Dr. Paul M. Fleiss, M.D.,
Los Angeles, CA. (Pediatrician)
Dr. Fleiss: The basis of circumcision is not in preventive medicine, but as a ritual. But it has become common practice in the United States for about 80% of all males. We are now learning that babies … they have eyes and they see, they have ears and they hear … they have feelings. The findings about how important early bonding is makes you realize that an infant is more than just a lump of clay. You should treat a baby the same way that you expect to be treated yourself. I wouldn’t want to be strapped down to a board, taken away from all the security and love that I have known, and then have part of my body cut off without an anesthetic.
I’m Jewish and I’ve been circumcised. I have one boy that was circumcised when he was born in 1968. I yielded to what I thought were cultural reasons for doing it. My younger boy was born in 1977. 1 didn’t have him circumcised and I feel much better about it. He was born at home. He stayed next to his mother after birth. Circumcision would have been completely contradictory to all the other things we’ve done for the baby.
R: If anybody past infancy is circumcised it is done under anesthesia. Yet with a baby it is done without anesthesia. Why?
F: It’s easy to strap him down. The newborn baby is not considered a human being. They’re considered without feelings. Obviously it hurts. Once we put them back with the mother they appear to forget it.
R: You used to do circumcisions?
F. Yes. I’m not sure I ever believed in it. I did them because people asked to have them done. But I stopped when I just didn’t want to do that to babies any more.
R: If you are studying to be a pediatrician, obstetrician, or general practitioner, are you automatically trained to do circumcisions in medical school?
F: It’s a simple procedure to learn. Most doctors who work with newborn infants can learn ‘the procedure if they want to. Some don’t choose to learn it. It’s not automatic. You just somehow learn it in your training.
“Even if you found that there were absolutely no harmful psychological effects, it still would not justify doing an unnecessary procedure. You just should not be cruel to babies.”
R: Have you, being Jewish, found any family pressures with having your youngest son remain intact?
F: There might be. There comes a time when your own sense and rationality takes the place of every dogma that you might have lived by. What may have been a good ritual for centuries doesn’t mean that it’s still good.
R: If a little boy is not circumcised, what is the nature of the infection that can develop? Is that a major concern? I’ve heard that they can get terrible infections under the foreskin.
F: No. It’s a normal piece of tissue. My practice is not to do anything until they’re a year old or more, and then push back and gently retract the foreskin and wash underneath when you bathe them*. When he gets older he can do this himself. When you’re older, if you don’t retract the foreskin it’s possible to get bacteria or infection underneath it. Sometimes the foreskin can get swollen. An infection does not mean that the individual has to be circumcised to correct it.
R: If parents felt that they had to have their baby circumcised, what if they waited until the baby was older and had him anesthetized for the operation?
F: Think of the cost! You’re talking about several hundred dollars for an elective procedure!
R: How old or large would a baby have to be for that?
F: When I used to do circumcisions, we would do them in the office until 4 or 5 months of age. When they got too big to be strapped down, then we stopped.
R: Which doesn’t mean it hurts any less when they’re littler.
R: In the Jewish ceremony they sometimes give the baby wine or alcohol of some kind to sedate him. Does that really make it easier for the baby?
F: I think it’s mostly part of the ritual. Alcohol is a depressant and can’t be used like an anesthetic. But why would you want to give a baby alcohol? Alcohol is a poison.
R: If circumcision is to be done, is there any one way that’s better or less traumatic than the others?
F: No, I don’t think there’s any advantage to any of them. I feel very strongly that it simply should not be done.
R: Do you believe that the trauma of circumcision results in any long term psychological ill effects?
F: It seems to be a very brief moment in the baby’s life. I don’t think it’s something to have guilt feelings about if a parent has already had a child circumcised. It was done to me. I did it to my boy. I’ve done thousands of them. We always thought that we were doing the right thing. But now we have a new awareness. Our whole opinion of what babies are has changed. All procedures like this are going to stop because babies begin to learn as soon as they’re born. They need special treatment, not the treatment that we’ve been giving our children. That’s a disaster!
Whether circumcision has any serious psychological consequences, I don’t know. It wouldn’t matter to me. Even if you found that there were absolutely no harmful psychological effects, it still would not justify doing an unnecessary procedure. You just should not be cruel to babies.
*Dr. Fleiss later amended his advice and recommended that the foreskin be left entirely alone during infancy and early childhood.
Tonya Brooks, LosAngeles, CA.
Tonya: When my first son was born I was considering having him circumcised because my husband Bob was circumcised. I thought if our son wasn’t circumcised he’d feel strange about it. I had also read Dr. Bradley’s book Husband‑Coached Childbirth. In it he recommends that all baby boys be circumcised. He also says all women should have episiotomies, so I wanted an episiotomy. Now I disagree and cannot recommend that book.
