Hoodwinked, one father's take on the circumcision debate

September 22 | Guest post by Jesse Bartke

skindad

Have you thought about circumcision? This is a question that I have heard more in the past 3 weeks then I have ever expected to hear in my entire life and it all started when we found out my wife was growing a penis.

When we first discovered we were having a boy, we were thrilled. Not that a little girl wouldn't have been great, but the thought of it made all of those horrible Disney movies where the father puts his daughter up in a tower until an appropriate guy comes along make a lot more sense.

Boys are tiring, but girls are tiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrrring, people kept saying. We walked around with our heads in the clouds for the next day, until the very question snuck into my brain — what do I think about circumcision?

I asked my wife what she thought about the process, and she responded with "I don't really care, honey. I will let you make this decision. I'll share my opinion on the subject, but you have the parts." And just like that I am responsible for the fate of what makes our son a son.

Now, this is not an easy decision and it makes me wonder if having boys is truly "easier" than having girls. Parents in this culture are never asked to alter their unborn daughter's anatomy in the wee stages of life. It's not like birth isn't traumatic enough for them. It is like coming back from a Caribbean vacation to a blizzard, and then someone cuts off your toe in the airport.

It would be so much easier if this was a decision that could be made for you. When your young son is delivered you hold him up to the crowd and all present give you a thumbs up, "Hey that looks great the way it is," or a thumbs down, "Ohhh that should go." You can't even just give into societal pressures, given that it is about 50/50 cut versus uncut in the US now.

I understand all of the arguments for and against circumcision, which makes this decision even more difficult. There a lot of things to take into account; religious, societal, medical and familiarity.

Many fathers that I have read about made the decision based on wanting themselves to match their sons. Personally, I think that if that is your only reason, then you need to look at more practical approaches – haircuts, shirts, matching tattoos, but leave the boy's poor penis out of it. I can't imagine there will be a time that my son will look upon my penis with a glimmer in his eye and a smile on his face and exclaim, "Daddy look, we match!" It's just not that important to me.

Medically, there has been some research that suggests that circumcision may reduce the likelihood of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, but so does keeping your pecker wrapped and away from dirty partners. Accidents can happen with or without foreskin, but they don't change the effects of poor judgment.

I fully expect my son to sexually experiment, but I also expect him to be smart about it, and if he is not, to deal with the consequences. Having a hooded penis will not change that.

Circumcision does aid in hygiene practices and you get to avoid the cursed smegma. This is not reason enough for me. There are lots of things that would aid in hygiene, most of them are things that I choose not to get into, but removing a piece of anatomy to make it easier to stay clean – that seems to me to be a bit overkill. We will teach him to stay clean and how to do it himself properly, from head to toe and under skin.

My insurance company views circumcision as elective cosmetic surgery. This may be what is the biggest factor for me. I have a hard time electing to get my newborn cosmetic surgery, and then footing the bill for it. It makes you wonder if they have a catalog of different styles, like picking out a new nose, chin or breasts.

I can imagine having the conversation with the doctor — "Can you just make it a bit perkier? I like the one on page 14, but with the shaft of the one on page 47." If my son decides that he wants cosmetic surgery, on his man parts or any of his other ones, he can foot the bill himself. There are a lot of things I will pay for that I don't have to, but elective infant penile surgery is not one of them.

So when the next person asks me, "Have you thought about circumcision?" I can answer yes, I have … and it does not make sense to me for my son.

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  1. I like this article overall, but am bothered by the use of the phrase "dirty partners." I hope you seriously reconsider calling people with sexually transmitted infections (STI's) "dirty." This kind of stigma very likely contributes to transmission rates by making it hard for those with STI's to disclose to this information to sexual partners.

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  2. I'll let the author respond more thoroughly … but I will say that, while issues of social labeling and stigma are sensitive and nuanced, even as someone who's (ahem) dealt with STIs in the past (erm, haven't we all?), I found Jesse's "dirty partners" reference to be relatively lighthearted — and bonus points for total gender neutrality!

