When the new baby is a boy, parents are offered a procedure called circumcision. The word is really self-explanatory, "-cision" meaning incision, or cut, and "circum-" meaning around. The top of the foreskin, the part that slides over the top of the penis, or "glans", is removed surgically, effectively exposing the area previously covered. In the newborn, the obstetrician or pediatrician usually performs the procedure in a quick, simple manner. A benefit readily offered is the ease of hygiene.
Smegma, the thick secretion that is seen to accumulate under the foreskin, is considered undesirable. In fact, smegma is thought to be a possible carcinogen, even though cancer in this area is extremely rare. Covering an area wherein urine can be trapped can be a theoretical concern for urinary tract infections and other inflammatory conditions. Also, phimosis, the condition in which the foreskin is stuck tightly around the penis once it's been forced down around it, can cause very painful episodes in a young boy's life. So circumcision, a practice as old as antiquity itself, is touted as the solution to uncleanliness, cancer, and pain. But today, there is debate about the validity of these claims.
Apart from religious reasons, the truth is that many parents decide for or against circumcisions based solely on cosmetics.
They feel this is reason enough, because all of the above cautions are either easily avoided or extremely unlikely. Parents wonder whether the "other" boys in the school gym shower will be like their son--or more importantly, what can be done to make their son look just like most of the other boys around. They don't want their son to be different -- especially "there".
It is difficult to talk about circumcision as simply another routine expectation of medical care. For some groups, it has religious meaning. For others, circumcision is an unusual practice, which is sometimes seen as deforming. Many people agree with this point of view. They believe that because the procedure is really only cosmetic, it shouldn't be forced upon infants. They say it is a breach, an uninvited altering within one's privacy that may forever diminish full sexual sensitivity. Additionally, they worry about the pain, which must be stored somewhere --even if it's not actually remembered.
On the other hand, proponents of circumcision argue that the pain may not be that important, that no one who has had a circumcision regrets or remembers the procedure. One thing is true, it's easier done earlier than later, as demonstrated by the baby who sleeps untroubled in his mother's arms a moment after. Like most philosophical exercises, there can be no morally absolute, political, or obviously logical answer. It is a personal decision, and it is one of the first decisions parents will make in raising their son.