The big decisions: Beanie or helmet?

Circumcision. It's a big choice to make on behalf of your little man… unless it's one of those 'because God says so' things…

Young father holding crying newborn baby

Circumcision is a word that strikes fear into to heart (and genitals) of most mortal men – or it’s a rite of passage, emerging from the womb to strike an immediate covenant with God… depending entirely on your religious outlook.

So… let me save you some time, and weed out potential readers at this point.

1. If your baby is a girl, you can stop reading now. Female circumcision is seriously very, very illegal in Australia, and for very good reason. It is entirely different to male circumcision – which is why they called it ‘female genital mutilation’.

2. If your religion stipulates that all boys should have their foreskins removed, we’re not here to tell you that your religion is wrong. You’re free to believe what you want – even if that means cutting the end of your boy’s dingle off.

Okay… so we’ve removed the illegal part, and we’ve removed the religious part. Let’s get talking the actual, physical, pros and cons of snipping off the foreskin of your baby boy.

Actually… we need a quick disclaimer in here before we get down to the brass tacks of this discussion.

A lot of the medicine and science behind both sides of this argument are still up for debate.

Studies are still relatively inconclusive about the benefits of circumcision – and my job here is to wade through as much of that as I can digest and distil it down into something that will help you decide.

Which means, in the interests of fair and open journalism, I need to offer a disclaimer: I wasn’t circumcised. Neither were my two boys.

So now you know.

(Apologies to anyone who actually knows me, and really didn’t want to know that.)

The history of the snip

No one really knows when in human history it suddenly became a good idea to start chopping sensitive parts off little boys.

As best I can figure out, it started as a religious sacrifice (carried out either shortly after birth, or – more worrying – as men reached adulthood), as a means for men to experience reduced sexual pleasure (which is, quite frankly, stupid).

Another theory suggests it was done as a male counterpart to the pain of a woman having her hymen broken during her first penetrative sexual encounter (which I suspect holds about as much water as an argument as having your wife punch you in the balls every time she has a contraction during childbirth).

Regardless of the origin, circumcision became something of a fad 2500-3000 years ago – and like a lot of popular trends (fidget spinners, long hair on men, platform shoes and rampant cocaine abuse) it reached peak popularity before dying down quite dramatically over the next few decades. Or millennia… Take your pick.

Case in point, in the 1960s, about 80% of baby boys born in Australia were circumcised. Nowadays, it’s around 15%.

That being said, there have been some recent studies that suggest having a boy’s foreskin removed provides some health benefits.

Off with his head

The “cut it off” camp argue that a little pain now, can save a lot of pain later, particularly when it comes to urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Newborns are at heightened risk of contracting UTIs, as they spend a lot of time in nappies (a nice, warm, moist place where bacteria like to party).

While the research behind this is hotly debated, many studies have shown that removing the foreskin reduces the risk of UTIs in newborn boys, and that those who have been cut are ten times less likely to get a UTI than their beanie wearing counterparts.

Now, if you’ve ever had a UTI, you’ll know they’re entirely unpleasant. If you haven’t had one, I can tell you it’s like pissing razor blades, without the enjoyable precursor of dropping $20 for an evening with a lady of loose morals in a house of ill repute somewhere in south-east Asia.

They can also be very serious, and potentially life threatening if not treated quickly (it’s hard to know with babies as they can’t tell you their symptoms, but here’s a bunch of warning signs to watch for).

This is clearly, not something you would want to befall your innocent little bundle of joy, so I can understand how to some parents, circumcision might seem like the lesser of two evils (especially as once you get a UTI, you are more likely to get it again).

Several studies also claim that being cut lowers the risk of your boy contracting a bunch of other nasty infections when he grows up and begins engaging in the type of activity that brought him into this world to begin with.

We’re talking syphilis, gonorrhoea, herpes, HPV (the leading cause of cervical cancer in women), and HIV (which killed Freddy Mercury… and the world is a far less musical place without him).

Those are the proclaimed plus sides… now for the downsides.

Why was I programmed to feel pain?

Let’s start at the beginning here. If you had your foreskin snipped back when you were a baby, I can 99.9% guarantee you don’t remember it happening. But I can 100% guarantee that, at that time, you screamed your goddamned little lungs out.

You see (not so fun fact) up until the late 1980s, it was widely believed that newborns weren’t yet able to feel pain, and as a result, horrendously painful medical procedures like foreskin removal were carried without giving the poor little fellas any pain relief.

In fact, full blown surgeries were performed on babies with little more than a muscle relaxant to stop them thrashing around on the operating table.

What a nice ‘welcome to the world’ that would have been.

Thankfully that myth has been well and truly debunked, and circumcisions these days are often done using anaesthesia.

This can be using a local anaesthetic (injected into your boy’s penis) before the foreskin is surgically removed, or if your baby is a little older it may be done under a general anaesthetic (so bub’s knocked out completely, and will wake up with a sore willy).

The use of anaesthesia for religiously-motivated circumcisions is a topic of debate – but there are still some sectors of the community that perform the operation with no pain relief at all.

It makes my old fella tingle just thinking about it.

The long and the short of it…

If you do decide to give you boy the snip, please for the love of all penises engage a qualified surgeon.

Circumcisions for non-medical reasons are no longer covered by Medicare, but may be covered by your private health insurance, depending on your policy. Otherwise, having your baby cut by a qualified surgeon will run you somewhere between $400-$600.

Not a lot when you consider the potential ramifications of stuffing up such a delicate procedure.

Operating on a tiny penis is difficult, a botched job can lead to all sorts of complications, including infection, scarring, insufficient skin removal (resulting in a ‘buried penis‘), excessive skin removal (which can stunt growth and cause painful erections in later life), loss of penis (yes, I said LOSS OF PENIS!!!) and in extreme cases, death!

Circumcision can also lead to psychological trauma (very rare), decreased sexual satisfaction (not quite as rare) and “cosmetic concerns”, if the procedure wasn’t carried out with due care.

Imagine explaining all that to your son later in life.

So… what do we do?

At the end of the day, this is a choice that you, as a dad, along with your partner, will need to make.

There is evidence of health benefits. There is evidence that it’s an unnecessarily painful procedure – once any anaesthetic wears off, your little fella’s little fella is going to be sore.

So talk to your child’s mother… and think about the pros and cons.

And talk to your doctor. And by all means, consult your Priest or Rabbi…

It’s your decision as parents – just make sure you’re both on the same page when you’re making that choice.

However, as a final piece of the puzzle, it’s worth remembering that there is not a single legitimate medical organisation, anywhere in the world, that recommends routine circumcision for boys.

But then again, they also used to think babies didn’t feel pain, so…

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