The Circumcision Decision: Keeping Our Son Intact

Before I was pregnant I didn't think much about circumcision. I'd read about it in the Bible and recall hearing things about looks and cleanliness, but never felt inclined to develop a preference one way or the other. I assumed if I had a boy someday, I would let his dad decide if our baby would be circumcised or not.

During my first pregnancy we didn't find out our baby's gender and around 30 weeks Dominic and I had a discussion with our midwife. It went something like this ...
Midwife: Have the two of you talked much about circumcision?
Me: Not really, it's up to Dominic.
Dominic: I am, so we probably will if we have a boy.
Midwife: Would you like to read a little more about it before making your final decision?
Dominic: Sure.
Our midwife sent us home with some literature and encouraged Dominic specifically to check out some videos of the procedure online.

On our drive home I reiterated to Dominic that the decision was up to him. Although I now regret not wanting to be part of the decision. Dominic did his research and a few days later told me he was leaning towards keeping our son intact. I was relieved, even though I had separated myself from the decision, I was happy with Dominic's conclusion. It just felt right, to keep our son whole.

Then Jemma arrived and we didn't have to officially decide anything (which isn't the case everywhere in the world, you can read more about female genital mutilation here). Since Jemma's birth I've learned so much about circumcision, it's history, and the reality of the risks - much thanks to the natural parenting community. Praise the Lord we had a daughter first as we now feel confident in the decision to keep our son intact.

Below are the main reasons we'll be protecting our son's genital integrity. I've also added a brief video of an interview with midwife, Gloria Lemay - definitely worth a quick look.

Not everyone's doing it. As of 2009, only 33% of male infants in the U.S. underwent circumcision. In the Pacific Northwest even less, 15-20%. It's definitely not common, making circumcised males a minority.
Experts aren't on board. The AAP does not recommend routine infant circumcision and they are being encouraged to take an even stronger stand. In the future this may trigger insurance companies to stop covering the procedure which currently rakes in $150-270 million annually.
We don't all look like our parents. I couldn't say it better than Anktangle ... I imagine that the moment when an intact child realizes he looks "different" from his dad isn't that big of a deal. The son asks "Why?" and the father says, "Because I'm circumcised and you're not. We kept you whole." Then, the moment is over. What's the big deal about having "matching" genitals? We don't surgically alter baby girls' labia to match their Moms'!
It's not your body to permanently alter. I'm definitely pro-life and believe circumcision falls into this category. Little ones can't decide or communicate their wishes and it's the parents job to protect that until they are of age to make an informed decision. As with all permanent decisions it's important for the individual to know and understand all the risks and benefits associated with the change - infants can't do that.
The pain is extreme, the risks are real. Circumcision is a cosmetic procedure, one that is definitely not worth the pain. And, when you consider the stories of circumcisions gone wrong, the cosmetic change isn't worth it.

Last, but not least, here's the video. It isn't visually graphic, but obviously, taking the topic into account, she does say penis and such.
An interview with renowned midwife Gloria Lemay, advocate for birth freedom, breastfeeding and genital integrity for all children. Gloria talks about discussing protecting genital integrity with parents to be.

I completely understand that circumcision is an extremely personal decision, both for parents and the infant it effects. My words are not meant to judge, rather to inform those approaching the circumcision decision like we are. I hope by sharing my experience and research you'll be able to make an informed decision or pass it on to parents-to-be. I welcome your thoughts and experiences in the comments or by email, and as always, please be respectful of my words and others who join the conversation.

Additional reading on this topic available at Natural Parents Network, Intactivists, and Peaceful Parenting. I also enjoyed reading the following posts and articles:
Dr. Oz on Circumcision from Anktangle
Sunday Surf: Circumcision Edition from Momma Jorje
What the Bible Really Says About Routine Infant Circumcision
Circumcision from The Hippie Housewife
Plastibell Infant Circumcision from Peaceful Parenting
10 Reasons NOT to Circumcise from Butterfly Birth
10 Reasons to Leave Your Son Intact from Mandy at Natural Parents Network
A Private Matter from Anktangle
My Notes on Male (and Female) Circumcision from Amy Elizabeth
Researching Circumcision from Code Name: Mama
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59 comments:

Deanna Fike said...

neither of my boys are circumcised. peppy is, but i felt strongly against it. i asked him if he would sit down and watch a video of a circumcision, and it left him in tears. that was the end of our little debate.

