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"Before I even dive into this, I’m going to share the worst thing I’ve ever heard of in my entire life.
Its technical definition is:
"A thick, cheeselike, sebaceous secretion that collects beneath the foreskin.”
I’ll be revisiting the issue of smegma further down the article. But for now, you’re welcome.
I always thought circumcision was just what was done, and that it was just a routine medical procedure because all penises came flawed and needed to be fixed or something? Now I’m finding out there’s a HUGE debate over whether it’s medically necessary, and I’m coming to find that a lot of the health benefits are debatable. I realized this when I found that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) doesn’t recommend it as a routine procedure. They recommend vaccines like crazy and set the guidelines for everything else. I mean if circumcision really provided life or death benefits or serious benefits, they would also strongly advocate for it, right?
The arguments for and against circumcision both cite health reasons, and I weighed the pros and cons of a lot of those in this post. If the AAP had a strong stance and real, hard evidence about why it was better, it would be an easier decision. Because the research is so limited, I decided I'd just look at some real-life, real-world experiences.
But before I share some of these stories and experiences, do you want to know the most surprising thing I found out about this entire debate?
It’s fueled mostly by women. Who don’t have penises.
I was so surprised that almost every opinion that popped up was from a woman.
I mean I get it, we're moms. We take a vested interest in our children's health, which is why I'm even researching and writing this article. I was just surprised that more women than men are so actively involved in the debate (at least online), and are even quite brutal to each other as they defend their points of view. Seriously, I can't imagine seeing grown women arguing and being nasty in person about circumcision like they are online.
I poked around online some more and found that there actually is a lot of discussion among men about circumcision.
So here are some of the common concerns and arguments surrounding circumcision, and some helpful stories, insights, and responses from an equal amount of men and women (and here's where you'll finally hear about SMEGMA!):
"I finally underwent the procedure after several years of trading yeast infections back and forth with my wife. We tried a number of alternatives, but finally both agreed that the circumcision was the best solution. I don't know why I waited so long, but my problems with balanitis and her vaginitis stopped." - ManintheUSA
"I was perfectly fine not circumcizing my son, my fiance is not circumsized. My friend, who is a nurse for a lot of older patients, told us that a lot of nurses will forget that the foreskin needs to be pushed back and cleaned on old men. If it's not cleaned properly it can lead to massive infection which leads to you know what. That was her reasoning for circumcision. I kept that to myself and asked my fiance what he wanted to do. He told me he wanted it done for different reasons. I let him decide, since I'm not a man and I felt like a man should make the decision for our son, if that makes sense." - Victoria M.
"My nephew had several infections from not properly cleaning himself now, my sister says that's not why, but my nephew says it is (he's 12). He forgets to clean himself there. Not circumcising isn't an option in our opinion." - bcsmdln15
"When my son was born, my wife and I decided to just leave him alone. Unless there is ever a medical reason for it, we don't want to circumcise him. I'm circumcised, and my parents decided to circumcise me. My mom said at the time, the doctors suggested it for sanitary reasons. I talked to my son's pediatrician, and she said she only suggests it if there's a medical reason for it." - TechMike
"Growing up, the foreskin was not too great an issue, I was taught from an early age how to clean myself and practised proper penile hygiene. I was aware that I did not look like most of my class mates, but I must admit it was never too much of an issue. It was not until my teens that I noticed that my penis would develop an 'smell', to put it one way. Despite morning showers, by the afternoon my penis would start to develop a slight odour, not strong, and not noticeable to others, but noticeable to me. If I missed a shower, say because I was camping, the odour grew stronger, and in cases such as these smegma would start to build up under the foreskin rather quickly. As a result, where possible I would wash twice a day. I noticed while living in Europe (where circumcision is in the minority), that many men would have a strong odour, like the one I was familiar with, in winter. When thinking that in countries such as Italy and regions of France, showers are a once or biweekly affair in winter, I could understand why this odour could become so strong." - AustraliaMan
"I had to be circumcised when I was 18 (I am now 23) and I just wish it had already been way earlier. In comparison to my uncirc'd days my penile hygiene is a lot better. Tell me what you want, but an uncircumcised penis develops the strangest and foulest 'odours'. I remember that fishy stench of my glans only two hours after having washed my 'old-fellow' when I still had my prepuce." - Med Student in Germany
"I have a good friend who was circumcised last year when he was 75 years old...and he's glad he did it." - Ralph_Kirk
"I am circumcised, but left my sons intact. Unless you don't plan on teaching your children basic personal hygiene I wouldn't worry too much about the whole "cleanliness" issue. The benefits of circumcision seem to be related to reduction in STD transmission. Many of the studies done on this are in high risk populations - promiscuous gay men, or men that frequently visit prostitutes. If you have religious or cultural beliefs that include circumcision then go ahead with it. Otherwise it's really a personal decision for you and your husband. I'm sure your little boy will be fine with it either way." - JohnS_15
"I was circumcised at birth, and am glad that I was. I have plenty of sensitivity and stamina, and have never had any medical problems, nor have I ever been made fun of in the locker room or when a woman has seen me naked. There's just no downside to it. I've known a few guys who weren't circumcised at birth who had to be circumcised during puberty due to phimosis or paraphimosis. These don't happen to every guy who is uncircumcised, but the possibility is there." - Slowpoke_TX
