Answers to Your Questions About Infant Circumcision from the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers

What is circumcision?

Circumcision is the surgical removal (cutting off) of the fold of skin that normally covers the glans (head) of the penis. This double layer of skin, sometimes called the prepuce, is more commonly known as the foreskin.

Why is the foreskin there?

The foreskin has three known functions: protective,
sensory, and sexual.

During infancy, the foreskin is attached to the glans and protects it from urine, feces, and abrasions from diapers. Throughout life, the foreskin keeps the glans soft and moist and protects it from trauma and injury. Without this protection, the glans becomes dry, calloused, and desensitized from exposure and chafing.

Specialized nerve endings in the foreskin enhance sexual pleasure. The foreskin may have functions not yet recognized or understood.

When and why did doctors in the US start circumcising babies?

Doctors in the English-speaking countries started cir-cumcising babies in the mid-1800s to prevent masturbation, which some doctors claimed caused many diseases, including epilepsy, tuber-culosis and insanity. Doctors have given other reasons since then, but all of them, including the claim that circumcision prevents cancer of the penis, cancer of the cervix and venereal diseases, have been disproven. Cutting off the foreskin to keep the rest of the penis clean is like pulling teeth instead of brushing them. We know that the foreskin is a normal, sensitive, functional part of the body.

If my son isn’t circumcised, won’t he be teased?

Some parents think that their son should be circumcised so that he will “match” his father, brothers, or friends. As parents, we can help our children to feel good about their bodies and to respect individual differences. Most chil-dren will understand a simple and honest explanation:

“When your father and brothers were born, most
parents were told that circumcision was important for
health. Now we know better.”

With the circumcision rate in the U.S. steadily declining, parents no longer need worry about teasing. In 1994, more than 40% of baby boys born in the U.S. left the hospital intact. Worldwide, 85% of males are intact.

With more and more intact, it’s circumcised males who are beginning to feel “different.” Many circumcised men have reported that they have been teased because they didn’t have a foreskin.

Is circumcision painful?

Yes. Circumcision is extremely painful — and traumatic — for the baby. The often repeated statement that babies can’t feel pain is not true. Babies are as sensitive to pain as anyone else. Just being strapped down is frightening for a baby. Most babies scream frantically when their foreskins are cut off. Some defecate. Some lapse into a coma. The reasons some babies don’t cry when they are circumcised is that they can’t cry because they are in a state of shock. Most babies are circumcised without anesthesia.

Anesthetics injected into the penis don’t always work. Being stuck with a needle in the penis is itself painful for a baby, just as if would be for anyone else. No pain medication is given after the surgery or during the week to ten days it takes the wound to heal.

Does Circumcision Have Risks?

Yes. Like any other surgery, circumcision has risks. They include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Infection
  • Complications from anesthesia
  • Surgical mistakes, including loss of glans and loss of entire penis
  • Death

Many circumcised males suffer from:

  • Extensive scarring
  • Skin tags and skin bridges
  • Bleeding of the circumcision scar
  • Curvature of the penis
  • Tight, painful erections
  • Impotence
  • Feelings of having been violated
  • Feelings of having been mutilated

All circumcised males lose some or most of the sensitivity
in their glans and all of the sensitivity in their fore-
skin.

Circumcision may have risks and complications not yet re-
cognized or understood.

Parents have new concerns

More and more parents — including Jewish parents — are
questioning the wisdom of subjecting their baby to the pain
and risks of circumcision and its life-long consequences.
More and more parents are wondering if they have the right
to consent to the irreversible amputation of a healthy,
normal, sensitive, functional part of their baby’s penis —
an amputation that a growing number of experts regard not
just as “unnecessary,” but as contrainidicated. More and
more parents are becoming truly informed and, as a result,
more and more parents are deciding against circumcision and
are keeping their baby boys intact.

Circumcision is surgery

Most parents don’t know what is actually done to a baby
when he is circumcised. The baby is placed spread-eagle on
his back on a board and his arms and legs are strapped down
so that he can’t move. His genitals are scrubbed and
covered with antiseptic. His foreskin is torn from the
glans and slit lengthwise to allow for insertion of the
circumcision instrument. Then his foreskin is cut off,
usually without anesthetic.

Most parents who see a baby being circumcised and how he
reacts realize that this is not what they want for their
baby. They also realize that this is not what any baby is
likely ever to be glad or to wish had been done to him.

National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource
Centers
Post Office Box 2512
San Anselmo, CA 94979-2512 USA

Telephone: 415-488-9883
Fax: 415-488-9660

The information in this pamphlet is not meant to replace
the care and advice of your pediatrician. NOCIRC provides
free telephone referral of physicians in your area who are
trained in the proper care of the intact penis.

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This pamphlet is not copyrighted and is available to all.