Jennifer de Cupcake said...

I'm so happy you blogged about this! every time I hear someone is having a boy, I hate that I question weather or not they will circumcise before I congratulate. I just hate the thought of it happening to a tiny baby!! I know it's not my baby but when a family announces keeping their son intact my heart does a little dance!

Suburban Princess said...

I think that the decision is best left to the parents, and I think many of the points you made about why you will not circumcise your son are valid. I would argue the extreme pain point though. I watched my third son being circumcised and because he was given a local anesthetic, he barely even noticed that the doctor was touching him. No screaming, no tears.

I know that it wasn't the nightmare of a procedure that everyone thinks it is.

But like I said before, whatever the decision, it's the one that you think is best for your child and your family that matters. :)

Carey Penn said...

i appreciate this post. i think that parents everywhere need to be informed about the risks/benefits of RIC. it is definitely a decision that should not be taken lightly.

Amy Willa said...

I felt exactly like you, Gretchen: "Thank God we had a daughter first", because I learned so much between then and when our son was born. . . I don't know if we would have chosen to keep him intact if he were our first child.

I remember my OB's face when he asked "so, when is the circumcision" after Joseph was born, and I said, "What circumcision? We're blessing our boy with a whole penis" LOL

Leahmria said...

There is a lot of research about this topic. I feel strongly that it is a personal decision and respect that many people feel differently (or the same) as me. The thing to remember is that just because someone decides to go ahead with circumcision does not mean that they are uninformed, or making rash decisions. People can read/learn the exact same information and reach completely different decisions.

No matter what a person's personal choices are, it is important to respect that even when someone takes a different option they are (most likely) good parents with a different view.

Can't wait to meet little (intact) SPROUT! :)

Anonymousonetocomment said...

I do not have any sons yet, but actually find I do have a strong opinion on this matter. Why? Because it is a BIBLICAL issue. As a Christian I know that this is both something GOD invented and commanded. It started in the Old Testament but continued strongly (especially with Paul) into the New Testament. It is not something to be lumped with outdated things like no-meat which Jesus freed us from- it is continued throughout the Bible! It makes me curious how someone who considers themselves a Bible-follower would just ignore that part. Well probably because it is easier. Just like not tithing would be easier- it is painful to give 10% of your income/opportunities. But is that not the heart of the matter? God gave the church body the task, the opportunity to obey and trust him financially with tithing. He also gives you that opportunity as Christian men- to make the tough choice with the flesh and dedicate your sons. I hope parents pray about it more and inquire with their pastors instead of looking to the 'natural parenting' community- we who follow Jesus know that of course we are called to do things that 'not everybody's doing', no?! I say this in love and a need to bring another point into focus.

Gretchen said...

Watching a video made a HUGE difference for Dominic too

Gretchen said...

Thank you for sharing your opinion. I'm a Christian and have obviously felt led to make a different decision in regard to keeping my son intact. I think it is most important to remember that like tithing, circumcision is not a salvation issue. If you don't tithe, you're not counted out of Heaven. Same goes for circumcision. Within the Christian community, issues like this are often painfully divisive among believers. Circumcision does not determine salvation - it is rather an interpretation of Scripture. It is definitely a decision to make with your spouse and those you trust for guidance within your life. Pastors can guide on the Scripture interpretation, but when it comes to medical decisions I wouldn't go strictly on their word.

ThatMamaGretchen said...

Stephanie - Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience! I know it isn't easy to step out and share your thought process/decision/research :) I was nervous about this post as I knew it can often be a divisive issue, but felt I really wanted to document what I'd learned and the decision we had come to.

Stefanie Blakely said...

I absolutely respect and support your decision to leave your little boy intact-- Just wanted to offer the reasons that we made the other choice! :) I feel like I see lots of blog posts explaining reasons why parents decided to not circumcise their little boys-- far less posts from mamas outlining why it was right for them. (I wrote a blog post about it last summer & the comment above is a cut and paste from that post.)

It's always a great debate-- anything that gets the conversation going and forces us to examine why we believe what we do is a *great* thing! Ultimately, we all want the same thing-- happy & healthy kids!