Bob was circumcised when he was five and remembers how it felt. He said “No, absolutely not!” So our boys have not been circumcised. Now I’m really glad.
There is so much wrong information about intact babies. With my first son Gabriel, the doctor convinced me that his foreskin was too tight. I watched my child be traumatized as she took tweezers and forced it open. He was just a newborn when that happened. I felt that some of the good effect of not having our child circumcised was negated by that. With my second son I resolved that nobody was going to mess with his foreskin! When he was four months old I took him to a pediatrician who said, “Look at all this smegma,” and forced it open. Some smegma did come out, but he’d never had an infection. I didn’t have time to stop the doctor.
From what I know now, the foreskin doesn’t collect smegma as long as you leave it alone. I had been working with it to get the foreskin to retract. Now I know that it builds up because people bother it.
I’ve had no problems with my kids getting infections or getting it dirty. I find them sometimes in the bathtub pushing their foreskins back and there’s no trauma. One time when Cyrus was four he woke up and the end of his penis under his foreskin was swollen and red. I thought “Oh dear, he’s got an infection!” So I put him in the bathtub and had him soak in warm water and the foreskin retracted easily. By the end of the day the swelling was gone. He had slept in his underwear that night and it may have bound him. Maybe some mothers would have gone running to the doctor to have their kid circumcised over something like that.
R: Parents are often led to believe that circumcising the baby prevents “problems” when he gets older.
T: My oldest boy has never had the slightest problem. And Cyrus had only that one time. My kids are responsible for their own baths. I don’t enforce baths. They have certainly been grimy sometimes and have gone a few days without baths, but there’s never been a problem.
When you clean a baby girl you’ll find smegma in the labia. You just wipe it out. It’s very simple. I have never forced back my baby girls’ clitorises to clean out smegma from under the hood. It never occurred to me to do so, nor on myself. It’s so ridiculous because we never worry about it. I suppose they could offer similar arguments for female circumcision, that it would prevent vaginal infections or problems later.
R: Now that your sons are in school, have they had any problems with feeling different from their peers?
T: No. They also haven’t worried about being different from their father. They simply have been told that they were not circumcised. My older son tells his friends, “I’m not circumcised,” and then the other kids are fascinated.
Today increasing numbers of parents are choosing not to circumcise their sons anyway.
(Since this interview took place, Tonya has given birth to two more sons, Aaron and Ethan. They have both been left intact like their older brothers. Tonya also has two daughters, Shannon and Aleisha.)
(Diane is the mother of five children, four of whom are boys. Her husband and oldest three boys have all been circumcised. Her youngest son, Joshua, is intact, Diane is also a La Leche League leader. She lived in Pt. Hueneme, Calif. at the time of this interview.)
Rosemary: You had your first three children in hospitals. What were the births like? Why did you choose circumcision?
Diane: We had the first two in the same hospital, but with different doctors. The births were natural, as best as I could do back then with no classes or doctors supporting natural childbirth at that time. I had Demerol with the first baby. The second time I had hypnosis. With the third, there were still no classes, but I got a lot of information from a friend who had had all of her children naturally.
We didn’t think we had a choice about circumcision. My husband had been circumcised. I guess we thought “We’ll just carry on this family ‘tradition’.” I happened to be walking by the nursery window when they were circumcising my first son. I could see him screaming and throwing up and strapped down on his back. I was horrified, kind of paralyzed when I realized it was my own baby there. But then I walked back to my room and stopped thinking about it. Soon they brought the baby to me and he was fine. You would think that would have “cured” me. But no, we went ahead and had our second son circumcised, and then the third son. I thought they had to match. Now I think that’s a ridiculous reason, but then I thought it was a valid reason.
After that we had Julie and then Joshua at home. I did more thinking about it and decided it was unnecessary. So we didn’t have it done with Joshua.
R: Does it seem like he is “different” from the rest of the family?
R: Are you concerned about problems later when he goes to school?
D: No. I think more parents are choosing non‑circumcision. We also have not had any adhesion problems.
R: How did you care for his foreskin when he was a baby?
D: I didn’t do anything for the first three months. Then a friend who had two boys who were not circumcised got me all worried. She said if you don’t pull it back every day it will get problems with infections. I tried to pull it back and it was completely stuck. So I worked on it for a few minutes every day. After several months it started to get unstuck. It wasn’t like those horrible moves that doctors sometimes do to forcefully yank it back. Now I don’t do that anymore because he’s very sensitive. He’s not old enough yet to do it himself, so we just leave it alone.
Since then I’ve read that it normally takes about three years for the adhesions to naturally disappear. But in our case, what I did worked.
R: How did you make the decision not to have Joshua circumcised? Did your husband have strong feelings about it?
