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Medical Reasons for Circumcision: Separating Fact from Myth

By HERWriter
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facts and myths about medical reasons to circumcise Ruslan Olinchuk/PhotoSpin

Definition of Circumcision

Circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin from the penis. It is usually performed within the weeks after birth. Approximately 60-75 percent of all American males are circumcised. (1)

Medical Reasons to Circumcise

The most common non-religious reason cited for circumcision is medical.

Parents chose to circumcise their sons because of:

A) Penile Health - Some parents believe or are told that their son’s unretractable foreskin is a problem and needs to be treated. However, the foreskin normally doesn’t retract until about age five, and, in some cases, not until the teenage years. (2)

Phimosis, which is when the foreskin cannot be retracted, is usually the result of poor hygiene and recurrent episodes of inflammation. (3)

Paraphimosis, when the retracted foreskin cannot return to its original position, and balanoposthitis, inflammation of the head of the penis and foreskin in uncircumcised men are even rarer.

Inflammation of the opening of the penis (meatitis) is actually more commonly seen in circumcised boys as a result of exposure of the glans due to circumcision. (1)

B) Cancer of the Penis – Cancer of the penis affects one in 600 American men and about 25 percent of those diagnosed with this type of cancer die. This cancer occurs almost exclusively in uncircumcised men. “In five major research studies, no man who had been circumcised as a newborn developed cancer of the penis.” (1)

Urinary Tract Infections and Sexually Transmitted Diseases

C) Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) – “A circumcised infant boy has about a 1 in 1,000 chance of developing a UTI in the first year of life; an uncircumcised infant boy has about a 1 in 100 chance….” (5) Circumcision prevents the growth of bacteria under the foreskin although simple cleaning of an uncircumcised penis can prevent UTIs. (2)

D) Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) - Three African studies have shown that an uncircumcised penis can harbor STD bacteria for type 2 herpes, human papillomavirus, gonorrhea or syphilis, among others, and pass them on. (1)

Researchers still don’t know which circumcised or uncircumcised boys will experience any of these infections or diseases. And the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has stated that “there is no absolute medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn. ” (1)

However, parents need to consider the potential health benefits and risks when deciding whether or not to have their son circumcised.


1) “Circumcision: Medical Pros and Cons” Perlstein, David. MedicineNet.com. Web. Sept 11, 2012.

2) Newborns: Care of the Uncircumcised Penis: Guidelines for Parents. American Academy of Pediatrics. Web. Sept 11, 2012.

3) Phimosis and Paraphimosis. Ghory, Hina Z. Medscape.com. Web. Sept 11, 2012.

4) Circumcision. American Academy of Pediatrics. Web. Sept 11, 2012.

Reviewed September 11, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment18 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Even if male circumcision has benefits, they are minimal and there is one important thing called CONSENT. Unless there is any medical reason by which a young boy should be circumcised, he should have the opportunity to choose as a teenager or an adult.

January 26, 2016 - 11:04pm
EmpowHER Guest

It is amazing that anyone can talk (write) about this without mentioning the NERVES! What about the fact that this involves a cutting off the most innervated part of the male, parts of a babies sensory system are shut off -- this sensory input is GONE for life.

Many cut men do not regret circumcision as they have no clue about what they lost. And that is the point, these guys don't miss the 20000 pleasure nerves because they have no reference? Like a color blind person not understanding the value of color sight or a one eye person not understanding the value of 3D sight.

The first thing that any article must mention is that the parts have THOUSANDS of specialized nerve endings. These are the MOST innervated parts of the HUMAN MALE. When you cut the parts off you shut down a huge part of the kid’s/man’s sensory system.

The next important point all must consider is that many cut men have sexual function issues from the start of sexual activity. MOST cut men will get ED at a much younger age than they would otherwise (cut men are 4.5 TIMES as likely to get ED).

The knowledge of the cut affecting sexual pleasure and function goes back years so there is NO IF as to SEXUAL HARM, it is a matter of HOW BAD IS IT for any particular guy. Maimonides (the Torah scholar) noted that the act that circumcision weakens the faculty of sexual excitement and sometimes perhaps diminishes the pleasure is indubitable. Kellogg declared a ‘war on masturbation’ at the end of the 19th century and advocated circumcision to curb male sexual urges by removing the main male pleasure parts.

