Monday, November 15, 2010

Social Circumcising

We had a great meeting and discussion this week at the Tarrant County Birth Network meeting.  One of our topics was circumcision.  I've written quite a bit on the blog about circumcision, but I haven't addressed the social reasons that I hear so frequently regarding the decision.  So let's talk about them.  If I miss any, please comment below and we'll try to address them all.

If you have not read about the purpose of the foreskin previously, I want you to do that now.  Click here.

The foreskin is obviously not just a flap of skin.  It has many purposes.  So why are 50% of American males still being circumcised?  It's these social traditions or concerns that need to be addressed.


1.  We want him to to look like his dad.  A little boy looks no more like his dad than a little girl looks like her mother.  Things grow bigger and grow hair, which, in my opinion, is much more distracting than the foreskin!  Mostly, after the first couple of years of life, when does a boy ever see his father naked?  My 14-year-old intact son has no idea what his father looks like and vice versa.  Frankly, in my opinion, it's a really odd and disturbing argument.

2.  What about the locker room?  Won't he be made fun of?  Maybe 20, 30, 40 years ago, but with 50% of males not being circumcised, it becomes a matter of education in my opinion.  When my son went to 5th grade we knew he would be dressing out for PE.  We sat him down and told him about circumcision.  He was, to say the least, appalled -- very much the same way you were when you found out about episiotomies.  We explained that we researched it and felt there was no reason to do it and that most parents do it because of tradition.  He knows that those kids' parents probably just didn't know any better.  He politely thanked us for "not doing that" to him.

Last year, in 8th grade, I asked him if it was ever an issue, and he laughed.  He said, "No one is looking!  Creepy!"  As a side note, as a boy grows into a man, it becomes less and less obvious that he is not circumcised, especially when it is erect.  This is, again, in my opinion, an argument made by (jealous?) men envious of their intact friends who are, on average, 25% longer than the circumcised male.  Just saying.

3.  Isn't it cleaner to be circumcised?  There has been misconception about smegma, the tiny, white, ball-like substance that the foreskin produces.  In the past, by those that don't understand it's purpose, it's been thought to be unclean.  In fact, just the opposite it true.  The foreskin is self-cleaning, as smegma is antiviral and antibacterial.  No soap is required, just warm water in the shower, later, when the foreskin retracts on its own.  Next time you hear someone say in regards to circumcision, "I guess, as long as he is taught how to properly clean himself..." you can let them know that remaining intact is not unclean.  That is part of the misconception, created by a society that wanted males circumcised because they believed it prevented masturbation.  Seriously?  I guess when 20,000 nerve endings are removed...  Mostly, he'll just never know what he's missing.


4.  Circumcision was a law in the Old Testament so we should follow that law.  It must be noted that circumcision was nothing in the Old Testament like it is in America today!  Removing as much as 80% of the penile covering is not what was going on back then!  It was more like a nick in the foreskin.  Of course, circumcision is still a part of religions today, so I am mainly addressing those of the Christian faith at this point.  If you continue reading the New Testament, it's very clear that the law of circumcision, along with many other laws, were done away with through the blood of Christ.  I'll encourage you to search that out.  For my LDS readers, it is stated many other places as well -- The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants.  

5.  Circumcision prevents being sexually active at an early age.  Seriously? 

6.  His future wife will think it's ugly and wish he was circumcised.   Who comes up with this stuff?  Very likely, she won't even know the difference.  I have friends that had no idea their husband wasn't circumcised until he told her. 

 7.  I'm leaving it up to my husband to decide.  Why?  It's not his penis in jeopardy!  Your baby cannot speak for himself and he needs his mother to advocate for him.  This is where we get into informed consent issues.  I'm convinced that one day a boy/man will sue his parents over this issue.  If you think that "he has a penis, he knows what it's like," it's a different time today than it was 30 years ago.  Parents are educating themselves and questioning (foolish) traditions.  This is surgery for your baby.  Both parents should be making this decision, not one or the other.  What about letting your son decide for himself?

8.  Better to do it now since he won't remember it.  Babies feel pain more acutely than adults, they just can't say so.  This argument also implies that it will have to be done later, which is highly unlikely.  See the argument below.

