The circumcision decision
How to make circumcision choices without starting a 'penis war'
You announce you’re pregnant with a boy.  After spluttering and getting over the sexist comments about poor you, if you had a girl first she could help with the second one, then the usual prying questions about natural or c-section, breast-or-bottle, you’re asked whether you will circumcise your son or not.  

Woah there – it is his winky you know.  It is none of anybody else’s business, sort of.  

Flaming the penis wars

Many things about parenting are divisive and fuel the mommy wars.  Some of these are about preference or even manufactured controversies like the supposed controversy over vaccination.  Penises and their foreskins seem to be mommy and daddy wars though.  There are two distinctly opposed camps – each with good quality evidence and sound arguments to support their case.  

I’ll cut to the chase though (if you’ll forgive the pun).  The evidence seems to balance the scales fairly but not perfectly equally.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in 2012 had a thorough look and their policy statement on the 27th of August states that the final decision should be left with the parents. They found that there were benefits to the procedure that do outweigh the risk, but that those benefits are so small, that it isn’t worth quibbling about and those parents who want to circumcise their sons should and those who don’t want to shouldn’t.

A sample argument

Now, the one camp says that the decision should be left to the boy himself (and at this point I must state that I’m in agreement with that one – see my earlier comment about who exactly owns the willy).  The opposing camp respond by saying that it reduces the chances of HIV, the anti camp counter that safe sex reduces these chances better, the pro camp say that this shows parents are trying to control their children’s sex lives, because they can’t ensure safe sex will happen every time.  Personally, if a guy said to me “don’t worry honey, I don’t need a condom, I’m circumcised” I’d believe him like I’d believe he’d still respect me in the morning...  

Many of the arguments for and against (and there are quite a few of both such as about infection, phimosis, sensitivity during sex, comparisons to female genital mutilation) seem to go in a similar circular fashion.  However, both camps are so viciously pro or anti circumcision, that those caught in the middle feel left out by both – no matter which decision you make or the reason behind your decision, you'll encounter opposition.  (I’ve been roundly attacked by both camps, so I know).  

What is a parent to do?  Well, going back to the AAP guidelines, apparently, whatever you think is best given your cultural or religious beliefs.  

Our own department of health seems to promote voluntary male circumcision (presumably by trained medical practitioners), but we have a very high rate of HIV infection in this country, so on a broad level, you can see why they promote this and feel the benefits outweigh the risks more strongly. I don’t see this as a recommendation for routine circumcision of newborn boys as that would remove the aspect of choice.  Since children can make their own medical decisions from fairly early in the teenage years, before they become sexually active, perhaps that is the time to provide the facts and give boys the choice?  

Anyway, as parents, should we really be discussing our son’s penises and foreskins or lack thereof all over the internet and at parenting groups?

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

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