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Tracy Brown

Tracy Brown
The Netherlands
October 24
Tracy Brown is an editor and writer and soon-to-be mother living in the Netherlands. She shares her experiences at


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SEPTEMBER 9, 2010 4:22AM

Circumcision: Willy or Won’t He?

Rate: 21 Flag

The night I learned I was pregnant, my unsuspecting Irish fella was out with a friend of his whose wife had just learned she was expecting. They toasted this news into the wee hours, and my Irish fella spent that night dreaming about babies, specifically that he had twin daughters.

Upon learning the next morning that I, too, was pregnant, he continued dreaming about having twin girls, one dressed in blue and one in yellow. The dreams were detailed and recurring, and we began to believe in the girls, and had picked out perfect names for them. An eight-week ultrasound eliminated the possibility of twins, but we still leaned very heavily toward ‘girl’. It wasn’t a preference—just a feeling.

When we went for the 20-week ultrasound, the first image we got was that of our baby yawning. It was incredible to see. The technician took us on a 30-minute gray/blue grainy tour, pointing to and measuring the skull, the lips, the hands, the feet. “Here are the lungs,” she beamed, “and the heart, and the stomach, and here is the liver, and here—” she drew an arrow onscreen—“are the balls!”

And indeed, there were the balls. This meant we had to rethink our names, but it also meant, for me anyway, that we had to talk about something else.

In the States, although the practice is increasingly questioned, circumcision is still the norm. It’s not something I had made up my mind about, but it’s something I thought we should discuss. But because the Irish fella is ‘unsnipped,’ I assumed his answer to the circumcision question would be absolutely not.

“Absolutely not,” he said, “and don’t be Googling it.”

But I’m a Googler, so of course I Googled. The United States, I learned, is the only country in the world that circumcises the majority of its male infants for non-religious reasons, and I was curious to know why so many parents opted for this.

Many members of the parenting discussion groups I visited online seemed to believe it was better for the baby. But as far as medical benefits, there are none, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has been saying as much since 1971. In fact, no national medical organization in the United States recommends circumcision. Claims that circumcision helps reduce the instance of infection and the spread of STDs are unfounded.

One woman in a pregnancy forum said she was going to circumcise her son because she didn’t want to have to handle his bits in order to wash them. The improbability of avoiding touching your son’s privates while caring for him in the early years aside, this is misinformed. The penis in its natural form is a self-cleaning mechanism, much like a vagina, and it is not true that an uncircumcised penis is more difficult to clean—not in adulthood and not in infancy. In fact, the baby books are very clear on how to care for a newborn’s foreskin: leave it alone.

What I’ve found, both online and in speaking to mothers of sons, is the overwhelming majority of parents lean in favor of circumcision so the baby will “look like daddy.” This seems widely accepted, but it doesn’t hold for me.

These are well-meaning parents, as I believe most are. But the “look like daddy” argument is a self-perpetuating one that ensures the continuation of circumcision while negating medical research that not only dismisses any benefits of the practice, but that actually points to the potential damage—physical and psychological—that can result from it.

I understand that children are wonderfully inquisitive and observant and will notice and ask about the differences between their bodies and their daddy’s (and mommy’s). But on hearing something like, “people used to cut the skin off because they thought it was safer, but now we know that is not true so we didn’t do that to you,” I think most little boys will accept this simple truth rather than have confusion instilled about their masculine identity.

Adults over-complicate, but kids don’t. Explaining my divorce to a small child sounded something like this: “We decided we are better friends when we aren’t married to each other.” It took a little more explaining to grown-ups, but the additional details didn’t really change the core truth of what I’d said to my friend’s six year old. We shouldn’t impose our instinct to over-analyze on children. We should allow them to enjoy a period of life where simpler explanations are acceptable, particularly when they tell us all we need to know.

I can only conclude that we, meaning Americans, circumcise because it’s what we’re used to doing, and because the majority of boys in the States get the snip, a circumcised penis is what we are more accustomed to seeing.

