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Male circumcision is the removal of some or all of the foreskin from a boy’s penis. The foreskin is the tissue that covers the tip of the penis.

Circumcision is a religious or cultural ritual for many Jewish and Islamic families, as well as some aboriginal tribes in Africa and Australia. Many parents also choose to circumcise their sons for aesthetic reasons or simply family preference. In the United States, circumcision is commonly performed on newborns, often before they leave the hospital, but not all parents choose to circumcise their sons. It is important to weigh the risks and benefits of circumcision before making a decision.

Possible health benefits of a circumcised penis

  • Easier hygiene. Circumcision makes washing beneath the foreskin easier.
  • Decreased risk of urinary tract infections. While the incidence of male urinary tract infections is low, they are more common in uncircumcised males. If these infections are severe, they can lead to kidney problems later on.
  • Decreased risk of sexually transmitted infections. Circumcision has the potential for lowering the risk of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, but it is not a substitute for practicing safe sex.
  • Prevention of penile problems. Occasionally, the foreskin on an uncircumcised penis can become difficult or impossible to pull back, which can lead to inflammation of the foreskin or head of the penis.
  • Decreased risk of penile cancer. Cancer of the penis is less common among circumcised men, and cervical cancer is less common in females whose partners have been circumcised.

Possible downsides of circumcision

Circumcision should be approached with caution if your baby has a blood-clotting disorder or was premature. Risks include:

  • Pain, bleeding or infection. Infection can be caused by surgical error, leading to scarring of the penis.
  • Tissue damage. Damage can be caused to the opening of the urethra, which leads from the bladder to the tip of the penis. Excessive scar tissue growth can require additional surgery to improve the appearance of the penis and allow for normal urination.
  • Incomplete foreskin removal. When the foreskin isn’t completely removed, the portions left attached to the penis can cause an inability of the foreskin to retract over the penis and painful erection.
  • Excessive bleeding.
  • Too much removal. Partial removal of the penis can occur in extremely rare cases.

Risks are minimized when the procedure is done in the immediate newborn period.

The American Academy of Pediatricians finds that, while the medical benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks, the decision whether to circumcise or not is entirely up to the parents, as long as it is made in consultation with their pediatrician.

Takeaways

  • Circumcision should be done a sterile environment by a skilled provider on a baby who is stable and healthy.
  • In most cases, it is best to decide prior to delivery if your baby will be circumcised as well as who will do the procedure.
  •  It is important to know that not every medical insurance provides coverage for circumcision.
  • Health benefits of a circumcised penis include easier hygiene, less urinary tract infections, lower penile cancer and sexually transmitted disease risks.

References

  1. Mayo Clinic. Circumcision – Why it’s done.
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics.  Circumcision Policy Statement.
  3. National Institutes of Health. Circumcision.

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Comments

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    1. Every surgical procedure has potential risks, so I don’t blame you for looking into things more closely! I would have been very cautious too if my first had problems afterwards. One of the questions we always ask is if there is a family history of excessive bleeding, so it’s not to be taken lightly.

  1. We have had both of our sons circumcised the 1st in the hospital and the 2nd by a pediatric urologist when he was a week old. Our 2nd son’s healed a lot quicker and seemed to be easier to take care of. I’m due with #3 in January and we will be going back to the same urologist when he is a week old.

    1. Oh, I will note that a lot of pediatricians are unfamiliar with uncircumcised boys, so discuss your choices with your pediatrician to make sure they are on the same page as you are.

        1. I don’t doubt that they were trained to care for both intact and circumcised boys, but since circumcision is the norm (in my part of the country anyway), they just don’t see a lot of intact boys. So they’re just not as familiar with the questions and issues that may arise in an intact boy. Luckily, my pediatrician was comfortable with our decision either way and was very knowledgeable on the subject.

        2. All pediatricians should be trained but (at least in my area) they are not. My son was not circumcised. When my son was about 3 or 4 his pediatrician decided that there was something wrong and said we needed to have him circumcised immediately. He wanted to send us to a local doctor but Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is less than two hours away. So after a very panicked car ride we see a doctor who tells us that there is absolutely nothing wrong. He said that many many pediatricians are misinformed about uncircumcised boy in the US. The foreskin should never be forced back in a baby’s penis. Leave it alone. It will detach on its own. Some it happens by age 2 and some as late as puberty.