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

From http://codenamemama.com/2009/10/03/our-perfect-son/ (see the post for additional footnoted material)

If you are Christian, you have been freed from the Old Testament covenant of circumcision. . . .

The Old Testament covenant of circumcision was lifted in the New Testament: Jesus’s crucifixion overturned the old law that required believers to shed the blood of either animals or their sons.

In Genesis 17, God requires his believers to follow strict commandments, circumcision among them. Circumcision was a symbolic act of belonging and faith. The act of faith changed in the New Testament: now believers need not mark their bodies and follow strict laws to be obedient. Instead, believers are called sons of God “through faith in Jesus Christ.” Paul emphasized faith – not adherence to the old law – as the key to righteousness. Paul answered the question of circumcision in Galatians: “the rite of circumcision is not required for salvation, since ‘in Christ’ all are justified by faith.”

Christians believe that children are fearfully, wonderfully, and perfectly made. If God creates us perfectly and in His image, what right does a Christian parent have to cut part of their perfect son’s body away?

Amy @ Anktangle said...

Thank you for linking to and quoting me! I really enjoyed reading this article, Gretchen, and I'll be sharing it in my Sunday Surf this week.

I just wanted to mention that many insurance companies (including Medicaid) already don't cover the cost of circumcision. It's something I always mention to my doula clients who know they're having boys and who are considering circumcision, because I don't want them to be surprised by that extra $400(ish) expense.

Thanks again for this article, and I can't wait to meet your new little one!

Stefanie Blakely said...

Thanks for your follow up! As I mentioned (and you reiterated) the benefits of reducing risk for penile & prostate cancer along with UTIs are small, but they do exist. As for prevention of STDs, I still stand by this as a reason to circumcise my sons. While an avg heterosexual man may only have a .03% chance of contracting HIV (I'd be curious to know what "average" is-- how many partners? age of lost virginity? preferred method of protection? socio-economic status? All of these things likely effect your risk.) we both know that the transmission of HPV is MUCH higher & can be life threatening to women, depending on the strain.

Do I want my boys to use condoms, with every partner, every time? Of course! Can I force them to? Of course not. And honestly, I didn't. Always with new partners but never in long term relationships. It happens. Any added protection I can give them, I will.

Honestly, I think that we can slant these statistics to "prove" that either decision is the "correct" one-- even in your example above, you imply that circumcision isn't effective against the spread of HIV b/c the US's transmission rate is not one of the lowest... then the next sentence says that "avg" males only have a .03% chance of contracting it. One makes it sound like the virus is rampant, the other makes it sound non-existent. See what I mean?

I'm fully confident in the decision we made & why-- I'm sure you are, too. And that makes us both good moms. :)

hobomama said...

Thank you, Gretchen. I also was one who assumed I'd leave the decision up to my husband — thank goodness he's intact, since we have two sons! It was actually his being intact that made me research what the function of the foreskin is, and I was pleasantly surprised. :) I'm glad he's intact, and I'm glad for their sake that our sons are as well. If they choose to be circumcised as adults, that's their decision. However, knowing the nerve endings and functionality of the foreskin, I highly doubt they will ever choose that for themselves. I'm glad I didn't take away that choice, in any case.

My general thoughts on altering babies' bodies surgically when it's not medically necessary is, Why? Why not leave it to function as it's supposed to? For a long time, medical professionals were tonsillectomy happy at the first sign of sore throat, and now they know better than to remove otherwise healthy tissue. I feel like the same tide is turning with regard to circumcision and the foreskin.

hobomama said...

P.S. On the topic of changing a husband's mind, I loved this guest post by Nicole from Navelgazing: http://www.hobomama.com/2010/04/intact-circumcision-journey.html

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

Thanks Stefanie - so refreshing to share different opinions respectfully. And yes - we are both fabulous moms! :)

kelly @kellynaturally said...

I'd add though that concerns of pain should extend beyond the initial surgery, and into the first weeks of healing time - where baby has an open wound on his penis, continually exposed to urine and fecal matter; that CAN'T be comfortable on the most sensitive part of a male's body, not to mention non-hygienic!

Stefanie Blakely said...

