Are there benefits from circumcision?
There are several:
1 Many older men, who have bladder or prostate gland problems, also develop difficulties with their foreskins due to their surgeon's handling, cleaning, and using instruments. Some of these patients will need circumcising. Afterwards it is often astonishing to find some who have never ever seen their glans (knob) exposed before!
2 Some older men develop cancer of the penis - about 1 in 1000 - fairly rare, but tragic if you or your son are in that small statistic. Infant circumcision gives almost 100% protection, and young adult circumcision also gives a large degree of protection.
3 Cancer of the cervix in women is due to the Human Papilloma Virus. It thrives under and on the foreskin from where it can be transmitted during intercourse. An article in the British Medical Journal in April 2002 suggested that at least 20% of cancer of the cervix would be avoided if all men were circumcised. Surely that alone makes it worth doing?
4 Protection against HIV and AIDS. Another British Medical Journal article in May 2000 suggested that circumcised men are 8 times less likely to contract the HIV virus. (It is very important here to say that the risk is still far too high and that condoms and safe sex must be used - this applies also to preventing cancer of the cervix in women who have several partners.)
A BBC television programme in November 2000 showed two Ugandan tribes across the valley from one another. One practised circumcision and had very little AIDS, whereas, it was common in the other tribe, who then also started circumcising. This programme showed how the infection thrived in the lining of the foreskin, making it much easier to pass on.
5 As with HIV, so some protection exists against other sexually transmitted infections. Accordingly, if a condom splits or comes off, there is some protection for the couple. However, the only safe sex is to stick to one partner or abstain.
6 Lots of men, and their partners, prefer the appearance of their penis after circumcision, It is odour-free, it feels cleaner, and they enjoy better sex. Awareness of a good body image is a very important factor in building self confidence.
7 Balanitis is an unpleasant, often recurring, inflammation of the glans. It is quite common and can be prevented by circumcision.
8 Urinary tract infections sometimes occur in babies and can be quite serious. Circumcision in infancy makes it 10 times less likely.
What about my son?
Dads - you are responsible for discussing these matters with your sons as soon as they reach an age when you can communicate with them. And, single mums - so are you, because nobody else will do so. There is no examination of the penis in school medicals.
Your teenage sons, especially the younger ones, will have almost total ignorance. They may secretly be having problems. Maybe they wish they had been circumcised for either body image or medical reasons. Help them to be informed and aware of their options. Don't cop out, there are leaflets available to help you.
You need to check your younger sons (age 5+) and teach them hygiene and be sure all is working properly. Try to cultivate a situation in which they will be comfortable to share any concerns they may have - like soreness. Remind them to pull back their foreskins whenever they pee as it helps to keep the foreskin clean. It also makes it easier to aim and assists them to avoid spraying the toilet - just as circumcision does.
What about infant circumcision?
You need to think about this calmly, because some people are getting angry about it in the USA, even using inflamatory words like 'genital mutilation'. Make sure you are fully informed because you as the parent have the responsibility to make decisions on behalf of your child - like the big decisions about vaccinations, knowing that for long term benefit to the child and others, the pain of the injection and often the fever which follows are worthwhile.
Having read this leaflet, you are in a better position to make decisions. Circumcision can become an emergency, or the foreskin may cause considerable problems, not least when sexual intercourse starts or in older age. Remember, it may be a taboo subject for most people - but it should not be so for you.
You may feel you could help your son avoid some of these problems once and for all by having him circumcised early in life (the best time in the healthy baby is 7-10 days old). Not only is it a simpler procedure, needing no stitches, but he will not remember the event. He will also grow up never knowing anything different. Boys circumcised later in life may find it a more embarrassing experience. For a while afterwards they will feel the sensitivity of the permanently exposed glans, but will gradually adapt to it. Thus, circumcision in babyhood can be a very sensible decision - especially for a single mum with a boy and no man around the house. If you do circumcise your son, you must explain as soon as he is old enough to understand, what happened and why it was done. This helps acceptance and avoids ignorance. (I used to think some of my friends were born with a very different penis from mine until I learned about circumcision at age 13.)
You might equally sensibly decide to wait and see, but do be ready to take action quickly if problems start to arise.
If you are thinking about infant circumcision, there are leaflets describing it in detail. You would need to discuss it with the midwife or doctor before birth to plan it. You may encounter opposition - there is currently an irrational anti-circumcision culture in the medical profession. Remember- it is your choice to do what you think best for your son in the long term. If you have any difficulty arranging circumcision on the NHS, the local Jewish circumciser, (mÃ´hel - pronounced 'moil') will often oblige you (as may a Muslim doctor). Some even offer to visit and do it in your home. You can contact the Gilgal Society for a list of circumcising doctors and mÃ´hels. The procedure takes only a few minutes.
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