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A Case Against Circumcision

Lissa Rankin's picture

When I was an intern, just starting my OB/GYN residency, someone handed me a list with a dozen names on it and said, “Go. It’s your job to circumcise these babies.” My mouth flung open. Say what?

Do you know what you just made me do to your son?

Sure enough, as it turns out, it’s the intern’s responsibility to wake up sleeping newborns, strap them down to a board that looks not unlike the electric chair (called a “circumstraint”), clamp their unanesthetized foreskins with the sterilized Gomco or Mogen instrument, and cut away the foreskins from the tips of the poor baby penises while they scream bloody murder, turn beet red, and pee in your face. I hated it. It was just awful.

The nurses would line them up, one after the other -- then, after wrapping their little post-operative pee-pees in Vaseline gauze, I would deliver them back to their Mommies. The whole time, I wanted to say, “Do you know what you just made me do to your son?”

Before doing the procedure, I always had the Mommy sign a consent form that basically says that this procedure is completely unnecessary, that it’s purely cosmetic, and that the baby might bleed, get infected, or have its penis accidentally lopped off. And they would sign away on the dotted line without blinking. It baffled me.

All in the family

During my residency, I performed at least a thousand circumcisions, many of which left me blubbering like a child because it just broke my heart to have to hurt these poor babies. When I complained about having to do them to my physician father, he said, “I’m so glad nobody ever did that to me.”

Until he said it, I had never thought about whether my father was circumcised. My family grew up pretty open about bodies and sexuality, so yes, I had seen my father naked. But I guess I’d never really scrutinized his genitalia. Then it occurred to me. I had also seen my brother naked -- and he was circumcised. If Dad was happy to be uncut, why did he choose to circumcise his son?

When I asked him, Dad said that he didn’t want Chris to feel different, and at the time, everybody was circumcising their boys.

I thought back to the Somali women I had cared for, all of which had been victims of female genital mutilation. My job as their doctor was not only to care for them but to help educate them in order to prevent them from putting their daughters through the same disfiguring surgery. When I asked them why they would want to do something so traumatic to their daughter’s genitalia, they all said, “We don’t want her to look different than the other girls.”

So we don't feel... different?

Listen to us! Why are we cutting our children so that they don’t feel different? I just don’t understand. Why did my parents feel the need to cut my brother when his own father wasn’t even circumcised? What is wrong with our bodies the way they’re born? Why do we feel the need to mutilate our bodies in the name of religion, cosmetics, or societal acceptance?

Contrary to some reports, there’s no proven medical reason to circumcise a boy (or a girl, for that matter). Pediatricians agree that, as long as a child is taught to clean under the foreskin, penises are perfectly healthy and beautiful just the way they’re made, and there’s no health benefit to surgically altering the penis.

So why do we do it? I understand that there’s a long cultural history in Judaism around circumcision, so I can cut them some slack (although there’s also a long history around cutting a woman’s genitals in Africa -- does that make it right?).  As for the rest of us, why are we even doing this? Do we think God made a mistake by creating penises with foreskins? And if we’re doing it for purely cosmetic reasons, don’t you think we should allow the child to make his own decision when he’s old enough to choose? What message are we giving our newborns? Why are we whisking them off hours after birth to have surgery -- usually with no anesthesia? What kind of welcome to the world is that?

Loving yourself exactly the way you are

If you’re a parent who chose to circumcise her sons, I’m not trying to make you feel bad. What’s done is done. You made the best decision you could at the time, with the guidance of those who were helping you make this decision, and I fully support you for doing what you thought was right. But if you don’t have kids yet or are pregnant and have to make a choice soon, please consider allowing your boys to keep the bodies they were born with.

Owning Pink is all about encouraging you to be authentic, to love yourself exactly the way you are, to appreciate and honor your bodies -- imperfections included -- and to live life with loads of mojo. Why not raise our boys to Own Pink as well? So what if your son looks different in the locker room. Encourage him to embrace his difference, to celebrate his wholeness, to honor diversity. And if he decides later on that he wants to undergo an elective, cosmetic surgery, support him in his autonomous decision but remind him that he’s beautiful and perfect just the way he is.

7 Reasons Not to Circumcise Your Baby
  1. There’s absolutely no medical reason to do so. Contrary to popular belief, circumcision does not make the penis cleaner -- it just crosses off one more area that needs attention in the shower. It doesn’t reduce the risk of STDs, bladder infections, penile cancer, or penis infections.
  2. The surgery carries risks -- and yes, while I have never been personally responsible for pulling a Lorena Bobbitt on a poor, defenseless baby, I have seen little boys get the ends of their penises cut off as the result of circumcision. And remember, if you give birth at a hospital that has residents, it’s often the intern performing the circumcision!
  3. Many swear that having foreskin helps prevent premature ejaculation and can lead to longer lovemaking.
  4. God doesn’t make mistakes -- and the body was made with foreskin.
  5. Most countries do not circumcise their boys. Why should we?
  6. A person should have the right to choose whether they undergo a purely cosmetic surgery that cannot be undone.
  7. Circumcision HURTS! While some swear that babies cannot feel, I have watched them when I cut their little foreskins. And they definitely feel pain. Maybe they don’t remember it, but somewhere in their little budding psyches, they might. Do we really want a child’s first experience in life to be this pain?

My colleague, best-selling author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom Dr. Christiane Northrup (who also wrote the foreward to my book!), agrees with me. We need to stop circumcision. We just do. It has to start somewhere. Please spread the word.

What do you think? Did you circumcise your sons? Are you glad you did? Do you wish you hadn’t? As a lover, do you prefer circumcised penises? Uncircumcised ones? Do you think we should be promoting this procedure? Banning it? Speak up -- and feel free to disagree with me! This is worth talking about.

