Circumcision: Just A Medical Procedure?

Routine Infact Circumcision Is it harmful to the baby and is there ever a reason it should be done Circumcision: Just A Medical Procedure?

Disclaimer: This is a post on a very personal and controversial topic. I have gotten several questions about it lately and while I’ve been avoiding the topic due to its controversial nature, I feel compelled to address it as there is a lot of misinformation on both sides and the person most affected by the procedure can not speak for himself in many cases.  This is an extremely emotional issue for me, as I’m sure it is for many parents. My purpose in the post is to explain my position (as I have received many emails asking), present the information I found while researching this decision for our own sons, and to facilitate a kind and charitable discussion. I do not intend to judge or offend and I apologize in advance if anything written here is hurtful to anyone.  I am not a doctor or medical professional, only a parent who has seen the pain on both sides of this issue. If this is a topic that is not relevant to you or that you’d prefer not to read, feel free to browse my Start Here Page for an archive of health articles, natural living ideas, and recipes instead.

Circumcision: Yes or No?

This is a very personal, and often very polarizing issue.  It is a topic that is not commonly discussed, and for this reason, many parents are given incorrect information if they ask well-meaning family and friends. As moms, we can discuss episiotomies, having a bowel movement while pushing a baby out, or the intricacies of breastfeeding with close friends or trusted relatives, but the topic of circumcision is often avoided or it makes us uneasy to talk about.

My hope is to offer information I found while making this decision in our own family and to facilitate discussion on the matter. I hope that this is not a decision that is ever made lightly, whatever the parents choose, and that facts and research are considered.

Medical Benefits and Risks:

Though routine infant circumcision is a cosmetic procedure, many parents feel they are doing it for medical reasons. Many doctors tell parents that it will make the child cleaner, offers lower risk of UTIs, reduces risk of penile cancer, etc. Many also say that it is not painful for the baby and that there is no need to leave the foreskin attached. (Interestingly, surgeries of all kinds including open heart surgery were often preformed on infants without anesthesia and just drugs to keep them still as recently as a few decades ago. It was believed they could not feel pain, which we now know to be false.)

Some recent news has suggested that circumcision can reduce the risk of HIV infection as well, though this is a statistically flawed argument as I will explain later.

The benefits as listed above are minor, so it seems important to consider the risks as well and to weigh if the potential benefit is enough to make this risk worth it. Many parents list cosmetic reasons as their purpose for circumcision: so that a baby will look the same as his father, not be made fun of in the locker room, etc.

The American Academy of Pediatrics evaluated this and for years, their policy was that circumcision should not be routinely recommended, stating:

“The AAP had formed a task force on circumcision that decided the procedure shouldn’t be routinely recommended. The task force based this policy on 40 years of studies of both circumcised and uncircumcised boys, and it concluded the following:

  • Problems with the penis, such as irritation, can occur with or without circumcision.
  • With proper care, there is no difference in hygiene.
  • There may or may not be differences in sexual sensation in adult men.
  • There is an increased risk for a UTI in uncircumcised males, especially babies under 1 year. However, the risk for a UTI is still less than 1 percent.
  • Newborn circumcision provides some protection from penile cancer, which only occurs in the foreskin. However, the risk of this cancer is very low in developed countries such as the United States.”

Additionally, as research now shows that infants do feel pain as intensely as adults (if not more so), and anesthesia is often not used or used incorrectly. This seems like a very painful experience to subject a child to without a clear medical need, especially just for cosmetic reasons. It can be performed at any point in a man’s life, so should a child want to be circumcised later in life, he can choose this and will be given anesthesia and pain medication which are not given to infants. He will not, however, have the option of getting his foreskin back…

How Is It Done?

Although there are several ways that a circumcision can be performed, the procedure involves forcibly pulling the foreskin back (retracting it) and then removing it from the head of the penis. While the foreskin will retract later in life naturally, doing it at this age is similar to pulling a nail from a nail bed. The foreskin is naturally a very sensitive area and has as many nerve endings as a female clitoris. As this article explains:

“The foreskin, which comprises up to 50% (sometimes more) of the mobile skin system of the penis. If unfolded and spread out flat, the average adult foreskin would measure about 15 square inches (the size of a 3 x 5-inch index card). This highly specialized tissue normally covers the glans and protects it from abrasion, drying, callusing (keratinization), and contaminants of all kinds. The effect of glans keratinization on human sexuality has never been studied.

The frenar band of soft ridges — the primary erogenous zone of the male body. Loss of this delicate belt of densely innervated, sexually responsive tissue reduces the fullness and intensity of sexual response.

The foreskin’s “gliding action“– the hallmark mechanical feature of the normal, natural, intact penis. This non-abrasive gliding of the penis in and out of itself within the vagina facilitates smooth, comfortable, pleasurable intercourse for both partners. Without this gliding action, the corona of the circumcised penis can function as a one-way valve, scraping vaginal lubricants out into the drying air and making artificial lubricants essential for pleasurable intercourse.

Thousands of coiled fine-touch mechanoreceptors called Meissner’s corpuscles, the most important sensory component of the foreskin, encapsulated Vater-Pacinian cells, Merkel’s cells, nociceptors, and branches of the dorsal nerve and perineal nerve. Altogether, between 10,000 and 20,000 specialized erotogenic nerve endings of several types, which can feel slight motion and stretch, subtle changes in temperature, and fine gradations in texture are lost.”

This website explains the procedure and shows videos of actual circumcision (graphic).

While I was told by family members and even registered nurses that the foreskin has no purpose, in researching it myself, I found that it actually serves several important purposes:

  • “Protection: Just as the eyelids protect the eyes, the foreskin protects the glans and keeps its surface soft, moist, and sensitive. It also maintains optimal warmth, pH balance, and cleanliness. The glans itself contains no sebaceous glands-glands that produce the sebum, or oil, that moisturizes our skin. The foreskin produces the sebum that maintains proper health of the surface of the glans.
  • Immunological Defense: The mucous membranes that line all body orifices are the body’s first line of immunological defense. Glands in the foreskin produce antibacterial and antiviral proteins such as lysozyme. Lysozyme is also found in tears and mother’s milk. Specialized epithelial Langerhans cells, an immune system component, abound in the foreskin’s outer surface.13 Plasma cells in the foreskin’s mucosal lining secrete immunoglobulins, antibodies that defend against infection.
  • Erogenous Sensitivity: The foreskin is as sensitive as the fingertips or the lips of the mouth. It contains a richer variety and greater concentration of specialized nerve receptors than any other part of the penis. These specialized nerve endings can discern motion, subtle changes in temperature, and fine gradations of texture.
  • Coverage During Erection: As it becomes erect, the penile shaft becomes thicker and longer. The double-layered foreskin provides the skin necessary to accommodate the expanded organ and to allow the penile skin to glide freely, smoothly, and pleasurably over the shaft and glans.
  • Self-Stimulating Sexual Functions: The foreskin’s double-layered sheath enables the penile shaft skin to glide back and forth over the penile shaft. The foreskin can normally be slipped all the way, or almost all the way, back to the base of the penis, and also slipped forward beyond the glans. This wide range of motion is the mechanism by which the penis and the orgasmic triggers in the foreskin, frenulum, and glans are stimulated.
  • Sexual Functions in Intercourse: One of the foreskin’s functions is to facilitate smooth, gentle movement between the mucosal surfaces of the two partners during intercourse. The foreskin enables the penis to slip in and out of the vagina nonabrasively inside its own slick sheath of self-lubricating, movable skin. The female is thus stimulated by moving pressure rather than by friction only, as when the male’s foreskin is missing.”

(source for above list of functions)

I felt that I needed to know and understand what this surgery does before I could choose it for my son, so I found videos of a routine circumcision  (like this one)  Here are some pictures that show, less graphically, the procedure of a plastibell circumcision.

History of Circumcision

Circumcision is often a cosmetic choice today, though there are certainly those who choose it for religious reasons as well. Before making this decision, it may be helpful for parents to understand the history of the procedure.

