Is Circumcision Just A Medical Procedure?

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Wellness Mama » Blog » Health » Is 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.”

“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.”

“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.


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

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]

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


206 responses to “Is Circumcision Just A Medical Procedure?”

  1. James Avatar

    “Cosmetic appeal” is only in the minds of those who have been culturally conditioned (brainwashed) to think of the look of a surgically diminished and scarred sex organ as being a visual improvement. Child cutting cultures promote “cosmetic appeal” as one of the excuses for harming a child’s genitals. The child’s penis belongs to him, it’s not his mother’s penis, it’s not the doctor’s penis. NO ONE has the right to cut off part of a child’s sex organ except that child when he grows up if he so desires.

  2. Moira Avatar

    My best friend is having a baby boy, and she and her husband are debating about circumcision. I appreciate what you say here about there being no difference in hygiene with proper care, and that there is not statistic evidence of drastic health benefits. It seems as if the biggest reason to choose circumcision is for the cosmetic appeal.

  3. Jacquie Avatar

    furthermore, we shouldn’t do something because we are afraid that our children will be made fun of
    1) children can be made fun of for almost anything
    2) I hope my children will choose sexual partners for love, who will therefore not care what their penises look like
    3) times are a-changing. there are many things that are different for our children growing up. back in the day when most males were blindly circumcised, a foreskin would have stood out. as more and more parents are making decisions for themselves, more males will have their foreskins and therefore be the norm.

  4. Jacquie Avatar

    wow! So much debate. I have two sons, both of whom are uncircumcised. They are beautiful and healthy, and we have never had a problem with cleanliness. My boyfriend is circumcised and looks at his own penis differently now that we have the boys. He says it looks scarred and wishes he has his foreskin.
    I can’t imagine making the decision to cut off a chunk of your precious baby. Good hygiene can be learned and if you are having constant infections, you probably have more of an issue than just some skin i.e. bad diet and microbiom

  5. Lauren Avatar

    Yesterday was the last day our ped would have been willing to circumcise my almost two week old. My husband and I battled for months, but ultimately yesterday came and went and our son was left intact. It hasn’t stopped me from obsessively researching why mothers go along with the procedure so blindly. The idea of unnecessarily cutting my baby a day or two after birth felt so cold. How in the world can I cut off an organ because in 15-20 years someone in a locker room might be uninformed or a potential sexual partner might not prefer it?? That’s just beyond crazy to me.

  6. Pam Avatar

    I cannot thank you enough for this well researched, thorough and thoughtful post. You presented such wonderful facts for a well informed decision.
    Excellent post

    1. Kathy Avatar

      Agreed! Very thorough article and very delicately addressed, as it should be. It is a very difficult decision without all the info.

  7. Henry Avatar

    Either way, you’re making a decision for your son: he’ll grow up having a foreskin or he won’t. The idea that he can always decide to get circumcised later in life if he wants to is completely unrealistic because it is difficult, expensive, painful, and carries a much greater risk of complications than infant circumcision. Most men, even if they hate being uncircumcised, are unlikely to put themselves through that. If he’s going to grow up in a culture where most other males, including his father and other family members, are circumcised, why place the extra burden on him of having a penis that looks and functions differently from that of his peers? What will it be like when he starts dating and has to deal with the self-consciousness of having a foreskin when no else does? I know this because I grew up uncircumcised when everyone I knew was circumcised. Yes, you’ll say I should have loved myself just the way I was, but the fact is that most kids grow up feeling self-conscious and insecure and this was one more thing on top of everything else. Then I had to deal with the anxiety and trauma of deciding whether or not to get it done as an adult, and getting it done. If you live in a culture where most males are routinely circumcised, do your baby a favor and have him circumcised too. He’ll thank you later, unless he falls victim to the kind of intactivist propaganda that this article essentially is.

    1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

      I’m sorry for the pain you experienced as a result of your parent’s decision. But, to be fair, you did at least have the ability to choose otherwise as an adult. Those who have been circumcised can’t choose to un-do it in the same way. Also, statistically, as of a couple of years ago, the majority of children in the US are not being circumcised and it has never been the norm in most other countries.

  8. Steinn Andersen Avatar
    Steinn Andersen

    We also owe it to our kids to stop male genital mutilation (MGM, aka circumcision). Unfortunately, US parents are brainwashed to accept this cruel and barbaric procedure. As MGM is a billion dollar business in the US, most of the doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies(!) are not willing to let those bucks go and therefore still spread old, debunked myths. Remember that 70-75 % of the world’s parents don’t mutilate their boys, and fewer and fewer American boys are being mutilated as more and more parents educate themselves regarding this matter.

