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Monday, September 6, 2010

5 reasons parents give for choosing circumcision, and why those reasons are not valid

Recently I have visited several sites where infant male circumcision has been debated between parents and I'd like to respond to the most common reasons that parents give (excluding religion) for circumcising their new born boys.

Reason #1

"I want my son to look like his father"

For the most part it's been my experience that the number one reason parents arbitrarily decide to circumcise their new born baby boys is that they want their son to look like his father.  While this has been debunked over and over I'll tackle it again just to make a point.

No Son ever looks exactly like their father. Our youngest son is almost a carbon copy of my husband, to the point that Nick calls him "mini-me".  They have the same eyes, the same hair, the same lips, the same nose, the same eyebrows, even vaguely the same shoulders but that's where the mirror images end.
My husband wears a goatee- my son (luckily) is devoid of facial hair
My husband has tattoo on his shoulder- my son is inkless (except when his sisters draw on him)
My husband had a hole in his ear from a piercing- my sons lobes are intact
My husband has body hair- My son was born looking like an ewok, but has luckily shed his new born fur and is now hairless
My husband has 18 inch biceps- my son might get hefty biceps if he starts lifting big weights in his teens like his dad did, but for the moment his arms are cutely plump and definitely lacking any muscular definition.

...and as for their penises, regardless of the visual difference between a circumcised vs intact penis, my son's penis will never look even remotely like his fathers until he's at least in his late teens/early 20s, and by then I'm pretty sure my son will be mature enough to talk to his father about their different penile appearance and understand why we chose to keep him intact and whole.

Reason #2

This is a combined response as both statements are intertwined

a)  "I don't want my son to be teased in the locker room by other  boys"
b)  "Girls/women prefer the look of a circumcised penis over and intact penis"

The latest numbers that we have available show that more and more babies are leaving the hospital with their block and tackle intact and keeping it that way!  The Study released recently shows that intact boys in the US now greatly outnumber those that are circumcised with 32% circumcision rate for neonatal boys in the year of 2009.  So while the excuse of the locker room might of held some water in our parents and our own generation, with the amount of intact boys now drastically out numbering the circumcised boys, using the the "Locker room" excuse is now working completely opposite by guaranteeing that your circumcised son will be the the "odd man out".

By the same token, saying that women prefer cut men to intact men (cosmetically speaking) is a reflection of the norm in the older generations when the vast majority of men were cut.  Our daughters will grow up and become sexually active (yes dads, they will, regardless of how you feel about it), and as less and less boys of their generation are circumcised, they will see the intact penis as the norm and it will be the circumcised penis that will be viewed as weird looking.

Reason #3

"Circumcised boys have less chance of getting Urinary tract infections (UTI's)."

This is a theory that has been proved and disproved by many studies.  One of the theories given as to why boys with intact penises are more likely (if in fact this is the case- as many studies have also contradicted this statement) is that many parents of intact boys are not given the proper information about caring for their son's intact penis and are under the misguided notion that they must forcibly retract their sons foreskin to clean underneath it.  A boys foreskin is fused to the glans, or head of their penis, so let me state this very clearly:  YOU DO NOT RETRACT A BABY OR CHILDS FORESKIN....EVER!!!!  If you do, you are basically ripping their foreskin away from the glans, or head of the penis, the same way you would if you were to try to remove your childs fingernails from the nail bed!!!  This causes open bleeding, sores, and scar tissue, and gives an opening for bacteria to enter the penis and cause infections which has been supposed could lead to UTI's.  The flip side of this is that studies done in Israel (which has a very high rate of circumcision) have shown higher incidents of UTI infections within one month of birth and the supposition is that the scaring and open wound from their circumcision has caused UTI's.

So there are studies that "prove" both that circumcision reduces and causes UTI's in infant boys.  Lets forget about the studies right now and focus on the problem of UTI's themselves and how that relates to babies in general.  How common are UTI's in children?  UTI's are 4 times more likely to happen to girls than boys. Thats a proven fact.  So right off the bat you have to realize that your infant son has much less of a chance of getting a UTI than your daughter, or your niece or your neighbours daughter.  How are UTI's treated?  Antibiotics (and water and cranberry juice and various other herbal remedies).  It's very simple.  Now some might argue that UTI's are painful and they want to spare their son's the slight chance of going through that pain.  But lets turn that around for a moment.  What about your daughter?  What if the AAP (American Academy of Paediatrics) or CPS (Canadian Paediatric Society) suddenly announced that to stop UTI's in girls, all parents should all have their daughters labias cut off.  (shall I hold the puke bucket for you?)  Would you run out and have your newborn daughters labia cut off just to save her from the chance that she might get a UTI sometime in her life?  And really, can you compare the pain of circumcision-physical, emotional, mental- to the pain of a UTI?

Reason #4

"Circumcised boys won't get penile cancer later on in life"

First off, yes they can.

