Circumcision: Medical Pros and Cons

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Circumcision: Medical pros and cons facts

  • Inability to retract the foreskin fully at birth is not a medical reason for a circumcision.
  • Circumcision prevents phimosis (the inability to retract the foreskin at an age when it should normally be retractable), paraphimosis (the painful inability to return the foreskin to its original location), and balanoposthitis (inflammation of the glans and foreskin).
  • Circumcision increases the chance of meatitis (inflammation of the opening of the penis).
  • Circumcision may result in a decreased incidence of urinary tract infections.
  • Circumcision may result in a lower incidence of sexually transmitted diseases and may reduce HIV transmission.
  • Circumcision may lower the risk for cancer of the cervix in sexual partners.
  • Circumcision may decrease the risk for cancer of the penis.
  • There is still no absolute medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn.

The issue of circumcision is as controversial as it ever has been. There are well-known religious, social, and medical reasons to recommend circumcision; however, most major medical societies have taken an "impartial" view of the procedure, neither recommending nor renouncing the practice.

What has been the medical view of circumcision?

In 1975, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stated in no uncertain terms that "there is no absolute medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn." In 1983, the AAP and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) restated this position. In 1999, in 2005, and again in 2012, the AAP again restated this position of equivocation.

Currently, the practice of newborn circumcision is very common. It has been estimated that a majority of males in the United States are circumcised. This number varies depending upon ethnicity and religious affiliation.

Regarding newborn circumcision, most physicians today agree with the practice of informing parents of the risks and benefits of the procedure in an unbiased manner. Recently, however, several large studies revealed a large decrease in HIV transmission in circumcised males compared to uncircumcised males. This finding did not impact the equivocal stance taken by these physician organizations, and they still recommend giving parents the ability to choose whether or not to circumcise their infant based on preference and religious beliefs.

What is the anatomy of the penis?

The penis is a cylindrical shaft with a rounded tip. The rounded tip is called the glans. There is a groove (termed the coronal sulcus) between the shaft and the glans of the penis. The fold of skin that covers the glans is the foreskin (the prepuce).

What is a retractable foreskin?

A retractable foreskin is one that can be pulled back behind the groove of the coronal sulcus to expose the glans.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/6/2015

Benefits of Circumcision

Circumcision, the act of cutting off the penile foreskin, is commonly practiced in the U.S., especially by people of Jewish and Muslim decent or faith. About 65% to 70% of all U.S. males are circumcised. The main reason this procedure was done in the past, as was speculated by medical historians, is to lessen or prevent urinary tract infections, phimosis (non-retractable foreskin) and paraphimosis (retracted foreskin that cannot return to its original position) in young males.