Circumcision: To Snip, Or Not To Snip?

The question many parents ask themselves when they realize they’re having a baby boy: to cut, or not to cut, that is the question. [Well – maybe they don't ask it in Shakespeare-dialect, but you get the picture.]

Yet findings from a recent study may help in swaying some decisions.

I recently read an article that was drawing a parallel between circumcision and a lower incidence of penile cancer. Research from the University of Sydney in Australia claims that penile cancer is higher in countries in which circumcision isn’t regularly practiced; and this could be due to the tightness of the foreskin, making it difficult to clean, thus resulting in inflammation (a common cause of penile cancer).

Courtesy to Google Images

According to the piece, another factor attributed to the link between cancer and uncircumcised men is the prevalence of HPV (which has been linked to about half of the uncommonly diagnosed penile cancer). Apparently men who are uncircumcised have a better chance of contracting HPV because the foreskin provides a warm, moist environment allowing infection to occur.

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Yet despite what the recent study states, there are clearly both pros and cons of circumcision.

Much of the content I’ve read through (pertaining to uncircumcised penises) suggests that many people – at least in some countries, like the US – are turned off by the “un-cleanliness” of the foreskin. Yet deeming foreskin unclean seems a bit subjective, considering personal hygiene all depends on the individual. Just because a man has a foreskin doesn’t mean he’ll be any less motivated to clean his prized possession than a circumcised man. And some people find foreskin highly sexy.

Whenever the topic of circumcision comes up, it makes me think back to a gender studies course I took during my undergrad – where we spent a significant portion of the semester discussing genital mutilation (for both males and females). Clearly many people within the states do not look at circumcision as mutilation; but we read a ton of PDFs explaining both the pros and cons of circumcising baby boys – and many of the articles took the anti-snipping stance.

Interestingly enough, prior to taking these courses – I had no idea that circumcision was tied so deeply to history.

Not only is the act intertwined throughout numerous religions – it was also highly practiced in the Victorian era as a means of halting masturbation. Circumcision literally dates all the way back to ancient Egyptian culture, where it was used as a right of passage into adulthood.

Yet despite all of this information, I still think if I ever have a child (and it’s a boy), I’d like to opt for the all-natural route. When I really think about it, I don’t have any specific (or personal) ties to the tradition of circumcision and honestly I think it’s a bit cruel.

I suppose in a way, I am a bit biased considering my partner is uncircumcised and (after getting past the initial shock), it’s really not as “odd” as many think it would be. In fact, now that I’ve experienced both – I’d prefer uncircumcised (but clearly that just has to do with personal preference).

What about you MSP-readers, what’s your take on the matter? Any of you prefer one over the other?

What about the parents reading – what helped you make the decision (that is, if you had a baby boy) – either way?

Learn about MSP posts as they happen by following us on Twitter@mysexprofessor or make friends with us on Facebook. You can also follow Madeline Haller, the author of this post, @voiceMLINE.

About Madeline Haller

Madeline Haller

Madeline Haller is an Assistant Editor for MensHealth.com. Haller received her bachelor's degree in journalism from Indiana University, with a second concentration in gender studies. When she's not writing for MSP/MH, you can find her running, enjoying a cup of coffee, or searching for the perfect shade of red lipstick.

  • http://bloketoys.co.uk Mens Sex Toys

    I love this debate. But it gets me angry every time.
    Appendicitis is an extremely risky condition, it happens quickly and it does kill. The appendix is a “useless” part of the body.
    When are we going to recommend performing surgery on infants to remove it as soon as possible?
    Circumcision should ONLY be practiced when there is an urgent medical need. The rate of penile cancer could never justify the mass genital mutilation of children in any country. Indeed, most countries openly denounce the genital mutilation of women in African countries (while allowing their “Doctors” to continue this barbaric practice on boys) – would they change their mind if it was found that such female mutilation reduced cancer by 0.1%?

    Also, circumcision in popular culture has little religious connection, and it truly spread throughout the USA as a result of a certain Mr. Kellogg – a right-wing nut who believed that masturbation was evil. He acknowledged that circumcision was a method of reducing sensitivity, and that performing it on young men without anesthetic would create psychological trauma and reduce sexual pleasure further. The guy used his power and wealth to have it supported throughout the USA. There has never been medical data to support it, and yet the American medical establishment continues to mutilate boys on a daily basis.