  2. Circumcision has done me no favors! I have had bleeding abrasions from intercourse that a foreskin would have prevented. These abrasions have made me leery of having sex with my wife. Without the mechanical lubrication provided by a foreskin, I have to use artificial lubricant or sex would be painful for my wife and I. My parent’s chose this painful and unsatisfactory sex life for me and my wife and I simply cannot fathom why. I would never have chosen to have my foreskin removed. Only 1/16,667 intact males will have a problem with their foreskin, 99% of which can be treated with medicine not surgery. 117 babies die from circumcision a year in the US that is 9/100,000 babies that die each year from a cosmetic surgery. Men have lost their penis, glans, and suffered from deformity caused by the operation. It isn’t right that these children pay the price for a decision their parents made, a decision that should be left up to the owner of the penis. Even those who survive still have problems like mine, though they are seldom discussed.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ceht-3xu84I&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    http://Www.sexasnatureintendedit.com

    They didn’t tell you the functions of the foreskin, but they did lie to you and said it had health benefits. Did they also tell you it pays for their house, their cars, and their children’s college? FYI It is illegal to sell an organ taken from a patient but they still do it.

    Foreskin for sale: $155/500µg = $310,000/g = $8,788,345/oz.

    http://www.rockland-inc.com/Product.aspx?id=40484

    My numbers and claims are supported by these studies:
    Dutch Medical society and their stance on RIC
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/dhipa1ei2rqj12q/KNMG-viewpoint-Non-therapeutic-circumcision-of-male-minors-27-05-2010-v2%20%281%29.pdf

    Meta-analysis of circumcision research
    http://www.hindawi.com/isrn/urology/2013/109846/

    This document outlines the deaths caused by circumcision in the US.
    http://db.tt/0LW1FHVy

    All the myths about circumcision and how they are dispelled.
    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201109/myths-about-circumcision-you-likely-believe

    Boy wants to be a girl after botched circumcision
    http://www.courthousenews.com/2012/11/09/52144.htm

    Cost benefit analysis of circumcision.
    http://mdm.sagepub.com/content/24/6/584.abstract

    US Navy Study that shows circumcision has no effect on HIV or STI infection rates.
    http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA458066

    Article to Appear in AAP’s “Pediatrics” journal.
    http://www.circumstitions.com/Docs/aap-12-europe.pdf

    All the statements made by medical organizations about circumcision, and they are cited.
    http://www.cirp.org/library/statements/

    Men complaining about being circumcised against their will.
    http://www.mendocomplain.com

    Three Videos of Circumcisions they are very graphic.
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xjkd30_infant-circumcision-injection-and-procedure_news#.UYWGx7Vn7pI

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXVFFI76ff0&feature=player_embedded

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=MDuDhkiDdns

    1. Wow so sorry to hear about all the trouble you have had. Thanks for your unique insights.

    2. Thank you for confirming that not circumcising my son was the right decision.

    3. Yours is the best comment on here. Sorry for what happened to you. Maybe your comment will spare some other little boys the kinds of things you have been through.

  3. We chose to due to the health benefits of having it done.

  4. We chose to circumcise strictly on the social aspect. We researched the benefits vs risks and found that in fact many of these issues such as increased risk of STDs are taken out of context and blown out of proportion. I didn’t want my son being made fun of or thinking he is different in a bad way and asking for one later in life when he would remember how painful it is. It is definitely something that every family decide on for themselves.

  5. Wow this would be a big decision to make! I enjoy reading the comments and hearing from everyone else’s experience.

  6. This is a very informative article. My husband and I had already chosen that the little one will be circumcised. Basically my husband´s opinion weighted more than mine because he is a man and he knows. He was, and his brother wasn´t and he saw all the suffering his brother went through. The good thing is that I agree, and all happy. I know a lot of people dissagree with this, but so do they do with ear piercings on girls, which I was and I am really thankful that I was. Of course you can´t compare to the procedure, but when families have done it for generations and the pros overpower the cons, then it is a go.

  7. Like how all the risks and benefits are listed… My husband and i don’t know if we should circumsize our son or not…

    1. Thanks for all of the great comments! Circumcision is still a very personal decision. The American Academy of Pediatrics feels that circumcision is justified enough that insurance companies should pay for the procedure, though not all do. It’s good to find out ahead of time if what the cost is to have your son circumcised as it becomes significantly more expensive after the baby turns one month of age.

  8. Great article, thanks for the info!

    1. Dr. Connolly, I just recently wrote my final law school paper for St. John’s University School of Law. I think you’d find it interesting and worth a read based on the enormously positive feedback it has gotten from other pediatricians I have shared it with, including Harvard Medical School Professor and HuffPost writer Claire McCarthy. Let me know if you are, and I would be happy to share it with you. My email is andrew.delaney21@gmail.com.

