Why Retraction is a Bad Word
Please, please, please, do NOT go into your son’s doctor’s* office and have this conversation:
Parent: We don’t retract his foreskin. Please don’t retract it.
Doctor: Of course, I wouldn’t do that!
[Doctor proceeds to retract the foreskin, attempting to see the urethral opening.]
Parent: Stop! We don’t retract!
Doctor: I wasn’t retracting. I was just looking to see . . .
MOST DOCTORS DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE WORD “RETRACTION” IN THE SAME WAY YOU AND I DO. (I’m shouting this because it’s really, really important!)
The conversation needs to go more like this:
Parent: We leave his diaper on during doctor’s visits. If you need to see something, I will open his diaper and you can look, but you can’t touch.
Doctor: I just need to take a quick peek to see if . . .
Parent: You can look, but do not touch his penis.
Take this as an opportunity to talk with your doctor about what forced retraction means, and its potential harms – including pain, bleeding, infection, scarring, abnormal adhesions, and paraphimosis. Share your understanding that many healthcare professionals think they need to manipulate or push back the foreskin to some degree, and you don’t feel comfortable risking injury to your son by allowing the doctor to touch your son’s genitals.
Offer to send your doctor material on proper intact penis care, or print some yourself and take it with you to the appointment. Sure, you might become known at the office as "that" parent who won’t let anyone touch their son’s penis, but you’ll also have that doctor wondering what the big deal is and maybe, just maybe, they’ll look into it and learn something! (Plus, you'll be modeling respect for your son's bodily autonomy, which can help him internalize and apply the concept as he gets older.)
IF YOU THINK YOU CAN DELAY THIS POSSIBLY UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATION AND WAIT UNTIL YOUR CHILD’S DIAPER IS OFF FOR A PHYSICAL EXAM . . . GUESS WHAT? YOU’RE TOO LATE. IN THE TIME IT WILL TAKE YOU TO REALIZE WHAT IS HAPPENING, YOUR SON WILL HAVE BEEN FORCIBLY RETRACTED. (Yes, I’m yelling again.)
You’ll turn your head to throw away a diaper, you’ll be redirecting your older child, or you’ll be answering a question the doctor asked, and in those seconds, your son will be injured.
Empower yourself. Speak up in advance and ensure that your son does not become one of the hundreds of reported forced retractions that Your Whole Baby receives each year. No one thinks it will happen to their child, but it does, and there’s a good chance it will if you do not stand guard and make your wishes known. Please, ensure that it doesn’t.
* All instances of the word "doctor" refer to your health care provider – whether doctor, physician assistant, nurse, midwife, naturopath, etc.
Jen Williams is the founder of Your Whole Baby. She is passionate about many causes including the human rights violation happening to baby boys and girls around the world. Jen lives with her husband and two intact children.