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Like any parents, my wife and I aren't perfect. Sometimes we show our young daughter a little less discipline or patience than we
could, but I feel safe in thinking that's true for nearly everyone.
Whenever we have our big parenting talks, though, I'm reassured about how completely we
share the same values and ideals.
So imagine my surprise, when my now-very-pregnant wife
announced that she intends to have a doctor chop off the end of our infant
son's penis for reasons that seem almost impossibly strange.
Although I happen to be circumcised, it is hard to fathom
why. My family is not Jewish, and no Irishman in history has ever looked
between his legs and thought, "Sure, I could do with a little less down there."
In arguing for the procedure, my wife tends to make three
points. The first is that it's healthier. Apparently, circumcised men stand
a lessened chance of succumbing to syphilis, HIV and some other STDs. My question
to her is, "Why is your first worry that our son will be having unprotected
sex with some very sick people?" Shouldn't we welcome him into a loving,
pain-free and supportive environment before we succumb to the inevitability
that his adult life will be a series of impulsive sexual decisions with
The corollary of the "it's healthier" argument is the related "it's
cleaner" claim. My uncles all fought in the jungles of Vietnam against an
enemy composed almost entirely of uncircumcised men wading through filthy rice
paddies with virtually no access to health care. Not only did these uncircumcised men not all die
of penis infections, but they also won the war. If they can do that, I think
our son can negotiate suburban Los Angeles without losing the battle to genital
bacteria. We have plenty of washcloths—just how lazy a son do you think we're
going to have?
Her third argument is basically that the life of an
uncircumcised teenager is dominated by fear and ridicule. Having hopefully
spent a lot more time in men's locker rooms than my wife, I can be pretty
confident that no one really cares. And since nearly 50 percent of American males are uncut, anyway, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is hard to imagine anyone picking on, say, the football team's
uncircumcised offensive line.
Being "different" from half of your fellow classmates in this
way is a non-event in a teen's life. Your friends are likely uncircumcised, too,
and if they're staring at your penis, they're not your friends.
As a man who went to a boarding school with open showers,
I can assure her, it is no big deal. It is not like the boy is a hermaphrodite,
or going to be wagging it around like a show pony. Just as you wouldn't dye a
child's hair to make him look more like his classmates, you shouldn't perform
unnecessary surgery on an infant on the off chance it makes him more
comfortable bathing in front of his peers.
Being uncircumcised is a completely normal, natural
state, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recently said, "the benefits are not great
enough to recommend universal newborn circumcision."
Even if the benefits were twice what they claim, "Hello,
world! Goodbye, penis!" is not the welcome I want for my young son. If he turns
into the kind of man who thinks that it's a good trade to lessen his sexual sensation
so that he can have 15-second shorter showers, then I have failed him in
so many ways that I hardly know where to start.
An unbreakable covenant with a demanding God would be
enough for me to accept that my child's first days be spent in searing genital
agony. Anything short of that just doesn't persuade me.