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Should tradition trump reason? Circumcision and more...

In the past, people did a lot of things that we now know are dangerous or harmful. People drove around in cars without seat belts or car seats for their kids. People drank alcohol while pregnant. People started feeding babies solids at 6 weeks. Schools used harsh physical discipline to keep students in line. Parents dressed their children in fire retardant chemical laced pyjamas. Just last year we were all sipping happily from our BPA-laced plastic bottles and now they are on the verge of being banned in some jurisdictions.

We learn from our mistakes. There isn't a lot of point in dwelling on them. In feeling guilty for past mistakes, especially when we didn't know better. But should we really be continuing to perpetrate those mistakes, over and over and over again in the name of tradition?

Circumcision has always been a hot issue. For a while, infant boys were circumcised routinely. But since 1975 the Canadian Pediatric Society's neonatal circumcision policy has been that there is no medical indication for male neonatal circumcision. In 1971, 67.5 % of boys were circumcised. In 2005, only 9.2% were circumcised (see Canada Circumcision Statistics) -- edited to add: I have since found other statistics that suggest the rate might be around 32% (see page 267 of the Canadian Maternity Experiences Survey) as of 2006/2007. It appears as though the first number may reflect circumcisions done in hospitals only, whereas the second number reflects total circumcisions. In Canada, generally neither public health care nor private health care will pay for elective infant circumcision. It is not considered a necessary or advisable medical procedure and parents have to pay for it themselves.

But male circumcision is a tradition, people say. A religious tradition. Something that has been done for thousands of years. That doesn't make it right. That doesn't even make it okay. Traditions are fine and well when they are about singing songs, celebrating holidays, making traditional meals, wearing specific clothing. But when traditions involve physically altering or harming another human being, I think it needs to be questioned. Perhaps the conclusion is that it is okay. But we cannot simply say that something is okay because it is a tradition.

Are any of these acceptable? No.  But they are traditions. Rather than blindly continuing a practice because it is a tradition, I think the world's religions have a responsibility to progress, to remove discrimination, to remove harmful practices and to ensure the dignity of all.

Personally, while I recognize that circumcision is a choice that parents have the right to make, I don't think it is a choice that should be made by the parents. I put it in the same category as a piercing or a tattoo. It is a cultural tradition perhaps, but one that should be chosen by the boy when he is old enough to weigh the risks and benefits and make the decision for himself.

You may feel differently. All I ask though is that you think about it. Do your research. Don't just blindly circumcise because it is a tradition.

Want more information? Read:

Side note: On the reason that circumcision came up again today, it appears that the CDC is considering a blanket recommendation that boys be circumcized in the United States due to possible lower HIV transmission rates among circumcised men (which many researchers say are exaggerated claims). Sounds like cutting off the nose to spite the face. Why not start with universally mandatory sex education in schools in the United States?
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Reader Comments (144)

sex ed is mandatory in the u.s. people are allowed to opt out. but the kids start learning about sex and everything that goes along with it in the 4th grade.
it's not barbaric. it's nothing like female circumcision, stoning, binding feet etc. it doesn't impact their everyday life. it doesn't kill them. it isn't a form of torture. it's a proven beneficial, and simple medical procedure. and while you are entitled to your opinion, you're comparison is so way off.
just like breastfeeding, baby wearing etc...it's a choice. at least, at this point it is. if you don't want to circumcise your child, don't. but certainly don't try to compare it to those examples you've mentioned.

August 25, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermelissa

I'm not trying to compare it to those things. I am just trying to point out that because something is a tradition, doesn't mean that we shouldn't question it. Those examples help hammer home that point. Male circumcision is different from those examples, but still worth questioning.

From the research I have done, I cannot agree with you that it is a beneficial medical procedure. I have seen no evidence of that.

With regards to sex ed, I don't consider abstinence only sex ed to be sex ed. My understanding was that there are still a lot of abstinence only programs in the US. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94332508" rel="nofollow">This article mentions that it certainly isn't universal:

Most states leave the scope of sex education up to the local school boards. That's also true in Alaska, where there is no requirement that the subject be taught. Alaska's largest school district, Anchorage, emphasizes abstinence, with a program called "Abstinence Plus."

