In the world of natural parenting, we are often blessed with the sciences to prove that certain stances we take are adhered to for the long-lasting benefit of our children. For instance, no matter how many “experts” have written books claiming that cry-it-out methods work & are harmless, we know that the opposite is true: these methods often fail & are harmful.
Still, parents make choices. To bed-share, room-share, or not? To employ the use of “time-outs” or find another, more communicative way? To vaccinate, delayed-vaccinate, or not? While I do believe that the choices I am making for my child are, for the most part, unequivocally best, I have learned on my journey into the Motherhood to at least try to understand others’ choices, even if I can’t manage to fully accept them. There is one issue, though, that remains 100% black & white to me. There is one issue, which is genital integrity, & there is one option, which is do not cut.
My choice to leave my son whole was an easy one, eventually, but it did not start out that way. 90% of the World is intact, but I live in the United States, where we unfortunately have the highest circumcision rates, although they have been on a steady decline lately. I was subtly programmed, like you may have been, Dear Reader, to think of the foreskin not as a natural, purposeful part of anatomy, but as simply confusing & maybe a little icky. After all, isn’t it slimy & dirty? (Hint: no.)
I actually found myself, before I knew that I was having a boy, hoping that I wouldn’t have a boy simply because I didn’t want to have to make the “circumcision decision”! Yet everything in me inherently knew that I didn’t want to harm my baby or cause him pain & it finally struck me as absolutely insane that I would ever consider cutting up a baby’s genitals & so the decision was made. I followed my instincts & it wasn’t until the past 2 years that I really started to fully inform myself. I am incredibly thankful, on a daily basis, that my intuition led me in the right direction. There is a saying that the more you know about circumcision, the worse it gets. With that in mind, I cannot stay silent & I feel a need to tell everyone I know about the rampant myths surrounding this issue. I will provide facts & links, but I urge readers to do some research on your own– with caution. There is a plethora of information out there & you might find some varying facts, but the overall consensus from any source that does not profit monetarily from routine circumcisions will be that circumcision is unnecessary & barbaric. Look into Mothers Against Circumcision, Doctors Opposing Circumcision, Circumstitions.org, & of course, Mothering Magazine & Mothering.com.
The “It’s a personal choice” issue. This topic is often, erroneously, considered a “personal choice” of the parent/s. While I do believe it should be a personal choice, I do not believe that choice should be the mother’s, but rather the baby’s when he is grown. Mothers, simply ask yourselves: how would you feel if you have been circumcised at birth? It is not lawful for us as parents to remove any other body part on our child simply because we think it might be cleaner & we like how it looks better. When this procedure is done by doctors, it violates the Hippocratic Oath of “first do no harm” & when we as parents sit back & let this painful, harmful procedure be performed, we are violating our oath as parents to protect & honor our children. Technically, circumcision should already be illegal because it is unconstitutional to have a law that applies to females but not males. Females in the U.S. are protected from genital mutilation, but males are not (yet).
The pain issue. I have seen circumcision described, usually by people who have failed to do sufficient research, as a painless “quick snip” procedure. This could not be further from the truth. CIRCUMCISION IS PAINFUL. There are thousands of nerve endings in the foreskin. It is a delicate, sensitive, important piece of genitalia. The foreskin is adhered to the glans (head of the penis) the same way a fingernail is adhered to a finger. Imagine tearing your fingernail off after being handed an aspirin for “pain relief.” No, the doctor does not numb your baby. This is not possible. No anesthetic that would be strong enough to properly numb a baby for such an invasive procedure would be safe for a baby. The vast majority of circumcisions are done without anesthetic but on occasion, topical pain relief is employed, again, similar to aspirin for fingernail removal, as the nerve endings cannot be numbed to any substantial extent. The foreskin is ripped away from the glans, crushed & cut off, slowly so as to attempt at accuracy (which often fails), all while the infant is strapped down, spread eagle, on a circumcision cutting board.
