Posts Tagged ‘circumcision’

Information on circumcision: to cut or not to cut, that is the question.

February 10, 2012

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.

Pain management

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.

Sexual issues

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.

Religious circumcision

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

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.

Ick factor.


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.

Stuff I enjoyed reading this week.

August 26, 2010

So, links to things I enjoyed reading this week….

First up, how do you feel about some of those obnoxious ‘like’ things on Facebook? Ignoring the fact that the vast majority are spelled wrong and have the grammar skills of a 2 month old, some of the messages in them are quite appalling.

One that particularly jumps out to annoy my ass is ‘I’d rather go to jail for spanking my kids than for them to go to jail because I didn’t.’ Yeah. Well, Code Name: Mama has countered this DISlikey with some stark statistics that I found (obvious and) interesting. A great thing to trot out next time someone says you are being too soft on your kids.

Next up? I’m sure most of us have heard of skin-to-skin, or kangaroo, care. This is encouraged as a matter of fact after birth here in Country B, and research has shown it to be a huge benefit to preemies. That being said, when I was pregnant we were told if the babies were born early we wouldn’t be ‘allowed’ to ‘handle them’ much. Oh yeah? This mum in Australia gave birth to twins at 27 weeks – and her son was declared dead. After two hours of skin-to-skin cuddles, talking, and a wee snifter of breastmilk, well…a miracle.

And the third and final link of the evening: babywearing. I think we all know of a certain babywearing blog focusing on wearing twins that put up lots of cool videos and informative posts, but it’s sort of defunct now that the said mama is no longer really babywearing. *ahem*  That certain mama is still getting emails and messages from around the world, and the word ‘guru’ has been bandied about. I…I mean, that mama….thought she would link you through to the woman who was her guru.

This page has tons and tons of videos showing different wrap carries. Many are for wearing two babies/toddlers/children, but there are also a shitton focusing on just one kid. We’re talking front carries, back carries, torso carries – you name it, it’s probably here. She also invented the double tandem wrap carry that I used most often with Snort and Coconut. Go. Be amazed. Learn.

So. Did you see anything on the ol’ interwebs that you think myself or the readers of this blog might be interested in? I know this circumcision decision flow chart was my favourite image of the week – aside from the gazillion pictures of my own kids I took!

Parenting: How we roll.

March 31, 2010

So, some thoughts on how and why we do certain things. You know, our ‘parenting approach.’ I’m going to stay away from wider labels, as I don’t know how helpful they are in the day-to-day of our lives. My choices are not picking on your choices, should they not happen to match. I know there are gazillions of ways to parent, and only on a selective few topics do I really believe that the way we do things is a way other people should try. Most of the stuff is down to each of us as individuals, and I’m not about to shit on your parenting parade.

Circumcision – This is a huge NO for us. We would not consider circumcising Snort; luckily we live in a country where it’s the norm to leave baby boys and their pee-pees alone, but we would have taken this decision regardless. I view circumcision as a violation of another person’s body. He might be a baby, but he does have his own personhood and I’m not about to make irreversible choices that are largely cosmestic.

This seems linked with my idea about babies who are born intersexed – that is, with both male and female genitals. I have known several adults who had their parents make a choice for them when they were days or hours old, and I have never known an adult who was pleased their parents did this.

Sleeping arrangements – Our bed is not big enough for cosleeping, and I don’t know how open we would have been to it in the first place. That being said, when the babies were little that IS what we did – albeit falling asleep while feeding twins in the middle of the night probably isn’t to be encouraged, but we woke up plenty of times with snug little babies in bed. Mainly, though, the babies coslept with each other.

Snort and Coconut shared a crib until they were six months old. This crib was in our room, pulled up next to our bed. The side facing us was lowered, with only about 8 inches of bars above the mattress. By the time they were four and five months old, it took some creative arranging to keep them sharing. By six months, it was a problem. Our room does not have space for two cribs, so they moved into the second bedroom then.

It wasn’t really that bad of a transition, though I think Snort had a couple of wee problems at the beginning. (Coconut sleeps like a brick shithouse.) The past couple of weeks Snort and sleeping have gotten all jacked up, and it is getting to be a ritual to let him in our bed at about 5 am, and occasionally Coconut instead or as well. It’s nice.

Getting babies to sleep – We are not fans of crying it out. I do know many parents do this for valid reasons, but the ones who do it because they want their six week old to go to sleep on their own so they can have a life of their own? Uh, no. I do judge.

Our babies go to sleep between 7-8 every night, sometimes a wee bit later. They fall asleep with us in the lounge – in their bouncy chairs, on our laps, or while being worn in a sling. Once they are asleep, we pop them into their cribs and that is that.Should they wake up in the night – though this is rare – we go to them and cuddle them.

Routine – Apparently I’m a fucked up twin mom, because we do not do routine. I know around 6 weeks I felt desperate and like I should try some routine and began reading lots of scary books. Plus, every book on twin parenting was all about slamming them onto a schedule as quickly as possible.

That’s not how I roll.

As the babies have gotten older, their body rhythms have set a certain natural schedule that doesn’t change  much day to day. Wake up, play, milk feed, nap. Wake up, solid feed, play, usually nap, milk feed. Play, nap, maybe another solid feed. Milk feed, play, then down for the night. Their fourth milk feed happens around 10 or 11, Coconut sleeps through this, Snort wakes up but barely.

