The great foreskin debate: Pros and cons of circumcision

If you’re wondering what’s involved with circumcision – and whether or not you should get your son circumcised – you’re not the first mom to do so. Snipping foreskins has been a thing for as long as penises have been around. It’s been depicted in Egyptian wall paintings dating back 15,000 years, and apparently even identified on mummy remains! (We’d personally like to know how they could tell on a 13,000-year-old mummy.)

You’ve probably heard about circumcision being performed for religious reasons, but parents can also choose to have it done due to personal preference, or to lower the risk of infection and other health conditions. 

Let’s look into circumcision pros and cons, to help you make an informed decision for your son. Fair warning – we’re going to get into details here.

Circumcised vs uncircumcised penis: What’s the difference?

Foreskin vs no foreskin

First, let’s look at what makes a circumcised penis different to an uncircumcised penis. 

All baby boys are born with a hood of skin (foreskin) over the head of the penis (also called a ‘glans’). Circumcision involves surgical removal of the foreskin so the glans is exposed. If the foreskin of the penis is left as is, it will eventually separate from the glans so it can be pulled back. This could happen at any stage during childhood, puberty, or after puberty.

There doesn’t seem to be any point to this foreskin existing, but there’s no harm in leaving it there either. Uncircumcised boys get on just fine! Just know that removal of this retractable foreskin does change the appearance of the penis for the rest of their life.

Ah, go on – Google it if you want to. It may help to see some pictures.

Circumcision requires a surgical procedure

After you give birth to a baby boy, your doctors may discuss the option of foreskin removal with you, or they may not mention it at all. In some countries, such as Australia, it’s generally not performed in public hospitals unless it’s for medical reasons. In the US, it’s more common than not, with 58% of newborns being circumcised.

Ask your medical team about it if you want to learn more, or have it performed on your son. It’s completely up to you, and you’ll be required to sign a consent form if you choose to have it done.

The circumcision procedure involves a doctor, pediatrician, surgeon or urologist removing the foreskin surgically. It takes around 15 minutes to perform, and there are a few different methods that can be used, including (only click these links if you’re okay seeing dick pics):

These devices cut off circulation to the foreskin so the physician can safely remove it. An injection or topical cream will be used to numb the penis. 

Some religions require circumcision

As we’ve already mentioned, circumcision has been around for thousands of years and is embedded into some cultures and religious beliefs.

In Judaism, a special circumcision ceremony called a Brit milah is usually performed eight days after a baby’s birth. However, not all modern Jewish families still observe this.

Circumcision is highly regarded in the Islamic faith as an act of cleanliness. It can be performed anywhere from seven days after a baby’s birth up until puberty. But again, not all Muslims still perform circumcisions on boys.

Why do babies get circumcised? 

Religion isn’t the only reason that parents opt for performing circumcision. It can also be decided on because of:

  • Personal preference
  • Decreased risk of certain conditions, such as infection
  • The desire for boys to look like their dads.

These days around 55–65% of newborn boys in the US are circumcised. However, this figure tends to fluctuate according to current medical advice and trends. Fifty years ago it was regularly performed on most boys, whereas today it seems to be on the decline.

Some parents feel their sons should decide for themselves about circumcision when they’re old enough. But the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that complications are much lower when the surgical procedure is performed on newborns, rather than later in life. 

Whether you do or don’t decide to circumcise your son, it’s generally best to make the call while he’s a newborn. Adult circumcision is often only performed due to health conditions.

Pros of circumcision

While there are mixed opinions in the medical world about whether circumcision of boys should be recommended at birth, studies have shown some clear benefits to the surgery.

It decreases the risk of infant UTIs

There’s a link between circumcision and urinary tract infection reduction, particularly in the first 12 months of life. Uncircumcised males are ten times more likely to experience UTIs in the first year of life – although the risk is still only about 1%.

It decreases the risk of STIs

The relationship between circumcision and sexually transmitted diseases is complicated, but experts believe that the foreskin may make transmission easier. So much so that the World Health Organization has recommended circumcision for some communities in Africa at higher risk of HIV.

It may decrease the occurrence of genital cancer

Although cancer of the penis is rare, it’s less common in circumcised men. There’s a negative correlation between circumcision and penile cancer, and it’s also believed to decrease the risk of cervical cancer in female sexual partners.

It makes it easier to practice good genital hygiene

Think about it – there’s less skin to get in the way and less folds to trap urine and other crud!

It prevents foreskin-related conditions

One of the key benefits of circumcision is that your son won’t need to worry about getting: 

  • Balanitis – swelling of the foreskin.
  • Balanoposthitis – inflammation of the tip of the penis, and foreskin.
  • Paraphimosis – difficulty retracting the foreskin to its original position.
  • Phimosis – inability to retract the foreskin. 

(Thank goodness, because these are all way too hard to pronounce.)

Cons of circumcision

There are risks with any surgery

As with any surgical procedure, there are inherent risks such as bleeding, poor healing or infection. In rare cases the foreskin could be cut too short or long, and require follow up procedures.

It may be unnecessary

Some also note that there are few immediate health benefits. And on the more extreme side of the debate, some people see it as ‘disfigurement’ (female circumcision is an outrage, so why is male circumcision okay?).

It may cause pain

Some moms find themselves unable to put their precious newborn through the procedure, even though safe and effective medications are used to relieve the pain. 

It’s likely to incur cost

There’s usually a cost incurred to have the procedure done, and insurance companies may not cover it because it’s an elective surgery.

It could decrease sexual pleasure

We’re guessing you’re not quite up to envisioning your newborn having sexual encounters of his own, so apologies for pointing this out… But some men have suggested that sex is better without circumcision, as it can reduce sensitivity. There’s no conclusive evidence on this, though.

Should you circumcise your baby?

While the American Academy of Pediatrics notes that circumcision may provide more health benefits than risks, it doesn’t recommend routine circumcision. As with anything related to your baby, the decision is yours.

It’s great to do your research and chat to your pediatrician for their advice, but you’re entirely entitled to choose to circumcise your son or not according to your preference. You may even change your mind about it a few times.

Some moms head into labor intending to request a circumcision, but find they can’t bring themselves to inflict pain (even if minimal) upon their little newborn. Other moms may decide to circumcise due to aesthetic preference, religious reasons, or even so their son’s penis looks the same as their dad’s.

Talk it out with your partner before giving birth, and get insights from your medical team too.

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