D: No. Anything that means saving money, he’s for. We didn’t even consider it. He doesn’t really care one way or the other. I’m sorry now that I did all the rest of them, but what can you do?
R: Just make sure that they know that it’s not necessary, so that when they have kids of their own they won’t feel that their own sons have to be circumcised just because they are.
MALE Circumcision REMOVES 16+ Functions. Do you know what they are?
1. Frenar Band, or Ridged Band – The frenar band is a group of soft ridges near the junction of the inner and outer foreskin. This region is the primary erogenous zone of the intact male body. Loss of this delicate belt of densely innervated, sexually responsive tissue reduces the fullness and intensity of sexual response. [Source: Taylor, J. R. et al., “The Prepuce: Specialized Mucosa of the Penis and Its Loss to Circumcision,” British Journal of Urology 77 (1996): 291-295.]
2. Mechanical Gliding Action – The foreskin’s gliding action is a hallmark feature of the normal, natural, intact penis. This non-abrasive gliding of the penis in and out of its own shaft skin facilitates smooth, comfortable, pleasurable intercourse for both partners. Without this gliding action, the corona of the circumcised penis can function as a one-way valve, making artificial lubricants necessary for comfortable intercourse. [Source: P. M. Fleiss, MD, MPH, “The Case Against Circumcision,” Mothering: The Magazine of Natural Family Living (Winter 1997): 36-45.]
3. Meissner’s Corpuscles – Circumcision removes the most important sensory component of the foreskin – thousands of coiled fine-touch receptors called Meissner’s corpuscles. Also lost are branches of the dorsal nerve, and between 10,000 and 20,000 specialized erotogenic nerve endings of several types. Together these detect subtle changes in motion and temperature, as well as fine gradations in texture. [Sources: 1. R. K. Winkelmann, “The Erogenous Zones: Their Nerve Supply and Its Significance,” Proceedings of the Staff Meetings of the Mayo Clinic 34 (1959): 39-47. 2. R. K. Winkelmann, “The Cutaneous Innervation of Human Newborn Prepuce,” Journal of Investigative Dermatology 26 (1956): 53-67.]
4. The frenulum is a highly erogenous V-shaped structure on the underside of the glans that tethers the foreskin. During circumcision it is frequently either amputated with the foreskin or severed, which destroys or diminishes its sexual and physiological functions. [Sources: 1. Cold, C, Taylor, J, “The Prepuce,” BJU International 83, Suppl. 1, (1999): 34-44. 2. Kaplan, G.W., “Complications of Circumcision,” Urologic Clinics of North America 10, 1983.]
5. Dartos Fascia – Circumcision removes approximately half of this temperature-sensitive smooth muscle sheath which lies between the outer layer of skin and the corpus cavernosa. [Source: Netter, F.H., “Atlas of Human Anatomy,” Second Edition (Novartis, 1997): Plates 234, 329, 338, 354, 355.]
6. Immunological System – The soft mucosa (inner foreskin) contains its own immunological defense system which produces plasma cells. These cells secrete immunoglobulin antibodies as well as antibacterial and antiviral proteins, including the pathogen killing enzyme lysozyme. [Sources: 1. A. Ahmed and A. W. Jones, “Apocrine Cystadenoma: A Report of Two Cases Occurring on the Prepuce,” British Journal of Dermatology 81 (1969): 899-901. 2. P. J. Flower et al., “An Immunopathologic Study of the Bovine Prepuce,” Veterinary Pathology 20 (1983):189-202.]
7. Lymphatic Vessels – The loss of these vessels due to circumcision reduces the lymph flow within that part of the body’s immune system. [Source: Netter, F.H., “Atlas of Human Anatomy,” Second Edition (Novartis, 1997): plate 379.]
8. Estrogen Receptors – The presence of estrogen receptors within the foreskin has only recently been discovered. Their purpose is not yet understood and needs further study. [Source: R. Hausmann et al., “The Forensic Value of the Immunohistochemical Detection of Oestrogen Receptors in Vaginal Epithelium,” International Journal of Legal Medicine 109 (1996): 10-30.]
9. Apocrine Glands – These glands of the inner foreskin produce pheromones – nature’s powerful, silent, invisible behavioral signals to potential sexual partners. The effect of their absence on human sexuality has never been studied. [Source: A. Ahmed and A. W. Jones, “Apocrine Cystadenoma: A Report of Two Cases Occurring on the Prepuce,” British Journal of Dermatology 81 (1969): 899-901.]
10. Sebaceous Glands – The sebaceous glands may lubricate and moisturize the foreskin and glans, which is normally a protected internal organ. Not all men have sebaceous glands on their inner foreskin. [Source: A. B. Hyman and M. H. Brownstein, “Tyson’s Glands: Ectopic Sebaceous Glands and Papillomatosis Penis,” Archives of Dermatology 99 (1969): 31-37.]
