A study by Dr Greg Watters and Stephen Carroll, of Deakin University, Victoria, has found that the reasons given by mothers for wanting to have their baby boys circumcised are based on outdated and mistaken information or bad advice from family members. A summary of the paper appears below.
The routine, non-ritual circumcision of neo-natal males remains a controversial subject in Australia, New Zealand and other Anglo-Celtic settler societies. Circumcision was almost universal amongst Anglo-Celtic Australians until the 1960s. However, many surgeons and medical societies, including our own, now discourage this practice as unnecessary and potentially dangerous. Despite numerous efforts at the education of parents in the function and care of the foreskin, there remains a strong demand for circumcision amongst mothers of newborn males. This paper attempts to analyse the reasons for this demand.
The mothers of all boys born in Port Macquarie Base Hospital between June 1999 and June 2002 were retrospectively surveyed with a mailed questionnaire. A small group of those surveyed also took part in face-to-face interviews. The mothers' were asked if their sons were circumcised or if they had seriously considered circumcision prior to birth. The questionnaires also identified the demographics of theparticipants including their religion, level of education and ethnic origin. The mothers' attitudes towards routine circumcision and their perceptions of the advantages and disadvantages of the procedure were explored. Factors that influenced mothers in their decision-making, including information provided by medical practitioners, were identified.
One hundred and twenty four of the 1027 mothers were sent questionnaires had changed address and could not be contacted. Of those who were contacted, 435 (48%) replied. To reduce the role of cultural and religious factors, 60 replies from mothers who did not identify themselves as Anglo-Celtic were discarded and 375 questionnaires were then analysed. Of the mothers who replied, 41% had had their sons circumcised and a further 36% had given it serious consideration. Mothers who chose circumcision were younger and more likely to have circumcised partners and fathers. They were more likely to profess a religious faith and be less well educated than mothers who did not consider circumcision. The perceived advantages of circumcision included pseudo-medical reasons (prevention of HIV, infections and cancers) and social reasons ("to look like dad", be cleaner, prevent masturbation etc). Mothers who chose circumcision claimed to be unaware of the potential risks of the procedure. They also strongly believed that it was a maternal right to have their son circumcised.
The medico-legal and ethical implications of these results are discussed. It is also argued that non-ritual, neo-natal circumcision is predominantly a cultural rather than a medical phenomena. As a result, education on the function and care of the foreskin will be unsuccessful if it is based solely on a medical model.
The paper was given at a conference of urological surgeons in March2003.
Just like dad: Maternal attitudes to neo-natal circumcision in an Anglo-Celtic settler society
By Greg Watters, Port Macquarie Hospital, NSW and Deakin University, Vic, and Stephen Carroll, Deakin University
Urological Society of Australasia
2003 Annual Scientific Meeting
Queenstown, New Zealand
2 - 6 March 2003
Watters and Carroll are also authors of a useful book on the penis: Your Penis: A User's Guide