Male Circumcision: What Would Newborns Say?

W. Gifford Jones, M.D.
Created: October 2, 2012 Last Updated: October 5, 2012
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Why are so many male circumcisions still performed when we all agree that female circumcision is a barbarous act?

Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics says the benefits of male circumcision outweigh the risks. But, if newborns had a say in the matter, they would use the following reasons to shout a big “no” to this mutilating procedure, unless religious or cultural reasons require it.

One. Circumcision doesn’t just snip off a small piece of skin. Rather, it removes a large surface of foreskin measuring 3 to 5 inches in length, about half of the total skin of the penis! Also, inside the foreskin there’s a band of tissue that acts like an accordion. Its gliding motion is needed to trigger sexual reflexes and pleasure.

Two. The foreskin is not just skin. Dr. John Taylor, a Winnipeg pathologist, reported in the British Journal of Urology in 1996 a new anatomical finding. Taylor and his colleagues discovered a “ridged band” that runs around the inside of the foreskin.

Microscopic examination shows this skin is loaded with blood vessels and nerves. So what is being amputated is a large part of the sexual function of the penis.

Three. Never forget that nature placed the foreskin in that area for a good reason. It’s therefore a sound rule not to mess around with nature.

Four. Don’t buy the argument that circumcision decreases urinary infections. Infections primarily occur in the first year of life and can be avoided by improved hygiene. This is a lame excuse for decreasing the pleasure of sex for the next 80 years or more.

Five. Don’t accept the theory that circumcision decreases the risk of penile cancer, as this is an extremely rare malignancy. After all, no one recommends that all female breasts be removed for fear of malignancy.

Six. Studies show that circumcision decreases by 15 percent the risk of contacting HIV and genital herpes. But it has no effect on decreasing the risk of gonorrhea. This advice may make sense to those wandering from one bed to another. But not to others who practice responsible sex. Why should so many suffer for others’ irresponsible behavior?

Seven. Circumcision rarely presents complications. But if one occurs, it’s nevertheless a 100 percent hit. Moreover, the world’s medical journals are full of reports dealing with a variety of surgical mishaps that are not an “act of God” but due to human errors.

A primary problem is the incorrect use of the circumcision clamp. In some cases, too much foreskin is pulled into the clamp, causing injury to the penis. In other cases, there’s severe injury to the urinary tube (urethra). This may result in difficulty passing urine or development of a urethral fistula, which causes urine to be discharged through an abnormal opening.

Some of these injuries are not apparent following discharge from the hospital, as a fistula takes weeks or months to make its presence known. And on rare occasions, part of the penis has been amputated. As Harvey Cushing, one of Harvard’s great surgeons, once remarked, “There’s no such thing as minor surgery, but there are a lot of minor surgeons.”

Eight. How many men today would need an erectile dysfunction drug (ED) if a circumcision had not been done? I don’t know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, nor do I know the answer to this question. Nor does anyone else. But it’s my bet that this procedure has had a reasonable effect on the sale of ED drugs.

Nine. In 1996, the Canadian Pediatric Society recommended that circumcision should not be routinely performed. It plans to reconsider this advice next year. Let’s hope it first reads the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and then decides it’s a needless, brutal procedure that violates newborns’ rights.

Ten. Circumcision is not a life-and-death situation. So unless it’s required for religious or cultural reasons, this decision should be made when an adult can decide whether or not he wishes it done. I believe many newborns would say amen to that.

Dr. Gifford-Jones is a medical journalist with a private medical practice in Toronto. His website is He may be contacted at

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  • Maria

    Fantastic article, and I hope CPS agrees with you, infant circumcision is a needless and brutal surgery, and certainly doesn’t qualify as “medicine.” However, I must disagree with you, and your insistence on religious sensitivity. While I agree, we must respect the rights of Canadians to practice their religion, this fundamental freedom ends where the human right to bodily autonomy begins. Although this is a sticky subject, and is likely to get one called an Anti-Semite (just another distraction from the issue, in my opinion), the rights of the children come before a cultural or religious mandate established by an unseen deity. At a time when the world is secularising, I see no progress coming from pandering to harmful religious practices, regardless of historical and ritual significance. Religion and culture has mandated we do harmful things to vulnerable people throughout history and geography, and these harmful things are wrong regardless of cultural or religious significance. As it happens, many Jewish parents are already abandoning the practice of forced child circumcision.

  • TLCTugger

    We don’t have to wonder what infants would say. What they say is NO (by screaming bloodymurder).
    It’s disgusting to even contemplate forcible amputation of a healthy normal body part from a defenseless victim.
    The AAP’s policy statement (written by a panel with zero foreskins among them) makes no mention of the exquisite sexual functions of the normal foreskin. It also ignores that all the supposed benefits of circumcising can be garnered in NON-destructive ways. So there is zero justification for over-riding the child’s basic human right to keep his whole body.
    The Dutch medical association looked at all the same evidence and concluded infant circumcision has “an absence of medical benefits and danger of complications.”

