My wife and I are expecting a baby boy in October. It's our first. I never anticipated the dialogue that has been sparked by our inaugural pregnancy: Will a pink burping towel really offend our son's burgeoning masculinity? Will dolls with long hair send the wrong message? How much do I care about other people's reaction to my parenting style?
Most recently the question came up: should our son be circumcised? Note the passive voice - I don't intend to do any snipping, nor do I know who will. However, I will be asked for permission. Nothing makes men shift uncomfortably in their seats more than a discussion about circumcision. And with good reason - the penis is important (and, incidentally, very sensitive).
Should I be making this decision? Would it be considerate or cruel to wait until our son could make this choice for himself? (I am willing to pay). I am circumcised. My father is not. Although I broached the awkward topic with my mother once, I'm still unsure what prompted them to make the choice for me. Sure, it's customary in America. But she claims that the nurses didn't pressure them. Maybe my dad was made fun of. That didn't seem to be the reason either. It seems that I was circumcised because, you know, why not?
The cost-benefit calculus is unclear to me. While circumcision used to provide a connection to God, that isn't the case anymore (at least not officially). And while circumcision is arguably more "modern" it is unarguably less natural. It is true that some studies point to unclean, uncircumcised penises as the cause of high rates of childhood urinary-tract infection. Sure, it's hard to clean behind the ears, too, but we don't cut them off. Proponents of circumcision point to studies that conclude the procedure can protect against the transmission of HIV, or the development of penile cancer. Opponents point to studies that claim circumcision can lead to an increased risk of developing gonorrhea and chlamydia. And nobody is sure about the traumatic effects on the infant. (Traumatic effect on parents negated by progressive insurance plan).
One recent study claims that an uncircumcised penis is significantly more sensitive; the removed foreskin contains five specific regions that are more sensitive than the most sensitive location on a circumcised penis (the circumcised scar on the ventral surface). Another study claims that women who have dual experience prefer "anatomically complete" men overwhelmingly to circumcised men. And the Jewish "Circumcision Resource Center" points to medical and psychological research when they "conclude that circumcision is not advisable."
Ultimately, the evidence in favor of circumcision seems no more compelling than arguments against, in which case I am inclined to leave my boy the way he comes. Circumcising our son seems like a pretty severe response to "everyone's doing it; it's a social more." On the other hand, my wife points out the aesthetic advantage of snipping. And I hear her on that: purple mushrooms unite! Is it wrong to conform to cultural convention? We won't be circumcising our daughters, and will probably encourage them to limit their body piercings. So maybe I'm a pawn after all, a rambouillet to my peers.
Or maybe I'd just like my son to look like me.