When I was a baby a doctor cut a bit of my penis off. And he did it on purpose. I was taken into a room, strapped to a table and a doctor used some instruments to cut a bit of my penis off. It doesn’t upset me that he did that, I don’t lose sleep over it, but I don’t see what was so urgent that it couldn’t wait until I had had some time to get to know my foreskin and decide if I’d prefer my penis to have one or not. Having spent 24 years with a cape-less cock, I kind of like it. And if I could go back in time and stop the dick-doc from slashing my shlong, I wouldn’t. And it’s not because I’m attached to my circumcised penis, I am attached to my circumcised penis but the fact it is circumcised has little to do with it. It’s because the fact I am circumcised doesn’t bother me enough to meddle with the space-time continuum and risk a world where Back to the Future never got made. But I think that’s why I’m so interested by the whole doodle-docking-debate. People on both sides get really fired up about it but everyone I know who has a penis seems to be perfectly happy with theirs no matter what happened to it when they were young. (Everyone except Sergei, he had an incident with a poorly constructed swing set.) There are men out there who suffer genuine mental and emotional anguish over their penises. But I’m not one of them. I don’t think about my circumcision much other than to wonder what I’ll do if I ever have a little boy. And I think there are 4 main reasons why people choose to have their babies circumcised, and I think I know why I’m not going to.
Babies don’t remember it
Babies don’t remember the pain of circumcision like coma patients don’t remember when the nurses stuck googly eyes to their testicles and created a YouTube mini-series starring their genitals as the world’s ugliest elephant. (I would totally watch that by the way.) I don’t think that’s ever happened but if it did those nurses would be fired before they even had a chance to make $1 off Google Adsense, and so should they be. Similarly, slapping people with Alzheimer’s is seriously frowned upon. To the point that you would probably go to jail if you went into a nursing home with an oversized novelty hand and got slap happy. Even if it was for a YouTube mini-series. (I would totally watch that by the way.) Puppies probably don’t remember having their tails or ears docked either but we, as a nation, have said, ‘hey, you with the clippers, stop doing that!’ I can’t think of one situation, other than circumcision, where someone uses the fact that someone won’t remember something as a reason you should do something. The fact that it won’t be remembered is usually the reason we wouldn’t do it in the first place. An absence of decision making skills or memory creates a duty of care around the person we are making decisions for. For some, the fact that babies don’t remember a circumcision is the reason it can be done without guilt but I think it’s the reason circumcisions can’t be done without it.
It’s more hygienic
My mother always says that when she asked her doctor about circumcision being cleaner he said, ‘it’s hard enough to get boys to wash behind their ears let alone their penises.’ Which always made me chuckle. But now that I think about it, I think if you could rub your ears and give yourself an orgasm then boys would go nuts for Chinese whispers. When I showered, (and it wasn’t often, I was a teenager) I couldn’t wait to wash my penis. My penis was my favourite part of the whole washing process. If showering is the bodily equivalent of washing your car then washing your penis is taking it for a drive after. I didn’t like to wash behind my ears because it was a chore, while washing my penis was a privilege. But that’s not even the main point, the main point is that no medical establishment has found nor recognises a difference in the penile hygiene of people who are circumcised and those who aren’t. A 2001 study regarding neonatal circumcision by the Pediatric Clinics of North America concluded, “Most of the other medical benefits of circumcision probably can be realized without circumcision as long as access to clean water and proper penile hygiene are achieved.” Which basically means, “wash your dick.” And if there is one thing teenage boys love washing, it’s their dick. Ensuring your teenage boy has a clean shmeckle isn’t so much about making sure he washes his willy more, it’s about making sure he washes at all.
Circumcision reduces your risk of infection
There is evidence that circumcision reduces the risk of infection from HIV, various STIs and penile cancer. Some people claim it prevents prostate cancer. But it breaks down a bit like this:
In 2010, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians released a statement that said, ‘circumcision has not been demonstrated to decrease the risks of prostate cancer.’ And that’s all there is to really say about it. There are a few studies that have found a correlation between circumcision and lower rates of prostate cancer but there isn’t enough data to support the claim that circumcision actually prevents prostate cancer. It might. It might not. It might be that the studies that did show a link between circumcision and fewer instances of prostate cancer were merely coincidental or it could be that God exists and he really hates foreskin, we just don’t know. We will one day, but right now we don’t. ‘Circumcision has not been demonstrated to decrease the risks of prostate cancer.’ And until it is, no-one can claim otherwise.
Penile cancer is most prominent in men aged 50 – 70 and is very rare, accounting for 0.2% of cancers in men and for 0.1% of male cancer deaths. (As opposed to all the females who die from penile cancer.) A man’s risk of developing penile cancer is increased due to factors such as poor hygiene, smoking and HPV (genital warts) infection. The risk is slightly reduced with circumcision. A study conducted in 2000 by the University of Washington Department of Pediatrics found that it would take 909 circumcisions to prevent 1 case of penile cancer. Maybe that’s a trade off, maybe that’s a small price to pay to reduce the risk of even the rarest cancer. But I always consider that penile cancer kills 310 people in the US each year and appendicitis kills 447 people each year in the US, so it probably makes more sense to have my child’s appendix removed to prevent appendicitis. An appendectomy isn’t a big deal now that we have keyhole surgery but it would probably be best to wait until they are, like, 3.
