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You Docs: Advice on circumcision, getting better with travel directions

Monday, October 8, 2012 - 12:01 am

Q: I just found out we're having a boy! Now we're debating whether to have him circumcised. What do you think is best? — Alice P., Omaha, Neb.

A: The debate over whether to circumcise is worldwide. The city of Berlin, Germany, has declared that it's legal for male babies to be circumcised after a local court in Cologne banned the practice, even for religious reasons.

And in San Francisco, anti-circumcision activists tried to get a ban on the ballot (and failed), while several Northern European countries occasionally have prosecuted those who perform the rite, saying laws against genital mutilation are not gender-specific.

In the U.S., circumcision rates have declined sharply. Johns Hopkins researchers say that if rates continue to drop (from 79 percent to 55 percent in the past 10 years), extra and avoidable health care costs may exceed $4.4 billion. And if rates fall as low as in Europe (less than 20 percent), an additional 10 percent of U.S. men would be infected with HIV, almost 30 percent more would contract human papillomavirus, close to 20 percent more would be infected with herpes simplex, and more than 200 percent more would get urinary tract infections.

We believe the decision lies with you, the parents, but you deserve the latest medical information to help inform your choice.

The American Academy of Pediatrics' newly released position paper states that the health benefits outweigh the risks, and there's no indication that the procedure interferes with adult sexual function, sensations or satisfaction (as female circumcision does). Furthermore, serious complications are rare when circumcision is done by trained medical professionals using sanitary methods.

Whichever option you choose, you need to follow the proper method for cleaning an infant's penis. After a circumcision, the AAP says the penis should be washed gently, without any aggressive pulling back of the skin.

A non-circumcised penis should be washed with soap and water. As your son grows up, you will need to teach him proper hygiene to keep the foreskin clean. And congratulations on the happy news!

Q: Why am I so much worse at navigating than my husband? If I turn three corners, I have no idea which direction I'm heading! What can I do to get better at it? — Katie J., Burlington, Vt.

A: The map-reading, direction-asking, car-driving (and -parking) tug-of-war between men and women seems almost universal — even though there are plenty of guys who can't find their way back home and women who can trek around the world without a map (Lisa Oz and Nancy Roizen, for sure!).

But (yes, there's always a but) some parts of a man's brain are larger than a woman's and contribute to “male” skills such as spatial coordination, math ability, interpretation of 3-D objects and — here it is — a sense of direction. (Women have big advantages in other brain areas that influence verbal and emotional skills.)

Fortunately, just like you can reduce your RealAge by adopting new lifestyle habits, you can teach yourself to have a better sense of direction.

The key: Make yourself super-aware of your surroundings.

Headed on a road trip? Sit quietly with a detailed road map. Draw your route on the map with a magic marker, then write it down (Route 91 for 12 miles to exit 28, etc.).

As a passenger or driver (it's easier to learn your route if you are the person driving), note details along the way: storefronts, colors on buildings, the shape of the landscape. Say out loud: “From the hotel, we started heading east on route 26 and passed a red house after three blocks. Now we're turning left at Pine Street and going north.”

Whenever possible, don't use the GPS. You want to wake up your observational skills, not dull them. Then, use the GPS when you get lost.

Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Mike Roizen is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Submit your health questions at www.doctoroz.com.