I’m away from my desk for the next several days. Even we professional gripers need to take a break once in awhile. I’ll be republishing a few posts from the previous year for the next week or so. This post was first published on Nov. 5, 2011.
When I decided to write about circumcision, I was a bit wary. The mere mention of skin on the end of an infant penis sends many into paroxysms of spittle-flecked rage. So, I’m going to proceed cautiously.
I began writing this post after reading about a recent debate on the subject. Early last month, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law preventing a ban on circumcision after activists attempted to outlaw the procedure. You can read about it here. Many of the penis-protesters claimed that the practice is unnecessary and barbaric. I agree with the former claim, but not the latter. Let me explain.
When my children were born a few years ago, my wife and I decided to have them both circumcised. It had never occurred to me to investigate the procedure. I should have. We had taken a birthing class, and had considered ourselves well-prepared. Oddly, the issue of circumcision was never discussed in class. My wife read a little about the procedure. We eventually agreed to have it done.
I reasoned that it would be better if their physical appearance were similar to mine, and I didn’t want them to be confused and ask questions, later. I should have given more thought to this issue, because both reasons are unsound. Being confused and asking questions is the nature of childhood. There’s no preventing this. And what about the issue of similarity? What would I have done if I were born with only one testicle? Or, worse, an extra one? My children have many different features that don’t resemble mine, why worry about the one in their super hero underpants?
It’s been argued that owning a foreskin provides peers with ammunition for locker-room ridicule. I don’t find this claim persuasive. Everything is fair game in the mysterious realm of the male locker room. If they’re not making fun of your wiener, they’ll find something else to laugh at.
I don’t see any good evidence to suggest that circumcision is medically necessary. This is not to say that evidence for this may or may not be forthcoming. I’m open to new and better information. I just don’t find the current body of facts compelling. That said, if the procedure is ever performed, it should be done by a competent, experienced doctor. Proper pain management should be provided, and proper post-procedure care should be followed. Anything less than this is not acceptable. I cannot condone the way the procedure is performed in many countries and in many religious ceremonies.
I witnessed my oldest son’s circumcision, and it was far removed from the violent act that is asserted by some of the procedure’s opponents. A caring nurse and competent doctor performed the procedure a few days after his birth. They did strap him down, as they did a few years later when they drew blood to check for a mineral deficiency. He was given pain medication. The doctor inserted a small plastic ring called a “Plastibell” between the tip of his penis and foreskin, and then tied a piece of thread – called a ligature in medical parlance – tightly over the foreskin and ring. The doctor then cut off the foreskin above the ligature. My son cried for a little bit, and then he stopped. The procedure took approximately 10 minutes. We continued giving him Tylenol. We changed his diaper frequently and applied petroleum jelly to the tip of his penis. After a few days of healing, the plastic ring fell off. And that was it. We did the same for our youngest son.
While my experience is anecdotal, I just don’t accept the blanket assertion of barbarism. I also don’t accept the claim that we’re usurping our children’s rights by doing this without their consent. Using this logic we wouldn’t be able to even vaccinate our kids, or send them to the dentist. Their entire body is theirs, and every decision we make for them at that time potentially affects their future. That’s a parent’s job. And the fact is, the best time to perform this procedure is during infancy. I have yet to see any online support groups of middle-aged men opining over lost foreskins. When you grow up without a foreskin, you just don’t get attached to one. Pun fully intended.
There is also the issue of cleanliness. It’s been reported that the uncircumcised penis is easy to keep clean. A little soap and water. No big deal. There is a small – small – risk of irritation, infection and other problems, especially if proper hygiene is not followed.
Weighing circumcision’s small risk (when done properly) against the small risk of owning a foreskin, I would make the case for the procedure as an option, but not a necessity. And by “properly” I mean what I wrote above: performed by an experienced doctor, using proper pain management and after-procedure care. I think it’s a valid parental choice at the time of infancy.
I’ll reconsider my opinion when one side or the other calmly, rationally and accurately makes a clear case. Until then, I think the Penis Police need to just ease up on the hyperbole.