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July 5, 2011

Cavaliers vs Roundheads

By Spear's

Does circumcising a baby boy nip his career prospects in the bud? Can such a child ever grow up to be a man in full, asks Daisy Prince
IT’S ALWAYS THE second glass of wine that does it. I was having a perfectly normal dinner with my Aunt Elena a few weeks ago in a friendly Upper East Side Italian restaurant when the question came out of nowhere: ‘So, what are you going to do about the circumcision?’

I guess it wasn’t a completely random question — I am eight months pregnant and having a little boy, after all. When you’re pregnant there are so many things that require worrying — from where and how you deliver your baby, to the myriad strange pregnancy side effects, to adjusting your life to accommodate a small, squalling, hopefully sweet bundle that will be your responsibility for the next 30 years — that sometimes the finer points slip your mind until someone else brings them up.

My aunt continued her line of questioning. ‘The Simones came over the other night and they were curious to know if you would circumcise your baby, because their son-in-law is English and he didn’t want to do it. Have you asked Hugh about it?’

I told her that no, the decision as to whether or not to circumcise my unborn child was not top of my list of priorities right now and we hadn’t discussed it.

‘But you will, right? He’ll be teased at boarding school if you don’t.’

I said I wasn’t sure that he would, because maybe he wouldn’t go to boarding school in America — maybe he’d go in England, or maybe he wouldn’t go at all (did I mention that my child isn’t even born yet?).

‘Well, he’s never going to be the future President of the United States if you don’t,’ my aunt said darkly.

Whaaat? How could a little piece of skin possibly prevent my future son from running for President (as if that were the only thing that could stand in his way anyway)?

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My aunt told me in no uncertain terms that if we didn’t circumcise the poor little chap he’d be so traumatised by his peers that he’d never get his confidence up enough to run for office. Instead of arguing with her I just sipped my cranberry juice, wishing it could be something stronger.

However, she’d made her point, and when I got home I did a little research on the topic. It turns out that accents aren’t the only differences between the US and UK; a far greater proportion of men are circumcised in the US than in the UK. According to recent research, as many as 90 per cent of the white male population is circumcised in the US, compared to the UK where the number is far lower (16 per cent in males aged 16–44, although the numbers are slightly higher in older men). Circumcision was widely practised in the Victorian period in the UK but is believed to have fallen out of favour with the introduction in 1948 of the NHS, which refused to pay for operations that it felt were unnecessary.

The medical community is split on its importance. Unsurprisingly, doctors in the States feel that it’s more hygienic and can reduce the chances of getting sexually transmitted diseases. The medical community in the UK doesn’t feel that research is conclusive at this point and believes that being uncircumcised doesn’t pose any greater health risks.

In terms of class distinctions, the more educated you are in the US, the more likely you are to be circumcised, whereas in the UK it’s not a significant class marker. Apparently Prince Charles is circumcised and Princes William and Harry are not, because Princess Diana was against it. My husband, when pressed about the topic, said that it was just never brought up. ‘It wasn’t a big deal either way,’ he claimed.

He did allow that at his prep school they used to have ‘Roundheads versus Cavaliers’ pillow fights, but aside from that no one even thought to mention it; it was simply a non-issue. This contrasts with the States, where a family friend confessed that at his boarding school (St Paul’s School in Massachusetts) the boys who weren’t circumcised were certainly singled out.

So, as my due date draws nearer, my husband and I have yet to hammer this decision out. On balance, I have decided that as the child is going to be a boy that it should be his father’s decision. As I mentioned before, there are so many other factors to think about in pregnancy, this problem can step to the back of the queue.

At this point, we have bigger fish to fry, such as what to name him. 

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