Monday, June 7, 2010

Circumcision: To Snip or Not To Snip

Okay - I am way in over my head here. A reader who's about to have her first little boy asked me to delve into this topic. I thought - sure, no problem! It seems to be pretty cut and naive was I? First - you know I only have a little girl. Little boys...I just have no idea about stuff like this.

I started doing research and there are so many differing opinions on this topic and to be quite frank - actual scientific research based studies are lacking in this area. It's mostly opinion. So here are the basics of what I found...

If it's not a matter of religion to you, then it's mostly a matter of cleanliness and cosmetics.
  • Some people say it's easier to keep a little boy clean once he is circumcised and that there are fewer cases of urinary tract infections. Other people say it's easier to keep him clean with the foreskin intact.

  • Some people argue - "like father, like son - I don't want my child to be made fun of in the locker room since every other boy is circumcised". Other people argue the current rate of circumcision is only 57% (not sure how accurate this # is), so he won't be made fun of in the locker room.

  • Some say the procedure is easier and less painful in infancy. Others say it's painful and takes away the child's rights.

  • Some say having it done or not having it done increases/decreases sexual functioning and the trasmission of STI's (sexually transmitted infections).
I just don't even know. it's your turn! I need you, the readers, to speak up and teach the rest of us.

Those of you who have little boys circumcised or uncircumcised - what do you know to be true? Why did/didn't you have it done to your son?

Feeling exceptionally passionate about the subject and want to be a guest blogger on the topic - email me at barb.themomblog(at)gmail(dot)com

*Update 6/8/10 - the response to this post has been amazing!! I've received tons of e-mails with info I'll be sharing over the next week or two. Keep it coming!!

Other posts in this series:


  1. We're going through this right now. My son was born nearly 8 months ago. I never really wanted to get him circumcised but just figured it was what you do. However, at his appointment, the doctor said he thought that we should hold off for six months, due to a bend in his penis. He said it would probably require surgery to correct and we could just do the circumcision then.

    During those six months, I did a lot of research (something I probably should have done before he was born) and really had some deep doubts about getting him snipped. Our families are all very pro-circumcision and I'm realizing that this subject produces some very strong opinions.

    Then, we had our follow up appointment and his bend corrected on its own. Now, if we want him circumcised, we'll have to put him under because he's too old for the kind newborns have. As if I wasn't already I have to decide if it's worth putting him under for!

    The urologist said about half of boys he sees now are circumcised. He said that if we're on the fence at all, to wait until he's old enough to decide or until we feel sure about it. From what I've read, it seems to be pretty cosmetic. There isn't a health or pediatric association or group that recommends it. I just have a hard time putting my son through it because I'm worried about him looking weird. I just don't think he will. It's not like 20 years ago when nearly all boys were snipped.

    The hardest part is that I don't feel confident in either option. Even if we decide to wait until he's old enough to decide, that doesn't mean my son won't wish that we would have just done it when he was a baby. I don't know if there is an easy answer here. I'm looking forward to all of the responses to your post!

  2. Okay, we thought long and hard about whether or not to circumcise AG. It was a hard decision not because we felt strongly but because we didn't feel strongly. DH vaguely leaned toward doing it and vaguely leaned toward not doing it. In the end, we decided to go for it because circumcised men have less urinary infections later in life and my poor grandpa was currently in a nursing home suffering from one.

    Anyway, all our debating and research ended up being for nothing because AG's penis wasn't a "good candidate for circumcision" and the doctor wouldn't do it. Who knew that was even a possibility?

  3. I have no opinion but when I worked at the preschool one time, one boy asked "why is your penis weird?" to a boy who wasn't circumcised and he replied "It's not weird, it looks like a flower!" so there you go. ;)

  4. yay! so glad to hear some opinions from moms with boys. the UTIs are what get to me, i'm not sure one way or the other if that's true that they get more if uncircumcised, but i'd sure feel bad for a baby to go through them all the time! i've also read that uncircumcised boys have tendency to "fuse" closed at the ends.. yikes!

  5. You'll hear all kinds of myths about why circumcision should be done in a culture where circumcision has been the norm for several generations.

    We must only look to Europe or a number of other cultures that don't circumcise boys to see that their men are doing perfectly fine without it done. They don't have UTI problems, and they don't have foreskin-fusing-shut problems. In fact, if you ask around, you'll find they are completely bewildered by why America insists on circumcising their boys.

