Tuesday, April 10, 2007

This is going to ruffle some feathers

Circumcision: I don’t get it. 

I’ve read through all the arguments for circumcising, and the more I read the less impressed I am. 

The very thought of cutting off a part of my newborn baby is physically repulsive to me. Even this post is difficult for me to write, because I am so upset that any mother would agree to circumcise her newborn son. How can our society condone this ritualized violence? 

I can’t write this post without letting emotion leak through. I just can’t. 

Babies need to be welcomed into this world with love and gentleness. Imagine what it must be like for a newborn: he’s been welcomed into his family with excitement and joy. He’s nursed at his mother’s breast. He’s gone to sleep on the warmth of her chest, hearing the familiar heartbeat. Then violence, and pain, and terror. And more pain. 

I can find no good reasons to cut off a beautiful, sensitive, and physiologically important part of a baby. 

I find the following justifications particularly repugnant:
  • I don’t want my son to be teased. Simply put, this is utterly and completely lame. Do we give our daughters nose jobs or breast implants, because we think they might get teased? Do we supply our children with recreational drugs, because their peers would tease them if they said no?
  • I think an intact penis looks “gross.” No matter what we think is aesthetically pleasing, routine infant circumcision is medically unnecessary cosmetic surgery, with its own set of risks, on an unconsenting baby. Parents would be arrested for cutting off any other part of their baby—nose, fingers, earssimply for aesthetics.
  • I want him to look like his father. My husband grew up in a mixed family. His father was intact, the 2 oldest boys were circumcised, and the 2 youngest were intact. It was never an issue. In addition, boys will look different from their fathers in many ways: body shape, vocal tone, body & pubic hair, eye color, and so on. Why is it so urgent to alter an infant’s penis? We don’t perform cosmetic surgery on baby girls to make them look like their mothers—why is okay for infant boys?
  • Intact penises are dirty and smelly. That statement is incorrect. An intact penis is no harder to keep clean than any other part of the body.
  • Infants are too young to remember it anyway. I am not even going to respond to this one because it is so callous.
I know women who feel that circumcision is wrong and barbaric, and who STILL do it to their sons. 

What lessons are we teaching our infants about the meaning of life and human nature when we tie them down and cut off parts of their bodies? This kind of trauma and violation has to leave some kind of imprint. We know that babies exposed to obstetric drugs and operative procedures have higher rates of drug addiction and suicide when they grow up. 

I started to read through this article about circumcision from Men’s Health Magazine (July/August 1998, so the US circumcision rate is lower today). I couldn’t finish it. The mother bear in me wanted to snatch that screaming, terrified baby away. I had to avert my eyes.

I just don’t get it.


  1. Thanks for the article, it is the best one on the topic that I have read, I will be sharing that. Like Milos, the reason I became against circumcision was because I witnessed it many times as a nurse. Parents are not really told what it is like. Several babies even had to be brought back in to the ER because they wouldn't stop bleeding, a common problem.

  2. Rixa,
    I couldn't agree with you more. Very well said.

    When my son was born, it was a non-issue. It was simply not going to happen.

    And I have lots of friends with baby boys and none of them have been circumcised. I think we are moving in the right direction with this generation.

  3. have you seen the latest... health groups encouraging it from some obscure and in my patheticly useless opinion... Very biased and poorly done studies on the incidence of HIV and circumcision... shudder.
    Sadly right now we are fighting with a paeds specialist to not go straight to circ with our son who has a non retractable, small opening/balloning foreskin.
    God, I'm tired of fighting... but I'll be damned if they are going to lop it off without exhausting everything else first.
    Nice feather ruffling =)

  4. Circumcision of boys is considered to be a commandment from God that Jews are obligated to follow. I am curious if your opinion would change on the subject if LDS followers felt obligated to adhere to this "commandment". Just curious - and wondering how religion shapes our opinions.

