Why Is Circumcision Declining?

A boy shouts as he under goes circumcisi

Amid dropping rates in the US, a married couple debates whether or not to perform the operation on their son:

[O]ne of my husband’s ex-jock friends wrote a surprisingly thoughtful, persuasive, and well reasoned emailed argument to my husband in favor of circumcising our son.  After the analysis though, his final—and key—factor was, “And it’s hard enough for a guy to get blowjobs as it is.” Shockingly, the misguided belief that uncircumcised men have more difficulties procuring oral sex is shared beyond the male college athlete demographic. An OBGYN mother-in-law asked my friend, who was carrying her grandson-to-be at the time: “Don’t you want him to get blow jobs some day?”

Still, it seems that a groundswell against circumcision has begun in our country. Circumcision rates in the United States are dropping. They decreased 8 percent from 1999 to 2009. Interestingly, in my circle, the movement against the procedure seems to be led not by men, but by women. Predictably, these are the same mothers who are also advocating for natural childbirth (more midwives and birthing balls) and less medical intervention (fewer oxytocin drips, monitors, and less laboring while laying one one’s back) during delivery.

Today, only about half of infant boys have their genitals mutilated and permanently scarred in the US. That’s a big shift away from the expectations of the past. It will surely provoke more questioning of the strange, ancient, religious practice as routine medical care in the US. In many parts of the US, especially the West, unmutilated men will soon greatly outnumber those whose sensitive, tiny dicks have been painfully sliced after birth. Razib Khan puzzles over the declining numbers:

One might think that this is due to demographic changes in the West, as Hispanics have lower rates of circumcision than non-Hispanics (black or white). But while California had circumcision rates of 22% in 2009, Washington state’s was 15%.

It seems that Medicaid coverage has a strong effect, but this can’t explain all of the variation. In the late 1970s the western states had the same circumcision rates as the northeastern states. Today northeastern states have circumcision rates two to three times higher than in the west. And it doesn’t map onto politics either. Extremely conservative (and western) Utah has circumcision rates of 42%. Blue Rhode Island has rates of 76%.

Finally, I want to observe here that the males who were born during the era of diverging circumcision rates are now entering sexual maturity en masse. This is going to shape the expectations of both sexes, and perhaps result in some surprises for those who relocate to the other coast as they transition to adulthood….

(Photo: A boy shouts as he under goes circumcision during ceremony in Kajang outside Kuala Lumpur on November 20, 2011. By Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images)