Protecting foreskins worldwide,



Matt's picture

I like more foreskin

I appreciate the article quite a bit. I think it's extremely thoughtful and personal.

I'm an uncircumcised male who was going to high school 25 years ago when the great preponderance of boys in the locker room were circumcised. I suppose it did feel a little funny then to have a penis that looked different, however, I am still strongly in favor or not circumcising boys.

This opposition has led to tough discussions. I seem to volunteer that I'm uncircumcised whenever it comes up in conversation. For the most part, the arguments in favor of circumcision are either related to Judaism (which is probably the argument that feels the most reasonable) or aesthetics (usually with the turtle head joke thrown in) which irritates me greatly.

Honestly, I've looked a little into research about medical reasons for circumcision but not a lot. However, even if there are some reduced risks linked to circumcision, I'm still against it. (I suppose you could completely eliminate the risk of stds and hiv by removing the entire penis. That is specious argument, I'll admit, but there are probably other things you can start cutting off that would reduce certain medical risks.) I think that compromising one's genitalia is a drastic step that originated and continues not from medical need but from cultural pressure.

Further, I think the whole relationship of men (and women for that matter) to penises could be improved by loving and accepting the tangible and intangible aspects of manhood.

Amy Barton's picture

Glad you cut no more!

And I love this bit:

"I remember in my training they taught me to go to the Spanish speaking patients (who couldn't understand a word of what I said) and just ask "Circum-cision? No circumcision?. Most Latinas don't circumcise their babies- and many have never heard of it. So when they looked at me with curious, confused eyes, I let my bias come through. "El pepe- (then I made a guillotine motion). And they'd say "No! No! No circumcision!" Mission accomplished."

It was also interesting to read the response from the mother who protected her son from his -intact- father who wanted him circumcised. You don't often see this argument, as most intact men value their foreskins. And too bloody right - having a hang up over your own genitals is not a good reason to cut your child's.

I'll come clean here - I had a genital hang up myself. I have long labia minora (or so I think, and longer than the labia majora) and my best friend when I was a child didn't, and none of the (airbrushed and probably cosmetically altered) women in pornographic magazines did either. I was convinced I was a freak. I've heard people say horrible things about women with long labia minora, that they sleep around and all kinds of crap. I didn't even want my -midwife- to see. I was seeing a counsellor for other reasons at the time and this came up - she loaned me a fantastic book with photographs of other vulvae, of women of all ages and races. There were *plenty* that looked like mine. However, even if there hadn't been - there is no way I would have had my daughter's labia trimmed. Ever.

I love my man's foreskin. I love HIM, as a person, and I've never judged anyone for their genitals, but it was definitely on the 'nice to have' list, and I was excited to find out he was whole. A bit like his engineering degree, or a million dollar mansion. He doesn't have a million dollar mansion, but I'd still prefer the foreskin, given a choice - it holds its value during a credit crisis ;-)

Lippy Girl's picture

hurting newborns does do long term damage

Lissa, I loved this post but on one key thing you're wrong. It's not a 'might' that pain inflicted in the neonatal period could damage a person - it's a 'does'.

The leading neurological research in this area has shown that not only do newborns feel pain more keenly and for longer than an older child or adult, but that it leaves a permanent neurological scar..


The fact that they can't consciously recall it is a total red herring. Babies' neurology is underdeveloped and uniquely vulnerable.

I find it amazing frankly that the American medical profession continues to ignore the guidance on pain relief being needed in circumcision, and the evidence that not to do so is massively damaging. As a comparison in Britain a doctor could be struck off the register if he was found to be doing unanaesthetised surgery on babies. In Sweden a doctor could go to jail for doing what you did - even to just one baby, nevemind 1,000.

As a comparison, even in an American context, would you have done sex reassignment surgery on a girl baby without anaesthetic? Even just labiaplasty? I'm sure the very idea horrifies you...

I can only see it as institutional misandry that we allow pain of this degree and seriousness to be inflicted on boys ...just because they're boys. As Fleiss pointed out in the lancet the cortisol and heart rate changes in a boy being circumcised are consistent with torture.

Lissa Rankin's picture

No, I don't perform circumcisions

Thanks for your comment. No- I was forced to do circumcisions for four years in my training, but the minute I was allowed to make my own choice, I decided not to do them. The last one I did was 11 years ago. It was an easy decision for me. I never believed it was right but unlike choosing whether or not to do abortions, I wasn't given the option of whether or not to do circumcisions, which I thought was wrong.

Anyway, foreskins are safe with me around!
Thank you all for being here.
With love and gratitude,

Amy Barton's picture

This is an excellent blog

This is an excellent blog Lissa, especially considering your profession. I hope that you're not performing circumcisions any more though. I believe that doctors are responsible for the continuation of this unethical practice. A doctor needn't perform a surgery just because a patient demands it, let alone the patient's parents or caregivers. The same doctors probably wouldn't circumcise a baby girl. They need to be informing parents that it is unnecessary and carries dire risks, for a start - that is what informed consent is about. Then, they should refuse to do it, and refuse to assist in finding a doctor who will. If this stance was taken by the majority of physicians currently performing infant circumcisions, the rate would drop dramatically almost overnight.

