have them labeled by post, but there’s no “save settings” button so I can’t figure out how to change them. I’ve emailed the tech guy, and he’s always really good at getting back to me, so I should have the problem fixed soon. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

    • Seymour

      Paula, there is no reason to lose the foreskin because it is tight. It can be streched via manual exercises, or even widened surgically (as a last resort). It is an important body part and it is sad that doctors view it as disposable and not something they would try to save the most of, like if it was a girl’s labia. Amputation is not a solution to anything, it is worse than the problem there was in the first place. Losing it means losing 70% of penile sensitivity, and more over time as the glans keratinizes. If the foreskin is still attached to the glans, give it time (50% of 10 years old still can’t retract). If it has a tight opening, stretch. It’s absolutely normal (in that it is common) and curable. Circumcision is irreversible and causes immense, irreperable damage. It should not even be considered. No disease in the world requires circumcision, it is a sick practice ment to maim boys to prevent masturbation and recreational sex.

      • Paula G V aka Yukimi

        I didn’t know that before but my brother did try to stretch it for years because he preferred anything to get the operation. I need to learn more about the topic.

    • http://www.circumstitons.com Hugh7

      “knowing that it was routinely done in countries shortly after birth” The ONLY country it is routinely (non-religiously) done shortly after birth is the USA. The rest of the English-speaking world tried it, found it do no good, and has given it up – with no epidemics of any of the diseases it was supposed to be good against. In New Zealand and most of Australia it’s hard to find a doctor willing to do it.

    • Anat

      Paula, FYI, mohalim – ie the guys who perform religious circumcisions, say they are easier to perform on adults and teenagers than on infants. This is because the parts are bigger, it is easier for the mohel to see what he is doing, and the prepuce is already separated (at least partially). Typically a mohel would start operating on adults or teens (converts, some Muslims, or immigrants from the former Soviet Union) and only after a while of that start operating on infants. So even with your family background I think it should be safer to wait a few years.

  • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

    Like most North American men of my generation (1950s) I was circumcised neo-natally. And my wife is ethnically Jewish. But when it came time to decide for our expected #1 (b. 1980) it wasn’t yet the big issue it seems to have become since then (for one thing: no internet), so we just asked our doctor. Turns out, he didn’t circumcise his sons, and that was good enough for us. Never do a medical procedure if there’s no obvious need for it.

  • ER

    While this is a topic that interests me, and I’ve been leaning toward not circumcising, these resources are not helping bolster my belief. They are incredibly emotionally charged and lack convincing source materials; they’re reading not like compelling information, but anti-vaccine rhetoric. I’m normally very interested by the links you post, so I wondered if you had any other resources you used in making your decision?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      To be perfectly honest, I made my decision not so much based on resources as on the fact that (a) without compelling reason there’s no reason to go cutting off someone’s body part, and there is no compelling reason and (b) it does not seem morally right to cut off the body part of a child too young to understand rather than letting that child make his own decision. I don’t have time to look it up right now, but some sort of national body of doctors has turned away from circumcision and declares it unnecessary. Further, historically, circumcision was not practiced in the West (except by Jews) until the 19th century, when it was instituted in an attempt to keep boys from masturbating.

    • http://www.circumstitons.com Hugh7

      Well, try The Intactivism Pages, http://www.circumstitions.com .

      • ER

        Thank you Libby and Hugb7 for your replies. I will look more on the Intactivism page. I was hoping for a different type of argument: one made from named, reputable sources with medical and epidemiological studies and not “if it’a aint’ broke” arguments. Those absolutely have a place, but they are easily made by innumerable non-scientific sources and I’ve quickly gotten my fill (plus, I don’t care what Cameron Diaz has to say about circumcision any more than I care what Jenny McCarthy has to say about vaccination).

        I’m up against a cultural (not religious) bias and a (I assume unfounded) medical bias to circumcise within my immediate family. As a result, I want resources to work rationally against the arguments of hygiene (UTIs, HPV, etc.) and risk of later surgery (the friend who had to have one later in life is one of the reasons I’m not interested in particularly emotionally charged resources).