11. Natural Glans Coloration – The natural coloration of the glans and inner foreskin (usually hidden and only visible to others when sexually aroused) is considerably more intense than the permanently exposed and keratinized coloration of a circumcised penis. The socio-biological function of this visual stimulus has never been studied.
The glans ranges from pink to red to dark purple among intact men of Northern European ancestry, and from pinkish to mahagony to dark brown among intact men of Color. If circumcision is performed on an infant or young boy, the connective tissue which protectively fuses the foreskin and glans together is ripped apart. This leaves the glans raw and subject to infection, scarring, pitting, shrinkage, and eventual discoloration. Over a period of years the glans becomes keratinized, adding additional layers of tissue in order to adequately protect itself, which further contributes to discoloration. Many restoring men report dramatic changes in glans color and appearance, and that these changes closely mirror the natural coloration and smooth, glossy appearance of the glans seen in intact men. [Source: P. M. Fleiss, MD, MPH, “The Case Against Circumcision,” Mothering: The Magazine of Natural Family Living (Winter 1997): 36-45.]
12. Length and Circumference – Circumcision removes some of the length and girth of the penis – its double-layered wrapping of loose and usually overhanging foreskin is removed. A circumcised penis is truncated and thinner than it would have been if left intact. [Source: R. D. Talarico and J. E. Jasaitis, “Concealed Penis: A Complication of Neonatal Circumcision,” Journal of Urology 110 (1973): 732-733.]
13. Blood Vessels – Several feet of blood vessels, including the frenular artery and branches of the dorsal artery, are removed in circumcision. The loss of this rich vascularization interrupts normal blood flow to the shaft and glans of the penis, damaging the natural function of the penis and altering its development. [Sources: 1. H. C. Bazett et al., “Depth, Distribution and Probable Identification in the Prepuce of Sensory End-Organs Concerned in Sensations of Temperature and Touch; Thermometric Conductivity,” Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry 27 (1932): 489-517. 2. Netter, F.H., “Atlas of Human Anatomy,” Second Edition (Novartis, 1997): plates 238, 239.]
The terminal branch of the pudendal nerve connects to the skin of the penis, the prepuce, the corpora cavernosa, and the glans. Destruction of these nerves is a rare but devastating complication of circumcision. If cut during circumcision, the top two-thirds of the penis will be almost completely without sensation. [Sources: 1. Agur, A.M.R. ed., “Grant’s Atlas of Anatomy,” Ninth Edition (Williams and Wilkins, 1991): 188-190. 2. Netter, F.H., “Atlas of Human Anatomy,” Second Edition (Novartis, 1997): plate 380, 387.]
– Circumcision performed during infancy disrupts the bonding process between child and mother. There are indications that the innate sense of trust in intimate human contact is inhibited or lost. It can also have significant adverse effects on neurological development.
-Additionally, an infant’s self-confidence and hardiness is diminished by forcing the newborn victim into a defensive psychological state of “learned helplessness” or “acquired passivity” to cope with the excruciating pain which he can neither fight nor flee.
– The trauma of this early pain lowers a circumcised boy’s pain threshold below that of intact boys and girls. This has been proven in a study during vaccination time. [Sources: 1. R. Goldman, Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma (Boston: Vanguard Publications, 1997), 139-175. 2. A. Taddio et al., “Effect of Neonatal Circumcision on Pain Responses during Vaccination in Boys,” Lancet 345 (1995): 291-292.]
– Every year some boys lose their entire penises from circumcision accidents and infections. They are then “sexually reassigned” by castration and transgender surgery, and are expected to live their lives as females. [Sources: 1. J. P. Gearhart and J. A. Rock, “Total Ablation of the Penis after Circumcision with Electrocautery: A Method of Management and Long-Term Followup,” Journal of Urology 142 (1989):799-801. 2. M. Diamond and H. K. Sigmundson, “Sex Reassignment at Birth: Long-Term Review and Clinical Implications,” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 151 (1997): 298-304.]
-Every year many boys in the United States and elsewhere lose their lives as a result of circumcision – a fact that is routinely ignored or obscured. [Sources: 1. G. W. Kaplan, “Complications of Circumcision,” Urologic Clinics of North America 10 (1983): 543-549. 2. R. S. Thompson, “Routine Circumcision in the Newborn: An Opposing View,” Journal of Family Practice 31 (1990): 189-196.
