Cut to the chase
December 9, 2010
by Shawn Bean
© Courtesy of Enasco.com
Circumcision. That's right I said it. Circumcision. Cir. Cum. Ci. Sion.
That's about all you can say about circumcision without starting a fight. It has become the hot button of all hot buttons for moms and dads. It has surpassed scheduled c-sections, drinking while pregnant, silent births, gay adoption, vaccines, surrogacy, and in vitro. Strangely, in the world of parenting, circumcision has become our 9/11. Our Palestinian state. Our affirmative action. Our Roe vs. Wade. It is a topic that cannot simply be discussed. It must be debated. It must be fought over. It must put us at odds with our friends and family at dinner. Even if you aren't on a side, the topic demands that you grab a weapon and stand a post.
I learned this about a year ago, when we included some information about caring for a circumcised penis in Babytalk (the info was supplied by the American Academy of Pediatrics). We got hammered for it. Hammered. A large group of "intactivists" gathered in protest on our Facebook page and message boards. Some accusations were outright insane (one post suggested that we were promoting circumcision because our company profited from the sale of foreskins). We simply published what the American Academy of Pediatrics - the leading organization of its kind - suggests. But this controversy wasn't about care. It was about circumcision being outdated and barbaric. To the intactivists, it was like discussing how to safely escape after robbing the bank. Why are you providing tips on escaping a bank robbery?! Why aren't you saying, 'Don't rob a bank in the first place!"
A couple weeks ago Parenting.com posted an item about a proposed measure in San Francisco that would make circumcision illegal. As is always the case, we got flooded with comments. "Circumcision is ignorant," read one mom's post. "It's genital mutilation that we have somehow civilized." Here's another mom: "I watched my son's circumcision being done at the hospital... It was barbaric and in my opinion unnecessary." And of course, leave it to a guy to take the anti-circumcision argument over the edge: "An uncircumsized male can masturbate a lot easier through his clothing because of the sliding affect that the foreskin provides." There is a growing population of men, predominantly those who were circumcised as babies, speaking out against it. My body, my choice!, they scream. In a way, it's the feminist movement guys never got to have. Call it masculism.
I can't really rebuff the "barbaric" argument. For years circumcision was deemed necessary for sanitary reasons, but that's no longer the case. So we're left with the current medical argument in favor of circumcision: a slightly lower risk for contracting STDs and AIDS, and penis cancer. I can't think of a single parent who would choose circumcision to alleviate the worry that their child might find themselves in an unhealthy sexual situation two decades from now. And penis cancer occurs in 1 in every 100,000 men. You'd have a better chance being attacked by a swarm of African bees. Maybe expectant parents should ask for a veiled safari hat during their next trip to the maternity ward.
Then why is circumcision still so prevalent? We are overwhelmingly a foreskin-free nation. In the United States, approximately 80 percent of males are circumcised (non-Hispanic whites: 90 percent; blacks: 73 percent; Mexican-Americans: 42 percent). Followers of the Jewish and Islamic faiths practice circumcision for religious and cultural reasons. Like Coca-Cola and Chevrolet, circumcision is something that's simply part of American culture. And changing that mindset would take a looooooong time.
Wait a second. I know what you're thinking. You're wondering about me and my boys, aren't you? You're wondering how barbaric or forward-thinking or thoughtless or enlightened I am. See what this topic does to us? It takes us into people's lives and personal decisions, into their most private and taboo areas, places the rest of the world shouldn't be. I know you want to ask, but I'm not saying. You seem like a really nice person, and I appreciate you reading my blog, so I'd rather not ruin our relationship so soon.