“I didn’t really think that much about it,” a doctor friend admitted to me as we hiked through Lithia Park last weekend. “I didn’t research it. I just trusted my gut. It didn’t seem necessary, so we didn’t have it done.”
When her son was born in a hospital in northern California she and her husband, who was circumcised as an infant, chose to leave his penis the way nature intended.
“That’s not very doctorly of you,” I joked. “Trusting your mommy gut.”
“I know, I know,” she laughed back. “But remember it wasn’t so much part of the culture where he was born. Folks just weren’t doing it there, and they were discouraging parents from having it done.”
It turns out that circumcision rates vary widely from state to state. Boys in the Pacific Northwest are least likely to be circumcised. A friend whose husband was born in rural Eastern Oregon confided that he is not circumcised even though he was born at a time when the majority of boys in the United States were. Rugged pioneer stock, the mamas out there aren’t afraid to do things differently.
On the flip side, boys in the southern states are much more likely to be circumcised. I heard from a reader last week that pediatricians in her home state of Alabama always react to her son’s intact penis with perplexity and sometimes even with horror. They so rarely see an uncut penis that they aren’t sure what to make of it. “You’d better get that fixed!” one doctor told her recently, suggesting she had been a negligent parent because she had not circumcised her son.
Doctors in America are usually circumcised or married to men who are circumcised. They have little experience with normal, intact, healthy penises. They also are often ill informed about the risks of the procedure.
“What did they do to you?” a Scandinavian woman asked an American man while they were making love. She was upset that part of his penis had been amputated. Taking off the foreskin deprives the penis of both length and width. The foreskin protects the glans of the penis, keeping it moist and sensitive. A circumcised penis has a head that has hardened (“keratinized” is the medical word for this). She couldn’t believe it when her American lover told her that circumcision was considered normal in the United States.
“I am against it,” a Jewish doctor who performs circumcision almost daily confided in me off the record. “I think it is totally unnecessary but I don’t think it’s dangerous or harmful.”
So it is no wonder that Maggie Rhode, an African American mom from Memphis, Tennessee, thought she was bringing her 3-month-old son in for a safe operation in August. The circumcision at Christ Community Health Center, the doctors told her, would take only 20 minutes.
Instead it lasted three hours. Not only did the doctors botch the circumcision, they handed Rhode her son, who was screaming in pain, without telling her that anything had gone wrong.
“After I went home and I discovered that my son’s penis was not there, I immediately froze, like, oh my God,” Rhode, who is speaking publicly about what happened to Baby Ashton, told My Fox Memphis. Ashton went to the doctor with healthy genitalia, now he has a partial penis. He urinates through a hole in his penis and screams in agony, his mom said.
Complications from circumcision, though rarely this extreme, are more common than parents realize.
One in 500 boys will experience acute complications from circumcision, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, and that is probably a conservative estimate.
One in 500.
How many is too many?
When do we say enough is enough?
When do we decide as a culture that taking a sharp knife to a boy’s genitals within the first few days of his life without his consent and for no good medical reason is unacceptable? Norway is planning to introduce legislation to outlaw non-medical circumcision. Zimbabwe is reporting that the mass circumcision campaigns supposedly to curb HIV transmission (three scientifically faulty studies have shown that circumcision reduces the spread of HIV) are actually spreading the disease because circumcised men feel they’ve been “vaccinated” and now refuse to wear condoms.
An infant in Sacramento, California, Brayden Tyler Frazier, died after complications from a circumcision in March 2013.
The year before another infant died after contracting herpes from a Rabbi who sucked on his penis as part of a religious rite.
My friend’s son’s penis has adhesions due to a botched circumcision. They irritate him and cause ongoing bleeding. Five years old, he cries when he gets an erection.
I found out a close family member suffered a circumcision complication that has embarrassed him his entire life.
“[C]omplications of circumcision do represent a significant percentage of cases seen by pediatric urologists,” reports this article in the Scientific World Journal. “Often they require surgical correction that results in a significant cost to the health care system.”
There are at least 18 complications from circumcision, according to Stanford Medical School. These include:
*Adhesions and skin bridges
*Meatal stenosis (a narrowing of the urethral opening that can make it difficult for a boy to urinate)
*Amputation of the head of the penis
I met a pregnant woman recently who knows she is having a boy. She didn’t do her research with her oldest son so she circumcised him. She regretted it but that was the choice she and her husband made. She circumcised her second son, feeling it was the wrong choice but doing it anyway, because she did not want him to look different from his brother. Her third son is also circumcised. She doesn’t want to circumcise this baby but she feels she has no choice.
I hope she changes her mind.