Recently, a friend was thinking about having her newborn son circumcised. I felt very strongly that I should try and convince her not to do it. At the time, I did not have the information to be able to provide a convincing enough argument. After speaking with some medical practitioners my friend decided to go ahead with the procedure on her son, citing things like infection was more likely in boys with foreskins and the confusion he would he feel when he looked at his father and saw that they were not the same. These seem to be some of the most common reasons people do go ahead with circumcision. Another common and well-known reason is because of religious beliefs and customs. However, interestingly, there is a group called Jews Against Circumcision who are working to counsel families about making the decision. In their book, "Birthing from Within", Pam England C.N.M., M.A. and Rob Horowitz PhD. write that circumcision came into practice as a result of anti-masturbation hysteria in the late 1800's. People worried that if a boy had a foreskin, when he cleaned his penis it would lead to masturbation and that masturbation would lead to insanity. It was also thought in the 19th century that circumcision was a way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. Both of these things have since been disproved.
In the case of my friend there was probably nothing I could have said to her to change her mind. But I hope that some of the evidence below might give any parents who are still considering the operation pause for thought. Here are 5 reasons why I would NOT have my newborn son circumcised.
#1: It is Emotionally and Physically Painful for Your Child
It is believed by some that the pain response in babies is a reflex or that babies do not remember pain experienced as a result of circumcision in the long term. This is an outmoded belief, but even recent books like "Baby Wise", by authors Gary Ezzo, M.A. and Robert Bucknam, M.D. suggest that "circumcision is not the traumatic experience that some portray". They suggest circumcision is minor surgery and liken any memory of discomfort as a result of the procedure to the baby's heel being pricked with a heel stick. What they do not mention, however, is that the prick of a baby's heel is something which heals and leaves no scar. The heel also is not known to contain the number of sensitive nerve endings which are found in the foreskin.
In her book, "Gentle Birth Choices", Barbara Harper, R.N., writes that parents should be aware of the potential pain and trauma the procedure of circumcision can have on their sons. Sarah J. Buckley M.D. writes that severe stresses in infants (which include circumcision) should be avoided where possible in the first one to two years of the child's life. According to her this reduces exposure to hyperarousal/dissociation chemistry in the brain, which leads to cell death in the limbic part of the brain and possibly to mental health issues which may last a lifetime.
According to Harper, current research suggests that babies are able to experience pain at birth and also in the womb, from as early as twenty weeks gestation. She writes that the pain of undergoing circumcision may cause deep psychological scarring and that the quality of the newborn's birth experience can have a significant influence on the individual's behaviour in later life.
The physical healing of circumcision is said to take 7-10 days. The same cannot be said for any emotional pain or trauma that the child may experience due to this operation.
#2: It does not give your Baby a Choice about Something which is Irreversible
This is a decision parents make for their child which will last a lifetime and something which there is no way to undo. Parents look at possible risks (which are suggested by many authors to be disproved or insignificant compared to the risks of going ahead with the operation) and as a result decide to take away a part of their child's body which can never be put back.
#3: There are Risks Associated with Circumcision
Some of the risks associated with circumcision are haemorrhage, infection, septicaemia, gangrene, irritation of the head of the penis (through having wet diapers), pain on urination and skin grafting if too much of the foreskin is removed. Penny Simkin, P.T., Janet Whalley, R.N., B.S.N., and Ann Keppler, R.N., M.N. Of the Childbirth Education Association of Seattle write that complications from circumcision arise in 2-6 of every 1000 circumcisions.
#4: The Child's Future Sexual Experience Will Be Affected
Harper suggests that the child's future sexual experience should be considered. Removing the foreskin means taking away a sensitive part of the male body. She quotes Canadian pathologist John Taylor, who writes about the foreskin as a sensory extension of the penis. "Its inner mucosal surface contains a tightly pleated zone near the tip, rich in nerve endings." I have not spoken with a single man who has a foreskin who is sorry that he has it. Is it the right of a parent to make a choice for a child which could take away the possibility of increased sexual enjoyment later in life?
#5: An Intact Foreskin is a Normal and Healthy Thing
Human males are born with a foreskin. Why would they have evolved to have a foreskin if there were not some practical reason or benefit to having it? England and Horowitz state that circumcision is not routine or medically necessary. They cite research from the American College of Pediatrics (1971) concluding that "There is no valid medical indication for circumcision in the newborn."
Some research, such as that cited in "Baby Wise" suggests that there seems to be some modest benefits to circumcision like that it may decrease the risk of urinary tract infection and eliminate cancer of the penis. There is widespread disagreement with circumcision for this reason, which many say is not even be accurate. Simkin, Whalley and Keppler write that there are some studies which suggest a slight increase in the incidence of cancer of the penis in uncircumcised males, but there are other studies which suggest the opposite. Even the studies showing an increase in penile cancer associate it with poor long-term hygienic care of the penis. If parents can make a commitment to helping their child learn proper hygiene, then this should not be an issue.
In "Birthing from Within", Rob Horowitz PhD. shares a story of the time his young son noticed that his penis looked different from his father's. The father tells his son that when he was young most men had the tip of their penis skin cut off when they were babies but that they hadn't let that be done to him. The son then asked the father if it hurt. After the father replied, the son said, "Thank you for not letting them do that to me."
Pam England C.N.M., M.A. & Rob Horowitz PhD. "Birthing from Within".
Sarah J. Buckley, M.D.,"Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering".
Barbara Harper, R.N., "Gentle Birth Choices".
Penny Simkin, P.T., Janet Whalley, R.N., B.S.N., & Ann Keppler, R.N., M.N., "Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn: The Complete Guide".
Gary Ezzo, M.A. & Robert Bucknam, M.D., "Baby Wise".