August 25, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

i love the t-shirt phrase "circumcision is a cure looking for a disease"--the fact that we've been doing something doesn't mean we should or that it has value. that's just bad science.

even though, circumcision is a tradition (which, as you point out, is really the only reason it is still around)--in the larger sense of human history, intact males are the tradition. routinely circumcised males are a fraction of the population in an extremely small fraction of human existence--and maybe that's the way the math should stay. personally, i'm a big fan of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of thought especially when it comes to medicine. i'm all for stopping the spread of aids, but looking for a link between hiv and circumcision in spite of the evidence against such a link, just looks like a desperate attempt to validate something that has already been done. we really need to focus our energy. aids needs fixed. baby boys do not.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

i'm in michigan. so the only experience i have with sex ed is through my children. who learn about various forms of birth control, std's etc. they learn about abstinence but they also learn options. teaching abstinence is equivalent to parents and school districts sticking their head in the sand.
i think, more than anything, i would be upset about the choice being taken away from the parent. because, when it comes down to it in my opinion, the gov't has no business telling the parents they MUST get their male children circumcised. just like, and again, in my opinion, deciding whether or not girls can control their own bodies by trying to take away the right to abortion...which is a whole different can of worms, eh?!
but that's what i'd be up in arms about. because if you have the choice, then this would be a moot point.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermelissa

i really hope canada doesn't pass this blanket law. it's just ANOTHER part of human life that the government is trying to control. and it's enough already!!
thank you for tweeting and writing something that REALLY made me think!! that doesn't happen often!

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermelissa

We chose not to circumcise our son, who is now 8 months old. We caught some flack from family members who thought it was weird not to. Personally, I don't think they should worry about his penis.

I am concerned that the procedure is unnecessary and that during the surgery, the baby potentially isn't numbed enough. I've read that years ago, no pain medication was administered at all because it was believed a newborn couldn't experience pain. Holy crap!

Even though my midwife administered lidocane while she stitched up my tears, I felt pain. Who is to say that my son wouldn't feel surgery on his own genitals?

Sure, my son won't "look like Daddy." But ya know what? I don't think he needs to be seeing Daddy's private parts to begin with. And circ'ed or not, it's not going to look like Daddy's at his age.

I think the CDC's argument to circumcise based on lower rates of HIV is absurd. Men can still contract the virus if they're circumsicised, and to say otherwise would be irresponsible.

If my son later wants a circumcision, I'll be happy to pay for the surgery. For one, he can be sure that he's adequately numbed/sedated. And for two, it'll be his choice.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKacie

"me think!! that doesn’t happen often!" I loled.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJames

When I was a medical student, I volunteered to teach health/sex ed at the local elementary because there was no "sex ed" program in Hartford, CT, USA. We were told that parents had complained about us teaching about contraception, and so we were only allowed to talk about what happens during puberty and how conception happens, but NOT contraception, or the whole volunteer program stood a chance of getting kicked out of the school.

As for circumcision, my point of view is that if the parents want it, they should have to pay for it. Having patients pay for it (since Medicaid doesn't reimburse us for it much) cuts down on this unnecessary, cosmetic procedure quite a bit and does not take away the parents' right to choose.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTD

As a parent who had her son circumcised for religious reasons, I totally hear what you're saying about how traditions are not sacrosanct and everything should be questioned. In the case of circumcision, I personally do not see it as a barbaric practice that we need to reject; rather than comparing it to all the things you mentioned, I'd compare it to the practice of piercing baby girls' ears, which also can be briefly painful and can possibly lead to infection, but overall is pretty innocuous.
But I think an important factor in this equation is how seriously you take the tradition. For a religious person for whom their religious practice is at the center of their lives, there are going to have to be some pretty compelling reasons to not circumcise. For someone who says they want to circumcise their son "so that he will look like Daddy", even a small doubt about the health benefits of the procedure should be enough to reconsider. I would never pierce a baby girl's ears since the positive reasons are not so strong, so the minor health concerns become quite serious (also I think babies are cuter without earrings), but I did circumcise my son since the minor health concerns were overridden by the major religious concern.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChanna

I only have daughters and so have not had to deal with this issue. Although as an adult I prefer a circumcised penis to an un-circumcised one, I could never ever ever put a child of mine through that procedure unless they themselves wanted it. My husband and I had decided if we had a boy to wait and leave it up to the child himself unless there was a medical reason to have it done (in a hospital with pain relief readily avaialble). The images of it being carried out on the website you linked to sicken me. That child did not appear to have any pain relief whatsoever. I sincerely hope that parents who do make that choice for their boys, also do so with appropriate anaethesia and pain relief afterwards.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAngie

I agree - to a degree. A blanket recommendation for infant circ to prevent HIV in the US is senseless - Europe and Canada, where sexual culture is similar to the US and circ rates significantly lower, is not experiencing significantly higher HIV infection rates. If circumcision really provided protection against HIV in all cases, we should be seeing higher HIV infection rates in Europe and Canada as compared to the US, based on the higher circ rate in the US. This Mothering article that looks at the studies indicating that circumcision might protect against HIV does a good job of checking the science and rigor (or lack thereof) of those studies, and I agree with the questions the article raises about the studies' conclusions:


On the other hand, I am currently living in the midst of an HIV pandemic - over 23% of the population is infected, over 40% of women age 19-40. Here, the sexual culture is very different from the US/Canada/Europe, as multiple, concurrent sexual partners are common and are acknowledged as the main driver of the epidemic. Maybe there is some protective factor about circumcision that exists in this kind of sexual culture (which is more similar to the cultures where the studies, flawed as they were, took place). In this particular context, I can understand and even support male circumcision campaigns. Many of those targeted are adults, who are making the decision for themselves to be circumcised. Many more, however, are infants, whose health care providers and parents are struggling to find something, anything, that will help protect these tiny boys from becoming infected with HIV later in life. They are desperate people willing to take desperate measures in a country that has been decimated by a deadly disease. Although I am an American who did not circumcise her two sons, if I were a Mosotho whose baby boy had a life expectancy of 37 years, you could probably sign me up for his circumcision in a heartbeat.

Sorry to rant a bit, Annie - I understand that this is not the target of your post on circumcision, but I couldn't help but point out that cultural context in making a decision about circumcision is important. Not for the religious or "he needs to look like everyone else" arguments, but for the particular health arguments in the HIV context.

Incidentally, there are several articles investigating the arguments that can be made against circumcision in the Jewish context here: http://www.mothersagainstcirc.org/religious.htm

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

Sex ed is in no way mandatory in the U.S. Neither abstinence-only "sex or" or real sex ed. It's a district-by-district decision (or, in some cases, perhaps state-by-state).

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJo

I thought it was interesting that you said folks needed to do their research, then every single link you provided was anti-circumcision.

It could easily be argued that biologically and evolutionarily, there was a reason for the foreskin, much like the appendix and wisdom teeth, WAY back when we were all running in bearskins, carrying clubs and living in caves. Men NEEDED that foreskin since they were not wearing underwear.

If we are going to get all "stretchy" with our arguments, then we should not remove wisdom teeth either - something that IS primarily cosmetic since it pushes all the other teeth around and ruins perfectly good orthodontic work.

Truthfully, I don't care whether folks circumcise or not. I let my husband choose - he is from India, a place where it does go both ways. But to compare our action of circumcise to stoning, murder, foot binding and war? That is just silly and insulting. Good grief.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercagey

Melissa - Just to clarify, it isn't Canada that is considering this. It is the United States. I only provided the information on what Canada does to give context and present another perspective.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I also wouldn't pierce my child's ears until he/she is old enough to choose and to take care of them him/herself.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Thank you for the comment Elizabeth. I do agree that the cultural context is different in Africa and if there truly is good evidence that circumcision = lower HIV infection rates, then circumcision should perhaps be considered because the degree of the epidemic may outweigh other concerns about circumcision.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I have read the pro-circ and anti-circ information and have come to the conclusion that the anti-circ arguments are both more authoritative and convincing. I'm not about to link to things here that I feel are inaccurate or are not the best science. But I won't stop anyone from going and seeking them out themselves.

I don't know what the practice is where you live, but wisdom teeth are not routinely removed where I live. They are removed if they are causing other problems. I don't have a problem with an adult male choosing a circumcision if he is having health issues related to his foreskin. However, the vast majority of men experience no such issues.

