Circumcision: Hygienic or Mutilation?
August 10, 2015
As I prepare for the birth of my son, my FIRST son, I’ve been researching what procedures he will have done and what I need to do to ensure he grows healthy and strong. One of the obvious procedures that are presented to parents of infant boys is circumcision.
Growing up as a girl in the United States, I didn’t hear this topic get brought up very much. In fact, I had never heard of any debate over it until I met my husband, who is Brazilian. Although he was born in a military hospital at which circumcisions were commonplace, he educated me about the division between cultures and how it was not typical for boys to be circumcised in many other countries and in several other cultures.
Needless to say, I had a lot of learning to do.
I decided to start my research with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), whose recommendations set the foundation for pediatric preventative care.
I was surprised to find out that circumcision is not a recommended routine procedure by the AAP. Their official statement on circumcision (from their website) is:
Evaluation of current evidence indicates that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks and that the procedure’s benefits justify access to this procedure for families who choose it, however, existing scientific evidence is not sufficient to recommend routine circumcision. Therefore, because the procedure is not essential to a child’s current well-being, we recommend that the decision to circumcise is one best made by parents in consultation with their pediatrician, taking into account what is in the best interests of the child, including medical, religious, cultural, and ethnic traditions.”
With that knowledge I dove deeper into my research. I wanted to know:
- What are the health benefits of circumcision?
- What are the comparatively (according to the AAP) minor risks?
- What are some of these “medical, religious, cultural, and ethnic traditions?”
As far as the health benefits go, I found that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released some guidelines in December of 2014 about circumcision. Based on several clinical trials, many of them completed in sub-Saharan Africa, circumcised males showed a 50-to-60-percent reduced HIV infection risk and 30-percent reduced risk of contracting herpes and human papilloma virus (HPV), and it also reduces the risk of urinary tract infection in infants.
I read on to discover that circumcision is not covered by Medicaid or insurance, but there is a big movement to increase access for all who choose to have it.
Other supporters of circumcision cite the following benefits:
Sterile urine samples.
When a high fever is presented, a urine sample can often determine the bacteria responsible. An uncircumcised penis can present other bacteria from the foreskin, so infants would need to be “tranquilized” and a tube inserted just for a simple urine sample.
Improved hygiene and skin.
Basically, fewer nooks and crannies for germs and smells to get in.
Because of better hygiene, some say that women prefer circumcised men to uncircumcised men. I’m not sure I would trust any data to back this up, but I found it to be a common belief among supporters.
Prevention of infections and diseases.
In fact, one supporter, Dr. Edgar Schoen, M.D., even compared circumcision to vaccines, saying,
We’re talking about something that has significant benefits, just like immunizations. You can’t ask a baby if he wants it, and if you ask when he’s a toddler, he’d say no. The parents make the decisions. We’re talking about a preventative health measure here, not abuse. “
But, as the AAP stated above, it is “not essential to a child’s current well-being,” which is why it’s left up to the parents and left as an elective procedure. And considering how much the AAP advocates for vaccines, is that a fair comparison?
A growing number of people say no.
In fact, circumcision rates declined over the past few decades, going from almost 65 percent to about 58 percent between 1979 and 2010, according to a CDC report. Since 2012 the rates have rebounded slightly, but the debate rages on.
So what are the arguments on the other side?
No health benefits.
Some believe that since UTI’s usually come few and far between and are easily treatable, removing a piece of healthy tissue to prevent them is not worth it.
Even with pain medicine, some believe that the emotional memory of the pain rather than the actual procedure can linger.
From not leaving enough skin, to bleeding, and even death, many people believe the risks and complications are more than are reported, because other factors are said to be the main culprit.
Decreased sexual pleasure.
Again, the data is subjective, but the argument exists nonetheless.
Human rights violation.
This one got me the most. Circumcision is being compared to female genital mutilation. One decrier of circumcision, Dr. Mark Reiss, M.D., Executive Vice President of Doctors Opposing Circumcision, said,
Many people also feel circumcision violates human rights when a parent decides to cut off a normal healthy body part of a minor. People argue with that by saying parents have to make healthy decisions like immunizations. Sure. That’s not cutting off a healthy body part. If people started saying that to prevent breast cancer we should cut off newborn girls’ breasts, there’d be an outcry. “
Oh boy. I am honestly completely torn by the arguments on both side of this debate. I mean I feel like in most cases it’s pretty black-and-white what the right choice is for us as far as doing what’s best for our son: I’m going to try to breastfeed, we’ll practice safe sleeping (using an Owlet monitor so I can get some sleep and ease my anxiety, of course), learn proper carseat installation, etc. But I can honestly say that I can’t see major problems arising from either circumcising or not circumcising.
So in addition to reviewing all of this research, I also decided to look into some personal stories and opinions on the matter. Data is one thing, but how it affects real life is another. These really helped me get a better idea of what a man could go through if problems arose either way.
What are your thoughts on circumcision? Any experiences that led you to think one way or another? Please share below!
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