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Cutting to the Point on Circumcision

Weigh the Options

To Snip or Not to Snip continued...

If parents choose to circumcise their baby, the AAP recommends local anesthesia. Doctors can use a topical anesthetic, a dorsal penile-nerve block (injected with a needle), or a newer procedure called a subcutaneous ring block, which proved to be more effective than the other two methods in one study.

Another disadvantage of circumcision is the risk of surgical complications, although they are rare -- maybe 0.2% to 0.6%. Bleeding is the most common complication, occurring in 0.1% of circumcisions, although it's rarely bad enough to warrant a transfusion. Minor infection is the second most common problem.

Less common are complications, such as improper or excessive cutting, which can impair function. In a few instances, circumcision has resulted in loss of the penis or even death. A 1-month-old infant in Cleveland, Ohio, died from anesthesia complications as doctors were repairing his circumcision.

It's also more expensive. About 1.2 million newborn males are circumcised annually at a cost of $150 million to $270 million. An individual circumcision can range from $225-$500.

Opponents of circumcision also claim that the procedure desensitizes the penis and decreases sexual pleasure. That's because the foreskin, which makes up about half the skin of the penis, contains highly sensitive nerve endings.

No studies have been done to back those claims, although some men who were circumcised as adults reportedly say that sensitivity decreased significantly. On the other hand, one study found that circumcised men remained sexually active longer.

Parents Sound Off

For Hugh and Kalei Damon, of Newport Beach, Calif., the decision to circumcise Cole came down to conformity. Not only is Hugh Damon circumcised, but he's banking on the fact that most boys Cole's age will be, too.

"I remember growing up seeing my dad naked and his looked the same as mine. I just felt psychologically, if it didn't there might be questions why," says Damon. "Mostly, I just didn't want him to feel different in the locker room or from me."

Religious tradition was the determining factor for Doug Gertner and Maggie Miller, of Denver, Colo. Just as Gertner's own Jewish ritual ceremony connected him to his ancestors and heritage, so too would his son's.

"It was a powerful, beautiful event, and the community went out of its way to be there and support him as he went through this rite of passage," says Gertner of his son Jordan. "Hopefully he'll appreciate that anything I did to him was chosen thoughtfully, and not just pain inflicted."

However, some Jews are among those questioning the ancient ritual. Michael Kimmel and Amy Aronson of Brooklyn, N.Y., came up with a creative alternative. They found a mohel, who performs ritual circumcisions, to perform the ceremony -- without the circumcision.

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