I won't argue that a circumcised newborn doesn't feel *any* pain, but regarding the healing process, parents are typically instructed to coat the penis with Vaseline (we squirted a silver dollar size amount on the area right out of tube), then loosely cover it with a gauze pad. This protects the healing tissue from direct exposure to urine & fecal matter.

Suburban Princess said...

Like it would be with any other surgery, It's only non-hygienic if you don't properly care for it after the procedure. Like Stefanie said there is a proper protocol to follow for circumcision care.

And pain after the procedure can be eased with Tylenol. Although, in our sons' case, none of them had "open wounds" on their penises and they didn't express any significant distress or discomfort in the days after the procedure.

I understand that circumcision is not everyone's choice for the child, nor should it have to be. I completely support anyone who does not wish to circumcise their son. I just wish the same respect was afforded to those of us who do chose circumcision for our children. We do not make this decision lightly, and we certainly consider the welfare of our sons.

We are not subjecting our babies to a painful, barbaric torture session.

Gretchen said...

You have respectfully shared the flip side and I thank you so much for that! I completely agree that keeping the conversation going will only benefit all our boys :)

Gretchen said...

The insurance thing speaks volumes to me! If insurance has deemed it unnecessary it brings about a whole new level of justifying something that is now considered cosmetic.

kelly @kellynaturally said...

I didn't think Tylenol was recommended for newborns; but it's been a while since I had babies, so this may have changed.

As for open wounds, I'd disagree. The entire head of the penis is open - the glans is exposed, and scarring up - that's what the circumcised head of a penis is: scar tissue; so it is an open wound.

This issue is so concerning to me, as I don't believe a child's body belongs to anyone but the child; the "decision" and "choice" about a cosmetic/voluntary surgery should ONLY belong to the owner of the penis; so I get a bit heated when I talk about it; I certainly wasn't trying to be disrespectful. I really do appreciate your civil tone.

Emmymom said...

We lived in Durango, CO when our first a son was born- and there they are more natural/holistic and while it was still our choice seemed to lean towards not doing it- so we didn't and have no regrets.

Jennifer Wenzel said...

I have come to learn that circumcision is a very personal decision. One that only the person who it affects should make.

I would not choose mastectomy for my daughter to reduce her risk of breast cancer. The risk of penile cancer is less than the risk of complications from a circumcision. According to the American Cancer Society, the risk is decreased by less than 0.01%. They do not consider circumcision effective at preventing penile cancer. They do not list it as prevention. The risk of complication for circumcision is, according to all sources, at least ten times higher than the rate by which it supposedly decreases risk of penile cancer. http://www.fathermag.com/health/circ/acs/

I will do my best to teach my children proper hygiene and safe sex. UTI can easily be dealt with by administration of antibiotics and is not a reason for surgery. Good hygiene is far more effective at preventing infections, without the lasting effects of surgery. There is also information that says breastfeeding lowers risk of UTI, as well. http://www.drmomma.org/2009/12/how-foreskin-protects-against-uti.html As far as STD’s go, circumcision is no substitute for a condom.

This is a very difficult topic to discuss, but it needs to be. Since falling for the lies with my first boy, I hope to help every parent look carefully at the facts before making a permanent, cosmological choice for their child.

Jennifer Wenzel said...

I have come to learn that circumcision is a very personal decision. One that only the person who it affects should make.

I would not choose mastectomy for my daughter to reduce her risk of breast cancer. The risk of penile cancer is less than the risk of complications from a circumcision. According to the American Cancer Society, the risk is decreased by less than 0.01%. They do not consider circumcision effective at preventing penile cancer. They do not list it as prevention. The risk of complication for circumcision is, according to all sources, at least ten times higher than the rate by which it supposedly decreases risk of penile cancer. http://www.fathermag.com/health/circ/acs/

I will do my best to teach my children proper hygiene and safe sex. UTI can easily be dealt with by administration of antibiotics and is not a reason for surgery. Good hygiene is far more effective at preventing infections, without the lasting effects of surgery. There is also information that says breastfeeding lowers risk of UTI, as well. http://www.drmomma.org/2009/12/how-foreskin-protects-against-uti.html As far as STD’s go, circumcision is no substitute for a condom.

This is a very difficult topic to discuss, but it needs to be. Since falling for the lies with my first boy, I hope to help every parent look carefully at the facts before making a permanent, cosmological choice for their child.