9.  It's better to do it now than later when it's more painful.  I compare this argument to elective cesarean (surgery that is not needed) and cesarean with an OB or midwife who has an extremely low cesarean rate (only doing surgery when it's truly required).   Some doctors or pediatricians have no idea about the intact male.  They try to pull the foreskin back at each appointment because they haven't researched it or know any better.  They are looking for things to go wrong.   We all know what happens when you have an OB like that -- you have surgery.  The same is true for an intact male.  It is very important that you have a pediatrician/family practice doctor who is up-to-date on the intact male.  If they are supportive of not circumcising (supportive, not compliant) and for whatever reason believes that your son needs to be circumcised (extremely rare), then you won't need to second-guess that decision.   It's always best to get more than one opinion, regardless.

10.  His brother(s) is circumcised, so we have to keep doing it.  Two wrongs don't make a right.  The cycle has to stop somewhere.  I've had guys in class tell stories about some of the boys in their families being circumcised and others not, and not once have they made it to be a big deal.  They all knew why some were and some weren't.  I even had one guy say that he and his brother didn't know that one was and one wasn't until they were adults and their mom was talking about it as they were making the decision for their baby.  As far as who is envious of the other, I can't help but think it will be the circumcised male that is envious of his intact brother.

Just a couple other things to touch on:  Female circumcision has been in the news quite a bit lately.  When we mentioned it the other day at our meeting, everyone cringed.  Why do we do that when we are talking about females, but not males?  Why?  It's the same thing.  Think about it.

I like to see parents take this bold step in protecting their sons.  Some are breaking tradition and bucking the system.  Chances are, if you are reading this blog, this isn't the only area you are breaking out of the mold!  When we chose not to circumcise our son, 14 years ago, we had no friends that didn't circumcise their sons.  As the months went by, we found out that most of his male cousins aren't circumcised either.  We found it was more prevalent than we had thought when we made the decision.  That is great, but it is so important that we share this information with expectant parents.

The 9th step to the Mother Friendly Childbirth Initiative is to discourage non-religious circumcision.  Discourage is an action word!

22 comments:

Jay Spear said...

Great writeup. I agree with every single point and I wish more people were educated about this.

Good writing Donna!

Jill said...

Great post! However, the national circumcision rate is now down to about 33%, not 50%.

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/17/u-s-circumcision-rates-on-the-decline/

Thanks for getting this info out there! As the rates continue to decline, it's proof that more parents are becoming educated!

Laura said...

My husband is circumcised, but we have decided that we won't circumcise any sons we will have. We don't see any point to it, and quite frankly I don't want to put my babies through that torture if it can be avoided.

At my old job, one of my co-workers (whose wife was expecting their second child) said that he kind of hoped that they would have a girl because he didn't want "to go through circumcision again." I told him, "You don't have to circumcise him!" But he answered, "Yeah, but I don't want them to look different!" I screamed inside.

Anonymous said...

I take offense to comment about having your husband decide. Can't a loving father make good decisions for his children? Can't he educate himself? If the decision is important to your husband, let them be part of it and don't steamroll them. I have faith in our men. Just let them watch a circumcision and they will make an educated decision.

Heidi

puremotherhood said...

Well stated. Thanks!

puremotherhood said...

Well stated. Thanks!

Faith said...

If the dad wants to play the "matchy-matchy" game... tell him he can restore his foreskin to look like the son. I can guarantee it won't hurt unlike what he wants to do to his son.

I also hear about the Jewish issue often as well. I usually come back with Brit Shalom information though.

Anonymous said...

Very informative post!

I only have one point of clarification: the Laws of the Old Testament were not "done away with" but fulfilled. The time of the Hebrews (Jews) was given to the time of Jesus ("And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch" Acts 11:26b). Jesus fulfilled the law (Matt 5:18). A better argument is to look at Acts Chapter 15 and Romans 2:25-29. Basically, Paul says that if a person who follows God is not born Jewish, then that person should not be burdened with circumcision and the implications thereof (Acts 15:9). This applies to the distinction between Jews and Gentiles. Based on this, the Jewish tradition from the Old Testament still stands for the Jewish people.

I don't know what the difference is between Old Testament circumcision and what they do in hospitals today, but you probably have a good point about the difference. I wonder if there are still Rabbis who practice the traditional Jewish circumcision.

~Tabi

Donna Ryan said...

