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"Parenting" Fail: "Baby Talk" Magazine Screws Up Penis Care Advice

A little bathtime fun is all it takes!

A little bathtime fun is all it takes!

You probably know Parenting magazine as well as its baby rag, Babytalk. Recently, there’s been an outcry among those with common sense intactivists over the advice in the March issue of the latter.

If he is uncircumcised, it is important to gently tug back his foreskin and cleanse thoroughly.

Say what?! This advice perpetuates the myths that an “uncircumcised” penis requires extra care. It does not, in fact.

The advice is also wrong. Step away from the penis!

Folks, when you give your baby girl a bath, do you “gently tug back” her clitoral hood to wash with soap and water beneath it? No, of course not! (That would be a bit weird, frankly.) Same rules apply for intact boys. Wash with soap and water, and only the outside of the body. Never inside or under with the genital areas, both for boys and for girls.

So we intactivists demanded an –errr–retraction of this advice on the Parenting.com Facebook fan page. What did we get in return? A poor excuse for an apology and a reiteration of how supposedly problematic the intact penis can be. From Baby Talk and the doctor whose advice they’ve used now twice:

Gently tugging is not the same as retracting…Gently tugging/sliding back of the foreskin allows for cleansing of the penis and foreskin and removal of smegma.

Baby Talk, why would you use advice from the same hack doctor who gave the incorrect advice in the first place? Might you look to a pediatrician who cares for many intact boys? Or, perhaps, even a second opinion? Journalism at its finest right there.

I also want to take the time to point out something very true about intact boys: smegma is rare. My sons, ages 4 and 2, have never had it. Their pediatrician has never even wondered about it. None of my friends’ intact sons have had a problem with it, either. (Or their intact husbands, for that matter.) I’m guessing that it’s not all that big a problem for an intact newborn, either.

If you don’t believe me, check out the AAP’s own page on caring for an “uncircumcised” penis. Yes, they mention some normal smegma. Nope, they don’t mention “tugging” a baby’s foreskin to wash beneath it. They mention it as part of your older son’s body care, once the foreskin has already retracted.

And it will retract, without your help or fretting about it. All it takes is a bit of manual stimulation. I think we can all rely on our boys to do that, can’t we?

The thing is, we shouldn’t be obsessing about the penis. We shouldn’t douse the inside of the foreskin with soap. We shouldn’t be snipping off part of it in the name of familiarity. I could give you many reasons why you shouldn’t circumcise your boy at birth. I’ve discussed it on Eco Child’s Play before. But in the end, what it comes down to is this: It is not your body, and you shouldn’t make choices for another human being’s genitalia. Especially over aesthetics.

Intact penises are the standard. They are how our baby boys come into this world. So even if you choose to cut off part of your newborn’s body circumcise, understand that when you’re referring to those who aren’t circumcised, use the word “intact”. Because that’s what my sons are: whole boys. They are in their original form. They are the standard, not the deviance.

Reach out to Parenting on their Facebook fan page. Reply to the editors of Baby Talk here. Or e-mail them and tell them to do some real journalism on the topic of circumcision.

Boycott, anyone?

Follow me on Twitter.


  1. Wow! The myopia astounds. I couldn’t agree with you more! Well written Cate. I don’t need to boycott Parenting and Baby Talk. I only subscribe to Mothering – for obvious reasons. Thanks for sharing this though. I will comment on their fan page.

  2. Well said.

    The word of advice we give to parents on the care of their intact infants boils down to this: “INTACT = DON’T RETRACT! Only Clean What is Seen” (and with warm water only – no soap. no pulling. no ‘cleaning’. no scrubbing.)

    Thank you for including a link to the actual AAP statement which clearly states that parents should never be pulling back or cleaning between the prepuce (‘foreskin’ or ‘hood’) and the glans (‘head’) of their infant’s genitals. The boy (or girl!) should be the first one to ever ‘mess with’ their prepuce in any way. After it is fully retracted (the average age for full retraction is 10 years old) boys can rinse with warm water just as girls rinse their genitals with warm water.

