Why I (Reluctantly) Had My Son Circumcised

cover1-3As a French citizen who grew up in the French Caribbean, circumcision was never a “thing” I was familiar with. Almost no boys I knew were circumcised (except those that were for religious reasons), including the men in my family. It was only when I came to New York that I realized how prevalent it really was in the United States.

For a while, I couldn’t help but wonder where this practice originated from and why. It always seemed clear to me that it wasn’t a religious procedure like the one practiced in the Jewish culture and in Muslim countries, but rather seemed to be done for aesthetic reasons. To this day, it has even become a social norm here in the U.S.

Men are pointed out for not being circumcised.

The question is, then: since when is something as natural as male anatomy not considered “normal”?

First, a little bit of history:

Circumcision became the norm after World War II. Soldiers were encouraged to have circumcisions in the belief it would prevent masturbation, but also cut down on rates of venereal disease and other infections, particularly among soldiers serving in North Africa, where the troops endured “brutal heat, sand storms, and poor sanitary conditions.” (www.parenting.com)

After WWII, due to the urban and suburbanization of modern America, most babies were born in hospitals and upwards of 80% of them were circumcised.

Despite the fact that the reason for circumcising young males was unfounded and even archaic, by the Cold War era roughly 90 percent of American males were circumcised at birth. It became an unquestioned procedure “so deeply entrenched in America that it was upheld as standard practice long after the theories by which it was justified were debunked” (www.noharmm.org).

Nowadays, the practice is backed up by iffy medical statistics:

  • Circumcision may reduce the risk of developing a urinary tract infection such as a bladder infection.
  • Circumcision may reduce the risk of getting some types of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV and genital herpes.
  • Circumcision may reduce the risk of developing cancer of the penis.

Although these advantages may seem worth noting, most healthcare providers are well aware that there are more effective and less invasive ways of preventing these conditions, such as practicing good hygiene to prevent UTIs, or using a condom to prevent STIs. These recent findings seem to exist solely to justify an unfounded practice that has been around for more than a century in the United States.

When Joe and I spoke to our families and friends in New York about circumcision, most of them responded with, “You guys have to do it.” This upset me, considering that it became clear to me that there were no valid reasons why we should have to do it. The only reasons seemed to be aesthetic, superficial ones.

Yet, we still did go through with it.

So why would I allow my own son to get circumcised if I truly feel this way? Simply because I have become familiar with the society he will be growing up in. As superficial as it may seem, I don’t want my teenage son to feel different or be pointed out for not being circumcised. Silly, but I don’t want him to hold it against us later on if he is shamed for being different.

We also don’t want him to wonder why he looks different from his father. This is something that Joe felt strongly about but regardless, we both had our moments of doubt and almost didn’t go through with the procedure at the last minute. After doing some research on the reasons why circumcision is so common in the U.S., we just felt that there wasn’t enough there; it seemed silly to us to go against nature.

However, the reality of it is that although circumcision rates have dropped over 10% over the course of the last three decades, circumcision is so deeply rooted in American minds that Liam would’ve probably suffered from it later on, from a social and cultural standpoint. It wouldn’t have been an issue if we had lived anywhere else in the world but Liam will grow up in New York, among more than 80% of circumcised males.

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Johanna Riehm teaches in the department of Communication and Media at Manhattanville College and in the department of English at Mercy College. She teaches courses in the history of communication, public speaking, and social media, as well as creative and technical writing workshops. Johanna’s work has been featured in Graffiti Literary Magazine, The Write Place at the Write Time, The Bangalore Review, Cactus Heart Press, and the LaMothe Review. She is working on her first longer work, a creative nonfiction novel called We Carved Our Names in Tamarind Trees.

2 thoughts on “Why I (Reluctantly) Had My Son Circumcised

  1. I’m a bit confused, because I don’t really understand how this works… I mean, how can people tell if a guy is circumcised or not? Do they talk about it or something? Sorry if that seems rude in any way 🙂


    1. No offense taken 🙂 I get what you’re saying. I felt the exact same way when I first moved to the U.S. I didn’t get how it was even a thing. Believe me, if it wasn’t for the cultural pressure, Liam wouldn’t have been circumcised. I can’t tell you the number of conversations I’ve had with women who said how “disgusting” it was to be uncircumcised and even named all the guys they knew who weren’t circumcised… I really wish I didn’t care about these things, but one day, Liam will be sexually active and I don’t want him to be one of the handful of guys who is known for that. Do I feel guilty? Sometimes, yes. Because even though it’s the norm here, I don’t see why it should matter. It’s natural, after all! But the reality of it is that women seem to care (as ignorant as it may be to think uncircumcised means unhygienic) and word of mouth is a powerful thing. I don’t want my son to feel insecure about himself, especially in his teen years when it is already awkward enough as it is. Hopefully this misinformed stigma will dissipate with the coming generations… And I commend those who decide to ignore those societal pressures!


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