Letters from Parents of Intact Sons
Our son, Thomas Jonah, was born November 8, 1976. I had never considered having an uncircumcised child and when pregnant began talking to friends about circumcision and how it was done. We planned a home birth. Our doctor and nurse practitioner did not do circumcisions. After hearing descriptions of tying the child down or holding him forcibly and how most of them scream as no anesthetic is used, I began to question the practice. I read both pros and cons in several birthing books. Finally my husband Tom expressed his desire not to have it done. He is circumcised and does not feel that it has caused him any psychological damage. But he did feel that since we were searching for a positive birth experience with a loving atmosphere and caring attendants, a circumcision would be a less than positive event and certainly not peaceful. We decided against it.
The birthing was the most affirming and fulfilling moment of my life. My labor was peaceful and short. The support and assistance with relaxation that I got helped the birth to be peaceful. The child I held in my arms, touched, nursed, talked to, and massaged was also peaceful. He was alert, attentive, curious, and beautiful. I am so glad we decided against circumcision. Jonah means “peace” and that is what we call him.
Following our doctor’s instructions I gently tried to retract the foreskin. Once it would retract easily I did it only once a week. After a few months we discontinued this and will resume it when he is old enough to continue it as part of his hygiene routine. We haven’t experienced and don’t anticipate any problems. If we have another son we will leave his foreskin alone until he is 4 or 5 years old and can care for his hygiene himself.
Jan, Tom, & Jonah Easterly, Petersburg, N.Y.
(Jan & Tom have since had a second son, Teddy, born in 1980, He is also intact.)
I am the mother of two sons, one circumcised and one not. Jeremiah, my 6 1/2 year old was circumcised because no one ever offered me the choice. My obstetrician’s fee had an extra $25 tacked on “if the baby is a boy” for circumcision. His circumcision is only a part of what I feel now was an early traumatic experience for him. Other than slight bleeding though, he suffered no noticeable ill effects. He did get a meatal ulcer at about one year of age concurrently with a fungal diaper rash.
The doctor who was to deliver Elisha, my second‑born, at home, was very much against circumcision. By that time, I was too. I had read more about it, that it is painful and done without anesthesia to a newborn baby who is then left to scream in his plastic crib. Also I had become convinced that there is no medical justification for the operation. My husband, who is circumcised, decided he was also not in favor of it being done. Therefore Elisha was not circumcised.
He has never had any problems with his penis. When he was two months old we moved and took him to a new doctor for a check‑up. This doctor, while professionally reassuring us “he didn’t believe in circumcision either” and that “this wouldn’t hurt,” he’d “just break a few adhesions so we could clean beneath the foreskin to prevent infection” ‑- forcibly yanked back Elisha’s foreskin, causing it to bleed! It did seem to hurt a great deal and he screamed whenever he urinated for a day. We still can’t retract his foreskin, are no longer concerned with doing so, and he has had no infections.
I would advise any concerned parent of an intact son not to succumb to the “line” that this doctor handed us. The treatment is unnecessary and quite painful. If he gets an infection, it could hardly be worse than the “prevention.” Cure it then, when (and if) it happens.
We know two adult men who are not circumcised and who have had no problems with their foreskins. Both say they took no special care of their foreskins till school age, when they learned to clean beneath the foreskin.
Vicki Meyer, Sandstone, West Virginia
(*Repeated forcible retraction of an infant’s foreskin is more likely to cause an infection. An intact baby is less likely to develop a penile infection if his foreskin is left alone. – R.R.)
My son was born at home. My naturopathic chiropractor who attended our birth was against circumcision. I felt that if boys were born with coverings for their penises, there must be a good reason. It seemed a cruel, painful thing to do to a little one. I felt I would be able to teach my son cleanliness and to feel at ease with his body. When he got to be 1 1/2 years old he was getting real squirmy about it. He’d get ornery and wrestle with me and giggle. So I gave him the cloth to clean it and he started getting involved in it and mellowed out. I pull his skin down, he squeezes warm water on his penis, then I wash it and quickly check it and then pull his skin up. We do this after a bath along with cleaning toenails, fingernails, etc. It only takes a few minutes. Gradually he’ll grow into caring for his cleanliness and his foreskin will be part of that.
We lived in the woods for a year and Ansel ran naked except in cold weather. I think the foreskin is handy when you’re cruising through the bushes!
When Ansel was five months old he was in for a check‑up and the doctor felt I should have circumcised Ansel. I explained my feelings. He said, “Well okay, if that’s how you can do it.” But he felt that I should let him separate the membranes that were keeping the foreskin attached to the penis. He said if I didn’t do this now, I’d run into problems later with infections. Under pressure, misinformed, and wanting to do best, I agreed. My God, what an agonizing few minutes we spent!! Ansel was tense, red, and screaming with pain!! I felt helpless and “Oh no! What did I do?!” As soon as it was done, Ansel collapsed in my arms exhausted and frightened.
Now I know that that was an unnecessary, cruel thing to do. Now I know the membranes naturally separate by the time the boy is 3 or 4 and that he cannot get infected underneath the skin that has not separated yet.