One woman wrote in an online forum that she once saw an uncircumcised penis and it looked like Darth Vader in a turtleneck. She said it was ugly, and worried that girls wouldn’t be attracted to her son. I can’t imagine society accepting elective surgery on the genitals of female babies because we prefer how it looks.

And of course circumcision is not the norm worldwide. According to some statistics, about 60 percent of infant boys are circumcised in the U.S., and Australia is not far behind. Only about 30 percent are snipped in Canada, and figures drop to less than 20 percent in countries elsewhere in the world. I mentioned these numbers to an Australian friend of mine, a circumcised male, who immediately fell into a fit of insecurity about whether Dutch girls think he looks like a freak.

It reminds me of the Dr Seuss story about an island inhabited by two breeds of Sneetch: some have stars on their bellies and are considered vastly superior to those without. The star-less Sneetches obtain a large and fabulously Seussian machine that puts stars on their bellies, prompting the original star-bellied Sneetches to acquire a machine that removes their stars. Chaos ensues: nobody knows anymore whether it’s preferable to have a star or not to have a star.

Of course a star is not a foreskin and a baby is not a Sneetch. The bottom line is that every parent should choose what they think is best for their child. Inform yourself and weigh the pros and cons.

For me, my baby will not be circumcised, not because he’ll be growing up in Europe and not because he’ll look like his daddy if we leave him intact, but simply because it is not necessary.


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Lost in the sands of time is the reason circumcision (non-religious) became popular in the US in the first place - it was thought to reduce masturbation, which of course, causes feeble-mindedness.

Yep. That's why. No real medical reason. Just whack off the most sensitive tissue in a little boy's body in the name of mental health. Also, eat cold whole grain cereals in the morning, that also reduces masturbation. And on that the fortunes of Battle Creek sanitarium owners Dr. Kellogg, Dr. Post, and Dr, Graham made their fortunes.
Delightful to see common sense prevail over myths, fables and ignorance. (r)
We came to the same conclusion early on. We're going to get a lot of grief from my family, but if it's a boy (we have the 20 week ultrasound tomorrow and I'm not sure we'll have the restraint not to look) we're not going to circumsize. My mother is already wining about the missed bris.
Well said. So many of us are just sheep following the societal norms without question. I try very hard not to be one of those bleating individuals.
I love your post.

I chose to not circumcise my son 14 years ago. I worried quite a bit for years, because when he was 4 and in preschool he came home and said, "I don't have a nice pee pee." We talked and it turns out he noticed his was different than another boy's.

So I told him why I made my decision, in a way a 4 year old would understand. He seemed fine, but I still obsessed.

This year is the first year he's taking showers with other boys after football practice. As much as my husband assured me that everything will be fine, that he's not the only one, that little 4 year old lamentation came back to me. So after a few practices I just "How do you feel about the whole shower-with-the-team business?" And he replied, "No big deal. We see each other naked so much now we're used to it. So, ya know, cover what you can and get it done!" He laughed.

So all my worry was for naught. It's not even an issue for him.
Bravo! Lovely post. I hadn't even begun Googling circumcision for my baby-on-the-way. More for the to-do list (sigh.)
Okay, Googling begins: less than 20% of baby boys are circumcised in Mexico, where I live (and pretty much everywhere else in the Americas south of the US border). One less medical procedure sounds good to me. Thank you for the help!
Good on you! Based on the comments here, times are changing. Up to a few years ago even bringing up the idea that many Europeans laughed at this strange American custom would get you accused of being the same type of nut who'd talk about fluoridation sapping our bodily fluids.
I'm Jewish and amazed that people who don't keep kosher or go to temple or much else still hold on to this custom as essential.
Same here. There's just no medical reason for it. And the "look like Daddy" line just doesn't fly for me... why? When we chose not to have our son circumcised (in the US), I remember the doctor in the hospital saying "Oh, you lucky little boy!" and laughing. We made the right decision.
Same here. There's just no medical reason for it. And the "look like Daddy" line just doesn't fly for me... why? When we chose not to have our son circumcised (in the US), I remember the doctor in the hospital saying "Oh, you lucky little boy!" and laughing. We made the right decision.
Whether circumcision or clitoridectomy, I am pleased to discover more parents opting to leave their children's sex organs alone.
We did, and I wish we hadn't! My husband had a stronger opinion than I -- and I figured he had the right. So our little one got snipped.