  5. Jen.b.in.az4/10/07, 8:06 PM

    I don't really know enough on the subject to be commenting, but I have been watching circ discussions on some boards recently. I know some Jewish families are choosing a Bris Shalom (I think that's the term) instead of the standard Bris...it involves no cutting, but a ceremonial induction to Judaism. Also, I have heard arguments that the biblical circumcision was more of a mark, or minimal cut than the complete removal of foreskin practiced as part of RIC today. Someone also mentioned something about a reversal of the commandment somewhere else in the Bible (sorry, don't know my Bible enough to elaborate). To add to Rixa's points, why are so many Americans quick to jump on the anti-female genital mutilation bandwagon, yet continue to practice RIC? I just don't get it.

  6. Circumcision removes the most sensitive areas of the penis.

    This important study came out recently, but got absolutely zero media coverage.

    Thanks for making your view on this public! Non-therapeutic infant circumcision is genital mutilation in our midst.

    People, perhaps most especially circumcised men, need to call for an end to it.

  7. I had my son circumcised. He totally got over it after, oh, about six minutes. I have known a boy who was circumcised at 9 and a man who was circumcised in his 30s , both because of recurring UTIs. And both of them were far more traumatized by that experience than my boy. How do I know? Because I know lots of men who were circumcised as infants. Do they remember it? No. Do they enjoy sex a lot? Yes. (I should also mention that I married into a Jewish family.)

  8. I agree, my man is intact, and to me a penis still looks gross if its intact or not.lol.
    This goes hand in hand with the cutting of girls clitoris, for what purpose? Its mutilation

  9. I couldn't agree more. Why people want to butcher their children who are born perfectly to begin with is beyond me.

  10. Even if I thought circumcision were a good idea for reasons of cleanliness or aesthetics or fitting in, I'd be too afraid that some kind of accident or error would happen, and the child would end up with no penis at all. While the baby might get over being circumcised, he'd probably be pretty unhappy if he ended up with no penis or a severely injured one.

    In my home province of Saskatchewan, Health Canada paid for circumcisions until 1997. When Health Canada "delisted" circumcision (i.e., started making parents pay for it themselves), circumcision rates dropped from 65% to 27%. People had been doing it "just because." They weren't even willing to pay for it. It's this kind of ignorance--or unwillingness to seriously consider the meaning and ramifications of the things you do to yourself and to your children--that really concerns me. As much as I object to removing parts of anyone's body without their permission, I must say I object less to Jews doing it. At least they have a reason. Someone who's doing it just because it's free doesn't seem to have much of a reason.

    I'm all for normalizing the normal (and I'm anti-bra for this same reason) so I say we should just leave people the way they are unless there's a tremendously good reason to do otherwise. So often our default position is a position of intervention and I think we really need to change this.

  11. I know about the Jewish practice of circumcision and frankly that is the only reason I can accept for doing it...although even so, I would hope that the boys would be allowed to decide for themselves when they are old enough.

    I have also read about the modern version of circumcision being much more radical of a procedure than the Biblical one, which makes sense given the lack of sterile technique, antibiotics, anesthestics, etc.

    My opinion wouldn't change if LDS people *thought* they still needed to circumcise, because the scriptures are quite clear that for Christians the obligation to circumcise ended with Christ (as did the injunction against eating pork, the practice of animal sacrifice, etc).

    A few scriptural references from the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine & Covenants...skip this part if you're not interested in religious minutia!

    New Testament quotes:
    1 Cor. 7: 19
    Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.

    Gal. 5: 6
    For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

    Book of Mormon quotes:
    Moro. 8: 8
    Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me.

