Circum-Size Me October 16, 2008

Circum-Size Me

Dale McGowan just announced the winners of the First Annual “Parenting Beyond Belief Column Competition.”

One of the winning entries was a terrific piece by Blake Evans about his decision of whether or not to circumsize his newborn child.

“I’ve decided to let you decide whether or not to circumcise.”

Sally said this to me one night, about six months into her pregnancy.

“Only if it’s a boy, though, right?”

One side of her mouth turned up. “Yes. Only if it’s a boy,” she said patiently.

Obviously, we had chosen not to learn the gender of the fetus. So few surprises in life and all that. But, apparently, that did not absolve me from making this decision.

“Why do I have to decide?” I asked.

“OK, I’ll tell you what: if it’s a boy, you decide. If it’s a girl, I decide.”

Didn’t seem quite fair somehow.

Which was exactly why I was having such a problem deciding. Wasn’t my hesitation ultimately about my son looking like me? If there “are no valid medical indications for circumcision,” why on Earth would I do it? If I were uncut, or if I was from a religious tradition that required it as a covenant, I doubt this would even have been a question in my mind. But based purely on aesthetics, with no medical evidence to validate it, nor religious tenet to guide me, how could I justify removing something that could never be replaced? How could I surgically alter “his member as nature made it?”

You must check out the whole essay if for no other reason than to see the wonderful image accompanying the piece.

(via The Meming of Life)

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  • Anonymous

    Umm, I hate to rain on Mr. McGowan’s parade, but circumcision does have medical health benefits. I’m also not sure if his sources on the subject are credible, as all the studies that I have read show that the absence of foreskin decreases penile infections in general, not just for HIV. It also reduces the risk for urological problems and any kind of invasive cancer.

    I’m not sure that’s much of an argument anyway, though. One could say the same about a sixth toe or a baby born with a tail (and it does indeed happen), or perhaps even the way a doctor may slightly reshape an infant’s head when it exits the womb, but you don’t see people locked in a moral conundrum about that.

  • BZ

    Hey, if I had a tail, I’d want to keep it.

  • PrimeNumbers

    It’s an unnecessary medical procedure, and has associated risks of death, disfigurement, pain, and loss of sensitivity.

    Medial health benefits are dubious at best. Many studies have shown contradictory results.

    Penises generally function fine as they are. You’d think the whole (or nearly whole) of the male population of the UK would be always off to the Doctor for UTIs and penis cancer the way the pro-circumcision lobby goes on, but, of course, that does not happen.

  • justin jm

    That pun is terrible. Seriously, I haven’t given thought to this issue. Since I am a ways from having kids, I have the time to decide.

  • miked.

    the peen is easier to clean without the foreskin.

    but then again theres not alot of effort that needs to be put in anyway with foreskin.

    smegma is definately what i consider when i think about the circumcision debate.

  • I want mine back, actually.

  • Carl

    I find this whole debate crazy. I’m sure there will be a time in the not-too-distant future where we look back at this deliberate neo-natal mutilation with the same degree of disgust that we currently do with female genital mutilation. It is nothing short of tradition and culture (largely due to religion, originally).

    Any alleged health benefits are negligible at best, and strike me as an after-the-fact justification rather than a genuine reason.

    I saw an item on TV about circumcision where they actually showed in graphic detail the procedure. It made me physically ill to see an innocent baby put through such needless trauma.

    As for hygiene, etc., you people ever heard of a shower? It is the 21st century you know.

  • I figured I’d let my sons decide for themselves. I was in bit of a hippy phase when I was pregnant with my first son, a little boy who’d lost 2/3 of his penis due to a botched circumcision (it got infected).

    The health thing, I don’t understand. Some body parts need to get daily cleaning. Since there are some humans who don’t brush their teeth, should we prophylactically remove them too?

    I figured they’d thank us when they were grown up but they’ve gotten teased in the locker rooms and say they wish now we’d just had them circumcised.

    But if I had it to do over again, I’d still wouldn’t cosmetically alter their genitals.

  • Ubi Dubium

    When I was pregnant with my first, I had decided against circumcision. I just couldn’t hold with “Congratulations, it’s a boy! Now let’s cut off a piece!” But all my children have been girls, so I never actually had to deal with the question.

  • Jeff E.

    Actually, the circumcision/disease connection is contested, and there is evidence that it has a deleterious affect on sexual feeling. It’ an increasingly controversial issue within the Jewish community.

