Historically, circumcision is quite an ancient practice; ancient Egyptian mummies dating back to 6,000 BCE show evidence of circumcised men. Australian aborigines, Muslims, and some African tribes, have used circumcision to convey a covenant with God. Within the Jewish tradition, a religious rite called bris is practiced according to scripture (Genesis 17:9-27), which calls for a male infant to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth. Followers of Islam have a long-standing tradition as well, while circumcision is relatively uncommon in Europe today. About 57 percent of 417,282 male newborns are circumcised in the United States. An important side note worth mentioning is that a common theme runs through each of the aforementioned culture’s traditions: circumcision was/is thought to decrease masturbation, which, could very well lead to sexual pleasure.
What does the medical community have to say? In 1975, the American Academy of Pediatrics (APA) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a statement declaring that there is “no absolute medical indication” for routine circumcision. Additionally, in 1999 and 2005, the APA also said that data was insufficient to recommend neonatal male circumcision. So far, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have not issued formal guidance on the practice. However, in regards to HIV prevention, the CDC and World Health Organization are currently studying circumcision as a way to protect against HIV (especially in Africa where HIV prevalence rates are the highest). The research on its effectiveness in reducing HIV has found conflicting results thus far. Given the fact that the Bush administration, and Pope Benedict XVI, falsely claimed that condom use increased the spread of HIV and that abstinence is the only solution, we might have a difficult time convincing Africa to believe in anything we preach.
Other reasons why people may believe that circumcising infants is necessary are “cleanliness” and “so he’ll look like his dad”. A circumcised penis is not cleaner than an uncircumcised one, and parents can discuss cleanliness with their teen son once he is able to retract the foreskin. As for “looking like dad,” research does not show that little boys are traumatized if their penis doesn’t look like their dads.
After reviewing the information that I covered regarding this controversial topic, perhaps the choice for circumcision should be left up to a consenting adult who can make an informed decision. I wonder how many eighteen-year-olds would opt for this procedure?
1. Baur, K., & Crooks, R. Our Sexuality. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. 2011.
2. (n.d.). In History of Circumcision. Retrieved January 5, 2012, from http://www.historyofcircumcision.net/