Male Infant Circumcision

The info in this article comes from evidence-based info. In fact, I did a course about male circumcision and the purpose of the foreskin a few years ago in 4 x 2 hour classes – yup – 8hrs!!  (Who knew there was even that much info out there about down there?)  There is no high-quality, evidence based research that shows the benefits outweigh the risks under normal circumstances. 

Current research supports leaving boys intact. While it is not yet illegal to circumcise male babies in Canada, the Canadian Paediatric Society has recommended against routine circumcision since 1996. As early as the mid-70s, they stated there was no medical benefit to this surgery. Not one provincial health insurance plan covers the cost due to the lack of health benefit. In fact, it is considered cosmetic surgery. Several Canadian hospitals do not offer non-therapeutic neonatal circumcision.  Parents who wish to have this surgery performed on their sons must search for a doctor to do it and then pay out of pocket. Most health regions will not share the name of doctors who offer routine circumcision of male babies.

Circumcision rates vary by province but the national average is around 10-15%, with the great majority of those being done for religious practises.  Several European countries have banned the procedure. In most of the world, including Canada, female circumcision, called Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), is illegal. The movement to offer male babies the same protection is gathering momentum. The Canadian Children’s Rights Council’s position is that “circumcision of male or female children is genital mutilation of children”. The growing trend is to let each boy decide for himself when he’s old enough.  It can’t be undone but it can always be done later if desire or circumstances present a compelling reason. 

Genital surgery is painful. (Would any of you readers like to have surgery in this sensitive area with just a local freezing? Yikes!! No thanks.) A great benefit to waiting is that adequate anesthetic (general or spinal) can be used. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A “GENTLE CIRCUMCISION”! That’s just the name of a business that profits from doing non-medical circumcisions.

The foreskin has a purpose. In addition to a whole lot of nerves that send pleasure signals to the brain, there are cells and membranes in the foreskin that secrete antibiotic substances. The 2 main medical benefits cited for doing circumcision have both been discounted – it doesn’t prevent AIDS (condoms do thought) nor does it prevent infection (other than a part that isn’t there can’t become infected). Do we cut off our children’s ears off to avoid ear infections?  In the unusual circumstance of infection, it’s like any other body-part: treat it. Certainly there are medical reasons to do a circumcision but those are uncommon and should be evaluated on an individual basis. (Kind of like tonsillectomies, which used to be common-place but are no longer routine, and also hurt like mad!)

Many people who circumcise their baby boys claim it’s important for their son to “look like dad”. Well many of those dads are now intact, so that argument is diminishing. Not to mention, there are many, many ways infants and toddlers don’t look like their parents.

Caring for Your Intact Boy:

It’s important that intact boys are treated properly – no one except the owner of the foreskin should ever retract their foreskins! Never retract the foreskin and don’t let anyone else do so either. Most medical care providers know this, but be watchful anyway at your child’s check-ups. 

Summary of today’s research about cleaning an intact boy…  Until recently medical people advised parents to forcibly retract the foreskin.  This lead to inflammation, pain, infection, and complications.  Current recommendations are to ‘clean only what is seen’ and to never ever retract the foreskin.  Medical articles still advise soap and water but there are many holistic practitioners advising to avoid soap until teen years.  Soap is irritating.  A nice middle ground could be to use a very gentle soap such as castile (Dr. Bronners) or unscented baby soap if that’s one’s preference, and rinse very well without forcible retracting.  (People are using less soap in general (less often, only if needed) for infants and young children due to skin irritation.  Obviously lots of hand-washing is an exception to the less-soap trend.) 

If You’ve Been Circumcised:

Perhaps you’re totally happy with your body and that’s cool. I sometimes worry for grown men who learn the facts and then start to research the physiological functions of the foreskin.  Some get upset or angry at their parents (there are law-suits galore in the USA – yup, men suing parents) so I remind them we all do the best we can with the info we have at any given time.  Others mourn the loss of a part of their body.  There are some men undergoing medical procedures and little tricks to try to grow some back.    

For many men, getting informed helps them break the cycle set up a couple of centuries ago for the sole purpose of decreasing or preventing male masturbation.  Learning the physiological role of foreskin is quite helpful.   

Further Study:

Canadian Paediatric Society

National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers

Circumcision Resource Centre

Canadian Children’s Rights Council

Function & Care of the Foreskin

Some Facts to Consider: