Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Just a Little Off the Sides

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, we attended a Lamaze class. During the course of the sessions, the issue of circumcision arose. I don't remember the circumstances - whether it was part of the actual program or just a question raised by one of the other three couples attending.

I was aghast when one of the couples began having an actual argument over the issue. He, a Canadian, was insistent that any male child would be circumcised; she, from Britain - where the practice is not nearly as prevalent as in North America - was equally convinced otherwise. After about five minutes of uncomfortable squirming, I suggested perhaps it would just be best if they had a girl. Which they did. They also divorced a couple of years later.

Lately, it seems the circumcision issue is getting a lot of media play. An initiative to ban it completely in San Francisco failed. My daily newspaper recently had a two-page spread on whether it was a responsible act or not. Howard Stern, who I listen to almost daily, regularly speaks out against it, one of the few things I'm in complete disagreement with him on.

The arguments against circumcision seem to be: 1) it's unnecessary, 2) it's mutilation, 3) it causes psychological harm to the baby and 4) it lessens the man's pleasure during sex.

Of these, 1) is largely correct. There is no specific reason to circumcise a baby. But studies have shown circumcision reduces the rate of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, and it reduces the potential for other infections. It also removes the potential for requiring a circumcision later in life - an occasional and, reportedly, very painful prospect indeed for an adult male. And, yes, there are rare complications but those exist with vaccinations and other common medical procedures (generally with much more serious medical consequences). 2) depends entirely on your point of view. Young girls (and boys) often get piercings before they are of adult age and it, too, is mutilation but I don't hear anyone calling for it to be illegal. Ditto tattoos which are sported by teens on a regular basis these days. 3) is utter, complete and absolute bunk. I had both my boys circumcised. I held them while it was being done, without anaesthetic, by a mohel (a Jewish doctor specifically trained in both the medical and religious aspects of the process). In both cases, a single cry was emitted and that was pretty much it. The idea that this causes some deep scars to the baby's psyche is the type of ridiculous babble regularly touted by those who feel that we've all been scarred and are incapable of overcoming even the most minor - or in this case, completely unmemorable - events in our lives. 4) I can only say that if I am foregoing, let's say, 10 per cent of the pleasure I would otherwise get from intercourse, then it's a sacrifice I am willing to make both for myself and my wife. Feeling too little pleasure is not a problem in my world. And, as far as pleasure goes, my wife reveals that on the one occasion she was involved with a non-circumcised man, she found it, delicately speaking, off-putting.

In reality, what drives the anti-circumcision crowd is they are convinced they are right and will use whatever means at their disposal - whether supporting evidence exists or not - to advance their argument. You do not hear anyone call for all babies to be circumcised because the reasoned view from that perspective is that it's a choice parents make based on their own convictions.

The simple fact really seems to be that circumcision is a procedure that has some benefits but not necessarily enough to compel the medical community to recommend it universally. And, that's how it should be left. Parents are given the appropriate information to make their own decision. It is not an issue that requires the intervention of the nanny-staters - but, then, I suppose that comprises the vast majority of their issues in this ever-increasing atmosphere of regulation and taking decisions away from the only people who should rightfully be making them.

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