I have to admit that when I’m finished with my own work, one of my favorite things to do is browse Babble and see what my colleagues have written. More often than not, there is a piece that reaffirms my parenting decisions in one way or another, which is exactly how I felt as I read Jennifer Margulis’ piece, The Uncircumcised Penis: One mother’s stance against infant circumcision.
In it, Margulis addresses all the common beliefs surrounding the procedure in a very straightforward way. As the mother of two older girls and a boy, I was very unfamiliar with the whole issue of circumcision when I was pregnant with my son, but as soon as my midwife told me he was a boy, the issue swirled around in my mind daily.
Should we have him circumcised or not?
I had never really thought much about it until I knew for sure that I was going to have a son. And once I did, I wanted to read everything there was on the subject.
As Margulis points out, the ritual started out on a pretty outlandish basis:
Why circumcise a baby? The trend started in America in large part to keep boys from masturbating. Physicians writing in the 19th century even suggest the surgery should be done without medication so that a child will associate his genitals with pain.
In Plain Facts for Young and Old (1882), John Harvey Kellogg writes: “A remedy [for masturbation] which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision …The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind…”
Like female genital mutilation, the idea was to make sexual sensations less pleasurable. Is that really what you want to do to your son?
The idea that circumcision might be considered genital mutilation is something I think deserves to be explored. Perhaps what started out as an archaic means to curb masturbation has evolved into an accepted cultural practice, but certainly not a medical one.
When I spoke to other moms about why they chose to have the procedure performed, the common responses of cleanliness, lower risk of sexually transmitted diseases, and “so he can be like his father”, just doesn’t offered sufficient reason. Certainly, cleanliness is a learned habit and boys could absolutely learn to keep themselves clean. As far as STD’s go, I plan to teach my son about protection, and even more importantly morals and decency when it comes time for him to be sexually active. If a man is engaging in unprotected sex outside of a loving and committed relationship where both partners have been tested, he is most certainly lending himself to acquire a sexually transmitted disease, circumcised or not.
I still weighed the pros and cons while I kept thinking about the actual procedure. It seemed barbaric to me, to cut off a piece of a little baby’s body simply because it was what most people did. I couldn’t see the point of putting a baby through that pain. I know some say they are given pain preventives, but I just couldn’t find the logic in it. And when I read Margulis’ perspective on pain, I was even more taken back:
Most parents do not watch their baby being circumcised and do not know that the procedure can be excruciatingly painful, even with anesthesia. Anyone who has ever witnessed a circumcision and heard the high-pitched scream of a newborn having part of his penis cut off (you can watch one on the internet if you don’t believe me) knows that this surgery causes pain.
Keep in mind, this is when things go as expected. I’ve also heard stories of botched circumcisions that were horrifying.
Scientifically and spiritually thinking, I could not reason why a boy would be born with a part that needed to be removed. It just doesn’t make sense. Yet perhaps what confirmed my decision to not circumcise most was the overwhelming idea I just couldn’t get out of my mind: if baby boys were meant to have a piece of their body cut off at birth, it probably wouldn’t be there to begin with.