Making the Cut: The Circumcision Decision


I love The New York Times.  I dream of the day when my handsome husband and I can hide away at our favorite little cafe in Greenwich Village and tackle the crossword together while nibbling on scones and leafing through an actual paper copy of the “Style” section to see how Sarah Burton is faring at the helm of Alexander McQueen. We’ll read theater reviews and art critiques and decide which museum opening we’d most like to attend….  I’m sorry–where was I??  Oh, right.  I love The New York Times.

For now, I am lucky to have 5 minutes to quickly scan online headlines and maybe even skim a  particularly compelling article while downing my thrice reheated cup of coffee. My mother, also a Times fan, emailed this article on circumcision to me about a month ago and I actually read the whole thing. Twice. You see, we’re pregnant with a boy and until my mother sent this article, I’d utterly forgotten that we have to make the circumcision decision in just a few short months.

I have a 15 year old son and have had to make this choice before.  In the realm of medical science, however, every piece of information I gathered when making the choice the first time around is, well, so very 1997.  So I’m starting from scratch here.  I’ve been reading every article , editorial and blog post regarding the great circumcision debate that I can get my hands on to make an informed decision for my baby boy.

Circumcision is a traditional rite of passage in a handful of religions, but how on earth did it become the norm for families of all religions (or no religion at all) in the United States?  Turns out that it’s a relatively new practice in the old U.S. of A. It wasn’t commonly accepted until about 1900 and the reason behind it is a bit fuzzy in the history books.  How is it that the mention of female circumcision/genital mutilation outrages us, while male circumcision is regarded as unquestionably normal?  How is it that everyone thinks pierced ears are acceptable, but a pierced tongue is over the top?  Male circumcision is something that our society accepted over time and after a point fell into “well, that’s just how it’s done” territory.  That’s not good enough for me.

There is some evidence that circumcised males are at a lower risk for contracting STDs, but many countries are now taking the stance that the reduced risk is not great enough to warrant the removal of part of a boy’s body.  I read an article that likened it to removing a female’s breasts because she might get breast cancer someday.  In the U.S., approximately 32% of baby boys were circumcised in 1933, skyrocketing to 85% in 1965, and settling back down to 54% in 2010. Why? Because more and more international health organizations are issuing statements stating that the procedure is not medically necessary, with some European countries (and San Francisco!) actually attempting to make the practice illegal.  Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics (which is my end-all resource in raising healthy babies) has gone from a stance of laissez-faire neutrality to one of suggesting that parents make an informed decision for their child.

My head hurts.  This is one of those moments where being a parent is just SO HARD.  There’s a lot of conflicting information out there and so many societal, religious and health considerations for parents.  We’re still doing a lot of research, talking to doctors, and just generally making sure we’re doing the right thing for our son.  The right thing for us might not be the right thing for someone else.  It’s so intensely personal.  Ultimately, I believe that any choice you make that is informed, thoroughly considered, and comes from a place of love and a desire to take incredible care of your child is the right one.  At the end of the day, that’s the best a parent can do.

Are you pregnant with a boy and facing the circumcision decision? 

What matters most to you when making the choice?

Do you have a boy already and want to share some words of wisdom?



  1. I am expecting a boy in March and we have never really wavered on not doing it, but while with some of my husbands family a few weeks ago (most of his cousins have recently had boys) and none of them had it done because the American Academy of Pediatrics has changed it’s stance. I feel like we will more than likely still have it done, but I will have to do more research before I make my final decision. Keep the info coming!

  2. Though these days more people are choosing to not circumsize I was not going to go with the flow. I had a friend who basically attacked me because she felt I shouldnt circumsize but it was after all my husband and my decision. I also had another friend that didn’t circumsize her son until it became medically necessary and painful to not get the extra skin removed. He had to get his cut off at 2! Even if people try to say horrible things for babies getting it done my son came back to me and wasn’t crying. We just feel its a lot cleaner all throughout life if a boy does get it done. Everyone has different takes on it and I also heard from someone that she had to pull the little boys skin back to get everything all clean because he had not been circumsized. It is ultimately your families choice just don’t let anyone make you feel you are wrong deciding one way or another because when my friend did that to me it made me very upset and you shouldn’t have to be dealing with hat at the end of your pregnancy.

