Penis: To Snip or Not to Snip

June 23, 2011 § 5 Comments

Every parent of a son has an opinion on this topic.  I am no exception.  My husband’s penis is circumcised and he is very happy with its ability to enjoy and inspire great pleasure.  Before I was pregnant, my husband and I had no strong opinions on the matter.  If anything, we thought, “Yeah, we probably will because that’s what our parents did.”  Circumcised penises seemed “normal” to us.  There must be good reasons why everyone does it.  Right?

There is a lot of heated rhetoric on both sides.  I know and admire many loving parents that chose to circumcise their sons.  I don’t use loaded terms like “genital mutilation”. It’s difficult to find objective accurate information.  This reasonably accessible medical paper on the subject is a good place to start your research.  Another of the most balanced articles I’ve read on this topic studied the life expectancy of men with circumcised vs. intact penises.  They live equally long.

When I was pregnant with our first son, we read all kinds of pro-circumcision arguments, but the other side of the story always rang more true for us…

“So he’ll look like his dad.”

The differences a young boy notices are size and hairiness—not foreskin.

Also, the circumcision rate in the US is dropping (down to 32.5% in 2009, excluding religious rituals not reimbursed by insurance) so my boys’ penises will look like most of their peers’.  Internationally, intact penises are the norm in most developed countries and have been for generations.

“Circumcised penises contract fewer STDs” as was suggested by a study done a few years ago in Africa.

Maybe, but condomed penises contract even fewer STDs.

“We’re Jewish.”

I understand some Jews who oppose circumcision, and still want to celebrate their culture with a bris, perform only a very small ceremonial cut.

“Intact penises have higher infection rates because they’re dirty.”

Proper hygiene by parents, and then by boys as taught by parents, prevents most potential infections.

Avoiding retraction is very important because when foreskin is forcibly retracted on young boys it can cause tiny tears—thus introducing the chance of infection.

A young boy’s foreskin rarely retracts on its own.  Fortunately, washing in a bathtub will do most of the work.  If you want to take extra cleansing measures, gently spray the tip of his penis with a handheld shower attachment.

Avoid bubble baths.  They encourage infections.

If your son does get an infection, bathe the penis 3-4x a day and put a drop of Neosporin on the tip. (I’m sure there are other more holistic options than Neosporin.)  It should clear up very quickly.  (As a baby, one of my sons developed an infection soon after a bubble bath.  We followed this regimen as recommended by his pediatrician.  My son never appeared to be in any discomfort, and it cleared up in a day.)

“It’s a very simple procedure.  There’s no risk.”

Risks are inherent in every medical procedure.

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that any “benefits of circumcision are not significant enough to recommend circumcision as a routine procedure… [and that] circumcision is not medically necessary.”

Fortunately, the rate of complications for circumcision is low (0.1 to 35.0% depending on where you look).

The type of complication ranges from infection to hemorrhage, permanently altering the length and shape of the penis, and in very rare cases, amputation.

“It’s so quick, the baby doesn’t feel anything.”

Today some physicians provide anesthesia, usually by injection into the penis.  This usually relieves most of the pain during the procedure, though it will wear off.

Studies of newborn cries, heartrate and cortisol (a hormone released during severe stress) indicate that circumcision is extremely painful during and after the procedure.

During circumcision the baby is strapped spread eagle onto a board, a special clamp is used to forcibly separate the foreskin from the glans and cut it off from the end of his penis.

After circumcision babies demonstrate more irritability, often scream for extended periods of time, and have more difficulty with feeding and sleeping than their intact peers.

Psychology Today recently published a surprisingly graphic and disturbing article about circumcision.

I cherish my memories of those first days following each birth.  Feeding, snuggling, caressing my perfect little boys.  I wouldn’t replace one of those moments with even the most generously gentle description of circumcision you could present to me.

“It’s just a little bit of extra skin.  It serves no purpose.”

Really, Mother Nature/God mistakenly put foreskin on every baby boy?

The foreskin of an adult male penis is 12 square inches.

Beginning at about 16-weeks gestation, the glans (head of the penis) is covered by the foreskin.  It is almost always still fused to the glans at birth.  The fusion naturally dissolves during childhood.

“My penis is circumcised, and I feel plenty of pleasure.”

Most men have strong positive feelings about their own penises.  Thankfully, my husband is one of those men.  It’s good to feel good about your own sexuality and all that it entails.

Yet, when foreskin is removed, 20,000 nerve cells are cut.  That high concentration of nerve cells must have evolved there (or been put there by God) for some purpose.

Perhaps, pleasure?  Mutual pleasure?

Yup. Foreskin is very sensitive.  Guys love touching it and having it touched. (Just ask my 3-year-old who freaks out his dad by pulling on his own foreskin during bath time, “It feels good.”)

And, foreskin provides built in lubrication inviting his partner to enjoy easier longer lasting pleasure even when natural lubrication does not come as easily for some women, such as during postpartum, while breastfeeding, or as women age.

Once we did some reading and thinking, keeping our sons’ penises intact was not a hard choice for our family.  We are opposed to any unnecessary medical procedures.  We have unwavering faith in the wisdom of Mother Nature.  I understand that all parents bring their own history and beliefs to this decision.   Some parenting choices don’t call for much researching or soul-searching.  This one does.

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§ 5 Responses to Penis: To Snip or Not to Snip

  • Bravo! This is written so well, I don’t see how anyone would still want to circumcise. And I love your answer to the STD question.

  • Ted says:

    While I can appreciate and respect the author’ point of view, I can’t help but notice that she cites faith in mother nature as a reason against circumcision. I wish many would take in to account the faith of other parents – and their right to religious freedom, perhaps like the author’s belief in a ‘personalised’ nature or gaia – in this discussion, as eloquently and seriously as she does. Brava.

    • johnmhenry says:

      Jewish men were commanded to be circumsisied to make them different fm “other men” Like Seventh Day Advantists moved their Sabbath to Saturday Just to differenciat their religous beliefs.

  • red cardinal says:

    I would like to say congratulate you on your reasoned argument against male circumcision; in particular your rebuff of the “hygiene” argument. The latter has always seemed ludicrous. I’m from europe where circumcision is very rare. Strangely enough :) boys/men here don’t suffer from hygiene problems *rolls eyes*.

    Well done and good decision.

    • Citizen Mama says:

      Thanks for the comments. My 5-yr-old is now able to wash himself, including his foreskin. Teaching him basic hygiene practices is one of the less-challenging tasks I’ve found as a parent.

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