Secondly, cancer of the penis is one of the rarest forms of cancer and also has a very high survival rate.  Studies have seen cancer in both circumcised and uncircumcised penises.  Scientists believe that penile cancer can be caused by untreated HPV (human papilloma virus) infections and may also be caused by smoking and several other environmental factors, . Thirdly, cancer of the penis most often happens in older men...much older men.

The National Cancer Institute says:
Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. People who think they may be at risk should discuss this with their doctor. Risk factors for penile cancer include the following:

Circumcision may help prevent infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV). A circumcision is an operation in which the doctor removes part or all of the foreskin from the penis. Many boys are circumcised shortly after birth. Men who were not circumcised at birth may have a higher risk of developing penile cancer.

Other risk factors for penile cancer include the following:

    * Being age 60 or older.
    * Having phimosis (a condition in which the foreskin of the penis cannot be pulled back over the glans).
    * Having poor personal hygiene.
    * Having many sexual partners.
    * Using tobacco products.

So let's review the above facts.
-Penile cancer can be cause by HPV infection- so use a condom
-Penile cancer can be caused by poor personal hygiene- So bathe regularly
-Penile cancer can be caused by smoking- so don't smoke
-Penile cancer can be caused by having promiscuous sex- So use a condom and don't have sex with just anything that moves.
-Penile cancer can be cause by phimosis- So don't forcibly retract the foreskin and cause scaring and damage to the prepuce which can lead to phimosis

Again, lets put this all into perspective.  Penile cancer is very rare, highly survivable, and happens mostly in men 60 years old or older, and the risk factors are easily avoided.  To put it further into perspective: men can also get breast cancer- it's also rare, but far more deadly.  Are you going to have your sons breasts removed at birth just in case he might get breast cancer some time in his much older life?

Reason #5

I've saved this one for last because it's the biggest "New reason" that's being reported by the media right now.

"Circumcision reduces your chance of STD's and HIV/AIDs infections"

I'm not going to get in to the rights and wrongs of the studies that prove and refute this claim- consider that an exercise for you to research at your leisure.  But I want to clarify some very important points about this so called reason.

Circumcision does NOT protect against all STD's and HIV/AIDs infections.  The only thing that protects a man from these diseases is using a condom, not sewing his wild oats in every field he passes by, and most importantly: being educated about the risks and causes of these infections and how to prevent them in the first place.  Believing that circumcision will automatically protect you from a raging case of gonorrhoea, or syphilis, or HPV or AIDs is fool hardy and beyond stupid.

A comment about the studies that were presented at the latest AIDs conference with regards to reducing AIDs through circumcision.  These studies were done in Africa where the populations are faced with horrifying AIDs epidemics that are ravaging many African countries. In my opinion these studies were done as an act of desperation for a desperate situation in desperate countries. The only way to stop the flood of AIDs is the use of condoms and stopping the reuse of needles. As someone who lived in the Congo for a time and witnessed first hand the devastating poverty that the vast majority of the population lives in, I understand the problem of condoms and needles all too well.  Why are these problems?   For the same two reasons- they are both suppose to be use only once and then disposed of, and both require money to purchase.  I can tell you that the extreme poverty of the majority of the population means that buying condoms and fresh needles is impossible for people struggling just to feed their families. Regardless of condoms and needles being sent to these countries for free, they would end up on the black market, sold to make money.  Even if some of them made their way into the hands of the population, after being used once they would need to be disposed of.... But there is no garbage collection, there is no way to safely dispose of them, no way to guarantee that someone wouldn't pick them up, clean them and then resell them.  Hence the act of desperation: cutting off men's foreskins to try to do ANYTHING to reduce the transmission of a deadly disease.

This situation in Africa bears no resemblance to our current situation in North America.  We have condoms, we have clean needles, we have medical care, we have education, we have support services, we have proper garbage disposal to be rid of the waste composed of used condoms and needles. Basing your decision to circumcise your infant son, here in North America, on studies done in Africa makes absolutely no sense.

And again: if the medical powers that be suddenly came up with a study done in Africa that said that they could reduce the risk of AIDs infections by amputating your daughters labia, would you run out and have it surgically removed?

I'm not addressing here the physical pain of circumcision, the emotional and mental trauma that comes from amputating a body part of a new born infant with very little anaesthetic or pain killers. Or the fact that Circumcision surgery comes with serious risks and even death. These reasons should be your FIRST response to the circumcision question. Educating yourself about Circumcision- how it's done, risks involved- and watching a circumcision video should be your first step.

Am I willing to amputate a part of my new born sons body, causing him extreme physical pain, that can have emotional and mental repercussions for the rest of his life, just to try to prevent a number of "maybe" risks from happening sometime in his adult life, when all I need to do to prevent these risks is educate my son about sexual health and personal hygiene?

No. No I am not.

Are you?