The many views on male circumcision


Once a staunch opponent of male circumcision, ConnectPink's Monique Patterson has had to rethink her view now that she is mother to a male toddler.

Once considered the norm, the rate of male circumcision started to dwindle in the 1970s as medical authorities began to recommend against it.

Daily Life journalist Sarah Macdonald said doctors pointed out that the foreskin protects, is a primary sensory part of the penis and that circumcision involved pain, bleeding, infections, damage to the penis and a violation of an infant's rights.

However, she adds that a recent policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics has reignited the debate.

It said the "preventative health benefits of elective circumcision of male newborns outweigh the risks". The Academy stopped short of recommending circumcision but said parents should consider the literature and advice.

Tonight on the SBS program Insight, medical experts, religious scholars, parents and men will give their views on male circumcision. Some see it as as non-issue, a few as a health concern, others as a religious covenant and a couple as an unnecessary cruelty.

My personal view of the matter has altered drastically, due to the experience of my two-and-a-half-year-old son. I remember feeling horrified when a friend told me she was choosing to have her son circumcised. I couldn't imagine why you would choose to put them through unnecessary pain for what, I thought at the time, was for aesthetic reasons.

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However, at about 12-months-old, my son got a terrible penis infection that left him in excruitating pain for a number of days. The doctors told us that if it kept reoccuring, we would need to consider having him circumcised.

I was dumbstruck: circumcising a 12-month-old? How terrible. I started wondering whether the experience really would scar him for life because he may remember it. This got me thinking that maybe I should have considered finding a doctor who would have conducted a circumcision at birth.

The other thing is that I have heard it is extremely important to care for the foreskin of an uncircumcised boy. 

However, no one has told me how to do this. I just googled "uncircumcised male hygeine" and found out that, yes, hygeine is extremely important, but I still don't know specifics - and I'm not a male so I am paranoid about hurting my son (don't worry my fiance takes care of it, but I still feel like I should have been better informed).

Sarah said that advocates of circumcision talk of a significantly lower rate of becoming infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases in high-risk populations. "They also point to a slightly decreased risk of (extremely rare) penile cancer in men with foreskin retraction problems."

Sarah said these were points acknowledged by experts at The Royal Australasian College of Physicians Pediatrics (RACP) and Child Health Division. "But after reviewing the the currently available evidence, the RACP still comes down against the practice here. It advocates safe sex rather than an operation on a baby," Sarah said.

There are potential harms and potential benefits of circumcision, so what's the right choice? Honestly, I don't know. If I have another son, would I choose to have him circumcised? I don't know - it's just such a tough choice to be faced with.

What I do know, though, is that a penile infection is something no one would want to see any young boy suffering from - it's horrendous.

Watch The First Cut on Insight at 8.30pm tonight on SBS.

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