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Leave Your Son's Penis Alone

Well, I've spent the past week researching circumcision in order to be able to present accurate information and “informed consent” to the expecting parents I work with. I've done this with many issues so far, and I really do try to present as unbiased a presentation as possible. I myself have 3 children, and I have personally been through the major decisions, like where to birth and whether or not to vaccinate. And although I feel strongly about both of these issues, I can understand that different people come to different conclusions for their own lives, and I have to respect that.

But I cannot do that with the issue of circumcision.

I have a stack of studies, articles, pamphlets, pictures and video. And there is not one paper, one sentence I have read that would EVER make routine circumcision (that is, circumcision done for any other reason except religious beliefs) plausible enough for me to act unbiased.

What might even convince the most conservative parents is that even the medical community, for the most part, does not recommend routine infant circumcision. That is music to my ears, really, since almost every other issue has my beliefs at odds with those of most doctors. But, circumcision we can agree on. Did you know that the US is the ONLY country to practice non-ritual circumcision?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has said that “the data is not sufficient enough to recommend routine neonatal circumcision” (1999), and the Work Group on Breastfeeding for the AAP discourages any “stressful procedures” since they may interfere with breastfeeding. There is even an organization called Doctors Opposing Circumcision (DOC) which is trying to get medical doctors to stand up and refuse to be part of this barbaric procedure. They focus not only on the physical abuse of this “surgery”, but the fact that any surgery must be done for a valid reason and that performing routine circumcisions are a violation of the medical ethics-namely the first rule which is, First, Do No Harm.

There are lists of “myths” that have been perpetuated about leaving your son intact (non-circumcised). For those that haven't done the research yet, “cleanliness” is the biggest hurdle. Somehow it has been communicated that being intact is less clean, more difficult to keep clean, etc. There is absolutely no medical anything to back this up, and the proof is in just doing it. Keeping an intact penis “clean” is no different than teaching your son to brush his teeth or clean his ears. It is just a ridiculous and invalid argument that has somehow survived.

Other “myths” revolve around rates of infections (like UTIs) or percentages of cancer in those that are left intact. I have not read one medical study that has made me rethink my bias, because the evidence just isn't there. The American Cancer Society has said, (in response to the possibility of increased penile cancer rates in those left intact) “circumcision is not of value in preventing cancer of the penis”.

So, if the medical evidence is not there, why do parents in the US feel the need to do this to their baby? Circumcision rates are definitely declining, down from about 90% to as low as 35% on the west coast. Clearly, there are parents that are not following the pack any more but many still are. Why??

I have heard so many fathers argue that because they were circumcised, their boys should be. What on earth kind of reasoning is that? That's like saying your kids should be blind if you are, since you live your life just fine and can manage ok. Don't we want what is BETTER for our children?

And the argument about “looking different” than everybody else. First of all, that can't hold up as the circumcision rate declines. More and more boys every year are being left intact, and it is not as “weird” as it used to be. But really, what are we trying to teach our boys? That we made a conscious choice to remove a vital, natural, normal part of their bodies so that they could avoid some teasing?

My favorite illustration of this concept is from a pamphlet “When Your Baby Boy Is Not Circumcised”, written by Edward Wallerstein.

”If parents are comfortable with their decision, it is easily explained. In one family, the father was circumcised and the son was not. At about age 3, the boy asked his father about the obvious differences. The father told his son: “When I was a boy, they thought it was a good idea to cut off that part of the penis”. The son thought for a minute and said: “That's dumb.” And that was the end of the discussion.”

If you are still not convinced, take a look at a video of a circumcision by clicking on one of the related links. If you can manage to get through the whole thing, you might be asking some different questions of yourself. And one day, your son may thank you.

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