That is what happened here in New Zealand, more or less, around the time of my birth. For a while, just about anyone could take a knife to an infant's penis - they were even done by the community nurses who saw the babies for weigh-ins. Once it was accepted that circumcision was unnecessary, it stopped being covered by our public health system (few have medical insurance here). Then, it was no longer performed in public hospitals. Parents now have to seek one of a few cosmetic surgeons and urologists who will do it, for a fee, but few do. I know no one who has ever needed as an adult for medical reasons. I know of no one, including my brother, who cared a whit about looking different from dad (most couldn't tell you if their fathers were circumcised or not). I know not a single man who has had a problem with his foreskin, ever. My partner has a foreskin that is not completely retractable - the first I'd seen - and he never knew there was anything different about it. It doesn't limit him sexually or otherwise.

As a woman, and a woman born of a generation where half my partners have been intact and half circumcised, I cannot speak highly enough of the benefits of a foreskin for both men and women during sex. Having experienced both, I can say that it's not normal for sex to hurt and chafe. It's not normal for a woman in her twenties to need artificial lube. It's not normal for both oral play and sex to be rough. It's not normal for a man in his thirties to have all but lost interest in sex.

My intact partners have been able to make love to me. It has been a gentler, more sensual, more reciprocal experience. I haven't come away with a cervix that has been banged, or vaginal walls that are chafed or bruised. The difference can be stark - like the difference between the smooth piston motion of an engine and a jackhammer. It's not that a circumcised man can't be gentle - but generally, gentle doesn't feel as good to him. I like my partner to enjoy sex too. As a woman in an engineering field, I also like my 'toys' to have all their clever working parts! It's possible for something to function without all the parts it was intended to have - but ultimately, they're all there for a reason, and just as driving a manual transmission car is more enjoyable with a clutch, sex is more enjoyable with a foreskin.

Devin's picture

No Circumcision for children

Here is an American Male’s response…
The amputation of a male child's nerve enriched prepuce is a penile reduction surgical procedure that unfortunately still infects our civilized, capitalistic, and so-called "equal rights" society. Not only is the circumcision of male infants and young boys considered a human rights violation by many, it's a men's health issue and perpetuates an irrational belief in America that all little boys are somehow born imperfect or faulty requiring surgical correction of their penises upon birth ! This idea is a sick one and is absurd to not only me, but the vast majority of people on earth.

Evolution and God has perfected the human body making every part sacred, miraculous, useful and functional. Circumcising male children is medically unnecessary, disfiguring, disabling, unnatural, non-Christian, abusive, unethical, painful, and a profit driven surgical procedure confronted by parents of newborn boys in most American hospitals, especially in the mid-western states. It's a "cure" still in search of an identifiable disease. Most parents have and are given minimal knowledge about the appalling history, unjustifiable reasons, and adverse consequences of circumcision. Many parents and many physicians in America acknowledge the male prepuce as an "extra flap of skin" and are uneducated about its protective, sensory, and essential sexual functions. In my view, all lack common sense and many also lack the courage and intuition to follow their maternal / paternal instinct to protect children from easily avoidable harm, enough said.

I am grateful that the male newborn circumcision rate in America continues to decline with the current rate in 2010 being about 50%. I am also grateful that ALL national and international medical associations DO NOT recommend the practice of routine childhood circumcision for both boys and girls! I am deeply saddened and vitriolic that many Americans encourage and welcome circumcision surgeries for male children due to parents' personal preference and ignorance, cultural or societal influence, physicians’ profits, numerous other irrational reasons, or flip of a coin.

Best Regards and Many Blessings to all perfectly born Intact little boys and the parents and physicians who leave them that way!

V.Kerr's picture

That's the way God made it

I completely agree...if there was no purpose for a foreskin than why are perfect little baby boys born with theirs intact? We have made the choice as parents to not perform an unnecessary surgery. I believe that if my sons want their foreskins removed than they can make that decision!
Sorry you have received so much heat over this post.


Lissa Rankin's picture

Thank you for your support

For those of you who have come out and expressed support for my right to take a stand, THANK YOU! For those of you who think I'm off my rocker, I appreciate your right to take a stand against me. And Joe, you're right, the HIV/circumcision data is controversial. That's why I included the CDC's position statement on it (a source I trust).

Thank you all again for being here.
I'm glad to know there's such vital lifeforce here as we all speak our truth.
With love

Lissa Rankin's picture

Nicole, I'm asking you kindly to be gentle

I know you're all riled up about this conversation, but everyone else has just as much right to their opinion as you do. Please stop badgering others who express views you don't believe in. If you'd like to contribute and participate in a loving way, you're welcome here. Please keep that in mind as you continue this conversation. I haven't deleted anyone's comments so far and I don't need guidance on how to moderate this, so please refrain from trying to censor anyone else's right to express their opinions.

Thank you for understanding our policies and thank you for being here with us!

Nicole's picture

I started reading this blog

I started reading this blog because I loved the articles about personal empowerment. Now it's become obvious that this is a place where Jew bashers can feel comfortable. The comment I pointed to was flat out unacceptable. There was no reason for that commenter to point out that this supposedly terrible doctor was Jewish. Just like there would be no reason for her to point out "by the way, this person was BLACK" or "by the way, this person was MUSLIM." If you think that you are supporting an inclusive environment here by asking me to pipe down, you are mistaken.

You seem to be angry that some people are responding negatively to your ideas. But you took that risk when you decided to publish these thoughts on the internet. I have NOT violated any of your terms of use and I resent the suggestion that I have done so. However, I am happy to never visit your blog again.

With "love"

Anonymous's picture

You are right

Nicle you are right, and no one should have brought that up. I support you!


Stacey Curnow's picture

For me, it's an issue of consent

Wow! I came late to the party, but I'm delighted to see such passionate discourse is still taking place!

