Friday, May 02, 2008

Just a little snip...

As imminent fatherhood approaches, I have been exposed to the most terrifying aspect of living in America. Unsolicited parenting advice.

One of the most alarming pieces of 'advice' Tina and I have gotton regards what to do if our as-yet-unspecified 'bump' turns out to be a little boy. In America, the 'done thing' is to get your little fellow's 'little fellow' a snip as soon as he's fresh out of the womb.

Circumcision is still very common in America, even though the annual figures show it's declining in popularity since a high during the 1950s (when around 75% of all newborn boys would be circumcised.) It's pretty much a standard procedure at hospitals and parents have to 'opt out' of having a circumcision performed.

This is completely the opposite of how it is in England, where the National Health Service refuses to cover the costs of circumcision and parents have to specify they want the produce done and then pay for it out-of-pocket.

Why is circumcision so popular in America?

Well, the massive popularity of 'the snip' is fairly recent. In fact, up until 1900, only Jewish children tended to get the procedure done and most kids were left intact.

Around that time, however, a quack holistic doctor called John Harvey Kellogg started to gain a lot of popularity for his beliefs regarding sex and infant sexuality. He published a series of books lambasting the dangers of masturbation and sexuality, which he believed caused insanity, cancer, epilepsy and other medical issues.

Kellogg himself, despite being married for forty years, never once had intercourse with his wife. They had separate bedrooms and never produced children.

One of Kellogg's popular solutions to prevent young boys masturbating was 'the snip.' In his Treatment for Self-Abuse and Its Effects, he wrote:

"A remedy for masturbation which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment. In females, the author has found the application of pure carbolic acid [phenol] to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement."

This belief tapped into America's puritanical streak and soon the operation was pretty much standard, with issues of 'hygiene' being given as the major reason why the procedure should be performed.

The Bunk Science Behind Circumcision

The myth that circumcision is 'more hygienic' is an ancient one. The ancient Egyptians and Jews made circumcision part of their religious rights, suggesting that it represented a 'blood pact' with God. This is because they lived in the desert, however, without easy access to soap and water.

In modern times, the idea that a circumcised penis is 'cleaner' than an uncircumcised one is ridiculous. True, the foreskin can provide a better breeding ground for bacteria, but a quick wash once a day leaves an unsnipped penis just as 'clean' as a snipped one.

In fact, the chances of an uncircumcised penis becoming infected are significantly lower than the chances of a botched circumcision leading to complications. It seems ridiculous that parents advocate a procedure with a higher chance of complication than what they're trying to prevent.

The Procedure Itself

Circumcision is almost always performed on extremely small children - most often within days of being born.

This is because it's an extremely invasive and hideously painful procedure. Since babies cry anyway, parents who let doctors circumcise their sons can pretend the anguished cries of agony are just standard 'baby bawling'.

However, that's not always the case. I had an American friend in elementary school who was unlucky enough to have the procedure performed when he was around ten years old. The actual operation itself was agonising and he was left wearing what amounted to a 'nappy' for days afterwards. Then, even after his scars had 'healed' his newly exposed manhood was ridiculously sensitive - meaning he spent the next three months hobbling around as if he'd been kicked in the testicles.


The American Medical Association issued a report in 1999 that stated unequivocally that they did not recommend the circumcision of infants. This is because the risks associated with circumcision far outweighed the perceived benefits.

Those 'benefits' are generally limited to two issues. Concerns that an uncircumcised penis can become infected (which are ridiculous, since from puberty onwards, the penis is almost certainly the body part that receives the most attention in the shower) and Phimosis, which is a medical condition in which the foreskin is too 'tight' to pull down over the head of the penis. Phimosis is generally overcome as soon as pubescent boys have access to the lingerie section of the Sear's catalogue.

The risks of circumcision, however, far outweigh the benefits. Because circumcision is such a regularly practiced medical procedure in North America, there are no shortage of horror stories resulting from botched surgeries. The most famous is probably Bruce Reimer, a Canadian boy who lost his entire penis during a botched circumcision and was raised as a girl as a result (eventually killing himself.)

Parents considering circumcising their son need to consider the ramifications of subjecting their newborn to an incredibly painful, totally unnecessary and potentially devastating medical procedure. Mommies and daddies are meant to love their children. Surely this means leaving them as God intended.


Haunted Jo said...

Having just watched the Sex and the City episode where the girls squawk at the thought of an 'uncut' one, it does sound like the puritanical side and aesthetics are a particularly unpleasant combination.

Mr Kellogg made Cornflakes to cut down on the sex drive!

And the carbolic plans he had are plain old cruel. Up there with female circumcision in various backward countries. ugh.

Great post, Rols! Good luck with the sprog!

Cindy said...

Good grief...I never gave this much thought, but now, thanks to your very well reasoned post, I will.

That's awful. :-/

Mostly I came over to thank you for the very sweet comment. You're really can't have too much velvet. ;)

EmmaK said...

So hilarious! Kellogg never had intercourse with him wife and (we assume!!) never masturbated. What a bloody awful life.

Regarding circumcision for infants I know there is 'research' that shows that circumcision decreases the likelihood of getting HIV and such like but I'm afraid I take all 'research' with a pinch of salt. Common sense is the best approach here. Many Americans I know say they had their son circumcised because his dad is too and they wanted them to look the same. What a stupid reason!

At the risk of giving you unsolicited advice, circumcision is something I could not even think about doing to my son (if I had one) is a total anachronism...I mean yeah maybe it was hygenic to do it 2000 years when there was limited access to soap and water and sand gathered under the foreskin but these days it is totally unnecessary.

Jodi said...

Yeah, I decided long ago I would not do that to my son, should I have one. I figure most daddies probably want their sons to have something similar to their own. So it's a non issue now that I am married. Cuz... umm... you know.

I've heard that circumcision is actually decreasing in the US. I'm not sure that's true, but I hope so.

Um... Yum! said...

I had read David Reimer's story As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl a couple years ago, and I was horrified by how the doctor in charge of his case was able to manipulate the entire scientific community into believing that his theory that nurture wins over nature was true, when clearly it was not. There's so much more to the story (like some sexually abusive stuff the doctor put David and his twin brother through), and the book included stuff about others who had gender identity issues because of botched circumcisions (which happen a LOT more than people know) or birth defects.

I don't see how people can logically believe circumcision is a must. I mean, if that were the case, baby boys would have been born "snipped".

Tequila Mockingbird said...

honestly, i think the uncut who-who dilly looks a little gross. but meh, to each her own.

Jeff Wright said...

Nice. Thanks for getting it out there. Label male circumcision as "Male Genital Mutilation" (MGM), and let the human rights and humanitarian aid types get all over it.

Wonderful World of Weiners said...

Just want to add that my father in law, the surgeon, said that the most painful surgical procedure he has ever had to perform is a circumcision on an adult. He said no amount of morphine helps.

His advice? If you do not cicumcise your son, make sure they are well versed in how to clean and care their foreskin.

Apparently, if not cleaned proplerly, bacterial infections later in life can lead to the adult procedure.


Hallie :)

Kirsty said...

Cannot believe Mr Kellogg! I too remember the Sex and The City episode and found their reaction odd, as it's the complete norm here in the UK.