Vaccinations – We vaccinate. For us, it makes sense. That being said, we started them a bit late and have had them quite spread out. In our country, you cannot be selective about what jabs you want or not – they are often all mixed in one vial. Our solution to make us feel better is to have two month gaps between each set, which is why they fairly recently finished the course that ‘should’ be finished at four months.

Babywearing – Obviously, we babywear. Not to the point of obsession, but when it is useful. When they were little, ‘useful’ meant the early evening when they went apeshit for no apparent reason. Now, ‘useful’ means out in public rather than a stroller (my body permitting), in the house for naps sometimes, when they are sick and want cuddles, etc.

Feeding (solids) – We do Baby Led Weaning and I have NO hesitations about recommending this as a great option for anyone with a baby six months plus. Though I encourage education – it’s not just about skipping purees, it’s about your babies having choices that are respected. Gill Rapley’s book is excellent.

We chose this as we want our children to know about the real tastes and textures of food from the start. The side benefit is increased development of fine motor skills and problem solving skills. We also want them to develop healthy relationships with food and trust themselves.

We have never given a puree or spoonfed, with the exception of the babies spoonfeeding themselves yogurt or oatmeal. (And indeed, I think me spoonfeeding two babies would be a fucking nightmare.)

TMD and I are vegetarians and have no problem with either/both babies eating meat if they want, but thus far they’ve had a vegetarian (and largely vegan) diet. This is because touching meat would make TMD throw up, and because while I probably could cook it without gagging too much, I would also likely poison the babies as I do not know how to cook meat.

Milk feeds – Our milk is powdered and comes in a can, served up in a bottle. I have written about my struggles to breastfeed in this blog, but probably nothing near the truth of what it was like. I loved breastfeeding; I never had a sore nipple or anything but pleasure. That being said, it did not work. If you want to know more about why, please read this. I was tempted to cross post it here and still may do, but in the meantime click the link.

That being said, we bottlefeed in a way that mimics breastfeeding. I usually only feed one baby at a time. I always hold them. I have never prop fed. I allow them to feed on demand, and in some ways they are living a singleton type life in terms of not being pounded into tandem feeds of proscribed amounts of milk. They drink as much or as little as they choose, when they choose. This is roughly every four hours, but as they eat more, this stretches out.

Rather than dropping milk feeds (which we don’t want them to do at this young age!!) they simply spread them out. Smart. See, you can trust babies to sort themselves out in terms of food…

(though when they were newborn and there were big problems with weight and dehydration due to the aforementioned breastfeeding issues, we were on a strict schedule of needing them to eat every three hours maximum)

Education – I am fascinated by unschooling, but for TMD it is an absolute no. This is fine by me. When it is time, our kids will attend a local school – preferably one with no ties to any religion. Not that we are so attached to Buddhism that our kids can’t experience other sorts, but more than Christian values (please, I do not  mean to offend) can be intolerant, and we don’t want that for our children. You know, and their two mums.

Natural parenting – we do it. I’m not saying I am 100% clear on what that means, but for us it means trying to have a more holistic approach to things. We don’t really give medicine (though would, of course, if it were needed), and would prefer to try other stuff than dosing them up. For example: teething necklaces made from baltic amber. Say what you will, but when our kids wore them every day (there is a cumulative effect, apparently, it’s not a as-and-when type thing) they were happy. Coco’s is now missing and presumably covered in rotting yogurt, and since not using them we have red cheeks, red bottoms, more crying.

I am really a total fucking skeptic, but a total fucking skeptic who wants to believe, you know? And I would rather try to avoid seeing ignoring your baby in an outward facing stroller, spoonfeeding nightmares, and giving them baby aspirin for every little thing as the norm.

Diapers – we use disposables.  There was every plan to use cloth nappies if we were only having one baby, but along came two. We live in a climate where you can’t hang things out to dry, where it is rare to own a dryer anyway, and where we had limited floor space to air dry in the house. When they were newborn, we did three loads of laundry a day to keep up with things – cloth nappies would have been a giant, horrid nightmare. Now that diapering is changing, I am starting to consider making the switch. We’ll see. That being said, I feel little guilt (please don’t stone me) about using disposables because we are actually very very super green in all other aspects of our life.

How I am with them, in general – they make me laugh. I have never gotten angry with either of them. I am quite silly and, uh, unrestrained in my fucking weirdness – but much like people in the real world, it seems to make the babies like me more. I talk to them a lot, I make up inappropriate rap songs, etc etc. I kiss them roughly twenty million times a day, each.

I am also a worrier. I have nightmares of them stopping breathing. I try to be super relaxed about health issues, because really they are super duper healthy, but sometimes reading the blogs of less fortunate babies (and parents) terrifies me to my core.

Twin things – We started a chart in hospital to help with breastfeeding. This is a piece of paper on a clipboard, with a watch on it. We are still keeping track of every poop, every feed, and solid foods – along with notes of reactions they may have. This chart also keeps track of their meds. With two babies, it can be difficult to remember who did what when, and sometimes that is important to know.

People say I am super organized when they come over, even before they see the chart, but really – as a parent of twins, you just have to have these little extra ways to help sort things out. It’s not that I am organized or anal, it is that I have two babies.

Sticky hands – Sticky hands have always made me feel ill. I hate when my hands are el grosso. That being said, 20 minutes ago I thought nothing of sliding my thumbs along the very oozy and goopy passionfruit halves to help loosen the stuff along the bottom for the babies. BLW is making me enjoy and appreciate mess, and that is just about miraculous.

There. Did I hit everything up? How many of you did I alienate?