Jill, last I read, the Western states were 33%, but as a national average it was just above 50%. I think it's a bit higher on the Eastern seaboard.

Anonymous, if you'll go back and read the paragraph about the mother standing up for her baby, I fully stated that this should be a mutual decision, not one-sided. I've known many women who have let their husband decide (despite their feelings about not doing it) and every time, he choose to circumcise. So, no, I think a lot of men need more information. The decision must not be left to a husband just because he has a penis.

Loved the "law was fulfilled" statement. Much better way to state that. Thank you for those words.

Anonymous said...

I let Jason have the final decision when I was against circumcision. My only stipulation was that we wait at least 8 days. In the end after researching and talking to a surgeon, he decided he couldn't do it to Elijah. The doctor asked how old the baby was and Jason told him a week old. Jason asked why they ask that and was told that after 3 months of age, they can anesthetize the baby. That's what got Jason. If the baby needs anesthesia but is too young for it, then it's too painful for a newborn. He figures that our boys can make the decision for themselves when they are old enough for anesthesia and pain pills. Men can make the decision by themselves.

Heidi

Lyndsey said...

Great post, thank you for this! We made the unfortunate decision to circ our son 2 years ago, mainly due to ignorance on our part. We just didn't know. Someday I'll apologize to our son. As we TTC baby #2, I've already made it clear to my husband that there is no way I can be ok with it again.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for addressing some of your reasons in detail, Donna. I read it yesterday, and decided I had to comment today!

It is always surprising to me to hear the reasoning that male circ is the same as female from a Biblical perspective. It's just not so: God never mandated the circumcision of females.

Also, I'd like to know your source for point number 4, where you say that circ is nothing like it was in the Bible. If a nick is all it was, Zipporah would not have been able to throw her son's foreskins at Moses' feet (Gen 4:25), nor would David have been able to bring the foreskins of 100 Philistines to King Saul (I Sam 18:27), nor would Jacob's sons' deceit against Shechem and Hamor have worked: "Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male." (Gen 34.) The mention of circumcision in the Bible is often accompanied by the phrase, "cutting off," suggesting more than a nick. Then there is the old Jewish tradition of "checking at the door" of the temple (since no one who was uncircumsised was allowed into the temple). The sign of a covenant with God was not a sign that was not identifiable. From a Biblical perspective, I do not see how one can take the position that it was a nick in the foreskin.

From my perspective as a Bible-believer, I think both circumsizing and not circumsizing are legitimate choices. The law of circumsision was fulfilled by Christ, but that does not make circumcision wrong: it makes it no longer required. My view is this: God created Adam (uncircumcised) and said it was "good," and also mandated circumcision. I see both choices as valid from a biblical perspective.

Sarah

Scatterbrain K said...

Tabi~ I know there are Rabbi's who practice circumsion though I do not know the traditional to today difference. I do know what they do in hospitals is NOTHING like the Rabbis do.

• Actual circumcision takes 10-15 seconds
• Minor discomfort, if any, lasts 4-6 hours
• Complete healing 2-3 days

I have heard tales of what doctors do and it is nothing like how the Mohels do it.

Anonymous said...

I have wittnessed 2 circumcisions.

one he slept through it. Seriously did not even make a sound. Wonderful dr. Knew what to do, how to do it. He promised me it wouldnt hurt because he takes care to make sure it wouldnt, and it didnt!

another one of them, i could have hurt the dr. I would argue with her practises and call it barberic, and she did hurt him I have never been so angry, or felt worse in my life.
That cry still haunts me.

I am not for circ, but I do not condem those that are. I just say do your research, and find a dr that has experience, and knows what he is doing. You could have either one of my experiences.


I am not for circumcising

sara r. said...

I agree with what someone else said about that circing in the Hebrew scriptures must have been more than a simple nick, but it certainly wasn't the same as what is done now. Ritual Jewish circumcision only removes a part of the foreskin, not the whole thing (that came about in the last century). However, the Christian Greek scriptures make it clear (as has been stated) that circumcision was not required for Christians. The Jews as a religion and people rejected Jesus, and so were no longer the "chosen race" (Jesus said "your house has been abandoned to you", and the temple in Jerusalem was allowed to be totally destroyed by the Romans). Therefore, I see NO reason to circumsize based on any religious conviction as I am Christian and to circ as was traditional in the Bible I'd have to find a JEWISH person to do it (someone who doesn't believe in Jesus, which is the cornerstone of my faith). It just makes no sense to me.