If we'd been in the US, where the procedure's common, at least the results would probably have been better. But our son was born in Austria, where this was a pretty exotic procedure -- as much as the doctors congratulated themselves on the job, it looks like butchery to me.

So take that into consideration too -- the rarity of a procedure in the place where you're having it done!
I am glad to see that simple logic won here.

My two cents:

It may not be accurate, but the latest data in the US has circumcision of newborns in hospitals falling from about 56% in 2007 to about 33% in 2009. Ye ha. It is not the norm to do it anymore in the States.

The follow cut daddy thing not only continues the cycle of penis cutting, it also entails that those that don't know what the sensation is all about aare deciding to remove it from another human. Can anyone imagine people with only black and white sight deciding to remove color sight from children? The parts provide protection, but more importantly, the parts provide PLEASURE. The cut men of the US don't know what the about 20000 fine touch and stretch nerves feel like. They feel great.

Given that this operation removes a part (a huge part) of the sensory system of a human, I very much dislike the use of terms like SNIP. How is removing pleasure giving nerves a snip?
I have three boys (okay, they are technically men now) aged 28, 22 and 20 and they are intact. I can say unequivocally that we never had a single problem with cleanliness, not looking like dad, being different in the locker room, etc. At the time, the circumcision rates were up over 80% in the U.S. and my decision was considered weird.

There are plenty of grown men who regret that they were circumcised at birth and not just because they've heard that it greatly reduces sensitivity. It just seems to me that barring any substantive medical reason for doing it, it really should be left up to the boy when he is able to make the decision for himself.

As to appearance, they look natural. I can see thinking they look strange if all you've ever seen are the clipped ones with the head of the glans all dried out and toughened.

Just for some consistency here, I feel the same way about piercing the ears of a baby girl.
10 years ago I didn't even know I had a choice for my newborn. I actually didn't think of circumcision at all until the pediatrician visited us the morning after our son was born. Fortunately he saw no reason for the procedure. After 2 seconds of consideration neither did we. Glad to know it's becoming more common to decline this unnecessary surgery.
Another thing that most people don't know is that the historical circumcision of the Jews was not the total removal of the foreskin that modern practice calls for, but a much less radical trim that left most of the glans covered. There are some who theorize it was developed as a way to "mark" Jews in a way that was not easily counterfeited by non-Jewish spies. A badge of authenticity of membership in the tribe, so to speak.
And it's not just pleasure for the man! The foreskin is perfectly engineered to glide in and out of the woman smoothly and effortlessly without making her sore or uncomfortable (depending how many times you do it etc) so that she can concentrate on receiving pleasure!
When my sons were born I said no, my ex said yes. Sorry to report she won.

Being of the cut group I will say that I never experience some of the feelings my uncut friends talk about. I'm sure it's because of the drying and harding of the head.

Maybe when my sons have children.
Good for you. There may have been some justifiation for it prior to the invention by the Romans of soap, but certainly not today. It is as vile as clitorectomies for little girls and should be prohibited until adulthood.
I don't feel strongly, but I admit I agree that I find it puzzling that people continue the practice of circumcision. Are they worried their grown up kids will lament they weren't circumcized? If so, you're never too old to be cut, so why the hurry?

Parents, if you're going to circumcize your kids, fine. But to do it so it "looks like daddy" is the dumbest reason I can think of. How much time do boys really spend contemplating the appearance of their dad's penis?
Circumcision is like so many mindless practices that are perpetuated because people are too often mindless sheep and not acting on instincts or stopping to think. It didn't take much for us to leave our son intact 35 years ago. The mere thought of having someone carving a healthy structure from his body to satisfy any of the lame issues posed sounded perverse. Over the years, it has been self-evident that the circumcising industry does not want to lose this easy source of money. They know how easy parents can be to manipulate by just a few fear issues, bogus as they are. Folks, circumcision is sexual assault on the helpless and it cannot be justified, no way no how. Take the whole child home and in possession of that rich, erogenous, movable, protective part. Be part of a world discarding ugly practices of the past.
Circumcision is cosmetic surgery on newborns. Few other surgeries are done on newborns, even when needed to improve life (ie a hare lip or cleft palate seriously inhibiting the baby's ability to suck, hence eat). Circumcision is done at birth because traditionally, babies weren't fully human until after a baptism or mitzvah ritual, meaning a tragic accident (yes they sometimes happen, and must have been more common before modern medical practice) wasn't actually the death of a human. And at a few days of age, the parents hadn't had much time to bond. Later the theory was that for some reason, that one part of the baby failed to have the same pain sensors as very other part. This was to make the parents feel better about it.

