The one pregnancy book I had read included a single paragraph about circumcision which said nothing about why or why not to do it and only stated that it was an intensely personal decision. The nurses were even less helpful than the book. I understand that they did not want to interfere in such a controversial decision, but no one would even tell me why it was controversial or any reason for or against it. So we went with what we were familiar with and had it done.
Within a year we were pregnant again with our second son. By the time he was born, we had read more about the issue and regretted our previous decision, but then we were torn between doing what we thought was best or going for sameness in the family. We decided to leave our second intact and will for any other baby boys that come into our family.
None of the reasons for circumcision are valid for us, but maybe they will be for you so I will mention them. First of all, for some families circumcision is a religious requirement. I won’t argue against that, but it does not apply to us. Second, cosmetics. At some point someone else will see your son naked, and an intact penis is not socially acceptable everywhere. This was not enough of a concern for us, especially since where we lived many of our friends were leaving their sons intact as well, but I understand that a locker room can seem like a torture chamber to a teen who does not fit in. Third, hygiene. People say that circumcision is a healthier choice, but actually in our clean culture it is not necessary and can be detrimental to health.
On the other hand, we found some strong reasons against circumcision. First I’ll mention hygiene. Many people mistakenly think that an intact penis is more prone to infection, but infection more likely results from improper care than anything else. The penis is perfectly designed to prevent infection, and if a serious infection does set in only the foreskin is removed, whereas if there were no foreskin the consequence might be much worse.
I have heard of toddlers being circumcised because of supposed infection, and my heart goes out to those parents and little boys. There seems to be a growing trend in our country toward leaving baby boys intact. Possibly the biggest problem with the change is that the majority of doctors are circumcised and are not very educated about the proper care of intact penises. Consequently, they often give parents poor hygiene advice that causes unnecessary yet serious problems. They also sometimes mistake a natural part of a child’s development as an infection and perform an unnecessary circumcision when the child is a few years old, which of course is much worse than circumcising a newborn baby.
The second reason against circumcision is pain. When we were in the hospital with our first son, we were told that the procedure would be quick and easy for our child, that sometimes the babies don’t even cry, and that it is not traumatizing at all. Interestingly, it was also the only procedure we were not allowed to witness. They took him far away from us with doors in between so that we had no indication of how he handled it, and then several minutes later they brought him back with a pacifier in his mouth.
My sister-in-law told me later that she was with her son when he was circumcised and that it was completely awful. He was screaming like crazy and she never wanted to put a child through that again. Besides the pain and terror to a newborn, there is also a risk that the incision will be done in the wrong place since there is no sure way to determine where the foreskin begins. In most cases there are not problems, but it is a risk.
The third reason against circumcision is that sexual pleasure is supposedly enhanced when the foreskin is intact. This has been indicated by numerous studies even though I can’t figure out how this kind of research is even possible. If it is true then I would consider it the most important reason not to circumcise. This is also how it becomes a human rights issue since it is a permanent decision and debatably a violation of a sex organ.
Personally, I don’t think circumcising baby boys should be illegal, but as a parent I feel almost unqualified to make that decision for my child. It doesn’t really make sense for me to say “if I were to do it again” because I wouldn’t, but if I were I would insist on being with my child throughout the procedure. I have never heard a man complain about it having been done to him, but there are probably men out there who feel that way. In any case, it is an important discussion to have as a couple before your son is born.