    Now, I am from Canada, and we have lower rates than the states, but the rates when I was born (I'm 24) were pretty high and most of the men I knew growing up were circumcised - making me the exception. I'll admit that a few times when the subject came up I felt a little different.

    But even when I did feel that way, I never wished I had been circumcised... I just felt like explaining to people that a foreskin WASN'T gross. It was actually pretty awesome!

    What most people don't realize is that the foreskin actually has the same type of nerve endings as those found in the fingertips and lips - thousands and thousands of them. It provides sensation totally unique to the rest of the penis.

    The foreskin also protects the head of the penis and the urethra (In women, the clitoral hood and labia serve the same role). The foreskin also has sexual function due to it's mobility, both for the man himself and for his partner (it reduces abrasive friction).

    The point being, you should probably have a pretty good reason if you want to cut that off of a baby before they can give consent... especially considering that the procedure is extremely painful.. not just during, but in the recovery as well.

    At least when an adult undergoes the procedure, they can be given adequate pain relief during recovery and most of all, they will understand WHY they had it done.

    I struggle to word this next thing I want to say in a way that won't offend anyone, but I think I need to say it... so let it be known that my intent is not to accuse anyone of anything. What I want to say is... My foreskin belongs to ME. It is a healthy, normal part of my body, and it has NEVER belonged to anyone else - not my parents... not my parent's god, and certainly not my parent's family/friends/etc. So, while it's all well and good to do research on this issue.. I really don't think this decision BELONGS to you parents.

    Deal with problems to healthy, normal body parts as they arise... don't skip right to amputation when there isn't even a problem! Imagine treating girl's genitals in the same way? Girl's get UTIs WAY, WAY more often than boys do! Thankfully we can treat girl's with antibiotics.

    Also.. just my own feelings here, but I don't like to be called "uncircumcised". I think that's kind of an offensive term, actually, but I know it's so commonly used that we probably never even think about it. But.. I am no more uncircumcised than you mothers are. Body parts in their orignal form are not "un" anything...

    that word makes circumcised seem like the default form. Instead... call it normal, natural, whole, intact, or even just "not circumcised".. but "uncircumcised" just makes me cringe.

    Anyways, I hope anyone who reads this will not feel attacked. I certainly don't blame anyone who has already made that choice for their child. When you know better, you do better.

    Thanks all of you for caring enough to research and learn about this issue rather than just going with the flow. :)

    Rock on awesome moms!

  6. to clarify, the only time I think that more UTI occur is in a nursing home--i.e. when the man is no longer able to care for himself.

    good point about the term "uncircumcised" i hadn't thought about it that way before.

  7. Tay, Thank you for responding.

    It is only my guess, but I would think UTIs might only occur more in intact men in nursing homes in situations where the care-aids who were washing him were not properly taught how to clean an intact penis.

    I will say though, Tay, I'd rather live my ENTIRE life with a foreskin and then suffer through something in old age, than to never get to experience having a foreskin once.

    I wish I knew how to properly get across the idea that it really is a treasured part of the genitals. I also don't think you want to hear too much about sexual function, but for me... it isn't the idea of the surgery than scares me... its realizing that afterward I wouldn't have it anymore. Does that make sense?

  8. Dr. Dean Edell tackles the issue of circumcision and health very adequately in this short video.

    This is a more comprehensive video, also hosted by Dr. Edell
    "Circumcision: Make the Informed Decision"

  9. Wow, this is a touchy subject. My husband and I decided to circumsize both of our boys and are happy with the decision. I was on the fence when I found out we were having our first son. After talking to some family members I found out that a close member of my family was not circumsized as a baby and has had problems since.

    His parents taught him the proper way to clean himself but he didn't always follow that, he was still a kid and sometimes boys don't like to take the time to clean themselves properly, they'd rather be out playing. Anyways, he had lots of infections because of this, and wished that it had never been an issue. (This was at the point where he's too old for parents to clean him, and too young to care about being responsible)

    This person is almost 20 now and wants to be circumsized but doens't want to have to have to deal with being put out and taking pain meds. He wishes it had been done when he was born so he would've only had pain for a couple days, there would've been less to cut off, and he wouldn't remember it.

    Both of my boys fussed a little while getting it done, but were fine right after. And as long as we kept the vaseline stuff on it that the doctor gave us, they didn't seem to be in any pain. Within a couple of days they were all healed up and I don't have to worry about infections because I didn't clean it properly or my kids didn't take the time to.

