For the parents of little boys, the question of whether to circumcise your child is a complex one, full of questions both ethical and health related.
We can’t make that decision for you, but we can tell you some things you probably didn’t know about circumcision.
Fact 1: The Very First Circumcision Occurred In Egypt
A quick history lesson on getting the snip! According to historical records, the first-ever circumcision happened in Egypt around 2400 B.C. It’s referenced in a bas-relief in an ancient burial ground that shows a series of medical scenes. Interestingly, in later years, circumcisions were not done to babies at all, but rather to boys as they transitioned into adulthood. The procedure became part of them shedding their childhood innocence, and in cultures where circumcision exists, it is often a part of manhood rituals.
Fact 2. It’s More Complicated Than You Think
Despite the name, the foreskin is actually more than just a piece of skin that can be cut away. Instead, it’s a little like an eyelid for the male genitals. On the inside, the foreskin consists of a mucous membrane, which creates a moist environment to allow for better lubrication (and possibly more pleasure) during sex. This means that circumcision is not so much about slicing off the skin, but detaching the foreskin from the rest of the genitals. While the procedure for circumcising someone might be fast, it certainly isn’t simple, which is why it should always be done (or not done at all) by a practising health professional in a sterile environment.
Fact 3. It Is Extremely Painful
Can’t get away from this one! Some people believe that babies do not feel circumcision because they are simply too young to process the information, but the reality is, cutting anything off the body will hurt. Not everyone believes that babies should have pain-killers (local and otherwise) for the procedure, which admittedly is short, but without some kind of pain-numbing, the baby will certainly feel everything. There has been a push to attempt to study the pain levels that babies feel when being circumcised and to assess whether the pain they feel at circumcision can cause traumatic memories later in life.
Think it doesn’t hurt babies? Google the procedure. It is shocking.
Fact 4. Science Suggests It Lowers Various Health Risks
One potentially good thing about circumcision is that it has been proven, in some studies anyway, to reduce the risk of STIs and also HIV. The thing to note is that these studies remain small, and often do not take into account other factors such as STI and HIV rates in the areas where the studies were undertaken. In the case of STIs, it’s likely that the moist environment inside the foreskin may cause increased rates of these infections, but again, it hasn’t been conclusively proven. If you’re thinking about circumcising for health reasons, it’s highly recommended that you look into these studies yourself and assess whether the data available is enough to convince you.
Fact 5. There is a Study that Says Circumcision MAY DOUBLE Autism Risk
A study conducted in Denmark looked at the health records of 342,877 boys between the ages of 0 and 9 years. The conclusion theorized that the pain and suffering caused by having the circumcision procedure could lead to neurological disorders such as Autism.
Fact 6. But It’s Certainly Not ‘Cleaner’
Just because the risk is lower, doesn’t mean that circumcision is cleaner than leaving your son uncircumcised. Some people believe that it is difficult to keep a male baby clean if they have a foreskin. In reality, the foreskin is fused to the head of the penis in babies, and does not separate until they are about three years old, or even later. There’s no way, and no need, to clean inside the foreskin of a baby’s penis. When the foreskin does retract, the area needs only to be rinsed, not invasively cleaned. Anyone who has had an uncircumcised son knows that boys will learn pretty quickly to pull the foreskin back when the skin is no longer fused and that cleaning it is really simple.
Fact 7. People Used To Think It Cured Paralysis
This sounds totally out there, but during the 1800s, doctors were using circumcision to “cure”, according to them anyway, a range of issues including paralysis. An article in the journal, Transactions of the American Medical Association, talks about the experience of Lewis Sayre, an orthopaedic surgeon who was called to attend to a five-year-old boy suffering from paralysis at the knees. Sayre discovered that a contracted foreskin was causing the child intense pain, and he circumcised him. In two weeks, the boy was walking again. Of course, this was the era of genital surgery, at the height of ovary removals to treat “hysteria”, so perhaps Sayre’s conclusion is not so out there after all. We think it’s more likely that a painful genital injury had made it impossible for the child to walk, and removing the foreskin cured the issue.
Fact 8. It Might Have Risen As A Status Symbol
Circumcisions are most often performed in hospitals, but what you don’t know is that this may have caused the rise of circumcisions as a ‘status symbol’. Law Professor Sarah Waldeck wrote in 2003 that when circumcision was being touted as a cure-all back in the 1800s, hospital births were also becoming more common. Wealthy people had the money to go to the hospital for their births, and have a physician attend the birth, meaning that those hospital circumcisions became a mark of class and wealth. As this continued, circumcisions became the social norm, and what “good parents” chose for their sons. In some countries, particularly America where circumcision remains very common, the idea that circumcision is the ‘right’ decision is still widely believed, and status may very well be a part of it.
Bonus Fact 9. Different Methods Mean Different Marks
Most people think that circumcision is the same every time, but in fact, there are three devices that can be used in a circumcision procedure. They are the Mogen Clamp, the Plastibell and the Gomco Clamp. Each device looks a little different, and accomplishes the task in a different way. We won’t go into the specifics of each one here, but what’s interesting to note is that each one leaves a unique mark. The most obvious of these marks is that left by the Gomco clamp, which cuts circulation off to the foreskin, and allows blood to clot before the foreskin is cut away, leaving a light brown scar on the penis head. Now there’s something interesting to bring up in conversation! As far as we know, hospitals will all have their preferred method, but it’s worth researching each one if you’re considering the procedure for your child.
More Reading Links:
- The Circumcision Surgical Procedure
- Who Does Circumcisions in Australia
- Circumcision Decisions
- Better Health (Australian Government) – Male Circumcision Information
- RACP Brochure on Circumcision