I only had a moment to skim the comments, and I love that there are so many diverse views represented. I hope everyone who comes here knows that we support everyone's right to speak their truth...even if their voice shakes. :-)

For me, whether or not to circumcise my son came down to an issue of consent. I was unwilling to subject my child to an invasive medical procedure for a non-life-threatening issue. If he decides to have the procedure when he can express consent, we will support him.

In any matter related to my child I try my best to gather information to make an informed decision. I believe all parents do the best they can with the information they have. That said, I think (to quote Maya Angelou) when we know better we do better.

Although I would never want anyone to feel negatively judged for making what is, always, a very personal and private decision, I applaud Lissa for writing such a compelling and informative article. Thank you, Lissa!!! Much love, s

Stacey is a purpose and success coach who helps you give birth to your BIG dreams. To find your purpose and passion, check out her FREE eBook, The Purpose and Passion Guidebook.

Laurie Erdman's picture

A tough choice


Thank you for writing about this. You have clearly hit a nerve for some. The thing that is so special about Owning Pink is you have created a place where we can respect each other's opinions and hold the space for them to do so safely without attack. Hopefully that mission continues as new people contribute to the conversation.

Clearly not everyone agrees about this subject. For me, I have never had to make this decision. What I can relate to however, is being a young professional being forced to do something that you are not comfortable with, but are within a power structure that doesn't accept no for an answer. That is a terrifying place to be in. From the outside, people expect us to be perfect and make perfect decisions. But the reality is much more complicated. The courage to stand up to these power structures is something that can only come with time.

For you and all the others who have commented who have performed circumcisions or had their son's circumcised, please don't beat your self up. We are all human. That means we make mistakes, but it also means we can learn. As you have.

With love and light,

Cheers to being free,


Go to www.LaurieErdman.com to download an excerpt of my current creative project: Exiting The Hamster. 

Janet's picture

Amen!! Nearly 27 years ago,

Nearly 27 years ago, my then-husband and I adopted a 7 month old boy from Korea. He was, of course, uncircumcised. When asked if we wanted to have him circumcised, I was horrified - I couldn't imagine doing that to a child who was 7 months old and who was just learning to trust me....

A couple of years later I gave birth to a son -- and also chose to NOT circumcise him. My then-husband suggested that we should circumcise him because he was circumcised... my response... but his BROTHER is not... and why would we want/need to do that?

My sons are now in their 20's... they have grown up with friends who are and are not circumcised... it's never been an issue... they've played sports, taken PE in school, etc... and it's never been an issue....

Hopefully, both of them, if and when they have children, will choose to not circumcise their sons either... I just can't imagine one good reason!

Anonymous's picture

So he'd look like his father

Great article, Lissa!! I regret the decision to have my son circumcised. The most ridiculous reason people give for doing it? "So he'd look like his father." Seriously, Dads, how often do you and your sons stand around checking out each others penises?

Dee's picture

A circumcised friend of mine

A circumcised friend of mine said to his uncircumcised son "When I was born they did a surgery on me to take off that part of my penis. We decided not to do it to you". Seems a perfectly simple explanation. The child's response? "THANKS!"

Anonymous's picture

Response to: A circumcised friend of mine

I just Laughed out Loud at that response! I love it! It makes the child feel happy that he wasn't...well..mutilated. I just read that article fighting back tears because I did circumcize my little angel. I had never read "reasons not to" and just always assumed that it was the cleanliest for them as adults and really didn't think of the possibility that somethign would be "lobbed" off. I will not be having anymore children so I am thankful i will not have to make that decision ever again!

Lissa Rankin's picture

Thank you, with love

To all of you who have engaged in this conversation, I just want to express my gratitude. One of my missions in life is to get people talking about the things we tend to keep closeted. This is not always easy. In fact, it's been scary as hell for me to get to the point where I'm willing to put my long-held personal opinions out there on the internet, exposing me to personal and professional criticism But I'm willing to do it. Why? Because these things matter to me.

Keep in mind that is "A Case Against Circumcision." I am not a zealot. I am an independent thinker who does my research about challenging and controversial topics and then forms a well thought out opinion (note emphasis on the word OPINION). I could have also written A Case FOR Circumcision. Remember the debate team, where you're forced to take a stand on either side? This is my stand against circumcision because, in general, that's the side of the controversy I stand on.

But I appreciate and value your differing opinions and am grateful to engage the conversation.

Thank you for understanding what we at Owning Pink are all about. Our site is different than most because here, underlying everything we do, is love. We hold sacred the opinions of others, even when we disagree with them. We see you with what we call "magical eyes' and value you for the spirit you are, not just the mind that argues controversial issues.

So thank you for being here among us.
With love and gratitude,

Lissa Rankin's picture

Follow up to Concerned

You've got me thinking (THANK YOU for that!)
And it occurs to me that, although this is taking the argument to absurd proportions, bilateral mastectomy and breast reconstruction, for the most part, prevents breast cancer, and yet we don't advocate this as a routine procedure.

Just sayin'...

Lissa Rankin's picture

Dear Concerned

This is a blog- not a medical research article- and thus I have not included references. By definition, this is an op-ed piece, not a review article for the New England Journal.

However, you are right. There is some evidence that male circumcision may reduce the spread of HIV. A review of the literature is here:

From a public health perspective, this may confer some advantage, but at what price? The article also lists the risks of male circumcision, but doesn't begin to go into the psycho-social-sexual risks. If men think they are at risk for HIV and do not wish to take other precautions to avoid contracting it- like using condoms when they engage in high risk behaviors, then they can choose to be circumcised when they are adults able to make a conscious choice. Yes, it is a bigger surgery, but shouldn't they have the right to make that decision themselves?

For your additional review, here is the policy statement on circumcision from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

This blog is simply my opinion, something I have the right to share.

