Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0
The Circumcision Decision: Pros and Cons
What is a circumcision?
Circumcision means cutting off the foreskin or ring of
tissue that covers the head of the penis. If you decide to
have your newborn son circumcised, it is usually done the
day he goes home from the hospital.
Fewer children in the U.S. are being circumcised now than
several years ago. In 1979, 90% of American males were
circumcised compared to 60% now.
The following information should help you decide what is
best for your son.
What are the cultural aspects of circumcision?
Followers of the Jewish and Moslem faiths perform
circumcision for religious reasons. Nonreligious
circumcision became popular in English-speaking countries
between 1920 and 1950. At this time it was thought that
circumcision might help prevent sexually transmitted
diseases. Circumcision never became a common practice in
Asia, South America, Central America, or most of Europe.
Over 80% of the males in the world are not circumcised.
What is the purpose of the foreskin?
The foreskin on the penis is not some cosmic error. The
- protects the glans (top of the penis) against urine,
feces, and other types of irritation
- protects against infection or scarring of the urinary
opening (although this is rare)
- protects the sensitivity of the glans.
What are the pros of circumcision?
Some of the reasons you may want to circumcise are:
- Protects against urinary tract infections (UTIs) during
the first year of life. However, UTIs are rare and
- Prevents infections under the foreskin. It also prevents
persistent tight foreskin. Both of these problems are
rare and are usually due to pulling back the foreskin too
often or too hard.
- Decreases the risk of getting some sexually transmitted
diseases (STDs) later in life. However, it does not
completely prevent any STD.
- Lowers the risk of cancer of the penis. However, good
hygiene offers equal protection against this very rare
- Keeps your son's appearance "like other boys" or "like his
father." Boys may not mind looking different from other
males in their family. However, they do mind being
harassed in the locker room or shower about their
foreskin. This could happen if most of their buddies are
circumcised. It can be emotionally painful to be a
trailblazer about the appearance of one's genitals.
All in all, nonreligious circumcision is mainly cosmetic
What are the cons of circumcision?
Some of the reasons not to circumcise include:
- Surgical complications. Problems that may occur are skin
or bloodstream infections, bleeding, gangrene, scarring,
and various surgical accidents. A recent study showed
that 1 of every 500 circumcised newborns suffered a
serious side effect.
- Pain. The procedure causes pain. However, the doctor
can use some anesthetic around the area to block some
of the pain.
- Cost. The cost of circumcision is about $100 per
procedure in the U.S. You may have to pay for the
procedure yourself because many medical insurance
companies do not cover the costs of this procedure.
- You must decide quickly. Delaying the decision also
carries a risk. If you initially decide not to have your
son circumcised, and then change your mind after your son
is 2 months old, the procedure will require a general
anesthesia. So try to make your final decision during
the first month of life.
Circumcision of boys for religious purposes will continue.
The need to circumcise other boys is open to question. Just
because a father was circumcised doesn't mean that the son
needs to be circumcised. Because the foreskin comes as
standard equipment, you might consider leaving it intact,
unless your son will be going to a school where everyone
else is likely to be circumcised. The risks and benefits
are both too small to swing the vote either way. This is a
parental decision, not a medical decision.
For information on home care after a circumcision see:
Circumcision Care and Problems