  9. Lara Avatar

    I am completely gutted that I came across this post less than a year too late. I too had a nagging feeling that circumcision just did no feel right. But I allowed my husband to make the decision as I thought it’s “guy business.” I’m near tears reading what you shared and pray these makes the rounds to help other parents make educated decisions for themselves.

  10. Sarah Avatar

    I just wanted to thank you for such a well researched article! Saving! We are lucky to live in an era with all this information at our fingertips. I live in the south and I am the only person I know of that has an intact boy. I have brought it up to friends, to just research it & they laugh. Our boys deserve better. I especially liked the part about circumcision and Christianity because so many people believe it’s biblical! I am thankful for all the eyes you will open with this post. God bless you!

  11. Faith Avatar

    Katie, I just want to say thank you for this article. I’m in a demographic group that is highly circumcised, and when asking my mom for advice on the subject since I’m due to deliver my first boy in a couple months, she just said there was no debate – you get them circumcised so they won’t be made fun of and because an intact one looks gross. I had made up my mind to have him circumcised but I googled “Wellness Mama circumcision” in hopes that you had written something about it. I always love the fair and reasonable take you have on things. After reading your article and thinking about it with an open mind, I’ve decided to not have our baby circumcised. I know I’ll catch criticism from my extended family, but I’m so sure I’m making the right decision now. Thanks so much for sharing this. I feel like you kept me from making a big mistake because I was so misinformed about the subject.

  12. Trisha Avatar

    At the time, I didn’t stay in the room to watch because my postpartum emotions couldn’t handle it, NOT because I knew that it would be extremely painful and still willfully subjected him to that. Doctors tell you that it only hurts a little bit, that they numb it, and that it’s no big deal.(the same Dr. also told me not to worry about the possible side effects of The Pill) If I had this information than, I would have made a different decision. I feel guilty about it but there’s nothing I can do now to change the past. In the past I was one to trust doctors and conventional medicine. I never thought I would be “one of those health-freak natural people” but I’ve slowly changed. It’s a steep learning curve with mistakes along the way. I’m sure every mom has mistakes she would change if she could and doesn’t need anyone yelling at her or treating her like a bad mom.

    1. Elena Avatar

      When my second child was born, there were a few problems and as a result, she had to undergo a few painful medical procedures. The neonatologist told me at the time that babies don’t feel pain. I was quite skeptical upon hearing this and wondered if he REALLY believed what he was saying or if he was trying to quell my concerns. In the US, we’ve been taught to trust our doctors — to almost not question them — so it’s quite understandable to me why so many of us readily follow our doctors’ advice.

  13. Trish Avatar

    Wow, so much to think about. My 2 sons are circumcised, anesthesia was used (my first was born @ a midwife center so I had an OBGYN do the circ a few days after birth. He may have only used topical numbing gel and I heard baby screaming clear down the hall, as I was in the waiting room because I couldn’t stand to watch. With the 2nd boy the Dr. said they injected anesthetic before the procedure) they both are fine, thriving little boys. I thought at the time that I was making an informed decision and I deeply love my children. I’m a Christian, and do not feel that circumcision is required by my faith, yet I thought that since God required it of the Jews, He must know what He’s doing and that it couldn’t be harmful to my sons. I did not realize that circumcision nowadays may be different than what was practiced in the Bible. My other reasons where so they would be the same as Daddy, and concern that if they wanted/needed to be circumcised later in life it would be a lot more traumatic and harder to heal. I was trying to do what I thought best for them, but I might make a different choice if I ever have another son. It does seem that the choice should be left up to the child and I hope my sons will not regret the choice I made for them.

    1. Lo Avatar

      So, are your sons’ penises now identical to their father’s penis? How often do they compare penises? Do our vaginas need to match our mothers’ vaginas? What other body parts of our children need to look identical to their parents? Even cut penises do not look the same, just as intact penises do not match. And an older person who is choosing to get circumcised will be making that decision as an informed, consenting adult who is of legal age and who is choosing for himself; an infant is clearly unable to make that choice which is why genital cutting is a violation of his basic rights to genital and bodily autonomy. And an adult will understand and know what is happening to him during the circumcision surgery and will–humanely–be given adequate anesthesia, unlike the numbing gel that is given to newborns, which is why babies scream with agony. A newborn is unable to process this trauma. I find it disturbing when mothers say that they couldn’t bear to watch the circumcision, meaning, it’s too disturbing for you to only watch, but yet your baby has to actually endure it. Yes, please, if you ever have another son, spare him this trauma, just as you would if you birth a girl, who will also have a foreskin by the way and which you would NEVER consider amputating.

