I Regret Circumcising My Sons Without Their Permission

Is it ethical to cut a baby boy’s foreskin without his consent?

Photo by Walaa Khaleel on Unsplash

Most boys, if they’re circumcised in this country, go under the knife at only a few days old. I’ve heard it argued that it’s just too painful for a boy to wait until he’s older, though males can be circumcised at any age.

Other factors in favor of circumcising a boy when he’s just a baby are that the recovery takes longer the older a boy gets. There’s also an increased risk for complications when circumcisions are carried out in older boys or men.

As such, doctors prefer to circumcise boys when they’re babies, often just days after birth.

And yet I question if the evidence in favor of circumcising boys as infants is strong enough to warrant the procedure being done in every case.

Not being circumcised is not life-threatening to a baby. Think about the countries where circumcision isn’t de rigueur.

Shouldn’t boys be given the chance to wait until they’ve at least reached an age when they can make up their own minds? What with how circumcision is irreversible.

Is it ethical to command that a part of your child’s body is literally amputated when he’s unable to consent? That, and a part of his body as personal as his foreskin?

Both of my sons were circumcised at eight days of age in the Jewish tradition. The doctor who performed the procedure — a mohel, trained in performing Jewish circumcisions — made a clean cut near the base of each of my son’s penises, and the foreskin was forever gone.

Before she performed the circumcisions, the mohel told me that the procedure was nearly painless for the baby. She said it felt no worse than nicking yourself with a knife in the kitchen. In the same way that we often cut ourselves while preparing food, but don’t realize it until we’ve started bleeding— this is how a circumcision is supposed to feel.

I have trouble believing this entirely. I’ll never know, since both my sons were babies. If it did hurt them, they have no recollection.

They weren’t given anesthesia for the circumcision. Sure, the mohel dipped a cloth in a little wine mixed with sugar and let my sons suck on that before she made the cut. I can’t say how much the wine worked to numb the pain though.

Still, each baby only cried briefly after the circumcision was finished. Both wanted to nurse immediately, and then they just as quickly fell asleep.

The cuts healed within a week. My sons were none the wiser. And yet I now look back on their circumcisions with mixed feelings.

Is it ethical to command that a part of your child’s body is literally amputated when he’s unable to consent? That, and a part of his body as personal as his foreskin?

Having made this decision for my sons fills me with regret.

There was never a question whether our sons would be circumcised. My ex was circumcised at his own bris ceremony at eight days of age, just as his father was before him, and his grandfather before that.

Maybe I’m only asking these questions because I’m not Jewish. My ex-husband is, and he’s the one who made the choice for our sons.

Though my ex is not a religious Jew, there was never a question whether our sons would be circumcised. My ex was circumcised at his own bris ceremony at eight days of age, just as his father was before him, and his grandfather before that. So of course my sons would be circumcised as well.

For the event, we held a party at our house. The circumcision occurred in our living room. Family and friends sampled catered food and discussed current affairs, then the mohel called us to gather around while she said prayers and then circumcised the baby.

She carried out the procedure with the help of a device called a circumcision clamp. The clamp held the baby’s foreskin in place while the mohel made the cut with a scalpel.

Once the circumcision was done, we ate cake and drank wine.

The circumcisions were a cultural event for my ex’s family. Still, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better to have waited until both our sons were eighteen. Then they could have done their own research and made their own educated decisions about whether they wanted to be circumcised or not, instead of us making the decision for them.

I’m part of a growing number of parents who question the benefits of circumcision. This, even when my sons are already circumcised.

Though circumcision is a Jewish tradition, it’s a fairly common practice in the U.S. Its prevalence has dropped significantly in recent years as more and more parents decide against it.

I’m part of a growing number of parents who question the benefits of circumcision. This, even when my sons are already circumcised.

Doctors continue to tout the advantages of the practice in ways I find to be overinflated.

Dr. Brian Morris, Professor Emeritus in the School of Medical Sciences at the University of Sydney goes as far as to say: “Infant circumcision should be regarded as equivalent to childhood vaccination.”

Really? While there’s conclusive evidence that vaccinating your children can save them from contracting dangerous diseases, the arguments that point to the health benefits of circumcision are significantly weaker.

Sure, not being circumcised has been linked to everything from increasing one’s chances of getting prostate cancer, to heightening one’s risk of contracting HIV, but still I question the merits of the practice overall.

Even if the benefits of circumcision are praised as the “near elimination of lifetime risk of penile cancer” and an “over 90 percent reduction in the risk of urinary tract infections in boys during infancy,” I remain uncomfortable about having made a decision for my sons that is irreversible and without their consent.

Most of us in this country have ready access to running water. All men have to do is to pull back their foreskin in the shower to clean underneath it.

Age-old claims such as circumcision contributing to better hygiene get weaker as the years wear on. Most of us have ready access to running water. All men have to do is to pull back their foreskin in the shower to clean underneath it.

I’ve also heard parents come at it from the angle that fathers want their sons’ penises to look like their own. If a father is circumcised, he wants his son to be circumcised, too.

But shouldn’t a boy still get to choose if he wants to keep his foreskin or not? While I adopted my father’s genes, many of his other traditions were foisted upon me against my will. Take his conservatism, his racism, his classism — no thanks. I’ll make up my own mind about the world.

Even if there are some advantages to circumcision, don’t these advantages outweigh the ethics of letting boys make their own choices in the matter? Something still tells me that such a highly personal decision as this one is something that men should be able to make on their own, not have made for them by their parents.

In my sons’ case, it’s too late. Perhaps in the future, more men will enjoy the privilege of choosing for themselves.

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I write about relationships, women’s issues, and my highly imperfect life. Learn more about me: my.bio/theformerlymrs Support: ko-fi.com/ellesilver

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