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Ouch! Readers react to circumcision debate

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Boy oh boy, the whole issue of male circumcision sure is a touchy one.

Scores of readers flooded our inbox with responses to Monday’s Growing Up Healthy column, which ran with the headline, “To cut or not? Circumcision controversy flares.”

We heard from parents who flatly refused to circumcise their sons, parents who rushed to circumcise their sons and parents who are utterly conflicted over what they should do. We also heard from a number of people — both male and female — who are living with deep regrets over past decisions made about circumcision.

Many readers took exception with the comments of Dr. Mark Reiss, a retired physician and executive vice president of Doctors Opposing Circumcision — particularly with his drawing a comparison between male and female circumcision.

“What is done to females is decidedly not circumcision — it is amputation,” wrote Carol of Gainesville, Fla. “For him to compare the two either shows his ignorance of so called female ‘circumcision’ or is his attempt to employ scare tactics to advance his position.”

Others wholeheartedly embraced Reiss’ position.

“What a disgusting, barbaric practice,” wrote Emma of Boston. “Female circumcision is outlawed in the U.S., regardless of ‘cultural or religious obligation.’ Male circumcision should be treated the same. What sort of monster performs an unnecessary cosmetic procedure on an infant’s genitals?!?”

Here is a selection of additional responses from readers:

I am a physician and immediately see the benefits of circumcision. In dealing with the elderly who are not mentally intact, their hygiene is undesirable in that area, prone to infection and phimosis — a condition where the foreskin scars down and a circumcision is the only cure. I am quite happy that my two boys were circumcised, one a few days after birth by the obstetrician, the other at 2 years of age because he was an overseas adoption. Of course, I was influenced by the fact that I am Jewish, but the circumcisions were not necessarily automatic for my wife and me.
— Dr. Jeffrey Bodack, Elkins Park, Pa.

I would no sooner remove my son’s foreskin than my daughter’s labia. Frankly, I see no difference.
— Rebecca, Bettendorf, Iowa

I’m horrified that circumcision continues in the United States. It is comparable to female genital mutilation. I would never circumcise a boy! Babies deserve their bodily integrity!
— Julie, Utah

It is also important to note that there are different means by which (to) circumcise. My obstetrician did not cut my son at all. Instead, she used a plastic cap, which ended up falling off the same day that his umbilical cord did. All we had to do was clean his penis with a cotton ball soaked in water when we changed him.
— Brennan, Raleigh, N.C.

There is another option. Circumcision does not have to be performed at birth. The boy himself can decide to do it or not at an older age, depending on his circumstances. For example, if he is moving in the direction of sexual promiscuity then perhaps he should make the choice to be circumcised.
— Beth, Seattle

Thankfully, here in Canada, there is no push by the medical profession to promote an unnecessary surgical procedure which comes with often overlooked hazards. No parent has the right to alter his child’s anatomy without permission.
— Marcia, Lynden, Ontario, Canada

I strongly favor circumcision not only for the health of the male but also for the health of the male’s female partners. Studies have shown lower cervical cancer rates in women whose male partners are circumcised versus those whose male partners are uncircumcised. I suspect STD rates are also lower for such women.
— Carol, Gainesville, Fla.

Reiss’ attempt at comparing society’s reaction between male circumcision and female circumcision is not only entirely off-base, but completely irrelevant. The practice of female circumcision is so blatantly cruel and unusual that comparing the two offers the opportunity for people to argue that female circumcision has ANY place religiously, culturally or medically in a society. … There is nothing medically necessary in maiming a young girl’s genitals (and preventing) her from EVER having a normal sexual experience. How dare he try to make such a comparison.
— Alexandra, Chicago

With the continued rise in HIV cases, I believe a compelling case now exists for circumcision. I am sure any recently infected intact male would, given the facts, wish he had been circumcised.
— Dain, Detroit

My husband was circumcised five years after we were married. Before he was circumcised he had a very heightened sense of sexual pleasure, and I very much enjoyed that with him, but after the procedure he was different sexually. He physically looked the same, except for that little bit of skin missing, but emotionally he was very reserved, and it took him quite some time to get used to his new circumstance. We never talk about it … but sexually we are very different, and I can tell he wishes he had never had the procedure done. I think that for babies, if you are going to do it, go ahead and have it done, maybe — but for 30-year-old men, I would say NO.
— Faye, California

My husband and I chose not to circumcise our boys (now 6 and 5). My husband is circumcised as are his older boys (18 and 14) from a previous marriage. We were concerned the boys might consider themselves “different,” (i.e., the locker room trauma), but we felt it was not our decision to make, it was theirs. ... If they choose to have a circumcision later in life they can. We did not want to have an unnecessary and irreversible procedure performed.
— Emily, St. Louis, Mo.

Circumcision should be the choice of the boy after he becomes an adult, with no exemptions for religion. What if the boy grows up into an adult who changes to another religion or atheism that does not require circumcision? Then his right to keep the whole body he was born with has been violated.
— Brian, Nashville

Got to love the “intactivists.” Parents have no rights to determine what is best for their child in the intactivist view. What we need is government intervention since parents are too stupid to determine what is best for their child. I would point out, too, that God told the Hebrews to do circumcision because of the health benefits. … But, again, we need others to tell us all what to do. Certainly not enough of that these days, is there?
— Jim, Huntsville, Ala.

I elected not to have my son circumcised 10 years ago. I think it unnecessary, and also during my pregnancy I heard of some botched circumcisions. … Circumcision just seems to be a way for doctors to get easy money. When I informed the hospital that we wouldn’t be doing this to our son, they tried to scare me into it by signing all kinds of forms. I guess they thought that would intimidate me, but of course it didn’t.
— Cindy, Jackson, Miss.

As an expectant mother of my first son, my husband and I never considered not circumcising our son. It was not a health issue that prompted our decision; it was the issue of imagining our son in the locker room in high school and being the only boy with an “odd-looking” penis. High school is tough enough without the added pressure of having an abnormality on your genitals. Circumcision has been going on for years and all men live through it. To us, there is no decision to be made.
— Nikki, Peoria, Ill.

It’s simple. Let the males decide for themselves at adulthood and statistics would have validity. The guess here is the percentages might change.
— MGS, Troy, Mich.