    I also agree that you shouldn't do anything you feel unsure or uncomfortable about, just thought I'd share what helped us make our decision. Good luck!

  10. I was thinking about potty training too, I know my kid found it really helpful to watch his Dad go, and I was thinking it would probably be confusing to the kid if he looked different than his Dad...I guess it might be a good idea for the son to look like his Dad.

  11. As a nurse in the hospital, I have seen way to many problems with older men who have NOT been circumcised. Cleanliness is difficult in some elderly persons, hence the higher rate of UTI's (as mentioned by others), and constriction of the opening of the head where the foreskin could not be retracted or when they leave the fore skin retracted and then it constricts the penis where it is pulled back. I have also read that circumsion decreases the chances of cancer in the future. We circumcised our little guy and there was only a tiny amount of blood the first couple diaper changes, one day of discomfort observed and a few days of putting vasaline with gauze over the head to encourage healing and prevent sticking then after that it's been perfect. It's so nice not to have to retract foreskin with each diaper change. I have seen many many circumcisions performed, the worst part is having their legs strapped down and after a few numbing shots they don't feel anything. It is such a quick, minor procedure when they are first born since it's not a lot of skin to remove. Everybody has their free agency of coarse, but from a nursing stand point, I'm all for it!!

  12. most children don't even notice the difference. Those that do are usually at an age where it is extremely simple to say "dad had to have an operation on his penis when he was younger, but thankfully, you you were born healthy and perfect and didn't need surgery."

    It might just be my opinion, but I think saying that one sentence is easier than performing unnecessary, reductive genital surgery on your newborn.

  13. @Christina Olson.

    The truth is that most problems that men face in older age from circumcision is caused BY parents who retract their children's foreskins.

    A Child's foreskin should never be retracted, especially when he's still diaper-aged. I believe the age most boys become naturally retractable is around age 10, but some as late as 18.

    The foreskin is naturally adhered to the glans, and it's breaking that separation that causes scarring which can reduce the elasticity of the foreskin.

    As well, cancer of the penis is actually extremely rare. More men get breast cancer. male breasts are certainly less useful than foreskins. Nevertheless, the research (that indicated the difference in rates) largely ignored smoking status as well as hygiene factors.... which were later determined to be much larger factors in whether a man developed penile cancer or not. That would explain why our cancer societies and health organizations do not advocate circumcision for cancer prevention.

    In any case, I understand your anecdotal evidence shows you a different answer than what I'm saying, and it might sound like I'm attacking your response - but I promise that is not my intention.

    Our culture certainly promotes a lot of these ideas in a way that is very convincing. I fully believe that parents who choose circumcision for their children are trying to do what is best. That's what counts about the past. In the future though, I think we should realize that in other cultures that don't circumcise.. the men don't have higher rates of UTIs and penile cancer and HIV.. and they certainly aren't needing to be circumcised - and some medical organizations are even calling for an end to the procedure (much the way well-intentioned preventative tonsillectomies have been left in the past).

    Just because we did it in the past doesn't mean its still a good idea. you know?

  14. joel,

    i just wanted to say that considering how strongly you obviously feel on the subject, you are doing a very good job of being tactful and respectful. that is so rare in the world of blog commenting and I appreciate your effort.

  15. tAy,

    I appreciate you saying so. I know that responding to someone in a frustrated, belittling, or otherwise disrespectful tone is fairly common among those with strong opinions (I assume because they fail to realize just how different everybody's own journey has been).

    I have come to the realization that we will never all come to the same conclusions in life. Nevertheless, I have written several academic papers on the subject (which includes a large emphasis on doing legitimate research). I feel like the things I have learned are worth spreading.. and it only makes sense to spend your time trying to talk to people about it IF you're willing to talk to them in a way that they're going to listen to with an open mind.

    I do hope what I say can help at least a few people to think about the whole thing in a different way. I appreciate everyone in this entire thread, for caring enough about children and their rights... to allow yourselves to think critically about this practice.

    That's really all I can ask for.


I love comments! It helps me to know what you're interesed in and what you would like to learn about. It also gives me the chance to get to know you better & find more qualified moms to be guest bloggers!

**I reserve the right to not publish a comment that is a personal attack on another reader - we all have differing views on parenting & this is a place where you can feel safe sharing your opinions. Please remember to be respectful!**


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