The real reason circumcision is done to babies is because almost no adult man in his right mind would agree to it.
Guest Post by Amber Clark
I’ve been researching circumcision for over eight years. Time and time again, I hear phrases like, “it hurts more as an adult,” “babies can’t feel pain,” “he won’t remember it,” and “it’s just extra skin.”
Today, I’m going to challenge these statements with irrefutable scientific evidence.
First, let’s talk about the development of the foreskin so you can understand what an infant or adult circumcision entails. At birth, the foreskin (prepuce) is fused to the head (glans) with a membrane similar to that which adheres your nails to your fingertips.
Additionally, there’s a “ridged band” at the tip of the foreskin that functions like a sphincter to protect the urinary opening, allowing urine to flow out but nothing to come in.
During childhood, the membrane breaks down and the opening stretches by way of manual tugging done by the boy himself. Once the process is complete, the foreskin will be retractable. The average age of complete retraction is 10, but it can take through the end of puberty, or longer and may never become fully retractable.
With that in mind, here are the top 10 reasons to let your son make the decision himself as an adult:
1. Infant foreskins aren’t retractable. Because an infant’s foreskin isn’t yet retractable, the prepuce must be separated from the glans before the amputation can begin. This involves first ripping the foreskin free with a blunt probe.
Then, a slit is made to widen the opening so that a bell (either metal or plastic) can be inserted and placed over the glans to protect it from accidental amputation. Then, depending on the method, a clamp is placed or a string is tied and the foreskin is either immediately cut off or the skin is crushed and left to die.
After an infant circumcision, the entire glans is an open wound at the level of a third-degree burn, which eventually turns into a large scar.
In contrast, an adult circumcision only requires placement of a clamp (as the foreskin has likely already separated from the glans) and the wound is only a scar around the circumference of the penis.
2. Infants can’t get full anesthesia or post-op pain killers. A study published in the Journal of Urology supports the claim that adults suffer less discomfort than younger patients following circumcision. Adults also have the benefit of full anesthesia during the surgery and narcotic pain relief after.
3. Eliminate risk of cutting too much. Another benefit of waiting until adulthood is that the penis is fully grown. The surgeon can accurately determine how much tissue to remove and can leave structures, like the highly sensitive frenulum untouched.
Infant circumcisions have the additional risk of removing too much or too little tissue. Too much removed can lead to painful erections and other complications and side effects as an adult. Too little removed puts the infant at risk of developing adhesions (which occur in roughly 30% of circumcised boys) where the remaining foreskin re-adheres to the glans, as the body’s way of attempting to heal and re-cover it.
4. Infants feel pain more acutely than adults. For many years, doctors believed infants could not feel pain. Up until recently, they were even performing operations like open heart surgery babies with with no anesthesia at all.
Recent studies indicate infants actually experience pain more acutely than adults.
5. Infant partial anesthesia is almost useless. None of the methods of anesthesia ever studied have shown to fully eliminate pain. All babies who undergo circumcision experience pain and stress.
The most effective anesthesia ever studied is the dorsal penile nerve block. A study of infants who received no anesthesia compared to infants who received the DPNB showed no significant difference in blood cortisol levels; (cortisol is produced during times of extreme stress.)
Another study showed that the injection alone did not raise cortisol, so it is clear it was the pain and stress of the circumcision, not the shot.
Furthermore, use of the DPNB puts babies at risk of deep internal bruising and, in extreme cases, gangrene.
There are still doctors who will perform circumcision with only a sugar water pacifier to quiet the baby. Studies have proven sugar water does nothing to reduce circumcision pain.
6. Infant circumcision permanently alters the brain. There have also been numerous studies on painful experiences in infancy and their future effects on the brain.
Another study shows infants circumcised without anesthesia have higher pain responses to vaccines at ages 4 and 6 months than infants who had at least a topical anesthesia, and much higher than those who were not circumcised at all.
Another study took MRI images of an infant’s brain before and after circumcision, demonstrated the brain was permanently altered.
The portions of the victim’s brain that changed most intensely were those associated with reasoning, perception and emotions.
A study of rat pups indicates early injury causes more nerves to grow in the injured area. The rats were injected with an inflammatory agent into a hind paw. When they reached adulthood, they withdrew the test paw from a hot bulb much faster than rats that had been injected with saline as newborns They also had more nerves in the region.
7. Babies remember the trauma in their bodies into adulthood. It’s often believed pre-verbal children cannot form long-term memories. Some doctors and parents are starting to question this. There is strong evidence to suggest that all experiences are catalogued in the body. Dr. Alexandra Murray Harrison had this to say after attending a conference about early trauma:
“What was remarkable about the cases was the inescapable awareness that children under the age of 1-year can “remember” trauma, although they usually at least at first remember it in their bodies instead of in their minds.”
Other doctors, like Dr. David B. Chamberlain, have demonstrated that humans can remember their births. Is it such a stretch then to believe an extremely painful experience like circumcision would be remembered?
8. Not crying doesn’t mean they aren’t experiencing trauma. Many people mistakenly believe that because their infants didn’t cry, they didn’t experience distress. Dr. Berry Brazelton, a pediatrician who developed the newborn assessment, observed that newborns have different coping mechanisms. Some cry when stressed or startled. Other infants go to sleep or shut down.
Infants experiencing pain do not always cry hysterically. Many appear to be in a quiet state, yet physiological studies show they are in fact in a state of distress.
Additionally, many mothers report that their sons would not readily breastfeed or make eye contact following the procedure.
9. Nerve damage and loss of sensitivity. Circumcision causes permanent damage to the penis and nerves of the lower body. For example, only 27% of circumcised men passed a penilo cavernosus reflex test, while the reflex is present in 92% of men with intact genitals.
This is evidence that the glans of the penis is not as sensitive as the foreskin. The foreskin has many important nerves and structures not found anywhere else on the penis.
Another study showed there are no areas on the circumcised penis as sensitive as areas of the foreskin. Also, the glans of circumcised men had significantly higher pressure thresholds than the glans of intact men, showing that much higher pressures were required to obtain a response (less sensitivity).
Additionally, the study revealed that there were five areas on an intact penis that were more sensitive than any of the areas on a circumcised penis.
10. Loss of sexual function. Not only does the foreskin provide protection of the glans, it also serves important sexual functions for both partners during intercourse.
You can see an example of how the skin moves by rubbing the top of your knuckle. The skin bunches and shifts as the top finger glides back and forth over the bottom finger. Now rub the underside of your finger. The lack of movement on the underside demonstrates the loss of shaft skin mobility that circumcised men have. This can result in pain during intercourse due to increased friction for either partner, especially if the skin is very tight.
Amber is a waterbirthing, breastfeeding, co-sleeping mother of two intact sons. She volunteers as an educator with The Intact Network.