The Problematic Reasons Behind Newborn Male Circumcision in America

I know most of us women at Furman expect one day to have kids. Some of you will have a girl, others a boy, or maybe both. If you end up having a boy, you’ll have to make the important decision of whether or not to circumcise your newborn. For many parents, their decision to circumcise their newborn is heavily based on appearance: they want their child’s appearance to resemble that of their family members or peers. What seems like a simple question, is actually more complicated than it sounds. 

Male circumcision is the most common procedure performed in the US. This surgical procedure is done in order to remove the foreskin (the most sensitive part of the penis which creates the most pleasure) from the penis and is commonly administered when the baby is born. Anesthetics are often used to numb the area, however this does not prohibit the newborn from experiencing pain. Restraints are also commonly used which are placed on the newborns arms and legs.

This procedure has been recommended by both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. They both claim that the benefits outweigh the risks. Some of these benefits include reduced UTI rate during the first year of life, reduced rates of HIV/AIDS in adulthood, and reduced rates of penile cancer.

UTIs are very uncommon in newborns. Around only 1% of boys will contract a UTI during their first year of life. UTIs are not a major health concern due how accessible treatment is, making complications due to a UTI extremely rare. However, the complications from circumcision are more common than developing a UTI. These complications include infection, hemorrhage, or even more serious problems.

For every 100 circumcisions performed, 1 case of a UTI can be prevented at the cost of 2 cases of hemorrhage or infection will occur. So, the question arises if a rare and harmless infection is worth preventing with a surgical procedure that has more serious risks of its own.

Reduced rates of penile cancer are also claimed to be associated with circumcision. But what the CDC doesn’t address are the multiple other causes that contribute to penile cancer, with the main one being smoking, which can skew the data. Penile cancer is also extremely rare with less than 1 in 100,000 men being affected. If we were to put this data into realistic terms, several hundred thousand circumcisions would need to be performed in order to prevent only a single case of penile cancer.

The CDC also claims that circumcision reduced the rate of HIV in adulthood. These claims are based off of several studies done in Africa that are solely focused on heterosexual intercourse, so these statistics cannot apply to gay and bisexual men. This study is problematic for a couple of reasons and should be read with a grain of salt.

The data that the CDC is relying on comes from circumcisions that are performed in another part of the world. One should never make inferences as to what data means from a study done in another part of the world. In this case, HIV is much more prevalent in Africa than it is in the U.S. More than 10% of the population is infected with HIV/AIDS while only 1/10 of 1% are infected in the U.S. There is also much more access to condoms in the U.S. than in Africa. Therefore, can we really look at these studies and perfectly relate it back to the effects that newborn male circumcision has in America?

It also is important to also take into account the lower rates of HIV in Northern and Western Europe, where circumcision is not commonly practiced like it is in America. If circumcision really impacted the rates of HIV that much, then we would expect America to have much lower rates compared to Northern and Western Europe.

On top of these faulty statistics, it is also important to consider whether or not this procedure is ethical. Newborn males are undergoing a painful and surgical procedure without their consent. This, in its own, should be compelling enough for mothers to not circumcise their newborns.

If the “health benefits” of circumcision were really that impactful, the CDC and AAP would release a universal newborn circumcision recommendation.

So, to all the future mothers reading this, there are more successful and ethical ways to reduce the rates of UTIs, HIV/AIDS, and penile cancer. The main one is to increase the quality of sex education in the U.S. which will do more good than cutting off the foreskin of a newborn’s penis without their consent.