Friday, April 10, 2009

The Unfortunate Dismissal of the Foreskin

I've been a relatively quiet gal in the efforts to educate people about circumcision of infant boys. In saying that, I mean that I've certainly supported other people's efforts to inform people, and I am definitely clear with everyone I know that I do not support the practice under any circumstances. To me, the most frustrating thing about the whole topic is the fact that it is under discussion at all.

In keeping with the Canadian Pediatric Society, which does not support circumcision, New Brunswick's universal health care program has not paid for the procedure for over 10 years. In the UK, there are current investigations into a number of infant deaths attributable to circumcision. Not one major medical organization in the world supports routine infant circumcision. They are all saying it is unnecessary and there is no valid medical reason for the procedure. Yet between 10 and 20% of infants in Canada are still circumcised, so, just for the sake of it, let's review some basic facts about circumcision:

1. It's a brutally painful procedure. Most parents instinctively know this and I don't know of anyone who will stay in the room with their baby to witness this surgery. When and infant is circumcised, his arms and legs are tied down, his face is screwed up in agony, and he's screaming himself purple. Take the time to read a description of the surgery. In a newborn, the foreskin is fused to the glans of the penis, and separating the two before you make the cut is also very painful. Remember that the same procedure, performed on an older boy or adult, is done under anesthetic.

2. It reduces the size and the sensitivity of the penis, resulting in less sexual sensation as an adult. As an adult woman, I can attest to the difference! If you are a circumcised adult male, you may laugh at this, but keep in mind- you've never had anything to compare it with. Men who've had the procedure as adults unequivocally state there is a difference. There are also many men out there who have restored their foreskin and are delighted with the results.

3. An intact penis is not a dirty penis! As a boy grows older, the foreskin naturally retracts. It's pretty darned easy to teach your boy to retract and rinse. Jeepers, my five year old can do it.

4. Some people propose routine circumcision as a way to prevent problems with the foreskin in older boys and adults. They also believe that intact boys have more urinary tract infections. Both assumptions are incorrect, as long as parents and caregivers respect the foreskin and don't try to retract it before it retracts on its own (this happens at various ages for individuals, it doesn't happen in some boys until they hit their teens). All too often, in a society that thinks circumcision is the "norm", well meaning caregivers will attempt to retract the foreskin on an infant, resulting in pain and infection. In older males, sometimes there is a problem with the foreskin getting too tight: this can be dealt with by using steroid creams and, in extreme cases, with surgery. These problems are rare and do NOT warrant routine circumcision to prevent them. Some information about caring for the intact penis can be found here.

5. Recent news headlines that tout circumcision as the answer to the AIDS epidemic will, over time, be shown to be the load of crap that they are. Condoms are the answer to preventing AIDS, not surgery. In the past doctors tried to push circumcision to prevent penile cancer. The biggest proponents of circumcision in Victorian times touted it as a way to prevent a whole slew of diseases, including syphilis and tuberculosis. We know that both diseases occur in men, circumcised or no. So why do it? Performing this as a routine surgery on every boy means big money, for doctors, medical supply companies, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. Fear is a big motivator for many people. Don't buy into it.

6. In 2008, the United Nations issued a statement on eliminating Female Genital Mutilation. Most people I know think that FGM is a barbaric procedure, and don't support it in the least. Our baby boys deserve such a statement, but many politicians are reluctant to support it because circumcision, or Male Genital Mutilation, is still such an uncomfortable subject for so many. It's difficult to state you do not support the practice when you are circumcised yourself or you are a mother or grandmother who has circumcised her boys. It is hard to say, "I was not educated about this. I now see it was wrong. I am sorry."

7. People still cite religion as a reason for circumcision. Today there are practicing Jews who are choosing to keep their boys intact. Christians who say they are circumcising for religious reasons aren't all that well informed. First of all, they don't follow every other guideline in the Old Testament. Second, Jesus didn't care if you were Jew or Gentile. He would have had a large number of followers who weren't circumcised, including a number of his disciples. Same with St. Paul, who was of Greek origin. Sorry, this argument doesn't stand up your Bible.

This is not a subject that should be put away. Babies don't need circumcision, they don't need to look like their daddies, and they in no cases should be violated and have the choice of genital integrity taken from them. For good resources and sound medical information about circumcision please go to

Please take the time to educate yourself about this, for your children and your grandchildren. Please stop hurting baby boys.



  1. Amy, thank you so much for posting about this. I am a doula too, in the US, where it is still somewhat taboo to talk about, even within the birth community and with rates around 50% and dropping. You have done such an excellent job covering it. Thank you!

  2. Marilyn Milos discusses circumcision and STDs at

    The sad thing about saying that circumcision lowers the STD rate is that even in areas where circumcision rates are high, people still get plenty of STDs. The only way to lower the STD rate is to educate our children early, raise them to have a healthy view of themselves and their bodies, and teach proper condom use.

    Thanks for the kind words Caroline.