There is a lot of misinformation surrounding routine newborn procedures, including baby circumcision. In fact, my husband and I nearly walked right into circumcising our son, believing it was medically necessary in some way.
Fortunately, we got the facts before we went down that road, and we’re sharing them here to help new moms and moms-to-be make their own decision.
Video: Baby Circumcision Myths & Facts
Myth: Almost all men are circumcised
Fact: Not so much. Globally, fewer than a third of all men are circumcised [World Health Organization, 2008]. And in the USA, recent studies show that fewer than half of all boys born in conventional hospitals from 2006-2009 were circumcised.
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Myth: Baby circumcision is recommended by doctors and medical associations
Fact: In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that baby circumcision is not recommended as a routine procedure. The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians agree.
Myth: It’s just a bit of skin; he won’t miss it
Fact: The prepuce (foreskin) contains about 10,000 super-specialized nerve endings and a few feet of blood vessels. Without them sex may be less enjoyable. A study shows that the glans of the circumcised penis is less sensitive than the glans of the intact penis. Anecdotal evidence points to sex being less satisfying for both partners when the man has been circumcised.
The foreskin also acts as protection for the glans. It keeps the glans moist and protects it from friction. When the glans is protected and kept moist penetration can happen more easily and causes less discomfort or pain for both partners.
Evidence also points to the gliding action of the foreskin during sex controlling erection and ejaculation as well as contributing to pleasure and satisfaction.
Myth: It’s easier to take care of a circumcised penis
Fact: All you have to do with a child’s intact penis is leave it alone. As the boy reaches puberty, he’ll be able to retract his foreskin and rinse it as necessary. Not a big deal.
In fact, much of the discussion about uncircumcised penises being “dirty” come from ancient times when clean water and regular bathing were not common. We have access to plenty of clean water and soap these days.
Myth: Circumcision prevents urinary tract infections
Fact: Urinary tract infections just aren’t that common, nor are they life threatening. Baby circumcision does seem to help prevent UTIs, but, statistically, the number of circumcisions you’d have to do in a population to prevent a single UTI is staggering. Here’s a detailed report on the subject. The benefits of amputating a protective body part don’t outweigh the risks of a UTI.
It’s also worth mentioning that this study is based on bacteria in the urine and NOT on UTI symptoms. So there is no way of knowing how many of these boys would have developed a UTI from the bacteria found and which ones wouldn’t have.
Evidence has also shown that circumcision may actually cause UTI’s. E. coli needs an entry into the body. Intact boys foreskin protects them from E. coli entering the urethra. On the other hand, circumcised boys don’t have that protection and may be even more susceptible because of the dryness and inflammation of an unprotected glans.
Myth: Baby circumcision prevents penile cancer
Fact: Though some evidence points to penile cancer being more common in intact men, the reason why is not fully understood. Also, circumcision is not a prevention for penile cancer so other precautions should be followed anyway, like avoiding contracting HIV or HPV, not smoking, and practicing proper hygiene, so circumcision is unnecessary.
Penile cancer is so rare that we would need to have 900 newborns circumcised to prevent one case of penile cancer. In a letter to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society stated that it “does not consider routine circumcision to be a valid or effective measure to prevent [penile or cervical] cancers. Penile cancer rates in countries which do not practice baby circumcision are lower than those found in the U.S.”
Myth: Intact kids will get teased in the locker room
Fact: These days nearly 50% of boys nationwide are left intact – so the circumcised boys may be just as likely to get teased.
On the other hand, a little teasing (which we all experience for one reason or another) seems inconsequential compared to the shame, anger, and sense of loss that some circumcised men feel as adults knowing that their body was modified without their consent.
Myth: It prevents STDs
Fact: Circumcision does not prevent STDs. This myth has come about from African studies done in 2006 that showed men were somewhat less likely to contract HIV if they were circumcised. There are a number of things wrong with using this study to say that circumcision prevents transmission of HIV. The studies were not well done and the difference in HIV infection was statistically very small.
Also, a study done in an HIV epidemic area like Africa has little value to what can be expected in the US. In Africa, sex is not the only, or biggest, way people contract HIV. Unsterile medical conditions and mothers passing HIV to their babies are two other huge ways the epidemic is continuing. In the US, heterosexual, non IV drug users almost never contract HIV.
Some information even points to the foreskin helping prevent STDs. Langerhans cells are especially concentrated on the inner lining of the foreskin and have been shown in laboratory testing to attract pathogens, including HIV. Scientists initially took this to mean that these cells made infection more likely, but with newer information they conclude that these cells may actually act as a last defense against the infection entering the body. And let’s also keep in mind that the best way to prevent STDs is safe sex or abstinence.
Myth: Baby circumcision is harmless
Fact: It does hurt, maybe even more for infants than adults. Beginning in the late 1800’s doctors began to believe that infants didn’t feel pain which is why they performed circumcisions, (and even open heart surgery!) without anesthesia of any kind. We now know that infants do feel pain and may even feel more pain during circumcision than older children or adults. This is because an infants prepuce (foreskin) is attached to the glans and has to be forcefully ripped from the glans to do the procedure.
The anesthesia used for circumcisions, if any is used, is local which dulls the pain slightly but doesn’t remove it. Anesthesia also introduces the possibility for other risks. Studies have shown that infants undergoing circumcision have experienced marked increase in heart rate and decrease in oxygen levels. Cortisol levels were elevated during and after the procedure which is a marker for pain.
Infants were found to have continued stress after circumcision which was exhibited in sleep disturbances and being inattentive to stimuli. The trauma of circumcision can interfere with mother-infant bonding which can, in turn, cause other problems like breastfeeding issues. Trauma of circumcision can be as far reaching as mood disorders, aggression, and feelings of inadequacy in adulthood.
One last fact:
Mama Natural is not here to judge. Baby circumcision is a personal and sometimes religious decision. Thing is, it’s an irreversible decision. So do your homework, get the facts, and do what’s right for you and your baby boy.
- AAP Circumcision Policy Statement: https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2012-1989