Joe's picture

Additional Reply to "Concerned"

Lisa I might also add in response to the poster "concerned" that the HIV work he references only draws conclusions under very narrow circumstances. That is countries with high prevalence of HIV being spread primarily by heterosexual sex, F->M more specifically. The situation in the US is entirely different and the conclusions drawn from that work cannot be rationally applied to the situation in the US, or most other countries for that matter.

Dad's picture

Do it now or do it later

We had both our sons circumcised and I'm glad we did. Their grandfather just had a circumcision at the age of 68 because his diabetes was causing his foreskin to tighten. I think I would much rather be circumcised as a baby then have to go through it as an adult.

Caden Canyon's picture

Gender INequality

Okay, this is going to be a tad bit snarky, but I think warranted:

And would you remove a daughter's breast buds at puberty by the off-off-chance she'll have breast cancer?

And what if she doesn't ever get it? You denied her a lifetime of enjoyment that come with having intact breasts.

Uh-huh. Same thing here. And even IF they _were_ to need one in their 60's, what ever happened to "burning that bridge when you get to it".

Whenever I read "reasoning" like yours, the bells and whistles that go off in my mind is coddling the selfish, gutless insecurities of the cut daddy in the life, which just makes the innocent suffer. That's _real_ shame, IHMO!

Some time in 1980's, the Australia Academy of Pediatrics concluded that circumcision was NOT necessary and the circ rate almost _immediately_ PLUNGED... despite all those cut Aussie daddies.

Hmm... a shame it seems a majority (?) of American and Canadian daddies simply WON'T put their sons' best interests _first_!

If this "grand daddy got his appendix out at 50, so we're going to remove yours at birth to 'save you the 'trouble'..." were to happen in Mexico, you know what would happen to the kids? NOTHING!!!!! Any by appendix, _of_ _course_ I'm talking about the foreskin. Again, I go "tsk" to the mindset of US/Canada daddies.

Okay, that was snarky than I had inticipated, but I think I make VERY gooood sense to "cut at birth to avoid future problems". That's just CRAZY!

Melissa Haynie's picture

do it while they are young?

I truly don't understand the idea that it is better to circumcise an infant while he is young... simply because he is young and it is assumed that because he can't VOCALIZE much that he doesn't remember it. Every man or little boy who is in true NEED of the surgery later in life has had it done with general anesthesia... and then got pain medication to follow up. By contrast an infant is often times put through this unnecessary surgery without anesthesia ( and local if they use it) and then it is followed up with Tylenol... if the care giver REMEMBERS to give it to him. I am always baffled when someone says that it is better to do it when he is a baby: so that on the OFF chance that he needs it later in life he doesn't have to suffer what pain is leftover after the numerous interventions that are given to him as an adult. Interventions by the way that are not offered to the infant who is only a few days in this world.

Dee's picture

If babies could scream the

If babies could scream the words "PLEASE don't cut my penis- it hurts!" the way an older person can, then the 'do it when they are babies' argument would be moot. Just because they can't form the words doesn't mean they don't think it, feel it, or remember it.

Nicole's picture

The mere fact that something

The mere fact that something makes a child scream does not mean that we should not do it. When my brother was 4 he needed to get a certain shot (I can't remember what, but my mom says it was routine). He screamed when the nurse injected the needle into his rear, grabbed it and threw it across the room. Honestly, I don't think his reaction was that unreasonable for a child, but that doesn't mean that he didn't need the shot.

My point? We hurt our children all the time for medical reasons. The fact that a baby screams when this procedure if performed is not, alone, enough reason for this procedure to be outlawed.

Dee's picture

Ah - but there is very rarely

Ah - but there is very rarely a medical reason to cut a baby's penis.

Nicole's picture

In my opinion there are valid

In my opinion there are valid non-medical reasons for doing so.

Dee's picture

There are valid non-medical

There are valid non-medical reasons for performing surgery on a baby? Wow. How about nose jobs and lipo?

Nicole's picture

Dee, I'm Jewish. As I've

Dee, I'm Jewish. As I've stated elsewhere in the comments, Judaism requires that males are circumcised in the 8th day of their life. Thus, it is religiously required. That is a valid non-medial reason for performing a surgery on a baby.

Anonymous's picture

Nicole, people need to stop

Nicole, people need to stop cutting off babies' functional body parts for whatever reason. PERIOD. How would you like it if someone cut off your clitoris without your permission when you were a baby because religion called for it. . Men with intact penises who have their beautiful foreskin protecting the delicate area of the glans are going to have a billion times the pleasure of men who don't have that wonderful organ intact. God help anyone who defends the mutilation of a child and bring them to the light of truth.

Theresa's picture

Honest Question, no offense meant...

My husband (who was raised Christian, but whose family is all Jewish) asked why Jews no longer make animal sacrifices. His aunt (a very intelligent and devout Jew) said it was because the Jews are in exile. That when the Messiah comes they will once again resume animal sacrifices. Have you heard this? Could this reasoning be applied to circumcision? (I did not want to ask his family, as I did not want to offend them)

We have a daughter, but if we ever have a son, we are both in agreement to not circumcise. However, I am constantly at odds in my head about human rights for babies and freedom of religion (for EVERYONE) I feel very strongly about both issues (my current opinion is that hospitals should stop doing them, and only Mohels should perform them... but I know this is an imperfect solution...)

I look forward to your response. I am curious and respectfully await your reply.

