Friday, March 9, 2012

circumcised vs. intact

So, I am going to “go there”, and considering I have a very small readership at this point, I’m going to hope that no one gets all pissy with me about this topic.

As soon as we found out we were having a boy, I started thinking about his penis. Mainly: to circumcise or not to circumcise.

I have done a lot of research about this topic. I have read message boards, asked my twitter friends, listened to (unsolicited) feedback from coworkers, read abstracts from multiple medical studies, read up on what the AAP has to say, and talked at length with my husband. All feedback falls into one of these categories:

1)      Uncircumcised penises are gross. They look gross to sexual partners and they’re harder to keep clean.
2)      Circumcised penises are healthier – they transmit fewer STDs, including HIV, and have a lower risk of penile cancer/painful adhesions.
3)      Your baby boy is born perfect and you should leave him perfect.
4)      Uncircumcised boys will be made fun of in school because they won’t look like other boys.

My biggest struggle with coming to this decision is that none of these positions feel 100% right in my heart.

1)      Uncircumcised penises are gross – I don’t want to put all my business out there, but I did have a partner before A who was uncircumcised (or “intact” to use the modern nomenclature). It didn’t phase me at all. It’s certainly not the hideous monstrosity some people expect it to be. And mothers of uncircumcised sons say the penis is just as easy to clean as a vagina (think of all the folds girls have!).
2)      Circumcised penises are healthier - In many areas, such as Africa where men will walk miles barefoot in the rain for just the chance of being circumcised, this is true. But the AIDS epidemic in America is very different from the problem in other countries. Here, AIDS is mostly transmitted during homosexual sex, in which case circumcised or not, it makes no difference. And the risk of penile cancer, while indicated as being slightly higher in intact men, is still so small it’s not even really worth considering.
3)      Your baby boy is born perfect - I tend to agree with this. But I am also not a doctor so this sentiment alone, while heartwarming and resonant, is not enough for me. Thus, all the research.
4)      Your son will be made fun of - I have never, ever thought that “because we’ve always done it that way” or “because everyone else does it” or “because you’re expected to do it” is a good enough reason to do anything.

What it boils down to is this: I don’t want to make this decision for my son. It’s his penis, he should decide what it looks like. I hate that I have to decide something so personal for him so early on. And in that vein, it seems like leaving him intact would be the best way to go, since he can always opt to have his foreskin removed, but he can’t opt to have it put back on.*

And the thing that I keep coming back to: the American Academy of Pediatrics says there is not sufficient data to recommend routine neonatal circumcision. Basically: there is no medical reason to circumcise your son.

So, my vote is no. I do not want him to be circumcised.

That said, I left this decision up to my husband. The climate of the current election has led to a bunch of white men in politics trying to make decisions about my uterus, which outrages me. This has cast the situation in an even clearer light for me and I think it’s fair that I allow my husband veto power over my opinions on all things penile.

For now, A and I have both decided to leave our son intact. I will keep you posted in the coming months if things change.

* Similarly, we are not baptizing him as an infant because we don’t believe in original sin (your baby is born perfect, again) and we don’t want to decide his religion for him, but that’s a separate post.


Jesica said...

I agree with what you've said here and I too, if mine turns out to be a boy, will not circumcise him. My husband is not circumcised and to me, at this point, an uncircumcised does not look that much different than a circumcised one =)

TheThirtiesGirl said...

That's pretty much my exact line of thinking. If we ever have a boy we will be going the non route.

TurtleMama said...

Lulu - your post validates my feelings on circumcision as well and this was one of the first things I thought about when I found out we were having a boy. I think it is a very personal decision and I have researched both sides of the argument and am really leaning towards leaving my son intact. I had a boyfriend who was intact (he was European) and it was fine - I didn't even realized the difference at first. There are alot of nerves down there and I don't think it's right to be cutting on such a sensitive part of the body. There may be some slight health benefits, but there are risks involved with the circumcision. I am glad another mother-to-be feels the same way I do. It was a hard decision. My husband is still a little on the fence, so we'll see. I am sure my family will be appalled with the decision, but they'll get over it! In the South, I think being uncircumcised is associated with being poor (Medicaid does not cover it) and unclean. Hopefully this stigma will change the more educated people are.