When it comes to HPV, many studies have found a link between circumcised men and a reduced risk of an infection. But that doesn’t carry over to women as there is little evidence that sleeping with circumcised men will prevent women from infection with HPV. But it might. If you’re a man, it probably decreases your chance of HPV infection and if you are a woman who sleeps with only circumcised men, you might be reducing your risk of infection. And that’s all we really know so far. For HIV, there is evidence that it reduces your risk of infection if you are circumcised. And the same goes for Syphilis and Chancroid. But nothing works like condoms. If you really want to reduce your child’s risk of a sexually transmitted infection, teach them about sex. Talk to them about condoms and dental dams and all that stuff you wouldn’t say in front of nanna. (I would, because my grandmother is awesome. She’s probably reading this. Hi Grandma. Sorry this post is all about penises and sex.) My mother was open with me about sex and condoms and answered any question I had in a way I could understand. My girlfriend’s father took her to get the pill when we started dating and then he took her to have the HPV vaccine that will prevent genital warts (which is good, because I’m riddled with it) and significantly reduced her risk of cervical cancer. We spoke about sex with each other and with each other’s parents and we used condoms. At least, for a year or so. But my point remains, that nothing protects your kids from sexual nasties like a $12 box of condoms.
Circumcision comes from a time when people wondered where the sun went at night so naturally we have better ways of maintaining sexual health. Cutting bits off willies might reduce our risk of disease but it’s nowhere near as effective as safe sex and education.
Girls prefer it/It looks better
It’s a bit weird to consider how attractive your child will be to the opposite sex when they are so young but parents want their children to be happy and these are the things people consider when deciding whether or not to cut bits off their children. And I think it’s a valid point, you want to give your child every advantage you possibly can. If they had a face growing out of their chest, you’d have a doctor fix it. You’d say, ‘I like my new child but can we do something about the chest-face, it’s kind of creepy and it won’t stop quoting Mean Girls.’ You want your child to be happy in all facets of their lives; financially, emotionally, physically and even sexually. You want to ensure they can find happiness where ever they can and nothing you did, or didn’t do, held them back. Basically, no-one wants to feel responsible for their child’s unhappiness. But if we turned the tables and said that you were having your daughter circumcised because men prefer it, no-one would stand for it. Surgical procedures for cosmetic reason are incredibly personal and I’m all for it. I’m all for people who hate their nose getting a nose job so they can not hate it anymore, I think it’s a good thing. (Although, not something to be considered lightly.) But when it comes to neonatal circumcision we are talking about having someone else’s body modified because of the way we perceive the world to be. Whether girls prefer circumcised men or not isn’t relevant to the issue when you consider the fact we are making a decision on someone’s behalf for purely cosmetic reasons and we wouldn’t stand for it if the tables were turned.
N.B. I didn’t forget that some people are homosexual and that means boys would be sleeping with boys, I have just never heard anyone say, ‘men prefer it.’ Probably because men would have sex with a box of custard tarts if the mood struck.
Not considering the complications of possible infection, botched surgery, skin bridges, anesthetic risks and hemorrhage it was these four reasons that made it difficult for me to decide what I would do when presented with the opportunity to circumcise my imaginary child. And I’ve given my reasons why I wouldn’t. But this is the one that seals it for me:
It’s not my choice
I don’t get to make unnecessary decisions about my imaginary child’s body. I make decisions for him by not stopping for imaginary McDonald’s and not letting him ride an imaginary bike without an imaginary helmet but unless my imaginary son has an imaginary condition that requires it, I’m not going to have him imaginarily circumcised. Because one day, he might not be an imaginary son. One day, he might be a real son and I’ll have to make real decisions about how I raise him and how I take care of him. And one of those decisions is about his penis. And I’ve decided that I won’t have him circumcised. But I’ll let him do it later. I just don’t see why the decision has to be made when he is so young and can’t choose for himself. Sure, he’ll grow up and ask why he looks different to his father and some other boys at school and I’ll explain why and that will be that. And if he gets older and wants a circumcision when he is older then I’ll pay for it but I don’t see why it has to be done at a time when he can’t yet choose. He won’t even have to be 18, he might get to 13 and want it done and if I think he’s mature enough to make such a decision and understands the procedure then I’ll find him the best alley-way doctor money can buy. I just don’t see why it needs to be done right away. So, I think I’ll wait until my imaginary son is old enough to choose. And my girlfriend agrees. Which is good, because I want her to have my non-imaginary babies one day.
My mother maintains that she did what was right. And I agree with her. My mother did what she thought was best for me with the information she had at the time. She did the exact right thing and I’ll defend her to the death for it. She spoke to doctors about the benefits and complications and, considering advice and the evidence she could find, made the decision to have me circumcised. She did what good mother’s do: She made a decision based on the facts at hand rather than a feeling or unfounded opinion. But that was 24 years ago and countless studies have been conducted that focus on the effects of circumcision. And the results are easier to find than ever before. Parents today have the internet, parents today have access to more information from more places from all times. Parents today have the potential to know more about the benefits of the choices they make for their children than all the brand new parents in the modest ward where I was born. And considering what we now know about circumcision and sexual health, I think this is my stance on circumcision : Wash your bits and pieces, wear a condom when you poke things and don’t cut bits off bits that don’t belong to you. And call your mother on Mother’s day, you did more to her vagina than she ever did to your penis.