Rachel said...

Thanks for the post! It's great to have it all laid out why we don't think any of those reasons are good enough to inflicted that kind of pain on our boys. I am getting ready to have my third boy and have not circumcised any of the others, this one will be no different. At first it was just the thought of what was being done to my baby that kept me from having it done. But now I am SO glad that we did not do it. Even though my husband is, it is no reason to want to do that to our sons.
I only wish more people would feel this way, as I am the only one of all my friends and family that have not done this to their boys.
I also agree with you about letting the husband decide and it not being a mutual decision. More often than not, the husband will decide to do it (my best friend's husband proved this point to me!).

Thanks again!!! Rachel

Anonymous said...

I disagree with saying that it is not unclean. I worked in a nursing home, and I felt so bad for any man who wasn't circumcised. They couldn't clean it themselves anymore, and sorry to say that nursing homes don't take care of the elderly like they should.

Maria said...

For those that for whatever reason have made an informed choice to circumsize their son, there is a rabbi/mohel who comes to DFW a few times a month to preform circs. He uses the traditional Jewish method and it takes about 5 seconds. Baby never leaves mom and dad.

I am in no means advocating for circing but this type of circ is so much better than what is done in the hospital where babies are put on the circumstraint (ie strapped down and immobilized on a board) and then kept away from the parents, sometimes for an hour at time, during a time of great stress.

Bea said...

Coming from a religious stand point...I will be circumsizing my son. I see that is a bit against the grain on here...but I just wanted to offer a different perspective. I have done my own biblical research, and believe it is what God would have my husband and I do. However, he commands it on the 8th day. He does that for a reason, if you use a rabbi, most babies don't even cry, any discomfort they might have is only a few hours, and it is totally healed in a couple of days. I have personally witnessed this! What is done by most hospitals/doctors is deffinately barbaric, and is not something I will be doing. However, I believe that a rabbi know's what he is doing, and again, most babies do not even cry. The reason for this is the timing... Also, I'm sorry, but I know many men who are circumsized...and none of them have any deep seeded pains from being circumsized. :) I think we all have a right to choose, but I don't think that those who decide to circumsize are wrong. Like you said...most, unless they have been told, don't know if they have or haven't been. If that is the case, it is obviously not a harmful and tramatizing experience. Not to mention, as loving as our God is, why would he ask us to act in such a barbaric way to our young babies? I do not believe lots of pain was his intention. That is whta the guidelines are for.I appreciate that everyone should make an educated experience, but just because someone chooses to circ, does not make them uneducated. Lastly... female circ is completely different then male. If you look at why its done, how its done and the lasting effects... NOT the same.

Cassie said...

"10. His brother(s) is circumcised, so we have to keep doing it. Two wrongs don't make a right."

I'm appalled that some things are "personal choice" and yet this choice is the "wrong" choice.

Loretta said...

Thank you so much for this. As the mother of two uncircumcised boys, I've been surprised at how many people in my family have a problem with my decision.

I would also like to urge parents who have firmly decided on circumcision to make sure their doctor uses proper pain control during the procedure, because many still don't.

kidsmomofmany said...

Ignorance of nurses is no reason a man or child should have their foreskin chopped off.

Here is how to properly care for an intact elderly man. LOL

If you don't want to do your job, don't work with the elderly.


http://www.nocirc.org/publish/pamphlet8.html


How should I clean the intact penis?

First, explain to the patient that you are going to wash his penis. Wash the outside with mild soap and warm water. Rinse. Gently retract the foreskin, rinse the inner fold of the foreskin and glans with warm water only (no soap on the mucous membrane), then return the foreskin to its forward position. Dry the outside of the penis shaft and foreskin. Residual soap may cause burning or discomfort.

How often should the foreskin be washed?

The inner layer of the foreskin and glans should be washed during a bath or shower. The foreskin does not need to be washed after each urination.

Should I use soap?

As with the inner labia of women, soap should never be used on the inner folds of the male foreskin or the glans. Soap destroys the natural bacterial balance, encouraging an overgrowth of yeast, and it may cause an uncomfortable burning sensation.