Wednesday, July 27, 2005
When our son, Milo, was born we had to decide whether to circumcise him or not.
Thirty years ago this wouldn't have been an issue, circumcision was believed to be the 'sanitary' thing to do. But in the last 10 years the American Medical Association has stopped recommending circumcisions. I consider the AMA to be pretty conservative so for them to reverse themselves gave me pause. And when I thought about it I realized that an unnecessary circumcision is pretty much genital mutilation.
I come from a family of doctors. My mother was a pathologist up until my middle brother was born. My oldest brother is in infection diseases doing AIDS research in Nairobi, Kenya and my father, well guess what, he's a urologist. That's right, the guy who deals with kidneys, prostates, enter-your-penis-joke-here. So I asked him for his thoughts.
He said that americans tend to be circumcised because it was thought to be cleaner for the genitals. But europeans are generally not and they don't seem to have the sanitary issues that americans were concerned about. So now they abstain from suggesting one way or the other and let the parents decide. He brought up a few interesting cases where young adults or adult men without circumcisions would develop a situation where the foreskin would continue to grow beyond the head of the penis. At which point a urologist would have to perform a circumcision.
Obviously it's a painful experience and one argument is to have it done as an infant so that the experience would be more tolerable, since one doesn't recall their infancy. The counterpoint is that even though you don't remember infancy it doesn't make the pain any less for said infant. Also, if the advice is to have it done as an infant as a preventative measure in case the foreskin grows beyond normal - well, how potential is this case scenario? There isn't enough statistics to definitively show the probability because, again, most american males are circumcised.
Other reasons fathers have their sons circumsized are: because the father is and wants his son to be the 'same way' (I thought this fairly lame - genitally mutilate my son's penis for cosmetic reasons???); because then they won't feel awkward when they're young adolescents in the gym shower, singled out for looking funny (again, cosmetic); religion (I'm not Jewish, although my wife's grandfather was Jewish her family doesn't identify themselves as Jews.)
At this point, Merritt, my wife, let me be the sole decision-maker on this, since clearly I was very troubled over the ramifications and I was doing a very thorough job of researching it. (She also said something about not having much experience with non-circumcisions anyway.)
Then I asked my brother, the infectious disease doctor in Kenya, what he thought. He was very clear. He had been reading about some preliminary medical research showing that non-circumsized penises had a greater chance of catching sexually transmitted diseases (or perhaps I should say circumcized penises had a lesser chance of catching STD's?) So if I thought my son would ever be sexually active, cut it.
My brother's point stuck with me and I ultimately decided to have it done. I also decided to witness the procedure since I was the one who made the fateful decision. That was a very stupid idea. Don't do this. Just hand the baby to the nurse and wait for them to give him back to you. Man, was that a bad idea.
My oldest brother just had a baby, a son. And when it came time to circumsize him, his wife had second thoughts. My brother was like, "Honey, we have to do it. I just told Fred to do it, so we have to do it." And it was done.
Then a few weeks later this article in the SFGate and another from the AFP confirmed my brother's report.