    Every doctor who performs circumcision in ANY country for any reason other than genuine medical need should be struck off for breaching their oath.

    As for the parents who allow their son to be mutilated, I don’t have the words to say what I really think of them. At the very least they are ignorant and uneducated. The idea that a parent would remove a fundamental part of their child for “aesthetic” reasons, or on the misguided opinions of a barbaric medical establishment deserves all the hatred, disdain or anger their son has for them in the future.

  • http://twitter.com/foxyfolklorist Jeana Jorgensen

    I am totally with you on this–it seems like in the majority of cases, circumcision is useless medically. It became popular in the US for totally arbitrary reasons (thanks, Mr. Kellogg!) and has stayed that way out of sheer cultural inertia.

    However, my family is part Jewish, so I’m sensitive to the debate surrounding the religious significance of circumcision. I think outright outlawing it–as may be the case in San Francisco–is a terrible idea for many reasons. Anything illegal just goes underground and becomes unsafe for the people who want/need it (for example, abortion, drugs, and so on). At least keep it legal so you can regulate it. Also, outlawing a practice that is fundamentally important to a religion is kinda terrible, and in this case, would count as anti-Semitic in my mind. The better idea, I think, would be to educate more potential parents about the risks and harms of circumcision, and let them make informed decisions. I also think it would be ideal to push for reform in Jewish tradition, to not circumcise young boys but rather let them choose to be circumcised at an age where they can consent to the operation. I’m not well-versed enough in Jewish law to know how this would work, but it would maybe be one way of ceasing to mutilate infants.

  • http://bloketoys.co.uk Mens Sex Toys

    I understand the sensitivity surrounding it, but every religion has to move on and modernize to be relevant to the citizens of that time. This is why we are seeing a collapse various faiths here in the UK. Churches are closing due to massive decline in attendees, and the only thing keeping many in use is Eastern European and African immigration. This is because all faiths are failing to modernize to reflect the opinions of the people they purport to serve. They are drowning in their own traditions, and the world is moving on without them.

    I also have to raise the issues surrounding other faiths, where brutal practices are carried out in the name of their religion. In many countries gay people are still executed and women are still stoned and whipped. They claim that it is their right to continue these barbaric punishments because of their faith and their traditions.

    How can one preach to others about their barbarism while continuing their own, and while using the same excuses?

    If a fundamental Muslim cleric wanted to whip a woman in central park for adultery, would we all be anti-Muslim for protesting against it?

    I have nothing against any religious group, but I do have something against the abuse of others, especially when those being abused are unable to fight against it. The only way that religious-based circumcision should be allowed is through PERSONAL choice. Therefore, I would support a law stating that it should be illegal to perform a circumcision on any male below the age of 18; the religious group upholds their tradition, and those it directly affects would actually have a choice rather than having such body modification done without their permission.

    The rights of the individual always trumps the wishes or opinions of others (or at least it SHOULD), regardless of the religion involved.

  • http://twitter.com/foxyfolklorist Jeana Jorgensen

    I agree with a lot of your points here, and I think you raise an interesting parallel when it comes to religiously strict treatments of women: feminists will be outraged over female genital mutilation, but not say much when it comes to male circumcision. Yes, it’s a double standard, but it’s a hard box to think one’s way out of.

    I, too, wish religions would be more sensitive to the rights of individuals (hell, that religions would consider women and gays to be individuals worthy of rights at all!). But I just don’t see how you can force a cultural change through legislation… it’s just not an easy thing to do. Hopefully having this kind of dialogue will push these issues to the forefront, and help people in both religious and secular communities start talking about and fumbling toward some work-able solutions.

  • http://bloketoys.co.uk Mens Sex Toys

    I also wish that progress could be made through cultural change and education, and while it is happening (circumcision rates are coming down, or at least they were through the very early naughties) I don’t think it’s happening fast enough.
    Part of the reason is the fear of being accused of being anti-Semitic, but there are decades of social conditioning to overcome too.

    I think we have to remember that many millions are circumcised for aesthetic reasons – not because of religious tradition. I’ve seen fathers say they they had their son circumcised because he wanted his child to be like him. I’ve seen some mothers saying that she thinks a foreskin looks ugly, and that’s why she made the decision. These people do not deserve to have children.

    Perhaps what we need is an outright ban on circumcision for non-religious reasons first? If we can reduce the number of instances when religion isn’t a factor, it will progress over time. That will take a move against the so-called doctors performing this surgery. They need to be stopped, and they need to be threatened with criminal prosecution for child abuse if they recommend this procedure without religious reason or genuine medical need.

