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I care about the way we make decisions, especially those related to sexuality. Circumcision is a very difficult decision given the battling perspectives that leave no clear answer. This episode is intended to start the discussion of circumcision by describing how it is typically performed, which means with infant males. There will be a future video describing the situation for an adult and how as adults we can use our powers of curiosity to make healthy decisions. And my opinion (because it was asked for) is 'do not circumcise infants'. There is a very simple and minimally invasive technique called Pre-plex for adults who opt-in to the surgery with informed consent. This is my opinion as of August 29, 2014.)
I got a question. "Can you do a full episode on circumcision, like, explaining it and your opinions about it?"


So, I have this memory from middle school. My younger brother was going to bed and I tauntingly informed him "Part of your penis is cut off." My brother disagreed, and I remember thinking, "Of course! How could he believe someone would cut off part of his penis? When would they have done it?" To him, his penis looks like his penis.

Look at your penis, if you have one, in private. Some of you have one of these. If you don't have one, then you most likely have a scar. It'll look like a ring, but probably not a symmetrical one. Your penis is a difficult thing to cut. It's all wibbly wobbly. Every scar has an explanation, how your body was banged up and did its best to heal.

My second circumcision-related memory was about a year later when my second brother was born, on leap day. I remember glancing at his tiny baby penis when they changed him. It was slightly darker than the rest of his skin, but very penis-looking. The next day or so, at the hospital, his penis was blood red and raw, as if my nail had been torn off. I don't think I questioned it. I just assumed everyone knew what they were doing, including my parents, and that maybe baby penises just got more red and shiny once all the baby goo was wiped off. Nope. Within a few days after he was born, someone at the hospital circumcised him.

Circumcision, like cir-, circumference, around, -cision, cut, Latin for "to cut around". It refers to one or many cuts on the genitals. On the vulva, it could range from a cut to remove the foreskin and/or the labia and/or the clitoris, which is illegal worldwide. On a penis, it typically refers to a circular cut around the glans to remove the foreskin, not illegal but not very common outside of the US. I was in college when I learned all of this. I'd learned exactly what a circumcision is, how it's done, and why. We were shown a film: "Whose Body, Whose Rights?" Changed my life!

Here's what happens: there's a tray with a tiny human being imprint. Legs here, arms here, head, and then slits for Velcro straps to hold the child in place. Either there's a needle that injects a numbing agent, or there's a topical anesthetic. In 1888 when circumcision was performed as a remedy for masturbation--you know, because foreskin--one of its strongest advocates recommended operating without anesthesia " the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it is connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases." This was John Harvey Kellogg promoting that we make the cut really hurt so that the baby boy will associate touching the penis with pain. Yes, Kellogg, the same guy who invented corn flakes, which were also considered a remedy for masturbation.

Okay, so at least it isn't 1888 and the penis is numb-ish. Then, we use one of three devices to separate the foreskin from the glans penis, the head of the penis. It has to be separated because at birth, the two are attached. Natural detachment doesn't happen until later: toddler-hood later, ten years old on average, puberty, if ever. To separate it before its time IS like pulling off a nail. Once they're separated, the glans is guarded from the knife or scissors used to cut the other tissue off.

Even though this is my pinkie and a balloon and this is an adult model, this is what is actually removed, about this much, which, had it grown into an adult foreskin, looks more like this. Ten to fifteen square inches of penile erogenous tissue, discarded. So, why do we do it? Here in the US, there's a bag full of reasons, but a main one is tradition. Circumcision has primarily been unquestioned surgery because that's just what you do. In Missoula, Montana, you're looking at a $244 pediatrician charge that could be in addition to the $689 for use of the hospital facility, and then, if you're asking for it twenty-eight days after birth, it's $6,678.

Susan Terkel and Lorna Greenberg were really curious about circumcision, so they investigated it and kept records along the way. You can read their book, The Circumcision Decision: An Unbiased Guide for Parents to sort through the controversy medically and historically and economically and sexually. Stay curious.