I think that people have often been inhibited about natural occurrences. There is an idea of not touching one’s body intimately. “This is bad, sick, might lead to who knows what! Mother has to touch her son’s penis!!” if that boy has a foreskin. Well it’s not a big deal. You brush your teeth, wash your ears …. so you clean the foreskin. Simple.
My husband is circumcised and he supported my decision. They don’t feel concerned that they’re “different.” I think that’s a heavy ego trip and no reason to do it.
Ansel’s penis rarely has any white stuff on it. He is a clean, robust, healthy, strong boy. This is probably because of the way we eat and live. We are vegetarians, love our mother earth, fresh air, and good exercise. We work hard to help our planet earth and its creatures and peoples. We’re low income so we don’t have control over much, but we do what we can. You can always do more than you think.
Willow, James & Ansel Harvey, Missoula, MT.
“Our boys have easily accepted the rational and loving reasons for not having something cut off.”
My husband Stephen and I went through our first pregnancy and birth in 1970 in the midst of a great wave of “back to nature” enthusiasm. We were strong‑willed and had great faith in the natural order of God’s creation. Thus if God made penises with foreskins, who were we to say they shouldn’t be there? So our firstborn son, Noah, remained intact without our being even slightly tempted to do otherwise. It seemed like common sense to us.
We have never had any physical problems resulting from Noah having his foreskin. I did not try to retract it for any reason such as cleaning, but did try very gently once or twice out of curiosity and found it very adherent. I wondered at this and looked for information but found none. It has only been in the past few years that I’ve read of the normalcy of this adherence and that I was right not to force it back.
Our second son, River, was born in 1972. Again we did not consider having him circumcised. He, like Noah, was born at home and both of them were untouched by medical hands until school physicals were required at around 5 years of age. Circumcision seems like a real nightmare of medical intervention! Unthinkable cruelty! River did have some occasional redness and swelling of his foreskin with general diaper rash, but leaving his diaper off always seemed to clear it up. His foreskin was also non‑retractable. Now that they are older both of them can pull back their foreskins with no difficulty. I’m not sure when the change came‑maybe at 4 years of age.
Socially we had no great pressure. My family wouldn’t think of talking about something like circumcision. Stephen’s family lived far away. Our peer group was generally in agreement with us. Occasionally we heard comments such as:
1.) “They won’t ‘look like’ their dad. Won’t that cause problems?” It hasn’t so far. They’ve accepted easily the rational and loving reasons for not having something cut off.
2.) “The other boys will make fun of them.” No problems so far.
A couple that we know with two intact sons who did foreskin retraction for cleaning -‑ their sons had bad smegma buildup. The doctor had advised them to practice daily retraction and cleaning. I wonder … perhaps if you start doing it you have to do it continuously after that? But if the foreskin is left adherent, no smegma problem? Or is smegma buildup related to a general state of lowered resistance? I never saw smegma on our boys’ penises.
I never paid any more attention to our sons’ penises than I did to their ears, noses, or toes. They got baths once a week or so with hardly any soap used, just plain water, the best food we knew how to feed them and lots of exercise and fresh air. Their health has been very good.
I’m glad there’s so much more information around today and that more babies are being spared that pain and insult.
Diane Brandon, W. Burke, VT.
“We have been criticized by my family for not having it done. My three brothers and nephews have all been circumcised. My mother and sisters-in-law never even questioned it.”
My husband and I decided while I was pregnant that if the baby was a boy he would not be circumcised. My husband is not circumcised and is perfectly healthy. He has never experienced any problems or criticism from schoolmates. His older two brothers were circumcised, but the doctor that delivered my husband said it wasn’t necessary to circumcise him and my mother‑in‑law agreed.
The woman who taught our natural childbirth classes said she didn’t have her six year‑old son circumcised and he’s just fine. Also our pediatrician said it is not necessary. The doctor who delivered our son was in favor of circumcision “for medical and social reasons.” This amazed me since he is strictly a natural childbirth doctor. He uses the Leboyer method with dim lights, warm bath, etc. He then has the babies come back one week later to be circumcised. There was no way I was going to take our son back for such a cruel procedure.
We have been criticized by my family for not having it done. My three brothers and nephews have all been circumcised. My mother and sisters‑in‑law never even questioned it.
At the local hospital, the standard admitting form for all patients says in the fine print that by signing to be admitted you are also authorizing circumcision if you have a baby boy. However, our son was born at the doctor’s office. He has two rooms set up for births that are furnished with double beds, picture on the walls, printed sheets, etc.
I have been breastfeeding our son. I have been criticized by my mother for not putting him on the bottle and for waiting so long to start solids. She didn’t nurse any of her children. I have had support from my mother‑in‑law and other friends who have nursed their babies.