  • The first recorded history of circumcision I could find were references to primitive tribes that used both male and female circumcision as a rite of passage into adulthood thousands of years ago. Other rituals involved skin mutilation, walking on hot coals or other feats of strength and bravery. Many of these rituals often ended in death.
  • There is speculation that the ancient Egyptians practiced circumcision, although this theory is largely based on paintings found from this time period that seem do depict a circumcision, though these don’t show the context or explain the reason.  Other interpretations are that these paintings show pubic hair being shaved. No circumcised mummies have been found.
  • About 600 BC the first five books of the Hebrew bible were compiled, including the command to Abraham to circumcise himself and his descendants. Circumcision is adopted in the Jewish faith as part of a covenant with God. Historical evidence suggests that this was a different practice than what is done today, involving a nick or “shedding of blood” or removal of a small part, but not all, of the foreskin, as this would have been a difficult and dangerous procedure at this time, especially for adults.
  • During this time, historians note that several cultures, most middle eastern, practiced circumcision.
  • Jesus was born and circumcised in accordance with Jewish teaching. (though again, historical evidence shows that this was probably a much different procedure)
  • In roughly 43 AD, the Council of Jerusalem, led by Apostles Peter, Paul, John, and James the Lesser decided that members of the newly formed Christian church were not bound by Jewish ritual or custom including dietary guidelines, restrictions against dining with Gentiles, and circumcision.
  • 570 AD- Mohammed born “already circumcised,” which supposedly led to the rule of circumcision among Muslims, who are the largest group of circumcised men today.
  • From this time to more modern time, there were many bans on circumcision in Christian nations, forced circumcision in other nations (often my Muslim conquerers) and reversals. You can see those details here.
  • 16th-17th centuries- Medical research started to explore the function of the foreskin,  finding that it provided lubrication and pleasure during sex.
  • 1716 AD- “Publication of Onania, or the heinous sin of self-pollution, and all its frightful consequences in both sexes in London, giving rise to the irrational phobia about masturbation which persisted throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For the next 250 years doctors insist it is a scientifically proven medical fact that masturbation is physically and mentally harmful and must be stopped at any cost.” (source)
  • In the 1740s, medical science found ways to remove tissue that was affected by syphilis, and since this infection often occurred on the foreskin, one doctor advanced the idea that circumcised men were less prone to the disease.
  • 1758- “Publication of Onanism, or a treatise on the disorders produced by masturbation, by Swiss physician Simon-Andre Tissot, further spreading the theory of masturbatory disease throughout Europe.” (source)
  • 1850s- “James Copland, in Dictionary of practical medicine, popularizes the idea of circumcision as a means of discouraging masturbation among boys.”
  • 1860s- “Circumcision as means of curing or preventing masturbation in boys becomes widespread medical dogma in Britain. For the next 100 years (and in the USA 150 years) doctors insist it is a scientifically proven medical fact that the foreskin is harmful to the physical and moral health of males and must be surgically removed before they even become conscious that it was ever there.”
  • 1870- “In the USA Lewis A. Sayre applies theories of Lallemand and announces that circumcision cures “paralysis” (polio), epilepsy and masturbation, setting off the medical craze for “therapeutic” circumcision. Calls for universal circumcision of male infants.”
  • 1877- “John Harvey Kellogg MD (1852-1943, of Kellog cereal fame) publishes the first edition of Plain facts for old and young, in which he promotes circumcision as a cure for masturbation. He writes that the operation was to be performed “without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment.””
  • 1882- “Norman H. Chapman, Professor of Nervous and Mental Disease at the University of Kansas City, writes: “It is always good surgery to correct this deformity [a long and contracted foreskin] … as a precautionary measure, even though no symptoms have as yet presented themselves”, thus ushering in routine or “preventive” circumcision. (Medical News (Philadelphia) Vol. 41, p. 317)”
  • 1885- Dr. Samuel Newman promotes routine circumcision of newborn boys, claiming the advantage that it could be done without anesthetic and he borrowed the idea of strapping the baby to a board from the Indians. This board, the circumstraint, is still used in many hospitals during circumcision.
  • 1880s- “The newly formed American Academy of Pediatrics supports Lewis Sayre’s call for routine neonatal circumcision. Determined to lower the nation’s infant mortality rate by reducing often-lethal diarrhoea, the AAP argues that the foreskin irritates the penis, which irritates the nervous system, which hampers digestion, which causes diarrhoea. Simultaneously, the AAP also condemns breast milk, claiming it is a leading cause of infant diarrhea. This is the nineteenth century version of the urinary tract infection scare (UTI), the only surviving justification for infant circumcision.” (source)
  • 1914- “Abraham Wolbarst, Jewish doctor in New York, urges universal male circumcision as a preventive of syphilis, cancer and masturbation. (Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 62, 1914, pp. 92-7)”
  • 1941- “Alan Guttmacher writes (approvingly) that some US doctors circumcise routinely without even consulting parents, and that 75 per cent of boys born in urban hospitals are circumcised. (“Should the baby be circumcised?”, Parents Magazine, Vol. 16, pp. 26, 76-8)”
  • 1965- “W.K.C. Morgan publishes “The rape of the phallus”, the first criticism of circumcision’s murky psychology to appear in a US medical journal. Full text here.”
  • 1971- The American Academy of Pediatrics declares that they find “no valid medical reasons for routine infant circumcision.”
  • (during this time, the debate about the necessity of circumcision raged and it was first addressed by some in the US as a human rights issue. Read the full details here.)
  • 1996- Female Circumcision (genital mutilation) banned in the U.S.
  • 1997- Research released showing that circumcision can heighten pain and reaction to vaccines and other procedures. Evidence also found that circumcision does not reduce STD risk.
  • 1998- A baby dies from anesthesia in a procedure to reverse damage done during circumcision in a highly publicized case. Research also finds that statistically, it would take 195 circumcisions to prevent one UTI.
  • 1999- “The American Academy of Pediatrics issues new policy on routine male circumcision which states that the potential medical benefits of circumcision do not warrant performing it routinely, but that pediatricians may perform it at the parents’ behest for “cultural, religious, and ethnic” reasons, but that analgesia is essential. You can compare that policy with their policy on female genital mutilation.”
  • 2002- At Barcelona conference, World Health Organisation rejects circumcision as element of strategy in control of AIDS in Africa.
  • 2007- Information released that human baby foreskins are actually big business and used in cosmetic uses like the making of face cream. (good reason to make your own!)

The current rationales/rationalizations for infant circumcision developed after the operation was in wide practice. Some of them include: to make sons resemble their circumcised fathers; to conform anatomically with peers (note: circumcised boys now find themselves in the minority); to improve hygiene; to prevent tight/non-retractile foreskin (which is normal in childhood); as prophylaxis against urinary tract infection (UTI), sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and cancer of the penis, prostate, and cervix. If circumcision were a new procedure being proposed today for any of the above conditions, it would not be acceptable based on insufficient medical evidence and/or medical ethics (it is against medical ethics to perform unnecessary surgery).

Risks of routine circumcision include: infection (including infection with MRSA), lacerations, skin bridges, chordee, meatitis, meatal stenosis, urinary retention, glans necrosis, hemorrhage, meningitis, sepsis, gangrene, penile loss requiring sex re-assignment, pain, irritation, prolonged bleeding, nursing strike, loss of or diminished sexual function, accidental cutting of an artery during the procedure, erectile dysfunction later in life, and even death (every year more than 100 American boys die from circumcision complications).

[Note: all quotes from this timeline unless otherwise noted]

Statistics and Facts

While circumcision is considered a common procedure in some places, especially within the U.S., it is interesting to note that worldwide, this is not the case. In fact, “Worldwide, only about 20 out of every 1,000 male infants are circumcised—and 18 of those 20 are in the United States alone.”

While parents are often told that circumcision is common and their sons outcast in the locker room if they aren’t circumcised, even in the U.S., circumcision rates have fallen from 56% to 32% in the last 4 years alone, meaning that for current newborns, circumcised males will be in the minority.

Circumcision is often done to prevent risk of future problems like penile cancer, though each year, only about 300 men die from penile cancer, while 500+ die from complications related to circumcision. In the U.S. alone, “About 117 boys die each year as a result of their circumcision, most from infections or blood loss.

While it is a cosmetic procedure, it medically alters the body and changes the sensitivity of the penis drastically. “Circumcision regularly removes a shocking 3/4 of the penis’ sensitivity through the removal of the ridged band, foreskin “lips,” and most often the entire frenulum.”

