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How Parents Make the Circumcision Decision

An illustration from above, looking down on two parents leaning over a bassinet. In the bassinet is a newborn wrapped in a blue and white striped blanket, wearing a blue hat with three thin white stripes on it. The parents' faces are not visible, and the person on the left has one hand down on the baby and the other around the other parent's shoulders.
Charnel Hunter

When the time comes to decide whether or not a child will be circumcised … how do parents choose? The answer is not only answered medically but culturally.

It’s a small surgical procedure, but one that’s wrapped up in questions about medicine, religion and culture.

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement saying the health benefits of elective circumcision in newborns outweighed the risks — but that those health benefits were not so significant as to recommend routine circumcision.

Jewish and Muslim faith communities follow centuries of tradition in circumcising their newborns — but some parents are questioning how those traditions fit with their lives and values, or they are a part of interfaith families that may have differing perspectives on the procedure.

And if parents turn to the internet for clarity … it’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole and emerge without conclusions.

To get information on the procedure itself, host Anita Rao talks with Dr. Emilie K. Johnson, a pediatric urologist, about the medical aspects of circumcision and answers common questions.

And two parents join to talk about their decision-making processes. Chris Silva and his wife initially thought they would circumcise their son — and ended up changing their minds. Rabbi Elyssa Cherney, the founder of Tackling Torah, not only has her own experience but helps other members of her community make this decision.

Thanks to Erik, Cynthia and an anonymous parent in Johnston County, North Carolina, for sharing their experiences with us.

Tips for Making the Circumcision Decision

Get clarity on the medical aspects
A family physician or obstetrician can provide insights into the general health benefits and specific health impacts of circumcision for your child. In situations where there are greater health considerations — like a condition affecting the urinary tract or a bleeding disorder — a pediatric urologist may step in to make a recommendation.

Consult with a trusted faith leader
If circumcision is traditional in your faith, it can be helpful to talk through the decision with a leader in your community — to discuss the tradition, your values and what’s best for your family and your child.

“A lot of the work that I do is with interfaith families … they have different cultural pieces at play. It's not necessarily a given whether they choose to circumcise their son or not.” - Rabbi Elyssa Cherney

Talk with other parents!
“Find someone who's been there and done that. Whether they've decided to circumcise their son or not, it's good to bounce it off of other people. It's probably the biggest thing I wish I did.” - Chris Silva

Stay Connected
Kaia Findlay is the lead producer of Embodied, WUNC's weekly podcast and radio show about sex, relationships and health. Kaia first joined the WUNC team in 2020 as a producer for The State of Things.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.