Circumcision: The Benefits and Risks of a Controversial Procedure

If you have a baby boy, one thing to consider is if you should have him circumcised or not. Circumcision is the removal of the foreskin covering the tip of the penis, and in the majority of cases, it occurs during the first couple of weeks in a newborn’s life.

Circumcision is a common cultural or religious ritual in some families and parts of the world, while in many countries circumcision is not even considered. Parents may decide to have their son circumcised due to family tradition, preventive health care, or personal hygiene, while other parents decide not to circumcise based on the disfigurement that can result, the lack of necessity, and long-term emotional effects.

Becoming a parent comes with a lot of questions, and everyone wants to do what is best for their children. Because it is a surgical procedure, parents should weigh both the benefits and risks of circumcision and ask lots of questions in order to make an informed decision.

Even in countries where circumcision was considered for years to be a routine procedure, there has been more debate over the issue. Parents are doing more research into the topic and, as a result, making decisions that sometimes go against the grain.


Benefits of Circumcision

Parents who are looking for reasons to circumcise will find a number of them. According to a variety of sources, there are some good reasons to circumcise that relate to the overall health of the child, and other reasons that are more related to cosmetic and social considerations.

Medical Necessity

For many parents, the question may come down to necessity. In the majority of cases, circumcision is not necessary, but in some medical situations it is. WebMD lists some common reasons why parents choose to circumcise, and a couple of them may be more serious medical conditions:

  • Phimosis- this is a condition in which the foreskin becomes too tight to retract over the glans penis. This is not only painful, but it can lead to severe irritation, infection, and tearing of the skin.
  • Paraphimosis- condition in which the foreskin becomes trapped underneath the glans. This entrapment can cause severe restriction and swelling and, if not treated, can cause ischemia and death of the penis tissue.

While both of these conditions are rare, circumcision is often recommended for infants who are diagnosed with them. It is estimated that around 10 percent of uncircumcised infants will medically require circumcision later in life, which is riskier, more difficult, more expensive, and causes more emotional and physical suffering.

Health Benefits

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend routine circumcision, but it does state that the benefits generally outweigh the risks. Some of the health benefits that result may include:

  • Reduction in urinary tract infections (UTI)- males who are uncircumcised tend to have more UTIs, which can result in kidney issues later in life
  • Better hygiene- in general it is easier to wash a circumcised penis, which may decrease the incidence of infection
  • Lower risk of STDs- males who are circumcised have a slightly lower risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, although using protection such as condoms is still essential
  • Lower cancer risk- cancer of the penis is less common in males who are circumcised, and female partners of those who are circumcised have fewer incidences of cervical cancer

Social and Religious Reasons

Some parents choose to circumcise based off social reasons. In certain countries, such as the United States, circumcision is more common and parents fear that their son will feel and be treated differently if they don’t do what many others have done.

Some think a circumcised penis is more aesthetically pleasing. Parents may also be concerned about their son’s future sexual experiences with women who may have negative or uninformed views about uncircumcised males.

 In some faiths, circumcision is a religious rite. Jewish and Islamic faiths are two common ones that practice circumcision for religious reasons, and it is viewed as being a distinguished marking of being a male in those cultures.

Risks of Circumcision

While there are benefits to circumcising your infant son, there are many opposing schools of thoughts. There are a number of emotional, sexual, and physical considerations that new parents should be aware of before making the decision of whether or not to circumcise.

Medical Reasons

Just as there are medical reasons to consider circumcision, there are also conditions in which circumcision should be delayed or not done at all. According to, these reasons may include:

  • The foreskin may need to be used to reconstruct a physical abnormality of the penis
  • Your baby is premature or unstable medically

Complications of Surgery

Some parents are concerned that the surgery carries complication risks. states that problems are rare, but some complications may include:

  • Bleeding that does not cease
  • Normal urination does not return six to eight hours after the procedure
  • Yellow discharge at the penis head does not resolve after one week, or there is foul-smelling drainage
  • Worsening redness at the tip

Pain Response

Some doctors who promote circumcision say that the infant doesn’t experience much pain, or that the local anesthesia prevents any feelings of pain. However, a number of studies show that the pain responses in newborns are comparable to, if not greater than, those in adults.

Even when pain medication is administered, infants not only feel pain but they also have difficulty breathing and are at risk for choking. Some babies even go into shock due to the trauma of the surgery.

Affect on Mother-Infant Bond

Observations by mothers have revealed that circumcision can have an adverse effect on bonding with their sons. The surgery often results in irritability in infants, and studies have shown that this can cause insecure bonding and an obstacle to trust between mother and her son. The trauma related to circumcision can also cause an infant to have trouble breast feeding.

Sexual Effects

While those on the pro-circumcision side may argue that the surgery does not affect sexual satisfaction, there are those who disagree. According to the Circumcision Resource Center, the foreskin increases sexual pleasure because of its high concentration of nerves. Circumcision removes the most sensitive part of the penis.

It has also been discovered that females are more sexually satisfied with uncircumcised partners because the foreskin reduces friction and helps retain vaginal secretions. Medical surveys have shown that women, in general, feel more satisfied and intimate with uncircumcised males.    

Social and Psychological Concerns

The act of circumcision can have long-lasting effects for many involved parties. In the infant stage, mothers may grow frustrated and intolerant of the post-surgery crying which can cause her to become less responsive to her son. Also, the infant may become withdrawn and con-communicative, which also affects interaction between mother and son.

Some adult men (and even children of an older age) have expressed feelings of dissatisfaction and have felt deformed, maimed, and traumatized when learning what actually occurs during a circumcision surgery. In fact, Intact America states that more men are beginning to voice their concern and disapproval about having lost a part of their natural sexual anatomy.

There are multiple things to consider when deciding whether or not to circumcise. After researching the topic, what are your thoughts? 

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