“As adults, men circumcised in infancy are almost 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with erectile dysfunction (ED).” (source)

“The complication rate for circumcision varies from 3 to 6 percent. The average male will have more health problems from being circumcised than from being left alone” (source)

“Circumcision has never been proven to be effective in either reducing or treating cervical cancer, penile cancer, urinary tract infections, or sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS.” In fact, the recent studies that suggest that circumcision may lower HIV rates are reporting circumcisions done on ADULT males in high risk areas with only a six month to a year follow up period. It seems logical that in this time, a man would still be partially recovering from this painful procedure and would not be as likely to engage in sexual activity or may be more careful about using “protection” which also both reduce the risk of AIDS. Additionally, as HIV/AIDS are not always diagnosed immediately, this doesn’t account for longer term rates.”

Circumcision is often done to “lower the risk of UTI” which is increased the most in the first year of a child’s life. Both circumcised and uncircumcised males have a lower rate of UTI than all females, though in most places, it would be considered barbaric to recommend female circumcision to reduce the risk of UTI.

“The foreskin contains over 240 feet of nerves and over 1,000 nerve endings, as well as being a highly vascularized structure.”

“Women have a foreskin as well, which covers and protects their clitoris. It is alternatively referred to as the clitoral foreskin, clitoral prepuce, or clitoral hood.”

“Complications are often overlooked or un(der)reported. They include: Lacerations, skin bridges, chordee, meatitis, meatal stenosis, urinary retention, glans necrosis, hemorrhage, meningitis, sepsis, gangrene, and penile loss requiring sex re-assignment. The literature abounds with reports of morbidity, and even death, from infant circumcision.”

“Ob/Gyn fees for circumcision range to $400, averaging $137 nationwide [U.S.] Circumcising 10 infants weekly for only 10 months of the year at $125 each (1987 U.S. rate), circumcisers earn at least an additional $50,000 annually. 74% of the Ob/Gyns surveyed perform circumcision. Ob/Gyns are generally not aware of preputial (foreskin) structure and function, or of the growing numbers of men undertaking foreskin restoration.” (source)

“In the 1980s, retrospective studies by Wiswell et al. suggested that 98-99% of intact (non-circumcised) male infants will not develop UTI (compared with his finding of 99.9% in circumcised male infants). In 1989, the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) cautioned that Wiswell’s studies comparing the two groups may be methodologically flawed, and that the percentage of intact male infants who will not develop UTI may be even higher. Research in the 90s has since confirmed that Wiswell’s studies are flawed, as the AAP cautioned, and that the incidence of UTIs in intact male infants is significantly lower than the 1-2% he reported.” (source)

“Scandinavian society (virtually non-circumcised) has a lower rate of cervical cancer than the U.S (a majoritarily circumcised society).”

Religious Aspects:

Certainly, as circumcision was/is a part of Jewish belief and teaching, there is a religious aspect to some parent’s choice to circumcise or not. What I did find fascinating in my research was that the circumcision done in biblical times was likely very different from the one done today. As this writer explains:

Turns out modern circumcision is nothing like what happened in Biblical times. The two Hebrew words used to describe Old Testament circumcision are namal & muwl. Namal means “clipped,” like you might clip your fingernails. The word muwl means “to curtail, to blunt, to cut shorter.” There are totally different words used in Hebrew for “cut off” or “removed.”

The whole idea of circumcision as it was ordained by God at that time in history was that a little blood would be drawn as a symbol. It was a symbol of the sin of the world, which would eventually be repaid by the Messiah. God-ordained circumcision was in the same category as animal sacrifices (another symbolic tradition with blood that found its fulfillment in Jesus).”

From my understanding, even today, Jewish circumcisions are sometimes done in this way, by a specialized practitioner, at home, on the 8th day, and are in stark contrast from the circumcisions performed in hospitals on the first or second day after birth. Interestingly, there are modern, faithful Jewish people who do not believe that circumcision is necessary and there is even an organization called Jews Against Circumcision.

For Christians, the command to circumcise was lifted with Christ’s sacrifice. Some Christians go so far as to say that God forbids circumcision in the New Covenant. This is even addressed in the New Testament in several places:

~Rom. 3:29-30 “Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles, also? Yes, of Gentiles also. Since the God who will justify those of the circumcision out of faith, and those of the uncircumcision through faith, is One.”

~1 Cor. 7:17 “As God has called each man, in this manner let him walk. And thus I command in all the churches. Was any man called in the circumcision [i.e. Old Covenant]? Let him not try to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in the uncircumcision [i.e. New Covenant]? Let him not be circumcised! Circumcision is nothing. And uncircumcision is nothing but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let each man remain in that condition in which he was called.”

~Gal. 5:6 “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision gives spiritual power, but faith working through love.”

~Gal. 5:11 “But if I still proclaim circumcision. . . then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.”

~Col. 2:8-14 “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men…rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form and in Him you have been made whole.. and in Him you were also circumcised, with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, and raised up with Him through faith. And…in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him. . . having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us which were hostile to us. And He has taken them out of the way, having nailed them to the cross.”

[Note: More biblical verses and explanation here]

There are also several Christian organizations that oppose circumcision including Catholics Against Circumcision, and parts of the NoHarmm organization.

My Personal Experience

Our two sons are not circumcised. While I am extremely grateful that we researched extensively and made this decision when we were pregnant with our first son, I have regret and guilt for not sending information to several pregnant friends who I later found out did circumcise their sons because they hadn’t researched both sides of the argument and then deeply regretted it.

Researching the actual circumcision procedure was the turning point for me in my decision not to circumcise. Prior to my pregnancy with our first child, I had never even considered the topic and knew incredibly little about it. I vaguely knew that such a procedure existed, but as a woman, it wasn’t something that had ever affected me.

Once I was pregnant, I started researching everything from delivery options to episiotomies, to Vitamin D testing, to gestational diabetes testing, to all of the medications used in childbirth. I tended to glaze over the topic in books because I figured it was a decision my husband would make, but something kept nagging me about it.

When I was working on my birth plan, this was something that was suggested to include, so I started researching it and I am forever grateful that I did. My husband researched the issue in depth as well, and thankfully, he came to the same conclusion, as I have seen this be a source of disagreement and pain for several couples. While my husband and I are in complete agreement on this issue, it is a source of disagreement (and sometimes pain) in our extended family.

For those who may have concerns of the care of an uncircumcised penis, less care is actually needed in the younger years than with a circumcised infant and nothing must be done to it other than basic bathing and hygiene. The skin will retract when they are older and they are the only ones who will ever need to retract this skin (injury can occur if it is done by others or too soon). In fact, many of the problems commonly associated with being uncircumcised are actually caused by forced retraction at an early age by someone other than the foreskin’s owner.

Neither of my sons has ever had a UTI or any other issues or complications from not being circumcised.

This post is written in hope that I won’t ever feel the same guilt that I feel with my friends for not presenting this information to any of you who are genuinely curious or researching. I also share this in hope that no one becomes one of these thousands of parents who live with this guilt because they didn’t have all the information. It is based on my own personal research and convictions.

I know several friends who deeply regret their decision to circumcise, and share their story in hopes of sparing other mothers this pain. For the record, I have tremendous respect for parents who have made the decision to circumcise, and after research regret their decision but still share their pain for the benefit of others.

I hope that I have conveyed my research and opinions on this in a non-judgmental way and I certainly would NEVER judge anyone for the decision to circumcise, especially since I have seen first hand how this procedure is marketed as a much more medically necessary and beneficial procedure than I found it to be in my research. I read the pain and heartache of many parents who regretted their decision in my own search for information, and I am so grateful to them for sharing their pain and sparing our family the same pain.

I implore parents to research this issue thoroughly, make sure they are familiar with the procedure (witness one in person if possible, or a video if not), the technique, the possible risks, and the form being signed before consenting to a circumcision if this is the decision they make. (More here on some of the actual problems with the consent forms for circumcision).

This article addresses many of the reasons often given for “medically necessary” circumcisions and I’d also encourage parents to thoroughly research any of these particular issues before consenting.

In the end, to me, the issue comes down to whether we (as parents) have the right to make a permanent medical decision (that some consider a human rights issue) for a child who is not even yet old enough to talk or verbalize pain when there is no clear medical need, and the issue of risk vs. benefit can certainly be hotly debated.

For us, the answer to this question was unequivocally that we do not have this right, and we chose to leave our sons as God created them (just as we did for our daughters).  My plea is that all parents will give this issue a lot of through, consideration and research before making a decision, and not do it for strictly cosmetic reasons or because a doctor or family member suggests it.