    If we can get these basics in place there will be a massive change in the right direction, and without affecting those who wish to maintain religious tradition. At least for the time being.

    Interesting discussion! :)

  • Nicolekauffman72

    My husband and I read a lot about this when deciding whether to circumcise our son. We decided not to do it for several reasons. This blog entry makes it sound as if circumcision is popular in more countries than the US, but in my research, I found it’s really ONLY the US that still seems to think it’s the way to go for reasons that are unrelated to religion. And the American Academy of Pediatrics several years ago found that there’s no medical reason to recommend circucision; that is its current stand on the issue, but still, so many Americans think for some reason that they should snip their boys. I wish pediatricians themselves would be more forthcoming with the fact that it is NOT a recommended practice of the AAP, but they are not…

  • http://bloketoys.co.uk Mens Sex Toys

    “I’m not saying abandon your beliefs or teach your kids to just give in to societal pressures”

    I’m sorry, but that is EXACTLY what you are saying lol

    You’re suggesting that young boys should be sexually mutilated (lets not beat around the bush here, this IS what the practice is. You can sugar coat it all you like but removing a part of anyone’s genitals for anything other than genuine medical reason is genital mutilation) to make them fit in with the rest of society. It’s a conformist attitude.

    By using this logic, you surely also believe that overweight children should take diet pills, or that ginger kids should have their hair dyed. What about disabled kids, should they live in seclusion because of the ridicule they might receive at the hands of ignorant kids?

    Every child is bullied by others, the solution is not to make the victim comply with the ignoramuses, it’s to educate the other kids that THEY are the ones in the wrong and that they have no right to feel superiority over others for any reason.

    I was bullied as a kid for several reasons – some beyond my control – and it made me stronger. It made me a more original person able to think for myself and take whatever path in life I choose without feeling ashamed or embarrassed about it. I grew to have a fiercely independent personality and an outgoing attitude. I never let other people put me down, and on the rare occasions when they try I have a far more intelligent retort to knock them back a few paces.

    Bullying is a problem, but forcing the “potential” victim (lets remember, they might NOT be bullied!) to conform to avoid it is certainly not the way to deal with it. Especially when that conformity involves removing an integral part of their anatomy.

    I appreciate the discussion, but it does thoroughly shock me that any man in this modern world would have their child “altered” like an object to suit the perceived wishes of a wider (and wrong) society.

  • http://bloketoys.co.uk Mens Sex Toys

    The worrying thing about that article is this:

    “They want to spare their baby pain and avoid the very low risk that
    something could go wrong. And yet, they wonder, would they be betraying
    their ancestors? Would they be abrogating the covenant that has spanned
    4,000 years?”

    No mention of how the young man might feel later in life, no mention of the reduction in pleasure, no mention of the very basic fact that it is forcing your will on another Human without their consent…

    This is exactly what is wrong with the entire discussion. We know that pain in childhood is forgotten, and there is no evidence to support the idea that there is lasting psychological damage due to the event itself.

    But, the main issue is the sheer arrogance that people have to believe that they have the RIGHT to do this to another person!

    Why is this total domination of other people so prevalent? What gives any of these people the right to physically alter another person against their will? And why is this incredible arrogance not at the center of the discussion?

    Personally, for that last question, I think it’s the Elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss. They know how abhorrent the idea is, and to discuss it would be acknowledging that disgusting arrogance.

  • http://twitter.com/voiceMLINE Madeline Haller

    I agree 100%. Although the child may not remember the pain he went through at the time, I think that men should have the right to decide what happens to their body.

    Thanks for the feedback!

  • http://twitter.com/voiceMLINE Madeline Haller

    I totally understand where you’re coming from, but I’d have to agree with “Mens Sex Toys” — it’s a very ‘conformist attitude’. 

    Although kids may tease each other about their bodies, it’s nothing to be insecure about – especially when it (foreskin) is natural.

    It’s crucial that our society strays away from this idea of “the norm” — bodies are beautiful because they are different. If a teenage girl was getting teased about having small breasts, the solution wouldn’t be to get her implants. The solution would be to show her that it’s fine to have small breasts because that’s how her body was genetically constructed.

    Obviously that is an entire different debate, but the point is – people need to accept bodies as they are.