    Doctrine & Covenants:
    D&C 74: 2-3,5-7 (an explanation of 1 Corinthians 7:14)
    Now, in the days of the apostles the law of circumcision was had among all the Jews who believed not the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it came to pass that there arose a great contention among the people concerning the law of circumcision, for the unbelieving husband was desirous that his children should be circumcised and become subject to the law of Moses, which law was fulfilled....Wherefore, for this cause the apostle wrote unto the church, giving unto them a commandment, not of the Lord, but of himself, that a believer should not be united to an unbeliever; except the law of Moses should be done away among them, that their children might remain without circumcision; and that the tradition might be done away, which saith that little children are unholy; for it was had among the Jews; but little children are holy, being sanctified through the atonement of Jesus Christ; and this is what the scriptures mean.

  12. How long it takes a baby to "get over it" doesn't change my stance. Nor does the fact that circumcised men still can enjoy sex. (Thankfully so, since my husband was circumcised-- he's one of those Canadian statistics because circumcision was still paid for when he was born. When Health Canada stopped paying for it, his parents stopped circumcising their boys.)

    Setting aside the Jewish religious reasons, I cannot find RIC ethical or justifiable. It is performing a medically unnecessary surgery without consent. Even if all babies were put under general anesthesia for the procedure, I would still find it just as objectionable.

  13. "to me a penis still looks gross if its intact or not"


  14. Rixa, so does the LDS then discourage circumcision, or is it not discussed like in other Christian churches? I think circ rates are probably higher among Christians (for random reasons), except among the minority populations.

  15. I don't know about the religious issues, but as someone who is not circumcised I will agree -- it is embarrassing to look different; it is not hard to keep clean but if Idon't wash it every few hours it does get smelly' most females do think it looks gross, and so do I.

  16. i feel sad that the last anonymous poster (presumably male) thinks his penis looks gross. sexual shame is even more prevalent in our culture than circumcision, i fear!

    i am absolutely against circ, even for 'religious' reasons. not because i am against Judaism, but because i believe in a child's rights as an individual human soul. we cannot make these decisions for our children based on *our* religions. (FGM is a perfect example!) we are here to guide and nurture- making health-related decisions is our role (such as life-saving surgery or medicine), but not religious choices that cannot be taken back.

    call me a zealot, but i feel the same way about breastmilk as a birthright and normal birth. yes, sometimes we must make tough choices that alter from the path of nature( an emergency surgical birth, formula and iv feeding, many medical marvels), but we cannot make these choices for our children just because we want to or because our religion dictates it! they are real, human, whole, individual! not our possessions!

    yes, Rixa, you have my feathers ruffled, but in a good way!

    tabitha (not karl)

  17. It's not actively discouraged or encouraged at LDS churches simply because it's not a religious issue any more and hasn't been for 2,000 years; it's a cultural thing.

    Even if a boy or man doesn't like being intact, does that justify routine circumcision of infants who have no say? I am sure that for the occasional intact male who doesn't like it, there are many who are glad they've been left uncut.

    If it bothers an adult so much, they *can* choose to alter it. But by routinely circumcising infants, we are taking away their choice. That's really what bothers me about RIC. The lack of consent and permanent removal of a body part.

    If an intact male is concerned about being "different," they can take comfort that US circ rates are dropping every year, so that soon being cut will be what is "different."

    I have the misfortune to live in a state with an extremely high circ rate, about 80% still, because insurance and Medicare still cover RIC. If it stopped being covered, you betcha circ rates would fall overnight.

  18. Just found this site with historical stats on US circumcision rates, through 2004:


  19. kettunainen4/11/07, 6:18 PM

    What a timely post! I was just getting geared up to rant about RIC in my own journal and ruffle a few feathers there.

    For what it's worth, there are PLENTY of Jews who are ANTI-circumcision:

    Brit Without Milah

    Jewish Circumcision Resource Center

    Jews Against Circumcision

    Kahal (Israeli) Group [in Hebrew]

    What it comes down to, for me, is that it is nothing less than an abuse of power, an abuse of trust, and an abuse of sexuality to strap down a newborn boy and take a scalpel to the most sensitive part of his tiny little body, which you are charged to do nothing but nurture and protect.

