To Snip or Not to Snip

Rose and I were having a nice picnic lunch on one of Boston’s Harbor Islands at the end of the summer.

“So what are we going to do about circumcision?” I casually asked Rose.

She practically spit out her bite of mozzarella and tomato sandwich. “OH, SHIT!” she said.

We hadn’t really thought about it.

What started out as a shrug and “I guess we’ll get him circumcised” has turned into a slow and lengthy query.

I’ll be honest. I have a lot of experience with penises. I thought I had a pretty strong preference for circumcised penises simply because that’s what I’ve had the most experience with. The only “boyfriend” I’ve had who wasn’t cut was in Central America, where very few boys are circumcised. I was fine with it (and I’ll be honest, sorry for the TMI, but it was much easier to give a handjob, and I think I know what the “no-circ” folks are talking about when they say uncut means more sexual pleasure for the man), but it was an adjustment. To me, it was and is about cultural context – mainly, I want my son to feel confident about his – you know – MANHOOD. Him feeling “normal” and confident is more important to me than Rose’s and my political feelings or ideals, which tell us we should NOT have him circumcised. But the more research I do and the more friends I talk to, it seems there is a shift happening in the US right now away from circumcision. Of the three friends who are having or just had boys, two of them are not snipping. So perhaps this “normal” thing is becoming a moot point.

It feels like a pretty enormous decision. It’s not like we can wait til he’s 15 and let him decide when he has the proper knowledge to do so. This either happens when he’s a newborn, when it’s the least traumatic, or it most likely doesn’t happen.

After being awake all of Saturday night with horrifying indigestion due to the incredibly wise decision to go out for Mexican food at 11pm and then go straight to bed, and thinking about it until the sun came up, I thought I’d made peace with the idea of my son being uncircumcised. Rose is definitely in the nay camp. (She may have had a couple of martinis and a heated conversation at my high school reunion that knocked the indecision out of her.)

Then I had a long dream last night in which two men I respect gave me a nice long lecture about why we should choose circumcision. And I woke up uneasy again.

I’m so impressionable.

So there’s where we’re at: leaning strongly against circumcision, but not totally sure…

26 Comments

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26 Responses to To Snip or Not to Snip

  1. Oh you are a brave, brave soul for putting this out there. I wouldn’t be surprised if you get all sorts of answers/arguments/lectures/etc.

    I will just say, regardless of what we did and regardless of my personal views (which differ), that yes, it is a growing trend to not circumcise. And there are no huge pressing needs that say you must do it. There are studies that say circumcision keeps it cleaner, that there are less incidences of STD’s, and that there are less incidences of problems like a too-tight foreskin later on (because no foreskin makes a too-tight foreskin a moot point :)

    There are just as many studies that say in this day and age of hygiene, the ‘clean’ thing doesn’t matter because we bathe often, there really is little difference in the incidence of STD’s, and there might be sexual problems prevalent with those who have been circumcised because…well, you can research that one.

    What it comes down to is that there are pros and cons of each, and you will never know just what will effect your son either way until something happens one way or the other. Or doesn’t. Do what you feel is best.

  2. 2C1H

    Same here…totally stuck on this decision. We actually started having the conversation early in pregnancy…and still haven’t decided. In fact, we’ve “decided” many times for and against equally. We’ve canvassed all our friends (esp men) and still no help. For me, the major thought on the for side, is hygiene. Every male in my family has been snipped. Most men we know have been. On the nay side, there is nothing “wrong” with his penis uncircumcised, he’s born that way. Why alter him?
    Stuck.

  3. I need to file this one in the “conversations we need to have once we feel more confident about this pregnancy sticking around.” We’ve talked about it casually, and realize we are both undecided. We’re not planning on finding out a gender, so this is one of the hypothetical conversations to put on the table next to girl’s name/boy’s name (although we may have finally resolved that by going back to the boy’s name we both used to love before my coworker gave it to her son).

    Since I don’t have an opinion either way, I’m interested to read the responses in this thread. I do agree with Strawberry, though, that this is a loaded topic for many people.

  4. I am sneaking back to say that if you decide to do it, please consider using a mohel, whether or not you’re Jewish. A mohel uses a different, quicker method than the hospital. Either way, you should request pain relief. Ok, done now.

  5. We have been solidly 99% in the no-snip camp for the last several years, and as you know, we had to make the decision in the last couple of weeks. We figured, look, there’s no need for it, why do it to him, the STD studies are all done in a different cultural context, no need for it, whatev. I talked to friends, and I was really surprised at the amount of pressure I got from them about doing it (they were 100% in the snip camp). Anyway, there we were, in the hospital, with a son, and no idea what we were going to do.