My sons could, if they wish, choose this procedure at any point in their lives. Many ethicists suggest that parents only have the right to choose life saving procedures and surgeries for their children but that surgeries like circumcision that alter the body without medical need can be unethical.

Though I personally consider this a human rights issue that boys should have the right to make on their own, I also think the the slope of letting the government be involved in the process at all would be a very slippery one (though female circumcision is banned in the U.S., despite some people who have personal or religious reasons for doing so). I do know men who were circumcised who feel strongly that parents should not have the right to make this decision and who have anger over the decision that their parents made.

My purpose of this article is certainly not to judge anyone over a decision either way, and my purpose was to share information that shaped my decision in hopes that it might be helpful to others. While my heart aches for men who were never given the right to make this decision, I think that the answer is access to research and information, not government intervention or policy.

Resources:

Here is a list of resources I found helpful in my research on this topic. It is by no means an exhaustive or unbiased list, just ones I found worth the read:

Catholics Against Circumcision

Doctors Opposing Circumcision

DrMomma: Are You Fully Informed? (Huge list of resources and things to consider)

Mothering Circumcision Forum (Huge forum of parents who regret circumcision their sons and experience from actual people, not just statistics)

The National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers (NOCIRC)

The National Organization to Halt the Abuse and Routine Mutilation of Males (NOHARMM)

Nurses for the Rights of the Child

The Case Against Circumcisions

 

Helpful links from a Mommypotamus.com article:

Infant Pain, Adult Repercussions: How Infant Pain Changes Sensitivity In Adults

Dr. Momma: Cut Vs. Intact Outcome Statistics

Babies Do Feel Pain

Basic Care of the Intact Child

Is this an issue you have had to decide? What influenced your decision? [Let's keep the comments kind and charitable. I am all for open debate, but any personal attacks or rude comments will be removed]

Reader Comments

  1. says

    well i watched the most heartbreaking movie on the net :(- I just don´t understand how anyone can choose it for your tiny son???- but then again I live in Denmark were a minority of jews and muslims might choose it -but danish doctors are evry much against it .

  2. Jen says

    Thank you so much for this article. We chose not to circumcise our son at birth, but about 3 months of age, his penis began to balloon to nearly 3 times it’s size while he was urinating. We were referred to a pediatric urologist who recommended some skin softening/conditioning cream to try to avoid circumcision. Unfortunately, it didn’t work and we elected to do the circumcision at 13 months to avoid an emergency, which was imminent. We are expecting again and are very torn. Circumcision at 13 months was much much harder than it may have been at birth.

    • says

      Definitely just research and do what you feel you must do. The forum I linked to has some other forms for parents and doctors who give advice on intact care. Apparently there is a lot of misinformation in the medical community on this. From what I can tell though, circumcision is actually more painful the earlier it is done, babies just can’t express the pain in the same way. Obviously, I’ve never had the experience so I can’t speak from first hand knowledge though… Good luck and hugs!

      • Amberjoyc says

        But around year 1, the procedure requires more anesthetic (even general anesthesia) as opposed to a local injection at the base of the penis.

        • says

          True, because babies are more adept at expressing pain by then. Just because infant circumcision can be done at a day or two old without more intense pain treatment, doesn’t mean it should be. Also, from every report I’ve seen, over half of all doctors use either no anesthetic at all, or only a topical one which would do nothing for the pain of the nerves being cut.

          • Ashley Dow says

            Katie, I really respect your website and advice. This is a great article and has enlightened me. I do want to comment on the idea that babies feel intense pain during circumcision and that it would be better to do it later because more medication would be used. I am a registered labor and delivery nurse and I see circumcisions regularly. While I find the procedure highly invasive and almost mutilating, I want to shed light on infants’ responses to it. In the hospital where I work, local lidocaine is injected into the groin area and penis. The first injection usually illicits a short whimper but the lidocaine quickly numbs the area and the infant shows no sign of being in pain. If I were to pinch a baby, s/he would cry and/or pull away, so we can see that infants do show aclear response to pain. For the remaining of this short procedure, an infant may give another short whimper when a tool is used to cut the frenulum but the babies almost always are very easily consoled and again, do not generally show signs the they are experiencing pain. Afterward, I always encourage mom to breastfeed, not only is that extremely comforting but we know that breastmilk releases endorphins that decreases the sensation of pain. Infants rarely show sign of being miserable or inconsolable or even in pain. In fact, babies usually cry more when getting their diaper changed than at any point during the circumcision. Again, I am not supporting circumcision as a routine practice and I agree that it would be better for boys to be able to make their own decision later, however I do not at all agree that the procedure would somehow be less painful later on in life just because more anesthesia would be used. The recovery would be much longer and more painful later on in life despite medications. I base this on my knowledge and experience as an RN. Thank you so much for your article! I am going to ask my husband to read it to help us make our own decisions when it comes to having children.

          • Mare54 says

            Honestly??? Have you read the insert warning on lidocaine? It warns that it is NOT to be used on children or genitals but somehow it’s okay to use on a newborns genitals? I cringe to hear you matter of factly talk about a tool to cut the frenulum….since this is a normal part of a males penis and has been designed by nature for a purpose which was NOT to be cut! Because an infant might be easy to “console”…..in no way makes unnecessary genital alteration surgery acceptable or matter of fact. You say you are against it….but it seems you have become jaded in your view of this medically unnecessary surgery performed on infants born with NORMAL genitals…..Just saying.

          • Jeff says

            Whether painless or not, cutting off the frenulum should be a sex crime punishable with long prison terms. The frenulum IS the sex organ for males, and cutting it off leaves you sexually impaired. I have had sexual problems my entire life, never being able to wear a condom because of all the damage some smiling quack did to me. I really have no respect for my parents, and what tey allowed you criminals to do to me.

            Watch any video you like, the result is always the same: when men masturbate, they rub the shaft right below the head. This is the part you baby molesters cut off.

      • Brandy says

        Yes, for any new people reading this, that urologist was sadly misinformed. Ballooning is common and happens as the frenulum begins to stretch, a natural thing to happen in a penis with a foreskin.

  3. Lori says

    Thank you for posting such a well informed and researched page on this sensitive topic. (pun intended!) I think this needs to be something that is discussed within the new or soon to be parents realm.
    I birthed my children at home with a midwife. I chose not to circumcise my son after much research. When we went to our family Dr for check ups he did inform me that I needed to force the foreskin back while he was still young. This caused my son pain, and I could see it would get red and sore when we tried this. I did more research and found that this is NOT necessary. I am very disappointed that our family Dr was misinformed on this topic. I hope that from people like you having open discussions on this topic we can help parents and medical professionals to be more informed. Thank you!

  4. Diane says

    Great article. I had girls but I planned if I had a boy to not circumcise him. As a nursing student I watched a dr perform this procedure on several babies and it was not pretty. He kept saying they don’t feel it they just like to cry. Didn’t believe it then and still dont

  5. Susan E says

    Wow, that was a great research and writing on your part on both sides of decision. To answer your question on the very bottom of your article.:-)
    “Is this an issue you have had to decide? What influenced your decision? ”
    I did it for one reason because “to be like Daddy”. BUT because of my research and reading horror stories , & knowing friends that had botched or half-done circumcisions, or knowing you can’t be with your baby to watch procedure or comfort right away, we decided to wait eight days and hired a Mohel to come to our house. It was done by an EXPERT & without any toxic drugs, & quick. My baby came to me in two seconds to breastfeed.

    Of course the Vitamin K shot is to help colagulate the blood so we made sure he didn’t get that damaging “vitamin” because I waited 8 days when blood naturally coagulates. God is awesome that way.

    So when my 2nd boy was born we decided the same thing and he came home the next day without any shots or circumcision. After day six after having bowel issues we gound he had an UTI and he was bathed with warm water since birth so we aren’t sure how it happened. He was born with a precipitous labor & delivery and had mecomian(no time for spell check) on him so not sure if that caused it! Anyway so after 2 1/2 weeks in the hodpital because hospital gave him STAPH infection he was circumcized at home by the same Mohel as my older son. They are healthy boys with healthy penises.

  6. rachel says

    Thank you for this. My doctor had encouraged me (since I refused to circumcise) to routinely stretch his foreskin back until it was fully detached when he was still a baby. I did it once, but my gut said it was wrong and I haven’t touched it since. I feel much better about that choice now.

