To circumcise or not to circumcise?

Fewer families are opting for it -- but the debate still rages. Where will the royal family land?

Topics: Circumcision, Parenting, Health,

Religious tradition, hygiene and health practice, or outmoded, unnecessary procedure – whatever parents think of circumcision, new evidence says fewer of them are opting for it for their own sons. A report issued this week from the National Center for Health Statistics says rates for the procedure have declined almost 10 percent in the past three decades, down from 64.5 percent in 1979 to 58.3 percent in 2010.

The question of circumcision has long been a passionately debated one, with conflicting medical advice about its value and risks. The World Health Organization says there “is compelling evidence that male circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexually acquired HIV infection in men by approximately 60%,”  but the American Academy of Pediatrics says “the benefits are not great enough to recommend routine circumcision for all newborn boys.” 

And the practice has been especially in the spotlight in recent weeks, with public speculation over whether Prince George’s royal parents will follow the habit of the “English upper classes” and have him circumcised. It’s a practice that is otherwise all but unheard of in the U.K., where fewer than 4 percent of boys undergo the procedure. And at a recent New York City mayoral forum sponsored by the Jewish Press, candidates were asked for their views on the current regulations around a “direct oral suction” part of ritual circumcision. Two years ago,  California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that would prevent local governments from banning male circumcision, after the city of San Francisco attempted to prohibit it. 



As a Catholic and a mother of daughters, I’ve never had any personal investment in the debate. But when I asked friends with sons about the subject Thursday, the feelings ran strong. And the reasons parents gave for their choices ranged from intensely considered and argued over decisions to simple acceptance of custom – either for or against.

Interestingly, a number of them straightforwardly said that they’d wanted their sons to match their fathers. As my pal Edward said, “I felt that seeing themselves in the image of their father would provide a simple comfort that no scholarly article or shrill outcry would mitigate.” Yet my pal Andie asked, “How often do fathers and sons whip out their penises together to compare?”

A few cited their religious traditions, though Kate “bucked millennia of Jewish tradition on my side.” Another pal, meanwhile, recalled how that she and her husband had argued because he had been afraid that their son “would look different than me” — but she’d stuck firmly to her belief that “It’s ritualized abuse.” A single mom cited “good hygiene & doctor’s recommendation” while an Australian mother noted, “Couldn’t find a logical reason to mutilate his tiny wang. Very uncommon to circumcise in Oz.” A friend whose son was “born so tiny and so sick” said “he’d had so many necessary procedures that I couldn’t imagine subjecting him to unnecessary ones.” Other friends called it “barbaric” and “violent,” while a friend who had circumcised her sons noted, “As this subject has come up more often, I cringe whenever people express horror at subjecting babies to this mutilation. The last thing I want my sons to feel is a sense of shame or loss.”

Ultimately, the choice rests with parents. But as the rate of circumcision in the U.S. dips toward 50 percent, it’s clear the era of simply accepting it as a routine, one-size-fits-all procedure is over. And though one family’s personal arguments for or against can be intense, as one dad noted, he’d come up with a strongly reasoned reply for anyone who questioned their choice not to circumcise – and that now, 16 years later, nobody’s ever mentioned it.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...