        That being said, I certainly didn’t expect you to research this for me, Libby, and I appreciate you taking the time to respond; I only asked because I usually enjoy your recommended reads, this is a topic I have recently refocused on as we try for children, and I thought perhaps you knew off-hand of some other sources. Thanks again to you both.

    • Joey Bloggen

      1. Hygiene – I live in developed country and have bathed nearly every day of my well over 30 years of life (I’m sure I’m not the only one). My parents taught me as a child 3-5yrs how to clean myself. I’m sure most parents do this or was I lucky? I clean my penis as I would with any other part of my body. For men who have never had to clean a foreskin before (your own of course) it is much less technical than brushing your teeth but easier than shampooing your hair.

      2. HIV STD once again I live in a developed country and have been educated in the dangers.
      If I am going to sleep with someone I wear a condom always no exceptions. When I entered into a relationship I got tested for STD and HIV and so did my partner then no more condoms. They weren’t needed. By the way getting circumcised does not protect you from HIV or STD it is alleged to reduce the risks. So where is the justification for circumcision if to make 99.9% sure of not catching HIV or STD I have to wear a condom anyway or be in a responsible relationship. The whole argument of HIV and STD is irrelevant in a developed country as education, condoms and testing is readily available. If you justify circumcision for these reasons you are really selling short the capacity of your child and the community you live in not to mention your own capacity.

      3. To look like Dad. I don’t really recall ever seeing my dad’s penis. Perhaps this is not normal. Rest assured there are more fathers who are circumcised choosing not to circumcise their sons than uncircumcised fathers choosing circumcise their sons. Thus the decline in circumcision rates.

      4. My mother did not circumcise me as a baby and I’m very thankful that she didn’t. Whilst some parents were pondering as to whether they should “get their boy done” my mother did not and instead she gave me the gift if choice.
      Very few and I mean very few men of adult age choose to get circumcised (fact). That should speak for itself. I will clarify – If most men not circumcised do not choose to have this done as adults, what would be the likelihood that your son would have it done if given the choice.

      I believe that for many the motivation for choosing circumcision actually has very little with concern for the child and more about the parent’s view of themselves or how others might perceive them. The child should be the only factor in the decision and not the fact your own parents insist or you are circumcised yourself and want your child to look like you and your friends or as the mother choice this because it is “your” personal preference in men.

  • Rosa

    We had decided not to circumcise, but my son was tongue-tied and had to have that snipped to be able to nurse as an infant. The form we signed for that was also the form for circumcision, so I checked with his pediatrician to make sure she knew we weren’t circumcising. It turned out that not only did that pediatrician not perform circumcisions, our insurance wouldn’t have covered it, as it’s cosmetic.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Jew against circumcision here! There is no WAY I would ever do that to any son of mine. A big deal is made about the pros and cons but, to me, it seems fairly simple: If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Plus, doing something invasive to somebody’s body without their consent is wrong. This should be obvious.

    Sadly, it seems that it’s still not, although that is finally beginning to change. Still there are still people pulling out ridiculous arguments to defend it. My favorite is “A boy should look like his father.” Lolwut? Maybe it’s just because I don’t have any brothers, but I was not under the impression that boys and their dads regularly compare dicks. Is this some part of male bonding I’m not aware of? Truly, I think that the reason a lot of people still defend it is because a lot of men don’t want to entertain the idea that something unethical was done to them. Especially when that thing involves a part of their body that is important to their sense of identity and masculinity. It doesn’t help that a lot of anti-circumcision sources can have kind of a hysterical tone to them, and seem to imply that circumcised men are sexually dysfunctional. Besides the fact that telling guys that their junk doesn’t work right is not generally a great way to get them to listen to you, I just haven’t found it to be true. I’m not saying that there’s no correlation between having a foreskin and sensitivity but I have found, in my own modest survey, that sensitivity and sexual response depend more on the individual than on circumcised vs. not. The real issues to me are consent, pain, and lack of medical necessity.