    • Bon says

      We had the same experience with our first son! Our Dr. advising us to pull it back on occasion. Glad we went with our instincts and left it alone. Now we have 3 sons all intact and never a problem with any of them.

    • Mare54 says

      It’s sad how misinformed medical professionals are about proper care of an intact male child……thank goodness you listened to your instincts….we don’t go poking and prodding around in the vulvas of baby girls, what makes them think that doing it to boys is acceptable?

  7. nicole says

    We have a son…he is 13 months old and circumcised. I did my research, as did my husband, and we weren’t going to, but in the end trusted my family Dr/ped and circumcised. My Dr had said he had alot of intact boys with issues needing a urologist. Thank the Lord my son’s procedure went well…we have had no issues or anything as a result of circumcising. However, after reading your article and making it through less than 10 seconds of a video, we will not be circ’ing future boys. The info I found while pregnant was not as clear and referenced as yours.
    Great article….well written!! Thank you :)

    • Mare54 says

      Isn’t is tragic that the same problems an intact boy might encounter are caused by misinformed medical providers giving potentially harmful care advice for intact boys?

  8. kristin says

    this was an incredibly informative article for me and im so thankful to you for sharing. your blog is one of my favorites and all of the information you present is done in such a clear and thoughtful manner. i have long felt uncomfortable with the idea of circumcision but felt that it was necessary for my child to be ‘normal’ and ‘accepted’ – now that i know that this generation of infants has less males being circumcised than not, i feel so much better about not circumcising when i go ahead and have children. i’m so glad i was able to read this now. thanks!

  9. Cara says

    I want to commend you on a wonderfully written article. I just wish more parents were as well informed as you. As a nurse I’ve seen many circs performed and have always felt very sorry for the poor boys who didn’t have the ONE doc that used at least a local. I’ve always felt that it should be left up to the individual on weather he’d like to be circumcised or not just like little girls and getting their ears pierced (I hate seeing infants with pierced ears, poor things). Well done!!!

  10. C says

    I have 3 boys 20, 18 and 11yrs old. They are all circumcised and so is dad. My reasons at the time were to be like dad, had heard that the foreskin could be troublesome and difficult to keep clean. My brother in-law had to be circumcised as an adult because of medical issues. Also my sister (a nurse) had worked in a seniors home and highly recommended it without going into detail. 20 years ago the internet was not what it is today and researching this type of information was nearly impossible for the average person. After reading your post i am not so sure i would make the same decisions…

    • Mare54 says

      It’s so sad that we listen to well meaning advice that is so misleading. The chances that an intact male will have problems with his foreskin are low….but the fact that someone you know or a family member had a circumcision has nothing to do with perfectly normal healthy babies born with normal genitals! The nursing home myth is one of the worst myths being circulated…….because if you really think it over, elderly women have more genitals issues than elderly intact men, but we don’t hear about those, do we???? Somehow a “problematic” foreskin is memorable….but problematic labia and vaginas are not? I doubt it!

  11. Victoria says

    We had our baby and live in Alberta Canada, which doesn’t always have politics I agree with but we are blessed be have the services of Midwives covered under healthcare. We wouldn’t have circumcised anyways, but our midwives had a lot of similar research. One of them did suggest that when your son is a toddler and they begin to play with themselves that the parents should allow it, in the home of course:) She said this will allow the foreskin to loosen and make it easier to keep clean.

  12. Melissa says

    Very well written. Kudos to you for tackling such a difficult subject. Our son (5) is not circumsised and we have considered it, but 2 different uroligists abd his ped has told us there is no need and have said “why put him through surgery and recovery?” And after research, we too come back to leaving him the way God made him. I love your site and I hope it encourages parents to take a more proactive approach in their child’s healthcare.

  13. says

    Good article and I think that information regarding circumcision is hard to come by. However as a circumcised guy I’d like to let everyone know that most guys are pretty oblivious to the fact. We don’t harbor any deep emotional scars and we don’t have any problems with ‘enjoyment’. Do uncircumcised men experience more enjoyment? Obviously I can’t answer that but if they do I doubt it is by much since there are generation after generation of well performing circumcised men.

    Don’t beat yourself up if you later regret having your son circumcised. Most likely your son doesn’t think twice about it.

    Having said that my wife and I choose to leave our son uncircumcised taking the approach that we need to be convinced of altering our son’s natural state. We couldn’t find anything to compel us to have the procedure done to our son.

    I do encourage fathers and mothers to look beyond tradition to make the decision and the info in this article is a great resource!

    Having said that one thing I should mention is that my wife has caught our son pulling back his foreskin to pee (while standing up of course) to ‘pee like daddy.’ He’s only done it a couple of times and hasn’t done it now in quite a while.

    Also I will add this one additional tidbit that might fall under the TMI category but we’re all adults here right? :-)

    For me, when it gets cold the penis retracts and causes the foreskin to curl inwards. When this happens pubic hair can get caught and pulled in with it making for an uncomfortable situation that requires ‘adjustment’. I don’t know if this is a problem for uncircumcised guys or not.

    • andy gladish says

      Not generally a problem- the geometry doesn’t change as much with an uncircumcised penis. I do want to say, I agree that it’s not something to agonize over if you’re circumcised- most men and many “circumcised” women report that they greatly enjoy sex also, and frequently reach orgasm. Where it gets my hair up is doing it to a helpless child.

  14. LJ says

    We did not circumcise our son. My husband is not circumcised and I did read a little during my pregnancy, but did not research it like you did. My main thoughts were very simple–God created the male body this way, so why try to alter it?

  15. KP says

    As a former registered nurse who assisted with countless circumcisions, I knew in my heart if I ever had a boy, I would never put him through that. It tore my heart up every time. I was later blessed with a son, and he is a young man now and intact. He played lots of sports growing up and never had teammates in the locker rooms comment on his intact status. I never understood the “so he’ll look like daddy” argument either. What child looks like his or her adult parent physically? Great article. I plan on saving this for my children for the sake of any future grandsons in the coming years!

  16. AmandaLp says

    My fiancé and I are discussing this. He wants his future sons circumcised so they will “look like him.” My view is that if my future son wants to have it done, he can make that decision when he can make the decision.

  17. MrsB @Mind over Matter says

    We never saw the need to let someone cut our newborn sons. And husband couldn’t care less that they don’t “look like him”.

  18. Cathy says

    I am thankful that my first child was a girl, because at that point I had not researched ANY of the “biggie” topics. She was vaccinated and the works, and I’m sure we would have circumcised as well since we weren’t questioning anything at that point. Our 4th child ended up being our first boy, and thankfully by then I was researching everything. We have opted not to circumcise either of our two boys (5th is a boy as well), and so far have not had any issues with infections or hygiene (including UTI). Great informative article on this sensitive subject!

  19. kimbellanne says

    Great article! I was surprised when my aunt called me in the hospital and actually asked me if I had circumcised my son – who knew people would be so worried about my little baby’s junk! (sorry – penis!) I decided I did not want to do it – I could not imagine putting my little guy through that pain for no good reason! He is 6 years old and has never had any trouble – maybe a little irritation like 2x ever – his step-brothers are circumcised and they get infections all the time – I remind him every day to clean his privates (yes pull back the skin and clean too) just like I tell him to clean his behind, his face, neck and body – we have no issues whatsoever!

  20. Ande says

    This is why I’m so glad we didn’t have a boy. I didn’t want to circumcise if Ember had been born male but her father was very adamant about it. It is one of many reasons I don’t really want another baby. I don’t want to put a son of mine through that.

  21. Starwarsgirl says

    I thought you did a good job addressing this issue (you also know your Bible very well). It was thoughtful and non-judge mental. My first born son was born with penile detortion (crooked penis) and had to be circumcised in order to correct the problem. He was only six months old and they put him to sleep. I thought he did very well and healed fast. There are some medical reason why son kids or grown men need to be circumcised. Other then that, you did an excellent (and tactful) job addressing this issue.

