Monday, June 2, 2014

Circumcision: Why Not? (with Briana Manthei)

Of course we are circumcising our son…the Bible says so!

If you’ve read the Bible much, especially the Acts of the Apostles or Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians, you know that this statement makes no sense. But if you are anything like me and didn’t pay attention in Sunday school as a child, or never really read much of the Scriptures growing up, or didn’t pay attention when your parents or pastors were reading Scriptures to you, then you might identify with that statement. I’ll never forget the day that I learned just how ignorant I was about circumcision and Scripture.

My wife and I were meeting with a Priest to talk about receiving the sacrament of Baptism for our soon-to-be-first-born baby. We had no idea if it was a boy or girl, and were preparing for either one. When my wife first asked me what I thought of circumcision, I expressed the same sentiment as in that first sentence. After all, the Bible could not be any clearer. God said:

This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring. Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Gen 17:10-14, cf. Judith 14:10)

My wife, a convert to Catholicism who had actually studied and learned the faith, quickly corrected me. She pointed out that in the New Testament we see that Christ gave us Baptism as the new covenant and that physical circumcision was no longer necessary (Col 2:11-12; Jn 3:5, 22; Mt 28:19-20; Gal 3:27; Acts chapter 10; Romans chapters 2-4; 1Cor 7:18-19; Gal 5:2-11, 6:12-15; Titus 1:10, etc…). But I still wanted to hear it from someone else, just to be certain. So, during our meeting with the Priest to discuss Baptism, I asked about circumcision.

If he wanted to jump out of his chair and choke the ignorance out of me, he didn’t show it. He calmly and sincerely explained exactly what my wife had already told me and spoke about the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and God’s New Covenant with us, referencing some of the passages I noted above along with others such as 1Cor 12:13; Acts 2:38-39, 22:16, and 1Pet 3:20-21. The Scripture could not be any clearer that we are not required to circumcise, and if we do circumcise for the purpose of obeying the Old Covenant Law in order to have that covenant with God, we thereby subject ourselves to the entirety of that old law…and woe unto us if we should fail to keep any part of it.

This brought up yet another topic: should we? This next question wasn’t quite as easy for us to answer as the first part. We both now knew and agreed that it wasn’t necessary, but we weren’t seeing eye-to-eye on whether we should circumcise or not. My position was that I wanted my son to look like his dad (if we did indeed have a boy). Her argument was that it was an unnecessary medical procedure that would be excruciatingly painful for a newborn baby. I had always heard that babies don’t feel the pain…after all, I don’t remember my own circumcision. I had also heard that if you don't cut the foreskin, it could lead to infection. Her point was that God didn’t make the penis with natural mistakes that we have to intervene and correct, and that when left alone, it’s rare for problems to result because of leaving a penis intact, the way God made it.

I’ll admit that I’m not the most stubborn person on most issues. If I’m presented with a reasonably sound argument that doesn’t conflict with any natural logic or Truth, I have no problems changing my mind. But I really wanted some answers to my questions. I wanted to know what the facts were. My wife was all too happy to oblige. Here are some of the talking points I wanted clarification on, followed by my wife's answers to me and the information we discovered together:

-I want my son to look like me.
Really? Are you going to stand there and compare penises with him? If his eyes aren't the same color as yours, are you going to gouge them out and replace them to match yours? This is a non-issue. Baby penises look VERY different from adult penises, intact or not.

Intact America responds to this common mentality by pointing out that “[c]hildren differ from their parents in many ways, including eye and hair color, body type, and (of course) size and sexual development. If a child asks why his penis looks different from that of his circumcised father (or brother), parents can say, "Daddy (or brother) had a part of his penis removed when he was a baby; now we know it’s not necessary and we decided not to let anyone do that to you."

-Won’t my son get made fun of for looking different?
75% of the world's men are intact, and in the United States, about 60% of boys being born today are left intact. So the question should be, won't my son get made fun of for looking different if we cut him? (http://www.intactamerica.org/resources/decision).

But I doubt even that question would be necessary to answer. We visited with parents who had both circumcised and uncircumcised boys who, even now into their teens, don't think anything of it. None of the boys have expressed any issues from public school friends one way or the other. I recall at least a couple friends in high-school who were not circumcised, and I don't ever recall anyone making fun, questioning, or ever bringing it up. It's simply a non-issue.