Amy Barton's picture

I feel strongly about religious freedom too

However, it is clear in the International Declaration of Human Rights, and in the human rights legislation of most countries, that the right to practice a religion ends where the fundamental human rights of others are infringed upon. Obviously, even if your religion dictates that an adulterous woman (who may have been raped) should be stoned to death, her rights are being infringed upon, and her rights in that situation must be considered more important. The same is true of genocide where people of one religion seek to wipe those of another from the face of the earth. The same is true of rape within the institution of marriage, which was legal where I am (in a largely secular country with Christian roots) until the mid 1980s. The same is true of circumcision. No one has rights over someone else's body.

I don't follow a particular religion, but I don't consider myself an atheist. I can see merit in aspects of all the world's religions. There is wisdom and beauty in their teachings, and common threads that run through all of them. It saddens me that people use religion to justify atrocity, injustice and cruelty rather than choosing to look deeper. To then label someone anti-Christian or anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic because they can see this for what it is is insulting.

Nicole's picture

Theresa, Thank you for your

Thank you for your question, it made me feel welcome here. I wish I could answer it. My understanding is that animal sacrifices are no longer performed becaue people just kind of don't want to kills animals in the name of god anymore. The bigger question for me has always been: Why did they sacrifice animals in the first place? What did they get out of doing that?
But I suspect there are different answers to this question for Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform.

I don't know that the same "reasoning" applies to circumcision. Circumcision is a huge thing in Judaism... as I mentioned elsewhere, there is a popular misunderstanding that the Jewish practice of circumcision is "cultural" or "traditional" the way that FGM is in certain parts of Africa and the Middle East. For us, it is actually commanded by god. You've heard of the 10 Commandments? Judaism teaches that there are actually 613 divine commandments in all - kind of like the Bill of Rights are the 1st ten Amendments to the US Constitution then there are more amendments after that. Circumcising a newborn male on the 8th day of his life is one of these commandments. The "brit milah" (or circumcision ceremony) is so important, it overrides observance of Shabbat and all the major holidays.

Why does Judaism command that newborn males are circumcised? I don't think anyone really knows. Circumcising male children probably prevented some kind of disease or rashes in ancient times would be my guess. I'm just guessing though. Why do Jews continue to do "brit milah" if circumcision is no longer thought to be medically or hygenically necessary? Because it is an important part of our culture, God said so, etc etc. I know that a lot of Jewish people are on the fence about it though. My rabbi once mentioned that he and his wife were in tears when they did it to their first son. That is why I find this debate so interesting. I definitely don't see it as being black and white like many others do.

Anonymous's picture

Isn't there also a Jewish

Isn't there also a Jewish commandment to not mark the body? To not cause pain to innocents?

Circumcision does both these things. So how can you follow these commandments when theyr'e in direct conflict?

If circumcision holds some value as an agreement between a man and god, then the man himself ought to enter into that agreement, don't you think? This is the difference between a person truly agreeing with god, and being forced to agree with god.

Look at another, less extreme example. Say someone ruins your vegetable patch. Do you want them to be forgmarched around by their parents and forced to say the words "I'm sorry", or do you want them to come to you of their own vollition, with genuine remorse?

So why would god prefer a man to be forced into some covenant with him, rather than coming to him as a grown man, and deciding to enter into that agreement? Leave your men with the choice.

After all, Abraham himself was circumcised as an adult, but he still had a covenant with god, didn't he?

And if those men, having experienced the incredible value of their foreskin, decide that sacrificing parts of their bodies isn't necessary to be at peace with god, then that's acceptable too. After all, there are Jews who aren't circumcised - are you going to say they somehow aren't Jewish enough?

Some of the strongest opposition to circumcision comes from Jews, which I think is fantastic.

In response to the easily flung accusations of anti-semitism, this is rubbish. It's not anti-Semitic at all. In fact, it's the opposite. I believe that newborn Jewish boys are just as precious as non-Jewish boys. So I don't think any of them should be subject to genital interference.

anon's picture

"Isn't there also a Jewish

"Isn't there also a Jewish commandment to not mark the body? To not cause pain to innocents?"

Where does it say this in the Torah? Please enlighten us as to the implications of Jewish law on this issue, it sounds like you THINK you know a lot about it.

Anonymous's picture

Circumcision Resource Centre

Actually I don't think I know a lot about it at all, and I see no need for your aggression.

I have, however, read about this from a Jewish resource centre.

Go here if you want more information:


It is there that they refer to commandments such as not marking the body.

It doesn't surprise me in the least to find that the Jewish religion, like every other, has contradictory commandments, as well as plain irrational ones, and casual disregard for human rights. This is why we need to move on from blindly following religious diktats.

Anonymous's picture

I'm sorry you read

I'm sorry you read "agression" into my comment. The website you recommend is interesting, but posting a link to a specific website is not a defense of your case.

Anonymous's picture

You asked where I got the

You asked where I got the information I had cited, so I gave you the link to the site where I got that information. This is the best I can do, since I am not familiar with the ins and outs of people's holy books, so I pointed you to someone who was familiar with the book you reference, and had compiled information about it.

I'm sorry this doesn't satisfy you, but if you're genuinely interested, then the information is there and all you need do is read it.

edouard's picture

Over the past 200 years,

Over the past 200 years, Judaism has very much been in evolution.

Only the orthodox agree that, in principle, all 613 commandments extracted from the Tanakh are still binding. Only the ultra-orthodox try hard to apply all these commandments, and even they have set animal sacrifice aside.

Somewhere, sometime, in the past 150 years, the Conservative wing of Judaism was founded. Reform began in 19th century Germany. In 1892, this German Reform movement abolished the requirement of circumcision for adult male converts. A large majority of Reform Jews are now North American, and most North American Reform rabbis still require that an adult convert be circumcised. Sometime in the middle of the last century, in the USA, the reconstructionist movement began.

