I have to say from the very beginning of this discussion that I am pregnant with a baby girl. However, it was very soon after we found out that we were having a girl that I uttered the words “whew, now we don’t have to decide about circumcision”. I think I may even have still been on the ultrasound table.
Circumcision is definitely a hot topic these days, from dads who vehemently need their sons to match their ‘parts’ to mothers who believe that circumcision is a human rights violation, and everything in between. when Matt and I were first discussing this topic (early in our pregnancy), I told him that I knew this was a decision that ultimately he would need to make for our future son- and that, given he took the time to inform himself, I would respect his decision, even if I didn’t necessarily agree. I felt strongly that this was an area of parenting and decision making within my marriage that I needed to respect my husband in- and he appreciated that. Now, we are having a girl, but I am happy to say that Matt has taken some time to inform himself about this topic anyway, and I think we are close to being on the same page!
So what are all the factors that go into the circumcision decision? Well, there are many- from religious, to aesthetic, to social, to medical. I want to break down each of these factors objectively and give an overview or where each camp lies before I share my own thoughts!
Let’s get the most complicated out of the way first. Most people I know jump straight to the religious card when discussing circumcision without realizing what it actually entails. Most Christians assume that, because the Lord commanded the Israelites to be circumcised in the Old Testament, we all must continue to abide by that law, because ‘that’s the tradition in the church.’ There are many problems with this argument:
The Jews were the only ones that circumcised for a long, long time- in fact, Paul spends a good amount of the New Testament arguing that it’s completely fine for the gentiles (aka, most of us) to not be circumcised, and that it has no hold on salvation. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages, when some church authority figures decided to claim that being uncircumcised was linked to problems with lust and masturbation, that the church began routine circumcision. That was really effective, huh?
Secondly, if we are to abide by the rules put in place by the Lord for the Israelites, we have a whole mess of other things to worry about in addition to circumcision- publicly stoning all adulterers, no sexual relations during a woman’s period, very specific dietary instructions. It’s pretty silly to assume that this part of the covenant must be steadfastly held to in modern day, but the rest of it doesn’t matter. As Christians, we believe that Jesus came to fulfill the law- which is why we are not bound to any of these practices anymore.
This one is probably the easiest one to understand, and yet seems to be the one that is most blown out of proportion. Let’s face it: dads want their sons to look like them. What if they get confused? Will they think something is wrong with them? In all honestly, this will probably end up being nothing more than a brief, honest conversation between father and son about how they made an informed decision about what was best for him- with information that perhaps his grandparent’s didn’t have. It helps to stress that the father was born just like the son, but had a procedure done to now look like he does. Form anyone I’ve talked to, this simply hasn’t been a game-changing issue- in fact, they were surprised with how easy the conversation was, and how resilient the sons were!
The ‘locker room’ argument is another that I hear often- and perhaps with good reason. Even in the years that my husband was growing up, circumcision was much more common than it is now. In a locker room of boys, a slim few of uncircumcised peers would definitely be a minority- but statistics say that this is far from the norm now. In fact, polling from 2011 shows that 43% of newborn boys nationwide are not circumcised– and this statistic is only growing (this study shows the number at around 70% in 2010!). This is definitely changing the locker room dynamic for what our boys will experience when they grow older.
It’s also interesting to look at data state-by-state and compare what states will fund circumcision via Medicaid, versus which states do not. Overwhelmingly, states with funding have higher rates- meaning, when parents actually have to pay for it themselves, they are far more likely to forgo the procedure.
This is perhaps the most misunderstood factor of the circumcision debate- whether it is medically necessary or not. The fact is that there are ZERO worldwide governing medical bodies that continue to say that routine infant circumcision is medically necessary- in fact, many go as far as to say that routine infant circumcision is a ‘cosmetic procedure’. However, because denying circumcision is only now starting to become more commonplace, there are a vast number of physicians who aren’t really trained properly on how to care for an uncircumcised penis- and, therefore, a parent making an uninformed decision not to circumcise may be advised improperly on how to care for their son, which can lead to further issues down the road. I have heard horror stories of mothers taking their infant boys in for a checkup and having a doctor forcibly retract their son’s foreskin- something that is to happen naturally as the child grows older- and having to eventually switch physicians because of the trauma that it caused the child (and mother) because the doctor wasn’t informed.
Are there times when circumcision is medically necessary? Absolutely. But the bottom line is that every professional medical association agrees that, given proper care, routine infant circumcision is just not needed. Personally, I think that this in and of itself is a pretty big deal- if medical professionals, who would make more money by saying that routine circumcision is necessary (given they profit from surgery), are stating that the surgeries aren’t necessary, I’m going to take note.