Thursday, October 16, 2008

To Circumcise or Not to Circumcise?

This summer, I was talking to the head honchos at Babies 'R Us about doing a seminar on a Tuesday night as a trade for displaying my brochures. I was trying to be creative, get people thinking outside the box, so I suggested a class on circumcision. There were a couple of people standing there, and an older woman said, "Oh, that would be good! They could learn how to take care of it afterwards." I told her that, no, I wanted to teach about NOT circumcising. Her entire disposition changed. She became defensive. She paused for a minute and said, "Well, that would be fine, as long as you present both sides." Ironic that she wanted both sides presented now, but not a minute ago!

When I was pregnant with Daymon, I was all about the drugs, remember. But when it came to reading about the procedure and recovery of this type of surgery -- and that's exactly what it is -- I started to ask questions. I couldn't imagine putting my baby through this. Is it necessary? Do I, medically, need to have my baby boy circumcised?

The answer is an emphatic NO!

Let's talk numbers for a minute: Only about 10-15% of all males worldwide are circumcised, the majority being Muslim. In the US, the rate is about 50%. That usually surprises people that it's that low. In some states, Medicaid has cut spending by not covering circumcision, which is considered to be cosmetic surgery. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics, which is notoriously conservative, has said to "leave it alone."

The definition of circumcision reads, "the permanent removal of healthy tissue."

OK, so what is the foreskin? It counts for about 80% of the penile covering. It consists of more than 3 feet of veins, arteries, and capillaries; 240 feet of nerves, and more than 20,000 nerve endings. It acts as a protection for the glans, which is actually an internal organ before circumcision. Like eyelids, the foreskin provides moisture and protection against infection. At the time of birth, the foreskin is attached to the glans, or penis, like a fingernail is attached to the finger. As the child grows into puberty, and then adulthood, the body will produce smegma, an antiviral and antibacterial substance between the penis and foreskin. It is white and forms in tiny "balls." Smegma contains protective enzymes called lysozymes, which are also found in tears and breastmilk. The foreskin is self-cleaning.

An intact male, or his parents, should not pry the foreskin back in order to clean it. Gradually, over time, it will begin to retract. A boy doesn't need help with this! Some boys will be fully retracted by a year, others 5 years, and others will be well into their teens. Rinsing with warm water is adequate. Cleaning with soap actually would destroy the beneficial bacteria, just like douching does in women.

There are some other interesting tidbits about circumcision that I'd like to share:
*Boys who are circumcised have a lower pain tolerance that boys who are not, and even lower than girls.
Circumcision severely interrupts sleep cycles and patterns
About 1/500 circumcisions have surgical complications (infection, severe bleeding, complications from medications) and about 1/500,000 will result in death.
*Circumcision causes the penis to be about 25% shorter.
*Better sex for both partners when male is NOT circumcised.

Finally, what do they do with all those forskins?! It is actually a multi-million dollar industry. They are used to produce artificial skin, wrinkle creams, and moisturizers. It is also used as research material and as raw materials for a type of breathable bandage.

I feel like the information I've given you here speaks for itself. If you would like more information, feel free to comment and we can keep the dialogue going. As always, Mothering is a great resource on this topic. I will also mail out a lengthy circumcision packet to anyone requesting one.

This is my advice if you just can't decide: Your baby will be given Vitamin K at the time of birth (unless you are at home and then you will make the choice to give it or not). It is given so that his blood will clot sooner. If you choose to circumcise, he needs to have been given Vitamin K. If not given Vitamin K, he will be getting it through breastmilk and his body will start producing it on day 8. In Biblical times, circumcisions were done on the 8th day. Interesting. (On that note, the law of circumcision was taken away and no longer exists.) It is probably easier to send your child to the nursery to be circumcised when you have not bonded with him. My recommendation is to wait those 8 days and then make your decision. You will find two things: The pee comes out just fine, and you can't imagine putting your sweet baby boy through this unnecessary, medically unjustified procedure.

Oh yeah, in the end, Babies 'R Us said that they didn't think there would be enough interest in the topic of circumcision. Half of all new parents, every year, will have to make this decision for their baby boy. Not enough interest?


Alisa said...

I think I would like a packet.
Whenever I hear the word circumcise I will always think of when #4 was born, and he was rushed away (another story for another time) and I just kept saying loudly- NO CIRCUMCISION! over and over. I was so worried that the hospital would just kind of take over with routine as usual and I would end up with a poor little circumcised boy against our wishes.

Christina Pond said...

In regards to Babies R Us, you should just say "Well it would make their penis' longer not circumcising" and the shallow, sexual nature of some Americans should jump on that band wagon, I mean, it's all about having the biggest car and house and penis right? ;-)

I think the problem with a lot of men is they are circumcised and they want their boys to be like them.

