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The Circumcision Decision

By Lauren Jenks

During my first pregnancy, I was overwhelmed with joy when I found out that there was a little boy in my belly. Like many mamas-to-be, I instantly fell in love and spent my days (and nights) dreaming about him. As the months passed by, I began to plan for his arrival: washing and hanging all of his tiny clothes, picking out the softest blankets I could find, figuring out what breast pump would be best. I wanted to be prepared for every little detail. When I began to make plans for the birth itself, I thought about what would happen on the day of his birth, and circumcision crossed my mind.

At the time, I did not think there was even a choice about circumcision. Every male I knew—my husband, dad, brothers, friends—were all circumcised. The thought of a penis with a foreskin wasn’t appealing to me (even though I’d never seen one in real life), and I had always heard of women saying it was “dirty” or “gross.” I also advocated the benefits of circumcision (even though I never truly looked at the research articles).

My heart sank in my chest, because I didn’t want to put my newfound love through any pain whatsoever. However, after talking to various family members and my OB/GYN, it seemed that circumcision was the best option for my son and his future. “It’s cleaner” and “he’ll have fewer problems” were the most common reasons they gave. I had yet to hear a single response that was in favor of not circumcising.

I didn’t think about it much after that, until about two months before his due date. By that time, my love for him had grown immensely, and the thought of any painful procedure made my head spin. So one day, I decided to do an online search on circumcision and see what came up. Surprisingly, the vast majority of the information I found was against it! My curiosity was piqued, and I found myself on YouTube, watching a video of the procedure. After all, my baby boy would have to go through it, so I should see it, right?

My jaw dropped to the floor when I saw the video. I couldn’t stop crying. From that day forward, I poured everything I could into researching this topic. I wanted to know the truth. Using various sites and forums, I started to network with as many people as I could. To my surprise, I found that there were thousands of parents who had healthy boys who were not circumcised. This intrigued me, because I had always been told that foreskins would cause many problems in boys and men. I needed to know more.

As I dug further into the topic, I found out that the majority of the males in the world are not circumcised. In fact, the United States is the only country to perform this procedure routinely for non-religious purposes. Another interesting fact is not a single medical organization in the world recommends circumcision—not even the American Academy of Pediatrics!

So why was I under the impression that circumcision was best? Why do parents continue to choose it? Why do some doctors advise us to do so? I decided to create a list of the apparent benefits I’d heard about, and researched them one by one. Here’s what I found.

Better Hygiene

It’s been said that much more care is needed when boys have a foreskin. That more cleaning time is required, because it is dirty and the foreskin needs to be retracted and cleaned from an early age. There is nothing unclean about a foreskin, however, especially in infancy. In fact, both boys and girls have foreskins, which serve the same purposes. The male foreskin is actually fused to the head (glans) of the penis in infancy and through much of childhood, much like a fingernail is fused to a finger. This is the body’s way of protecting the genitals against urine and feces. Because it is fused shut, bacteria and other foreign particles cannot invade. There’s no need to retract the foreskin to clean under it. You simply wipe the outside only, like cleaning a finger. It’s easy!

The foreskin will naturally start to separate around age 10. Once a boy can retract it on his own, he can just simply rinse with warm water in the shower. It’s just as easy as teaching a girl how to bathe, and there’s nothing difficult about it.

Information over the Internet can only go so far, so I wanted to personally network with people that had intact sons (or were intact themselves). I asked all about hygiene and care, and I never ran into a person or parent that had any issues with it. The parents all agreed that it was easy to care for an intact boy, and all of the intact men said it was just a simple rinse in the shower, requiring no extra time or effort. There’s even a video on YouTube that shows how simple it is, and another in which a pediatrician discusses intact care versus circumcision care.

Less Chance of UTIs

Urinary tract infections are very rare in boys—far less prevalent up to age 2 than in girls. (At up to one year, the rate in girls is 6.5 percent, while it is 3.3 percent in boys. From age 1 to 2, it climbs to 8.1 percent in girls, and drops to 1.9 percent in boys.) Darcia Narvaez points out problems with these claims in a 2011 article in Psychology Today:

This claim is based on one study that looked at charts of babies born in one hospital. The study had many problems, including that it didn’t accurately count whether or not the babies were circumcised, whether they were premature and thus more susceptible to infection in general, whether they were breastfed (breastfeeding protects against UTI), and if their foreskins had been forcibly retracted (which can introduce harmful bacteria and cause UTI). There have been many studies since which show either no decrease in UTI with circumcision, or else an increase in UTI from circumcision. Thus circumcision is not recommended to prevent UTI.

Less Chance of HIV/STDs

A few select studies show a prevalence of HIV transmission in uncircumcised men, but real-world empirical data shows that circumcision hasn’t stopped HIV in countries where the practice is already prevalent. Take the U.S., for example. We are a country with a very high rate of circumcision (70 percent of the current male population, compared to 10 to 15 percent worldwide), yet we have one of the highest rates of children and adults living with HIV and AIDS out of the post-industrial nations.

Greg Millett, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even said the following in his address to the CDC’s National HIV Prevention Conference: “Overall, we found no association between circumcision status and HIV infection status.”

While circumcision is very common in the U.S., it is uncommon in Europe. This would lead one to assume that HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases would be much higher in Europe, where circumcision is rare. However, an Advocates for Youth publication called “Adolescent Sexual Health in Europe and the U.S.” clearly shows that HIV and sexually transmitted diseases are much higher in the United States:

The percentage of the United States’ adult population that has been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS is six times greater than in Germany, three times greater than in the Netherlands, and oneand- a-half times greater than in France.

…data from the Netherlands found that rates of reported incidence [of sexually transmitted diseases] are considerably higher in the United States. Further, comparisons of prevalence (the proportion of a given population which is infected) find that the chlamydia prevalence among young adults in the United States is twice that among young adults in the Netherlands.