Should Your Baby
Boy Be Circumcised?
There are many things that parents may be unprepared for about their new baby. One thing that you may not know about is a decision you will probably be expected to make if you have a baby boy.
Every baby boy is born with a foreskin which covers and protects the glans or “head” of his penis. You must decide whether or not you wish to have this part of your baby’s body cut off. The operation of cutting off the foreskin is called circumcision.
CIRCUMCISION OF BABY BOYS IS NOT NECESSARY
It will not make your baby healthier or cleaner. Please give careful, serious thought about whether or not you wish to have this done to your baby.
Why is Circumcision Done?
Religious Beliefs: Jewish people traditionally believe that their baby boys must be circumcised for religious reasons. There is a special ceremony for the occasion which usually takes place on the eighth day of the baby’s life. If you are Jewish, please seriously consider how much the Abrahamic Covenant truly means to you. If you are considering circumcising your baby simply for health or social reasons, rather than religious reasons, then you should question this operation along with everyone else. Today even many Jewish parents question this aspect of their faith, choosing to have a Brit Milah ceremony for their newborn sons. This is a positive celebration of the Jewish faith and heritage of the child without cutting the baby. See Jewish Resources on this site.
Circumcision is not a part of the Christian religion. There are several places in the New Testament which clearly state this. Until the 20th century Christians were rarely circumcised.
Medical Reasons: Many years ago doctors believed that circumcision would prevent masturbation. At that time people believed that masturbation caused insanity. Today it is known that masturbation is harmless. Besides circumcision does not prevent boys from handling their penises.
Also, years ago many doctors believed that cutting off the foreskin would prevent certain diseases and make males cleaner. Today it has been learned that these beliefs were wrong.
Does Circumcision Prevent any Diseases?
Circumcision does not prevent cancer of the cervix (the opening of the uterus) in women. Studies have shown that women married to men who are not circumcised are no more likely to get cancer of the cervix than women who are married to circumcised men.
Cancer of the penis is rare in men who have been circumcised. However, the disease is extremely rare anyway. Men in Europe and many other parts of the world where circumcision is not practiced do not get cancer of the penis any more frequently than do men in the United States where circumcision is practiced.
Men who have cancer of the penis are almost always people who hardly ever wash or take baths. If someone has normal standards of cleanliness it is extremely unlikely that he will ever acquire this rare disease.
Circumcision does not prevent cancer of the prostate gland. It also does not prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
What About AIDS?
AIDS is a terrible problem in the United States in spite of the fact that most American men are circumcised. AIDS is about the same or less of a problem in Europe even though most European men are not circumcised.
In one study of African men who frequently visited prostitutes, AIDS has occurred more frequently among non-circumcised men. However, the author of this study does not conclude that all African men should therefore be circumcised or that these findings are important to Americans and their lifestyles (or for people in other developed countries).
Personal responsibility about sexual practices and partner(s), cleanliness practices, and use of condoms are all important factors in preventing AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Hopefully in the future a vaccine will be developed that will offer true protection from AIDS. No one is protected from AIDS or any similar diseases simply because he is circumcised.
What About Urinary Tract Infections?
Some recent studies have found that intact babies were somewhat more likely to have urinary tract infections than circumcised babies. Other studies have found these types of infections to be extremely rare. Urinary tract infections can be caused by many things (besides whether or not the baby is circumcised.) A urinary tract infection can be easily treated with antibiotics. And there are ways that urinary tract infections can be prevented without resorting to surgery.
Keeping the baby with the mother from birth on and away from foreign germs in hospital nurseries, breastfeeding, and leaving the foreskin entirely alone during infancy have all been posed by medical sources as reasonable ways to prevent urinary tract infections.
Didn’t the American Academy of Pediatrics Reverse its’ Stand on Circumcision in 1989?
During the 1970’s and early 1980’s the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that circumcising babies was unnecessary. They called it “…not an essential component of total health care.” However, they never were against infant circumcision, so they never did have a stand to reverse.
In 1989, in part because of the above mentioned studies about urinary tract infections, they stated that circumcision “… may have some health benefits, as well as some definite disadvantages and risks.” When read over carefully, their new statement does not say much more than did their statements in the past.
