Circumcision: What You Should Know Before You Decide

To circumcise or not to circumcise? Times have changed.

Debates have raged on about the topic of circumcision for years, with arguments ranging from whether or not it reduced masturbation to whether or not it made the penis cleaner and less prone to infection. About thirty years ago, just about every male baby born in the United States was circumcised. For the most part, parents had their child circumcised because not to do so was to go against the social norm, and few wanted their child to stand out in the boy's locker room, or look different than dad. However, with increased education about circumcision, many parents are taking a second look at the practice.

In other countries that practice this procedure, the primary reason that parents choose to circumcise their sons is religious tradition. Both Jewish tradition and Muslim tradition call for ritual circumcision. The United States leads the world in the number of non-religious circumcisions. A little more than half of all boys in the United States are circumcised now, showing a steady decline in the trend, and varying greatly by region. Circumcision has been declining, especially since the American Medical Association declared that it was a non-therapeutic procedure, thus putting to rest some of the fears that uncircumcised males are more likely to get infections or penile cancer.

The statistics show that our country is still deeply divided on this issue. One reason, beside religious reasons, that parents opt to circumcise their sons is that it does decrease the number of infections that a child can get. It is possible for an uncircumcised boy to get a foreskin infection, or be at a greater chance for a urinary tract infection. However, the chances of this occurring are very small. Some parents are also concerned that their child will not keep the glans under the foreskin clean, causing odor or infection.

Others decide not to circumcise their sons. They believe that it is easy to teach a child to clean his penis properly, thus preventing any problems with hygiene or infection. They are also concerned about the potential medical complications of circumcision, which can include bleeding and infection. They may also be concerned about the amount of pain that the infant experiences both before and after the procedure. Years ago, people did not believe that infants felt pain, but we have now discovered that this is simply not true! Nowadays, circumcisions are almost always performed with a local anesthetic. People who choose not to circumcise their sons also do not feel the same pressure to conform that their own parents may have, since over 40 percent of male babies born today in the United States are uncircumcised.

Recently, there has been media attention given to the practice of female circumcision in other countries, and many have labeled the practice Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). This is yet another reason why many parents are beginning to question the traditions surrounding circumcision that we follow in the United States, as they wonder if they may be harming their child by the practice. One factoid: 80 percent of the world's male population is not circumcised.

If you are uncertain what the right course is for your family, you may want to consider discussing it with your family pediatrician, who can tell you more about how he or she performs the surgery. During the procedure, the typical practice is to restrain the baby's arms and legs. Usually, the penile shaft is then injected with an anesthetic. There are two possible ways that the foreskin may be removed. The doctor may use a clamp or a plastic ring. Ask which method your pediatrician uses, and if they use anesthetic. You can expect a small amount of bleeding, and of course, the baby's penis will be red and sore. If the ring is used to perform the circumcision, it will remain on the penis until the circumcision has healed. Also be sure to ask how to care for the circumcision should you decide to take this course of action. Usually, the circumcision is performed within a few days after birth. Although the trauma experienced by the infant is debatable by many, there is little doubt that it can cause trauma if put off until the child is older.

It is best to decide what to do before the birth. In many families, there is disagreement about the procedure, and after childbirth is not a good time to handle something that can be an emotional issue. Once the decision has been made, stick to it, as you do not want to subject an older baby or child to the procedure, when it will most certainly stick in his memory.

Continue to educate yourself and your spouse on this topic. Hopefully, you will come to an agreement that feels comfortable for both of you.

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