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Rachel O'Reilly

By Aaryn Leineke

To circumcise or not to circumcise? It’s a controversial subject to say the least, but an important one. So important, in fact, that there are activists who devote their lives to educating people about the historical and cultural discourse, medical implications and human rights issues all wrapped up with the decision to surgically remove the foreskin of your baby’s genitals.

Most importantly, let’s start with the knowledge that your baby boy is born perfect, just as they are. But the practice of circumcision has been around for thousands of years, with hieroglyphs showing evidence of the practice as far back as ancient Egypt. So if it’s not medically necessary, where did this tradition come from, and why has it stuck around for so long?   

The truth is, no one can pinpoint one sweeping reason for the beginning of the practice. In many cultures, it is a deep-seated religious tradition. In the Bible, the practice was recorded as a sacrifice. In some cultures, it marks a rite of passage into manhood. In the U.S., the greatest boom in circumcision was following World War II, when it was believed that it would protect against venereal disease and other infections, particularly among soldiers. The belief has prevailed that circumcised penises are easier to clean and are considered more hygienic, less prone to UTI infections, less likely to contract or spread STDs and even protected from prostate cancer.

But, thanks to the continuous advancement of science, we’ve seen those beliefs disproved time and again, and would do well to listen to the newest information available to us. (Remember, post-WWII was also when the myth that a low-fat diet was healthiest, even if loaded with low-fat, high-sugar processed foods, took hold -- and we now know better. Case in point: Avocados!)

At the moment there is no medical proof or reasoning for performing routine circumcision surgery. On the contrary, the foreskin exists for a number of valuable reasons. To name a few, the foreskin contains 20,000 fine touch nerves (similar to your fingers) and provides protection of the glans (head), all in an effort to ensure everything works properly. Contrary to those post-WWII beliefs, only 1/16,667 intact males will have any problems with their foreskin, 99% of which can easily be treated without surgery. On the other hand, 117 babies die from circumcision each year in the U.S., which equates to 9/100,000 babies that die each year (from a surgery that is purely cosmetic). Men have lost their penises, glans, and/or suffered from deformity caused by the operation performed when they were infants.

Although circumcision has become a routine surgery, and the doctors who perform them have most likely had plenty of practice, does that mean it’s best for your baby? Does that mean it’s accident-proof?

Reasons to keep your baby intact:

  • Because he is born perfect just the way he is

  • The foreskin contains 20K fine touch nerves and provides protection of the glans (head) keeping it soft and sponge-like (just the way it should be)

  • There is NO medical reason for the surgery

  • This surgery is permanent and irreversible

  • All cosmetic surgeries should be decided by the person whose body is being modified

  • The surgery is very painful, and there is no way to make it comfortable or painless for the infant

  • His body, his choice

“Infants undergoing circumcision (surgery) cannot get adequate pain treatment, including post-op pain medications like an adult can. They don’t understand what is happening to their bodies and most of all, they don’t have a choice.” -Lauren Jenks

I understand the debate over circumcision is complex, especially when religious and cultural traditions are brought into play. While I am obviously biased, my point is to not make a split decision, blindly follow tradition, or come to a conclusion based on outdated medical myths. Instead, you and your partner should consider the now-extensive research available to you before deciding to perform cosmetic surgery on your baby boy.

Do you have an opinion on circumcision in the 21st century? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.