"The continued hygiene issues made me decide to have a circumcision. Several years later I finally got around to having it done. I saw a local GP who after questioning me as to why I wanted it done, referred me to a general surgeon. After a simple discussion and examination we set the date for the procedure under general anaesthetic. The procedure lasted an hour and recovery took a week or two.That was close to ten years ago now, and since that time I consider it to be the best decision I have made. Hygiene is no longer an issue, the lack of foreskin keeps the penis clean at all times. Nor have I noticed ANY loss of sensation. On the contrary, I find intercourse improved 10 fold since the circumcision. The few microns the skin that the glans may have thickened makes no difference at all to sexual receptiveness and I find it in some ways it is more sensitive." - AustraliaMan
"I am a newborn nursery nurse. I had both of my boys circumcised, but not in the hospital. I took them both to a pediatric urologist (I HIGHLY recommend Dr. Edmondson at Children’s Urology of VA). I had them circ’d for health and hygiene reasons, and because my husband wanted them to be circumcised. With my first son, they noticed an anomaly that we would have never known about until he probably had a major UTI if we had not circ’d him. If we wouldn’t have done the circ, he would have had major restorative surgery whenever the anomaly was discovered anyway. (they usually don’t find problems though!) The urologist does an amazing job. Babies are adequately numbed, they take their time (in a good way), and make sure that things are done right; also, the parents are right there with the baby during the procedure. They provide 3 types of pain management for the procedure. Also, with the baby being a little older, nursing/feeding is better established, swelling from birth is diminished, and you can give the baby Tylenol after the procedure (they don’t do that in the hospital). People say that the current rate is 50% circ’d, 50% not circ’d, but there are VERY few babies born where I work that aren’t circ’d in the hospital. And, those that aren’t, usually aren’t for a medical reason and are referred to a urologist because the parents still desire it, but for whatever reason, the OB can’t/won’t do it. Also, I’d much rather a urologist do a circumcision than an OB any day!" - Lindsey L.
"I am 82 and wish I had had it done. My brother in law had it done at 83." - DanBev
"If you are worried about pain they don't feel it. They explained in the hospital they do it while they are sleeping, then spray it with something that completely numbs it, then snip. My son didn't cry when it was done or wake up. While healing we put a little vaseline with a small square of gauze. He didn't cry once when I cleaned him, but cried when I would clean his umbilical cord. I know everyone is different, but it definitely made me feel better." - Victoria M.
"2 boys both circumcised because of health reasons. With my mom being a nurse she saw too many horror stories of men having it done 50-60+ years old and having horrible time recovering at that age. No one thinks their newborn will be a 70yr old man that may have trouble caring for himself." - Heather D.
"GOD designed Men and Women with Pro Creation Sex parts......why mess with a good thing? Will be 84 on Friday and still Original and narry a problem." - Steve_Bagu
"I let my husband make the call & he was initially against it, but after he talked to his dad and his brother who had to be circumcised as adults the decision was made to do it. But we had it done by a pediatric urologist not at the hospital." - Terri R.
"I can say that getting it done later is extremely painful and harder to heal. I had a child I babysat for (when I was a teenager) need to have it done when he was 8, and then my FIL had to have it done in his 60's so I'm glad I had it done when my son was a baby. I don't regret our decision and he doesn't remember having it done and I don't bring it up." - B. Kobus
"My son was uncut until about age 13, then medically it became necessary. It was NOT pleasant for a young man to go through that. I would recommend that if you do decide to circumcise- GET IT OVER WITH SOON AFTER BIRTH. My kid was in a lot of pain and it hampered him for about a month." - ThreeRun
"I've been in the urology field for 10 years and I recommend getting Children's urology to do it 3 weeks after they're born versus the hospital. OB gyns arent urologists. The urologists end up doing so many repairs from it. The swelling had gone down from birth after 3 weeks and they can make a better judge of how much skin to take off. If too much is taken off there are serious issues. The circumcision rate is down to almost 50pct in the US. So when he's an adult, 50 pct of men won't be circumcised so who is normal then? I think kids think whatever isn't like them is weird. So of course a teenager that's circd can't imagine having foreskin and vice versa. There are pros and cons. Old men uncircd have many issues." - B. Kinsley
"A couple of things you hear about: locker rooms & peers - ummmmm... never stood around looking at each others penises. If had ever noticed someone different, there's no way I'd point out that I was looking. Another argument is that it gets done because the parents want him to "be like Dad". I don't even know if my dad is circumcised. It's never been a topic of conversation, and I don't recall ever seeing it." - TrampledUnderFoot
"I have 3 intact boys ages 14, 12 and 8 and they are old enough to say they are happy to have their foreskin and cringe at the thought of it being cut off. When asked about getting made fun of in the locker room they say that boys don't look at each other's penises, that would be weird." - L. Smith
"I'm uncircumcised, grew up in a community where about 98% of those my age were. I endured a little locker-room taunting in Junior High, but not that much. This likely wouldn't be a problem today; both because circumcision is no longer near-universal, and because adolescents no longer shower together after Phys Ed classes and athletic practices. I investigated having the procedure done as a teenager (an exchange student in our class had done so) but decided it wasn't worth the trouble." -2nd Trick Op