Why You Are Intact

Dear Sons,

Today the AAP released their analysis of the benefits and risks of circumcision. They have taken an odd hybrid stance where they say that the benefits outweigh the risks but that they cannot recommend routine infant circumcision. They also say that the risks of circumcision are “unknown” despite the fact that it is widely practiced still.

Both of you are intact.

I want you to know why.

Cleanliness and Infections… I have read up on proper care of the intact penis, not only the information that was given me. As with each part of your body- your ears, your toes, your nose, your lungs, your nutrition, your spine, I have read on how to help you to grow and how to keep you safe and healthy. This is my job as your mother. To understand how to care for each part of you. I understand that we live in a country that is unfamiliar with how your body will develop and I understand that I will be given bad and harmful advice that I need to ignore. In truth your body is so simple to care for. In truth your body develops on its own timeline, and the bits and bobs don’t have to pull back by a certain point or pull loose by a certain point, nor do they have to be moved around for cleaning. I also vehemently dismiss the idea that you cannot properly care for your own body and keep it clean with simple washings once you come of age. Your maleness is not a defect or an excuse to be filthy.  You will be clean, as your father is, because cleanliness is comfort. I do not need to treat you as though you are some filthy creature unable to use water. I would never think of your sister that way, and I will never think of you that way.

STDs.. As for the idea that I need to amputate part of your body to protect you against HPV or HIV, I find this similarly distasteful. You will not accidentally inhale HIV in a crowded marketplace when someone coughs on your intact foreskin. You will not accidentally scrape your intact foreskin on a rusty nail full of HPV while walking in the woods. In this country, for men, HPV and HIV come from a behavior of choice, an assumption of risks. Circumcision adds little if anything to the protection provided by a barrier method which is practically foolproof. And circumcision alone provides a laughably poor level of protection against these STDs to the point where there has been a huge rise in infection rates among circumcised men following the studies that show this “benefit”. As you grow I will teach you about these things, and about risks and trust and love and choices and options and the ways to choose safer paths. The choice of adult circumcision, vaccines such as the HPV vaccine, and any other emerging information that is available at the time will also be something I will share with you. I have no plans to simply watch you come of age and push you out the door with your surgical scar from infancy and think “I’ve done my part.”

Cancer.. Your penile cancer risk is tiny. You have a higher risk of dying from breast cancer. Yes. Breast cancer. You. A male. Your risk of dying from breast cancer is higher than your risk of dying from penile cancer. In 2012 it is estimated that 2190 cases of male breast cancer will be diagnosed and 490 men will die from this. 1570 men will be diagnosed with penile cancer and 310 will die from this. I do not have a bilateral mastectomy performed on you at birth. To my knowledge there have been no studies done on the benefits of this surgery when performed on newborn males or females. Additionally, your risk of cancer overall can be reduced by not engaging in casual sex, not smoking, and generally being healthy. I choose to focus on those things rather than resort to an amputation in your infancy.

The “Unknown Risks”… Each year more boys die from circumcisions than from choking. Each year toddlers have to undergo “revisions” of surgeries that went wrong or circumcisions that grew together or formed adhesions and scar tissue. Each year boys deal with the side effects of heavy bleeding. The AAP themselves say that the risks are largely unknown, even as they say that the benefits outweigh these risks. The “risks” of leaving your body just as it is are well known, statistically tiny, and very treatable if they occur. I don’t like the whole idea of a study that is unlike any other study done. We haven’t looked into the benefits of routine toenail removal in infancy. We haven’t looked into the benefits of routine ear tubes in infancy. Surgeries are done if they are required because of a deformity or problem, not as a routine part of the care of an infant. Studying things like this rubs me the wrong way. We all have many things that could be cut off from our bodies. I do not want those things to be removed. They are mine.

Religion… I do not have a God or gods that command me to sacrifice a part of your body for my own convictions, and even if I did I am not raising you to join lockstep in a religion of my choosing. While I hope that you find your faith and comfort in the ways that I have found mine so that we can celebrate such things together, I cannot assume. Our hearts and souls speak strongly to each of us, and I will not mold your body in preparation for a religion that may not speak to you. When you grow if you hear in your heart that this is something that God asks of you, I shall celebrate your choice as you become a man of your religion having listened to God with your own heart.Your body is not a canvas for my personal convictions.