    If someone (as a well-meaning parent) or any care provider or medical personnel has pulled back their son’s foreskin THIS IS “forced retraction” no matter how far it was retracted. There are notes in this article for future measures a parent may wish to take: http://www.drmomma.org/2009/12/forced-retraction-what-now.html

    NOCIRC http://www.nocirc.org/publish/ and Doctors Opposing Circumcision http://www.doctorsopposingcircumcision.org/DOC/publications.html each have some excellent materials on the care of the intact infant.

    And for further (ACCURATE) information on the care of intact boys, please see any of these excellent articles written by professionals in the field:






    If a parent is not familiar with the many purposes of the prepuce organ, this is an excellent place to begin: http://www.drmomma.org/2009/09/functions-of-foreskin-purposes-of.html

  3. It is posts like yours that will change the circumcising culture in the US. I agree, we need to let our sons have their whole body.

    I like that you say, “we shouldn’t be obsessing about the penis.” Too many obsess about a baby’s penis. And it is not just the parnts. What gives with all these researchers and circumcision advocates?

  4. Cate –

    I certainly understand your concern over the inaccurate and potentially harmful advice perpetuated by a widely read parenting publication – and commend your active approach to getting more accurate information out into the parenting community.

    However I am greatly discouraged over your judgmental tone. You demand respect for your choices yet in the same breath you completely denigrate others who make different choices. I don’t know a single parent that does not carefully consider all aspects of the decisions they make on behalf of their children (despite your statements to the contrary, it is the very definition of our job as parents to make decisions on behalf of our children).

    We will all come up with very different conclusions, but as the say, until you walk a mile in my shoes – keep your mind open – or at least your disparaging opinions to yourself.

  5. Thank you Tammy K. !!

  6. This is not the first time, even this year that Baby Talk has given horrible advice. In an article about car seat safety some of the pictures show children under the age of 1 riding forward facing. Not only is it illegal, it is extremely unsafe. When it was brought to their attention, by a fellow friend, they issued the same apology and published the “letter to the editor.”

    I don’t think I will be picking up a Baby Talk magazine anytime soon.

  7. Great job Cate!!! Thanks for this excellent post. Rock on.

  8. Cate Nelson says:

    @Tammy: Thanks for your comment!

    Sadly, I actually know plenty of parents who go into their sons’ circumcisions blindly and without a lot of thought. In real life, I know people who have circumcised their sons without careful consideration. Honestly, the thought is: “it’s cleaner” or “because Dad is” without taking a critical look at the reasons they might leave their sons intact. I certainly will and do respect the other side when they’ve given it a lot of thought.

    If you didn’t, check out the link to “11 Reasons Not to Circumcise”, where I address the more flippant reasons people give for circumcision, as well as some of the supposed medical benefits.


    Again, thanks for your respectful argument.

  9. @Cate: don’t let Tammy K make you resile from “It is not your body, and you shouldn’t make choices for another human being’s genitalia” – especially since circumcision is a choice that permanently changes and reduces another human being’s genitalia. That may seem disrespectful to the parents, but it’s very respectful of the baby and the man he is to become. It’s not even legal to do that to any other healthy, normal, non-renewing, functional part of their body without pressing medical need, and the nearest corresponding part of another female human being’s genitalia gets additional legal protection (no matter how minimal, sterile and painless the operation, so this is nothing to do with what they do in Africa). Circumcision is a strange anomaly, and the extraordinary number and diversity of reasons given for doing it (see http://www.circumstitions.com/Stitions&refs.html) should make people’s BS detectors go off.