    The hospital pediatrician making the rounds on the first morning asked what we were planning to do, and we basically said we didn’t know yet and wanted his opinion. He kinda gave non-answer answers, telling us what we knew, that the American Acad of Peds didn’t have an opinion, blah blah, that if we weren’t sure, we probably shouldn’t do it, but to ask our OB who would be making rounds later, though he said he thought the OB would say the same thing he did.

    The next day when the ped visited and asked if we had made up our minds and if we had talked about it w/ the OB, V said to me, “oh I meant to talk to you about that.” I was out of the room that day when the OB made his rounds, and both the pediatrician and I were surprised to learn that our OB was all for it. He said, you know, you may as well, it’s cleaner. He’s a very practical guy, and we were surprised at his advice.

    Anyway, that’s a long story. After all that, you are probably going to kill me that I’m not going to post what we did (I don’t have the patience for Internet fights from random people), but that was the conflicting advice we got from the hospital.

  6. metalstork

    if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
    (of course, i’m only speaking for myself, or well, for our maybe future son, and yes, there are plenty of arguments of how it might “get broken” but if “to snip or not to snip” is a question, my answer is no)

  7. i’ll chime in just to say that the amount of pressure you get to snip is overwhelming. when we were discussing this with friends before we knew birdie was a girl, the responses we got from people were shockingly passionate and borderline angry when we said we weren’t going to. R will. not. allow our kids to be circ’ed (moot, since we are having all girls!) and people acted like we were doing something criminal. it was just crazy.

    good luck with your decision.

  8. We’ve decided that we won’t (if the bean is a boy), but neither of us feels so strongly about it that we think we’d be tortured over it if, for instance, one of us was Jewish. I do think the “normal” argument is less and less important, as circumcision is not as common as it was when we were born.

    It’s possible that my own refusal to have surgery on my genitals is influencing me, but mostly I’m of the “if it ain’t broke” school. Plus, while it’s not super-pleasant to think about it, it *is* possible for a man to have it done later, while undone…not so much.

  9. Here’s my cowards way out, since we are still undecided too, with Baker leaning towards “let’s do it” and me leaning towards…. well, I’m not leaning either way.

    My brother, who is expecting about 12 weeks after us should be finding out soon if they are having a boy or girl. And my brother isn’t snipped. I am going to ask him what he is going to do. He will have opinions on it, I am sure, but I don’t feel comfortable asking him “Hey, bro, how do you feel about your uncircumcised penis”.

    My concern is locker-room antics, not so much cleanliness.

    If we do end up circ’ing him, I am going to make peace with it, knowing that Baker’s family has some Jewish in there, and knowing that is why she leans the way she does.

  10. We’ve talked about this one, too. I feel like it’s unnecessary and painful and sort of antiquiated, really. C feels like our (potential) child will be saddled with a lot of different-ness already and is worried about the cleanliness issues and whatnot. We’ll have to fight this out if we ever have a boy. I don’t know what we’ll end up doing if we have to make the choice.

  11. c storm

    I’m going to simply agree with a pp. Do not let them tell you this does not hurt, if you do it, and I would insist on being there if you decide to do it. Understand before you do it, if you do, that this is a minor surgery on a newborn and that aftercare will be required.

  12. reproducinggenius

    We did not have our son snipped, and it was for a variety of reasons. I have long been in the anti-snip camp because I’ve read about it for ages–long before I even started the baby-making process. Here are the major arguments that sold me:

    1. It is not medically necessary. There are no proven medical benefits, and the AAP no longer recommends it.

    2. Cleanliness really isn’t an issuse. The argument about cleanliness is one that is used in cultures where girls undergo genital mutilation. Just as girls learn to clean their girl parts, uncirc’ed boys learn to clean their boy parts. We don’t go chopping off ears because they’re easier to clean without all that flappy skin, do we? ;-)

    3. It is right around 50/50 who are circ’ed or uncirc’ed, so otherness is hardly going to be a factor, especially as circumcision becomes less fashionable.

    4. Men who are uncirc’ed and really hate it can make their own decisions to undergo circumcision. It’s done all the time, and while it may disrupt their lives more as adults, at least it’s their own choice. (This is what we ultimately determined was a big deciding factor for us. We don’t feel like we should be making these choices for our son about his own body. Imagine if your parents had decided you didn’t need labia!)

    Best wishes with your decision. I know it’s a tough one, and we had all kinds of weird responses to our decision, but ultimately, this is an American cultural tradition that we can choose to perpetuate or slowly curtail.

