Most adult men in America are circumcised, but the number of newborns having the operation is falling, now below 50% in some states, intensifying the dilemma for parents and causing a national (and medical) divide.
When Austin and I found out we were having a boy, we just assumed we would circumcise our newborn. It’s normal! It’s routine! Hasta Luego foreskin! Whatever.
The circumcision trend in America began in large part to keep boys from masturbating. 19th century physicians went as far as suggesting the surgery should be done without medication so that a child will associate his genitals with pain.
In Plain Facts for Young and Old (1882), John Harvey Kellogg writes: “A remedy [for masturbation] which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision …The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind.”
Today, arguments in favor of circumcision are based on science. Studies in Africa suggest that circumcised heterosexual males are less likely to contract HIV than their non-circumcised counterparts (only if they choose not to wear a condom). Proponents also argue that urinary tract infections are less likely, and that it is necessary for cleanliness.
On the other side of the spectrum, the American Academy of Pediatricians claims the medical data in favor of circumcision “are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision,” and most American doctors admit the procedure is not medically necessary.
The controversy extends beyond America as well. This past June, Germany was shaken by a court ruling that circumcision of minors was harmful, and a violation of a child’s rights. In the UK, less than 10% of men are circumcised.
Around these parts, circumcision has historically been as normal as a vaccination. Until recently, doctors simply asked, “When would you like your baby circumcised?” Now it’s a choice, and a strange one at that. Instead of making a choice based on science, the decision is mostly cultural. What if my child looks different than his peers? Will he be made fun of? What if he looks different from me? Will his penis look weird?!?
In the end, we did not circumcise our newborn. I left it up to Austin and he decided to forgo it, calling the procedure “cosmetic.”
I don’t regret the choice we made, but I do avoid the discussion with my peers because really, we don’t feel strongly either way. Circumcise, don’t circumcise—your kid will be perfectly fine either way. It’s not something I lose sleep about.
This doesn’t mean I’m not interested the discussion. This topic is so heated and overdramatic in the Internet world that I crave a normal, insightful discussion without eye rolling at the words BABY TORTURE in all caps (relax Internet trolls!).
What about you? Is circumcision important to your family? How did you make the decision?
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