Gender Differences… I am writing this to you, my sons. I am not writing a similar letter to your sister, my daughter. The female body has things far more complex and prone to far more annoyances than that foreskin of yours. Yet women are not modified at birth to reduce the risks or annoyances posed by our bodies. I question the idea that we are allowed to modify you because you are a boy, when we understand well that we must leave your sister alone.

Choice.. This is what it comes down to. The data available on the “benefits” of having this done to you as an infant.. Not compelling enough to remove this choice of yours about your body. Some may feel that this is a choice that needs to be made by a parent in a boy’s infancy. I feel strongly that this is a choice that must be made by you as an adult

For me, it’s about respect. I respect you as you were born, as you grow, and I will respect the choices that you make as an adult.

<3 Mama


12 thoughts on “Why You Are Intact

  1. Well this speaks to me. I have two boys and both are circumcised. I agreed to leave the decision up to my husband who chose to do it so that they all look the same and there is no fear of infection when not kept clean. Both times I cried and mourned my way through the procedure feeling so horrible for putting my babies thru something that seemed so pointless. I am a Christian woman and believe in my role as a submissive wife. And so I was obedient to my husbands wishes. But every now and then I read something like thus and wish I had taken a stronger stance to defend my babys perfectly normal penis. What’s done is done and I thank God that there were no complications. But I agree with you wholeheartedly, Sarah. Thank you for sharing.

    1. ((hug)) I feel you completely. I’ve been down that same road twice… and my 3rd son is intact. There are thousands of us (literally) keeping future sons intact, and we all have room to move forward, learn, grow, in this journey of parenting.

      You may be interested in these items by/for Christians on the topic in the future: http://www.drmomma.org/2009/06/information-on-circumcision-for.html

      And my story, as well as several others, is here: http://www.drmomma.org/2010/05/i-circumcised-my-son-healing-from.html

  2. Thank you for this. I cannot understand how the AAP seem to have failed to notice that circumcision is and has been very rare in many European countries for the last 40 years. My husband is not circumcised and nor were any of my contemporaries and I am 38. There have not been any great amount of the supposedly common consequences of this in the country I was born in or the one I live in now.

  3. Thank you for this from me too. We didn’t circumcise our son, it just didn’t feel right, and we couldn’t come up with a reason to do it. The information “out there” is confusing on this topic, as with many other things, with many people saying pull back the foreskin to clean it! And others saying with equal force, NEVER force it back, it will pull back on its own at the right time and it’s self cleaning just like the vagina. I have had many moments of worry that I wasn’t cleaning it properly but my son is almost 2 and never had a problem (thankfully). So, thank again. I really love your writing.

  4. You are exactly right that this comes down to choice. The AAP made its statement strictly for insurance reasons. They stated there are “some benefits” mainly so that insurance companies would still pay for the procedure. Then they said they would neither recommend or not recommend because they are saying it is truly up to the parent.

    I am a pediatrician. My son is circumcised not for any medical reason but my choice. It is not a cruel procedure and I have down hundreds of them, but I very much respect the choice of the parents who choose not to. I liken it to the parents who choose to pierce their infant’s ears. I wouldn’t do it, but it’s their choice.

    1. We are from Singapore and also chose to circumcise our daughter because we feel it is OUR choice, not hers. In our culture, feel it is cleaner and more attractive to remove the extra skin.

  5. Hi Sarah, I loved this and share your view. Do you have a reference for the stats on penile cancer vs. breast cancer in men? I’m a doula and would like to be able to inform my clients.

    1. Penile cancer: http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/PenileCancer/DetailedGuide/penile-cancer-key-statistics
      “The most recent American Cancer Society estimates for penile cancer in the United States are for 2012: About 1,570 new cases of penile cancer will be diagnosed, About 310 men will die of penile cancer”

      Breast cancer in men: http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/BreastCancerinMen/DetailedGuide/breast-cancer-in-men-key-statistics The most recent American Cancer Society estimates for male breast cancer in the United States are for 2012: “About 2,190 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among men, About 410 men will die from breast cancer”

      In fairness, penile cancer is predominantly among older men, and older men are predominantly circumcised in this country. However, penile cancer is extremely rare in countries where circumcision is not routinely practiced. (such as Denmark)

  6. LOVE your style (writing and thinking) and certainly the message in the letter to your sons! I am thankful to have made the same decision with my son and have shared your lovely letter to many expectant mommys in hopes that they will consider or reconsider. Thank you.

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