    *tiptoeing off of my soapbox*

  13. There’s a big difference between why the labia is removed from young girls in third world countries and why circumcision are done. One is used as a form of chastity belt.

    And yes circumcision can be done on adult males but it hurts like hell as you would imagine with him having become aware of and in communication with it from puberty.

    I’m not Jewish, but i have lots of Jewish friends and i like that the ceremony of the bris sole purpose is to connect the male child to his ” Jewish “family. They are very family oriented and have been the most inclusive group of people i have ever met. It’s a time of celebration and love and that’s what i would want for my son(s). I’ve met some Mohels both male and female that are truly gifted in this and see their role as a calling of a spiritual kind.

    And no they don’t use a machete to do it or “rip” the foreskin off as some anti-circ would have you to believe.

  14. allthingslucky

    I wouldn’t do it. The same way you teach a little girl to wipe correctly so she doesn’t get an infection, you can teach a little boy. Its simply cosmetic. It may just be my experience, but I have never gotten naked in a locker room for PE or team sports. My bra and panties always stayed on, so how would anyone know he looked different anyway? As far as his future sex life is concerned.. if a woman won’t sleep with him because he’s not cir’ed then she obviously isn’t the type of girl you want him with. If it really bothers him later on in life, he can have it removed. Yes, I know its painful, but women have fake boobs put in all the time to look better and vaginal rejuvinations done, so why is it so crazy to expect a guy to have to experience pain to change something he doesn’t like? I think if its made into a non-issue I will be a non-issue.

  15. We had this same discussion for a long time before our son was born, and we decided not to do it. It seemed strange to subject such a tiny being to such a thing…. I’ve never felt badly about it. There was no need for him to “look like dad” and we have several friends who also decided not to circumsize– so he won’t be alone.

  16. Joy

    We didn’t. We’ve both seen circumcisions performed and NO WAY did we want to subject our son to the procedure. The AAP no longer recommends it, about 50% of male babies are no longer circed and I’ve known two babies who were “short sheeted” (which then needed to be surgically corrected) and one baby who developed scar tissue which then led to severe adhesions. The doc’s I know (both OB/ped’s/FPs) also don’t recommend it (some of which is generational…I’m married to a doc so the doc’s I am around tend to be our age).

  17. Alex

    We are not snipping. My husband is not (yes, I am straigh and read your blog lol). We are both from Europe and nobody does it there. Europe has lower rated of everything (STD, HIV). My husband never had and infection of any type. If you bath and keep it clean you will not get it.
    Search circumcision here: http://www.drmomma.org/
    My only “for” point on the list was the “locker room factor” but after learning that the rates are declining and now, depending on the study are 33-50% , we will nor circ. I refuse to butcher my sons body.
    And yes, you can have it done as a adult. Just because people say it hurts then doesn’t mean it is the case. What, it is easier to do it to the baby because he does not know what is going on? It hurts just as much.

  18. We were THRILLED when we found out that Bird was a girl so we wouldn’t have to deal with this issue. I am strictly NO snip and my wife was strictly YES snip so it was quite the ongoing debate. I will say that after Bird was born, I asked her if Bird were a boy would she still want to circumcise and she said no, definitely not.

  19. Only 33% of boys in the US were circ’ed last year, so it really is dropping at a quick rate. The rest of the world doesn’t do it – and it’s not actually recommended by any medical board in the world, including the US. Don’t want to be all pushy and crazy, but would urge you to think carefully. It’s easier to clean an intact penis, the foreskin is full of nervy pleasure, and …well…it’s the way your kid is born! I’m aware I probably sound pushy & crazy anyway, but the amount of pain and potential probs from circs makes me a bit queasy! Good luck making your decision..

  20. I knew it was only a matter of time before terms like “BUTCHER” would be used to describe circs. I find it offense and insensitive to parents who have decided to do it and also to whole groups of people who do it for religious reasons,which is their right.

    And simply a tactic to bully other parents into doing what they think should be done instead of letting them have a choice. I’m sure these bullies would apply the same fear mongering to piercing the ears of infants as well.

  21. poppycat

    I’ve never discussed this on my blog because it is such a hot button topic and I wasn’t prepared to deal with the fallout.

    The second we knew we were having a boy we started asking ALL of our male friends their opinions because neither of us felt we could make that decision for him. Both of us have some penis experience but not alot and neither of us has ever seen one unsnipped. We needed a male perspective.

    The overwhelming answer from ALL BUT ONE of our friends was “snip it”. The one person who said to leave it was himself unsnipped.

