and why the arguments on both sides of the debate are overblown
After our first son was born, following discussions with my wife about whether or not we should have him circumcised, I called my wife’s ex-boyfriend to get his opinion on the matter. My wife seemed to have it on good authority that he had not been circumcised, and I wanted to make sure everything worked well. “Any hygiene issues? Mechanical problems? Do you have a view on the circumcision issue?” He did indeed have a view. Circumcision, he said, was a barbaric American practice (he is British), and we should do everything in our power to prevent that scalpel from touching our son.
We decided not to have our son circumcised, and now, six years later, we have three happy, gamboling, uncircumcised sons. I haven’t lost a wink of sleep over the decision, nor would I have, had we decided to circumcise our sons. The conventional arguments on both sides of the debate are rather silly, in my opinion. But silly arguments, when widespread, are worth considering (and I’d better state here and now, before the rabid commenters on both sides of this debate unsheathe their pens, that I am not a doctor, and this is not a piece of medical advice – this is an account of one man’s experience, one man’s opinion, delivered both for any amusement and utility it may provide).
Let’s address the two most common arguments for not circumcising: (1) the pain is traumatizing, and (2) the operation decreases sexual sensation. Though I don’t remember my circumcision, I am sure it was painful. My recollection of my birth is rather foggy, but I am sure it was painful as well. Those were, sadly, not the only painful experiences in my life. We would all like our children to experience as little pain as possible. That’s a good thing, but it does not follow that every experience of pain traumatizes them for life. The idea that some 100 million American men are traumatized because they were circumcised strikes me as a little bit fatuous. Our son broke his arm last summer, and it was excrutiatingly painful for him – not for a few minutes but for many hours. I would have done anything to have prevented that from happening. But did it traumatize him? Make him a damaged human being? Not in the least. Having said that, if you are going to circumcise your son, please use anesthesia. Your son, and all other males who hear about the proceedings, will appreciate it.
How about decreased sexual sensation, isn’t that a valid concern? My view is that the last thing my sons need is more sexual sensation than their father experienced. If our decision not to circumcise our sons has that effect, I apologize in advance. The world suffers in many ways from the outsized sexual appetites of men. Men suffer from their own outsized sexual appetites. Indeed, a little less sexual pleasure for men might not be such a terrible thing for all involved.
And frankly, humor aside, I don’t buy the core argument. Do circumcised men take longer to reach orgasm? I have heard no anecdotal evidence of this; on the contrary, if you polled the wives of circumcised American men, I suspect you would hear that they wouldn’t mind if the process took a little longer. Both condoms and desensitizing creams have the effect of delaying orgasm in men because they reduce sexual sensation and are often purchased with that objective in mind.
On the other side of the ledger, the hygiene and spread of disease argument also strikes me as rather weak. The studies cited are in third-world countries with less fastidious hygiene practices and higher incidences of disease. In the United States, in the 21st century, I don’t think this is a major factor. The “embarrassed in the locker room” argument also falls flat; the percentage of newborns circumcised in the US fell from 63% in 1994 to 32% in 2006 (if anything, that argument runs in the other direction).
But why, exactly, did we decide not to circumcise? For my wife, it was about sparing our little bambinos pain. For me, at the end of the day, it was the Hippocratic Oath thing: better not to conduct surgery unless it’s very clearly necessary. Circumcision, after all, is elective cosmetic surgery. People may talk about other factors, but I think the decision is most commonly made for cosmetic reasons (because it’s more familiar), and this does not seem adequate. Having said that, I do think it’s objectively true that when our boys are running around in sprinklers in the summertime with friends who are circumcised, the circumcised penis is a little bit cuter. There is something sunny and optimistic – sunny side up, if you will – about the mushroom top, reminiscent of a Volkswagen bug rather than a Snuffleupagus.
On the other hand, the foreskin is cool technology; it’s neat that the penis naturally evolved with a turtleneck. It would prevent chafing when doing a lot of walking, I’d imagine. And it’s not just any old turtleneck – it comes with glands that secrete a kind of lubricant, which is part of why Americans started circumcising en masse: to make it more difficult for boys to masturbate. In other words, foreskin is a technological innovation that has some benefits.
So in the end, I come down on the side of my wife’s charming, British, uncircumsized ex-boyfriend: put away the scalpel. All things considered, better not to mess with it. But if you do choose to trim the turtleneck, ignore the slings and arrows of foreskin fanatics and don’t give it another thought.