  3. my son is 3 months old. when i was pregnant, i consumed every piece of literature i could concerning circumcision. the most convincing was that the AAP’s official statement was that it was an unnecessary, primarily cosmetic procedure and thus, i really wanted to leave our son intact.

    my husband on the other hand was very adamant that our son be circumcised – the reason being so our son wouldn’t be teased in the locker room (insert eye-roll here). in the end, i asked my hubby to read the literature and if he still felt it should be done, i would agree to have it done.

    long story short – when my son was two weeks old, we had him circumcised. it was heart breaking! we weren’t present during the procedure, but afterward, seeing my son in such obvious pain (yes, he did receive local anesthesia but needles in your nether regions?! ouchie!) was horrible. he wailed, i wailed. instantly, i regretted not taking a bigger stand.

    fast-forward to now, in late August the AAP revised their official statement concerning circumcision stating the benefits outweigh the risks and although i still feel a hint of sadness and guilt for putting him through something so painful, i do feel better about our decision.

    good luck to you!

  4. My husband and I also had differing opinions on this at first (our son is now almost two, but this debate still seems so recent to me). My husband was the one against and I was for it “because that’s what you do, right??” After reading all of the literature, the thing that impacted me most was that there was more of a chance of harm from a botched circumcision than there was a chance of penile cancer (the medical reason cited for circumcision). With all other things being equal, I backed out of the circumcision appointment at the last minute. When my pediatrician asked why I hadn’t done it, I told him my reasons and he said “I didn’t circumcise my son either.” Ever since, I have been happy with the choice that we made not to “have the cut.” I know I would have felt guilty because it just didn’t seem all that necessary after I read all of the information to put him through that. Good luck in making your decision, though, and may you find grace and understanding regardless of your choice!

  5. I don’t have kids, but I find it silly how some parents have such a hard time making this decision. I find it rather dumbfounding that parents dive headlong into mountains of “literature,” seemingly to no avail.

    My opinion: It’s unnecessary, extreme (amputation of any body part is extreme), NOT cleaner, and ultimately not worth the supposed benefits. The AAP even states that the benefits are “modest.” I also find it strange whenever I hear stories about boys who had to be circumcised at a later age for “medical reasons” being as these reasons tend to be, suspect. Fact: the foreskin is fused to the glans penis until roughly puberty. Sometimes sooner, sometimes even later. Whenever I hear about a boy who was diagnosed with “phimosis” at such a young age, the red lights flash. This is simply not possible, furthermore it’s a sad example of how foreskin itself has been (and I don’t think I’m exaggerating) demonized in our culture. It’s perfectly normal for a boy’s foreskin to not be able to retract. This is called Physiologic Phimosos, a perfectly normal condition that is different from the disorder known as Pathologic Phimosis (which affects older males, and which circumcision may end up being a valid treatment, though the disorder is pretty rare and in most cases a steroid cream will do the trick).

    I would also like to remind everyone that you NEVER EVER FORCE THE FORESKIN OF A YOUNG BABY/BOY BACK! Doing so is asking for a world of trouble, and may eventually lead to medically necessary circumcision.

    Most of the males on my mother’s side of the family are cut, while all the men on my father’s side of the family (including my 20 year old brother) are not. None of these men/boys/babies have ever had any problem. Their parents aren’t/weren’t exactly the most upwardly mobile people around, but they do teach their kids good hygiene and common sense. Same goes for several uncut men I’ve known as friends. I understand this is only my little world, but this is why I think the way I do, and have absolutely no intention of putting my future son(s) through this procedure (though watching several videos of actual circumcisions would have sealed the deal anyway, oh my god…). I hear all these news reports about how the decline in circumcision rates in boys is going to lead to some kind of pandemic Night of the Living Foreskins and I think, people actually take this seriously?

    On a side note (and this has been confirmed by several aunts who are mothers of circumcised boys) circumcised penises tend to be more susceptible to irritation caused by bubble baths and swimming pools…

    With all due respect, it seems that the parents who are having an exceptionally hard time making the decision not to cut seem to be those who come from families/areas where circumcision is quite common, and so their knowledge of intact, fully functioning male genitals is close to nil. They may truly want what’s best for their little blessing (though I think parents who cut for cosmetic reasons would do better to just adopt a poodle) but somewhere in the back of their mind they know it’s not really worth it; because of the pain, the loss of a body part (research the functions of the foreskin), and the fact that every single benefit used to argue in favor of circumcision can be achieved without amputating.

    Still, there is also that hot, stinging possibility that junior will look different if left intact, and be made fun of. When fat/skinny/lanky/hairy/gay boys get bullied, we protest, demanding the bullies are punished to the fullest extent. When boys with foreskins get bullied, we avow to amputate the foreskins of future males to save them the indignity. In any case, the decline in circumcision over the past decade has set in motion a snowball effect; once this batch of uncut baby boys reaches High School, there will more or less be an equal amount of cut/uncut guys in the locker room. I highly doubt there will be any Braveheart-esq clashes between the two.