  10. One point of view that is often ignored in the circumcision debate is that of the son. I am a son and I was circumcised shortly after birth. I would have preferred to have kept all my parts. After all, it is my sex organ and I am the one who uses it, not my parents. I am restoring my foreskin, so I know how much better it is to have a foreskin, even if it is restored. I do not blame my parents for having me circumcised. They made a mistake. Unfortunately, I am the one paying the price.

    Thanks to the Internet, many young men are learning what they have lost by being circumcised. Many question why their parents choose to circumcise them, why they were circumcised when there was so little, if any, true benefit to the surgery. These sons are questioning why their parents consented to the surgery when there was all sorts of information available about how circumcision is primarily a cosmetic surgery performed for the benefit of the parents. I am often surprised at how upset and angry some of these young men are about being circumcised. As an example, read the following forum:


  11. @ TammyK,

    I am sure you are a parent who weighs all the pros and cons of all decisions concerning your children. I don’t think anyone is judging you.

    Unfortunately, Cate is right- MANY MANY parents have their child circumcised with little thought whatsoever. It’s unfortunate, but true.

  12. Thank you for such a usefull and respectful argument.

    Thanks to the Internet, many are learning what they have lost

  13. I don’t care whether parents have given the matter serious consideration. Will everyone respect my decision if I cut off part of my daughter’s genitals, as long as I gave it careful consideration? Maybe I should have her earlobes cut off too. In fact you know I always have to remind her to wash behind her ears, so if I have them cut off completely she’ll be cleaner. Male genital mutilation should be illegal unless there is an absolute medical necessity. Until that day parents who have it done electively should be vilified.

  14. Man, I hate, hate, hate that magazine. They contacted me once asking if I’d accept their advertising on my site and I was all “NO WAY IN HELL!!!!”


  15. @Cate Nelson

    Thank you so much for bringing up this error in Baby Talk magazine. It is unfortunate that the material that is supposed to educate and enlighten new mothers is sending the wrong message on normal care of male infants.


    I am sure you don’t mean that any decision parents make is okay, as long as they carefully thought about their decision first. If that is the case, you might also be making the case to allow genital cutting of female infants. Unfortunately, the AAP seems to be heading that direction, as in their latest statement on the practice they suggested some forms were less damaging than male circumcision and were therefore totally fine to inflict on baby girls.

    Yes, in our culture it is VERY EASY to come to the conclusion that circumcision is a good choice for babies, and many amazing parents have bought into it. As such, I don’t think we should blame well-meaning parents, but that also doesn’t mean they were right. They were honestly mislead, and that is not their fault. Not many parents find out that the foreskin is healthy and contains thousands and thousands of fine-touch nerve endings like those found in the fingertips and lips before being faced with a doctor singing about the potential benefits all the way to the bank.

    Let’s get past blaming people for doing this in the past, and work towards making sure people are more informed and prepared to protect their children from misinformation and harm in the future. That way we (and our children) ALL win.

  16. My intact little boy is now a teenager and healthy. When he was a preteen, we bought him a book for teens about sexuality. I made sure he’d read the penis care chapter. I got an eyeroll and a duh. I’ve never, ever touched or cleaned my son’s private equipment. Good grief. That would be creepy and abusive. Like breasts, penises are self-cleaning, at least until normal sexual desire takes over and self-exploration naturally moves the boys toward healthy cleaning while showering. I need to puke now over the ignorance that prevails in our mainstream society. Blech!

    All the best,


  17. Cate,

    Thank you so much for this. In the 90s I was with my second son and his Pediatrician tried to fully retract my 2 yr old. I was upset. I have now looked into this much further as more and more boys are left intact (NATURAL) and I have learned that this retracting practice has actually caused quite a few infections over the years. It is the main reason natural boys get infestions.

    Tammy K,

    I don’t understand how anyone can research this and still proceed to damage the fine touch and stretch nerves of their own child’s penis. About 20000 nerves are severred by male circumcision. And there is no doubt that these nerves are a HUGE source of pleasure thoughout a mans life.


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