  9. I thought this was all done in the hospital? Seems like a no-Brainerd unless yo have a religious exemption.

  10. I do not have any male children, so I haven’t been faced with this decision. I was talking to my sister the other day and my mind was blown as to the reasons as to why she feels it “needs” to be done. I have had the talk with my husband and I have tried to educated him on the pros and cons. Since I don’t have a penis I definitely wanted to keep his feelings in mind, if we were to have a son.

  11. I’m so glad we had all girls. This would have been a tough decision for me. My husband is circumsized, but we may have opted not to do it if we had a son.

    1. The decision to circumcise or not is indeed very personal. That’s why it is so important to have clear up to date facts to help make that decision.

  12. Favorite article

    1. Glad you liked it, Scooby!

  13. Why is this primitive religions BS still being pushed. Removal of the the penis possible? WTF? What benifit could outweigh that risk?

  14. I notice that two serious risks of circumcision are not listed: mutilation or infection severe enough to necessitate amputation and gender reassignment, and death. If you’re producing an article to supposedly give parents information to aid in their decision, why would you choose to omit these risks?
    Also, all of your supposed benefits have been debunked. Most of them are outright false, and increased risk of penile cancer is insignificant and occurs in intact men with poor hygiene.
    This ignores the fact that these supposed benefits only apply to sexually active adults, not helpless newborns who depend on uss to protect them from harm.

  15. All the males in my husband’s family are intact and most on my side as well. My older brother was circumcised following his birth back in the ’50s, and my mom said that when they brought him to her afterwards he was trembling and white as a sheet; it was obviously a traumatic experience for him. When my younger brother was born and she would not give her permission for the circumcision, the doctor stormed into her hospital room in his surgical gear to find out why she didn’t want him circumcised. She asked him if the baby needed circumcision and he replied, “He doesn’t need it anymore than any of the rest of them.” So she said, “Leave him alone, then.” People used to think it was just something that was routinely done; they didn’t really think too much about it. I personally feel it is mostly just a money making proposition for doctors and hospitals, and that it is mutilation. I think the individual should be allowed to decide on his own whether he wants it done when he is old enough to make an informed decision. My own son, who is now grown, has thanked me for not having him circumcised. He said it best when he said, “I’m glad y’all left my junk alone.”

    1. While I agree with you regarding the perception that it was “something that was routinely done” I disagree that it’s a money making procedure. Performing circumcision is time consuming and expensive from an insurance standpoint (as in doctors who do circumcision pay higher insurance premiums). Today, the medical community leaves this decision to the discretion of the family entirely. I will note, however, that for families that are considering circumcision, the costs and risks (anesthesia, etc) to the child grow exponentially with their age – so it’s worth discussing before the baby arrives.

      1. This is the second time you’ve mentioned that it costs more to wait over a week and gets more expensive as time goes on. Other than more anesthesia, why would the cost be higher?

  16. I have a few observations to share.
    I think this article is poorly sited, misleading and needs to be revised.

    One of the possible health benefits is “easier to wash underneath the foreskin”
    This statement makes absolutely no sense.
    It’s easier to find me under a blanket, when I have no blanket on me.
    This statement shows a core lack of understanding of what the foreskin is and it’s purpose. American trained doctors practicing now studied out of text books that rountinely left the prepuce off male illustrations so it’s systematic at this point.
    The prepuce is actually a part of the immune system, protective just like skin, hence the name “foreskin”, but it goes futher, creating smegma which is naturally antibacterial and antimicrobial.
    The hygiene myth is just that, myth and if it’s not something you would remove a healthy unique organ part from a girl over, hey lets remove her labia, make it “easier to clean around the labia” then the logic fails, horribly.

    I also want to address just the term “uncircumcised”. this very term is biased toward favoring cutting of baby boys genitals without their consent, it’s powerful language that says, either boys are cut or not yet cut.
    Why do we not call women with breasts “unmassectomized”? It would make as much sense. The word you’re looking for is “intact”, use it.

    The UTI bs is not worthy of the list, you know and I know that girls have UTI rates much higher than boys, why aren’t we performing surgery on them? Because good medicine is to treat the infection not amputate unique healthy organ parts. Get your act together AAP, this list is fooling fewer people by the day.

    Penile cancer is a very rare cancer. We would actually save lives removing baby girls breast buds at birth you know? Why aren’t we? It’s just a little snip, snip!

    Please edit this now. ALL circumcised penises have scars, that’s not a “possible risk” that’s a fact.

    1. I think these are very good points. Language does make such a difference and paying attention to unintentional (but real) bias through use of language is important. Intact is a more accurate term, I agree. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.