Ear Piercing and Circumcision
Strong play with this topic, I know. I’m not trying to lose readers, but it is my blog, and I gotta keep it real. When I’m passionate, being politically correct or diplomatic goes out the window! Plus, I haven’t seen any posts on circumcision in a very long while and thought it’d be fun? to shake things up. Circumcision, in particular, is a highly debated, controversial issue. I happen to sit on one side of the argument, but I know my view isn’t any more “right” than anyone else’s, it’s just more “right” for my family. And just because I’m not likely to change my opinion, I’m still interested to hear others and open it up for intelligent discussion. Also, the views I express do not apply to religiously-based decisions.
So, ear piercing and circumcision…
What do they have in common?? Both are done to babies for purely aesthetic reasons - parents like the way they look. Both cause unnecessary pain and trauma to infants. Both are risks for infection. Neither is medically beneficial.
Don’t get me wrong, pierced ears on a baby girl is adorable, once you get past thinking about the screaming and tears she was put through to look like that. It’s one thing when a 6 year old demands earrings and you explain that it hurts, but she wants them anyway and you decide to give her the freedom to have her ears pierced. But it sort of makes me cringe to see a helpless 6 month old, who hasn’t a CLUE why someone is sticking a needle through her earlobe. I know the counter argument all too well: “might as well do it while she’s an infant, she’ll never remember it anyway!” In my mind, it’s roughly the equivalent to the medical philosophy from about 30 years ago when doctors believed babies couldn’t yet feel pain, so there’s no need for anesthesia during surgery on an infant! You’d probably be horrified (or maybe you wouldn’t, but I sure as hell am) to know that the VAST majority of circumcisions done on newborns are without any topical anesthetic. We just give them a passifier dipped in sugar water before we guillotine their foreskin.
And my rebuttal to the argument mentioned above…we a-parents, especially, should realize that every painful experience, no matter how young, is ingrained into our very beings. As an a-parent, my main focus is establishing trust, security, bonding, attachment, and I truly believe, on some level, subjecting our babies to pain has an affect on their degree of mistrust. In us as their protectors, and in the world more generally. Perhaps everyone manifests early childhood trauma differently, but just because we cannot recall the specifics of an event does not mean it has no impact on us. As the new mommy to a baby who has undoubtedly experienced pain, loss, trauma, physical as well as emotional, I want to do everything in my power to keep my baby safe, secure, and pain free, rather than inflicting additional trauma so that his penis looks more socially acceptable. Maybe that’s just me. Also, circumcision for adopted babies means doing it at an older age…so add the very serious and unnecessary risks associated with general anesthesia, as well as a higher incidence of other complications from circumcision beyond the neonatal period to the list of negatives.
I could go on about the brutality of circumcision, and the interesting social phenomenon that has led to its continued practice. Instead, I will just ask you why, if it is not medically indicated(realizing historically we thought it was), would we CHOOSE to cut off the part of the male sex organ that has the most nerve endings so that it may be less sensitive and pleasurable, but look “nicer,” or my favorite, “like his daddy’s?” Wouldn’t daddy rather his son have his “member” intact? How did we become a society that removes functional body parts for aesthetic purposes? Doesn’t anyone else find that odd? Maybe you’d add the argument that your transracially adopted son is already different enough, this is just a small thing to give him a physical similarity to his dad. To that I’d say you’re actually doing 1 more artificial thing to make him more distant and different from other members of his race, since circumcision is largely a Caucasian thing, and just because he is missing his foreskin, like his dad, he isn’t going to feel more white. Just less Asian, African, or Latino.
