Monday, May 14, 2012

Circumcision & Motherly Instinct

Mothers. The lifeblood of the world. The warm center of a cold senseless universe. Those who bear life. They are amazing people and their role in circumcision is often a strange one. What better time to meditate on this than the day after Mother's Day?

My kids have a book that is titled "All Mommies Love Their Babies." It always strikes me how true this title is. There are things in life that become obstacles to that love, that slow the passage of the stream like rocks, dirt, silt, moss, but they seldom stop it. A mother's love can be befuddled by the artifices of modern life but typically it perseveres. It must. Where would the species be without it? With love comes responsibility. Every parent who has held their newborn child and gazed into the pure light in their eyes knows this. And one of the most pressing responsibilities is to protect them. We worry about everything from getting them in the best school to protecting them from child molesters to making sure they don't run into traffic on a busy street. And, if you'll pardon my language, that is one of things that is so fucked up about circumcision: The mothers who sign off on it often think that by doing so they are protecting their children.

All of modern medicine's scantly supported justifications for circumcisions become frightening bugaboos these mothers feel compelled to prevent. I once read a post from a woman who worked for a urologist. Her reason for circumcising her son was that she had seen a case of penile cancer and thought she had to do everything to protect her son from acquiring such a disease. A noble thought, certainly, but a rash one and poorly researched. Part of protecting your children is about odds. It's kind of like Vegas: which is the safer intersection to use to cross the busy street? Is the benefit of Junior's medication worth the risk/side effects? Odds of acquiring penile cancer are pretty slim yet with circumcision the odds of the child's future sexual pleasure as an adult being reduced is 100%, the odds of violating his right to choose what happens to his body is 100%, and I don't know what the odds are that he will be angry at her for her decision but they are probably greater than the odds he would have gotten penile cancer! So in trying to prevent harm to her child she has instead caused it. Stories like this are repeated every day. Why? Because all of us, mothers included, have lost touch with our instincts.

As humans we are hardwired to protect our children. Without these instincts the species would not have continued to exist. These animal instincts are powerful. Instinct is what drives the mother to pull her child out of the street before she even sees the car. She just knows one is coming. Instinct is what helps her and the child breastfeed. Instinct is how mothers can take their baby's temperature without a thermoter. :) But unfortunately we have been taught to distrust our instinct, to drown out that little voice inside that often has the very best ideas. And without our instinct we are like babes in the woods. Nothing makes sense if we can't trust ourselves. Adrift, we turn to the lighthouse of education and knowledge: doctors. Their books, their degrees will save us. We just need to do what we are told. But even their messages seem contradictory at times, or diluted, or just completely absent. That leaves us in fear. And decisions made out of fear are not typically good ones.

I'm not sure what's happening to the motherly instinct in the US. Is the declining circumcision rate proof that instinct is growing stronger again or is that a measure of activism and the desire so many of us now have to educate ourselves, especially in the matter of our children?  Certainly instinct survives, and in many families thrives. But every time a newborn baby is handed over to someone with a knife to be cut, whether the mother believes this will save his soul, or prevent AIDS, or improve his health in some bizarre fashion, the outcome is the same: her bond with him is damaged, his body is violated, and what began as an impulse to protect becomes an act of harm.

As I raise three children, now ages 3, 5, and 6 I can honestly say that learning to listen to my own instincts has been more valuable than any book about parenting I have ever read. Certainly not all of my decisions have been good ones but I'm going to keep playing the odds. I'm going to bet on the animal instinct that's helped the human race survive for 200,000 years NOT fear. I'm going to listen to the little voice that says, "It just doesn't seem like a good idea to let that fucking weirdo with the knife cut off part of your newborn child's body." All the research I've done and continue to do about circumcision just proves that voice right over and over again.


  1. Circumcision is not in the best interests of the infant. As an adult, HE will not feel a thing with Condoms. Which is the reason, that Venereal Diseases thrive, in the circumcised industrialized nation America; so sad, so sad.
    The Prepuce is not only a Cover of Decency on the Naked Male Body, it also protects the Head of the Penus which is designed as an Internal Organ.
    Washing under the Prepuce is so easy and so fast, and honestly, is throrough cleansing between the teeth not uncomparably more difficult?
    Salut from GERMANY. I was granted my Natural Right, to experience my body, as had it been made by the Creators. Girls, Boys, and plz do not forget the infants with Ambiguous Genitalia deserve protection, not Reductive Surgery. Let them decide for themselves, in Adulthood!

    1. Absolutely agree. When you already have reduced sensitivity condoms basically eliminate any sensation whatsoever besides climax. Ironically many circumcision advocates in the US claim it will help reduce the rate of HPV and other STDs yet circumcised men are inevitably going to be more resistant to the condom use that even the CDC admits is still necessary for circumcised men to protect themselves from STDs.
      I think the high circumcision rate in the US also explains why Americans consume more Viagra than any other nation. The reduced sensitivity that so many American males deny is a problem tends to become more and more difficult to refute later in life. Thanks very much for your comment!