-What about infections/diseases associated with intact foreskin?
What about them? Key phrases to remember with the care of an intact baby are, “only clean what is seen” and “when intact, don't retract.” A child's foreskin should NEVER be retracted. Not by the parent, not by a physician, not by ANYONE. The only person who should ever do this is the child himself, when the foreskin naturally retracts, which often does not happen until puberty. Part of the foreskin's function is to keep germs out. When little boys are retracted, germs are introduced into an area where they should not be, and infections can result. LEAVE IT ALONE. (http://www.drmomma.org/2009/06/how-to-care-for-intact-penis-protect.html)

Rarely, an intact boy may benefit from circumcision later in life for a medical reason. However, this is not a reason to circumcise every boy at birth. There are some articles that claim that STD's are more common now in uncircumcised men. I believe that data is skewed by the fact that more men are now uncircumcised, and simultaneously the rate of extra-marital sex has increased. Foreskin doesn't lead to STD's. Extra-marital sex leads to STD's. The best way to prevent STD's is to not have extra-marital sex, and to teach our children not to do that either.

-He won’t feel it anyway, so what’s the big deal?
According to Intact America, echoing the concerns of the Physicians for Genital Integrity, “Circumcision is painful. Babies are sensitive to pain, just like older children and adults. The analgesics used for circumcision only decrease pain; they do not eliminate it. Further, the open wound left by the removal of the foreskin will continue to cause the baby pain and discomfort for the 7-10 days it takes to heal.” (http://intactamerica.org/learnmore)

Additionally, the infant's surgically altered penis will be constantly exposed to urine and feces during the body's attempts to heal it and form scar tissue, which is a risk for infection.

-There are health benefits to circumcision.
There is NO link between circumcision and better health. In fact, cutting a baby boy's genitals creates immediate health risks. The foreskin is actually an important and functional body part, protecting the head of the penis from injury and providing moisture and lubrication. Circumcision also diminishes sexual pleasure later in life . . . No professional medical association in the United States or anywhere else in the world recommends routine circumcision as medically necessary.
(http://intactamerica.org/learnmore)



One thing that stuck out to me like a sore thumb was the fact that, throughout the world, Muslims, Jews, and Americans make up the overwhelming majority of all circumcised males. Muslims and Jews do it for religious reasons. Americans...well, we use the same excuses and mentality as what I had before we had our first child (who ended up being a girl). We are using the same reasons that, when presented with the facts, made this American step back and say, “you know what...I'm not convinced that I should cut off part of my son's penis. But when he grows up, if he feels like he wants to be circumcised for any of the reasons I previously had, he can make that decision for himself.”

For a Q&A follow-up to this post,that addresses even more arguments,
click HERE

To learn more, please visit:

Catechism of the Catholic Church 2297

Catholics Against Circumcision

Intact America

Peaceful Parenting

Physicians for Genital Integrity

9 comments:

  1. As a nurse I have taken care of some adult male patients who were uncircumcised and unable to care for themselves. On two separate occasions, while bathing the patient I encountered a very swollen penis because another healthcare worker had retracted the foreskin to clean it and forget to pull it back down. The retracted foreskin became like a tight rubber band cutting off part of the circulation to the penis. In the one case I was able to slowly and gently relieve the pressure by getting the foreskin back in place. In the other case I was not able to fix it and left my shift that day not knowing what happened to the patient. This was an error that was more related to the healthcare workers, but I would still hate for this to happen to anyone. If the patient was circumcised it never would have happened. I just thought I would throw that out there since it's a "reason" for circumcising that I didn't see on your blog.

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    1. Amen, Anonymous. I think that healthcare professionals need to be properly educated on forsekin care and related facts. It's a tragedy, in my view, that even in hospitals there are professionals who simply don't know about foreskin care. Praise God that you were able to step in and assist at least that 1 fellow.

      My guess is that this is the result of a culture (largely in the US) where many men simply don't have forsekins...therefore there's been no need to learn what to do (and what NOT to do) with them. Still, I don't see that as a reason for removing every child's foreskin when he's born. It's not just *like* saying, it is EXACTLY saying "...one day someone won't know how to properly care for his intact penis, so we need to remove part of it instead of educate people how to care for a penis...", don't you agree?

      Thank you, by the way, for your services as a nurse. My wife is also one, and you all do more work than you will ever get credit for. I believe it's one of the most underappreciated professions out there. God Bless!!

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    2. As you pointed out, the problem was the result of the ignorance of a caregiver. It's awful to think that a man was treated like that. The best way to take care of paraphimosis is to gently put pressure around the glans, to push excess blood and fluids out of it so that it will be small enough to push the foreskin forward. And, of course, the way to keep it from happening again isn't to cut it off, but to teach caregivers not to cause paraphimosis. in the first place!

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    3. Actually, the foreskin goes back into position on it's own because it has a frenulum. I find this story suspicious and wonder what else might have been going on. I also find it alarming that Anonymous worked in this profession yet lacks a basic understanding of the biology and physiology of the penis and foreskin.