Unfortunately some headlines and write-ups in newspapers and magazines, written by lay people (who possibly wanted to believe that circumcision has benefits) did not tell the truth. Some of these reports were misleading because they made it sound as if the AAP was more pro-circumcision than they truly are. In truth, their stand has always been neutral.
In 1999 the American Academy of Pediatrics has re-stated that “…(current medical data) is not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal (newborn) circumcision.” And that “…the procedure is not essential to the child’s current well-being…”
Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a statement that is somewhat more biased towards promoting infant circumcision. Every other medical organization in other parts of the world * has come out against routine circumcision (or has at least verified its non-necessity.) With their most recent statement the American Academy of Pediatrics has entirely ignored the matters of personal body ownership (since no baby can consent to circumcision), infant trauma, and the protective and sensual function of the foreskin. They have also trivialized the multitude of devastating injuries and deaths resulting from circumcision complications. (If a toy or other product were to cause as many injuries or deaths as has circumcision it would be quickly taken off the market.) The AAP has been sent numerous medical documentations of these and other matters, which they have apparently ignored. We suspect that medical arrogance because a grass roots movement opposing circumcision has been successfully influencing the public has skewed their stand (even though this movement includes countless doctors and other medical professionals). We believe that financial incentives have also held sway since there is much money to be made from circumcising babies. Parents or insurance companies pay for the operation. Infant foreskin tissue is then sold to pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies for use in various skin care products. * Circumcision Position Statements of Medical Societies Worldwide
I Thought All Baby Boys Were Circumcised.
In most parts of the world circumcision is not practiced and boys grow up with their foreskins intact. Only in the United States and a few other countries such as Canada is this operation done as a routine medical practice.
In the United States today many parents still have their babies circumcised. Often this is because they are confused about the issue or are going along with a hospital procedure without thinking.
However, today many American parents are choosing to leave their baby boys intact because they know that the operation is not necessary and is painful for the baby.
If My Little Boy Isn’t Circumcised, Won’t He Feel Different From His Friends?
No parent can know for sure how his/her son will feel about either being circumcised or having his foreskin. Today more American baby boys are circumcised than are not. However, it is no longer something that everybody does. Many parents do choose not to have it done. In fact in some parts of the country many more boys are left intact than are circumcised. Therefore, your son will almost certainly have other friends who are intact.
A boy who is circumcised might wonder why part of his body was cut off, and may resent it when he learns that circumcision is not necessary.
It is very easy to explain the difference between being circumcised and being intact to a child — something which you will probably have to explain to him whether he is circumcised or not. Children are normally curious about the physical differences between boys and girls and between children and adults. However, most children seem to be only mildly curious about the circumcised and intact penises.
My Husband is Circumcised. Shouldn’t Our Son Be The Same as His Father?
Some circumcised fathers believe that this is important. Other such fathers want their sons to have the foreskins that they lack. When those of us who are adults today were born our parents usually knew very little about medical practices and probably accepted whatever the doctors or hospital routine did. Today most people know much more about these things and are more likely to question medical procedures.
There are many, many families today in which the father is circumcised and the son is intact. This does not normally cause any problems for the family.
I Already Have a Son Who is Circumcised. Shouldn’t Brothers Be Alike?
Even a few years ago circumcision was often such an automatic thing following birth in hospitals that most parents did not question it the way people do today. For this reason there are many families that have an older son who is circumcised and a younger son who is intact. Most children understand the difference very easily and it isn’t a problem. There are even families with two, three, and more circumcised sons and a younger brother who is intact. There are also families with one older circumcised son with several intact little brothers. (We have even heard of twin boys of which one was circumcised and the other left intact.) Even this is seldom a problem for the family.
Does Circumcision Make a Male Cleaner?
When circumcision was first practiced back in prehistoric times by primitive people and later became a religious ceremony, it had nothing to do with cleanliness.
If someone does not bathe very often he may have problems with his foreskin. But he will almost certainly have the same kind of problems with many other parts of his body.