The baby feels every second of this. MRI scans have proven not only that babies feel pain intensely, but also that their brain waves do not return back to normal, meaning they stay in a state of heightened pain & fear. A mother who reports that her baby was returned to her asleep or not crying is describing a baby who has gone into shock. This is one way that infants deal with unbearable pain. Other ways, which are frequently present during circumcisions, include intense screaming, noiseless crying (where the baby cries so hard that they no longer emit sound), vomiting, lack of oxygen, increased heart rate, & increased production of the stress hormone cortisol. Babies don’t need to be producing cortisol. They need to be held lovingly at their mother’s breast. Not only is the actual procedure excruciating, but for weeks afterwards, the raw, open wound is subjected to equally painful moments during each urination. Some older children have told of lasting pain. To get a better understanding of what a baby really goes through during circumcision, try to watch the procedure being done. You can find videos on the Internet. I can’t bring myself to post one here, as the description alone has left me in tears.
The “It’s a religious choice” issue. I understand that some people find my stance offensive because they choose to circumcise based on religious beliefs. I know it is a sensitive issue, but the massive hole in that argument is that females are also circumcised for religious reasons, yet most of us in the U.S. & around the World understand that female genital mutilation is barbaric & absurd, no matter the beliefs of the circumcisor. There are actually a few different types of female circumcision, the mildest one being even less invasive than male circumcision. Another mild form, called excision, includes removing the prepuce (foreskin) around the clitoris or removing a small piece of the clitoris. This procedure is very similar to the typical male circumcision, yet again we find it barbaric & unnecessary, which it truly is.
It is interesting to me when a mother of Christian faith circumcises her baby boy because the New Testament very clearly admonishes her not to in the following verses:
“Behold, I, Paul, tell you that if you be circumcised, Christ will be of no advantage to you.” – Gal 5:2
“Watch out for those wicked men – dangerous dogs, I call them – who say you must be circumcised. Beware of the mutilation. For it isn’t the cutting of our bodies that makes us children of God; it is worshiping him with our spirits.” – Phil 3:2-3
”And I testify again to every male who receives circumcision, that he is in debt to keep the whole Law. You who do so have been severed from Christ…you have fallen from grace.” – Gal 5:3
Mothers of Jewish & Islamic faith should know that circumcision today is being questioned by members of all religions on the grounds that compassion & loving God are more important tools to having a spiritual relationship than cutting an infant’s genitals could ever be. If you are of a spiritual persuasion that “requires” circumcision, know that you are not alone in your desire to leave your child intact. There are many supportive organizations that give a voice to religious mothers who choose not to circumcise.
The “It’s cleaner” issue. One of the most troubling myths regarding genital integrity is that circumcised penises are cleaner. Circumcised penises are not cleaner. On the contrary, the foreskin serves the valuable function of keeping the glans (head of the penis) covered & protected from feces & debris, especially on a child. Again, the foreskin is actually adhered to the glans the same way a fingernail is adhered to a finger. The foreskin of a child is not meant to be forcibly retracted. The foreskin is useful in protecting against urinary tract infections, even though some questionable data suggests that UTIs are slightly higher in intact males. I doubt this data because I have never seen a pro-cutting study that didn’t involve people who benefit financially from circumcision, & even if it was true, taking antibiotics or finding natural treatment is a much better choice than performing a painful, damaging surgery on an infant without his consent. Females without labia would likely have a lower risk of UTIs as well, yet we are sensible enough– especially in the U.S. where male infant genital cutting is so high– to recognize the absurdity of that notion. Genitals need to be washed regularly whether male or female, circumcised or intact, so it’s a non-issue.
The “He needs to look like daddy” issue. No, he doesn’t. & He won’t. You will need a lot more than the amputation of a foreskin to make a child’s genitals look like the genitals of a grown man. If a child does happen to be keen enough to notice that his father doesn’t have a foreskin, explaining circumcision might be a challenge, but it is in no way harder than forcing a circumcision on a baby to avoid such a discussion. If the choice is between subjecting an infant to a painful, harmful surgery or maybe, possibly having to discuss how fortunate he is to have his foreskin even though his daddy doesn’t, the choice is incredibly clear to me & I hope it’s clear to you as well.