    I am glad to hear that one of those sources mentioned the new “Brit Shalom” among Jews, because that means that it is really growing in popularity, which is nice for this Jew to see. I have shaken my head for years at how often my fellow liberal Jews STILL seem to accept circumcision without question, even as they have rejected most if not all other Jewish traditions that do not belong in modern, humanistic Jewish practice or have just been deemed unnecessary cultural relics. If you’re fine with eating shellfish, you really ought to be fine with leaving your son’s foreskin alone, but, mysteriously, circumcision often seems to be the LAST thing to go, not the first, as something that involves inflicting pain on a child and violating his bodily integrity should be. (Although I think the reasons I mentioned above have a lot to do with that. The early adherents to the Reform movement 200 years ago rejected circumcision, but there was a backlash against that change and it ended up becoming fairly common again, although the debate never died completely.)

    Plus, besides the issue of consent and pain, circumcision is a practice that is antithetical to egalitarianism. The traditional reason for the circumcision ceremony in Judaism is to welcome the son into the Jewish community and to mark him as “chosen.” (a concept which is itself problematic to most liberal Jews.). It’s a symbol of the covenant “made flesh.” But what about girls? Girls don’t have penises, so how are we supposed to welcome THEM into the Jewish community and mark them as “chosen?” How are we supposed to “make flesh” the covenant for them?

    Oh right, we don’t need to. Because girls don’t count. They’re just there because they’re necessary for the production of the people who DO count, men. Ritual circumcision has no place among Jews who believe that men and women are equal. Period. The nice thing about the “brit shalom”–besides the obvious–is that it is as much for girls as it is for boys. No more treating the birth of a boy like it’s a bigger deal than the birth of a girl. Fuck that.

    Sorry for the rambling post! But as a Jew, I have a lot of opinions on this topic! :-P

    • Meggie

      I have also encountered the “same as your father argument”. My husband and his brothers were circumcised to be like their father. My sister-in-law and I were pregnant with our first boys at the same time. Her son was circumcised so that he would be the same as his father. This was the first time I had even in thought about circumcision. I thought it was a really outdated practice and couldn’t understand why it was being done. I asked my husband if he had ever actually seen his father and he said yes, when using urinals when he was little. I don’t buy into this argument at all. Why couldn’t a father just explain, “When I was little they did an operation but they don’t do it nowdays because it is unnecessary on most men”. My sons were not done and we did get some flack from hubby’s family”but what happens when they realised their dad is different”. Two nephews born last year, both first children, have been circumsised so they are the same as their fathers.

      What I find most interesting is that of all my husband brothers and cousins, we are the only family not to circumcise our boys. We are liberal Christians and the one liberal Christian brother doesn’t have kids. All the rest are fundmentalist; some Catholic, some Orthodox and some Protestant but all fundamentalist. All the people who gave us flack about our decision were fundamentalist members of the family. Religion didn’t ever come up in their arguments. I think it was more to do with these people believing everything new is bad and everything old is good. Very sad.

    • http://www.circumstitons.com Hugh7

      Here are contact details for more than 80 celebrants of Brit Shalom in 30 US states and several other countries, including Israel: http://tinyurl.com/britshalom

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Interesting and nice to see. Personally, my prediction is that more and more Jews are going to start questioning and rejecting infant circumcision as it becomes less common in America. The thing about circumcision up to this point is that it’s pretty much been the norm for America (where most of the world’s Jews live) and so it’s been easy enough for Jewish parents to sort of passively acquiesce to tradition–nobody has asked them to defend their choice because most non-Jews have made the same one. But when choosing to circumcise one’s son means going against the flow instead of with it, it will demand more consideration and I think a lot of Jewish parents are going to realize that they’re not really okay with this, and that it does not jibe with their beliefs as modern, liberal Jews. That is my hope, anyway and it seems to be coming to pass, albeit slowly.

    • roger desmoulins

      Petticoat Philosopher, welcome to this discussion!

      The only Jews who should perform brit milah are those that believe in the God of the Torah, believe that Jews are God’s chosen people, and finally, believe that there is a Covenant (contract in today’s language) linking God and his chosen people. And even Jews who believe this much should feel very welcome to allow a son to make up his own mind when he turns 21. Jewish circumcision performed soon after one becomes engaged to a frum woman would be very moving. Doing it to a screaming baby followed by a catered reception is not moving.