      It's interesting to me that only American nursing homes have this "problem". The rest of the developed world leaves their males intact as standard and you don't hear any horror stories from their geriatric nurses.

      More likely the problem with American nurses is their bias against the foreskin on a penis left the way God designed it. They view it is as something dirty and gross that needs to be scrubbed with soap. THIS is what causes swelling and infection. Foreskin has a built in cleaning mechanism and secretes anti-bacterial fluids that cleans the glans. One only needs to retract and rinse with water to clean periodically.

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    4. It also would not have happened if healthcare professionals were better educated. In societies that do not practice genital cutting this is not a problem. Uncircumcised men and women who are unable to clean themselves receive the same standard of care.

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  2. Excellent article, David! I hope many other fathers will see it and realize that there is no acceptable reason for having their sons circumcised. There was a survey conducted, 30 years ago, or so, of expectant fathers who thought their sons should be circumcised, because they were. One question asked was whether their own fathers had been circumcised, or not, and if they weren't, whether that had ever caused them any grief. More than half admitted that they didn't even know if their fathers were circumcised, or not. Of those who knew that their own fathers were intact, they all said that it had never bothered them. Sometimes, intact boys who learn that their fathers are circumcised are concerned that their fathers had had something painful done to them, as babies, but not that they wish someone had done that to them, too!

    I've raised four adopted sons, one circumcised and three intact. They are all grown now, and the only one who isn't happy about it is the one who was circumcised. No infections, except for one time we had to put some OTC ointment on our oldest son's penis. We told him not to retract his foreskin with dirty hands, any more, and it never happened again. No one ever got teased in the locker room, no girls have ever recoiled in horror,(I tried to teach abstinence until marriage, but failed) or any of the things that Americans think will happen if they don't circumcise

    My circumcised son, however, was in pain for at least two month because of it. Caring for his little, unprotected, penis and keeping it free of infection, was traumatic for him, no matter how careful I was. As you pointed out, circumcision does NOT make a baby easier to care for. It's the other way around!


    I recognize the courage it takes for a circumcised father to admit that something was done to him that was not beneficial, and to allow his son to retain the penis that the Creator designed for him! Good luck to you, your wife, and your new baby!

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  3. Thank you for sharing this story! It is very well written and provides great information! I'd like to see more info about the benefits of the foreskin. Unfortunately, I think one of the reasons routine infant circumcision persists despite the info provided in this article is that most people have no idea what it is they are removing and thus have no idea what the short and long term harms are to removing it. You can't change form without changing function. This surgery makes radical changes to the male penis and thus radical changes to the conjugal act that effect a man and his potential wife.

    God's design for the foreskin is actually pretty amazing!

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  4. Circumcision happens when genital cutting gets gift-wrapped and sold as some strange form of "preventative medicine". This has little to do with "surgery" or "health". It is just a bad habit that has become so well established in some societies that they are unable to see the woods for the tree.

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  5. Thank you all so much for the comments and feedback so far. One question comes up sometimes as to whether CCC 2297 is relevant to circumcision. (CCC 2297 is in regard to "Respect for Bodily Integrity".)

    Some argue that circumcision does not fit, and was not the intended subject by the Church because it starts off speaking of hostage and torture situations. I'm not sure if the Church has ever written anything to be more clear in that regard.

    Some will also argue that it's "therapeudic" somehow or another. But this argument fails except in those very rare circumstances where a child *needs* to be circumcised for an actual medical emergency, and I don't believe that there have been any cases where such an emergency medical situation occurred at, or shortly after, birth.

    There is also the argument that circumcision does not fit under the category of “mutilation” or “amputation” because it doesn’t completely remove an essential body part, does not deprive a person of some function, nor disfigure them, etc… The argument goes on to say that, clearly, God would not have established a covenant sign with His people, for over a thousand years, which is objectively or intrinsically immoral. I agree with that argument, up until modern circumcision practices.

    You see, the ancient practice of circumcision involved the removal of a tiny bit from the tip of the foreskin. That practice certainly could not have fit into a category with mutilation or amputation. However, modern circumcision goes far beyond that, and removes the ENTIRE foreskin. Now, in the modern American method of circumcision, a part of the body IS being removed in its entirety…which I believe would constitute an amputation. I also believe that it does deprive a function, since the organ (foreskin) which is responsible for protecting an child’s genital is being removed and the function (protection of the head of the glans) is no longer provided for.

    All that said, the Church has not clarified any of that (not that I have ever seen). Maybe one day it will. In the meantime, it remains the duty of the laity to provide the facts/information to friends/families/the world and pray that people will make informed and prudent decisions.

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