The “He’ll be teased in the locker room” issue. Most adolescent boys don’t undress in front of each other these days. Nude showering after gym class is a thing of the past in most areas. In any event, a young man who is educated about his intact penis will be able to defend himself if need be. As you continue reading, Dear Reader, you will find that the following statement, which could be said by any intact teenage male in the locker room, is true: “Yeah, well, I never need to use lube, I (will) last longer with my girlfriend (wife), sex is (will be) more pleasurable, I wasn’t traumatized by intense pain at birth, intact penises are generally larger, & I won’t be reaching for Viagra in a few years, as many of you circumcised dudes will!” A simple “Why are you looking at my penis?” may also suffice. When an intact boy’s circumcised peers are properly informed about what was really done to them & what they truly lost, any teasing should hopefully end there. But, it’s important to remember that kids get teased for a variety of reasons, whether they look too different, their name is too weird, they have glasses, they’re too short or too tall. If we don’t offer surgical solutions for all of those differences, we don’t need to offer surgical solutions for genital differences. Oh, & the fact that circumcision rates are dropping in the U.S. means that this will no longer be an issue soon
The Phimosis issue. Phimosis is a wildly over-diagnosed condition in which the foreskin is naturally too tight & cannot be fully retracted. I say this condition is wildly over-diagnosed because many adults, even doctors, still believe that the foreskin of a baby or child should retractable, which it shouldn’t, so doctors will misdiagnose children with phimosis, often leading to entirely unnecessary circumcisions. It is totally natural for the foreskin to not fully retract, even up to or beyond 18 years. In legitimate cases, full foreskin amputation is never needed & stretching techniques can be used instead. Having studied intactivism for about 2 years now, I have come across many “My friend knows a guy whose sister’s boyfriend’s uncle had an infection & had to be circumcised as an adult” stories. These stories are striking only because healthy intact stories are not interesting to the general public. 90% of the World is intact & the vast majority has no issues with foreskin complications. Every single part of the human body is subject to infection. There are many less drastic treatments than painful, harmful surgeries. No medical organization in the World recommends circumcision. Personal anecdotes do not change the facts of this matter.
The disease issue. There has been a lot of noise lately about circumcision being beneficial in protecting from various diseases. Many of these claims are entirely hypothetical but are being told as truth, which is historically dangerous to humanity. Not only are these claims hypothetical, but many of them have been fully debunked. There was a notion that circumcision may slightly lower the risk of cervical cancer in female partners, but this has been proven to be untrue. The original thought came because wives of Orthodox Jewish men have remarkably lower rates of cervical cancer, but this is not true of the wives of Muslim men that are circumcised at the same rate, so the low cervical cancer statistic is attributed to genetics, not circumcision. There has been a lot of back & forth discussion on whether or not circumcision lowers the risk of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. This one is easy: the U.S.A. has the highest rate of circumcision in the World, but also some of the highest STD rates in the World! The only thing that will effectively lower STD risks is abstinence or condoms. Period. Truthfully, it’s incredibly irresponsible to suggest that anything except for safe sex practices will be beneficial for sexual health. Unless circumcision actually prevented STDs– which it doesn’t, at all, not even close– this issue is just another in a long line of non-issues.
Circumcision is harmful. Not only is circumcision excruciatingly painful for anyone who is forced to have this procedure done, but there are many cases of lasting issues. In fact, 1 in 3 circumcisions will be problematic. The most horrifying issue is that circumcision kills around 200 babies in the US every year. The number of babies a year who DIE from circumcision complications is the same as those who die from Sudden Infant Death syndrome in the neonatal stage. Most of us as mothers can understand how desperately we try to prevent SIDs by following safe-sleeping protocol & not smoking, yet some of us still subject our baby boys to a totally unnecessary surgery that kills as many babies a year.
Some of the other complications that result from circumcision are infection, blood loss, shock, lasting pain, improper healing leading to a need for more surgeries, scarring, painful erections, premature ejaculation, desensitization, erectile dysfunction, & permanent disfigurement.
