I want to start by acknowledging that a large portion of the circumcised world made the choice for religious reasons. There is a part of me that envies you, and I don't mean that to be condescending. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have some other force or authority to guide my decisions. But I am not Jewish or Muslim, which leaves me to figure it out for myself.
When I ask for opinions, it seems like the spit is probably 2/3 for circumcision and the remaining 1/3 against. Of those who are for, the reasons seem to fit into two categories: Social or Health. (I suppose there is also a third category of people who didn't really think about it, they just did it because it is the norm.)
Many people think that the baby should be circumcised so that he looks like daddy, or so that he doesn't feel out of place in the locker room. I understand that men of all ages seem to have an obsession with the penis, but I'm not sure that these are the right reasons to make a decision. It is the nature of adolescence to compare yourself to others, and I'm sure that if his penis is the same as the other boys, he'll find something else to judge and compare himself by (like the size of it). Further, with the increasing cultural diversity in our country, who is to say that having a circumcised penis will still be the norm in 15 years? The US is one of the only countries that circumcises boys for reasons other than religion.
As for looking like daddy, I wonder when this conversation occurs. Will potty training be hindered by different looking genitals? I'm inclined to think not. Single mothers are able to potty train their sons, despite not having a penis. And many boys are trained by adopted or step fathers, who might have different shaped or even different colored genitals. And how hard is it to say, "mine looks like mine, yours looks like yours, everyone has different pee-pees"?
I realize that women's genitalia play a different role in potty training and growing up, but I have to say that not once have I felt compelled to compare my labia to my mothers.
One of the most common "modern" health reasons cited for circumcision is a decreased risk of getting an STD. There is a study out, conducted in men in a high HIV risk part of the world, where they found that men with circumcised penises were less likely to contract an STD. The reason for this being that there was less risk for tearing or bleeding during intercourse. At first glance, this is compelling evidence. However, the fact of the matter remains that there is only 1 way to get an STD, and that is by having sex with someone else who has an STD. So the moral of the story on this one is: circumcised or not, stick a condom on it.
Then there is the argument that an intact penis is more difficult to clean and thus leads to increased risk of urinary tract infections. I think that it is very important to be critical of this information. Any statistic coming from a doctor or hospital is going to be weighted, because they don't see all of the little boys who don't get an infection. I wish this was a topic that were not so personal, because I'd love to take a survey of the men I know and find out which intact ones have had infection problems. I think when you boil it down, this is all about hygiene, which is something that must be taught at a young age. So just as my son will need to learn to wipe his ass, he will also need to learn to clean his penis.
For me, the infection argument draws to mind the following analogy: If doctor's found that removing my labia would decrease the risk of yeast infections, would I do it? The labia, just like the foreskin, are nothing more than protective extra tissue. They don't seem to have any specific purpose. They get dirty and must be cleaned. Natural juices and oils produced by my body stick to them. Seems like a good analogy to me. And I have to say that I'd take a yeast infection any day over having my genitals modified.
Oh wait, there are parts of the world that practice this female modification...we call it genital mutilation and we think it's bad and wrong.
It Will Be OK
So now that I've addressed the reasons why people think you should get your baby circumcised, lets look at the things that they tell you to make you feel better about having done so.
The procedure is so fast, and the baby is so young, that it's over before you know it and they don't remember a thing. That's what everyone says. Of those people, I like to follow up by asking if they were present for the procedure...most were not. For those of you who missed it, here's a video:
Now don't be a wuss...watch it with volume. It's only a 5 minute procedure, after all. (I should note that this video was flagged by YouTube for being inappropriate, and I had to confirm that I was an adult before I could watch it).
Here is where the debate gets philosophical a bit. Just because you have no memory of the pain, does that make it less harmful? Because the baby does not have language to articulate what they went through, does that mean that they were not traumatized? Erik spoke to an adult man today who was kind enough to share his personal circumcision story. He had his circumcision done at age 5, and to this day does not forgive his mother. The question is, is he mad at his mother for not having it done at birth, or is he mad at his mother for having it done at all?
Reasons For Leaving it "Intact"
I've used the term "intact" a few times in this post. This is actually the commonly accepted name for an un-circumcised penis. So are there any benefits for leaving male genitalia intact? Lets take a look.
Sensitivity. Research has shown that intact men enjoy four times more penile sensitivity than circumcised men. I ask most men: if you could go back and make your own decision regarding whether or not to be left intact, what would your decision be knowing this fact?
Pediatricians do not recommend. In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement revising their position on circumcision, stating that "the benefits are not significant enough for the AAP to recommend circumcision as a routine procedure."
Full penis length and circumference. The "prepuce" (foreskin) constitutes 50% or more of the skin system of the penis . If unfolded and spread flat, the average adult foreskin measures 60-90 square centimeters (10-14 square inches) , or about the size of an index card. The foreskin creates a visibly longer penis, especially when the foreskin extends beyond the head of the penis. Also, the double-layered tissue of the foreskin engorges with blood during erection and creates a visibly and sensually thicker shaft and glans.When the engorged foreskin retracts behind the coronal ridge of the glans, it often creates a wider and more pronounced "ridge" that many partners find especially stimulating during penetrative intercourse. The circumcised penis appears truncated and thinner than a full-sized intact penis.
Protection. The sleeve of tissue known as the foreskin normally covers the glans and protects it from abrasion, drying, callusing (keratinization), and environmental contaminants. The glans is intended by nature to be a protected internal organ, like the female clitoris. The effect of an exposed glans and resulting keratinization on human sexual response has never been studied. Increasing reports by circumcised men indicate that keratinization causes a loss of sexual sensation, pleasure and fulfillment.
Ridged bands. The inner foreskin contains bands of densely innervated, sexually responsive tissue. They constitute a primary erogenous zone of the human penis and are important for realizing the fullness and intensity of sexual response.
Gliding action. The foreskin is the only moving part of the penis. During any sexual activity, the foreskin and glans work in unison; their mutual interaction creates a complete sexual response. In heterosexual intercourse, the non-abrasive gliding of the penis in and out of itself within the vagina facilitates smooth and pleasurable intercourse for both partners. Without this gliding action, the corona of the circumcised penis can function as a one-way valve, dragging vaginal lubricants out into the drying air and making artificial lubricants essential for non-painful intercourse.
Specialized sensory tissue. In addition to the "ridged bands" mentioned above, thousands of coiled fine-touch receptors (Meissner’s corpuscles) constitute the most important sensory component of the penis. The foreskin contains branches of the dorsal nerve and between 10,000 and 20,000 specialized erotogenic nerve endings of several types, which are capable of sensing slight motion and stretch, subtle changes in temperature, and fine gradations in texture.
The frenulum. This is a highly nerve-laden web of tissue that tethers the inner foreskin to the underside of the glans. It is similar to the frenula found under the tongue, the upper lip and the clitoral hood (female foreskin). For many intact men, the penile frenulum is a male "G-spot" that is highly pleasurable when repeatedly stretched and relaxed during sexual activity. Depending on the surgical method used, the frenulum is partially to completely destroyed by circumcision.(many of these facts taken from this site which has excellent sources)
Ok, now I realize that it is a little weird to be thinking about my baby's sex life before he's even out, but don't I have an obligation to take into consideration his entire life when I make a decision on his behalf? Maybe he'll thank me some day--although I don't imagine that's a conversation I will be comfortable having!
So, after reading all of the facts, watching the videos, talking to friends, and spending way too much time thinking about this, your probably thinking I've made a decision. My dilemma is, before I started this research endeavor, I told my husband it was his decision to make because I don't have a penis. My advice to other moms...stay involved!