    Here is an article that outlines the history of circumcision in the West, and some of the arguments against it. The author is a professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard, and is pro-circumcision. It’s an informative article, but I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusions.

  • SarahH

    Some feedback from Dwight Schrute (“The Office”) last night:

    Babies are one of my many areas of expertise. Growing up I performed my own circumcision.

    So, there you have it. Let the kids do it themselves. 😛

  • I had never given this issue much thought before I became pregnant with my first child. Before we found out the sex of the baby I asked my (circumcised) husband what he thought, and he responded he said he would also circumcise, so the son would “look like Daddy” and not be weirded out. Didn’t think much of it at the time, because we found out shortly thereafter we were having a girl.

    We are discussing having another child, and the subject came up again. This time, I stated I would not mutilate my child. I won’t even get my 14 month old daughter’s ears pierced until she can decide for herself if she wants them; why would I slice a piece of my son? For no good reason? He said he would want to leave him intact too…when I brought up our previous conversation, he was like “Really? I said that? That was dumb.”

    So, well, long story short, we won’t be circumcising if the FSM decides to give us a son… 🙂 Good hygiene practices and safe sex (condoms) should be easy enough to follow.

  • I’m really glad my partner and I are not going to have children, because he’s Jewish and wholeheartedly believes in circumcision because it’s a covenant, whereas I would never, ever, ever cut off a piece of my hypothetical son’s body if he was too young to understand or consent. If he was getting his bar mitzvah and wanted it done, then I’d think he was mature enough to decide that. And if he wanted circumcision when he was 18, more power to him. But I would never do that to a powerless infant.

    Seriously, if we wanted children, I don’t know how we would deal with the issue, because neither of us is willing to budge. Good thing it’s never going to happen!

  • Jeff E.

    Allyson, if he’s unwilling to budge, perhaps you need to reconsider the relationship. It’s entirely possible that you will decide to have children at some point. Even if you don’t, if you’re in such disagreement about this, what will happen the next time an important issue comes along?

  • If I hired someone to remove my newborn daughter’s clitoral hood because I didn’t like the way it looked and believed it might harbor bacteria that could lead to infection I would be charged with child abuse. Embryonically, the clitoral hood is the same bit as the foreskin – if it’s genital mutilation for one sex, it’s genital mutilation for the other.

    My autistic 9 year-old is uncut and manages to keep himself clean, so it’s clearly not that difficult. Also – being a rational atheist, I have no neurosis screaming at me to keep my son from touching himself lest he enjoy it.

    It is true, of course, that a small percentage of men must have their foreskin removed at some point in their lives due to medical issues – but there’s no more need for preventative measures there than there is with tonsils or appendix.

  • Jeff E.

    An article describing a study in which the authors concluded that circumcision reduces sexual feeling in males:

  • Ubi Dubium


    I won’t even get my 14 month old daughter’s ears pierced until she can decide for herself if she wants them.

    I concur on that. We delayed the “ear-piercing” decision for our daughters so that they could decide for themselves, and for the daughter who wanted to get it done, we used it as a celebration of the onset of puberty. And ear-piercing, unlike circumcision, is reversible. Children need to have a say in elective procedures like that, since they are the ones that will have to live with the results.

  • JSug

    When we found out we were having a boy, I did a lot of research. I couldn’t find any definitive evidence of a legitimate medical reason for circumcision. Lots of anecdotal evidence, to be sure, but nothing in the journals that showed a significant benefit, and lots of conflicting results. I asked a couple of the pediatricians we were checking out, and none of them knew of any strong reason in favor. They were aware of a few studies that showed possible benefit, but when I asked if they’d ever known of any uncut boys with related problems, the answer was no.

    I decided to leave it uncut. He’s almost 3 now, and no problems have arisen from it. I’m more convinced now than ever that it’s simply a cultural holdover. People go out of their way to try and justify doing it, but the actual evidence for benefit is slim to none.

  • Diane G.

    Jeff E. Says:

    October 17th, 2008 at 12:52 pm
    An article describing a study in which the authors concluded that circumcision reduces sexual feeling in males:

    In addition, I have read that uncircumcized penises lead to more comfortable intercourse for females…

    With my first child, a son, I left the decision up to my husband, who chose to go with the herd…but I had to take my baby to the doctor and watch him being strapped down; then I was sent out of the room, heard blood-curdling shrieking, was readmitted to a find a gasping, saucer-eyed, trembling infant…

    It was every bit as traumatic for me as for him. Never again! What was I thinking?!

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