If you’re pregnant with a baby boy, you might be asking yourself, “Should I circumcise my son?” There’s much debate about the procedure, and in this article, I’ll share what I know and help you make an informed decision.
Why circumcision is popular in America
There is no evidence of when exactly circumcision began in the U.S. However the rise of circumcision in the US dates back to the late 1800s in part, due to the work and writings of an orthopedic surgeon named Dr. Lewis Sayre. He claimed to have healed one patient from paralysis of the legs by removing his foreskin, and went on to promote circumcision as a cure for other boyhood ailments. Other physicians performed circumcision to prevent masturbation, which was considered a dangerous practice at the time.
Amongst the world’s wealthiest nations, the U.S. has one of the highest male circumcision rates (the W.H.O. estimates that the circumcision rate in the states is 76-92%) and is the only country that routinely circumcizes infant boys in hospitals. However, a 2013 C.D.C. report that analyzed decades of hospital records found that the rate of circumcision dropped from about 65% in 1979 to about 58% in 2010. The percentage has likely dropped even more since 2010, but circumcision is still very popular and routinely performed in U.S. hospitals.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has been all over the place about whether or not they recommend circumcision. For decades the AAP recommended circumcision and cited research that suggests circumcision could reduce rates of sexually transmitted diseases, penile cancer, urinary tract infections, and slow the transmission of HIV. However, the AAP stated in their 1999 policy update that there’s no medical necessity for circumcision. In the AAP’s 2012 policy statement on circumcision, they argue that the medical benefits outweigh the risks, they don’t outright recommend the procedure. The 2012 AAP statement reads, “Although health benefits are not great enough to recommend routine circumcision for all male newborns, the benefits of circumcision are sufficient to justify access to this procedure for families choosing it.”
I was pregnant with my son in 2006 and if you’re pregnant with a boy now, you may be as confused as I was about whether or not to leave our son intact. So, I left the decision up to my husband (who was raised Christian and is circumcised). I asked him to do the research and consider the pros and cons of circumcision. Initially, he wanted our son circumcised so their penises would look the same, and so that our son wouldn’t get bullied for having an uncircumcised penis later in childhood. But after he did more research, he changed his mind, and we ultimately chose not to circumcise him. If we were religious Jews or Muslims who routinely practice circumcision on infant boys, I’m sure that decision would have been much harder.
Circumcision facts from around the world
- The U.S. is the only industrialized nation that routinely circumcises boys in hospitals.
- You must tell your attending pediatrician in the U.S. if you don’t want your son circumcised.
- In the Middle East where circumcision is a religious tradition promoted by Jews and Muslims, circumcision rates are about 95% in many countries.
- In Western Europe where circumcision is more controversial, circumcision rates are about 20%, including circumcisions for religious reasons.
- Holland denounced male circumcision in their 2010 statement
- Most developed nations have largely abandoned circumcision. Circumcision rates started to fall rapidly in the United Kingdom in the 1950s, in New Zealand in the 1960s, and in Canada in the 1990s.
- In many European countries, nonreligious circumcision is almost unheard of.
- About 1.5 percent of circumcised infants experience complications during the five years after the surgery. Bleeding and infection are the most common complications.
Should You Circumcise Your Baby?
Obviously, there is a heated debate about whether or not to circumcise our sons. It’s a really personal decision and I believe both parents should be involved. If you’re Jewish or Muslim, your decision may be made for religious reasons. But even if circumcision is routinely practiced in your culture, I would still question the necessity of the procedure and make an informed decision.
Based on my research, the leading reason boys are still circumcised in the US is for aesthetic reasons. Simply put, men want their son’s penises to look like theirs and don’t want their sons to be teased for looking different in the locker room. But with circumcision rates falling each decade in the US, I don’t think the bullying argument holds up. I’m guessing that currently, about half of American boys are intact, and half are circumcised. So if it’s really about 50-50, how could boys still be teased for being uncut?
Pros and Cons of Circumcision
Based on my research about male circumcision around the world, there are fewer pros than cons. Keep in mind that though I’m half Jewish, I’m not religious and didn’t have to consider family members’ opinions, which I know is a big deciding factor for some.
- If you’re a religious Jew or Muslim, you will please family members by maintaining the cultural tradition.
- There may be a lower chance of urinary tract infections, and sexually transmitted diseases (although this is still debatable).
- Your son’s and his father’s penises may look the same.
- If you’re a religious Jew or Muslim, you might upset some family members by breaking tradition.
- Whether the circumcision is performed by a Mohel or in the hospital, your son will have penile surgery when he’s less than 8 days old, only with a local anesthetic cream.
- Your son may be upset that he was circumcised later in life.
- He may also receive less sexual pleasure (although I’m not sure how research can measure that).
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