Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Should my Son be Circumcised?

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.


Kikuchiyo said...

Don't do it!!!

There's no need. Its modern origins don't go back to Abraham but to Victorian attempts to get boys to stop masturbating by removing that sensitive piece of magic. Well circumcision didn't stop boys from masturbating (according to the extremely limited study I've conducted since I was, say, 13), but it did significantly lower the sensitivity of its victims.

I see no compelling health reason. Our hygiene technology is a bit more advanced than Abraham's. There is certainly no religious reason for LDS folks to go either way (except for our appreciation of sex that has such an eternal magnitude - which nudges me towards keeping the foreskin). The token of discipleship Christ gave is to love one another as He loves us. The tokens of our covenants are something else - but none of them include surgically mutilating any genitals.

The best argument for the procedure that anyone ever comes up with is the terrifying junior high locker room scenario that scares you into decreasing your son's sexual pleasure for the sake of helping him fit in. Does anyone even shower at school anymore? I always just changed back and forth at my locker and never put the jewels on display for anyone.

Besides, if you leave the foreskin alone and your son gets too uncomfortable as a teen at school, he can always still choose to have it sliced off (and deal with the trauma consciously and in a much less tender state). At the same time, if he skates through school without becoming a penile pariah, he will still have all of his precious nerve endings that he could never have had surgically reattached should you have chosen to attack him at birth.

I say, leave it up to him, let him have better sex than you or I will ever know, and let his wife reap the benefits as well (the foreskin keeps the lubrication in - it serves multiple purposes). Or let him cut it up as a conscious, accountable agent if peer pressure pushes him in that direction.

I will never circumcise any son of mine.

D. Largitor said...

There is certainly no religious reason for LDS folks to go either way (except for our appreciation of sex that has such an eternal magnitude - which nudges me towards keeping the foreskin).

So it seems that man in his perfect, resurrected state will be fully covered. Hmmmm....

Regarding masturbation, one of the studies I read said that circumcised men were more likely to masturbate supposedly because they weren't fulfilled by intercourse. (This seems to support your own personal study).

However, your original explanation makes more sense to me.

Dave said...

So...you'll be sitting around one day with your son and say "Son we're both mutilated now and ain't it grand?" You're funny.

Chris M. G said...

It seems to me that you can't avoid making this choice for your child. If you do it, obviously there is no unringing that bell. On the other hand, if I hadn't been circumsized as a baby I can't imagine choosing to go through it now that I comprehend and will fully remember the procedure. So if you choose not to have it done, you might be locking him in to that choice too. Being a parent seems tough.

Matilda R. said...

It seems (and you claim that) no one is sure of the traumatic effects on the child. First of all, the kid just went through the entire birthing process; is circumcision really the most traumatic thing we need to worry about?

And Kikuchiyo, are you saying that conscious and memorable trauma is preferable to neonatal, unconscious trauma?

Finally, speaking as an American (aka Western) woman, I have to say that there is just something aesthetically pleasing about a circumcised penis. Sorry, you'll have to blame Michelangelo's "David" and the porn industry for shaping my (and hundreds of women's) view on this issue. For pleasure? Sure, maybe with my eyes closed. But...ew!!

Jamie Trwth said...

Don't do it. (agree with Kikuchiyo)

There are arguments about how contracting HIV is higher in uncircumcised men as well as other sexually transmitted diseases. But a great way to circumvent (pardon the pun) this is to be tested and have your partner tested. And if you’re both virgins, there is no issue of disease. Some people look to science for the answers, but cutting off about 25% of the skin on your son’s penis because he might get HIV in the future is not the answer we are looking for.

There are arguments about having your son look like you. Well he does have your DNS so in a sense he will look like both of you. Besides aren’t we all supposed to correct the mistakes our parents made on us. They were only doing that they knew was best at the time. But this is a different time and a different place. And besides that how many times are you and your going to be naked together? We shouldn’t feel awkward about our sons asking us questions about their bodies.

There are arguments about women liking the looks of a man that is circumcised. Lets face it most women don’t like to look at it at all. So what’s the point of circumcising if women are put off by our Johnson no matter how it looks.

There are arguments about circumcising boys to stop masturbating. Graham Crackers and Corn Flakes. Both products were invented to stop boys from masturbating. These products are the staples of your live and still boy, as well as men, masturbate. There is an old saying . . . . 90% of men masturbate and the other 10% are liars.

There are arguments about health and there are arguments about Abraham. Imagine if you were wondering in the desert full of sand and not a lot of water to drink not to mention to wash yourself, you would be one dirty individual. The children of Israel were desert wonderers. I believe God foresaw his people dying off due to poor hygiene. Hence circumcision was manifest. Today we have enough water and sanitary conditions that we do not need to be circumcised because we don’t have plenty of water near by. Teach your boy to wash properly simple and plain.

Not only is a foreskin wonderful for sex (if it wasn’t why is it there), it is also covering an internal organ. The Prepuce. Just as the clitoris is an internal organ covered by skin so is the tip of a man penis. As a country, if we advocated the purposefulness of female circumcision, we would no longer be in the UN and Oprah would take her money from this God forsaken Union and live in the English countryside right next to Guy and Madonna.

Jamie Trwth