    Look at it this way: When one gets a cavity, they don’t automatically have their tooth pulled if they can help it, do they? Nor do they decide to have their teeth replaced with dentures to avoid problems that may arise in the future, even bad breath.

  6. Keep the comments coming, ladies! I am really enjoying reading your thoughtful responses. A side note: I actually did NOT have my eldest son circumcised (and he would mortified to know that I wrote that, so shhhhhhhh!), but it doesn’t mean that I will necessarily default to that decision again this time. I am leaning heavily toward opting out of circumcision again, though. My brother-in-law (who knows I am writing about him!) is circumcised, but tells me he wishes he were not. My best friend from high school tells me that one of her closest male friends is uncut and, nearing age 40, still hates that his parents didn’t circumcise him. If you haven’t read up on the history of circumcision, it really is a bizarrely fascinating subject…

  7. I had my son 3/19/99. I had my daughter 5 years before that. We didn’t know her sex before she was born because during our one ultrasound she was curled up, so I prepared for both. I had read that you can ask for a topical anesthetic which helps them with the pain during circumcision. I had to sign papers before the birth requesting (or not) a circumcision if it was a boy. I asked the nurse about the anesthetic before I signed & she brusquely said “we don’t do that.” Turned out to be a non-issue since she was a girl. Over the next several years I read many articles about the pros & cons of circumcision, mostly the cons since the pros seemed mostly it was easier for me to keep clean. Basically I was scared by all the “accidents” I read about; if a mohel had been available I would have had him circumcised, but as it was I couldn’t be sure of who would be attending & what their experience was. So I said no & didn’t do it. He’s now almost 14 and frequently mentions it & says gee, thanks, mom, I’m the only one who isn’t, it’s gross, and now I’m going to have to do it as a grown-up when it’ll be a lot more expensive and a hell of a lot more painful. Thank you SO much. He’s not bullied, just thinks it looks stupid. And there’s always the stats that uncircumcised men have higher rates of penile cancer than circumcised men, and their partners have higher rates of cervical cancer, and that HIV is more readily contracted with an uncircumcised penis. So there you have it. Plenty of info against, plenty for, but if I had to do it over I would have looked into the possibility of getting a mohel.

  8. Hi Kelly!

    Can I just say how happy I am that you are taking the time to research this topic and not just go with the flow? I too was faced with the decision over two years ago with my son and didn’t even really think about it. One of my dear friends actually told me about what happens during the procedure and from then on, I dived into everything I could read about it.

    It ultimately all came down to this:
    –The moment I held my son in my arms, there was no way in H-E-Double Hockey Sticks I was going to let anyone harm him. Just hearing his cries made me want to cuddle that little bug so tight.
    –I don’t know a single male is who is intact, but I don’t care. I don’t need society or cultural norms to dictate my son’s needs. He was born with a foreskin for a purpose, and he will keep it.
    –If a girl think it’s gross later on in life, do I really want that type of girl for my son??
    –My husband is circumcised and does not care that my son is not. That’s a secure man.
    –If we can teach our daughters to wash properly, use protection, and take antibiotics for infections, can we not teach the same to our boys?

    My son is going to be 3 in April and he’s happy, healthy, and there have been absolutely no problems with his penis. Just wash the outside with water and no pulling back, and that’s it! Much easier than a circumcised penis which would require you to pull any remaining skin away from the glans so no adhesions form. Ouch!

    Do what you feel is right. When you look into your son’s face for the first time, you will know. Good luck to you!! <3


  9. When our sons were born, we didn’t question circumcision; we only questioned having it done in front of a room full of people, who we’d have to feed afterwards. When my grandsons were born and the decision came up, I had a lot more time to think about the circumcision decision. In fact, I spent three years researching it with my former editor to produce the only unbiased book that helps each parent make their own personal decision — albeit one based on facts, with a careful look at every single issue.
    If you are still wondering what to do — or know someone who is facing the decision, read The Circumcision Decision: An Unbiased Guide for Parents. It is available at our website, in Barnes and Noble stores and at all the major Internet bookstores. It’s an important decision — for two reasons: (1) a circumcision is a final decision — cannot be undone (but can always be postponed) and (2) it’s on an important organ, one that deserves a thoughtful decision. Good luck all of you who are making the decision!
    Well, not quite done: remember this: If you decide to leave your son intact, never force his foreskin to separate (but you can allow him to play with himself, in private, of course, to help the process of separation along). If you decide to have him circumcised, find a circumciser who is experienced, medically licensed, uses adequate pain relief (as in injectable pain relief) and uses a protective shield, such as the Gomco shield. Afterwards, change his diapers frequently.

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