Today's Uncomfortable Subject: Circumcision!

(Photo: s0crates82)

It seemed impossible. But at last I've discovered a health issue that has recently appeared in the news, is hotly debated, and is extremely controversial--and yet I have formed absolutely no opinion about it!

Yep, it's male circumcision. The whole cutting-off-the-foreskin thing. Wait, guys? Guys? Where'd y'all go?

So according to the New York Times, U.S. public health officials are thinking of changing current guidelines and starting to encourage routine circumcision for all baby boys. This is in order to reduce H.I.V. risk.

However, there are many out there who feel the procedure is not only medically unnecessary, but that it's painful and unethical and should be not be performed on unconsenting infants.

I'm hoping smart readers may have some thoughts, arguments, statistics or observations about the whole circumcision question, because I'm spectacularly ignorant on the whole subject. Penises? What do I know about penises? This, unfortunately, leaves me bereft of an opinion on a controversial issue. Please, dear readers, help me form one, so I can get all irate when people don't agree with me!

At the moment, all I can do is round up a few random circumcision-related items. Just in case you had a strong opinion about the issue but can't remember what it was.

HIV Risk:

Reading the New York Times piece, it appears the whole HIV risk-reduction issue is pretty complicated.

In African countries, circumcision dramatically reduces risk of HIV; studies suggest that circumcised men reduced their risk of infection by half. But these studies were of heterosexual men who were at risk from female partners. In the U.S., the men who are at greatest risk are those having sex with other men. And in the U.S., most adult males (almost 80 percent) are already circumcised. Worldwide, it's much lower; more like a third.

But... circumcision has been growing less popular in the U.S. since World War II. By 1999, rates were down to about 65 percent of newborns; then rates fell further when many states started dropping medicaid coverage for the surgery. Now once source has rates down to 56%. An additional concern is that black and Hispanic males, who are at higher risk for HIV, are less likely to be circumcised than whites.

Other Medical Issues:

Two fairly mainstream sources, Mayo Clinic and Web-MD have compiled some pro's and cons to the surgery. Uncircumcised males are more likely to get urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases and penile cancer (which is still very rare). However, circumcision can lead to some complications, like bleeding, infection, irritation, and damage to the opening of the urethra.


I'm guessing that even with anesthesia, it probably hurts.

Photo: Topdog1

Do any parents, medical professionals, or males with extraordinary memories (or who had adult circumcisions) have any idea how bad it is? How brutal are we talking here? That might impact my opinion quite a bit.

Psychological Issues

Seems like this is a tricky issue as well. To be "different" always sucks, and if most guys around you are circumcised I can imagine it would be unpleasant to feel like your privates were not standard issue. Hell, when you're a teenager, you can freak out if your toenails aren't exactly the right shape. But with declining rates of circumcision, what's "normal" for guys these days?

Not having been in any male locker rooms, I have no idea what the average male appendage looks like. My only information comes from the occasional X rated movie I've seen. That's where I learned that most men are "cut," not "uncut." Oh, and that's also where I learned that most guys shave off all their hair down there, and their penises are usually about ten or eleven inches long! That's, um, "normal," right?

I also hear that some guys feel very resentful that they had no choice in such a personal sort of surgery. There are apparently a growing number of "intactivists" calling for an end to circumcision. And many doctors are starting to question the ethics of the procedure, like the sensible-sounding radio guy, Dr. Dean Edell.

But then a whole lot of other dudes seem to scratch their heads and wonder what all the fuss is about.

Religious Issues

I know even less about religion than I do about penises. I have heard, however, that most Jews and Muslims tend to circumcise their sons. As a general principle, I don't buy the notion that "because my religion says I should" is a legitimate reason to do something that is abusive or violent. But then we're back to: is circumcision abuse? Or is it just a minor, incidentally painful childhood nuisance, done "for your own good," like vaccinations or piano lessons?

Aesthetic Issues

Do men, or their sexual partners, have strong feelings about which "look" they like better? I wonder if there's any kind of strong majority opinion. Even if there was, should that matter?

I know some of you readers are males, or are the mothers of sons, or are partnered with guys who have opinions about foreskins. What do you all think: is it good or evil for parents to circumcise their sons? And should public health officials be promoting it?

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