One friend had a baby boy one week after ours was born and he wasn’t circumcised either. Maybe one day it will no longer be “the thing to do.”
Frances Finch, Fullerton, CA.
My husband is not circumcised. He’s never had any kind of problem because of it. He’s also a very good lover and does not have the premature ejaculation problem that so many circumcised men experience. I think there may be a connection.
As a nurse’s aide at a hospital several years ago I witnessed a circumcision. It was the first and only time I have ever fainted. The poor infant screamed in pain. The whole procedure seemed incredibly sadistic. I decided right then that no son of mine would be subjected to that senseless torture and our son was not circumcised.
Some parents worry about junior looking different from papa if they don’t circumcise their son. Fortunately we don’t have that concern.
Debra Bottomly, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
“I watched a circumcision being performed and immediately, without any question, knew that there was no way that I could have my newborn son tortured in such a manner. It seemed like the first time I had ever watched the procedure, even though I had done several dozen in medical school.”
My wife and I are both doctors. She trained in Pediatrics and then Child Psychiatry. We were initially confused about circumcision when confronted with the task in medical school. I chose to ignore the absurdity of the procedure and the baby’s screaming and learn to do circumcisions. My wife absolutely refused to have anything to do with it.
When she went into Pediatrics, she was considered a bit odd, being unwilling to perform a simple procedure which is economically beneficial to the doctor. I went into Internal Medicine and had no further confrontation with the issue until my wife became pregnant. I was hoping to have a female baby so that I could avoid the issue. I had been circumcised. My major conflict was not whether I thought circumcision was beneficial, for I had long since decided that it was no more than a pagan ritual, but rather whether I wanted the baby to be like me or not.
In order to make a final decision I went to the newborn nursery at the hospital where I worked. I watched a circumcision being performed and immediately, without any question, knew that there was no way that I could have my newborn son tortured in such a manner. It seemed like the first time I had ever really watched the procedure even though I had done several dozen in medical school. The baby was absolutely panicked and exhibited the most shrill and desperate behavior one could imagine! The pediatrician performing the procedure continued his mutilation as if nothing were happening. I almost vomited.
We had a son and of course we did not circumcise him. We have had absolutely no problems and I am certain there will be none. I consider circumcision a vestige of savage ritualism. I am certain that it scars the psychological and sexual development of the human being.
Gregory E. Skipper, M.D., Newberg, OR.
My husband Philip and I decided not to have our son circumcised. Circumcision decreases sexual sensitivity and dries out the glans, whereas if he weren’t circumcised there would be a natural lubricant which can aid in intercourse.
My midwife, (an elderly lady) told us that the baby had adhesions between the head of the penis and the foreskin and that some of these adhesions should be broken with a probe inserted into the opening. We were also told that this opening was too small for the head to be forced through and that we would probably need to have his penis circumcised.
Since then we’ve learned that the head should not be fully exposed by force. We got the opinions of three doctors, read two articles (which were hard to come by) and talked to some intact friends with intact babies before we decided that our son is a perfectly normal, healthy little boy with no reason to have this unnecessary operation performed on his sensitive little body.
We now know that the foreskin should be gently pulled back when bathing and that the head of the penis usually will not be completely exposed until approximately three years of age. The father can then teach his son how to clean it.
The only problem now will be what to say when Nicholas asks why he is “different” from Daddy.
Viki and Philip Morgan, Canyon Country, CA.
We decided not to have our son circumcised. Since he was born I’ve allowed myself to be unsure of my decision. Since the article about circumcision in Mothering (“Why Not to Circumcise Your Baby Boy” by Sylvia Topp, Jan. 1978, Vol. 6), I’m reassured now that we did the right thing.
I used to think that circumcision was right and normal. I never questioned it. But while I was pregnant I thought about it. We were having the baby at home, partly to protect him from insults and unkindnesses that would happen to him at the hospital. It would be a paradox to put him through such a trauma after he had such a peaceful, calm birth.
The doctor I saw for prenatal care is Orthodox Jewish. When his son was born seven years before, he researched circumcision and found no evidence in favor of it, so he did not have his son circumcised. He will circumcise babies if the parents want it done, but the midwife that he works with told me that he doesn’t perform the operation often. She told us that none of the younger pediatricians in town will do circumcisions. They consider it “cosmetic surgery.” The obstetricians do them, though.
I am an R.N. and I should have known, but I honestly did not know the difference in appearance between circumcised and intact penises. All the men I’ve paid attention to looked the same and I didn’t realize how very common circumcision was. I had thought they all must be uncircumcised. I realized what an intact penis looked like from our son Ethan. For a while I was sorry we hadn’t had him circumcised because I thought that circumcised penises were more attractive.