Cleanliness is not difficult for someone with an intact foreskin. Regular showers or baths are all that is necessary to keep clean. Washing ones toes, ears, and most other body parts usually take more time and attention than washing under ones foreskin.
In some countries girls are circumcised for many of the same reasons that we circumcise boys. They believe that this makes girls and women cleaner. In this country girls are not circumcised. Yet we know that girls and women can keep themselves clean easily.
There is no other part of the body that people cut off to keep from having to clean it. Nobody cuts off their ears to keep from having to wash them. Nobody cuts off their toes so they won’t have to clean out the dirt between them.
Can There Be Problems With Circumcision?
All medical procedures can result in complications. Most circumcised babies heal within a few days without any problems. However, some babies bleed too much and have to have emergency treatment. Some babies develop infections of the circumcision wound. Sometimes too much skin gets cut off and babies have to have special operations to replace the lost skin. There are rare cases in which babies have died from circumcision. There are also rare cases in which baby boys have lost their penises due to circumcision and have been surgically changed into girls.
Many circumcised babies get painful sores on the glans of the penis around the opening where urine comes out. This is caused by ammonia from the urine in the baby’s diapers. This hurts the baby and can be difficult to treat. If a baby boy is not circumcised, his foreskin protects the more sensitive glans from urine burns. If his foreskin gets a little bit red or irritated it is simply protecting his glans from urine burns which are usually a much bigger problem.
Does Circumcision Make Sex Better?
No. There is no truth to the idea that circumcised men last longer or have better sexual experiences.
The foreskin is a sensitive part of the body. Some sexual feelings are lost if this skin has been cut off.
The foreskin also protects the head or glans of the penis. For this reason, the glans is more sensitive if the man has not been circumcised.
Some people claim that sex is more likely to be painful if the man has been circumcised because a foreskin makes sexual penetration easier.
Some men who have been circumcised as adults and could compare their sexual experiences before and after have claimed that sex was better before their foreskins were cut off.
Does Circumcision Hurt the Baby? Yes!
This is what happens when a baby is circumcised. First he is placed on his back on a plastic board where his arms and legs are strapped down. Then the doctor takes an instrument and tightly pinches the end of his foreskin and cuts a slit in it to make a bigger opening. After that he tears the foreskin away from the glans. There are different ways that the foreskin can be cut off. Sometimes the foreskin is pulled up over the glans, smashed together with a metal device and then sliced off. By another method a small metal “bell” is placed under his foreskin and over his glans. Then a large metal clamp goes down over his penis and crushes his foreskin against the metal bell. After that it is cut off. There is yet another method in which a plastic “bell” is used. Instead of a clamp, a string is tied around the outside of his foreskin over the bell. Then part of the foreskin is trimmed away and the rest dries up and falls off with the piece of plastic in about a week.
When skin is pinched, torn, clamped, and cut — this HURTS!! This hurts a person no matter how old he is! Babies are sensitive and aware of their surroundings. There is no truth to the idea that babies do not feel pain! People usually want to treat babies with a lot of love and gentleness. Cutting and pinching the baby’s skin is not what most people want for their babies.
Usually no anesthesia is used when babies are circumcised. Most babies struggle, scream and cry when it is done. But some babies are so overcome with pain that they cannot cry! Often babies fall into a deep, “withdrawal” type of sleep after the operation.
Many people believe that this traumatic operation can cause long lasting psychological damage to the child.
(Imagine the type of pain that you would feel if you smashed your hand in a car door!)
Can Babies Be Given an Anesthetic for Circumcision?
Babies are sometimes put under with general anesthesia when they have to have serious, necessary surgery. However, giving general anesthesia to an infant is dangerous and expensive so doctors do not wish to use it when circumcising a baby. (General anesthesia is usually used when an older child or adult is circumcised.)
Some doctors today give babies local anesthesia before performing circumcision. This is similar to the type of shot people are given when they go to the dentist to have a cavity filled.
A local anesthetic will numb the baby’s penis so that he feels less pain during the actual operation. However, being circumcised is still an upsetting experience for an infant. Local anesthesia also can cause a stinging, burning sensation when it enters body tissues.