September 12, 2012 - 6:25am
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)

That wasn't within the scope of this article. I do cover that in my other article on the non-medical reasons people give for circumcision. There was just too much information on this subject to cover it all in under 500 words.

September 13, 2012 - 6:08pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Darlene Oakley)

If you can't write a complete and thorough article on the topic, why write one?
Given the limited number of words you had to use, it's clear your agenda forced you to select a small handful of items that reinforced it.
If you know you can do a topic justice, it's irresponsible to write just the limited information you want people to see when it comes to genital mutilation.
But, men have come to expect that type of irresponsible treatment from women. Hey, they're just males. Why not cut them up, right? Would you even think of giving female genital mutilation such short shrift. I really doubt it.

February 16, 2013 - 9:46am

I'd say ignore the AAP policy on circumcision, which was written by 10 people - none of whom has a foreskin.

Instead, read the Dutch policy (in English) by searching KNMG circumcision policy. It is well footnoted and took a broader view than the AAP. It concludes that infant circumcision has "an absence of medical benefits and danger of complications."

September 11, 2012 - 9:29pm

Yet *another* article that talks about circumcision, but doesn't discuss the functions of the part of the body that is cut off?

The tissue removed by circumcision is an important part of male anatomy, and male circumcision has negative impacts to male and female sexuality. A study in 2007 by Sorrells, et al., measured the fine-touch sensitivity of 19 different places on the male genitalia, both circumcised and intact. This study concluded that "circumcision ablates the most sensitive parts of [male anatomy]."

Someone was nice enough to create color-coded diagrams using the data from this study to visually show the areas of sensitivity:

Google functions of the foreskin for more information.

Intact America has just published an excellent response in which they explain the flaws and bias in this new AAP statement.

This is a listing of other nations' medical statements on circumcision which show they do not agree with the AAP:

For example, in 2010, the Royal Dutch Medical Association said, "there is no convincing evidence that circumcision is useful or necessary in terms of prevention or hygiene" and "non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors conflicts with the child's right to autonomy and physical integrity."

Finally, the following video is an excellent educational resource. It is narrated by Dr. Dean Edell (probably not best to view this at work):

September 11, 2012 - 8:06pm
HERWriter (reply to craig.garrett)

There simply wasn't room in 400 words or so to cover all aspects of the issue. I do address this to some extent in my other article dealing with the non-medical reasons people give for circumcision.

My article wasn't to pass judgment on any one particular side of the issue, but just to present the arguments and positions.

September 13, 2012 - 6:07pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Darlene Oakley)

Again, a word count is not an acceptable rationale for irresponsibility.
In your article, you did not present "arguments and positions". You provided one position - the rationale for mutilating male genitals. As far as that's concerned, any rationale will do, no matter how questionable.
You did not discuss the risks, or long term problems, in your article. As such, it's irresponsible.

February 16, 2013 - 9:54am
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)

You make it sound like I deliberately chose not to include those details.

For the third time, what I did decide to do is focus on one aspect of the issue in this article, and the risks and long-term problems in a separate one. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, I felt the risks and long-term problems would require an entire article on their own and so, as a responsible writer, I made that the focus of the second article to make sure it was covered more thoroughly. It's not irresponsibility to cover the topics you've mentioned in a separate article. In fact, I would argue that it was actually quite the opposite--to dedicate an entire article on its own to the risks and long-term problems. I would agree with you that to not have covered the risks and long-term problems would have been irresponsible, but I did cover them in an article intended for that specific purpose.

In my experience, people usually come to an article with a certain set of ideas or perceptions about what's going to be covered in it, and when those thoughts or ideas aren't there, the article is labeled irresponsible and the writer lambasted for it. Each article I write has a goal. Sometimes it's just to define what something is. That's what this article was meant to do. I'm sorry you seem so upset about it, but that was my intent in writing it.

February 16, 2013 - 10:49am
EmpowHER Guest

The idea that male circumcision has medical benefits is based on the false cultural belief that a male's foreskin has no value. People in cultures that cut the genitals of children devalue the parts they cut off.

September 11, 2012 - 5:59pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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