The skinny on FORESKIN
As a doula my main goal is to support my client from start to finish. I vow to hold your hand, rub your back, massage your feet, feed you ice chips, or give you privacy for the entire 18 hours of your labor if need be. Does unconditional support during your labor, birth, and postpartum time mean I can't share information to the public about what the foreskin does, global statistics on the rate intact males, or the complete information on how circumcision works? Absolutely not. My care for you during your journey is not wavered because I follow Intact America on Facebook. My adoration for your strength and determination is not affected because my own son is intact. Your choices are your choices.
We can only grow as a generation by sharing new and updated information. Did you know in 1980 the circumcision rate was hovering at 80% in the United States? Over time with new information and research being done that rate has dropped down to just below 50%. Approximately 75-80% of men around the world are intact. Foreskin has to be doing some good out there for the intact rate to be that high!
What is the male foreskin?
Foreskin is the incredibly sensitive skin that covers and protects the head of the penis. In infants it helps to protect against bacteria. In adults it keeps the glans from becoming chaffed overtime, from becoming too dry overtime, and contains thousands of nerve endings. It works just like your eyelids.
Every mammal is born with foreskin. The female version of foreskin is the prepuce, or clitoral hood. That's right ladies. We've got one too.
How do you care for an intact infant?
Intact care sometimes scares new parents. The way it is talked about you'd think it had a laundry list of cleaning facts. However, it is incredibly easy to keep clean. When intact, you do not retract. Only clean what is seen. Wipe clean just like a finger. That's it. In infants and young children the foreskin is fused to the head of the penis to help keep bacteria out. The foreskin will naturally separate overtime as the young male finds his way around his own body. It can even happen as late as the end of puberty. If one were to retract the foreskin before it was ready it would be incredibly painful, and could cause complications such as adhesions, bleeding, and scarring.
Intact males often "balloon" when urinating. Their foreskin fills up and can freak out a first time boy mom. Seriously. First time I saw it happened I jumped online and messaged my friend who has all boys. She talked me down and let me know that it's totally normal and helps keep the area underneath the foreskin clean. You can read more about urination and ballooning over at Dr. Momma.
When do you HAVE to circumcise?
Usually....never. No really. A reason often given is phimosis. When the foreskin is too tight around the penis. Phimosis cannot be correctly diagnosed until post puberty. Many are concerned because their 5 year old cannot retract their foreskin and fear it is phimosis. As mentioned previously, overtime the foreskin will retract naturally by the owner of the penis and not a second sooner. In true cases of phimosis it is often cleared up by topical creams.
Getting the big SNIP
Actually it's more than a snip. There are a few different common methods used. They all involve a similar process. The Plastibell Method is often mistaken for a "no cut" option. It does involve cutting. The foreskin is cut open so the plastibell ring can be clamped down onto the glans of the penis. The remaining skin is trimmed. The tight ring will cause the remaining attached foreskin to die and fall off. Both the Gomco clamp method and the Mogen clamp method involve variations of inserting a hemostat, a sharp metal stick which kind of resembles a skinny crochet hook, in between the foreskin and glans to forcefully separate the foreskin from the glans. Then the clamp is attached and crushes the skin to help separate the remaining foreskin.
When intact, you do not retract.
And that's putting it lightly. For full information on how each procedure is done, and to see how they stack up against eachother you can visit CircInfo.
Babies don't feel pain
A common argument is that babies do not feel pain yet. They're too small. Pain is a learned reaction. Except it's not. Babies can feel just as much, if not more pain than we as adults do. If an adult male were to choose to be circumcised he'd likely be put under general anesthesia. Be given clean bandages to protect his surgical site. And Percocet. Lots of Percocet.
When newborns are circumcised they receive anything from an injection into their dorsal vein which doesn't efficiently numb the area, to a topical numbing cream, to sugar water, to nothing at all. The surgical site has to heal while being exposed to feces and urine. Anyone who has experienced tearing during labor can tell you that urinating on your fresh stitches is exactly no fun at all.
An unfortunate side effect of circumcision is that babies often go on nursing strikes either from pain and discomfort or exhaustion from the procedure. Those early days of learning to nurse, building your supply, and keeping your own discomfort from engorgement are super important. Women don't need another obstacle to breastfeeding.
Other reasons people choose to circumcise
It's cleaner- It's really not. Just as the ladies all learn to wash the folds of our vulvas, your intact sons will learn to wash under his foreskin, rinse, and repeat. I promise. The foreskin doesn't spend its time spewing smelly funk all day. Well if it does, you should probably get it checked out. But on a normal basis, it just hangs out and protects the penis.
He needs to match dad- He never will. Genetics are funny like that. Just like we all will likely have different shoe sizes, different breast sizes, different heights and weights, dad and son's penises will likely never match. I'm also willing to bet they won't spend much time comparing.
It prevents STI's- Abstinence is the only thing that will 100% prevent STI's. Safe sex and responsible sex will reduce his chances of contracting an STI.
It reduces occurrences of UTI's- The difference of UTI occurrences between intact and circumcised males is .02%. Women get UTI's 9x more often then men do, but we treat accordingly and get better.
I circumcised my previous boys- That's ok! Just like dad's and son's penises don't have to match, neither do brothers. People change parenting choices all the time.
The reason for writing this article is not to shame anyone. I wrote it because knowledge power. Sharing wisdom and insight is love. Just like I share information on car seats and Essure (cough cough don't ever get Essure), I share information on keeping sons intact.
The intact penis shouldn't be taboo. Foreskin isn't scary. It's actually pretty easy to handle. Wipe, rinse, repeat. You can always choose to circumcise later if you change your mind, you can't, however, undo it. Take time. Think it over. Read up on it. Talk about.
To my clients, let me say it again. I will walk besides you throughout your birth with nothing but excitement, praise, love, and encouragement. Regardless of where I stand. I'll support you.
Check out more info on the intact penis.
Click through the circumcision decision maker. It covers all common reasons for choosing to circumcise and gives great information, foreskin facts, circumcision facts, and a ton of great resources.