That said, the freaking American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Family Physicians have gone back and forth on this topic and put out statements, revisions, amendments, etc. so often that it’s hard to follow what the current medical literature supports. There’s soft evidence supporting either side of the argument, and the reason for that is the studies that have been done are total crap. Not quality enough to draw any conclusions, but so far, there is insufficient data for either body (AAP or AAFP) to claim there is a therapeutic reason to circumcise. This is a hugely confusing topic though because doctors themselves have different stances on it, so patients may get completely conflicting advice if they ask around. I like to think doctors have higher standards than to factor in the fact that its a quick, easy, decently reimbursing procedure to perform, but I know that many don’t think of it any further than that. They don’t have strong feelings or give a damn 1 way or the other, so they go along with it and get paid afterwards. The doc who taught me the procedure had that attitude, and it really bothered me. After we were done and the poor newborn was screaming, the nurse dabbing the blood, and the dad proudly watching (WTF? I’m sorry, but there is something wrong with a man who wants to watch his son go through that), I asked the doc “do you have a hard time doing this procedure?” He responded “nah. I’m mean, at first I did. It is pretty barbaric when you think about it, but if that’s what they want, I’ll do it, get paid, and not think about it.” I just don’t know that I can do that.
Also, as doctors we take an oath that obliges us to “first do no harm.” Neonatal circumcision is considered a non-therapeutic procedure and is definitely not without risks. A study recently showed the complication rates are actually 5 times what the current fact sheets report. The risks of bleeding, infection, or a botched circumcision with retained foreskin seem to me like the possibility of doing harm is significant. I have literally cut and pasted (sue me, I’m lazy) the stuff in quotes below from a Letter to the Editor of American Family Physician in response to its fact sheet for patients on circumcision. Here are the most frequently claimed medical reasons people use to support circumcision, followed by the rebuttal from the aforementioned letter to the editor are:
1) Circumcision decreases the chances of contracting STD’s - “Recent studies have demonstrated that circumcised men are at increased risk of contracting gonorrhea, syphilis and genital warts.[5,6] Men are at equal risk for developing human papillomavirus lesions and herpesvirus infections regardless of circumcision status.[3,7] At least four studies have shown human immunodeficiency virus infection to occur more commonly in circumcised men.“
2) Incidence of penile cancer is higher amongst uncircumcised males - “The number of circumcised men developing penile cancer has been increasing. Of 110 cases of penile cancer, 41 (37 percent) were circumcised, with 22 (20 percent) havi
ng been circumcised in the newborn period. Genital warts and smoking were the strongest predictors of penile cancer. Data from Denmark indicate that the incidence of penile cancer is lower in Denmark than in the United States. Approximately 1.6 percent of Danish men are circumcised. The incidence of penile cancer has been declining for the past 50 years in Denmark.“
3) The risk of acquiring HIV is less in circumcised males - “If linear regression analysis is applied to the relationship between circumcision rates and the prevalence of acquired immunodeficency syndrome in industrialized countries (using 1994 World Health Organization data) and weighted for population, a strongly positive correlation between circumcision and the prevalence of AIDS is found. While this does not prove that circumcision is a risk factor for AIDS, it is clear that the circumcision experiment in the United States did not prevent the spread of the infection.”
I also found this portion of the letter to be very interesting:
It is now believed that neonates perceive stimuli to be more painful than older infants. The impact of a painful experience may have long-term ramifications. A recent study demonstrated that boys circumcised in the neonatal period cried longer and harder after their first set of immunizations.
Finally, the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Bioethics recently cast doubt on whether a physician can ethically perform neonatal circumcisions. Since a newborn is not competent, neither informed consent nor patient assent can be obtained. Likewise, parental permission is only acceptable in situations where medical intervention has a clear and immediate necessity, such as disease, trauma, or deformity. Routine circumcision does not satisfy these requirements. The committee suggests that in nonessential treatments, which could be deferred without substantial risk, the physician and family wait until the child’s consent can be obtained. Without proper consent, the delineation between performance of neonatal circumcision and assault and battery becomes indistinct.
Ok, I apologize for the soapbox. I know this was a very judgmental post, and probably offended lots of people. As always, I love a good discussion and am TOTALLY in support of rebuttals and challenging comments, as long as we can stay civil. I do not think less of anyone who circumcises or pierces their kids’ ears, we just have a difference in opinion. And, it makes for a good debate / discussion topic! So, if you feel comfortable sharing, what are your views and would you circumcise your child? I guess I just brought the ear piercing in so the AP’s or PAP’s of little girls wouldn’t feel left out. Plus, it bears similarities to circumcision without all the confounding medical reasons to support it.