That having foreskin amounts to a betrayal of Judaism is a provincial North American notion. Many Jews are not very religious, are strongly committed to values derived from natural and social science enquiry, and believe in an enlightened perspective on human sexuality. All this militates against bris. Nearly all non-orthodox Jews are strongly committed to sending their children to public secular schools. Most Jewish parents accept military service by young men as an obligation of citizenship. In cultures where the educated middle class do not circumcise, it is less embarrassing in school and in barracks if a Jew retains his foreskin. Jewish parents quietly know this and so in parts of the world where educated gentiles are intact, there are at least some intact Jews.

Philip Roth is a very accomplished American Jewish intellectual. There is zero evidence that he belongs to a temple. His writings do not betray much belief in God. For Roth, Jewishness is almost entirely an ethnographic and sociological matter. But Roth has written that he has difficulty with the idea of raising an intact son, and claims that his male Jewish friends concur. Roth has revealed that he stares at the uncircumcised penises he sees in the locker room of his swim club (which I gather is NOT a YMHA). This is revealing of the sexual psychology of circumcision; we do it because seeing foreskin unsettles the lecherous parts of the minds of those of us accustomed to circumcised. We cut our boys so that we won't stare at them and let inappropriate thoughts fill our minds when we see them naked. Boys are cut so that their parents don't have to leave their comfort zones. This is, at heart, selfish, especially if the bits sacrificed to circ enhance the sexual experience. All this has nothing to do with God, and a great deal to do with Sigmund Freud, who declined to circumcise his own sons.

Dee's picture

So cut their penises now just

So cut their penises now just in case they get diabetes? How about keeping their penises intact and preventing diabetes?

Anonymous's picture

Have their mothers watch...

If a parent is set on having their newborn boy circumcised, then have them not only sign the consent form, but be present for the procedure.

Most people have no clue as to what their baby endures in this procedure. Let them see for themselves the suffering he must endure in the interest of their priority (and cowardice) that he is 'like all the other little boys.'

Anonymous's picture

Have their mothers watch...

If a parent is set on having their newborn boy circumcised, then have them not only sign the consent form, but be present for the procedure.

Most people have no clue as to what their baby endures in this procedure. Let them see for themselves the suffering he must endure in the interest of their priority (and cowardice) that he is 'like all the other little boys.'

Concerned's picture

Very Sad

Dr. Rankin,

I am sorry you are so grossly misinformed about the practice of male circumcision. I also think you are violating the Hippocratic oath by proselytizing your own invalid opinions on a blog. You include zero references, and thus your blog is entirely lacking in all credibility.

As a licensed physician and a member of UNAIDS, I think it would be fair to remove this post.

Please - read further into the research, all highly
evidence based proof that the one, consistently proven biomedical intervention that is highly protective (60-80% protective effect) against acquisition of HIV and all other ulcerative STIs, is male circumcision (MC).

Moreover, FMG is very distinct from MC, have far different risks involved, and each of the two have very unique histories of evolution.

Do the right thing.

Anonymous's picture

I find it appalling that

I find it appalling that doctors are so woefully uninformed about science...

What's the risk of contracting HIV if a man has unprotected sex with no-one other than HIV positive partners?

It's around 10%. So each man is already 90% "protected" from HIV. The 60% "protection" cited by the pro-circ lobby is RELATIVE, not ABSOLUTE protection. So they're 60% more protected than an intact man, which drops the risk of infection to about 4-5%.

Add in safe sex practices, which offer 99% protection from HIV, and this 60% figure becomes an ACTUAL figure of around 0.6%. Suddenly it doesn't sound so good, does it? And it's because the reality doesn't sound so good that instead the pro-circ lobby are quoting the relative figure, which few people outside of a scientific context (apparently including doctors) understand.

Even IF the relative figure given was true, that there was a 60% protection rate, if you put forward a drug on the market with a 40% failure rate, you'd be laughed out of town.

We need to stop forcing bodily modification on people and start teaching safe sex properly - that is the best way of reducing AIDS. Telling men that circumcision protects them leads to them not practising safe sex (this is already happening in parts of Africa!) and so getting MORE STIs. Furthermore, circumcision INCREASES the risk of male to female transmission, totally countering any slight benefit.

As if all this wasn't enough! STIs are an adult disease. Infants are not sexually active. Why not let men choose when they're adults whether they'd like to keep their penis whole and use a condom, or have a bit of it chopped off (and STILL have to use a condom!).

I could go on more about the flaws in the experiments and the faulty conclusions that the pro-circ lobby use, but I feel I'd be wasting my time when talking to people who have already made their decision (that circumcision is good) and are just looking for a plausible sounding excuse.

This doesn't take much rational thought. Sadly rational thought it apparently lacking in many areas. how can we expect doctors to protect their patients (clue, the CHILD, not their parents!) when they don't even understand the scientific basis of what they're doing?

Michael's picture


Very Sad, you accuse Dr. Rankine of giving zero references to support her position, but neither have you.

Please cite studies which have objectively examined the risks and benefits of female circumcision when carried in a manner comparable to the male circumcision studies.

Please cite studies that show an 80% protective effect for male circumcision re HIV acquisition. (My understanding is that the Orange Farm, Kisumu and Rakati studies showed a 60%, 53% and 55% reduction respectively.)

Please explain why majority uncircumcised Europe, Japan and Australia has a lower incidence of AIDS than majority circumcised USA.

