Fate of the Foreskin

Even though it’s been a longstanding practice in the United States and around the world, male circumcision is not as harmless as it seems.

Circumcision is common practice in the U.S., but there are numerous consequences that come along with it. There is very little relevant research that justifies circumcision, so why is it still happening? The practice has gone from a once religious meaning to something that everyone feels entitled to partake in. However, with adverse medical implications, circumcision is an unnecessary procedure.

With its rise in popularity in the U.S. in the early 1900s, male circumcision became commonplace despite no clear religious ties. Another reasoning behind the spike in popularity of circumcision in the U.S. was the fear of masturbation. John Harvey Kellogg championed not only a bland and fibrous breakfast, but also circumcision as the cure for masturbation in the late 1800s.

In 1870, Dr. Lewis Sayre began preaching circumcision as the fix-all for a variety of male medical issues, from paralysis to epilepsy, even mental illnesses. None of these, though, were cured by circumcision. Similarly, female circumcisions and clitordectomies were used to treat ailments. This fell out of fashion in the U.S. quickly—male circumcision, however, stuck around.

This was the first time the American Medical Association took anyone seriously; Sayre had been a well-respected, high-ranking official in the New York medical field for quite some time, and the medical community took his findings completely at face value.

The medical field has claimed circumcision is cleaner for the penis. In the early 1900s, during the height of germ awareness, doctors and surgeons claimed that by performing the procedure on an infant, many diseases could be prevented. Professors at College of Medicine and Dentistry, James Cook University in Australia, combated this idea.Their research revealed that circumcision has been loosely linked to reduced rate of HIV transmission and genital herpes.

Medical procedures are not an easy decision. When considering surgery of any kind the patient or parent in this case should be fully informed of all the consequences. There are no probable benefits that make circumcision a necessity. A choice of this magnitude that will affect the life of a child well into adulthood should not be based on impractical claims.

Even doctors who support circumcisions, such as Douglas S. Diekema from the American Association of Pediatrics, said the “health benefits are not great enough to recommend routine circumcision for all newborn males.”

Despite murky medical reasoning and Puritan-era sexual fear, circumcision rates for American males is still 81 percent, according to the Center for Disease Control. It’s even split along race lines, as an overwhelming 91 percent of white men are circumcised, while 76 percent of African-American and 44 percent of Hispanic men are circumcised.

The argument that is commonly used in support of circumcision is that there doesn’t seem to be much harm involved in the procedure. Unfortunately their claims are incorrect and not fully vetted.

There are a lot of myths about circumcision that many Americans brush off without thinking about it. Some of the most significant myths are that the infant either won’t feel the pain of the surgery or that anesthesia is always used. Circumcision is separating the foreskin from the penis itself, which is similar to separating the tissue that holds fingernails to their nail beds. There’s going to be pain involved; there’s no way around that.

Circumcisions on infant males can still be performed without anesthesia. According to the Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, HealthPartners Medical Group in Minnesota, only 45 percent of doctors use any at all, and only 25 percent of obstetricians—who perform 70 percent of these surgeries—use it. Even still, the dorsal penile nerve block that is typically used does not block all of the babies’ pain.

This is a pain that a child will remember for the rest of their life. They may not remember the exact event, but many studies have found that the pain of circumcision causes the baby’s brain to rewire and become much more sensitive to pain. Research conducted by the Department of Pediatrics at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and the Pain Neurobiology Laboratory at Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute revealed that circumcision is also linked to post-traumatic stress disorder and problems with intimacy. A study conducted by the Department of Paediatrics, Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada found that when a circumcised child was brought back for routine vaccinations, they cried more and had more perceived pain with the event.

No rightful parent wishes pain on their child, but circumcision is just that. The intense pain that comes along with the removal of foreskin is more than a pinch, it is an excruciating experience. For a procedure that holds no necessity, the possible trauma caused by it is entirely avoidable.

Circumcision in the U.S. is declining according to a study by the CDC, and it should be. Inflicting a painful surgery with no real medical benefit on unanesthetized infants is unethical and shouldn’t be commonplace in our hospitals.

Body autonomy is something many people fight for, and this instance should be no different. Having the power to make any and all decisions regarding one’s body is a right that everyone deserves. Infants do not have the capacity to choose what pacifier they want let alone decide the fate of their foreskin.