  22. Tabitha says

    Agreed. This was something I never thought about until the sono clearly showing a little boy. You did great, but I’m biased. We decided to wait until our son wanted the procedure. (I basically told my husband I felt strongly that it wasn’t necessary and that he would have to be there the whole time. I couldn’t stomach the idea of watching my son being cut for flimsy reasons. He did some reading on his own and decided our son could decide for himself. We also realized the procedure wasn’t like a Jewish bris so it didn’t make sense for religious reasons either. )

  23. Al says

    I have one son who is circumcised. The other is not. Their father (the same for both children) is not circumcised either. I was very young when I had the first child and had no idea the doc did not used anesthesia. With the second child, I had graduated from nursing school and had done a 180 on my opinion of the subject by the time he was born. While circumcision is not necessary, I don’t think anyone should beat herself up about deciding to have a child circumcised, even if you are later convinced that it was not the best decision. My kids are all (3) grown now and there are many things I think I did well as a parent. There are also many things I didn’t do well. All are irreversible at this time. Such is life.

  24. Nadja says

    Thanks, Katie. All four of my boys were born at home and uncircumcised, but one of them, my third son, had to have the procedure done last February, as his foreskin was closing up and would not retract. Twice we tried a prescribed steroid cream (had to be used 3x daily for 3 months!), and each time we stopped, the foreskin closed up around the glans again. Finally, he really wanted it done–I think he was sick of the hassle and humiliation. It was terribly painful for him, but he is now glad it was done.

    I had another problem with my youngest son getting an infection beneath the foreskin, which subsequently became so tight and inflamed, pus was oozing out and I couldn’t get any colloidal silver on it (what I sometimes use for such things–doesn’t sting at all), but with soaking and huge doses of vitamin C we took care of it without the doctor being needed. It made me consider circumcision, but it is not really a step I willingly take, and I rather risk minor problems than deal with major pain…I don’t know if it is the right thing, so I pray hard for discernment!

    The reason I have written all this is to express that there are valid reasons to have it done, just as there are valid reasons for women not to breast feed, home-birth, cloth diaper and so forth. I have done all the aforementioned, but know of cases that make these things not the best choice for an individual.

    Thanks for discussing a controversial topic!.

  25. Alicia says

    Tell that to all the elderly men with phimosis….bet its real fun to have your foreskin harden over your urethra so you can’t urinate, then have to be circumcised anyway in a much bloodier and much more traumatic experience than would have occurred as a newborn.

    • says

      I’m not disagreeing that it would certainly be a painful experience then too, but it would be done under general with a lot of pain medication. I’ve seen multiple studies that prove that babies feel pain even more intensely than adults and that pain in these early years can even have a neurological impact, so I disagree that it would be more traumatic than as a baby…

    • Mare54 says

      Actually you are wrong……because at that age the foreskin has already been naturally retracted and even with a problem that might require a surgical intervention for an elderly man……at least his healthy foreskin was not scraped, ripped and torn from his glans which is what is necessary before an infant circumcision can be performed! There are also other less invasive treatments that should be tried before surgery and if doctors don’t do them first it is very unethical.

    • Kayla says

      While that is unfortunate to happen to an elderly man and I sympathize for his pain, at least he became an adult and had the CHOICE whether or not he wanted his genitals to be permanently altered! A grown man can research and rationalize whether or not he wants the procedure in his 20′s, 50′s… whatever. How awesome that he had the choice about what would be done to his own body! A little defenseless baby has no say in the matter and is mutilated for life. My husband has had many complications from his circumcision, including experiencing pain frequently during sex because his skin is too tight. As for the hypothetical man that you are referring to…at least he got to enjoy the full functionality of his penis for the longetivity of his life! And if it ever became an issue (which for most intact men it is not!) then there is still the option for something to be done. For a circumcised male, he doesn’t get the option!
      I am pregnant with a son right now and he will most definitely not be circumcised. We will only choose to have surgery performed on him that is medically necessary and allow the rest ofthe decisions to be made by him.

  26. says

    Great article and I currently have two boys that are circumcised. I regret not doing the research. With my second son the Dr. who performed the procedure did not use any thing for pain and when I raised the question, he said there was no need because there was no feeling in that area. I trusted the Dr. but it bothered me and is the reason why I read this article. If I have any boys in the future, I do not believe I will do it again.

  27. Jenn says

    I do not have kids, so as far as that goes, I guess I just do not understand and I am not going to try too.
    However, I understand the other side. My grandfather as well as another gentleman I know, both had to be circumcised in their mid 80′s. They went through months of significant, horrible pain, a lot of complications and side effects due t o not being circumcised. The procedure at this point, was very involved. They were both layed up for weeks afterwards as well. They could not lift anything over five pounds, reach above their heads, bend over, it was crazy.
    Knowing what they went through and the long term complications, if it is done correctly as an infant, good pain meds and like, it might be easier then than when they are older and go through even more.
    I think like most things, all of the sides need to be evaluated. Doctors need accurate information, not just what the drug companies want them to know. An informed decision needs to be able to be made by the parents, not pressured.
    Like I said, I do not have kids, so I cannot say anything there, just the experience of my grandfather and a friend later in life.

    • Mare54 says

      Remember that if you ever had a friend or family member with breast cancer…..that can as you know be very very painful and even deadly…..but that doesn’t mean we are carving out the breast buds in infants to prevent that pain or death just in case they grow up and might get breast cancer!!!

  28. cal says

    We have two boys and both of them are circumcised. I don’t regret making that choice – informed or otherwise. I also know of two young men (early 20′s) who weren’t circumcised both had problems. At least one of them had trouble with the foreskin closing so he couldn’t pee. It took a couple of different rounds of treatment with meds/procedures and several weeks, etc. to fix it. He was in extensive pain as well. IMO, the pain they suffer as babies is minor compared to this. I would do it again.

  29. theresa gianna says

    what an interesting article! one of the best i’ve read on the subject. i really appreciate you covering the historical and religious aspects of circumcision as well. we just had a baby girl, but circumcision came up during my pregnancy since we didn’t find out the gender until birth. i’ll definitely be continuing my research for whenever baby boy comes around.

  30. Jessica West says

    Thanks for bringing this up – our son is uncircumcised, for many of the reasons that you listed above. We recently had some difficulty with foreskin irritation, and it was kind of amazing the things the nurse and doctor said. The doctor was actually very helpful – it was clear he had done his research, even though it was also clear that he did not have much experience with uncircumcised toddlers. The nurse blew my mind – she was so critical, though her son was uncircumcised as well. She basically made me feel like I had been doing things wrong by not pulling back the foreskin and forcibly cleaning every day! Our situation has now resolved itself, but it sure was an eye-opener. In my area (Seattle) it is apparently becoming less and less common to circumcise, so things may be changing on this issue for our children’s generation!

    • Mare54 says

      Oh how terrible….if that nurse was doing what she was recommending to you……she was harming her child! How horrid that medical professionals are so very “unprofessional” where normal natural male anatomy is concerned!!!! You never ever retract an intact boy……the median age for natural retraction is about age ten or even later is normal. Be sure to share that piece of information with your uninformed care provider!

  31. andy gladish says

    Very simple issue.
    For “boys” substitute “girls.”
    There are very rare conditions that require corrective surgery for girls’ genitalia, as well as for boys. Does logic tell you that ALL boys or girls should be “circumcised?”
    If this discussion were taking place in North Africa, there would be passionate diatribes about how girls as well as boys MUST be circumcised- here we see that as an odd cultural backwater.
    If you believe circumcision is that important, for the sake of all that is decent limit your actions to persuasion rather than mutilating helpless children, and by all means go get yourself circumcised if you’re over 21. Yeah- very very few people would do that. For very good reasons.

  32. Andrea says

    Thank you for your piece. We did choose to circumcise our son because my father in law , who is a retired MD, had quite a few patients who had to have circumcisions as adults due to UTIs, etc. and he felt that a circumcision would help protect against many issues (although as you point out, it can be a serious procedure and not one to be taken lightly). I did not make my decision based on anything like “he should look like daddy” or “what if kids tease him?” but purely, that this might have more pros than cons for his long term health. I’m still conflicted about my choice but my husband, who was the one who was more pro-circ than I, promised me that men are generally very happy with sex regardless–and that he certainly had no lingering trauma or anger due to his circumcision. I realize this is a tough issue to discuss calmly–but I appreciate your thoughts on the matter.

    • Mare54 says

      I still fail to see the connection between a man choosing a circumcision for who knows why they were getting UTI’s…..and a perfectly normal healthy baby with normal genitals having unnecessary genital alteration surgery. It seems so illogical.