Hugh Intactive said...

I love it when parents say "I do not regret my decision [to circumcise]." That's not the question. The question is, WILL HE? Often he won't, but he's been presented with a fait accompli and has no experience of anything else. This is not something anyone should have decided for him, because if he doesn't like being circumcised, he can never become fully uncircumcised. If he's left intact and doesn't like it, he can have himself circumcised by his own choice, at his own risk and at his own cost.

"Who am I? I'm his parent. I'm going to be making decisions for him for a long time & I'll do what I believe is best for him." But there is no other decision to cut a normal, healthy, integral, functional, non-renewing part off his body. It wouldn't even be legal to cut off any other such part of a baby's body.

"In a 2000 study done by a large health maintenance organization, surveys showed that 97.7% of the men who were diagnosed with Invasive Penile Cancer were not circumcised." I'd like to see the citation for that. What country was it done in, and what was the circumcision rate there, seven or eight decades before, when all those old men were born? If it was less than 2.3%, maybe circumcision CAUSES penile cancer! There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Doesn't it strike you as a little bit strange that the circumcision rate in the US peaked, decades before your BEST reason for doing it, HIV, was even on the horizon? Circumcision has always been a "cure" looking for a disease, an intervention in search of an excuse.

Sorry if I don't seem as respectful as the other posters. I feel even less respectful, but I'm holding my feelings in.

Arun said...

Thank you Gretchen. From my experience dealing with people who support circumcision, the arguments are really just

-freedom of religion
-my baby should look the way I look (from the circumcised dad)
-guys with uncircumcised penises look weird and we won't have sex with them (from women)

What's ironic is that if you ask people in Africa why they justify female circumcision (justifiably called female genital mutilation in the US), they would give you the same reasons, with the sexes flipped. I'm not making this up:
http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=kEG6GaudxQEC&oi=fnd&pg=PR8&dq=reasons+for+female+genital+mutilation&ots=e74Gqsy9eS&sig=GBjBGA96dmb4y4oICq-W-j7fr_c#v=onepage&q=reasons%20for%20female%20genital%20mutilation&f=false

Anthony said...

I think that regardless of whether the child experienced pain during the procedure and/or the healing process, it is still highly problematic from an ethical standpoint to permanently remove functional sexual tissue from a person before they can even give consent.

Simply put, you may be the parent but it's not your body and the decision doesn't affect you.

I don't want to be a jerk but I honestly don't understand people who believe that this is their rightful choice- my parents made this choice for me and I for one will never forgive them for it. It's not something I can ever fix, and it's not something I can ever forget either because all I have to do is look down and see the scar.

Fonbon said...

Wow, stephanie, that's amazing. you have some bullshit "science".

cool. Did you know, if I cut off my daughter's clitoris, and sew her vagina shut so no penises can enter it, then she'll NEVER get AIDS, or any sexually transmitted disease, for that matter.

Imagine, a life free of worry of STDs. No medical issues for *my* little girl!

That's why I'm gonna do that.

Sebrice71 said...

You are subjecting your babies to a painful barbaric torture session

Suburban Princess said...

It's quite unfortunate that some people are so caught up in arguing about this that they missed the entire point of my original comment.

All I wanted to let people know is that I have witnessed circumcision firsthand (not some awful youtube anti-circumcision propaganda video) and having seen the procedure performed on my newborn son, I can say that he was ABSOLUTELY NOT subjected to the horrific scenario that most people picture when they think of circumcision.

It is not a painful, barbaric torture session. If you had been there, you would know that.

If you don't want to circumcise your child for any reason, that's fine. I chose circum

Suburban Princess said...

Just FYI, Medicaid in some states still does cover the cost of routine infant circumcision.

Heather said...

My husband did perform circumcisions when he was in residency training, and that was what convinced him that it was something we could never do to our children. It is a painful, barbaric torture session. Most doctors do not use any anesthetic and if they do, they usually do not wait the appropriate time for it to take effect. It is extremely painful and studies have proven that even children who did not appear to be in pain where found to have elevated stress hormone levels during and after the procedure. I am thankful that he refused to continue to participate in this practice and that our sons were spared. There really is no medical justification. A slight decrease in extremely rare or easily preventable and treatable diseases does not justify removal of a healthy, functional body part.

