Should you circumcise your baby boy?
Congratulations! You’re either having a boy or just delivered one. Before you prove you have a car seat to take him home in, they’re going to ask you if you want him circumcised. A casual decision along the lines of what color onesie you’re going to take him home in or a life-changing decision your newborn is deferring to your judgment on? Routine, non-religious circumcision has become a huge issue in the United States over the last decade or so.
Most white Americans elect to circumcise their boys quite simply because the last few generations of white American men were circumcised. Prior to World War II, circumcision was an uncommon practice in this country. Many men in the war, especially those in the Pacific Theater, developed severe penile infections called balanitis that lead to fusion of their foreskins, called phimosis, and a considerable amount of pain. These infections came mostly from poor hygiene during combat and the humid conditions these men were fighting in. These infections are painful, sometimes disfiguring and therefore, they didn’t want their male offspring suffering from this. American soldiers were circumcised en masse on the way back stateside and the procedure took off as a hygienic necessity.
The medical literature supporting routine circumcision is sparse. We do know that circumcising a male at birth eliminates his risk of penile cancer. That’s pretty compelling until you see that the risk of penile cancers in developed countries that don’t circumcise their boys is almost non-existent.
England, Australia, and most of Continental Europe do not circumcise their boys and have a very low incidence of penile cancer. South American countries like Paraguay have a relatively high rate of penile cancer. Penile cancer, like cervical cancer, is a sexually transmitted illness passed on by the human papilloma virus (HPV). The space between the foreskin and the glans acts as a reservoir for the virus and this is where most penile cancers develop. There has been a safe and effective vaccine for most of the cancer-causing strains of HPV for a few years now and I recommend all boys get vaccinated before puberty. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) tends to spread more rapidly amongst uncircumcised men. This may be the only compelling active health reason to circumcise your newborn although this literature all comes out of Africa where access to good daily hygiene is also not always reliable.
Why shouldn’t you cut your boy? There is a complication rate associated with any procedure. Newborn circumcision is overall very safe, has minimal complications but they can range from infection, scarring, shortening of the penile skin, need for revision surgery. The devastating complication of penile amputation is very rare but catastrophic. There is a growing movement of men circumcised at birth that regret their parents’ decision and are vocal opponents of the routine practice. There is medical literature to support circumcision decreases sexual sensation, leads to more aggressive sexual practices, thought by most sex therapists to be a result of loss of sensation and need for more stimulation. If you decide on delayed circumcision, it is a more painful operation to undergo, usually requires a general anesthetic unless the boy is well into adulthood.
So you can see there’s a lot of pressure on you to make the right decision. The vast majority of fathers elect to have their boys look just like them. So if Dad is intact, so likely will the boy be. Dad needs to teach his boy how to retract and care for his foreskin so he doesn’t get infections. The good news is you will soon have so much more to worry about with your new son that this decision should fade quickly into the background. Good luck and happy parenting!