Congratulations! You’re expecting a baby boy. If you’re here, you probably are wanting to keep him intact, but are facing some opposition from others, perhaps your partner or other family members. I can help you get past that, and maybe even sway them over to your line of thinking.
First off, if you’re here, you probably know that circumcision removes a functioning body part, hinders sex lives of men and their partners, is excruciatingly painful, results in the death of more infants in the US per year than car accidents, has very low rates of prevention of STI transmission, may increase risk of erectile dysfunction, disrupts the breastfeeding relationship, and is essentially just cosmetic surgery, one that 80% of the men in the world never get and do just fine. That’s great! Way to go educating yourself! Don’t mention any of that to your critics.
You heard me right, don’t mention it. Don’t compare it to female genital cutting, either (I learned this the hard way). This just makes you sound like an asshole trying to make other people feel bad, and no one ever wants to side with an asshole, no matter how right that asshole is. There are two people especially that you should never make these arguments to, circumcised men (who will take all these facts as an accusation of having an undesirable penis) and mothers of circumcised boys (who will take it all as an accusation of bad parenting). This just closes off hearts and minds.
But you can make a very compelling and gentle argument that will convince most that they should at least respect your decision, and may spark their interest to learn more about this issue. And all you have to do is follow these three easy steps.
Step 1 – Tell the skeptic “It’s not that I’m opposed to him ever getting circumcised, it’s just that I want it to be his choice. It’s his penis, after all, not mine, not his father’s, his. If he wants one when he’s older, I will totally support his decision.” This does two things. First, it tells the skeptic that you are okay with the circumcised penis, and don’t think of it as mutilated or inferior (which is especially crucial if the person you’re trying to convince is the circumcised man you’re sleeping with, who would be totally crushed if you ever implied there was something wrong with his penis – imagine if he called you ugly, and you can imagine how criticisms of his penis feels to him). Second, it turns this issue into one about giving your child choice, rather than one about whether or not circumcision is right or wrong. Everyone loves freedom and choice. They don’t like the suggestion that the choice they made is wrong, though. This way the idea that they made the right choice is left open.
This may feel like a lie at first, but when you think about it, you have to admit it’s true. Your son might want a circumcision one day, and that’s okay. Him making an informed choice for himself as an adult is totally his right, and the primary thing intactivists are fighting for. Of all the intact men I have known in my life, only two were not very happy to have been left intact. One elected to get circumcised as an adult, the other was in high school with me, and I don’t know what he did once he made his own medical choices. Maybe his opinion of his penis changed over time, who knows? But just as your daughter might someday elect to get breast implants, your son might someday elect to be circumcised, and you probably should be okay with it.
Step 2 – Tell the skeptic that part of the reason why you’re making this choice is because there’s less risk of infection if a person is circumcised after they are no longer in diapers, and an older child or adult gets much better pain relief during and after the surgery than an infant does. It makes total sense. Which wound is more likely to get infected? The one that is sitting in dry, clean, cotton underwear all day? Or the one sitting in a moist diaper filled with feces and urine? It seems like an obvious choice, and probably has a lot to do with why of the small number of cultures that practice male circumcision, many of them do it well past the age of infancy. Also, there’s a belief out there that babies don’t feel as much pain as an adult does, but it’s not true. Babies’ sensation of pain is probably very similar if not identical to that of an adult. But the difference between an adult circumcision (or even an older child) and an infant one is that adults get general anesthesia and pain medications when it’s over, and babies get a topical anesthetic and baby Tylenol. It’s true that the baby probably won’t remember it, but it probably won’t remember if you burn it’s fingers on the stove either, that doesn’t make that okay. But don’t say it like that. Just say “If my son is going to get it done, I prefer that it be when he can get some good pain meds, because it is very painful, and when he won’t have his wound sitting in a sack of his own poop and pee all day.” when you say it like that, it doesn’t sound like a criticism of the procedure it’s self, it’s more you being anal about making sure your baby feels less pain and is cleaner, which may be seen as quirky, but is generally accepted.
Step 3 – Tell the skeptic “And anyway, the intact penis is actually very easy to care for! Because the foreskin is attached to the glans of the penis at birth, and doesn’t detach until somewhere between the toddler ages and puberty, there’s no worry about retracting it to keep it clean. All you have to do is wipe or rinse it off!” most of the time, at this point, people will just shrug and say “If you’re willing to do all that extra work, go ahead.” Don’t bother to argue with them about the concept that it’s not extra work, it’s not worth your time. This step is usually needed just for primary care providers who fear that changing the diaper of an intact child is going to be some huge ordeal that they are sure to get wrong and cause this little boy to get a penis infection that will cause his whole penis to turn green and fall off. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. I can’t imagine anything easier to clean than my son’s intact penis. Seriously, I’ve spent more time cleaning poop out of his testicle wrinkles than I have cleaning his foreskin. A foreskin is much like a vagina, it cleans it’s self.