  14. Lo Avatar

    When I gave birth 25 years ago, if I had delivered a female child, there is no way on earth that I would have allowed anyone to cut her foreskin–we all have one–and so when I birthed a male child, I made sure that he was protected in the same manner. I didn’t even know then, what I know now about the trauma and brutality that the infant endures during genital cutting. Twenty five years ago, there was no Internet, Google, but I stuck to my decision of saying no to genital cutting, even though everyone questioned my decision. Except for the midwives at the birthing center where my son was born, they supported me and said that there is no reason for circumcision and it is considered to be only cosmetic surgery. Cosmetic surgery on a newborn? Without anesthesia? No. And now, all these years later, as the truth is being increasingly revealed about genital cutting and the purposes of the foreskin, I am thankful every day of my life that I said no this sexual assault. And my son has never had problems with his healthy, normal, functioning and multi-purposeful foreskin. With so much information available to today’s mothers, including the numerous gruesome circumcision videos that are available online, it is outrageous that in the year 2016, we are still chopping off body parts from our precious boys. It’s not surprising that some insurance companies and Medicaid in 17 states are no longer paying for this unnecessary cosmetic surgery. With the exception of Jews and Muslims–and I’m Jewish–the rest of the world does not practice this outdated ritual and their males do very well with their foreskins. Is there something inherently wrong with American penises, that our boys require surgical correction at birth? No. Circumcision continues because it is big business in this county, money that is generated from the surgery itself, follow up corrective surgeries that are needed to repair the large number of botched circumcisions and also from the sale of foreskins, which are sold and used in many products. Genital cutting? Follow the money. $$$$$

  15. Rashel Avatar

    I have two sons (one from 1st marriage, other from 2nd marriage). The first one is circumsized, the other is not. Frankly, I feel concern and guilt regarding both of them. I think there is no win on this issue. While I could not read most of the article and stuck to the main pro/con facts, I truly appreciate the detail and level of research included.

    I feel fortunate that my circumcised son did not have any complications. I hope that boy number two is not harrassed because he is intact.

    The worries of mother’s never stop! Thanks for posting this!

  16. Marlie Avatar

    Lol it’d be nice if everyone felt this way about abortion..”baby’s body, baby’s choice”….idk..I’m a Christian, and I don’t feel that it is a requirement. In the Old Law, it was, but Jesus was the New Law and circumcised or uncircumcised, we are all only saved by God’s grace and forgiveness of our sins, and Jesus’ sacrifice. That being said, I have No idea what I’m going to do with my boys…I’ve always just assumed I would get them circumcised, but this definitely made me stop and think about it. I have a while until I will need to make that decision though, so I have time to consider it 🙂

  17. Cody Lynn Avatar
    Cody Lynn

    I found your site a long time ago and I refer to it often although I’ve never commented. This comment is coming from someone who is not a mother and won’t be a mother and by choice (which ironically can come with similar stigma). I just wanted to give you kudos for putting it out there. It was well written, well documented and at the very least hopefully provides thought provoking conversation & research for new parents. You have your choice, others have there’s. Right, wrong or indifferent, choice, and an educated one, in all realms is the significance here.

  18. Denise Avatar

    One of the worst days of my life was when I watched my family doctor physically retract a portion of my 5 year old son’s foreskin (no pain meds). I though he knew what was best for my son and I just stood there like a zombie while my son cried. I will never forget that day as long as a live and am still traumatized by it. I have discussed this with my son who is now 22, and he swears that he had no lasting emotional or physical effects from this but I felt like the worst mother on the planet for years. The just adds to a long list of reasons why I don’t trust doctors anymore.

  19. James Loewen Avatar
    James Loewen

    Tampering with the developing genitals of children is NOT “a medical procedure.” It’s genital mutilation and medical fraud!

  20. Ari Avatar

    My son was circumcised as a newborn 22 years ago and I immediately regretted it. I was young and didn’t know what to do so I left it to his father to decide (I had also spoken to the nurses who were all for it – they referred to it as dirty and gross to be intact). They took him away down the hall to perform the procedure. I could hear him scream. They brought him back to me and he had those deep shuddering breaths that you get when you’ve been crying way too hard. I was devastated. I let them hurt my brand new baby infant and it killed me.
    I wish I had known better.

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