There is good research suggesting that a foreskin has some protective effect for most STDs (provided the owner has good hygiene) but may make a man more susceptible to HIV. This is because the inside of the foreskin has a lot of T-cells, which normally fight infections, but are the route of HIV infection.

Many boys foreskins don't retract until age 4 or so, making cleaning under them impossible. However, if your child's foreskin doesn't retract by age five, you need to see a doctor --- one that supports your decision, since the average American response to a problem with a foreskin is to lop it off. Usually gently pushing while in the bath will fix the problem over time.

If you have American doctors not comfortable with foreskins, they will not deal with this.

The penis and foreskin, like all body parts, shed skin cells. By the age of 5, if the foreskin doesn't retract, these can build up under the foreskin and cause an infection. This happened to my son when he was 7. Again, the American response is to lop off that unneeded body part. On the whole, these complications are no more common than problems with circumcision.

We were lucky to be in Bulgaria, where a normal penis is intact and the doctor fixed the problem.

In short, if you are going to have an intact boy in America, if you have a minor problem, you need to make sure the solution isn't circumcision.

As for what to tell the kid, I told mine that a very few men are born without foreskins, but many have them cut off. No boy will ever think having a body part cut off is a good thing.

I did a lot of research on this when I had a boy, but I've forgot my sources. They did include the Merck Manual, AIDS research based in Africa, anthropologists, and doctors. I do remember the lop-it-off, a foreskin is disgusting advice from a registered nurse on the Aetna hotline.
You'll never be sorry you decided this! I have a 15 year old boy and both he, and I are very glad of it–– despite his having a Jewish father ( now estranged.) Step Dad is a regretful product of a maltreated mother and a trickery of a circumcision–– they assumed she wanted, that caused my poor Mother in law to run screaming and crying down the hospital corridor with my future husband bleeding and mutilated! I chastised my cousin who ridiculously did the "looks like Dad " thing with his son at his birth 8 years ago even though he has no assumption at all that it will be better for his son. ??? I mean, really? I very much enjoyed your calmly and reasonably organized essay. It covers all the points I did when I did research on the issue to back up my already held conviction that Nature is best, nature is divine in its design.
I applaud your decision. It is the only choice an ethical person can make. I strongly disagree with your statement that all parents should do what they think is best in this context. Parents should have the choice to mutilate the natural genitals of their children, boys or girls. I will add an insight I've had recently: I think it runs deeper than it's just the way of things in our culture. I think circumcision embodies something far more sinister, the sex-negative mentality of the Abrahamaic religions, that it is okay to cut the enjoyment of sex in boys because they aren't supposed to enjoy it that much anyway; sex is sinful.
Also, I wrote about the ethics of circumcision on my blog, if you're interested.
My first comments should have read Parents should NOT have the right. . .
What a beautiful baby boy! Perfect in every way! Now, let's mutilate his genitals for no good reason.