      That circumcision is incompatible with an equal status for Jewish women, and with Jewish feminism, was evident to me 40 years ago.

      When I was in college, I was told at social events, and I read over and over, that the essence of Judaism is a duty to improve the human condition. Much later I learned the Hebrew slogan for this mindset: tikkun olam. If a commitment to education and progressive political values is central to your existence, then the notion that a father’s duty to circumcise his son is the most important commandment is a bizarre one.
      Circumcision is incompatible with a very powerful element of Jewish culture, namely the commitment to a progressive outlook on human sexuality. Judaism is not puritanical and has not time for virginity. Man and women are supposed to marry and take pleasure in each other. Jews have been leaders in the struggle for human rights for gay people. Every woman who has told me that “when I turned 16, my mother told me I could entertain men in my bedroom, and offered to set up an appointment with a gyncologist for contraception” was Jewish. To systematically desentise the penises of Jewish boys at birth is contradictory to all this.

      I fully agree that as circumcision becomes less common among upper middle class gentiles, unaffiliated or progressive Jewish families will gradually give it up as well. And rest assured that outside of North America and Israel, many men who identify as Jewish are intact. For example, I have read an essay by an observant French woman saying that she never heard of a single bris while growing up.

      Opponents of circumcision should not argue that it is mutilation. They should not argue that circumcised men are damaged for life. The sexual damage from circumcision varies a lot by individual and by stage of the life cycle. A lot of damage does not become apparent until the 40s and 50s. Many cut men your age are doing fine, thank you. Part of the reason is that less is cut off now than was the case 50-80 years ago. Also, the sensitivity of the natural penis is surplus to requirements before age 30 or 40. Do keep in mind, though, that there is a growing body of testimonials by women who’ve “been with both” and have concluded that intact makes for a better ride and easier foreplay. A man of one circ status cannot give the other circ status a “test drive.” But a woman can date a cut guy one weekend, and an intact one the next. This is not hard to do while she in college, and that is precisely the manner that has led some women to conclude that intact is more enjoyable.

  • ArachneS

    DH and I chose not to circumcise as well, for pretty much the same reasons. And there are those who criticize it as a reason “he will get teased” or “girls won’t like it”, but imo cutting off a body part for bullying or teasing is pretty extreme. Not to mention that many more American parents are choosing not to circumcise than have in the past, so our uncircumcised boys will not be the odd one out.

    Also it is frickin weird to me how many people will judge you for the state of a kids penis.

  • Kenn

    Just wanted to say I’m glad that my parents decided not to have me circumcised. I’ve never had a problem with my foreskin. My father and brother are also uncirumcised and haven’t had any troubles either.

  • Scotlyn

    My husband is intact, and, the issue of circumcision NEVER even arose in any discussion whatsoever with doctors, hospitals, friends, neighbours, etc during the time I was pregnant with either of my sons. It never occurred to me in any case. They are also intact, just as they came into the world, with no thought ever given to any alternative. It’s strange how if it doesn’t register in your consciousness at all, you don’t even need to consider the arguments – meritorious or not.

    But I know I would not be able to passionately oppose FGM without a frisson of hypocritical guilt, if I had been pressured into circumcising my sons (as it seems I would have if giving birth in another country).

  • Elise

    This is a little delicate, but I thought I would offer this: having slept with both intact and circumcised men, I can tell you as a female, that foreplay (excuse the pun) is a little different, but I’ve never experienced an ‘ick’ factor that sometimes comes up in the circumcision debates relating to sexuality but has been declining. Interestingly, the only men I have been with that were circumcised were in the states. I, too, hope that it declines, because the scar always struck me as too big and too painful-looking.

    • http://rollforpainting.wordpress.com Evs

      it’s probably silly, but I didn’t actually realise it left a scar…There’s no routine circumcision in Ireland and I was always very vague on the issue…But then my son was born. And I saw how absolutely tiny and delicate newborn’s penis look. unnecessary operation on that? NO THANKS.

      • Elise

        The poor poor babies. Good on you for protecting your son!

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