Now, at this point most people will accept your choice, or at least stop harassing you. This is exactly how I convinced my husband that any boys we may have together one day should not be circumcised as infants. But every now and then you get people who won’t let go of the “health benefits” of circumcision, or religious or cultural reasons, and why that means every infant should have it done right away. If you have a case like this, here are some quick responses.
Skeptic: “You should get it done right away, because what if your baby gets an infection?”
You: “If my son gets an infection, we will treat it as needed when it happens. There is no other body part we amputate preventatively out of the fear it might get infected one day. We don’t pull all of a child’s teeth in case he might get cavities. We don’t give baby girls mastectomies in case they might get breast cancer one day. We wait until these conditions actually happen, then we evaluate the best form of treatment and proceed from there. My son might get an infection one day, he might not. We’ll deal with that in whichever means the doctor thinks is best when and if it ever happens.” Then you can revert back to Step 2, and explain why waiting is probably less risky and less painful anyhow.
Skeptic: “It prevents AIDS!”
You: “It reduces the risk of HIV transmission during sexual intercourse. It does not prevent AIDS. My infant is not going to be having sex (or for that matter, shooting up drugs, a means of transmission for which circumcision offers no protection) for many years, and when he does start having sex, I hope to God he’ll be using condoms, whether he is circumcised or not. Condoms have aMUCH higher success rate of stopping the transmission of HIV than circumcision does. Right now his only risk factor for contracting HIV is through my breast milk, so unless you are suggesting something about myself or my partner, I think the risk is minimal. If my son wants to use circumcision as a tool to protect himself from the transmission of HIV as an adult, he can certainly do that. Until then, I don’t want my son to get the impression that circumcision will make him immune to HIV. I will be teaching him to be selective about sexual partners and to use condoms.”
This argument works for any other STI as well.
Skeptic: “Circumcision prevents penile cancer.”
You: “No, it only reduces the risk of getting it. Penile cancer, by the way, is astronomically rare. His chances of getting testicular cancer is much higher, and removing his testicles would prevent that completely. Should I have those removed too? Or should we wait to treat cancer until cancer actually happens?”
Skeptic: “It’s the mark of God”
You (assuming you’re Christian): “Actually, Christianity does not require circumcision in any of it’s doctrine, and it’s only been in the last 150 years or so that any Christian thought circumcision was acceptable on religious terms. Remaining intact has historically been how Christians set themselves apart from Jews. People in Christian cultures only started circumcising in the Victorian age in an attempt to prevent boys from masturbating, and the only place it really caught on was the US. Even today, most Christians world wide do not practice circumcision. Only about 20% of the men in the world are circumcised, and most of them are Muslim. It may be a mark of God in some religions, but not in ours.”
You (assuming you are not a member of an Abrahamic religion): “We are not a member of any of the religions that believe that.” You can even go as far to say “Circumcision is against our religion.” Whether or not it’s true, most Americans won’t know anyway. Most Americans don’t even really know their own religion.
You (assuming you are Jewish or Muslim): I must admit here that I am not super familiar with good arguments for these religions, but I do know they exist! Please check out the websites for Jews Against Circumcisions and the following sites for Muslims, quran.org/khatne.htm, and circumstitions.com/Islam.You’ll get good info there.
Skeptic: “Your son will be made fun of in the locker room.”
You: “It’s my understanding that boys and men go to great lengths to avoid looking at each other’s penises while in the locker room, and if they did look at each other’s penises, they certainly wouldn’t make it known they were doing so by pointing out differences, out of fear they would appear gay. But in any case, the circumcision rate for baby boys in this country today is about 30%, meaning 70% of the boys in the locker room will be intact. If I want to keep my son from being the odd man out, it seems it will be best not to circumcise him.”
If none if this works, fall back on the old pro circumcision argument, my baby, my choice. Then walk away. People who aren’t going to stop harassing you at this point are never going to, and it’s most likely because they don’t feel secure in the choice that they made. After all, this 3 step method is very respectful of people making other choices, so there’s no reason for them to feel threatened by your different choice (some of the quick responses are a little snarky, but if you can’t be respectful after the first three steps, you probably have some snark coming your way anyhow). The only person you really need to convince is your baby’s other parent, if the two of you live together and are in a romantic relationship still (if you’re not, you really don’t need to seek his permission regarding medical care of your infant). Focus on that, and forget about the other skeptics.