Thanks for helping spread the light.
Glad you are not circumcising! My hubby is circumcised and in a world when I was too young to know any better (but should have), I had my first son circumcised because everyone said he should "look like daddy". I never regretted ANYTHING more after they brought my one day old son to me sucking so hard on a pacifier he was leaving red rings on his cheeks and his tiny eyes as wide as saucers...wide from the pain he had felt. And they told me as much saying "Oh, they mostly feel it. The anesthesia doesn't work well." I said to myself there and then, at 22, that if I EVER had another son, he would not be cut. There's no need, as you have said, and a LOT of reasons not to do it. As it would be, I had twin boys when I was 36. They are now 4 and I'm so glad I didn't do it this time. But, it is amazing how even sometimes the pediatricians seem to look at them like I didn't do something I should have. Happy you guys made this decision.
Your assertion that "Claims that circumcision helps reduce the instance of infection and the spread of STDs are unfounded" flies in the face of numerous medical studies. Most recently, The Lancet reported last week that circumcising men reduces cervical cancer risk in women. "There's no doubt that male circumcision provides a certain degree of protection against sexually transmitted diseases," according to study co-author Thomas Quinn, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University.

The Lancet has also concluded that circumcision reduces the risk of HIV infection. As a consequence of these and other studies, both the World Health Organization and UNAIDS now recommend that circumcision of HIV-negative men should form part of national HIV prevention programs in sub-Saharan Africa.

The benefits of circumcision have nothing to do with cosmetics and everything to to do with medical science.
In Sub-Saharan Africa there are minimal benefits because hygiene is so poor. This is not the case for most people in the United States.
Thanks for your comment Brad. I'd hate to be the only dissenting voice here. I wrote an article for a (now defunct) webzine back when the World Health Organization first promoted the idea and in my research discovered that the West has long had deeply felt aversion to circumcision, a century of practice in America notwithstanding. Besides sexually transmitted diseases, it has also been shown to have benefits re: penile cancer and urinary tract infections. The allegations of harm, on the other hand, are entirely acecdotal and rely heavily on our culture's aversion.
I live in the "South" in what could be described as a conservative state. I am liberal but not exactly "crunchy", not even close. I am in the medical profession and I know how to research medical issues. I have motherly instincts, one in particular which includes my demand for a really good medical reason for allowing someone to take a knife to my child.

I have two sons, both intact even though their father is not.

Come on America. Be brave. Listen to your instincts. And above all, THINK.
Good for you! I have three boys, including a set of twins, and no one was going to come close to their genitals with any sharp instruments....and I am Jewish, by the way. But mostly I want to address the "circumcision as a public health policy" fallacy that showed in the comments from Brad and David.

Having an uncircumcised penis is just not a communicable disease. It is not at all similar to vaccinations where we try to achieve the so-called herd immunity. No one contracts diseases, such as polio, measles, etc. on purpose and for the most part no one spreads these infections on purpose. Presumably, how one uses his penis is a matter of individual choice and the choice of his partner. So, it seems like a very indirect way to achieve public health benefits.

Do partners of circumcised men have fewer urinary tract infections? Maybe. But why would I want to do surgery on my sons to protect the health of someone else...someone I don't even know yet?
The benefits of circumcision with regard to reducing STD's and urinary tract infections are minimal at best. Yes there is a benefit, however it is statistically and one has to question whether the trade off is worth it.

As to the "allegations of harm", I am pretty sure that nobody would ever suggest that snipping skin off a baby's penis is "alleged" to cause harm. Rather, circumcision IS harm. Bleeding is harm. Cutting is harm. Damage is harm and pain is harm. No allegations necessary. You cut a baby, it screams in pain and bleeds, you've harmed a baby.
Just a little comment: whenever anyone mentions the "look like Daddy" thing I have to wonder: will the child be born with pubic hair? The baby's genitals won't look like his dad's. They're also much smaller, as I remember...

That was part of how we decided. When I first got pregnant, I didn't feel strongly about the issue (though I do now) but my husband did. My son was not cut.
This debate pops up 2-3 times a year online and there seems to be an over riding sentiment not o circumsize.

