Before the 1970s, circumcision was thought of as a necessary health procedure for every boy brought onto this earth. Today, according to Southern Cross, less than 10 per cent of Kiwi male babies have their foreskins surgically removed.
I recently learned that unless it's for a very specific medical need, New Zealand public hospitals will not circumcise your child upon his birth anymore. Even if it's required by your religion (eg. Judaism or Islam).
To have a boy circumcised in New Zealand you need to go to a private medical centre that offers it. It costs around $500, and may be performed by a urologist or plastic surgeon.
I was born in 1985, which is long after circumcision had become an unpopular choice for the parents of new-borns in New Zealand. I remember as young boys in the changing rooms at primary school, the occasional kid who was circumcised would be asked why his penis looked "weird". He might have even been made fun of by his peers.
This situation is mirrored in other Anglo cultures in Australia and the UK, but differs entirely from the North American experience. In the US and Canada, most men my age were circumcised at birth; a trend that continues today throughout that part of the world. So much so, that "uncut" men may actually be fetishized (or, in contrast, denigrated) in American culture.
One would assume that the high rates of circumcision in North America are due to religious conservatism. However, here's an interesting fact: throughout history, American doctors have been paid per procedure whenever they work, while doctors in the UK, New Zealand, and Australia are salaried. Therefore, there's always been a financial incentive for American doctors to circumcise male babies that doesn't exist in other Anglicised parts of the world.
In Australasia, the UK, and Europe, the rhetoric around circumcision veers closer to the "bodily mutilation" narrative than the "for hygiene reasons" one. Most of the world's major medical organisations believe elective circumcision of babies carries no benefit and significant risks (although some will still say it has modest health benefits that outweigh small risks).
So why circumcise? Religious laws aside, most put it down to cleanliness; a circumcised penis is easier to wash. There's also the argument that aesthetically, a circumcised penis looks more appealing.
Although circumcision doesn't appear to have a negative effect on sexual function, it is thought that an uncircumcised penis is more sensitive (which may result in more pleasure) than its cut alternative, but this claim is subjective (only those who have been circumcised as sexually-active adults would be able to give any insight into the matter).
I'm on board with the bodily harm view – it is sickening to cut off a piece of a child's body, especially when you learn the history of some of circumcision's methods (which has included an Orthodox Jewish mohel biting the head off a baby's penis with his mouth).
I also understand the cleanliness debate, however, because a lot of young boys are not taught by their parents to pull back their foreskins when bathing and explicitly wash them; this lack of a hygiene routine can carry into adulthood and result in an unappealing smell. Among the few other purported health benefits, there are some studies out there that suggest circumcised men are less likely to be infected with HIV during sexual intercourse.
The Mumsnet crowd on the internet have a lot to say about circumcision, and the general argument online – from what I can tell – is that circumcision is mutilation of a perfectly healthy child. There's no need to remove part of your son because of an antiquated notion that it's cleaner, they say. "No boy should have a part of his penis cut off unless it is absolutely medically necessary," is the general theme – something singer Pink had hammered to her last month when her son's circumcised penis was visible in her Instagram post and other parents went mad.
My general argument is in agreement with most of the modern parents out there. No doctor or religious cleric should cut off a natural part of another's body without the explicit consent of the person that it will matter to most. If you grow up and you want to be circumcised as an adult, I think you should have that choice. Maybe you will find it easier to clean or more visually appealing, but that's your prerogative. Not that of someone else.
I should leave you this week on one final note. The arguments around cleanliness, aesthetic appeal, and sexual de-sensitivity? They are the same reasons used for the horrific act of female circumcision, aka Female Genital Mutilation or FGM. That's done for "cultural" reasons too. How do you feel about it now?