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While research from UIC suggests the procedure may reduce the risk of HIV contraction, many parents are opting out of circumcising their baby boys.

To cut or not to cut: More parents are saying no to circumcision

by Caroline Thompson
Oct 30, 2013

Despite health benefits, routine circumcision in newborn males is on the decline in the U.S.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 79 percent of American men report being circumcised. Many parents of boys are opting out of the age-old tradition despite a recent study from the University of Illinois-Chicago that found a link between male circumcision and a decreased risk of HIV contraction.

“I was concerned about having to take care of it afterwards,” said Maddie Van Note, 23, who made the decision not to circumcise her son, Michael, when he was born in 2010. “You have to make sure it’s clean, wrap it — I had just had a C-section, so I was also recovering from major surgery and I just thought it seemed very intense, like a lot of extra work.”

Van Note and her fiancé, Grant Hammond, are part of a new generation of parents who don’t see a circumcision as a necessity; a movement helped along by educational programs put forth by the many ‘pro-intact’ advocacy groups currently popping up around the country.

“I guess it’s kind of funny to have to advocate for people to be allowed to keep body parts they’re born with, but that’s what we do,” said Georganne Chapin, the executive director of Intact America, an organization dedicated to ending the practice of routine circumcision in the United States.
Chapin is skeptical when it comes to the conclusions drawn by the UIC study, and doesn’t see how the procedure, which she calls an abhorrent practice, can ever be justified.

“Even if I believed these studies, they don’t justify removing healthy, normal tissue from baby boys – Little babies are not having sex. Little babies are not at risk for sexually transmitted diseases like HIV. This should be a man’s choice to have that surgery on himself.”

The UIC study, which took place in Kenya, found that the protective effect for men who underwent surgery for circumcision was about 60 percent. Men in the intervention group were significantly less likely to contract HIV after engaging in heterosexual sex.

According to Dr. Sherry Nordstrom, an associate professor of OB/GYN at UIC involved in the Kenya studies, this is due partially to a lack of immune cells called Langerhans cells, which are concentrated at the surface of penis foreskin and are key to the transmission and replication of the virus.

"The target cells for HIV infection are more prevalent in the foreskin tissue," said Nordstrom, who is currently in Kenya working on another study concerning infant male circumcision. "Removal of that tissue reduces the chance that HIV will penetrate the body."

Still, Chapin says studies like this have yet to be replicated in the developed world, and should have little to no bearing on an American parent’s decision to circumcise their child.

“We don’t go removing other body parts from babies to reduce their risk of diseases,” said Chapin. “We could reduce the risk of skin cancer by removing people’s noses and giving them a prosthesis, we could reduce dental problems by removing people’s teeth and giving them false teeth – We don’t do that. It’s unethical. I’m not impressed by any medical claim that serves as a way of justifying an abhorrent unethical practice.”

And it seems many modern-day parents agree with Chapin’s sentiments. Van Note said since giving birth to her son she has yet to meet a young parent who made the cut on their kid.

“I think it’s becoming outdated, honestly,” said Van Note of the ancient practice. “Knowing what I know now, I would suggest [new parents] not do it. I don’t think it’s necessary. When you have a baby you don’t want to hurt them in any way, and I feel like cutting off something they’re born with right after they’re born seems like the total opposite philosophy if you want to protect your child.”

And as for the procedure’s potential to reduce a child’s risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases when he’s older?

“If you’re worried about STDs you should just teach your kid safe sex, don’t just cut his penis skin off!”