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  3. You totally nailed what made the decision easy for me 'Parents in this culture are never asked to alter their unborn daughter’s anatomy in the wee stages of life.' I couldn't see myself doing something to my son that I would be persecuted (and rightly so) for doing to my daughter.
    Circumcision does not make sense to me for my children either.

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  4. While I was already pretty much against circumcision, my husband was VERY against it, and so for us the choice was made long before our son was born. (He's circumcised and didn't think that we needed to cut off part of our son's genitals to help them match, either)
    I have been surprised at some of the negative criticism we've gotten-after all, if foreskin was such a terrible thing, wouldn't human males have begun to evolve without it?
    As the hubby likes to say, "See that baby? Don't cut his dick off!"
    He points out that if it wasn't a culturally accepted practice and one parent did it, it would most probably be seen as some very perverse kind of child abuse and that parent would lose custody. But because it's done by a lot of people, it's seen as a viable choice.

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  5. Since my last post was SO anti-circumcision, I just wanted to say that I appreciated that this article didn't vilify parents who make that choice, and that many people whom I know and love have chosen to circumcise their sons, and I do not think that makes them child abusers. I know that they are doing what they believe is right for their children, and that they love their kids very much.

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  6. Yes, Lara, I meant my "dirty partners” phrase to be lighthearted and wasn't implying that all people who have dealt with an STI are "dirty". What I was saying is I hope that my son goes on to make good decisions, is responsible and avoids obvious risks (with life and sex).

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  7. I admit, I was afraid to write that if I have a son, he will be circumcised. We're Jewish and it's an important ritual in our religion and culture but it's hard to be open about it when you know that people consider it borderline child abuse.
    I also think about things such as that when your son is a baby, it's easy to keep your baby's penis clean, etc but what happens when your son becomes a teenager or a pre-teen even, and has other things to think about, and is certainly not going to let his mother inspect his penis for cleanliness? I've heard way too many stories about teenage boys and adult men who've had to get circumcised later in life, which requires going six weeks without having an erection. A male friend of mine who is staunchly anti-circumcision (and Jewish, to boot) had to admit that yeah, it's impossible for a grown man, much less a teenage boy, to go six weeks without an erection.
    So, this is just another side that I'm throwing out there.

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  8. I actually did post a comment after Melisande's second comment but it was deleted ASAP. I'm guessing there were some words in there that set off an alarm… nothing inappropriate but out of context, could be construed as so.

  9. Aha! The word "Penis" was included in our spam filters. Makes sense, but I removed it because talking about babies can mean talking about penises. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  10. ha. that's what i figured, because it disappeared so fast! i'm glad we're okay with the word "penis" because i definitely don't believe in made-up names for body parts. ๐Ÿ˜›
    thanks. and god, it's early by you, isn't it? i couldn't sleep in my 3rd trimester, either.
    ~nancy

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  11. Although my husband and I have barely discussed this topic, I too have left it up to him. He is circumcised and he has told me that he is happy with the decision his parents made for him. Although he obviously doesn't know what it feels like to not be, he thinks this is the best decision for our unborn child.

    However, I'm glad the author pointed out that his insurance company views circumcision as elective cosmetic surgery, this is something I have not considered and will be calling my insurance company today to find out what their stand is on the issue.

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  12. Don't be afraid! Erika and I are working our tails off to ensure that Offbeat Mama feels inclusive of contradictory parenting perspectives — and this is a super valuable one.

    For me, I feel like there's a hierarchy of priorities when it comes to logic on decisions like this. Religious convictions, for instance, feel like a pretty high priority, whereas cosmetic reasons feel much lower on the totem pole.

    For me, "I'm doing this because it's an important ritual in our religion" feels like a solid prioritization of values. "I'm doing this because, I dunno: I think it looks pretty" feels to me like it might need some more thoughtful examination.

    …Then again, before we knew we were having a boy, I was totally pro-ear piercing for a baby girl … which is a *completely* superficial and painful process to put a child through. So I gotta admit some of my own hypocrisies here.