Please explain why the following countries have a higher HIV incidence amongst circumcised as opposed to uncircumcised :
Cameroon (4.1% vs 1.1%)
Ghana (1.6% vs 1.4%)
Lesotho (22.8% vs 15.2%)
Malawi (13.2% vs 9.5%)
Rwanda (3.5% vs 2.1% )
Swaziland (21.8% vs 19.5%)
Tanzania (6.5% vs 5.6%)


michael's picture


Thanks for the great article Lissa. But I just can't get my head around the way you have effectivley condoned this procedure as a doctor. Why are parents asked if they want their children circumcised? Is it any different from asking parents if they want their children's appendix removed (in absence of symptoms of disease)?
Why not wait for parents to ask doctors rather than vice versa ? Hasn't the issue been raised with decision makers at the hospital ? Isn't it unethical to ask parents if they want an unnecessary operation performed ?

Steve's picture

When will doctors find the moral courage to end the practice?

Thank you for the great article.

I pray that one day soon American doctors will find the moral courage to end the practice of non-religious, non-therapeutic male circumcision in the United States. I pray that more and more interns will become conscientious objectors and refuse to participate in male genital cutting.

In my opinion today's doctors have a moral responsibility to end a harmful practice that members of their profession introduced into American society and promoted for decades.

Joseph4GI's picture

The Bigger Question

This is the last one, I promise.

Usually, before surgery can even be administered, the doctor has to determine that it is absolutely necessary. There must be a medical condition for which there is absolutely no other alternative. Otherwise it is elective, non-medical procedure.

Without any medical condition present whatsoever, can doctors even be performing circumcisions in healthy newborns, let alone be giving parents any kind of "choice?"

In conning an adult for money for a medically unnecessary procedure, this would constitute medical fraud. I'm not sure what it's called conning naive parents into letting doctors needlessly mutilate their children. Wouldn't that be called "professional abuse," since they are taking advantage of parental naivete to pawn a procedure on them their child doesn't need?

My opinion of circumcision is that it is nothing less than child rape. We have been out of the dark ages for quite a while now. We have the internet. We have a limitless stream of information. It is impossible for doctors to "not know" anymore, that what they are doing is wrong.

Lissa, when you were first starting out, I could understand that you did what you did because as someone who was learning you had to do as you were told. Like parents who simply submitted their children up for sacrifice, you simply didn't know any better.

It sounds like you do now, and are rightfully speaking out against this. But it is my hope that you do not continue to do this "because his parents made you do it."

There is simply no excuse.

It is my wish that you have developed the honesty and integrity to refuse to mutilate healthy, non-consenting children any longer.

As someone who is now armed with knowledge, it is your duty to conscientiously object to do this. And I hope that you do. Otherwise I can't be asked to take a single word you've posted on this blog seriously.

Joseph Lewis
Stockton, CA

Joseph4GI's picture

When are doctors and "researchers" going to move on?

This will be my last comment; I realize I'm taking up space and need to let others speak:

But have you noticed the latest hullaballoo concerning male circumcision and HIV prevention?

It seems the difference between surgery and mutilation is "medical benefits," real or speculative.

There doesn't seem to be enough "studies" on circumcision to "see" just what it "could" or "might" prevent.

But by the same token there seems to be an underwhelming presence of "studies" regarding female circumcision.

A common refrain I hear among advocates of male circumcision is that "male circumcision has benefits; female circumcision doesn't have benefits."

I would like to begin by stating how ridiculous I think it is to be "studying" ways to necessitate surgical procedure in the healthy.

Next, I'd like to ask, since many advocates of circumcision believe in "evidence-based science," can they prove to me with "evidence" that female circumcision doesn't have benefits?

There are at least two studies, the better known one being Stallings 2009, that shows that female circumcision cuts HIV infection by half. But where is the WHO, the CDC and AAP on this one?

Of all the countless "studies," in circumcision, so-called "health" organizations seem to only focus on the ones that say circumcision has any "benefit." They ignore all the others that say it is minimal, or non-existent. Meanwhile, no attention is paid to female circumcision "studies." WHY is this? Isn't the WHO, UNAids, UNICEF etc. interested in finding "all the tools possible to fight HIV?" Or are they merely interested in legitimizing circumcision?

Here's the bigger question, would that "studies showed" that female circumcision "reduced" the transmission of HIV by 60%, WOULD YOU TAKE YOUR DAUGHTER IN to be circumcised?

What percentage would female circumcision have to prevent HIV for you to do so? 70%? 80%? 90%? 100%?

And here is the acid test for whether doctors or parents are actually interested in the well-being of their son.

Usually, medical science tries to AVOID surgery, if not completely DISPLACE it. Every effort is made to save a foot before it has to be amputated. A breast. A hand. WHAT RESEARCH is being done to eventually displace circumcision? Are scientists looking for alternatives in HIV prevention?

UTIs are already rearer in boys than in girls by a factor of 4. UTIs are also easily treatable with antibiotics. How is it doctors continue to "recommend" circumcision to prevent UTI which is already rear and easily treatable?

Oh parent, oh doctor, would that science found an alternative way to provide the "benefit" circumcision supposedly offers, would you take that instead of inflicting a deliberate wound on your son or patient?

Circumcision "studies" are unique; instead of seeking ways to cure a disease, they search for diseases to legitimize a cure.

The time has come to call out circumcision "studies" for the quackery that they are. Circumcision "researchers" are charlatans fond of a fetish.

Doctors need to start finding alternatives to circumcision. The world would NEVER allow doctors to "recommend" female circumcision. Not even if it prevented HIV by 100%. If the WHO were promoting a condom that failed 40% of the time, they would be laughed out of the room.

It's time we put circumcision "researchers" under the microscope. Is there a reason they can't seem to focus on anything else? FIRE them. We need people looking to cure disease, not looking to legitimize superstitious blood rituals.

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