Throughout my 2 years of intactivism, I have read far too many stories of men who suffer disfiguring injuries as a result of circumcision. There have been several cases of the entire glans being removed by mistake. It is challenging to operate on a tiny penis; there is no way for a doctor to know how large a penis will grow to be, so painful, tight erections are often an issue reported by circumcised men. Desensitization is such a problem that through all of my research, I have found many, many women who happily state that sex with an intact man is much more pleasurable than sex with a circumcised man. A circumcised man has the head of his penis constantly exposed & over time it is covered with a thicker, more calloused skin, necessitating rougher stimulation during sex, which can be unpleasant for both parties. There are also plenty of people who have satisfying sexual experiences with circumcised men, but the risk of all the possible damages overall is much too high for such a needless procedure.
There is a risk of attachment disorders in circumcision cases. Simply stated, babies are not meant to be taken from their mothers to have a painful, unnecessary surgery performed on them without anesthesia. A mother doesn’t have to stretch her imagination too hard to understand how this trauma could cause attachment issues. Attachment disorders often lead to behavioral disorders which can lead to crime later in life. If I didn’t have my instincts to rely on, I would have circumcised my son because I did not know then what I know now. If I had circumcised my son, I would have a very difficult time reading what has been written about this topic– I recognize that & for that I am sorry to any mother who has circumcised children. But this is important information to know, for future sons & daughters.
Circumcision can also harm breastfeeding abilities. The U.S. has the highest circumcision rates in the World & also the worst breastfeeding rates. Babies who have been traumatized by this procedure will often suffer from post-operative stress, pain, & exhaustion that can destroy the breastfeeding relationship.
Why is this a pertinent issue? I have wondered this before & figured that people, who throughout history have often followed traditions blindly, are bound to get confused since medical organizations are known for making policy statements & changing them a few years later, then changing their policy back again. But it’s important to know the history of circumcision & use critical thinking while simply following the money. Circumcision was solely a religious ritual until Dr. John Harvey Kellogg claimed, in the late 1800s, that masturbation was evil & a cause of many illnesses, so circumcision was employed as a way to destroy sexual pleasure. He also advocated that people who masturbated too much should have their hands tied behind their backs & acid should be applied to girls’ genitals, again simply to destroy sexual pleasure. So that is the origin of circumcision in the United States. That is also why circumcision happens almost nowhere else in the world– Dr. Kellogg didn’t teach there. It was soon discovered that routine circumcisions were great money-making opportunities & most hospitals in the U.S. preform this surgery today, even thought it isn’t recommended by any medical organization in the World. It may sound far-fetched to some to imagine that hospitals, at times, function not in the best interest of their patients, but rather for funding, however one has to look no further than the fact that breastfeeding saves thousands of lives a year & billions of dollars in America, yet hospitals still give free formula to every post-partum mother, which has been proven to be harmful to breastfeeding success.
In conclusion, finally, not only is there no sane reason for circumcision, this barbaric procedure has its beginnings & its perpetuation in corrupt notions. I’d like to dismantle the idea that this is a private parental decision & encourage you, Dear Reader, to inform as many people as you can about this issue. Our babies deserve so much more than this painful beginning. If we ever hope to have a world full of peace & free from violence, we need to stop cutting up children’s genitals. Spread the word! Contact the AAP & tell them that male circumcision is on par with female “circumcision” & they both need to stop. & Most importantly, don’t circumcise your babies. They will not suffer for it. They will suffer if you do.
Dear Readers, are you intactivists? What do you do to spread the word?
Circumcision Decision Flow Chart thanks to The WHOLE Network
About Kristen Tea
I am a 27-year-old single, attached, informed, lactivist, intactivist, peaceful Minnesotan mother of almost 4-year-old Sun Ronin a.k.a Sunny Boy. I am an artist & lover of expression. I'm also a student with many things to learn, including nutritional therapy, lactation consulting, doulahood, yoga instructing, & more. I believe that unplanned pregnancies do not have to equal uninformed motherhood, & women have the power to restore humanity to everything we touch.