Eleven years ago, when my husband Phil and I had only been together a short time, we had a dinner party with his family, including his heavily pregnant sister. Somehow the conversation ventured into the topic of circumcision and I was surprised to hear that, if they had a boy, his sister and her husband were planning on circumcising him.
I was very much against the practice and, naively, assumed that every one at the table would feel the same way. However, I was very wrong. I discovered that I was the only one at the table who opposed the procedure and that my future husband expected we too would circumcise any boys we may have. Of course, a hot debate ensued.
I am 9 years younger than my husband, a gap that rarely separates our views, unless it comes to discussing 80s music memories. Me, Pat Benatar and Debbie Gibson. Him, Adam Ant and other weird men that wore eyeliner.
However, on this matter, our views were worlds apart. To Phil, if you were circumcised it meant years of ridicule in the school locker room. He vividly recalled how the few boys in his class who were not circumcised were routinely teased and stressed that he would never wish that on his own son.
However, I pointed out that the practice had been decreasing over the years, according to both statistics and my mum. You see, my mum has worked in childcare for the last 30 years and has changed a lot of nappies. According to her, boys who were circumcised were now in the minority. So I pointed out that if our son was done he would probably be teased for being different.
This was not the winning point in the debate I had hoped for, so it continued.
My brother in law, a country boy who works in the defence industry (read: traditional) was appalled I would even consider not having my son circumcised, leaving him at risk of infection as well as making him 'stinky'. I argued that most boys did not go off to war these days, so had access to regular showers and were quite capable of keeping clean just as women are. What about the risk of infection? he asked, describing stories he had heard of boys who had to have the procedure in late childhood due to complications.
I thought quickly, I couldn't lose now. Suddenly the answer came to me. Would you take out your child's tonsils and appendix in case it caused problems later in life? NO! Again, I thought I had it in the bag on that point but the debate was far from over.
In fact, I didn't have a hope of winning that night, or ever, in my brother in laws mind. But a few weeks later my sister in law gave birth a baby girl, so the issue was put to rest. However, 3 years later they had a boy and he was circumcised.
Four years after that we were expecting our first child, so it was time to revisit the debate. Except this time I would not be losing. In fact, there would be no debate, as there was no chance any baby of mine would be going any where near a knife. But Phil was still concerned so I proceeded to do my research, so I could convince him with facts and statistics, that didn't come from my mother. I soon discovered there was a lot of debating going on, with online forums on the topics turning into full-blown wars on some parenting sites. Even though I love a good debate even I decided to steer clear of those forums for fear of being caught in the cross fire!
But I found the info I needed and presented the case to my husband, firstly with the numbers. When Phil was born in the late 60s around 60-70% of babies were done, supporting his point that boys who were not circumcised would have been in the minority. However, in 2000 the rate of newborn boys being circumcised was just 12%, putting those boys in the distinct minority. Locker room argument won.
So on to the expert opinion. The Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Association of Paediatric Surgeons are opposed to the practice. It is now considered an un-necessary and traumatic procedure that causes pain and distress to a helpless baby, who does not have a say in what is happening to their body. So the doctors are (mostly) in agreement, but still he had reservations.
I want my son to look like me, he implored, obviously something he thought would matter to a young boy. My boobs do't look like my mums and I can't say it's ever affected me in life, I responded.
On top of all these points, I reasoned, why would males be born with a foreskin attached if it wasn't meant to be there? Whether you believe in God or science, whatever or whoever designed or bodies thought it was necessary for a reason. Also, why is female circumcision considered barbaric, yet male circumcision is acceptable?
I could see I was finally winning him over, so I pulled out the big guns and appealed to a man's most primal consideration. Sexual function.
I pointed out that the foreskin is full of blood vessels and nerves, so removing it decreases sexual pleasure. In fact, men who have had it removed later in life complain that sex is much less enjoyable without it. With that Phil picked up the phone and called his mother,
Mum, why did you get me circumcised? Do you know what you have done?
Obviously this is a funny aside to a serious topic, and of course his mother did what she thought was best at the time, just as every parent does. And, unlike many people opposed to circumcision, I do not judge those parents who chose to do it as bad people. Both my sister in law and my best friend, who had their sons circumcised, are wonderful mothers who love their sons as much as I love mine. But interestingly, they both let their husbands make the decision and if it had been up to them I doubt they would have made the same choice.
So the debate was left to rest and a few months later Phil and I were blessed with a beautiful baby boy. And as Phil stood in the hospital room, holding him tenderly, I asked him. So, do you still want to get him circumcised?
He replied, instantly , "No one with a knife is going anywhere near my son. He is perfect as he is."
And, with that, the debate was over.
Are you for or against circumcision? Did you have to debate anyone on your decision and what were your reasons for making your choice? I know this is a hot topic with a lot of strong opinions, so please keep it nice!
Comment on Amity's blog here.