Circumcising Your Child Because You Think An Intact Penis ‘Looks Funny’ Is Absurd

circumcised-bananaParents make choices for their children all the time, and parents of boys have one extra one to ponder: whether or not to have him circumcised. It’s up to parents to make the best choice for their family, but I always find it odd when the reason for opting to do it is purely cosmetic. You’d be hard-pressed to find a story about choosing to circumcise a child (apart from religious reasons, of course) that doesn’t involve some mention of how an uncircumcised penis looks.

We’ve had a surge of new articles about circumcision since the CDC announced it’s plans for federal guidelines that will urge doctors to routinely recommend circumcision to expecting parents of boys. One of those was in The New York Times yesterday, “A Foreskin in the right Place at the Right Time.” In it, author Erica Youngren admits that her only objection to not circumcising her two boys was that she thought “foreskins are funny looking.” She writes:

I had only one objection to not circumcising and it seemed so shallow, I kept it to myself: Foreskins are funny looking if you’re not used to them. I was a senior in high school when I first saw an uncircumcised penis. I was shocked. It was as if I had spotted something embarrassing like an unsightly birthmark or a hideous mole, and I didn’t want to hurt the boy’s feelings by showing my surprise.

She did not end up circumcising either of her sons: her first because he was born in Britain and it’s not routinely done there, and her second because she figured he should “match” his brother.  But she expresses some regret with her decision, wondering if her sons will pay the price for her decision in their teenage years: “This is the part that concerns me. I don’t want girls shunning my sons because of our choices. Teenage sex is awkward enough without doubting the appeal of your penis.”

When we were deciding whether to circumcise our son, we had the usual back-and-forth couples have on this issue: my partner wanted his son to look like him. I think many fathers default to this stance. I think many mothers say, “I’m going to let him decide because I don’t  have one.” I never understood either of these arguments — they don’t make a whole lot of sense to me. But I initially went with it, thinking it was just no big deal. I mean, most children are circumcised — so why not just go with the flow? Why challenge my partner on the matter?

Then my son was born. All of a sudden the thought that I may be making a surgical decision about my child because his father thought they should look the same or feared that some teenager girl years from now would make fun of him just seemed — absurd. At that moment, I went from, “whatever” to “over my dead body.”

Making a decision like this based purely on how an intact penis “looks” is tantamount to performing cosmetic surgery on an infant. That’s disturbing.

Our pediatrician mentioned the AAP statement that the benefits outweighed the risks of the procedure, but that the benefits still weren’t great enough to recommend routine circumcision. That was in 2010. It seems that since then, the recommendations have shifted a bit.

The thing is, there is no new research – just new recommendations. The new recommendation is based on the same old research done in sub-Saharan Africa, where rates of HIV and its transmission are completely different than in this country. If the CDC were going to make a new recommendation, one would wonder why there is no new research, based in this country, to back it up.

As sensible parent, I find it ridiculous when someone claims we are mutilating our child if we have him circumcised. But I’m just as offended when someone claims we are denying him sound health if we don’t. And when it comes to a surgical decision like this one, focusing purely on the aesthetics of a child’s penis is just plain weird.

(photo: Zem Liew/ Shutterstock)

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