But I really feel that God knew what He was doing when He designed people. He must have put foreskins there for a purpose. I think people should respect that. Also, I really believe babies shouldn’t have to go through that!
I recently visited some old friends, including a doctor who is a very good friend. He made me feel really bad about not having Ethan circumcised. He said a lot about older men needing to be circumcised, peer acceptance, etc.
But now after reading the article in Mothering, I’m feeling a lot more confident in my decision. My husband left it up to me.
Even this article didn’t describe how to clean under the foreskin. I’ve never read an article that did. You’d think I might have had the opportunity to learn in nursing school or working or just in life. It seems strange to me how uninformed I am and I consider myself a fairly bright, sophisticated person.
Susan Scott, Santa Fe, N.M.
I am the mother of two children, a three‑year‑old girl and a five‑month‑old boy, both of whom were born at home.
When I was pregnant for the first time we discussed circumcision. I didn’t want it, but my husband, who is circumcised, felt it was a good idea. I knew that he would be the one to make the final decision. Sighs of relief when Sarah arrived -‑ no decision to make!
During my first pregnancy I read The Hygienic Care of Children by Herbert M. Shelton, which has a strongly anti‑circumcision chapter entitled “Mutilation of Boy Babies.” This, in conjunction with my European upbringing and sexual experiences with intact men convinced me that routine infant circumcision is unnecessary and undesirable.
In the interim between Sarah’s birth and my second pregnancy my husband became more receptive to the idea of non‑circumcision. This was a relief to me, since we both felt very strongly that I was carrying a boy. The chiropractor who assisted at Daniel’s birth put no pressure on us one way or the other. We decided not to subject our beautiful, whole, newborn baby to mutilation and unnecessary pain.
I was unable to find any information on care of the intact baby. I was not sure if I should try to retract the foreskin forcibly or not. Asking other mothers produced the information that all their boys had been circumcised. I was beginning to feel like an “oddball!” Fortunately, Mothering magazine had an article that bolstered my instinct to “leave well enough alone” by telling me that the foreskin is not usually retractable until 11/2 to 2 years.
This is an area of parenting that is still not considered deeply by many couples. I asked a close friend why their son had been circumcised. She said, I thought you needed to! You mean you don’t have to?” Too many parents say “yes” simply because they really don’t know that they can say “no.”
Lynne Knox Cross City, FL.
“A foreskin is a personal and private part of a man’s body and I could not make the decision on having him circumcised. That decision is for him to make when he grows old enough to know whether or not he wants it done.”
My son has not been circumcised because I felt that a foreskin is a personal and private part of a man’s body and I could not make the decision on having him circumcised. That decision is for him to make when he grows old enough to know whether or not he wants it done. It is a barbaric thing to do to a tiny baby. I have been in a clinic where it was done and have seen the trays that babies are strapped to. I shuddered when I saw them. Besides, what if the doctor should slip?
My son was born five weeks early and in breech position. I delivered at home as planned. The waters were clear so I anticipated no problems. However, my baby was born with Infant Respiratory Distress Syndrome. He was trying so hard to breathe that he couldn’t take the breast. We took him to the hospital which had a Newborn Intensive Care Unit. I was glad I had him at home even with the problems we had because I couldn’t have endured it in a hospital. This way, at least he was mine for a little while.
The doctors did not even bother to mention circumcision, since the babies in the NB‑ICU were already traumatized enough.
One of my grandmothers told me that we should circumcise because uncircumcised boys would “play” with themselves. (So what!)
I have had no problems with my son’s foreskin. I have left it alone as I have heard it is not a good idea to mess with it. I don’t anticipate any trouble with his peers.
I saw the circumcision trays in the hospital after my son was born. It only reinforced my feelings. It seems quite barbaric to me. I could never do that to a little boy. It makes my mother’s heart pain when I hear parents talking about having their sons circumcised.
(My correspondence with this mother continued for several months. I received the following, very sad letter):
Unfortunately my son has died as a result of the heart and lung problems he was born with. It is a very hard thing to lose a child when you have worked as hard as we did just to keep him alive. [Her son lived for about 5 months.]
(A couple of months later she wrote again:)
It wasn’t too hard to let my son go because I knew that it was going to happen. Eric was born prematurely and had congenital heart disease. When he first looked into my eyes right after birth, I knew he would never grow up. It’s better this way because he had a very painful life. It was amazing that he lived as long as he did. But we sure had love while it lasted.
We do plan to have more children. I may already be pregnant as it has been over a month and still no period. I hope I am. I’d like to have another chance as soon as possible.
Deborah & John Hollenbeck Albuquerque, N.M.
(Deborah and John gave birth to their second son, Jacob, in November of 1978. He too has remained intact, and is thriving and healthy.)