  • June Park

    Now we know the intact foreskin and mucousa have cells that kill HIV/AIDS. So circumcised men have a higher chance of contracting HIV/AIDS if exposed than do intact men.

  • June Park

    Also, keep in mind that mot religions circumcise bc of cultural pressure NOT actual religious teachings. It is never acceptable to force religion by cutting a minor though.

  • Hugh7

    Excellent! The AAP policy is shockingly biased towards male genital cutting.
    * It never considers the structure or functions of the foreskin.
    * It ignores major complications and risks because the task force had no statistics for them.
    * It cites studies showing that “circumcision [removes] the most sensitive part of the penis” and reporting a marked worsening in overall sex life (6% better vs. 20% worse) and ignores both those findings.
    * It discusses one circumcision clamp and fails to mention that the company that makes it has gone out of business after losing several lawsuits worth millions to the families of boys who lost part of the heads of their penises in the clamps.
    * And while it says “the benefits outweigh the risks” it never actually weighs them up – the benefits claimed for circumcision are exaggerated – slight reductions in rare diseases of late onset that can be better prevented by other means or treated as they occur – or completely bogus. The risks go all the way to loss of the penis and death.
    See the policy annotated in detail at

    Most of the developed world does not circumcise. The rest of the English-speaking world did the experiment, Australia and New Zealand circumcising almost all boys in the 1950s – now only a small minority, with no outbreaks of any of the diseases it was supposed to be good against.

    And Maria is right that the parents’ religion does not trump the child’s right to genital autonomy. Here are contact details for more than 80 celebrants of non-surgical Brit Shalom naming ceremonies, more than 40 of them rabbis:

  • Falkner09

    The majority of the medical organizations in the world are
    opposed to infant circumcision. This includes:

    The Canadian Pediatric Society,

    British Medical Association,

    Swedish Pediatric Society,

    Royal Dutch Medical Society,

    The Netherlands Society of
    General Practitioners,

    The Netherlands Society of
    Youth Healthcare Physicians,

    The Netherlands Association
    of Paediatric Surgeons,

    The Netherlands Association
    of Plastic Surgeons,

    The Netherlands Association
    for Paediatric Medicine,

    The Netherlands Urology

    The Netherlands Surgeons’

    Royal College of Surgeons of

    Royal Australasian College of Physicians,

    College of Physicians and
    Surgeons of British Columbia,

    Royal Australasian College of

    Association of Paediatric Surgeons,

    Australian Federation of AIDS

    Australian Medical

    British Columbia
    College of Physicians and Surgeons,

    The College of
    Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan,

    Saskatchewan Medical

    Norwegian Medical

    Norwegian Nurses

    Ombudsman for Children,

    Faculty of
    Medicine at the University of Oslo,

    Norwegian Council
    for Medical Ethics,

    Central Union for
    Child welfare in Finland,

    Denmark National
    Council for Children,

  • aleina

    cultural reason is a moot point because the foreskin is so often demonized and made to be a taboo piece of flesh so amputating it to be part of the cultural norm is only propagating the practice of RIC, it has to stop somewhere the cultural norm must stop at some point, so a new normal can form. Religious reasons? Female genital cutting is done for religious reasons yet that is illegal. never mind the fact that the way male genital cutting is done is a far cry from how it was ordered to be don a very small bit was supposed to be clipped off not the whole prepuce, so technically they are not following their own religious order but modifying it to fit their own needs (which was long long loooong ago during the olympics an exposed glans was offensive so the cut men would tie their foreskins closed over the glans to hide it and this upset many of the religious leaders so they began to remove all of the foreskin (prepuce) so they could not do this. as for the female genital cutting, all forms of it are illegal including the tiny prick or removal of a piece of flesh amounting to a couple of centimeters (if not smaller) from the clitoral hood or clitoris itself, (yes it is barbaric) preformed with one surgical tool in a split second vs what is done to boys, which is far worse. (no i am not referring to the female cutting that is done in places like Somalia where they are completely “gutted” then sewn shut with a small hole for menstrual flow and urine) if we will revoke the rights to cut a baby’s genital for one or more religion and thereby interfering with the parents religious rights, just because the child to be cut is a girl why is it so hard to make the next step and protect all children from genital cutting regardless of religious freedom, why not wait until the child is old enough to do it them selves for the sake of religion? so either religious sensitivity to all (including female genital cutting religions) or to none! i vote for none. Protect all the genitals! (regardless of gender or religion)

