Many years ago, my best friend (who is an intact male) said to me, ‘If you ever circumcise a male child, I won’t be your friend anymore.’ I thought he was harsh, and possibly crazy, but ten years later I found myself pregnant with twins. Luckily I now live in a country where circumcision isn’t offered – and it’s not even talked about. The ONLY mention of it in the last twelve years I’ve lived here has been a sign in my current doctor’s office stating that two of the doctor refuse to refer babies for religious circumcision.
My son and daughter are both intact. I do feel strongly about leaving children whole. I don’t write this post to offend anyone, or even cause pain for parents who have already made the irreversible decision to cut their child’s genitals. All parents make mistakes. When we know better, we do better.
So, here’s some of the stuff I’ve found out about circumcision – and as it turns out, I was woefully uninformed. I’m thankful for that friend who talked to me about circumcision when we were still so young.
Changes in brain chemistry
It has been shown that amputation of part of a child’s genitals – aka circumcision – causes permanent changes in the infant brain and how it functions. In one study, an infant was strapped into the circumcision table and a baseline MRI was taken. Post circumcision, the brain showed huge changes in the parts related to reasoning, perception, and emotions. Follow up MRIs at one day, one week, and one month showed that the brain never returned to its normal baseline readings. Yikes.
Infants who have undergone circumcision show significantly higher levels of behavioural distress and cortisol in the blood. This is the same stress hormone that has recently gotten much coverage in regards to crying it out. In my training as a counsellor, we studied this in depth – and I can tell you that hugely high levels of this hormone can have a significant and, more importantly, long-lasting and permanent negative affects on the brain.
Circumcision also has other psychological implications – the trauma of a major surgery, elective surgery without consent and the grieving that may cause later in life, complications with attachment to parents.
Infants feel pain – while it was incredibly recently that medical professionals agreed on this fact, it is indeed now fact. Any parent who has accidentally clipped the skin while cutting fingernails can tell you it’s true, regardless of the fact that medicine supports this fact.
It is incredibly difficult to properly give anesthetic to infants who have circumcision. Many doctors don’t bother, or begin to cut before the minimal pain management would actually kick in. Infants who have been circumcised have been shown to remember, anticipate, and react more negatively to future pain (like shots/jabs) than those who were not cut. It has been shown that infants feel MORE pain than adults (who also, incidentally, can be informed of risk, make choice, get better pain meds, and have understanding of what is happening).
In an intact penis, the foreskin is fused to the head of the penis. To amputate it, the doctor inserts cold metal instruments underneath to literally rip the skin away from the head (like ripping your fingernail off, only many, many times more painful due to the huge amount of nerves in the area), before slicing the skin off. I recommend watching a video of it, though be warned they are graphic and difficult to view. The babies are also strapped down to a board with a baby shape on it – just pictures of these make me feel very uncomfortable.
Many people say their baby did not cry or seem to notice what was going on. Babies actually go into shock from the extreme pain and trauma. This causes some babies to actually fall asleep during or just after the procedure. They are overwhelmed by the pain and cannot express this.
This is, of course, ‘just’ the pain of the actual procedure. The pain afterward can last weeks.
We surely all want to build strong, trusting relationships with our children. Some of us start when they are in the womb, touching our bumps, singing to our children, dreaming of the life we will share. And this life together? Every minute counts. Do we want to start our newborn’s life with pain and trauma, or keep them snuggled close to their parent(s)?
The shock and pain can cause serious problems with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is a gift to a baby on many levels – physical and emotional – and circumcision can cause a big bump in the road, or in some cases stop the breastfeeding relationship altogether.
In an adult male, the foreskin is 50-80% of the total skin of the penis. This is 10-15 square inches, people. No wonder circumcised males can have problems with not having enough skin to cover their erections…..not to mention it’s a literal penis reduction surgery. The foreskin has over three feet of veins, arteries, and capillaries, as well as 240 feet of nerve fibres!! Is your mind blown yet? It also has 20,000 nerve endings – while the clitoris has 8,000. Imagine what you are taking away from that child’s future sexual life by removing this skin.
The head of the penis is also designed as an internal organ, remaining covered except when the penis is erect. This keeps the head sensitive and moist. In circumcised males, the head will ALWAYS go through a process called keratinization. This means it will dry out and develop a thicker layer of skin over it. This can cause problems with sex as the man can’t feel as much, and his partner is more likely to develop soreness from the dry head and the increased friction needed for the cut man to feel the sex.