Simply being tied down and worked on itself is stressful for a baby. Local anesthesia involves two shots injected directly into the penis, which is also painful. The anesthetic will wear off quickly after the operation is over. However, the fresh circumcision wound will be raw and sore for several days until it heals. Newly circumcised babies usually feel a stinging sensation every time they urinate.
There are also some minor complications such as bruising of the area that can happen when local anesthesia is used.
Some doctors claim that babies seem to be just as upset when being circumcised with a local anesthetic as they are when no anesthesia is used.
What If He Has to be Circumcised When He is Older?
Circumcision is very rarely necessary for medical reasons. Conditions such as an infected foreskin or one that is tight can be treated without cutting it off. There are some doctors who recommend surgery for conditions that can be solved more simply. If you leave your son intact, and if a doctor ever recommends that your son be circumcised, you (or he when he is older) should get a second (or even a third or fourth!) opinion from another doctor before having it done.
There is no reason to believe that circumcision is more painful for someone older than it is for an infant. A boy or man is just more able to complain about it. It is true that babies heal more rapidly than older children or adults. It is also true that babies usually do not need stitches, while stitches are usually taken when a child or an adult is circumcised.
On the other hand a boy or man is usually given general anesthesia for circumcision, while an infant is awake and usually feels the full impact of the operation. Also a baby’s penis is in contact with wet and dirty diapers while it heals, while a boy or man does not have this problem. But most importantly, if a boy or man is circumcised, he is able to understand what is being done to his body.
When a boy or a man recovers from being circumcised, the discomfort appears to be similar to the type of soreness that a woman feels if she is given stitches (episiotomy) after she has a baby.
Can He Have Problems if He is Not Circumcised?
Some intact little boys do have problems. They can develop infections of the foreskin. Sometimes the foreskin is tightly stuck to the head of the penis and cannot be pulled back. Another problem happens if his foreskin gets pulled back behind the head of the penis and becomes painfully swollen and will not go back. However, these problems can be easily prevented! These problems all can happen if you or someone else forces his foreskin loose before it is ready to be pulled back.
In almost all newborn baby boys the foreskin is tightly sealed to the glans and the opening is a tiny pinhole. This is normal. The foreskin should NOT be loosened or forced back during infancy. Doing this is painful for the baby and causes problems. Leave your baby’s foreskin alone!
Your baby’s foreskin will loosen naturally by itself by the time he is anywhere from a few months old to a few years old. For some boys, the foreskin may not be completely loosened until they are in their teens. But — YOUR DOCTOR MAY NOT KNOW THIS. Some doctors do not know very much about intact babies and believe that they should loosen the baby’s foreskin. You may have to share this information with your doctor by showing him this booklet or other publications about this. If your little boy is intact, talk this over with your doctor and tell him not to loosen your baby’s foreskin — before you take your son in for an examination. If you are expecting a baby and are planning not to circumcise, talk this over with your doctor before the baby is born and make sure that no one tries to loosen your baby’s foreskin in the hospital nursery.
Some Final Considerations
Most men and boys appear to be happy with themselves the way they are. Most circumcised males are content with being circumcised. Most intact males are glad that they are intact. However, there are some circumcised males that wish they did have foreskins. And there are some intact males who wish that they were circumcised.
If someone is intact and would rather be circumcised, he can always have it done very easily. However, if someone is circumcised and wishes that he had his foreskin, he cannot grow another one.
A baby does not have a choice about whether or not he will keep his foreskin or get it cut off. All parts of someone’s body actually belong to that person. Your baby’s foreskin is his just as are his toes, fingers, ears, and all other parts of his body. There is growing feeling that cutting a baby’s foreskin off, when it is not medically or perhaps religiously necessary, is taking something away from that child which he perhaps would rather have.
13020 Sues Way
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© January 1982
(Revised – 2012, Edited 2013)
Text by Rosemary Romberg
Illustrations by Rosemary Romberg and by Kathleen Watt
Second printing: March 1982
Third printing: May 1982
Fourth printing: June 1982
Fifth printing: August 1982
Sixth printing: June 1983
Seventh printing: May 1984
Eighth printing: April 1985
Ninth printing: August 1986