Gentleman Scholar

The Unkindest Cut?

Should a gentleman circumcise his little gentleman’s tiny gentleman?

Please send your questions for publication to (Questions may be edited.)

Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson.

Photo by Christina Paige

Dear Gentleman Scholar,

Circumcision: Why? Humans have done OK with uncut junk throughout the ages. I am against it due to the scar tissue and what is essentially a numb spot there. While I have come to terms with it (what other choice do I have?), I find it odd that people can cut pieces off of a child so casually (as noted in a Dear Prudence column “Ol Yeller“). 

My opinion:

Pros: Religious tradition, lowers chances of bacterial infections (I must note, soap and water are also effective), freedom to choose (for the parent)

Cons: Irreversible, nerve damage of varying degrees, risk of post-surgery infection, risk of catastrophic failure, no freedom of choice for the individual affected

As a parent of a young boy, what thought process did you go through to decide? And your peers?   

Cut and Numb

I very much appreciate the question, dear sir—but let it be stipulated upfront that the Gentleman Scholar is not at liberty to discuss the whereabouts of his son’s foreskin. My right to publish remarks concerning his anatomy—the movie-idol eyes, the cherubic corona of curls—does not extend into the diaper zone. Nonetheless, I will amend your list of pros and cons.

I hate to break to you the news that the American Academy of Pediatrics recently changed its position on neonatal circumcision. The organization had been on a 14-year streak of neutrality on the matter; like most other reputable medical organizations, it recognized no clear net benefit to the procedure, which caught on as a secular practice during the Victorian age. (Being Victorians, they were on a futile quest to discourage masturbation.) However, in the September issue of Pediatrics, the AAP rediscovered its disenchantment with the prepuce. (You know how it is with these doctors, always changing their minds: “Breathe in. Now breathe out.” “Look to the left. And now look to the right.”)

My layman’s reading of the relevant technical report led me to decide that the AAP arrived at its new conclusion by relying on data irrelevant to the style of life of an overwhelming majority of American citizens. The AAP based its reversal on HIV studies conducted in sub-Saharan Africa, where that virus is a plague. This is to say you would unquestionably be acting in your son’s best interests to order his circumcision if also you are raising him to have unprotected sex in Zambia.

On the pro tip, I agree with your implied valuation of respect for religious tradition. Two of the three big-time Abrahamic faiths require the procedure, and it would require supernatural powers of persuasion to dissuade the faithful from continuing the practice. Hard-line opponents of routine circumcision consider ritual-as-religious-ritual to be a vestige of the ancient world, like kosher and halal dietary practice, with the crucial difference of the species being butchered. And though the hard-line opponents have a point, it must also be said that those dietary practices are inextricably tied up with the cuisine that brings us the excellent whitefish salad so often found at a quality bris.

I will add one minor con to your list: If the child’s foreskin becomes retractable before he is old enough to clean his penis himself, you have to get under the hood every now and then. This adds further stress to toddler bath time, which sometimes resembles the Battle of Midway in any case.

People who advocate against routine circumcision argue that the procedure is contrary to the surgeon’s oath to do no harm and of the parents’ obligation to try to get the kid to adulthood in one piece. They have a strong point; however—and here is an additional con—they are very weirdly tone-deaf when they argue.

  • The most prominent spokesman for genital integrity, the actor Alan Cumming, was not able to resist dropping the phrase “my gargantuan girth” into his most prominent statement on the issue.
  • The most reputable anti-circumcision groups toss around phrases like “human rights” and “genital mutilation,” which seems a bit de trop, from a rhetorical standpoint. 
  • Some outlets representing the cause are inadvertently hilarious, perhaps of necessity, as the penis is very clearly the most inherently comical of all bodily organs (except for wiggleable ears). Here we have a website called The Intactivism Pages, which focuses on the celebrity angle to an inane degree and in an inane fashion. Its lists of intact celebrities are rather silly; for instance, it insists that Dane Cook is a movie star. This is a realm where “frequently asked questions” include, “You say Leonardo DiCaprio is intact, but in Total Eclipse he looks circumcised.” And is it strictly advisable to include former Sen. Bob Packwood on a list of uncircumcised politicians and statesmen? Alongside Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark (“paparazzi pictures of him urinating from a yacht have been published”)? The sources of this information include “actors’ dressers, sportsmen’s teammates and towel boys, and people who ‘chanced on’ the celebrities at urinals.” I look askance at this reporting technique. Urinal etiquette finds the gentleman’s gaze steering dead ahead.
  • The comments section of this article, of course, will boil over with the stridencies of individuals who are eager to see their missing foreskins as a catch-all scapegoat, ascribing life’s every frustration to the trauma of the surgery, raging that they’ve lost all their manhood along with their man hood. Though I hesitate to psychoanalyze my rageful brethren, I cannot resist nodding to Freud in advising them not to be burdened by their fate. Don’t read too much into circumcision: Sometimes a penis is just a penis.