What Are the Benefits and Risks of Circumcision?

Medically Reviewed on 1/6/2022

Is circumcision good or bad?

Overall, circumcision is relatively healthy and comes with several sexual and reproductive health benefits.
Overall, circumcision is relatively healthy and comes with several sexual and reproductive health benefits.

Circumcision is a surgical procedure where a doctor removes the skin covering the tip of your penis. In many parts of the world, including the United States, it is common for newborn boys to be circumcised. You can undergo circumcision at any time after the infant period, but the procedure becomes more complex as you age.

While some people practice circumcision as a matter of family tradition, others observe it as a religious ritual. At the basic level, some people consider the procedure unnecessary or cosmetic. There are times, however, when your doctor would deem it necessary to undergo circumcision for preventive health care reasons.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks. However, the data on which this finding was not based in the North American context. There is growing evidence that circumcision lowers the risk of acquiring the following conditions:

It is also possible that some of the bacteria that accumulate under the foreskin could be shared between sexual partners and cause bacterial vaginosis.

The question of whether sex feels better for a woman who has sex with a circumcised penis is subjective. Aspects of penile anatomy, for instance, the absence of foreskin, is among the numerous factors influencing a woman’s choice of a sexual partner.

However, according to independent research, most women prefer the removal of the foreskin, as it improves penile aesthetics, giving it a desirable appearance. Circumcision can add positive sexual benefits to a man and his sexual partner, including:

More pleasure during intercourse. Generally, most couples report that circumcision helps improve a man's penile aesthetics, but not necessarily their sexual performance or pleasure. Still, a considerable percentage of couples report that their sexual lives improved after the man underwent circumcision. Similarly, research shows that most women enjoy better intimacy and oral sex if their partners are circumcised.

Alternative solution for phimosis. Phimosis occurs as the result of a tight foreskin snagged on the tip of the penis. This is a normal condition in newborns and toddlers. As boys grow, the foreskin is supposed to retract so it can be rolled naturally. However, in most cases, this doesn't happen, resulting in a condition known as phimosis. Usually, the only treatment solution to rectify this situation is to have the foreskin removed (i.e., circumcision).

Promotes better genital hygiene. Usually, the foreskin is a breeding ground for bacteria since it's not always easy to clean the penis beneath the foreskin. However, the procedure makes it easier to clean beneath the skin and maintain a higher standard of genital hygiene, which helps prevent itchiness and infections.

Not only is a good genital hygiene regimen beneficial to men, but women also benefit immensely from male circumcision. According to various studies, a circumcised penis highly improves a woman's sexual and reproductive health. A circumcised and well-maintained penis helps reduce the chances of vaginal infections, including bacterial vaginosis and cervical cancer agents, such as human papillomavirus, in women.

Risks of circumcision

On the flip side, male circumcision has been attributed to a number of health risks, the most serious being excess bleeding. Excessive bleeding is a common complication of the male circumcision procedure.

While the condition may be contained by applying pressure and gel form, in other instances, this may not be enough. It can result in damage to the urethra and possible growth of the fistula. This condition is rare but may occur in small boys with underlying blood dyscrasias or similar blood disorders.

Infection. As is the case with all major surgical procedures, infections are inevitable. However, under the best sterile and hygienic conditions, this complication can be infrequent. Infections are more common in newborns since they are naturally immunocompromised. In the worst and rarest cases, infections arising from a circumcised penis may cause other adverse complications, including meningitis, gangrene, necrotizing fasciitis, and sepsis.

Other adverse effects of male circumcision include:

  • Insufficient removal of the foreskin
  • Excessive removal of the foreskin
  • Penile adhesion
  • Cyst inclusion
  • Abnormal healing
  • Meatal stenosis
  • Urinary retention
  • Chordee
  • Hypospadias
  • Epispadias

These conditions are relatively rare and may occur in the worst of cases. Overall, circumcision is relatively healthy and comes with several sexual and reproductive health benefits.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/6/2022
References
BMC Urology: "Complications of circumcision in male neonates, infants and children: a systematic review"

BJUI International: "Sexual satisfaction of women partners of circumcised men in a randomized trial of male circumcision in Rakai, Uganda."

Frontiers in Pediatrics: "Do the Benefits of Male Circumcision Outweigh the Risks? A Critique of the Proposed CDC Guidelines."

Global Health Science And Practise: "Sexual Satisfaction, Performance, and Partner Response Following Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision in Zambia: The Spear and Shield Project."

International AIDS Society: "Association between HIV and sexually transmitted infections and partner circumcision among women in uMgungundlovu District, South Africa: a cross-sectional analysis of HIPSS baseline data."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Greater Benefits of Infant Circumcision."

National Health Services: "Tight foreskin (phimosis and paraphimosis)."

The Scientific World Journal: "Complications of Circumcision."

Sexual Medicine: "Sex and Male Circumcision: Women's Preferences Across Different Cultures and Countries: A Systematic Review."

Stanford Medicine: "Complications of Circumcision."