Is Circumcision Cosmetic Surgery?

(Photo: Anti-circumcision protestors at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco)

I was at a doctor’s appointment last week when I ran into a group of protestors outside the hospital – near the door to the maternity ward.

Here is what some of the signs say:
“Jews for the RIGHTS of the child.”
“I don’t belong to you. My penis is NOT your property.”
“The foreskin has sexual function, don’t deprive them.”
“Circumcised America’s sexual disease rate [is] higher than [in] intact Europe,” from a group of anti-circumcision doctors

I knew that circumcision rates were dropping every year, but I’d never really witnessed a public display such as this. And I’ve certainly never seen a Jewish protestor taking a stand (turns out, she’s not the only one).

One of the protestors seemed to enjoy telling me horror stories of circumcisions-gone-wrong. After the 3rd disaster story, I had to politely exit the conversation (I have a weak stomach).

Was he right? Yes, things can go wrong in a circumcision. Things can go TERRIBLY wrong. In fact, approximately 117 neonatal circumcision-related deaths (9/100,000) occur annually in the United States. What’s more significant are the countless number of “botched” jobs that I read about all the time in my mother’s group forums (ever heard of a penoplasty? I really hope not.)

Sadly, some botched jobs can leave men scarred for life. And it’s more common than you think (and good luck finding data on it, it’s not something doctors and hospitals like to about).

So I asked a Pediatrician friend of mine: since it’s inconclusive that there are any medical benefits to people in first world countries, why do people continue to circumcise?

“Well,” he said, “it’s really just cosmetic surgery for the penis. Americans are used to seeing penises look… you know, a certain way.”

The Hooded Monster

I asked some of the moms in my playgroup why they chose to do it. My friend Jody says, “I remember my friend dating a guy in college who was un-cut. She jokingly referred to his penis as the ‘hooded monster’. I didn’t want my own son to be the butt of a bunch of giggling sorority girls because he looks different.”

Conformity is important to people, ESPECIALLY in the tender years of adolescence. The dreaded locker room situation (cue Jaws music). But it begs the question; by the time today’s babies become adults, who will have more members on their team?

A New Norm?

Less than a third of baby boys born in America are now circumcised (wow, really?) In fact, circumcision rates fell from 56% in 2006 to 32% in 2009. (Bcheraoui, et al. 2010) However, it should be noted that rates of circumcision still vary drastically among different ethnicities and socio-economic groups (Medicaid no longer covers unnecessary circumcision in most states, for example).

So what WILL the modern American penis look like? It’s up to you, dear parents.

Talk to your doctor. Talk to your friends. Figure out what’s important to you and your little man.

Choose wisely.

“Just as we no longer practice the animal sacrifices in the traditional temple, so let us not sacrifice an important piece of our mammal in the temple of tradition,” — Rabbi Natan Segal, One Rabbis’ Thoughts on Circumcision, February, 2007


Published on: September 06, 2011
About the Author
Photo of Meg Collins
Meg Collins is the Editor of, a website and newsletter subscription service dedicated to helping pregnant women survive birth, breastfeeding, and the first year of motherhood. She created Lucieslist in early 2010 after struggling to find a website with high-quality, unbiased recommendations for baby gear.
Get Dr. Greene's Wellness RecommendationsSignup now to get Dr. Greene's healing philosophy, insight into medical trends, parenting tips, seasonal highlights, and health news delivered to your inbox every month.