I will agree with the sentiment and see no real reason to do so. If for no other reason to stop the extra unneeded medical procedure and the associated cost of doing a circumcision. We can put our medical cost reduction into a savings account for college. Hey its a start.
There will be some people against it. After you dig around in their replies its for one of two reason to make sure they look like their fathers and for religious reasons. First of all fathers are not normally seen in the nude with their kids and even if they are nobody is looking at their penis's. So that is a mute arguement. AAs far as religious reasons, thats up to you and the father. Its a parental decision and whatever you both think is fine with me. If it were up to me I would ask the insurance companies to stop paying for it.
I hope everything went well with your pregnancy and birth (and not circumcising your son). We decided not to circumcise our son, either -- for all the reasons stated in this blog. We think the "look like his father" argument is ridiculous. And we talked it over with our dads (circumcised) and they each felt mutilated. We were stunned when our precious, uncircumcised, 3 week old came down with a UTI (needed a spinal tap, catheterization, and then anti-biotics). Then another UTI that was resistant to one strain of anti-biotics (two more catheterizations and a diagnostic test that involved shooting dye up to the kidneys to see if there was a leak). Turns out, his foreskin was too tight and urine was getting trapped and festering; the bacteria caused the UTIs. We could choose between keeping him on anti-biotics daily for years and seeing if his foreskin stretched out enough or we could circumcise. We had a team of 5 pediatricians who are all anti-circumcision and a doctor at Oakland Children's Hospital who has marched for decades against circumcision. They all recommended that he should be circumcised. Yes, he was an unusual case. But all the doctors pulled us aside to say that they are seeing more and more teen boys come in with retraction problems and they (doctors) are concerned. I can no longer be as vehemently against circumcision as I once was. Our son went through a lot because of our choice; hindsight is 20/20, but I don't think this issue should cause so much division or self-righteousness on either side. I thought your blog struck a fine tone, but the people who commented generally did not.
All this natural bit is OK as long as the parents know that you can't just leave "it" alone. The foreskin is NOT like a vagina!!! It can become infected and constrict the penis, if not taken care of promptly your child will be circumcised traumatically on an emergency basis. I worked in a busy ER and saw this rarely but when it did happen NO ONE was happy. So it's wash the bits as you do on a female ( the labia ) or end up in the ER.....Certainly when the boy is older foreskin care must be taught and kept an eye on , as girls are taught to wipe correctly!! Just some nursing notes to share.
PS..... we did go with the Daddy is so he was, but it was our decision.
I'm pregnant and undecided. What greengirl says is interesting, and I know of 2 other people that had similar issues. An ex-boyfriend of mine was having chronic UTIs into his college years and had to get circumcised at age 20. This was not fun for him, to say the least.

Then, my best friend from college's European husband insisted they don't circumcise their son, and her poor kiddo had several UTIs that turned into kidney infections, was later diagnosed with urinary reflux, and also had to get circumcised at 8 months. I don't like the idea of circumcision at all but this makes me nervous not to do it!
The Dr Seuss story is wonderful and soooo apt!! The circumcised penis was a cattle brand denoting that one' parents were educated, had money to spare, and most of all, were considerate about their son's fewer sex partners. During the first half of last century, to be an uncircumcised American male meant that one was born at home with a midwife. One was an immigrant or a child of immigrants. One had grown up playing handball at a Boy's Club rather than tennis at a country club. Or simply born in poverty. In the 1940s, when the typical American job began offering health insurance, and health insurance reimbursed RIC without question, the circumcision rate among native born middle class whites became at least 95%.

"I'm Jewish and amazed that people who don't keep kosher or go to temple or much else still hold on to this custom as essential."

I agree with what this sentence, and deplore this twist in the North American secular Jewish mind. After all, Judaism is not sexual fetish or primitive cult. But I am not surprised. Circumcision has great primal power, by virtue of its standing at the crossroad where sex and violence meet. It involves the most sexual part of the male body.

In North America, having a bald penis is a necessary condition for being perceived as a Jewish male by one's dates. If Sherry Goldstein goes out with Lenny Slatkin and discovers that his trouser snake has an eyelid, she will tend to doubt he is in truth a Member of the Tribe. The Ashkenazim became very very attached to the bald penis because it made it made intermarriage with European Christians very awkward. A Jewish dude could not conceal his Jewishness from any shiksa with whom he had a fling. She would learn the truth about his origins within a few seconds after trying to do foreplay on him. If a nice Jewish girl agreed to marry a goy, she would be reminded of having strayed off the Jewish ramp every time she made love to her husband. This sexual barrier between European Jews and gentiles was surely a secret source of relief to Jewish parents and rabbis.