Imagine this hypothetical for a moment. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the foremost collective of pediatricians in the most medically advanced nation in the world, releases a statement. It says that the AAP officially endorses preemptive gastric bypass surgery for newborns. While it is an invasive and arguably unnecessary procedure, it’s proven to have more benefits than risks. Why? Because preemptive gastric bypass surgery in infants greatly reduces the risk of them later having diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, atherosclerosis, cancer and heart attack.
After reading this hypothetical statement, you’d probably think that gastric bypass surgery for infants is an awfully long way to go to prevent health issues that may or may not happen later in life. You’d probably also think that if parents didn’t feed their children fatty, sugary, processed foods, the doctors wouldn’t have to get involved in the first place.
That’s the situation we have this week with the AAP’s controversial endorsement of circumcision. While families are encouraged to make their own decision (based on cultural background, religious belief, personal preference, etc.), the pediatric organization states that the surgical removal of a boy’s foreskin offers more health benefits that it does risks. What health benefits are we talking about? The AAP’s chief claim is that circumcision helps prevent sexually transmitted diseases: chlamydia, HIV, HPV, syphilis and gonorrhea, among others.
Let's distill this down to its very essence: Doctors support circumcision because we are raising uninformed male sluts.
Despite the public service announcements on TV and radio, despite sexual education in middle and high school, despite the increased prominence of condoms, despite our unlimited access to information and the ability to share that information instantaneously, a sizable (and growing) number of our sons are still putting themselves in risky sexual situations. Consider these statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
* There were 410,000 cases of chlamydia reported in 1992. Twenty years later, that number has increased to 1.3 million.
* In 1996, the number of gonorrhea cases was 328,000. In the 16 years since, that number has dipped all the way down to 310,000.
* In 2000, there were 31,618 cases of syphilis. Ten years later, the number was 45,834.
So what’s happening here? Part of the problem is that parents are failing to do their job.
Let’s be honest: Sex scares the bejesus out of us. It creates awkwardness and embarrassment and shame and secrecy. Throw our children into the mix, and we go catatonic. It doesn’t help that circumcision’s early history dovetails with the worst of our sexual terror: In the 19th century, circumcision was believed to eliminate “masturbatory insanity.”
Because we’re awkward and embarrassed, we’re not biting the bullet and educating our kids about sex and relationships. We puritanical American parents have left The Talk to MTV, to middle school teachers, to older siblings, to friends in the neighborhood, to adult men’s magazines, to the shadiest, creepiest corners of the Internet.
To all the people crying foul at the AAP’s stance, to the “intactivists” who say circumcision is mutilation, I say this: Wake up. It’s a doctor’s responsibility to keep us healthy, to save our lives. It’s their sworn duty (see: Oath, Hippocratic).
In keeping things with our sons nice, polite, pleasant and non-confrontational, we’ve left them to navigate sex and relationships on their own. As a result, they are making ill-informed decisions. They are putting themselves at risk. They are getting sick. They are costing the heath care system billions upon billions of dollars. They are dying. Wake up, take responsibility, and stop blaming the people who are saving us from ourselves.