Male circumcision has been in practice for thousands of years and is a spiritual ritual found in cultures around the world, and was once thought to be beneficial for health. In 1989, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) concluded that neonatal circumcision offered potential medical benefits and advantages as well as disadvantages and risks. In 1999, the AAP updated its policy statement, which emphasized that the procedure be conducted under local anesthesia —meaning for 10 years it was routine to perform neonate circumcisions without any pain management. Today, applying local anesthesia is common, but not a medical standard. In 2012, the AAP redacted its previous statement that circumcision has significant health benefits- the reduced risk of sexually transmitted diseases and urinary tract infections and instead stated that the potential benefits of circumcision were, “sufficient to justify access to this procedure for families choosing it,” but did not stand by it being a routine practice for all newborn males. Today, 1 in 3 people who are assigned male at birth are circumcised globally.
Circumcision is recommended in the first six weeks of life, as this is when the procedure, which involves the partial or complete removal of the foreskin, has shown to have the least complications. Complications include (but are not limited to) infection, irritation causing painful urination, cysts, urinary retention, skin bridges, penile necrosis, and death. It should be noted that the rate of neonate circumcision complications (during and post-procedure) is 2-6 in 1000, which includes mild side-effects such as bleeding, as well as severe complications.
Nowadays, we have more parents choosing to skip circumcision-today the rate of neonate circumcision is 50% in the U.S compared to between 60-90% (depending on region) 30 years ago. Activist groups like the Bloodstained Men and Intact America are raising concern over the ethics of performing medically unnecessary procedures on unconsenting babies. Medical ethics aside, opponents of circumcision also point out that in other industrialized nations, circumcision is far less common, and medical agencies aren’t advocating for it like they do in the U.S. This often begs the question of whether or not circumcision is purely medical for many parents; in 1988, 90% of surveyed women said circumcised penises look better, and in the past 15 years, numerous studies have backed the idea that North American women prefer circumcised penises. This has led to a social stigma associated with uncut men, usually residing around the aesthetics or the presumed hygiene of uncircumcised penises, which doctors are claiming is why young adults are seeking circumcision at concerning rates.
It’s upsetting to realize we live in a society where someone can be so harshly judged based on how the most private area of their body looks that they feel the need to go through a painful surgical procedure in order to fit in. What’s more upsetting is that we as adults get to influence how other people’s bodies will look, and manipulate them in such invasive and irreversible ways. Female circumcision is now known as female genital mutilation and is recognized as a violation of human rights by the World Health Organization, and the United Nations among others. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the procedure for FGM is extremely different, has no medical benefits, and is an extremely barbaric form of violence. Women are not afforded the luxury of circumcisions in sterile hospitals under the care of health professionals, and many are well into childhood when it is performed. But just because male circumcision is widely accepted and routinely performed, doesn’t negate the ethical considerations and the social implications that come with it. — Haley Berger