Dot writes: by the end of yesterday I had chomped through the other book Sarah lent me, plus one she gave me. If only I read academic books this voraciously. Maybe I would if they had more relevance to my baby (The Battle of Hastings and Nappy Rash, Learning to Roll Over with Twelfth-Century Anglo-Norman Marginal Glosses – must propose them to Routledge…) The two books were, respectively, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, by Anne Lamott (1989), and It’ a Boy: Women Writers on Raising Sons, ed. by Andrea Buchanan (2005).

These are both American books, and they both make a big deal out of the decision whether or not to have a boy circumcised. I must say it hadn’t occurred to me to get Prawn snipped. Unless you’re Jewish or Muslim or there is a medical reason, an infection or whatnot, I can’t see the point. It’s one of those little cultural markers that tell you which side of the Atlantic you’re on. (I think the Irish and the Brits are at one on this issue, but I must check with the yoga mums.) Anne Lamott is very funny on the topic but to my mind bizarrely misled:

To begin with, I had read that penile cancer occurs almost exclusively in uncircumcised males, that uncircumcised men have much more frequent urinary tract infections, and that their female lovers have a much higher rate of cervical cancer. So there were those medical reasons, but there was also the matter of keeping the damn thing clean – you would have to cleanse the foreskin daily with, one supposes, Q-tips and 409. Who’s got the time? … I’ve got to say that I prefer the look of the circumcised unit. The uncircumcised ones look sort of marsupial, or like little rodents stuck in garden hoses. And the feel of the uncut ones is a little disconcerting, with all that skin to peel back and then the worry that it won’t stay, that it will swallow the missile head right back up. (pp. 24-5)

I’m pretty sure she’s wrong about the cancer, and she’s definitely wrong about the q-tips (= cotton buds). Poor Prawn, it wouldn’t be at all good for him for me to be trying to stretch and poke his tiny tiddler like that. And it would depend on individual taste, but my sense is that the missile head can take care of itself as well (this is a nice blog so I’d better stop there). No comment on the rodents. Men are vulnerable.

7 thoughts on “Snip

  1. Joel

    wow, im sad that a woman with an attitude like hers is writing advice for soon-to-be-mothers.

    its interesting how she fails to mention how no medical organizations in the world recommend circumcision for those reasons at all! in fact, American Pediatric Association does not support infant circumcision at all!

    the cervical cancer studies, the penile cancer studies, AND the uti infection (in the first year of birth) studies have ALL been discredited.

    she also doesn’t mention how incredibly sexually sensitive the foreskin is, (the foreskin has around the same about of nerve endings as all ten finger tips combined), and the fact that babies DO indeed feel pain!

    her sexual preference for penises really has no bearing at all on this issue, as far as i can tell. and no man would get away with justifying his taste in female anatomy in a parenting book. especially if it involved cutting natural body parts off.

  2. Dot

    Thanks for commenting, Joel. To be fair to Anne Lamott, her book isn’t meant as a book of advice, just as a diary of her own journey into motherhood, and she acted on good faith based on the information she had. The book came out in 1989 so she didn’t have the benefit of more recent studies that have questioned earlier work on the relationship between circumcision and cancer. From what I can gather, the key factors in escaping penile cancer are hygiene and avoiding smoking; circumcision makes no particular difference. My understanding that you don’t have to try to peel back a baby boy’s foreskin to clean it is taken from a parenting book that does set out to give advice, What to Expect: The First Year.

    I would have thought women’s sexual preferences were relevant to some extent. Men often care about what their potential lovers are likely to prefer. But in Britain and Ireland I don’t think women are bothered by foreskins, and they wouldn’t be in the US either if circumcision weren’t so common.

    Circumcision doesn’t make me angry, just a bit puzzled. But of course I don’t have a penis!

  3. Not only do parents not have to peel back a baby boy’s foreskin, they shouldn’t. It adheres at birth and will separate naturally, usually by age five but sometimes as late as near-adulthood. Forcibly retracting it prematurely can cause problems from the adhesion being separated. (Note that infant circumcision requires this premature separation.)

    Women’s sexual preferences are relevant to men. However, parents can’t know what weight the boy will eventually give to that. I’d listen to a partner’s preference about my body, but I’d never alter my body to conform to it.* It’s irrational to assume that what the mother prefers will be the same as what her son’s partner will prefer. If parents guess right, all is fine, a lucky accident. If they guess wrong and don’t circumcise, the boy can choose. If they guess wrong and circumcise, what then?

    So, yeah, what women prefer matters to men. But only the specific women he may have sex with. And then only to the extent that he chooses. To push further on Joel’s point, women may think it’s appropriate to get breast implants to please men, but the value of that is entirely subjective.

    In looking at Ms. Lamott’s “medical” justifications, she doesn’t even need to be wrong factually to be wrong ethically. The cancer question is reasonably true since it’s harder to get cancer on a body part that no longer exists. But the more interesting question is UTIs. Yes, intact boys get more UTIs than circumcised boys. But girls get far more UTIs than both groups of boys combined. I don’t recall any studies suggesting antibiotics and other less invasive treatments work only on girls. This fear is clearly irrational, a case of preference informing selective logic.

    (Note that the potential benefit for boys is only for the first year of life.)

    As you point out with penile cancer, the risk factors for cervical cancer have far more to do with behavior than with a partner’s foreskin.

    * As an American male, regarding circumcision, this would’ve applied to me if I’d been left with my choice instead of my parents’ choice.

  4. Dot

    Thanks for all this detail, Tony. I now know a lot more about this issue than I did.

    I wonder what Ken will have to say about it when he gets back? (He’s away right now.)

  5. Joel

    “(Note that the potential benefit for boys is only for the first year of life.)”

    many contest the study (as far as i know, there was only one) that came up with this result, citing that the hospital it was studied at routinely circumcised most boys, and the uncircumcised boys were mostly premature babies who doctors felt it was unsafe to circumcise.

    not to mention that premature babies often require catheters to be inserted, which are known to make UTIs more common.

    in my opinion, a study with such faults can hardly be cited as evidence. not to mention that even if it were true, UTIs are easily treated, and certainly circumcision is an extreme measure.

    dot, i realize that you don’t find circumcision to be angering, but i think you can imagine how some people might find it angering, especially considering that its a choice that people are making for other peoples bodies.

  6. Joel,

    I agree with your contentions on the study’s results. I’m just stating the accepted opinion on their validity, which is what most people who don’t think about this as much as we do care about. Even if those results hold up, they’re not enough, as I said. Other treatments are available, and ethical concerns matter exclusively for healthy children.

  7. Pingback: Blotchy Prawn « Ken and Dot’s Allsorts

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