Suburban Princess said...

I agree that performing circumcision without the aid of anesthetic would be painful and barbaric.

My entire point was that it does not have to be that way. My sons were fortunate enough to have compassionate doctors who administered anesthetic appropriately and even used a numbing cream to reduce the pain of the anesthetic injection.

As for stress, my youngest son was falling asleep during his procedure.

And while circumcision may only "slightly" decrease their risk, as far as I know, HIV and STD's are neither extremely rare or easily treatable. There still is no cure for a vast majority of them.

That was one of our many reasons for choosing circumcision, but if it had been the only one it would have been reason enough for us.

It isn't my intent to argue whether or not parents should choose circumcision. If you have a problem with it, that's your issue not mine. It doesn't matter to me what someone else chooses for their child in this respect. All I have tried to say from the beginning of my comments on this thread is that if the procedure is done properly, like in my sons' case, it is not as horrific as those who are against it (and have not witnessed it being done to their own baby) make it out to be.

ThatMamaGretchen said...

Super interesting to hear from the perspective of a doctor who has actually done them. I'm glad his experience protected your sons :)

ThatMamaGretchen said...

Great post shared today from one of my favorite bloggers, Blinded by the Light, in regard to this topic: http://blindedbythelightt.blogspot.com/2012/05/his-body-his-choice-circumcision-as.html

Jj5498 said...

1. Not circumcising is now the norm west of the Rockies. Sadly, in many communities east of the Rockies, nearly every boy not born to immigrant parents or to the occasional crunchy Mom is done. Some USA intactivist Moms who work in daycare and church nurseries etc. report not seeing any intact little boys except their own.

2. Outside the USA, doctors and scientists do not support routine circ. I agree that RIC will die when health insurers stop paying for it, and when malpractice insurers stop covering circumcision accidents.

3. There is nothing untowards about a cut father raising an intact son. Boys can understand, even at a young age, that human medical understanding evolves over time. I live in New Zealand, where grandad is cut, Dad may or may not be, boys never are, and nobody talks about this, much less stresses over it.

4. A man should definitely have a say about how the most sexually intimate part of his body looks and functions. And he should not make this decision until he has read narratives from women who have "been with both" and prefer natural.

5. Doing it without anesthesia should be illegal. The risks are unknown, because USA researchers refuse to look for possible long term adverse effects on sexual pleasure and functionality.

Erica Sullivan said...

Well, I am definitely late to this post party but since everyone is adding their two cents in I thought I would mine as well..although I don't know if anyone will get a chance to read it-being so late and all.

On the "rare" incident of UTI's in baby boys, I can say that as a pediatric ER nurse, I do see plenty of baby boys with UTI's so the percentage is not so miniscule. They are almost all NOT circed..the "rare" ones are the uncirced that present with a UTI.

Just throwing some more information out there. Ya'll are all good mothers regardless of your decision.

Arun said...

I get email feeds on this article's comments, since people seem to be debating this in a civil and thought-provoking manner.

>On the "rare" incident of UTI's in baby boys, I can say that as a pediatric ER nurse, I do see plenty of baby boys with UTI's so the percentage is not so miniscule. They are almost all NOT circed..the "rare" ones are the uncirced that present with a UTI.

You see plenty of baby boys with UTIs, but compared to what other issues? Also, can you pinpoint the cause of these UTIs as being due to the babies being uncircumcised? This is anecdotal too, but I've heard that because most care providers are used to dealing with circumcised babies, oftentimes uncircumcised boys have their foreskins forcefully rolled back - that could cause bleeding and be a potential hazard.

I don't know how you define miniscule... but I guess the question is whether it is "not-so-miniscule" enough, and whether the UTIs you're talking about are serious enough, to justify a preventative surgery whose effects are often played down more than they should be.

Since you are a pediatric ER nurse, I'd like to hear your opinions on this article: http://www.circumstitions.com/Utis.html

Amanda Kulick said...

Thank you Mama - absolutely love yoru blog!!!

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Aryan Smith said...

I just wish the same respect was afforded to those of us who do chose circumcision for our children. We do not make this decision lightly, and we certainly consider the welfare of our sons.
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