We’re expecting a baby boy in a few months and we can’t decide whether to circumcise him. Our religion does not require that we do so, but my husband is circumcised and most of the men we know are. However, I’ve noticed that some of my friends are not circumcising their sons. Are there health reasons we should consider? My husband is concerned that since our son’s penis won’t look like his father’s, that will cause confusion.
This is such a great question on so many levels. As parents, our primary concern is for our children’s health, both mental and physical, and the question of circumcision gets at both. I’m going to tackle the second part of your question first, because to me, it’s a bit more straightforward. Let me first say, however, that I am neither for nor against circumcision, particularly in a country where our primary concern is not the spread of HIV. There are rational reasons for making either decision.
I have heard many parents say that a large part of what went into their decision to circumcise was the desire that their child’s penis look like his father’s so that there wouldn’t be confusion on the child’s part. I think like so many other issues having to do with sex and genitals, we have a tendency to get overly concerned with factors that in another context would seem fairly easy to deal with. Your biological child is likely to look different from you in many ways—your adoptive child, even more so. If the question comes up as to why some aspect of the child is different, you would, presumably, give an explanation that was not fraught with concern on your part as to the effect it would have on him or her. In fact, ultimately, if the child asks why you chose not to circumcise him, while his father is circumcised, you can pretty clearly lay out your reasons—which, again presumably, would include the idea that you put a great deal of thought into your decision and thought it best for him. What could possibly be the harm in that?
It’s true, that an uncircumcised penis requires some care about which the circumcised father may know little, but how is that different from the myriad of other things we all must learn how to do if we have a baby? More pointedly, fathers need to learn about periods for their daughters and mothers need to learn about peeing standing up and erections for their sons.
We infuse the penis with a great deal of symbolism in our culture, but ultimately it’s just another part of the body, more important than some, less important than others. It does not determine gender identity (the gender we feel that we are) or feelings of so-called manliness. Thus, a penis in the home that does not look exactly like your son’s (and needless to say, a baby’s penis does not actually bear that great a resemblance to that of an adult will not cause confusion beyond something you can easily explain.
As for the physical health aspects, I encourage you do research and talk to your ObGyn and, if you need more answers, to a urologist. Some issues to consider: Research has shown that circumcision significantly reduces the risk of acquiring HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases from a female partner. Complications can occur in infancy both from circumcising and from not doing so. It used to be believed that the infant felt little pain, but we now know that’s not true. Ask your doctor what kind of pain relief will be given. Finally, there are those who argue that sensitivity for the glans is reduced through circumcision and that men who are not circumcised are able to enjoy penile stimulation even more than those who are circumcised. No one has come up with a reasonable way to measure this difference, as there are a myriad of factors that affect enjoyment of sex.
So do your research, make a decision, and rest assured that whatever you decide will be fine—ask almost any adult male you know, circumcised or not, and I’m guessing he won’t have spent a great deal of time wishing his parents had made a different decision.