  • SusieQ666

    I would like to jump into the “fray” on this discussion, to remark on the opposite “opinion”. I believe that circumcision is a choice that should be left to the parents of the newborn. I have to admit that I am Jewish, and I’d be willing to bet that all the boys I taught in Sunday school (Reform Judaism) had been circumcised. I taught fifth grade, where one of the topics is “Life Cycle” which includes from birth to death. Naturally, the first topic(s) brought up were circumcision, for the boys, and “naming” in the temple/synagogue for girls and boys. Many Jewish parents choose to have the circumcision (brit milah, in Hebrew, the word “brit” translating to “covenant” in English. (If I don’t have the two words mixed up.) Circumcision is the oldest known form of “surgery” and when performed by a “moyhel”, a “specialist” in circumcision, there is little risk. (One must remember that those [men] perform many of such procedures, and that it is the only surgery they perform. They also, at least in New York and California, have to be approved and licensed to be a moyhel (see above). As a Reform Jew (the most common “denomination” of Judaism practiced in North American (USA/Canada, and perhaps Mexico, but I’m not sure on Mexico), When my oldest sister was in the hospital to give birth to her first child, she was given a document that asked her if she wanted to have her child (if a boy) circumcised, and if so, would she like it done in the hospital, or if she wanted to have it done (on the 8th day, as the Orthodox Jews (and many Conservative Jews, and even a smattering of Reform Jewish parents, prefer.) Well, my sister hadn’t heard of such a “ritual”, but she opted to have her baby (if a boy) circumcised in the hospital, after they promised her in writing that her son would have local anesthesia, and not go through ANY pain. As it was, her baby was a boy, and he was circumcised without incident in the hospital, by a pediatric surgeon.
    Many people who are “anti-circumcision” are unaware of the significance it has in the Jewish religion. When the Biblical Abraham was commanded by God to make a “sign” between the two of them of his un-dying belief in the “covenant between the Jewish (back when they were still “the Israelites”) people and God”. That’s just the “story” that started the practice. The story may or may not be “true”, but the meaning of the story (as non-Orthodox Jews are taught to “interpret” the stories of the Bible so they are “relevant” and meaningful to the readers) is powerful; powerful enough to have lasted for thousands of years. I’d say this is one decision that should be left to the parents, as when you think about it, a boy who suddenly decides to be circumcised as a teen or adult, is facing major surgery! That’s when it becomes dangerous!

    • amba

      What would you tell your son when he gets mad at you for mutilating him? What if the mutilated child grows up and wants to undo the brith? I am 26 and I will never forgive my parents for maiming me. It’s not a parents’ choice to make. It’s each person’s choice. It infringes basic human rights. It is child abuse, and not fit for the 21st century. Do you also slaughter goats at your back yard as sacrifice to jehovah? Because if not, your an infidel according to your own religion. You’re not a Reform Jew. You’re the worse kind of fanatic. Reform Jews don’t blindly follow random ancient commandments, they’re able to think for themselves (as opposed to Orthodox Jews) and decide which commandments should still be relevant today. Do you think that women should not be rabbies? See? Things change. Get rid of this barbaric ritual and make the world a better place.

  • RSG:NAXUTL «nahootl»

    Recognition of dichotomotomic relationships, a baby at Ccut, may gasp into the foreign realm. Such profound reverberation of a beings functions, from Cerebellum and cortex, to Genitals, to feet, to head and lateral extremities, reverberates the 10 directions, shakes the universal construct. It is in my cultural-socio-physical awareness, that this such shock, at the primordial cellular level, ignites all the same beings in his/her scope of life. One more male, may enter the farther realm, and recede from the construct of which he/she would command, while one more female, could cause deaths from the disruption, a lash against the life giving force. A recipient, a deliverer.

  • Stephen M. Harrelson

    I must say , I frankly don’t remember , and that it is a personal choice of the preference of the parents either for cleanliness , or religious conviction. The world has many more pressing issues than the modification of the Penis. Stop wasting your time on trivial things like modification and worry about “overuse” of the Penis which has resulted in a far more Needless and Brutal social problem , than something most of us , just don’t remember!

  • Michelle Storms

    I think the number one reason babies would say no is that IT HURTS! This is a painful and unnecessary cultural and religious ritual.

  • tinakimmel

    Thank you Dr. Gifford-Jones for your good article on the horrors of unconsented, not-medically-indicated, infant male circumcision! I just have one quibble: you say “on rare occasions, part of the penis has been amputated”. Of course part of the penis (ie, its prepuce, or foreskin) is deliberately amputated in 100% of circumcisions.

  • Kimber

    My two sons were born in 1986 and 1996 in the US. In both cases I chose not to allow circumcision. In 1986 I had to fight harder for my son’s right than in 1996. When my boys were older I explained my decision to them. I felt it was their right to choose what alterations were made to their body. Neither has elected circumcision, thus far. My older son has thanked me for not allowing his body to be mutilated without his consent.

  • Kimber

    Perhaps there would be less violence in the world if male babies were not subjected to violent mutilation immediately upon arrival. Are circumcised men, affected mentally and emotionally from this initial trauma? What is the long-term psychological effect?

  • Barry

    I think that circ should be illegal in white Western countries – and that includes circ for religious reasons and for “cultural” reasons

  • Barry

    I meant circ that is not legally consensual


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