That is why a change needs to occur! Like Max Planck said," A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it".

I can't imagine circumcising! Our future 'Silas Golden Pond' will not be circumcised!!! He will be au natural! And one day his wife will thank me!!! (hehe)

TLC Tugger said...

Thanks for your passion. If I may try to summarize:

Foreskin feels REALLY good. It's HIS body, and HIS decision.

Donna Ryan said...

For those of you reading this, go to TLC Tugger's site. It's a non-circumcision blog, including restoration. I got a kick out of it!

Christina, loved your comments. I debated on addressing the "looking like dad" issue, but in the end, I decided to just let the evidence speak for itself. I didn't want to get into all the stupid myths and reasons that people actually make this (bad) decision for their baby. I knew I could count on y'all to bring it up. When does a child EVER see his dad's penis?! Especially by the time that he realizes that there is a difference! My son thanks us for not doing that do him! Your quote, Christina, was most appropriate.

Malice Blackheart said...

Hi Donna,
Great post. I agree, down with circumcision. Question re:

"Boys who are circumcised have a lower pain tolerance that boys who are not, and even lower than girls."

Where did you get this information?

TLC Tugger said...

^^ am so curious how you found me ^^

Since ending circumcision is my life's work (it literally supports me and my family as of May) I have set up daily alerts with Google. I get an e-mail when new entries about circumcision, foreskin, genital mutilation, intactivism, etc. are posted. I try and add relevant info where I can.


Donna Ryan said...

I had to do a bit of research to find my exact source of the "Boys who are circumcised have a lower pain tolerance that boys who are not, and even lower than girls" statement. It was published in a medical journal discussing the neurological effects of circumcision on the brain. Dr. James Prescott, a neuro-psychologist, found that circumcision causes "deep and disturbing levels of neurological damage."

A. Taddio et al., "Effect of Neonatal Circumcision on Pain Response during Subsequent Routine Vaccination," Lancet 349 (1997): 559-603.

This was all published in a Mothering Magazine article titled "The Case Against Circumcision" by Paul M. Fleiss. Reprints are available at or 1-800-984-8116.

specialaffinity said...

A good article - I agree with all of you. Keeping what nature has given all males(a foreskin) is simply no one else's business but that of the owner.

Anonymous said...

"In Biblical times, circumcisions were done on the 8th day. Interesting. (On that note, the law of circumcision was taken away and no longer exists.) "

I agree with most of what you have to say. There are no medical reasons for routine circumcision. However, pleaes realize that your statement above only applies to christians. Circumcision is still required of other religions.

Donna Ryan said...

I feel like a schmuck! Yes, it's true, I didn't even consider other religions except Christianity. I hope I haven't offended anyone. If so, please forgive my oversight.

Hugh7 said...

I have yet to see scientific evidence that vitamin K peaks on the eighth day. If it does, perhaps the Egyptians or the Israelites found out by trial and (fatal) error, and enshrined their experience in a sacred text to make it permanent. There is no reference to circumcision in the first version of Torah, the Book of J, nor in the Qu'ran, and scholars agree Abraham is probably not historical. Circumcision has a life of its own that is not confined to any particular religion.

It's great to see plain ordinary (maverick?) folks bucking the lemming-like trend to permanently diminish the most intimate part of a male's anatomy for any reason or none.

Your point about presenting "both sides" is a good one. "A boy should look like his father" - unless his father is intact. Circumcision is "an important decision you have to make" if you might be considering not doing it (and have to keep on deciding till you decide to do it), but it's "no big deal" and "just a snip" if you plan to do it.

That's why I take issue with "To circumcise or not to circumcise" as if they were evenly balanced. Hamlet was contemplating suicide, and "not to be" was intended to shock us with its implications. Spell those out: "To cut off the most sensitive part of the male anatomy forever, or to do absolutely nothing, just leave him alone." Not such a tossup, is it?

Donna Ryan said...

If you haven't already, click on hugh7 above -- loads and loads of info on circumcision. Thanks hugh7.

Mark Lyndon said...

You might also want to check out the following:

Canadian Paediatric Society
"Recommendation: Circumcision of newborns should not be routinely performed."
"Circumcision is a 'non-therapeutic' procedure, which means it is not medically necessary."
"After reviewing the scientific evidence for and against circumcision, the CPS does not recommend routine circumcision for newborn boys. Many paediatricians no longer perform circumcisions.

RACP Policy Statement on Circumcision
"After extensive review of the literature the Royal Australasian College of Physicians reaffirms that there is no medical indication for routine neonatal circumcision."
(those last nine words are in bold on their website, and almost all the men responsible for this statement will be circumcised themselves, as the male circumcision rate in Australia in 1950 was about 90%. "Routine" circumcision is now *banned* in public hospitals in Australia in all states except one.)

