We know the rate of neonatal circumcision in the United States is slowly falling. In the meantime, the rate of circumcision “re-do’s” — referred to in the medical literature as “circumcision revisions” — is rising. A lot.
Circumcision revision surgery is both highly unfortunate — and unsurprising.
Conversations about penises — how they function and what people think they should look like — were not commonplace just a decade ago. Now, as circumcision rates continue to decline, the practice is being widely discussed and debated. Almost daily, news articles, blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos, and the growth of new support and advocacy groups show the growing discussion and, in turn, contribute to growing awareness.
With all this penis talk, American parents are paying a lot of attention (sometimes, it seems, way too much attention) to their sons’ penises. On social media and in direct inquiries to Intact America, parents frequently write that their son’s circumcision “doesn’t look right,” and they want to know how to get it “fixed.” Our network of pediatric urologists report that the number of parents seeking circumcision “revisions” is growing, and the academic literature seems to support this.
The authors of a 2013 article published in Clinical Pediatrics reviewed five years of data from freestanding children’s hospitals affiliated with the Child Health Corporation of America. After excluding patients with other penile pathologies, they found that the rate of circumcision revision procedures increased significantly over the 5-year period when compared to the rate of neonatal circumcision, and suggest that the main reason for the increase was “changing standards of satisfaction” among parents of circumcised boys. In other words, parents take their sons for a second surgery — this one requiring risky general anesthesia — because they aren’t happy with the handiwork of the original circumcising doctor or mohel. Some of the complaints from parents seeking a “penile touch-up” (not to be confused with surgeries required to repair circumcision-related functional impairments) for their sons include too little foreskin removed; “uneven” appearance of the remaining foreskin; or the child’s penis pulling to one side. While the repair might make the parent feel better, it exposes the child to additional risks, both physical and psychological, and it can never restore the sensitive tissue removed in the circumcision.
The most unfortunate thing, though, about circumcision revision surgery in a child is that it is the result of a harmful procedure that was NOT necessary in the first place. And that just as the child was forced to endure a primal wound that he could neither consent to nor understand, he is now being forced to undergo a second surgery — more painful and more risky than the first.
Based on social change theory and examples of past movements for social equality and human rights, the United States is moving toward a tipping point — that point at which a critical mass of Americans will have come to believe that keeping boys intact is the normal, desirable thing to do. This means more and more baby boys will be kept intact, and babies who are kept intact will never need their penises to be “revised.”