MaryMargaret said...

We have debated about this as well. I opted to leave the decision to Paul and he decided that, for us, circumcision is the way to go. His decision was made mainly because he is circumcised. I don't think that there is right or wrong decision on this point. It's scary to think about the really hard decisions we'll have to make regarding parenting our children!

Marissa said...

I really did not have strong feelings either way. I don't think it's mutilation but I also don't think it's necessary, you know?

In the end, I was vaguely leaning towards circ, just because in nursing school, one of my patients had to be circ'd as an adult for medical reasons, and it *really* sucked...but the chances of that happening are slim.

I decided to leave the decision to my husband, though. He opted for "yes", for no real reason. We circ'd Damien, but haven't done Atticus yet. At this point I think we're just going to have it done, if at all, when he gets his cleft palate fixed, as they don't do it in the NICU and he's now too old to have it done at the pediatrician's.

It's really not an issue I feel strongly about, even having done it to one of my sons.

Ruth said...

This was also one of the first things I thought about when I found out we are having a boy (and was one reason I had been hoping for a girl so that we wouldn't have to worry about this decision). We have also decided to go intact. My DH is circumcised, but very much hates the fact that he was unnecessarily cut just because it's what the religion and society dictated should be done. I have to admit that I used to be in the "uncircumcised is weird/ugly" and "circumcised is cleaner/healthier" boat, but after doing some research I am ready to throw away those misconceptions. Regarding the "he won't look like other boys/he'll get made fun of" argument: I think that nowadays more people in the U.S. are making the decision to stay intact, and especially if you live in a very diverse region with more families from countries/cultures where circumcision is not standard, then the "he'll look different" argument shouldn't even be an issue.

Chickenpig said...

I left the decision up to my husband, because he is the one with a penis.

As a person who has worked in the daycare field, I have to say that there is a difference between an uncircumcised penis and a girls labia. The difference being that the girls are taught to wipe after urinating, and boys are not. If you choose not to have your son circumcised, he should be taught to pull the 'hood' back and wipe after urination every time. Also, the hood should be pulled back to be washed, of course. A man who knows how to take care of his penis is obviously no more at risk of infection, but in our society, uncircumcised men are the minority. That training falls on us moms, so if you don't do the snip, be prepared to teach them right.

I had to chuckle at the term 'intact' which actually means a male that hasn't had his testicles removed, at least in the animal world. :)

Patience said...

I feel very much the same way you do. Also, regarding the "safer" argument: It's pretty essential to teach a boy to use condoms, I think, (though that's a personal and sometimes religious issue, I know). That's what's going to keep them, and their partners safe. Having talked to my husband, we think we'll keep our baby intact if it turns out to be a boy. He didn't equivocate for a second.

Jem said...

Having a girl, so it's a non-issue in the Jem household.

That said, I want to comment on the general climate of "I don't want to offend anyone by this post... (fill in the blank on the topic)" that Mel commented on recently and that seems to have kept you from posting freely about a topic that is front of mind for you (circumcision, in your case).

We in IF-land have been through so much. Self-editing can come from a fear of hurting others with our words. What I fear is that it comes from a place of self-loathing, where we don't believe our point of view, what we are going through is important, or valid, or some such. I personally did so much self-editing while going through treatments - not telling anyone at work about it, not tell the majority of my friends. While I did this out of self-preservation, there was some shame. We can't get pregnant on our own.

So, sing your point of view, IFers! Be free!

Hope you don't mind, but I plan on posting this comment as a post on my blog.

Alex said...

Whether or not I agree with you (which I don't, my husband and I have agreed that if we are lucky enough to have a boy someday), I like how you and your husband have thought this through and come to a very rational decision. Thanks for sharing this!

Broedkipje said...

This is a very unusual discussion from my point of view. Here (in the Netherlands) circumcision is almost solely done as a religious act. As most of my friends are not Jewish or Moslim, I don't think any of them has even considered circumcision.
I think it's good that people make up their own mind about decisions like this and not go with "what everybody does". Because what everybody does might just depend on what side of the ocean you live on!