Mike and I were sitting in our apartment talking about the distant future.
“If we have a son, I want him to be circumcised,” I said.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because…” but the rest of the speech didn’t follow. Because it’ll look weird? Because guys should just be circumcised? For religion, tradition, any other number of excuses? Health, cleanliness? But I didn’t know the first thing about those ideas.
But that day, I decided to find out.
Religion and appearance get cited a lot as factors in deciding to circumcise. There are also concerns about cleanliness and STD rates. So, let’s talk about those and the reason I didn’t get my son cut:
1. “Circumcised boys get 10 times fewer urinary tract infections.”
This is true…but you’d believe UTIs are running amok. In reality, 1 in 1,000 circumcised boys will get UTIs in the first year compared to 1 in 100 uncircumcised boys. That still means that at least 99% of boys, regardless of cut, will NOT get UTIs in the first year. Circumcision has no impact on UTI rates after the first year. There are also other ways to prevent UTIs besides circumcision.
2. “But…sexually transmitted disease!”
Circumcision has been found to cut HIV risk for men ONLY in countries like Africa. By as much as 60%. But even the World Health Organization says other methods are more important…and no study shows that this translates to countries like the United States. About 1.2 million people are living with HIV in the US. Almost 50,000 people were diagnosed with HIV in 2013, while an estimated 27,000 were diagnosed with AIDS. Just over 1 million boys a year are circumcised in hospitals in the US, with between 50 – 60% of baby boys total getting circumcised now. That rate is far lower in most western European countries. Oddly, their STD rate is also lower than in the US. Maybe we should just teach our kids that there are better methods to prevent STDs than getting cut?
3. “He’ll look weird.”
As this map shows, circumcision rates are falling. They remain high in states where insurance continues to cover it. But, other than that, most kids born today are not going to be freaks in the gym locker room. Times, they are a-changing.
There are tons of guides on how to clean an intact boy’s penis. Most problems related to not getting circumcised, like phimosis, in which the foreskin can’t retract over the glans, do not necessarily require circumcision. Steroid creams and foreskin stretching are common go-tos. And even pathological phimosis is just not that common — affecting about .6% of boys by the time they turn 15. Balanitis is another problem uncircumcised boys may have, commonly caused by not cleaning away soap. But again, antifungal creams, steroid creams and related treatments are go-to options. Only in severe cases is circumcision likely to be necessary.
5. “Getting circumcised doesn’t really hurt. My son was fine!”
Babies are generally strapped down on their backs for circumcision. While some hospitals use anesthetics, many do not. My son was delivered at Hutzel Hospital and I was told that babies were only offered pacifiers with sugar water…no anesthetic, no pain relief after. But circumcision still carry risk — babies have died, others have infection, others have had their penises damaged or amputated, even if this risk remains small. There’s also the fact that current research shows that newborns really do feel pain. There’s even the possibility that they feel it more strongly than do adults.
I made the decision not to circumcise my son because I believe this is his body. I feel it’s his choice to decide whether or not he should be cut. While this analogy is certainly less serious, I liken it to an ear piercing: my daughter should get to decide what to do with her ears when she can understand the risks and complications. I would only have my son circumcised if the benefits clearly and moderately outweighed the risks — which they don’t.
No major medical organization in the world endorses circumcision. The Royal Dutch Medical Association says “no.” The World Health Organization (WHO) is only focused on circumcision in countries like Africa to reduce HIV. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend universal male circumcision either, though it also does not condemn it.
Still, I believe in the right of every parent to make his or her decision for their son. I purposely avoided obviously biased sources for this post. Unfortunately, “intactivists” often get a bad reputation for extreme viewpoints. I want you to understand my reasoning…not feel attacked by it.