    We were fine with our choice to snip and when it came time to have it done at the hospital, Cat went with him to watch and be with him. I was fine with it, after all, we had done a good amount of “research”. When he came back from the procedure though, I was so upset. He had come into this world a perfect little creature, made just the way he should have been, just as nature intended, and we chose to alter him for asthetic reasons only (not religious). I cried and cried and cried. I felt so guilty for choosing to alter his perfect little body.

    Now, I’ve made my peace with it, although I’m not sure I’d make the same decision again if given the opportunity. I think its a personal choice though and I think you should do whatever feels right for you and your family. I was admittedly shocked by my own reaction to this though. Just some food for thought.

  22. Bridgwest

    Hi,
    I found my way over from Puffer’s blog and have copied part of what I posted there just to give you another perspective.

    “We choose not to snip our boys (now 15 and 5). It is increasingly rare here in Australia and in my state it is quoted at about 5% in 2008. Despite the low rate we received strong disapproval from people who had no business being in our business, so I totally respect your right to choose and admire your courage for raising the topic.”

    Good luck with your decision – remember that as parent’s we are constantly facing dilemmas like this and you just have make the best decision you can for your family.

  23. tbean

    Been reading along avidly…thanks for putting this conversation out there. Huge decision and topic in our house as well…should we need to cross that bridge.

  24. Christina

    We spent a long time debating this. I was slightly anti-snip, my wife slightly pro-snip. We asked every male friend we could think of, and basically they all said they were happy with how they were (so in effect, it didn’t matter which decision we chose). Straight female friends tended to be pro-circumcision because of their sexual experiences. Gay male friends said it didn’t matter. A close friend with young boys is pro-circumcision because of the lower risk of passing on STD’s.

    In the end, we decided not to circumcise our son (though it took some work to convince the hospital of this decision!). One of our original reasons is that we didn’t want to inflict the pain when he was still so new to the world, but that actually turned out to be a non-issue because our son had hernia surgery before leaving the hospital, and thus would have been under general anesthesia anyway. For us, it came down to the fact that he looked so cute and perfect just the way he was, and 17 months later we are very happy with that decision.

    Good luck!

  25. Ooh, I’m jumping in late here, and I know it’s a touchy subject… like Poppy, we also quizzed all of our male friends / relatives (okay, a selective trusted sampling) and actually found the opposite, that most said they wouldn’t do it. We had some folks say that “boys should look like their fathers,” which, obviously, N/A. Tho’ in the same line of thinking, none of our brothers are snipped, so it’s not a family tradition on either side. Nor did we have religious reasons. We worried some about teasing, though many guys told us in no uncertain terms that it was highly unlikely to get teased about it anymore. In the end we went with our gut(s) and didn’t do it. Here’s hoping he’s okay with it later! Whatever you decide is fine, I really do believe.

  26. Stel

    We have a 12 mo old and live in the Boston area. He is not circ’d. My father was and my three bro’s weren’t. I’ve always known that any sons I would be lucky enough to have wouldn’t be circ’d. I believe he is perfect and one of my roles as a mom is to protect him from unnecessary pain. My partner’s father wasn’t circ’d and all her brothers were so she was less sure. In part b/c she had some hesitation, I asked my 21 yr old bro what he thought about it. He said he didn’t care, didn’t notice, didn’t ever think about it. He said that it had never once come up in a locker room situation and that as a soccer player, lots of the other players come from different countries so he didn’t even have a sense that he was in the minority. I asked him if he would circ his child and he said he’d never thought about it and would probably leave it up to his wife if she had a strong opinion about it. I thought it was cool that he had so little trauma/feeling about it that he didn’t even care about making sure his future son looked like him. Of course in my family we were all raised with a healthy dose of who cares what people think but still, it was a non-issue. That convinced my partner and we’ve actually never had a single person make a negative comment. All of my partner’s sibling’s children have been circumcized (5 boys 5 and under) but that doesn’t bother me a bit in terms of our son being different. I’ve met several new moms since my son’s birth and many have uncirc’d sons but with full disclosure I lean toward the attachment parenty, baby wearingy, cloth diapery type crowd so there’s some selection bias probably. At any rate it certainly IS a personal family decision and I think in this day and age it would be unlikely for a child to be really traumatized either way. But whenever I do think about my son’s beautiful, intact body, it makes me feel happy and peaceful like I did something right and something I’m proud of. Other parents might feel the same way about the opposite decision and really that is what matters, making the decision that makes you feel as if you are the best parent you can be given what information you have at the time. If you don’t have a lot of uncirc’d men in your life, we’d be happy to meet up in the future and let the little ones hang out! (ha, really no pun intended!)

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