    I will never ever understand it nor agree with it, not even when it is supposedly mandated in certain religions.

    My male partner is uncut and we both are grateful to his parents for it.

    Good on ya, Rixa!

  20. I love my foreskin.


  21. Jen.b.in.az4/11/07, 8:09 PM

    Have you all read the latest on NYC?
    In brief: the city is promoting circumcision...

  22. I do not agree with genital mutilation for any reason, not even religious (there are many other things in religions that are not practiced that are outrageous, why is genital mutilation any different?). Girls are mutilated all over the world for religious reasons, which is illegal in this country, by the way, and just as horrific as male genital mutilation (MGM is eqivalent to FGM Type 1), and when we hear of these incidences we are outraged, but because we are brought up to believe that the foreskin is a useless piece of skin, which I can assure you it is not, and it is a little cut that a baby forgets "6 minutes later". I can tell you from experience that is a load of BS. My sons cried for days after their mutilations (YES I am a FORMER genital mutilator) and my oldest son has had problems resulting from his for his whole life, and they were done "right" whatever that means.

    You can see our story here: http://bellybreastandbaby.blogspot.com/2007/01/circumcision-guilt.html

    Sure it isn't as bad as most stories, such as the baby who contracted a flesh eating infection from his mutilation, or the baby that I read about that almost bled to death a few months ago, or the boy who was raised as Joan because his penis was amputated on accident, but it is a story, and it happens, these stories need to be told, male genital mutilation is real, and it is not safe, it is not cleaner, it is not right. It has to stop.

    Circumcision hurts babies.

    P.S. a follow up to that lame NYT artilce: http://tinyurl.com/2aj4wh

  23. Studies published recently in the Journal of Infectious Disease and the Lancet have found that uncircumscribed men with multiple sexual partners had a greatly increased chance of contracting HIV when compared to circumscribed men . (please see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=retrieve&db=pubmed&list_uids=17321311&dopt=Abstract for one of the abstracts) Based on these studies the WHO is now recommending male circumcision as part of the fight against AIDS in Africa. As someone who works in Africa with this population, I plan on pushing hard to make circumcision available for my patients.

  24. oops- that link to pubmed doesn't work. But go to pubmed and search for the articles, they are easy to find.

  25. Even if circumcision does lessen the chance of acquiring AIDS in certain populations (intact men with multiple sexual partners), that is irrelevant to the issue of RIC. Not to mention that I find circumcision an extreme way of lessening the chance of acquiring AIDS. There are much less invasive and more effective ways of doing so (condoms, abstinence, education).

    Kinda like routine breast removal to prevent breast cancer...yes, it might be effective but it's pretty drastic. Especially if the girl's parents removed her breast buds in infancy to prevent the possibility of later breast cancer.

    This gets back to my main point: an intact male can CHOOSE circumcision after researching these studies and deciding if it is worth it. An infant boy has no choice and cannot at a later date get his foreskin back.

  26. I don't understand it either, not at all. I am actually more uncomfortable with religious circumcision than with RIC because at least a few of those parents buy into the myth that there is a "benefit" to it - religious reasons just creep me out - too cultish. "Some sky god told me to mutilate my son or I won't be a chosen one" is just way more creepy.


  27. These circumcision studies that were done in Africa for prevention of HIV are flawed at best. One reason is that in order to have a true test of contracting HIV they would have had to encourage these men to have sex with HIV+ women and that is the epitome of unethical.

    There are also studies that have shown in the past that female circumcision prevents HIV too....don't see anyone recomending that....(I will find the study if need be, I have it saved somewhere but recently changed computers).

    Also, think about it, if you just had a large piece of skin removed from your genitalia (most men's foreskins are the size of a 3x5 index card) and had to recover you probably wouldn't be having much sex for a few weeks, which in my opinion (and MANY others') these men probably didn't have sex with as many or as often as their intact counterparts.