As I said in a previous comment, I am not comparing circumcision to those other practices. I was just trying to give examples of situations where something is a "tradition", but we would consider it unacceptable. I was hearing too many people say over and over again that they understand that there is no medical reason for circumcision, but they have to do it because it is tradition. You do not have to do something because it is a tradition and we should question all traditions that could potentially be harmful.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I agree. That is the way things are in Canada (re: circumcision). The parents have to pay. That has resulted in a circumcision rate of less than 10%.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I have never witnessed an incident where someone involuntarily had their wisdom teeth removed.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAshly

Good point. Neither have I. In fact my husband has been pressured in the past by dentists to do it because it might cause him problems, but he has chosen to keep his wisdom teeth until they do pose a problem (if that ever happens).

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I'm sorry, but I have almost fallen over laughing at one of the poster's comments above who compared circumcision to piercing an ear.

First of all, let me suggest to that poster, and to all the other posters out there who falsely believe that circumcision is not cruel or barbaric, that they watch a video of a circumcision. There are plenty of these videos online for them to see. I am very certain indeed that the women will change their minds quite rapidly when they actually see a circumcision being performed on a baby that is strapped down and screaming.

Secondly, there are feet...yes, FEET of nerve endings on the foreskin. The foreskin is very important for lubrication during sex, for keeping dirt and germs at bay, and for prompting sexual pleasure. One of the main proponents in America of circumcision was Dr. Kellogg, of Kellogg Cereals, who wrongly believed that circumcision would lessen the pleasure of sexual feelings and thus prevent masturbation altogether. As probably all circumcised men will attest, circumcision does NOT stop masturbation. Ahem.

Circumcision is an utterly abhorrent practice and is totally and utterly unnecessary. Most of the world is not circumcised. Scandinavia has the lowest circumcision rate in the Western world and lowest number of AIDS cases, while America, the country in the West with the highest number of circumcised males, also has the highest number of males with AIDS in it.

I am just very grateful that I gave birth in a country where circumcision is not the norm and baby boys are allowed to retain their dignity and stay intact. If males wish to be circumcised, let them choose it for themselves as adults. There is a reason why males in Europe do not choose circumcision as adults.

As for mothers who comment on here that male circumcision is different than female circumcision, they are very wrong indeed. However, how would they feel about female circumcision if it were done in the manner that male circumcision is done in America -- when the baby is only hours old, strapped down and with no anesthetic (95% of American males have no anesthetic whilst being circumcised). Would mothers think it was okay to circumcise their daughters in this manner?

Here's another interesting fact about diseases: men are more likely to contract breast cancer than to develop the types of cancer that circumcision claims to help save men from. Furthermore, females are more likely to die from breast cancer than men are to die from anything that circumcision claims to prevent. Should females all have their breasts lobbed off at birth to prevent possible breast cancer in the future? Think about that one, folks.

Most importantly of all, people should THINK before they circumcise their children. Get all the facts. Watch videos of infant circumcisions. There is no logical reason whatsoever to do it and religion or your beliefs are nothing but a man-made construct and totally illogical. Reason. It's much more important than tradition.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPersephone

I also think its important to note that the article you're referring to about the CDC considering recommending circumcisions states that the risk of HIV was only shown to be decreased for heterosexual men. No considerable evidence showed that homosexual men's risk was decreased, and considering they are at the highest risk it makes the statement seem even more blown out of proportion. Circumcision is not the cure for HIV.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAshly

Boys should have a say over what happens to their body. It should be their choice.

If my son wants a circumcision, he can have it. But he gets to choose. Not me. Not his dad. He does.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

AND, even if you could argue you didn't need the foreskin (which I don't think your arguement is very convincing) since when do we go chopping off parts we don't really need? You're right, people can live without an appendix, but we don't routinely take them out just because we can. Circumcision could be reserved for cases when it is medically necessary instead of being a routine procedures "so he looks like his daddy".

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAshly

I wouldn't pierce my baby girls ears either, but even still the two aren't comparable. YOU ARE MUTILATING THE HUMAN SEX ORGAN, not poking a hold in cartilage with few nerves.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAshly

OK one last comment, then I must work. I was blown away by the difference in statistics between the percent of Canadian boys who are circumcised versus the percent of U.S. boys! I was just reading yesterday that in the U.S. it fell from some 80% to 60-something% -- and Canada is in the single digits? Wow. Go Canada!

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAshly

Did someone really say that there are no side effects more serious than a bit of pain? Have you heard of David Reimer? If you were told a side effect of circumcision was loss of penis - would you still be so willing? Because it does happen.

To say circumcision is a parental choice - like breastfeeding, co-sleeping, discipline - is completely incorrect and disrespectful to our male-born children. Since when is unnecessary cosmetic surgery on un-consenting humans ok? We don't allow this to happen to our female-born children nor do we expect them to undergo surgery without a whimper.

Even though you have said you were not comparing male genital mutilation to stoning/binding/honour killing/female circ - I think they *can* be compared. They are practices based on sexism and they harm people.

Foreskins are not some relic from "cavemen" days, no longer needed in our modern age. It protects the penis glands, the same now as it did then, underwear do not protect in any way shape or form. This is obviously spoken by someone who knows nothing physiologically about the penis - sex ed is schools is also obviously lacking.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRashel

Homosexual men are not the most likely to get HIV/AIDS - it's heterosexual wimmin, especially those of colour. They are the largest population of those affected.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRashel

When we found out we were having a boy, the circumcision debate between my husband and I commenced. He was totally against it. I was indifferent. That made the decision easy. I did do some reading, however, and quickly realized that I could not do that to my son. He is now 15 months old, and I am so relieved that my husband had such a strong conviction. Sometimes, when I change the diapers of other baby boys, I realize how much skin is removed. With a baby, it looks like half the penis is head. Of course this is an issue of scale, but such a removal has to effect sensation.

One of my closer friends asked me and my husband to be the kvater and kvaterin at their newborn son's circumcision. This is a place of honor in the ceremony. We, of course said yes despite our feelings on the matter. It was interesting to observe the ceremony up close. While ultimately I would urge someone NOT to circumcise if they asked, if they decide to, I would recommend using a Jewish mohel instead of a doctor. They are highly trained and it was a much better than being strapped down in a hospital nursery. Certain mohels circumcise non-Jews all the time.

And, no, health insurance should not cover such an elective procedure. This would quickly lower the number of circumcised in the US.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJill

Annie is well within her right to compare it to those things. When you circumcise a boy, you are removing skin and cutting off nerve cells. I don't say this for shock value; I say it because it's true. Comparing it to foot binding and FGM is right. Not all FGM is "lop it all off." Some types are simply (?) removing the hood of the clitoris, which is what you're doing when you circumcise a boy.
Just don't say "It's not barbaric," until you watch one. See a baby tied down and screaming. They can feel pain. To think otherwise is to ignore their humanity at birth.
Breastfeeding and babywearing are indeed a choice, but not a choice that manipulates the form and shape and sensitivity of another person's body WITHOUT his consent.
People say, "Well, it's the parents' job to make decisions for their child." It sure is. But if they were giving children rhinoplasty or appendectomies at birth (cosmetic or surgeries to remove something "unnecessary" and "possibly problematic"), there would be a huge outcry. It is shameful that the U.S. still practices circumcision at the rate we do.
I'm from the Midwest, like you, Melissa (Illinois). There, all of my nephews are not circumcised, but we know that our family are in the minority. Now I live in Virginia near a liberal community where circumcision is not performed as a matter of course. I would venture to guess that about 70 percent of baby boys are intact around here.
People are changing. I suggest that you and everyone like you really investigate the practice and join us in our opposition.

I've written much about this, but the commenters on my posts have been incredibly knowledgeable about the reasons to leave a boy intact:

And Melissa (and all)? This hasn't been an easy decision. I was a single mother for my older son, and had no one to argue my decision to leave my son intact. For my second, it was a big fight between my husband and me. It may have to be for some families, but I feel it's worth it (and someday, my son will laugh at us for arguing over his penis!):

(Thanks for linking to my blog, Annie!)

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCate

I wasn't comparing. While I agree with you that circumcision is an awful practice, I wouldn't dare try to compare. I have not experienced any of the things on that list (other than some mild corporal punishment), so I don't have a basis for comparison. Last time people thought I was making a comparison (when I wasn't) I took a lot of flack for it, so I try to avoid comparisons unless I have a really strong basis for making the parallel. I only mentioned those other things because they are also traditions, like circumcision, yet we find it right to condemn them. Why are some traditions off limits from criticism and others are not? That is the point I was trying to make.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

That is the fastest growing GROUP affected by HIV, but it is still homosexual men who have the most new HIV infections (60%).