  33. M.Tobey says

    Have you done research on how circumcision can actually be beneficial to man in his elderly years, once diabetes and/or Alzheimer’s has set in? UTI’s often become a concern during this time, and increase with the presence of diabetic neuropathy and mental decline, as it may interfere with the man’s ability to notice an infection, or provide hygiene care to himself to minimize infection. My father was diabetic, suffered from Alzheimer’s, and spent at least four to five major episodes in the hospital each year for several years due to UTIs. I was told, by the director of nursing at the last nursing home that my father was at, that many elderly diabetes/Alzheimer’s patients die from a constant barrage of UTI infections they contract as they age. It is very difficult for nurses and 24hr. caregivers, particularly due to the current shortage of nurses, to keep abreast of patients’ hygiene; this is especially true for the growing population of elderly male baby boomer patients. My father’s quality of life was severely diminished by UTIs, and many times, his mental decline was blamed on the Alzheimer’s, until someone finally discovered that he had a UTI, and prescribed him antibiotics. His cognition improved each time. Sadly, he had also had become antibiotic-resistant, and the medical establishment was sometimes very resistant to giving him regular cultures as a means of maintaining appropriate medication procedures to manage the UTIs. My father was not circumcised, and I wonder if he would have suffered fewer energy-depleting UTIs as an elderly man,had he been circumcised as an infant. Perhaps it would have given him a better quality of life, and would have even allowed him to live longer. Could circumcision, in all actuality, also reduce medical costs, for both the caregiving families and society in general, by reducing the amount of UTIs that elderly, diabetic Alzheimer’s patients suffer? Just a thought.

    • lyndsey.p.johnson says

      I just wanted to let you know that my grandfather also suffered from recurrent UTIs his last few years of life. He had significant mental alterations with them, so much so that he had CTs, MRIs, and a spinal tap. He was diabetic, died in a hospital hallway waiting for a chest X-ray after being taken to doctor for yet another UTI. He WAS circumcised, so don’t beat yourself up with the “what ifs.”

      • says

        I am so sorry for both of you and for what your grandfathers suffered. While there is a rare chance of complications much later in life, diabetes and Alzheimer’s bring their own set of complications, circumcised or not. This is certainly a procedure that can be chosen down the road, so I am just suggesting proper research before subjecting all babies to it at such a young age.

    • Mare54 says

      I still don’t see the logical connection between a sick elderly person with health problems and a perfectly normal healthy baby having his normal genitals surgically altered…..there is NO logic to this line of thinking. By the way…..my father was diabetic and intact…..and passed away in a elderly care home facility and NO ONE ever suggested that he be circumcised. He died as he was born…..with normal genitals.

  34. Liv says

    Great article!! I didn’t know that and I’m shocked to know the reasons why it was performed! When I was single, I’ve read (or heard, can’t remember) that uncircumcised man are more prone to infections. Then I had a coworker that for medical reasons had to be circumcised (he was around 30) and was very painful.

    So I decided that when having a child he will be circumcised at birth. Years later when I was pregnant I asked the insurance company if they cover it. They told me no, and the girl said: “don’t put your baby under that unnecessary pain at that age”. I thought she said so because they don’t pay for it (unless for medical reasons).

    My husband who is uncircumcised but believed my words that it was best for him and was willing to accept it but we decided to ask my Dr and he advised not to, he explained it was not true that he’ll get more infections, etc. we trust him a lot. So, we decided no to circumcise my baby. But the Ped did tell us to pull his foreskin back to help getting it loose. I didn’t like to do it but his Ped always said he didn’t feel pain for doing so. It was good for him right? So we gently did it for a year. Sad to know it was not necessarily but at least we did not circumcise him.

    It’s great to read this type of articles. I think there is a lot of misinformation on this regard!

  35. Jenn says

    There are a few things that we just do in my family we breastfeed or babies and we don’t circumcise our boys. My husband and I talked about it since he is circumcised and I tried to talk him out of having our oldest done, his argument was that the boys would wonder why they were different luckily 20/20 happened to do a show that showed a circumcision and once he saw them clamp onto the baby’s foreskin he turned green and looked at me and told me we’d never do that to our boys. His next question was why would his mother have done that to her sons! We’re old enough (36 & 39) that his brothers and him would have missed out on pain meds. I’m so proud of my sister and sister-in-law and younger cousins who continue to make this choice.

  36. Maria says

    Very well written and interesting article! It is so interesting to see the wast cultural differences in this area. I am Danish and here it is just an unthinkable thing to do if you are ethnically Danish. It might be something you consider if you are of muslim or jewish decent, and even then I doubt it is the norm.

  37. Kira says

    I just want to say that I wish I had done the research on how the procedure was done prior to having our son. I have 3 girls so I guess I was unprepared when it came time to make that decision. I had the procedure done on the 7th day since insurance doesn’t cover a “cosmetic” procedure. My husband and I were in the room during and all I can say is as I watched I cried for my son. I am sure that he does not remember it now but I will always have that memory and both my husband and I walked out horrified at how barbaric the procedure is. Our doctor whom I love dearly I am sure did exactly what he was supposed to but man at the time I never felt more helpless for my child and had we chose to have more children we would not have done it again. My husband is circumcised and he does not remember it either. I wish that we would have done the research before.

  38. Tanya says

    Both my sons are circumcised and to be honest I’m still unsure why I ever agreed to it. Maybe it was Dr. pressure, family pressure, I don’t know. Maybe because unlike any other aspect of pregnancy/delivery/bringing home baby I never really dug into the topic and really researched – I just trusted what husband/father in-law/doctor told me. Even though it was against my natural instincts. Every time I read an article about circumcision I feel like a complete waste of life – I really really regret not going with my gut about the decision to circumcise. I practiced attachment parenting in every other way …. so yeah those of you who say “I don’t know how a mother could do that to her son” (like some kind of criminal) – uh huh, yeah me neither. But I did and I regret it, however I can’t take it back (or rather put their foreskins back on!) so I will continue down my path of parenthood, making decisions. Some bad, most good, lots of great….. but I will never ever go against my gut again in any aspect of life. Mine or my children………. Lesson learned.

    • Amanda says

      My story is similar to yours. I only have one son (possibly 2…not sure what the little bean is yet. :D) I spent so much time during my pregnancy researching pregnancy, birth, and delivery, etc, that I only minimally researched the circ issue. I based my decision on misinformation I got from hubby, MIL, and a poorly informed pediatrician (who only told me the benefits and ignored the risks of circumcision). Sending my baby to the nursery to be circumcised went against my very strong gut feelings that it was wrong. Unfortunately my son now has a couple small skin bridges where the scar healed incorrectly to the glans, which will most likely need to be surgically repaired when he gets older. I thank God that he didn’t have a more serious complication from the procedure. For weeks, I really beat myself up over the choice to circ my baby boy, and I still get a bit weepy about it when I share my story. I hope and pray that it doesn’t cause issues for him in the future, and if we are blessed with any boys in the future, they will remain intact, just the way God made them. :) Thank you, Wellness Mama, for presenting the facts in a charitable manner. This way will be much more effective at informing parents, than using words like “genital mutilation.” That tends to make people more angry and defensive, rather than open to learning more about the risks.

  39. CCD says

    Thank you for this very well thought out and informative post. It is important for parents to know all the facts before they make such an important decision for their child.

  40. Lori says

    Thank you so much for posting this and basically combining all the research in one place. I appreciate your blog so much!

  41. Manda says

    I think that taking away the option of circumcision, as many want to do, is no good either. I had a hard time with the decision to have my son circumcised, but with our family history on both sides of men having problems later in life and then having to have it done as adults I considered it medically necessary to have done. I had to wait til he was about a month old for it and he did have local anesthesia and did not seem to care either way about what happened. Afterwards the dr said that his foreskin was so thick that he likely would have had the same problems as other men in the family and it was better to have done it now, so if I have any more sons I will want to have them circumcised also and want the option to be there.

    • says

      Thanks for an interesting perspective, I wonder though… would you feel the same way about wanting the option for female circumcision to be available for those who feel it is necessary (cleanliness or religious reasons?)

      • Manda says

        I have never researched female circumcision so I don’t know enough about it to know if there are any medical reasons for it. I do not think cleanliness is a good reason for male or female circumcisions, so if that is the reason behind it perhaps it should not be available. Religious reasons are probably a separate issue as it is not a dr performing the circumcision.
        Where I live it was hard to find a doctor willing to perform the circumcision, and when we found one we had to pay because it is considered cosmetic, but it should not be that way when something is medically necessary, male or female.

