Ph.D. Pre-Parental Penis Poll

With T-2 weeks to go on the incubation of the Gadelt, Spousal Unit and I have been having a Very Serious Discussion lately and have come to no good conclusion. So I thought today I'd throw The Discussion open to you, my internets folk and see what the opinions are.

To Circumcise or Not to Circumcise? That is The Question.

Now, as you all know, we do not know the particular arrangement of the Gadlet's private parts. They are, still, private. However, since we're having a hospital birth, this kind of question has to be dealt with pretty soon after the Gadlet makes its grand appearance, so we're trying to be prepared for anything that might appear in that general area of the Gadlet's body.

For background, there's no cultural or religious reasons for us to do it. We're both midwestern American mixed-grill WASPS. So, we can't really look to cultural or geographic heritage to help us with this decision. Statistics do not help either. In our town, it runs exactly 50-50, so no matter what we do, the He-Gadlet would have cohorts that "look like him." (Although, really, I mean, does this matter? Do guys look? Do they compare? I suppose they do, especially as little dudes.) And, in the U.S. in general, about 55% of boys are circumcised -- again, about half. Not that the "I'm going to do what everyone else does" argument has ever been interesting to me or Spousal Unit.

But here are some arguments that are more interesting. On the one hand, there is some compelling medical evidence in the recent studies indicating that it reduces AIDS transmissions and Cervical Cancer in the circumcised men's partners. On the other hand, there's the common sense argument: "Hi Little He-Gadlet, welcome to the world -- WHACK! There goes a fair bit of your most sensitive part." That just cannot make for a nice introduction to life in general.

But there are also plenty of strange arguments that are not so compelling. For example, the whole "matching your dad" argument seems pretty lame. I read a great story once where the uncircumcised son of a circumcised man asked his dad one day why their penises looked different. His dad explained what circumcision was, and that at one time doctors thought it was best for everyone to have it, but that ideas had changed and so they had decided not to do it to him. The little kid looked up at his dad with huge terrified eyes and said "Thanks!" Could be an apocryphal story circulated by those anti-circumcisionites, but it is kind of sweet.

One thing that turns us both off is how those who fall into the anti-camp all seem to resort to some twisted Freudian kind of arguments -- it's like they can't resist making completely unsubstantiated links between circumcision and human behavior. Like the one that claims the U.S. and Israel are the most war-like countries and also have the highest rates of circumcision. Please. Not only does this smack of anti-Semitism, but it completely ignores all of human history which indicates that humans, no matter what their penises look like, are just really freaking warlike. While it makes a funny joke to think that American men might be less patriarchal assholes if their first few moments in life weren't spent having their penises snipped, I don't think that this really counterbalances the medical studies. I mean, who REALLY believes that Dick Cheney would be a nicer guy if his dick was, well, more of a dick?***

But, then again, are these medical studies really persuasive? You can pretty much find medical studies to support almost damn near anything. Particularly if we're talking big-money business like cancer research. Although unlike all of those studies paid for by the beef industry telling us that beef is the most healthy food on the planet or by the broccoli lobby getting us to eat more broccoli because it ends cancer, I don't think there's a foreskin lobby out there pouring merry buckets of cash into the research on circumcision.

So, here we are. Compelling reasons on both sides. Shitty reasons on both sides. I guess this is one of the first difficult decisions of parenthood -- one of many that we will make that undoubtedly will have profound consequences for the Rest of Our Child's Life. But, unlike choosing a name, or deciding on whether to use a pacifier, or which preschool to enroll the kid in, this one is irreversible. And, frankly, I'm just not sure there is a good answer here.

All in all, I think we're both REALLY hoping that we get a She-Gadlet instead so we can just chicken out of this decision!

Anyway, thoughts? Comments? Opinions?


Don't ask, not telling. In the infamous words of my beloved Buffy, "I'm taking a vacation from dealing."


I opted for a middle route: I told them I'd be happy to do it, but not in the next 6 weeks or so, so that if they needed them sooner, they had to ask someone else. All said they didn't need them until later and were happy to wait, so I postponed that for a bit and will still be able to satisfy my sense of obligation -- at a point when I know exactly what I'm dealing with as a new parent.

*** Given his date of birth, and the statistics for the nation at that time (conservative estimates say 60%) I'm making assumptions here. Allow me to reassure you that I have absolutely no personal experience or information about the nature of our Vice President's private parts.


At 3:59 PM Anonymous said...

I worked as an assistant in an overseas military clinic where circumcisions were routinely performed. I only made it through to the moment the doctor lifted the foreskin to decide that no son of mine will ever have his weenie wacked. The baby in question had been tied to a papoose (sp?) board, spread eagle with his arms and legs tied down. He was screaming in fear. I had to leave the room before the actual procedure took place as the sweat was running down my back.

So in my humble opinion, all religious and sanitary reasons aside, please don't allow your son to experience this awful mangling procedure.