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCate

THANK YOU for your post, and your support. Intact America was on the ground in Atlanta this week, at the CDC's HIV conference, and we believe that the activism of people like you has helped bring this issue -- and all the ethical arguments inherent within it -- to the forefront of the debate.

Thanks again!

Jennifer Konig
Senior Project Manager, Intact America

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterIntact America

I'm actually one of those people. My parents are firm believers in doing what doctors tell you to to. So when the dentist said my bottom wisdom teeth were impacted and my mouth too small because I was a girl, they decided they needed to be removed. In the wait between this decision and them actually coming out, my bottom wisdom teeth came through- not impacted and didn't affect the rest of my bite. I couldn't understand why they were to be removed. When I asked the dentist he said it's because it'll be harder to clean them. So they removed them. I was 17 and had no say in the matter. A year later my top ones came in and I was 18 and chose to not have them removed. They are just fine and my bite has not been affected. There are times when I feel the holes that my bottom teeth once occupied and wonder, "What would it have been like to be able to actually chew with those teeth?" I do regret it. I regret just accepting my parent's decision in the matter and not fighting it.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTopHat

I couldn't find words last night to express how great it felt to come across something as right-on and well put as this on the net. The links included are great.

The "rights" many of us believe we have and try so hard to protect are not really ours at all, but stolen from our kids. We had ours stolen in the same way, which I think is why we see that theft as being "normal" and "moral", even. It's hard for many of us to face, but the majority of those who came before us had an awful lot in their heads (and behavior) that was just upside down and backwards. All of it, so far as I've been able to see, was based in cruelty and relied upon "un-truth". Wish I could avoid the use of the word "tip" here because I'm absolutely not interested in trying to be clever, but male circumcision is only the tip of the cruelty iceberg. It's all just stupid, and as the "What doesn't kill you" paper explains, all cruelty does is just manufacture more stupidity. So THANK YOU FROM EVERYONE FOR THIS VERY WELL DONE EFFORT!

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

What a wonderfully timely post!

Our first child, a boy, is due any day now (actually he was due yesterday). I am very lucky in that my husband, who is circumcised himself, was very happy to agree with me that circumcision for our son seemed completely unnecessary. My husband does not need to have our son circumcised for the sake of "tradition" or having his son "look like daddy". Again, I'm very lucky to have such a wonderful, intelligent and thoughtful husband who actually makes decisions based on logic and research.

However, just the other day I had a phone conversation with my father where I was asked if we were planning to circumcise. I told them our plans, and suffered through a rather awkward conversation where my father told me about his own circumcision which happened when he was 17 or 18 years old. Apparently his foreskin would no longer retract; he didn't seem to have any better details than "it just wouldn't fit through anymore". (I'd like to point out that I would have loved for this not to be an awkward conversation ... my mother and I can talk about sex very openly, but my father, who my mom divorced when I was 6, and I have never exactly been that close... this was probably the first time we'd ever talked about anything related to sex!)

Anyway, it was an interesting story to hear, coming from my own father. However I don't think it's deterred my husband and I from our original decision. I'm sure that being circumcised at such a late age would all-round suck, as would any sort of surgery of that degree. But I firmly believe that it would have equally sucked to have the surgery as an infant... just because a man can't remember being circumcised since it was done at such a young age doesn't mean it didn't hurt! I'm hopeful that my father can follow that train of logic, although I won't hold my breath.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

I'm surprised that the Canadian rate is so low. We didn't have our son circumcised, but I know many other families who did. The rates are in hospital, so I wonder if maybe more boys are circumcised later. Either way, I'm glad to see a downward trend.

I am sort of blown away by the CDC recommendations. Obviously anything we can do to reduce rates of HIV transmission is good. However, based on what I read using a condom is much more effective and less invasive. Plus, in my area at least, very few people are infected as a result of heterosexual sex. The highest rate of new infection is among intravenous drug users. So why direct funds toward circumcision? It makes no sense.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

....I was just updating the post as you left that comment Amber. Looks like the rate is under 10% in hospital, but closer to 32% in total. Too high IMO.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Thank you! I hate with a passion the idea that because it's "tradition" circumcision is magically OK. As if the sheer fact that it is a tradition makes the fact that a piece of a boy's penis is removed suddenly disappears. We should, as civilized people, question the traditions handed down to us from a time when people though the sun circled the earth. It's questions many of those traditions that made us civilized in the first place!

