Monday, December 13, 2010

I'm coming out

About a controversial topic... so only read on if you'd like to hear what I have to say about circumcision.

Before I begin, I want to discuss WHY I'm writing this blog. It's not intended to make anyone who made a different choice feel bad about their decision. Parents who chose differently are not bad parents or bad people. I don't wish to judge those who chose the other option, but I do feel very strongly about the topic. So strongly that I feel the need to stand up and say "I am against routine infant circumcision". I also felt the need to chronicle this in my blog so that Griffin (and Penelope) understand why and how Bryan and I made this decision because this has as much to do with our philosophy on parenting as it does with circumcision itself.

So consider yourself warned. I will not mince my words.

I wasn't always an "intactivist". When we were pregnant with Penelope our OBGYN asked whether or not we would choose circumcision (this was before we found out Poe's sex). Both Bryan and I answered in the affirmative; yes, we would have circumcised at that point.

It's possible my answer would have changed. After all, I was originally going to deliver in a hospital.

Once we found out Poe was a girl I didn't give the subject another thought. Why would I? It didn't matter at that point.

When we got pregnant with Griffin I was convinced he was a girl... but I still did a lot of reading about the subject and participated in a LOT of debates. They changed my mind.

Circumcision is a cosmetic surgical procedure. Meaning that it is, in the vast majority of cases, medically unnecessary. It is done for a variety of cultural and/or religious reasons; since Bryan and I are neither Jewish nor Muslim then we can eliminate religious reasons. That just leaves cultural.

(FYI - there are multiple Christian denominations that do not circumcise. In fact, 1 Corinthians makes a pretty good case that God did not wish for circumcision to continue after the death of Jesus. Here's a link to a blog that discusses the Christian aspect of circumcision for those of faith who wish to read it. There are also groups like Catholics Against Circumcision who are pretty dedicated to lowering circumcision rates among the faithful.)

Regardless, all the arguments left for circumcision were cultural. So let's examine those.

1. So baby looks like Daddy. Griffin will not have the same color eyes, hair, same size feet, or the same sized penis. They're different human beings and there's no need for them to look the same. I wouldn't get cosmetic surgery done so their noses match, why for their penises?

2. So he doesn't get teased in the locker room. I'm sure Griffin, at some point in his life, will get teased. For acne, clumsiness, the gap between his teeth, when his voice changes, etc. It's inevitable. Besides, the circumcision rate is as low as 33% in some areas. So odds are he'll be in the majority as a teenager.

3. Girls think uncircumcised penises are ugly. Um, ALL penises are ugly. And erect, the circumcised and intact penises look the same. Besides, if a girl refuses to date G just because he's intact then she's not exactly the kind of woman I want my son to date.

4. Intact penises are harder to clean. Actually, they're really easy to take care of. As a baby you just wash it like a finger. No pulling back, no scrubbing. Pulling back (retraction) is actually dangerous - the foreskin is fused onto the head of the penis like a nail is to your finger (this is for infants and young boys). When they get older it will retract on its own - then boys will have to pull back the skin and rinse. That's it. And for those out there who think boys won't do this easy cleaning think on this: have you EVER met a teenage boy who had to be convinced to touch his penis? Really? It's harder to get them to STOP touching their penises. Boys take half hour long showers for a reason: hint, it's not to wash their hair.

Then there are the "medical" reasons...

1. Circumcision prevents infection. Nope, nope, and nope. Prematurely retracting the foreskin can cause infection - but an intact penis that is properly cared for will likely never cause problems. Most problems are due to lack of basic proper care. The horror stories you hear of old men in nursing homes? Likely due to the fact that a lot of workers are not properly trained on proper penile care. Old people in Europe do not suffer from high rates of medical circumcision - so either American penises are somehow faulty or we're just not doing something right.

2. Circumcision prevents AIDS/STDs. Come on. That's just silly. Studies that have shown slightly lower transmission rates have yet to be repeated and have serious flaws in data collection. Many men in the US are circumcised and yet we have very high rates of STDs, so obviously circumcision is not the answer. Condom use is. I would rather my son learn proper safe sex procedures than trust circumcision will magically stop AIDS.

There are probably others, but these are the big ones I hear in these debates.

Finally, and arguably most importantly, the reason we have decided not to circumcise Griffin is because it's not our penis, it's his. He should be the one to make the decision. Unlike actual medical decisions (vaccinations, medically indicated surgery or procedures) there are NO HEALTH BENEFITS. It's like tattooing - it's a permanent, cosmetic procedure. It's his body and it's his choice.

It's really as simple as that. There are more arguments against circumcision - some more emotional and inflammatory than others - but what it boils down to is that his body belongs to him. Not to me.

If you'd like to learn more, please visit Intact America.

So Griffin, now you know why. And you should know that if when you're older you decide to get circumcised your father and I will support you.

So how does this demonstrate our parenting philosophy? Bryan and I believe that our children are individuals that are capable of appropriate levels of autonomy. We allow our children to make decisions for themselves whenever possible. At this point Griffin doesn't make a ton of decisions, but Penelope does. She can pick out her pajamas, clothes, what she wants to eat, what activities she wants to do for the day, etc. There are limits of course, she is only 2 and is not capable of complete autonomy, but she is capable of making some decisions for herself.

Some of their decisions will be cosmetic, but many will not be. Our children will be encouraged to explore a variety of different things - religion, politics, philosophies, etc. And like any parent I hope that they will agree with my stance on many of these issues, but even if they decide differently I will still love them and I will do my best to respect and support their decisions. Because the point of it all is that it's their choice. Their lives. Their bodies. I will do what I can to keep them healthy and happy so that they can grow up and follow their bliss.

And that's how I see it.


  1. Awesome! I think I'll direct people to this when I get asked why we didn't circumsize. Very succint and nonoffensive.

  2. Great post. Love it! Thanks so much for sharing. :)

  3. Children with voices who are taught to make choices tend to be more respectful others because they know they are respected and loved by those close to them.

    I love that your children are being raise with the right to make choices for themselves!

  4. I couldn't have said it better myself. AMAZING post. Thank you so much for writing this!

  5. Awesome post! You very eloquently made the case for genital autonomy. Thank you for protecting your son.

  6. Yes, very good. I'm adding it to my resources here.

    Most mainstream Christian denominations (often contrary to the belief of many of their members) do not endorse religious circumcision. Not only in Corinthians but in most of his letters, St Paul says circumcision is not part of Christianity.

    I like Robin Greenslade's point too. And where circumcision is not customary and there is no social pressure to have it done, very, very few men ever choose it or need it.


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