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10 Things to Know About Circumcision


Circumcision is a private decision that has made its way to the public forefront. The practice was done routinely in the U.S. during the 19th and 20th centuries, but that trend has shifted. Whether you decide to circumcise or not, only you can choose what is best for your child and your family. Discuss any questions or concerns with your OB, pediatrician, or spiritual advisor.

1. What is Circumcision?

a mom holding her newborn baby's feet in her hand

Circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin. Approximately one in three men in the world is circumcised. Circumcision can be done for medical, religious, or personal reasons. Typically, circumcision is done within the first weeks of life, but can be done at any age.

2. Religious Circumcision

a rabbi performing a circumcision

Circumcision in Jewish families occurs at a ceremony called a “bris” where a trained religious figure called a “mohel” performs the procedure eight days after birth. For Jews, circumcision is mandated by the Bible, and is an everlasting covenant with God.

Although circumcision is not referenced in the Qur’an, circumcision is a rite of passage into manhood. Muslim ceremonies differ based on cultural norms--in some nations circumcision is performed at birth, while in others it is done at adulthood. Christianity has a neutral stance on circumcision.

3. Arguments for Circumcision

a pregnant woman giving the thumbs up

The foreskin is a retractable membrane that covers and protects the sensitive glans or head of the penis. Due to the retention of moisture, shed skin cells, and urine, without proper cleaning the foreskin can be prone to bacteria and infection. Some studies have also found that minor trauma to the foreskin during intercourse can lead to the opening of blood vessels, thereby increasing transmission of certain venereal diseases, including HIV.

4. Arguments Against Circumcision

a man in a shirt and tie giving the thumbs down

Circumcision is an elective procedure. Since it is typically done for cosmetic reasons (e.g., “I want him to look like his daddy”), some say there's no reason to risk your baby’s health. The foreskin contains approximately 1/3 of the penis’ skin and contains specialized nerve endings. Many people argue that removing that much skin reduces sensitivity and may decrease sexual pleasure. Finally, others feel that it is your child’s body and it is not your right to permanently alter it without permission.

5. Circumcision Rates Are Dropping

a map of the United States of America

According to statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics, in 1979 64.5% of infant males were routinely circumcised. In 2010 the rate was 58.3%.

6. Circumcision Is Banned in Some Countries

a sign saying the word banned

Although circumcision is a routine tradition in countries like Israel and Turkey, in 2012 circumcision was banned in the German city of Cologne. “The ruling by the district court of Cologne, , where a court ruled that circumcision ‘for the purpose of religious upbringing constitutes a violation of physical integrity.’" - BBC News Magazine. (The NYT reported that, "The country’s Professional Association of Pediatricians called the ethics committee ruling 'a scandal.'") 

German law has since been updated to allow non-therapeutic circumcision under certain conditions. Sweden, Norway, and other European countries are moving forward with recommendations against routine male circumcision.

7. Pain Management and Aftercare

a doctor checking a young baby

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends administering a dose of Tylenol (acetaminophen) two hours before the procedure, and then every four hours for the first day after circumcision. A topical anesthetic like EMLA should be used directly before the procedure in order to decrease sensation. 

Circumcisions typically heal within a week to ten days. Keeping the surgery site clean by using mild soap and warm water (not baby wipes) is recommended--as well as application of petroleum jelly to prevent irritation from contact with the inside of the diaper. As long as you don’t notice a large spot of blood, sores, or infection, aftercare is quite easy.

8. Complications from Circumcision

a mom holding her newborn baby

While most circumcisions are completed without issue, complications can occasionally occur. The most common complication is blood loss, which can easily be treated. Other complications can include insufficient removal of the foreskin, excessive removal, adhesions, inclusion cysts, and skin bridges. More rare but severe complications include necrosis of the skin resulting in loss of the penis or amputation of the glans or head of the penis. Even more rarely, death can result from complications due to circumcision.

9. It’s Impossible to Predict How a Man Will Feel…

a young man holding two photos of himself

There aren’t any definitive studies on the subject, but anecdotally there are many men who resent having been circumcised. There are also men who are perfectly happy. There are men who choose to be circumcised as adults, and there are also men who use stretchers to attempt to restore their foreskin. Without a crystal ball it is impossible to tell how your son will feel about his foreskin.

10. Circumcision Is a Personal Decision

a young couple looking confused and surrounded by question marks

Ultimately, this is a decision that only you and your partner can make. The best you can do is to make an informed choice. Read up on both sides of the argument, speak with your physician or OB, and talk to other moms. In the end, it is your choice what is right for your family and your child.

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