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSummer

What a fantastic post. Persephone said things perfectly.

I do not, for the life of me, understand how so many mothers don't see the error in this part of our culture; and how they don't laugh at the "medical benefits" the CDC tries to make.

I suggest watching a video of a circumcision and watch a baby scream screams you have never heard choke on their own vomit, and then pass out from the pain; and then make the decision for your baby. And then decide then if it is a barbaric practice that has no business taking place.

Also, has anybody thought of why America would benefit from continuing such high circumcision rates? It is a big money business. Baby foreskin is in high demand for facial creams etc. I heard a statistic that one foreskin can bring in $100,000 in revenue. Who gets that money? Not the little boy who's penis was ripped and cut and tortured, that’s for sure.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRachael

Yes - that is true. Crunchy Domestic Goddess also wrote about the foreskin issue: http://crunchydomesticgoddess.com/2009/05/28/babies-foreskins-used-to-make-cosmetics-is-this-ethical/" rel="nofollow">Babies' foreskins used to make cosmetics. Is this ethical?

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I completely agree. My first though when reading that CDC article was similar to yours - why not teach things like personal responsibility in sexual areas rather than putting out a blanket recommendation to circumcise?

However, I would also point out that traditional religious (Jewish) circumcision is nothing like the circumcision performed today. I touched on that in my own entry regarding http://hippiehousewife.blogspot.com/search/label/circumcision" rel="nofollow">why circumcision is unnecessary. As a Christian, I would never circumcise my sons, for traditional or medical "reasons".

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia

great book for jewish people like myself that were conflicted about the tradition vs. reason argument. after reading this book i very much fell on the side of reason. and then our baby came out a girl! so the discussion with my wife and family simply vanished.


August 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdustyz

Anyone who reasons that circumcision is sound, "to be on the safe side" medically, should also be taking out babies' tonsils & appendices as a routine, preventative measure.

I vehemently disagree with circumcision unless absolutely necessary.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie

It amazes me how many ppl will still try to argue *for* circumcision. It was never an issue in our household, DH argued a bit at first (felt his son should look like him), but given the boy wouldn't have pubic hair for sometime, it seemed a ridiculous reason to lop off part of his penis (I mean really?!?!). My sister's husband was circ'ed later in life, however, I don't see the reasoning behind cutting something off b/c there may be a problem down the road... that would be like cutting off an arm in case you break it in the future. If anyone is on the fence about it, I would suggest watching a video of the procedure, or even line-drawings, it's pretty horrific, hardly akin to piercing an ear!

susie :)

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersusie ;)

I live in a house with two boys. My five year old is circumcised and my 3 year old isn't. We chose not to circumcise our second son becaue of the experience of my first. It was horribly painful and what an awful way to be introduced to the world! The AAP came out the year my son was born in 2006 stating that there was no reason to circumcise a child. No reason. Now with the CDC making this absolutely ridiculous decision to support circumcision more and more children will be unnessarily harmed. Instead of handing out more condoms, or educating them about the benefits of not engaging in dangerous sexual activities, we're going to cut off small, delicate pieces of their genitals.


August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTrisha

Yes, cutting off a piece of your infant's penis is barbaric. There is just no way around it. It has not been proven beneficial, on the contrary, it has been proven to be detrimental both physically and psychologically which is why doctor's will not recommend the procedure anymore. It is very sad that generations of men will be mentally/physically traumatized because of their parents' blind sheep mentality.
Wake up.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

Cate, are you talking about the US or worldwide? I think Rashel is right - particularly if we are talking about the world. But I will go check.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJake Aryeh Marcus

Think everyone has said what I would. :) Add me to the numbers of Jewish women who did not and would not circumcise her sons (all three of them). It is barbaric and has no medical justification. The evidence on HIV prevention with circumcision is inconclusive at best. I will teach my sons to use condoms instead of permanently altering their bodies.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJake Aryeh Marcus

I really enjoyed the post and all the discussion in the comments. Thanks for bringing up this topic.

We have a son and decided not to circumcise. It was an easy decision with no debate. I feel that cutting off any part of another person's body is not my right. I don't care if I'm the parent. I wouldn't do that to my daugther and I wouldn't do that to my son.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCapital Mom

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