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  13. I'm really glad you posted this, it's important to hear both sides of the issue, and I think the exact points you brought up (except being Jewish – we're not) are the very reasons Jesse had to write this article – because when he sat down to write, he didn't know what decision he was going to make. This was sort of his way of processing, and you're right, there are definitely reasons for either decision. Thanks for bringing that up.

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  14. I'll admit to switching to Dre's sleep schedule — he teaches 6:30am yoga classes five days a week, and I've taken to going to bed with him before 10pm. ๐Ÿ™‚ I'm still sleeping 8+ hours a night, though … trying to stock up!!!

  15. Many cultures do the jewlery thing for babies as a custom, so it just goes to show that it's all about perspective and framing, and where personal choice figures into that. For me, Alice will get her ears pierced when she's 5, if she wants it, just because that's how old I was when my dad took me to get my ears pierced. We're all making it up as we go!

    Props to Jesse for being open-minded and as I read his blog post, I could totally follow his thinking and see where his thought process was going. (And as a former English teacher, yay for writing as thinking. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

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  16. I was mildly against it, but what really cinched it for me was reading the history of how circumcision came to be so common in the United States. It became a common cultural practice for truly unscientific and hysterical reasons. I know it's a religious practice (I grew up Muslim), but when my father converted to the religion he had himself circumcised as an adult. He said it hurt, but he got over it. It wasn't nearly as hard as quitting his two pack a day habit. So if I have a son and he wants to convert to Islam or Judaism, or wants to circumcise himself for some other reason, he can undergo the procedure. By the way, my husband and his brothers are intact and none of them have had any problems.

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  17. It actually really surprises me that "it's traditional" is used here as a reason for being pro-circumcision. It's "tradition" in some places to circumcise females, but I suspect very few people here would agree with that.

    I'm not intending to make a judgment one way or the other, and am intentionally not stating my stance on circumcision. Just pointing out that logic which is unacceptable under other circumstances is often suddenly acceptable under the umbrella of religion. I'm curious about why that is.

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  18. By my understanding, if you're referencing the Jewish practice of circumcision, it's a tradition, yes, but it's also a religious commandment and part of a covenant.

    I think Ariel's comment above touches on what you're asking here perfectly: It's a matter of priorities. If someone's circumcising their child because of pure aesthetics, that may not be as solid of a reason as someone who chooses to circumcise their child because of the religious beliefs they hold.

  19. Many cultures do the jewlery thing for babies as a customIf you are referring to the custom, in some African cultures, of circumcising girls as they enter menses, it's done there specifically to eliminate sexual pleasure and orgasm for the girls. Circumcising a male doesn't have any impact on sexual pleasure, if my previous partners (both Jewish and non-) are any indication. So, for me, that's why its acceptable to have my theoretical son circumcised, and my disapproval of the circumcision of pre-teen African girls.

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  20. It is a matter of large debate about whether circumcising a male has an impact on sexual pleasure… however, I doubt circumcised guys are too concerned, because most don't know what they are missing if there is a difference at all.

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  21. Fantastic! My fiance and I are years from having children, but we've already had this discussion and decided against circumcision. It's nice to read such a thoughtful, humorous exploration of your decision.

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  22. During nursing school I had the "privilege" of observing 3 circumcisions and decided during the first one that this is something I would NEVER put my son through. Very few moms or dads actually see the circumcision procedure (unless they are jewish and have a brit – sp?), and I do not know if so many people would do it, if they did have the opportunity to see it.

    In my experiences, the procedure seemed VERY painful for the baby boys! Some doctors applied a numbing cream before the procedure and some didn't. Aside from the numbing cream, they give the baby a nipple full of a sucrose solution (sugar) and performed the procedure. The babies definitely felt it (as evidenced by the crying and look of pain on their poor day old faces), and it is not exactly a gentle process.

    I just found out a week ago that my husband and I are having a boy. It wasn't even a question in my mind – no circumcision! Teach your kid to clean it properly and have safe sex, and he'll be good!

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