There has been a tremendous amount in the news lately about circumcision pros and cons. In New York City, Orthodox Jewish leaders are vowing not to comply with a new requirement that they get informed consent before a mohel may put his mouth on the infant’s penis (a regulation passed in the wake of the death of an infant from herpes); The American Academy of Pediatrics has also weighed in on circumcision pros and cons. While not recommending routine circumcision, the AAP now claims the benefits of the procedure outweigh the risks. American health professionals on the frontline of circumcision are actively debating whether it is a necessary procedure; and a new study about the clinical trial of three methods of infant circumcision in Zambia reports that of the 640 circumcisions performed from October 2009 to March 2011 4.1 percent of the infants (26 babies) suffered from moderate to severe complications from the procedure.
Numbers from the CDC of the falling rates of circumcision suggest that public opinion about circumcision is beginning to change. When evaluating circumcision pros and cons, more American parents are choosing not to circumcise (preferring to leave the decision to remove a significant portion of a child’s genitals up to the child himself when he is old enough to make that choice); and activist groups (who call themselves “intactivists”) are lobbying pediatricians and other health care providers to stop what they call male genital mutilation. Young men sorry they were circumcised are begging parents not to cut their sons.
Some parents decide easily about whether or not to circumcise. They reach a conclusion based on the circumcision pros and cons, as they see them, often choosing to opt-out of circumcision because of the risk of acute complications. But other struggle with the circumcision decision. When a couple disagrees about circumcision pros and cons it can cause tremendous tension in the marriage.
Here is one mom’s story, in her own words, of why she decided to circumcise her son, and why she now regrets that decision:
This is a very very sensitive topic with my hubby and has caused much distress to our marriage.
My husband is Jewish, but not really practicing. We celebrate Hanukkah and Passover and that’s it. He didn’t even have a Bar Mitzvah. So when we found out we were having a son and he insisted on circumcising him, I was pretty surprised.
My hubby is generally pretty alternative when it comes to medical care and procedures. He doesn’t like doctors or prescriptions or the like.
I had read a lot about circumcision and how it’s not necessary and I really didn’t want to do it.
My husband insisted, his reasoning being that he was Jewish, and all the men in his family are circumcised, and all the Jews before him were.
He said he may not be practicing, but he feels like he is ethnically Jewish, and after the Holocaust and the persecution that Jews have dealt with he feels it’s even more important to identify his son as a Jew.
I tried to reason with him, trying everything I had: it’s a cosmetic procedure on a newborn, it’s dangerous, there are a lot of Jews these days who AREN’T circumcising.
I tried it all and he would not budge.
He had read in the Economist awhile back that circumcision in Africa is reducing the rate of HIV and AIDS.
I still haven’t figured out if this is accurate or not, I have found conflicting information.
I tried to tell him that our child isn’t as at risk for HIV as the men in Africa.
He is a very stubborn guy, and we had countless discussions and arguments about this.
Finally I gave up.
I just couldn’t fight about it anymore, and it was beginning to feel like if I refused, our marriage would be over. It was that bad. I made him promise to allow my doctor to perform the procedure, since I felt close to her and more comfortable with her. His parents came to the appointment (which was at 8 days old) and said a prayer in Hebrew over the baby after the procedure.
I felt terrible and cried every time I changed his diaper in the days following.
I felt extreme guilt about allowing that to happen to my son. How could I, as his mother, let someone cut off part of his penis?! How terrible!
I think my hubby was pretty shocked at both the procedure itself (he watched) and my reaction afterward.
He didn’t know it would be that bad. And he didn’t know I would be so upset.
For years this was a bone of contention with us. If ever circumcision came up in a conversation he would quickly get defensive. We eventually had to call a truce and stop talking about it.
I made it clear that I felt so much guilt for allowing it to happen, and that I regretted it so much, more than anything in my life.
I still do.
Living in a town where being uncircumcised is the norm, at least among small children, I felt extremely self-conscious when my son would be naked in public (and still do).
I was embarrassed to change his diaper when we were out and about, I didn’t want to be THAT mom who thought it was OK to cut her son.
When around friends I always felt the need to bring it up, to explain myself, and make it clear that I didn’t agree with it.
In fact, I nearly decided not to have a third child because I was so afraid that if it was a boy I would have to go through it all again. I told my husband that if it were a boy he wouldn’t be circumcised. My husband did not agree. He said it would be awful to have one circ’ed and the other not.
Thankfully when we got pregnant again it was a girl, and when we found out I was able to relax for the rest of my pregnancy.
My son is close to four years old and I am still not at peace with this; I don’t think I ever will be.
We are lucky that he has never had any trouble with his circumcision, but he is still missing part of his penis! I can’t believe it.
I am still close to tears when I think about it, and writing this makes my heart beat faster and makes me feel sad. I try and share my story with new moms who are thinking about circumcision pros and cons with the hopes they will realize that they may really regret it too.
If you are the parent of a boy, what did you decide about circumcision? What, in your mind, are the pros and cons of circumcision? In retrospect, do you think the decision you made was the right one?
Published: February 4, 2013
Last update: March 4, 2020