    Also consider that the US has the highest rates of circumcision in the industrialized world and also the highest HIV/AIDS rates as well...hmmm, is this a coincidence?


    The only true and PROVEN prevention of HIV is the proper use of a condom.

    But of course the UN/WHO is going to recomend circ, they can sell the foreskins to cosmetic companies (which is what happens in hospitals) and make some money and also only spend a couple US bucks to circ these men instead of providing an never ending supply of condoms and education that is bound to cost more and doesn't make any profit...the people in these organizations aren't stupid. I fully believe they see an easy way out (which this is not, and I fully believe it will make things worse). This may be a way far out belief for many people, but I do believe it is true, and from all my research on the subject.

    And of course everyone ignores this study on langerhans cells in the foreskin:


    which basically says that the foreskin is a natural barrier.

    So, maybe we should not explore this any more and run round insisting men amputate an important part of their bodies. It is just as bad as OB/GYNs immediately recomending hystorectomy for any problem with the uterus (which is the second most common surgical procedure, cesarean is the first, in the US for women) because since we don't really need it to live and noone truly understand's it it is expendible.

    And I also wonder, who will be counseling these men about their loss? Women who get mastectomies or hystorectomies get some sort of counseling don't they? Why should a man losing his foreskin be any different? I would assume these men are attached (no pun intended) to them as they have been a part of them for their whole lives. One would imagine something like this will be thought of, though I highly doubt it.

    I also agree with rixa that a man can make an informed choice, a baby can't, but may I ask what type of information that these men in Africa will be getting when they aren't even getting the basic education to use condoms (I imagine they can't just hop on the net most places?), and if they are getting the information and are still not using the condoms what makes us believe that circumcising them will not just give them reason to believe they are just as safe as if they used a condom so then they don't use them and the situation gets worse?

  28. Awesome, Rixa. I circed my first boy because it was just what everyone did. Stupid. There aren't many things I regret more. My second little guy is intact and staying that way.

    Great job, Rixa.

  29. I couldn't agree more. Brian and I have already decided (it was an easy decision) that circ won't happen for our kids, and a friend of mine who just found out she's having a son won't be doing it either. There is no justification for the practice.

  30. Rixa,
    I have to disagree with your 4th point about circumcision. As a CNA I've worked with hundreds of elderly men, and without doubt, it IS more difficult to keep an uncircumcised penis clean than other parts of the body. In fact, in my experience, cleaning under the foreskin is the most difficult part of the body to clean, harder than the perineal area in general, the face, toes, and armpits. Cleaning under the foreskin is so difficult (and often painful for patients), that I've seen healthcare providers skip over this important part of patient bathing, exacerbating the problem.
    Therefore, on the slight chance that my sons may grow old someday, I will ensure that my sons will all be circumcised.

  31. Wow, I can't believe I didn't comment on this yet...I guess I don't need to, because everything I would say has already been said! :)

    My son is intact, as is my husband, and none of us would want it any other way. My nurses in the maternity ward all praised me for leaving J's foreskin alone, and they said they wished more parents would choose to opt out of circumcision. Who knows better than the people who see it happen every day?

    P.S. For the man who feels ashamed of his intact penis...a friend of mine once called his foreskin a "shallow woman filter." Something to consider! ;)


  32. From a mother of two intact boys...it's not harder to clean, it looks *right*, and it's not necessary to look like Dad. I'm actually sad for my poor newborn husband when I see his mutilated penis. :(

  33. Brad, is cleaning old ladies' vaginas any easier than cleaning old men's penises? Do you realize that your sons might not even live old enough to be put into a nursing home? It's a little drastic to cut a body part off of them on the low chance that in 80 years someone else will have to clean it. I have a 19 month old son, and let me tell you, it's easier to clean an intact penis on a baby. The foreskin doesn't open, keeping urine and feces off the glans.


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