At 4:35 PM hypatia said...

The most compelling argument for has to do with disease processes in older adults. Apparently common diseases can led to constriction of certain types of tissue (including the foreskin) and then gangrene and tissue can die. Then they have to take off more than just the foreskin. hmm yeah.

At 3:44 AM StyleyGeek said...

I've heard that the only reason infections and so on are more common in uncircumcised men is that many don't wash under their foreskins. Teach the kid to wash itself properly, and there shouldn't be a problem :)

As for the cancer risks, and HIV, etc, unless the evidence is very clear and the risks fairly high, I wouldn't pay it much attention. I find it hard to see why any bit of the body should be removed without really compelling medical reasons. For instance, I'm sure that breast cancer chances would be reduced by a lot more than that if we removed a whole lot of chest tissue at birth, but we don't, thank goodness.

And hypatia's argument only holds if these complications of these diseases are really common. Like, more common than the complications of circumcision (which can include accidental removal of the whole penis!)

Of course, I am probably slightly biased against, anyway, since I live in a culture that has only very rarely circumcised boys since the 1950s or so (between 5 and 10 % in NZ and Australia).

At 12:56 PM jo(e) said...

I have read all kinds of literature on circumcision. I find no compelling reason why anyone would perform one. (I mean, you could prevent your kid from ever getting a broken leg by simply amputating his legs at birth, but that seems a little crazy, doesn't it?)

I see it as just some kind of bizarre and outdated medical ritual that is slowly dying away.

At 10:36 AM Waterlily said...

I'm also of the mind that without a religious mandate to do so, circumcision loses any real meaning. It's an unnatural act that only gains legitimacy because of the sheer number of people who have had it done to them. While it does make life easier in some ways, I don't think it's worth the risk of complications involved in an unnecessary medical procedure, no matter how small the risk.

And coming from a woman who's had an inordinate amount of genital surgery, it's not a fun experience no matter what your age. :)

At 11:15 AM Anonymous said...

I vote you opt to find out the gender now (inquiring minds want to know!) and then you'll know if you really have to make this decision anyway. :)

And this, by the way, is one reason we were glad to have a girl -- I'm not good with Big Parental Decisions and this one is a doozy.


At 5:41 PM Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with styleygeek on the research. There is strong evidence, from multiple well-controlled studies, that lack of circumcision is a significant risk factor for HIV transmission. Enough so that policy advocates are seriously discussing encouraging adult circumcision. Don't take my word as an HIV researcher, check PubMed.

It's reasonable from basic physiology that it's also a risk factor for HPV as well, although I don't know the data there. Hopefully, HPV will be more or less eradicated through vaccines by then.

Does this mean you should snip? I can't say that. It's mostly an emotional decision.

HIV (not HPV!) infections in the U.S. are still low. Testing, number of partners, safe sex practices, etc. are very important so you could mitigate it with some Stewgad-Gadlet or SU-Gadlet birds/bees talks. I look forward to that blog entry several years from now!

At 2:50 PM Lex said...

I prefer circumcision, because I like the way it looks. My reasona are aesthetic. So sue me. And having seen a few performed, it can be quick and pretty painless, like piercing an ear if done well. I say go for it if you want to, but if you don't, it's no drama. I always find the hysteria about it (and about breastfeeding/natural birth/listeria in pregnancy) incredible. It's such a small thing ... nothing like female circumcision! It doesn't take away a man's ability to enjoy sex.

At 4:04 PM Stewgad said...

Thanks so much you guys for all of your helpful and thoughtful posts on this complicated and emotional issue. We still haven't decided, and I suspect we won't until we're staring down the barrell of the Gadlet's little gun. (Sorry about the bad metaphor, I couldn't resist!) But, you all have given us a lot to think about, which is always good.

At 7:50 AM Anonymous said...

Hmmmm. "I like the look of a cut penis so I will enforce my aesthetic values on my kid"?? Arrogant or what! Who knows what aesthetic values will be the norm in 20 or 30 years. The only person who can possibly consent to non-life threatening irreversible body surgery should be the owner of the body. Wait till he is 16 then offer him the choice of having it done. Arguments like "its easier and will hurt less when he's a baby", "it'll be easier to clean", "he'll look like his dad" can never override an individual's right to bodily integrity in a free society.

At 10:16 PM Brad said...

I don't know whether you should have your son circumcised or not. But here is my experience. I had a gay friend who died from a foreskin. At 40 he developed a virulent kind of throat cancer. According to the doctor it was caused by contact (during oral sex) with an HPV-infected foreskin. My friend died at 42. I can tell you that after watching my friend die, I won't go near a foreskin. Sorry to be so gruesome, but that's my experience.

At 5:31 AM Anonymous said...

Your comment about circumcision and human behavior is very interesting.

There is a paper on this at:

At 9:42 PM Anonymous said...

If Daddy is then so should son be. Less questions later as to why Son's looks different from Daddy's. That's what I think


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