The extra skin is also a boon to both the man and his partner (male or female here for all the info, people! ANY partner benefits from having sex with an intact male). The extra skin provides added sexual feeling for the man’s partner. It, along with the moist, soft head, also allow a smooth gliding action which I’m told is quite nice! *wink* The extra skin also feels better to the man while masturbating.
Not to mention that having this ‘extra’ skin, which is actually the perfect amount nature designed the penis to have, STOPS even more sexual or sex related problems – like hair growing down the shaft, painful or curved erections, etc.
The awesomeness of the foreskin
I’ve seen many people online call the foreskin ‘just a flap of skin.’ I suppose that’s technically true, but the foreskin is actually a pretty awesome and integral part of the penis. And people, I’m a lesbian. If I say I like the foreskin, you know it has to be pretty amazing!
The foreskin remains fused to the head of the penis for years – and no one should EVER retract it. It is fused for lots of important reasons. Firstly, the glans/head of the penis is actually meant to be an internal organ. The foreskin keeps it moist and allows it to develop normally. It also protects the penis from infection and bacteria, keeps a good PH level, and keeps the penis clean. It is a protective layer for the penis.
The mucous membranes also serve a key immunological function – they have the same enzymes as breastmilk and tears. These protect the intact male from infection and disease. Likewise, it helps maintain healthy bacteria, which protects not just the penis but the body as a whole.
I’ve already written about the huge sexual benefits of being left intact – but it’s worth mentioning again. Intact men are less likely to have problems with pain during sex, achieving and maintaining erections, hair growing down the shaft, curvature of the erect penis – not to mention the HUGE increase in sensitivity when a man is intact.
Now, it would be neglectful for me not to drop in a mention of those people who are ‘grossed out’ by intact penis. Those who think it’s dirty, a sexual turn off, etc. Uh, your culturally informed (and misguided, some might say) sexual preferences are hardly a reason to allow someone to alter your kid’s genitals. You might like big boobs, tiny earlobes, or a certain hairline, but you’re not about to rush out and get cosmetic surgery on your three day old child for that. Aside from the fact that the rates of circumcision in the US are falling rapidly, so in another fifteen years when your son is thinking about having sex? Your circumcised kid will be in the minority (and is already in the minority on a global scale, since most countries – including the one I live in – do not practice ritual infant circumcision).
Additional complications, including death
Approximately 117 to 230 babies die from circumcision in the United States each year. I say ‘approximate’ because many of the complications of circumcisions – heart attacks, loss of blood, etc – are recorded on the death certificate as the cause of death, so the likely number of deaths is much higher. Even at the lower end of the scale, one baby boy dies every two days in the US from genital cutting. This is higher than the rate of babies choking to death, dying of SIDS, etc. Circumcision is one of the leading causes of childhood death.
If you have recently had your child circumcised or plan to do it regardless, I beg you to look at this page. Aside from the shock factor, it is an interesting and informative article detailing blood loss. It shows you how much blood your baby has, how much blood loss a baby can handle before dying, and what that amount of blood looks like in a disposable diaper. This information could save a life.
Other complications are sexual dysfunction (the drying out and loss of sensation in the glans, loss of 20,000 nerves, painful erections, etc), adhesions and infection, major cosmetic and functional problems, total loss of the glans, etc. These are only a few of the very obvious complications – please click the link in this paragraph for a more comprehensive overview.
Problems like hemorrhage or infection might be immediately obvious, but some emerge over the course of a lifetime. The US has the highest rate of erectile dysfunction in older men, for example.
Myths – hygiene, STDs, penile cancer
The thing I hear again and again is that a cut penis is a clean penis. Um, no. Imagine having a major open wound in contact with urine and feces for weeks. Consider the pain, risk of infection, and how complicated it is to care for a cut penis. In contrast, you don’t need to do anything special with an intact penis. You simply wipe it down like a finger. That’s it. No retracting, no fiddling, no fuss. When an intact penis is properly cared for – and it’s the easiest thing to do! – there is very little risk of problems. And when the skin finally is capable of being pulled back – ONLY the boy himself should do this – it’s a simple matter of rinsing the head of the penis while in the bath or shower. Much easier than washing a vulva and labia, with all the creases!
The other hotly debated issue in regards to circumcision is prevention of STDs. Um, excuse me, but every guy should be using a condom ANYWAY. That largely takes care of disease prevention, whatever the state of your penis. But medical findings? Of the ten possible ways that HIV can be transmitted, those studies that look into HIV prevention all agree circumcision may only impact ONE mode of transmission. And, in fact, other rigorous studies have shown that there is no correlation. The US has one of the highest circumcision and STD rates….just a little food for thought.
Penile cancer occurs in less than 1% of adult males. This is much lower than the incidence of cervical cancer, breast cancer, etc – and we’re not electively amputating the breast buds or male OR female children at birth, are we?
Another popular argument is the ‘I know a guy who needed to get circumcised later in life.’ The fact is, most later in life circumcisions arise from people improperly caring for intact genitals. Many medical professionals in the US today even recommend retraction, when it actually causes significant damage. Circumcision is VERY RARELY needed. People site the foreskin not retracting (when this may not happen naturally and normally till your child is a teen!), being too tight (again, it’s supposed to be. And if it’s truly too tight, a steroid cream and simple stretching can fix this), and infections in the urethra (uh, we treat girls with antibiotics, not chopping their genitals off!) as reasons it is ‘needed.’ This is usually, sadly, misinformation.
I don’t blame the parents the majority of the time, when in fact it is their trusted doctor giving them incorrect advice.
Rates of circumcision
The vast majority of the world does not practice male (or female) circumcision. Insurance companies are beginning to stop paying for the procedure. No medical board in the world, including the American Medical Association, recommends routine infant circumcision. And in the US, the rates have dropped to only 32% of infant boys having this elective cosmetic surgery. There goes the whole ‘I don’t want him to be made fun of’ argument!
More and more people are also realising the craziness of wanting a baby boy to look like other male family members – be it fathers, grandfathers, or older male siblings. This is a very poor justification for permanently altering someone else’s body in such an extreme way, with no consent. It’s his body, let him choose when he gets older.
Now, I’m not Jewish or Muslim. I get that. I’ll also say that while I’ve worked personally with many Muslim girls who have been circumcised, most of my current knowledge about male circumcision is much more relevant to the Jewish faith/culture.
More and more Jewish scholars – and parents – are beginning to debate whether or not circumcision is truly a necessary part of the culture and are arguing strongly that is not. Some people choose to go back to how it was performed centuries ago, with a ritual nick in the tip of the foreskin. And increasing numbers are choosing to skip the Bris altogether, creating a new, relevant ceremony for newborn Jewish boys without any circumcision involved ( a Brit Shalom). (Jewish, American, and want to find a local rabbi/celebrant to speak to?)
Female circumcision was legal in the US until 1997. Yes, you read that correctly. 1997. Many of the arguments that have been put forward in the past for FGM (female genital mutilation, as it is widely known, and increasing numbers of people are seeing male circumcision as being genital mutilation as well. ) are identical to the ones that are still used to support the practice of male circumcision. These include supposed medical benefits, cultural and religious beliefs, etc.
Most people are horrified at the idea of FGM, but still support male genital cutting. This is the ultimate inequality. It’s not just illogical, it’s hurting generations of boys and men.
What happens to the foreskin once it is removed?
Ah, not only is the foreskin great for penis owners and friends, but it’s a huge money-maker for doctors. And the actual foreskins themselves? Rarely end up in the medical waste bin. They are a regular ingredient in cosmetics, used in medical research and treatments, etc. So you have to pay to get the surgery done, and then the doctor/hospital turn around and SELL a piece of your child’s anatomy for big bucks. We’re talking thousands of dollars for a few square inches of skin.
Whether you are the owner of a penis or not, whether you have children or not, I hope this has given you some stuff to think about. I don’t hide the fact – or apologize – that I strongly oppose circumcision. While I’m not an expert, even at my basic level of research and understanding, I have learned so much that it beggers belief. (People, while I obviously had some pre-existing knowledge, I pulled this post together in one sitting. It’s hard to look for research on circumcision and NOT find an overwhelming amount of info on the advantages of keeping the penis intact….just as it needs to be to have normal function on several levels.)
Circumcision is an elective, COSMETIC, amputation surgery on your newborn baby’s genitals.
If you are pregnant and expecting a baby boy, please click some of my links. Better yet, get out and there do some research of your own. Once you begin to seriously research this topic, I doubt you’ll decide it’s a great idea. Whatever you do, please give this as much thought as you have given other decisions. Many people spend months picking a pushchair/stroller, but just have agree to a circumcision because it’s the ‘done thing.’
This is your baby’s body. It’s his body, his perfect and whole body, and it’s worth learning as much as you can about it. If your child has already had a circ and you feel regret, there is a lot of support for you available. Great resources on how to talk to your child about this – as well as ways to partially restore the penis to its normal, fully functioning state (maybe if your partner is a cut male?) are plentiful.
Most of all, thanks for reading this far. May we go all go peacefully forward in our efforts to raise the next generation of adults. Much love to you all.