Why Some People Circumcise

When circumcision is done, it is for a variety of reasons—medical, religious, cultural, personal and other. In cultures where circumcision is common, such as the United States, most expectant and adoptive parents are asked to make a decision. Among some groups, religious and cultural traditions dictate the decision. And many other parents don’t put much thought into the decision. They do what others in their family or community do. Or they take advice from a doctor or birth attendant.

Whether or not to circumcise a son is an important decision and should be a thoughtful one made after you have learned about and considered all the issues. Why? Because many parents base their decision on a reason that may not be truly important. Others make the decision while overlooking reasons that are important. Some parents reject circumcision after reading frightening statistics or hearing horror stories about botched procedures that may have been prevented with the use of a protective shield or a more competent circumciser.

Circumcising an infant to prevent a medical condition, such as a tight foreskin or a urinary tract infection, or, later in life, HIV or penile cancer, is not a medical necessity. It is a voluntary decision, and thus referred to as an elective circumcision. And when the procedure to circumcise is done for neither health nor hygiene considerations, but is performed for a religious or cultural reason, it is also called an elective circumcision.

A circumcision may have potential benefits (along with some possible risks). But when it is not medically necessary, it becomes a decision to be made by a child’s parents. However, some people who believe it is wrong to circumcise when there is no medical condition warranting a circumcision disagree that it is the parent’s decision. Instead they believe that the person with the foreskin is the one who has the right to make the decision. (This interesting debate about who has the right to make the decision is discussed in a full chapter in The Circumcision Decision: An Unbiased Guide for Parents.)

Sometimes, those who believe a parent has the right to make the decision to circumcise—or even a responsibility to make the decision to circumcise—don’t always think the decision to circumcise is an important one! But since circumcision affects one of a male’s most important organs—it is an important decision—and therefore deserves an informed, rational, carefully considered decision.

The answer to the question, should I circumcise, involves a significant and important organ. While it requires information and careful reasoning to make the decision, it may also require a rational and educated defense, since your decision may be challenged by well-meaning doctors and birth attendants, family and friends, your spouse or partner, and even your son, when he is older. To make the best decision possible, we advise taking time to learn about foreskins and what it means to circumcise a baby, including the benefits and risks, and all the other issues.

When to Make the Decision to Circumcise

In its 2012 report, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends making the circumcision decision early, even before knowing whether the fetus is a boy. They even recommend that doctors and birth educators give parents “nonbiased, factual” information while the parents are trying to conceive!

You may choose to make the decision to circumcise that early, but it isn’t necessary. Just be sure to decide before you run out of time to consider the various issues and to learn what you need to know. Our recommendation is to try to decide by the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy, even if you don’t know the child’s gender. But, if you are almost about to deliver, get our book, spend a few hours reading it, perhaps some time discussing it, perhaps talking to your physician or birth attendant. Then decide about circumcision.

Clearly, it is better to make the circumcision decision before the delivery. After delivery, you’ll want to sleep, hold your baby, hug your spouse or partner, and receive congratulations—not read a book about circumcision!

After the baby arrives, you can still change your mind or postpone the decision. You have some time. But if you decide to circumcise, the best time is shortly after birth (if the baby is healthy) or before the baby weighs 15 pounds or is three months old. Why? Because younger infants heal more quickly, don’t require stitches, have fewer complications such as bleeding or infection, and require only local, not general, pain relief. And it costs considerably less to circumcise a newborn than an older infant. Infant circumcisions cost between a hundred to a few hundred dollars (more, of course, if you are having a religious ceremony and serving food and beverages). Circumcising an older baby or child can cost $2500 to $4000—and many insurance companies refuse to pay for elective circumcisions for older babies or children. They will, however, pay for circumcisions that are medically necessary.

Besides, making the decision whether or not to circumcise leaves time for all the other decisions a modern parent faces—from where to give birth to sleeping arrangements and feeding choices. And The Circumcision Decision can help make your decision rational, informed and smart.

Here is what we suggest you learn about the medical issues:

What is a foreskin? And what are foreskins for?

What is a circumcision?

What is the difference between a ritual and a medical circumcision?

Do infants feel pain during a circumcision and if so, what is the best way to reduce or avoid that pain?

Who should perform a circumcision, where, and when.

What are the potential benefits to removing a foreskin? What are the benefits to keeping a foreskin?

How can you avoid the medical problems associated with foreskins? How can you ensure the best and safest outcome if you circumcise your son?

Making an informed decision may require learning about religious, cultural and personal issues such as:

Knowing the religious tradition for circumcising an infant, child or adolescent.

Understanding the cultural reasons for circumcising or leaving a son uncircumcised or intact.

Whether it is important to look like Dad or others in the family.

If sex is better with or without a foreskin.

If a circumcision can be reversed and a foreskin be restored.

Still other, important issues, to consider are moral and ethical in nature and include:

Whether or not you have the right and responsibility to make the decision or whether it should be left to your son, when he is old enough to make it for himself.

Whether an elective circumcision is moral and whether or not it can be compared to female circumcision.

Finally, it is easy to be overwhelmed or confused by all you learn or need to learn about circumcision in order to make a smart decision. Should I circumcise my son is an important question for you to answer. In our book we help you figure out the answer to that question—your personal answer to that question. But remember, the most important person the decision affects is your son. Surely he will deserve the time and effort needed to make it a smart decision.

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The Circumcision Decision: An Unbiased Guide for Parents