British Medical Association: The law and ethics of male circumcision - guidance for doctors
"to circumcise for therapeutic reasons where medical research has shown other techniques to be at least as effective and less invasive would be unethical and inappropriate."

Drops in male circumcision:
USA: from 90% to 57%
Canada: from 47% to 9.2%
UK: from 35% to about 5% (less than 1% among non-Muslims)
Australia: 90% to 12.6% ("routine" circumcision has recently been *banned* in public hospitals in all states except one, so the rate will now be a lot lower)
New Zealand: 95% to below 3% (mostly Samoans and Tongans)
South America and Europe: never above 5%

It's worth remembering that no-one except for Muslim and Jewish people would even be having this discussion if it weren't for the fact that 19th century doctors thought that :
a) masturbation caused various physical and mental problems (including epilepsy, convulsions, paralysis, tuberculosis etc), and
b) circumcision stopped masturbation.

Both of those sound ridiculous today I know, but if you don't believe me, then check out this link:
A Short History of Circumcision in North America In the Physicians' Own Words

Over a hundred years later, circumcised men keep looking for new ways to defend the practice.

The record payout for a botched circumcision is $22.8 million. It was said at the time that the victim "will never be able to function sexually as a normal male and will require extensive reconstructive surgery and psychological counseling as well as lifelong urological care and treatment by infectious disease specialists."
Sure, cases like that are very rare, but why should they happen at all? If you look up the galleries of botched jobs, one thing that may surprise you is just how many jobs were botched cosmetically, rather than medically. Skin tags and skin bridges and hair growing half way up the shaft are not normal, but would not be counted as medical complications.

News from last April: A jury in Atlanta has awarded $1.8 million to a boy whose penis was severed in a botched circumcision five years ago. The Fulton County jury also awarded the boy's mother another $500,000.

Sarah said...

I totally had a "Banned from Baby Showers" moment last night when the whole group of women all got squeemish when I said the word, "vagina" but they were talking about circumcision like it was just trimming finger nails. Argh!

Nicole Patten said...

I would like a packet. Could you please send me one. I am due in September with baby #3, my first boy and daddy is not okay with leaving him in-tact. I also have a couple of concerns. My sis is in the medical field and says she has dealt with many surgeries to circumcise adult men and there are alot of complications throughout an uncircumcised adult males life. I still have about 10 weeks to study before his EDD, so I would love the packet. I will look to find a way to notify you of my email addy or my physical addy.

Donna Ryan said...

I would be happy to send you my packet. My email address is

Mark Lyndon said...

"My sis is in the medical field and says she has dealt with many surgeries to circumcise adult men and there are a lot of complications throughout an uncircumcised adult males life."

No country except the USA seems to have these problems. In the UK, only about 1 male in 140 ever needs to be circumcised, and it's getting rarer. That means you have to circumcise 139 babies unnecessarily to prevent one circumcision later on. Circumcision later on is safer than infant circumcision anyway, as well as being less painful, and giving better cosmetic results.

I already posted some medical society statements, but there's a new one from the Royal Dutch Medical Association:
"The official viewpoint of KNMG and other related medical/scientific organisations is that non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors is a violation of children’s rights to autonomy and physical integrity. Contrary to popular belief, circumcision can cause complications – bleeding, infection, urethral stricture and panic attacks are particularly common. KNMG is therefore urging a strong policy of deterrence. KNMG is calling upon doctors to actively and insistently inform parents who are considering the procedure of the absence of medical benefits and the danger of complications."

Kara Jo said...

You might have already answered this question...wondering if you could give me the links to where you sited your info and statistics? I'm a birth doula and have a couple wanting to do some research before they make their decision. Thanks!

The Educated Smarta$$ said...

On the 'looking like daddy' note...I asked my husband if he knew what his father looked like, and guess what?? He didn't have a clue. What kind of kids are 'those people' raising?? Really, do you know what your dad looked like?? Some of the excuses are just plain silly!!

Kendra & Cody said...

Hi I would love a packet. I am trying to decide what to do and would like some more information.

Donna Ryan said...

Kendra, email me your address at: and I'll mail you out my packet.

HaleeBurch said...

Are you still sending these packets? If so I would be interested. I have been curious for a while now on whether or not to circumcise assuming I have boys. And you are right, the old covenant is ended so circumcision is not a requirement, but it leaves me wondering why it was required in the first place if it seems healthier to not. Yes I know, His ways are not our ways, we may never know.
On an interesting note, I had a cousin who decided to get circumcised in his late 20s, I wonder if he would mind me asking his reasoning for doing so the difference going between being circumcised and not... That could get awkward... maybe I shouldn't.