The first time I got preggers, Enviro-spouse and I spent hours discussing all the stuff soon-to-be first-time parents discuss—baby names, cloth versus disposable, how big my breasts were growing and circumcision.
We didn’t want to know baby’s gender until it popped out, so we needed to be prepared for the appearance of male genitalia. E-spouse was initially on the fence about circumcision. I felt that I didn’t want anyone, not even a doctor, unnecessarily cutting on my newborn.
So we talked to our pediatrician. We talked to other doctors. We talked to friends. We researched the subject. Our first child turned out to be female, so we didn’t need to make a decision until No. 2 showed up three years later.
We decided not to circumcise our boy. Why?
Because we aren’t Jewish or Muslim, there’s no religious mandate.
Also, in our readings we learned that one reason circumcision has been widespread in America is because Victorian-era doctors used it to decrease penile sensitivity. Their goal was to cure both promiscuity and masturbation in one fell slice. (That clearly worked.)
In fact, according to the American Medical Assocation’s 1999 report on circumcision (my primary source for the following statistics), America is the only country in the world where the majority of baby boys are circumcised regardless of religious beliefs. As much as 82 percent of men in this world are not circumcised.
Which brings me to one of the best reasons for keeping the boy intact: The foreskin is one of the key erogenous zones of the male body. Its 240 feet of nerves and 1,000 nerve endings are as sensitive as those on the fingers and lips. When E-spouse heard this factoid, he said, “I want my foreskin back!”
In addition, circumcision is surgery. There can be complications, and it can be painful. Some studies indicate that circumcised boys have stronger pain reactions to vaccinations than those who are uncircumcised. Let’s just say that a hurting baby definitely would have tweaked my post-birthing hormones.
Finally, there seems to be a movement in Asheville not to circumcise. I’m not huge on conformity, but after talking to lots of other parents here, I figure at least half of the guys who will share a locker room with our son will be sporting foreskins.
I think because many parents have moved here from around the country (and increasingly, around the world), there’s less cultural conformity than in more homogenous regions. The Midwest has the highest rates of circumcision at 81 percent, followed by the Northeast at 66 percent, while the South comes in at 64 percent. And if we ever move back out West, less than 37 percent of the boys in the locker room will be circumcised.
On the other hand, pro-circumcision proponents cite penile cancer, STD transmission, hygiene and cultural heritage as reasons for the cut.
Although there are studies suggesting that rates of penile cancer are higher for uncircumcised males, the cancer is really rare, and the margin of difference is extremely small (like 0.6 percent). In fact, the primary causes of penile cancer are genital warts, a high number of sexual partners and cigarette smoking. So next time you see someone light up, you can say: “Do you know you are increasing your chances of penile cancer?” Great pick-up line, isn’t it?
There is some evidence that sexually transmitted diseases have a higher rate of transmission for uncircumcised men. But lifestyle, hygiene and behavior are more likely indicators of high risk for STDs. So we’ll teach the boy about condoms, cleanliness and not to sleep around.
Some folks say hygiene is an issue for uncircumcised men. Perhaps keeping the foreskin clean was problematic when most people didn’t have indoor plumbing, but lice was a problem, too. Cleaning an uncircumcised penis is a lot easier than cleaning the folds and crevices of the vulva and labia, but female circumcision is a felony in this country. Many doctors say that, like the vagina, an uncircumcised penis is basically self-cleaning.
Some men want their sons to “look” like them. Like most American men of his generation, E-spouse is circumcised. So far, our boy hasn’t noticed the small difference between him and daddy. He has noticed, however, that I don’t have a penis. I hope this doesn’t traumatize him too much.
Ultimately, I don’t think it matters much whether or not folks choose to circumcise their boys, provided they look at the pros and cons. We all make decisions about our children—thousands of times during their lives. This is just one; one that’s controversial, for sure.
There was some upheaval in my family of origin about our decision. Ultimately, it was a decision based on informed research, and letting my boy keep that bit of skin still feels right to me.
Anne Fitten Glenn is a freelance writer based in Asheville. She covers a number of topics (including parenting) on her blog, www.EdgyMama.com.