  42. zeynep says

    It should never be done on a baby! Muslims have to do it culturally but educated parents do it when the child is about 9-10 with his consent and with painkiller. I know for a fact that it stops bonding mother and baby and subconsciously baby thinks the excruciating pain and the experience is his mother’s fault.

  43. Monica says

    First, I want to say I just found your website a few days ago. I am so glad I did! Thank you so very much for all of the helpful information you are getting out there. I have already ordered supplies to start making personal care items. I can’t wait to get started. On to my question…
    Both of my sons are uncircumcised. The first was a home birth and the second didn’t go as planned! We went to a homeopathic doctor for them up until my second was about 6 months. He always told us, as you said, not to retract the foreskin. We no longer live where there are any homeopathic doctors nearby.
    I took both my boys to a regular M.D. just a few weeks ago (one I have personally gone to before and been happy with) and she said we should pull the foreskin back at least during bathing. She did so while examining my younger, now 29 months, and he kept saying, “Hurt, Mommy, hurt!”, after the incident. He wasn’t crying, but he said the same thing after bath time. So, I’m thinking it’s not a good idea. My older, who is 4, was fine and didn’t complain of discomfort. He did it himself though. We’ve only done this once. Now, I’m worried and hope no harm was done!
    Through your research on the topic, you’ve found that it definitely shouldn’t be done until they initiate it on their own? That’s what I had thought of it, but I wasn’t sure when recently told otherwise. The current doctor said it could be too tight to pull back if you don’t start doing it now, which could cause future problems. Have you ever heard of that? Any input would be great!

    • says

      My sons are both uncircumcised and luckily, our doc is knowledgeable about uncircumcised boys. The foreskin should NEVER be pulled back by anyone but the boy himself. I have had to stop nurses and other doctors from trying to retract at times though… From my research, it is doctors who are mis-informed and force the foreskin back that often account for many of the complications attributed to being uncircumcised. This page has some great articles about intact care.

  44. says

    I’m not a parent, but this was a very informative article, I learned alot. I think this is a very important topic and I wish more people would really think long and hard about this subject. My thought on it is that God doesn’t make mistakes. If He didn’t want men to have a foreskin, then He wouldn’t have made them with one.

  45. AllisonXX says

    My husband is one of those men who gets very angry at his parents for circumcising him. He frequently experiences pain after sex and sometimes gets dermatitis on the penis. Needless to say, any boys we have will not be subjected to it.

  46. says

    Good for you Mama for not circumcising your boys! I don’t have any children (I’m a little young for that!) but if I do ever have any sons, I’m not circumcising them, and I come from a religion that practices circumcision.

  47. Sarah Jones says

    I know this is an older post but I wanted to share what my son experienced and how it has affected him. He is not circumcised. My partner and I disagreed on this, and in the end I told him that if he thought it was worth the $400 we would have to come up with that I would consent so long as anesthesia was used. Thankfully times were tight and he couldn’t.

    Fast forward 9 months and my son ends up with a spot of blood in his diaper after having “nakey time” crawling around on the bed. Concerned because I know the risk of UTI is increased with an intact foreskin, we visited the pediatrician. They gave us the bag to put in the diaper to collect a urine specimen. It (of course) was not a clean catch so the specimen came back indicating infection. The doctor recommended catheterization and despite my gut feeling that it was unnecessary I let them. It was horrible to watch them pin down my 9 month old and force a tube into the most intensely sensitive part of him. The culture came back negative.

    During the exam the doctor noted that his foreskin retracted easily and that it was a little early, but not unheard of. I knew the instant he said that (which was after the procedure of course) that what had happened that day on the bed to cause the spot of blood in his diaper was the point his foreskin tore free.

    My son, who was easily diapered before, started crying at every diaper change and at nearly two years later he still has trouble. Once he could verbalize it (around 2 years old, and over a year after what happened) he told me “the doctor hurt my peepee.”

    For anyone who thinks babies don’t know, or don’t remember I can assure you they do. I was scared by the possibility that something was wrong with my baby (I was just barely recovering from post-partum pre-eclampsia that nearly cost my life) but I will never second guess my gut feeling again!

  48. Amber says

    That’s odd. I’ve never had any kids, but of all three of my boyfriends, the one that wasn’t circumcised smelled all the time down there and had to shower twice a day because of it. It was a shame and a hassle. He also overcompensated with cologne everywhere, and that constant smell might also be why he didn’t get into sports and why he had self-esteem issues. You may say that that wasn’t why he smelled (which would be up for debate), but it certainly didn’t help. Also, I think abortion is a far more important topic to be concerned with, the hurt of infants, the pain that they might feel, than circumcision.

    There may be some guys that wish they had that flap (for reasons I don’t know), but what if they wish their parents had circumcised? They can go and get it, but I bet they’ll remember the pain now. If you do or don’t do it, you risk disappointing the kid. I won’t feel bad when I circumcise my son(s). It just makes sense to do so for me. I’ve never had problems thinking outside of the box either, but I think people in the health realm make this into a bigger issue than it should be. Also, as for the Bible being just a little nip, I don’t know if I’d agree with that since there is a story where a city was deceived and under siege on the third (if I remember correctly) day after all the men in the city were circumcised, and they couldn’t even fight. It doesn’t sound like just a little clipping.

  49. Jeff says

    Well done, but the facts about penile cancer are still wrong. The increased risk of penile cancer belongs entirely to the small percentage of men with phimosis. In last year’s AAP statement the AAP acknowledges that cut men are twice as likely to have invasive penile cancer once phimosis is treated. Today phimosis is easily treated and most of the time surgery is no longer needed. We need to stop saying that intact has a higher cancer risk -it is not true.

  50. Jo Ma says

    Thank you so much. This article is crucial and needs to be more publicized. I really appreciate the work you are doing -it is contributing to a better world. Thank you!

  51. Candi says

    I deeply regret having our son circumcised. It breaks my heart that it was done and I wish more than anything I could take it back. Though I did basic research, I just let the doctors kind of make the push for it because it was sort of expected that we would. Now whenever friends and family ask me what we did, I am always very honest that while we had our son circumcised, given the chance, I would never have done it and if we ever had any more boys, I’d never get it done to them. Thank you for sharing this and spreading the word on it.

  52. Kari says

    I am one of the mothers who deeply regret circumsizing my 2 sons. I wish so badly I could undo the decision I made. Both my sons (age 4 and 5 mos) had awful complications. My youngest had a horrifying reaction to the lidocaine swelling, blistering..thank god it healed! My first born had to have stitches to control bleeding. It still breaks my heart when I think about their pain. I work in the medical field and infact assist in circumcisions regularly, and therefore thought its “just what you do with boys” :(

  53. Nilda says

    Usually I just go by without commenting. This has actually influenced me so much that I just cannot keep it to myself.
    I’m European. Circumcision isn’t a standard practice in Europe. It is actually very rare. Mostly practiced by Muslim immigrants and Jewish minority. Therefore when anyone brings it up here people don’t always understand the question. If you would ask even my MIL if she had her four sons circumcised she would give you a funny look and just say “Wablieft?”. A friend of mine who spent most of her life in US had a son 7 months ago. He’s not circumcised and haven’t had one health problem because of that. If you have a hospital birth and wish to have your son circumcised in Belgium you have to make special arrangements and even then it’s not possible to do it right at birth. When we were pregnant with our daughter, way before we knew her sex someone asked us in a joke if we are going to circumcise a baby if it’s a boy. We all had a good laugh. This is just to show how different traditions influence those earliest choices one makes for their babies.
    (On a side note, it could also be because of the province we live in. The hospitals are supporting natural birth here, the whole country is encouraging and supporting breastfeeding. Therefore standard medical practices aren’t such a standard here.)
    If there is no health benefit, would you like to start your little one’s life with an unnecessary dose of pain, shock and distrust in people being harmless? I know I wouldn’t. The procedure itself can be done later in life if there is such a need. To get back what is lost can be risky, even life threatening and in the end is just another medical procedure that could have been avoided.

  54. Sarah says

    This was very informative but heart breaking. It just seems obvious to me that the human body would evolve fine on its own without the need for such invasive surgery. I also felt very strongly about the subject my whole life, just hearing that its more hygienic seems definitely not good enough of a reason to me. Glad you wrote this article, and thank you.

Join the Conversation...

Your email address will not be published. Please read the comment policy.