Common Questions about loose circumcisions
The original version of this article (2013) was written by Larissa Black, director of The Whole Network. Edited and republished by Your Whole Baby (2018), with permission.
Here, find answers to common concerns from parents whose sons were circumcised "loosely," with some degree of foreskin remaining.
My son’s foreskin is "growing back,” or covering the head of the penis, stuck, adhered. Won't he have problems if it's not removed?
A naturally intact boy’s foreskin is fused to the head of the penis the same way your fingernail is fused to your finger. Sometimes, after a circumcision, remaining wounded foreskin will adhere back onto the glans in an attempt to heal itself, causing what are called “penile adhesions.” Unnatural adhesions are very common in boys or men who have been circumcised. This is why parents typically receive post-circumcision instructions to lubricate the exposed head and pull back the remnants at every diaper change until healing is complete. Unfortunately, even when parents do this diligently, some of the tissue finds a way to re-adhere later.
Some doctors may insist this remaining foreskin needs to be removed altogether, or at the very least, ripped back. But manually ripping the fused tissue from the head of the penis is a harmful act, causing severe pain to the child, as well as bleeding, possible infection, and scarring. Do not allow a medical professional to rip your son’s foreskin remnants back if they have readhered. That being said, as his parent, you will need to gently pull back his remaining foreskin (or teach him to do so) just as far as the location of the fusion to clean during regular bathing. A loose circumcision can trap debris beneath in a way an intact penis cannot. Again, nothing should ever be forced, and do not try to break the adhesions. They often break down on their own over time, much like the membrane between inner foreskin and glans eventually dissolves for an intact male. If adhesions don’t resolve once the circumcised child is through puberty, or they begin causing him discomfort, less invasive procedures can aid the process along. A wait-and-see approach also allows the boy to be involved in choices regarding his body and his medical care. In most cases, surgery is not needed.
But my son doesn’t look circumcised. Won’t he wonder why he doesn't look like daddy?
No two circumcisions are ever going to look exactly alike. Your son is more likely to notice the differences in dad’s penis size or pubic hair than the appearance of the type of circumcision. If he does ask, you can easily explain that everyone’s genitals look different.
What if other kids make fun of him for not looking circumcised?
The circumcision rate in the U.S. has been dropping since the late 1970s. Your son will have a mix of intact and circumcised boys in his class, and among them, no two circumcision sites will appear the same, just as no two intact penises will look the same. In addition, students being naked at school in each other's presence is no longer the norm, so it’s unlikely children will even see each other’s penises. Bullying can arise from a vast number of issues having nothing to do with the penis — it is misguided to believe that surgically modifying a boy’s penis will somehow keep him safe from bullies.
My doctor said the re-circumcision needs to be done. If the doctor said so, my son must need it. Right?
Not necessarily. Doctors are human and products of their culture; they do make mistakes. American doctors used to recommend cigarettes to their patients. Now it’s common knowledge that cigarettes make you sick and can kill you. Hindsight is 20/20. That’s why we suggest getting second and third opinions before proceeding with an irreversible surgery. Here’s a list of doctors who may be able to help you.
I'm planning on getting my son circumcised when he is born. Should I request a loose circumcision?
The male foreskin is highly specialized tissue with a number of protective and sexual functions. It is literally the most fine touch-sensitive part of the penis. Knowing this, there is no such thing as having too little foreskin removed, but there is most certainly such a thing as having too much removed. In other words, the more foreskin a child is left with, the better. No matter what you request from a provider, there's no guarantee how much tissue gets cut/clamped off, and the experience will feel exactly the same for your infant son either way — unimaginably painful and terrifying.
All circumcision surgeries include harms and risks. Regardless of the amount of tissue removed, your son may develop meatal stenosis, skin tags, skin bridges, excessive scarring, MRSA infections, and other complications from being circumcised. Death is also a risk of circumcision.
More and more parents are choosing not to circumcise their sons. To learn more about circumcision, check out this article written by The WHOLE Network's founder about her own journey of discovery when she was pregnant with her first son. We also encourage you to visit our website's library to continue your search.