The Pros and Cons of Circumcision

Health Writer

Years ago, parents in the United States didn't really have a decision to make. Circumcision was a routine surgery performed on most boys within hours or days of birth, with up to as many as 90 percent of all boys being circumcised in the 1950s and 1960s [1]. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, this dropped to approximately 65 percent [2], but today that figure is lower - at least in some areas of the country. Based on trends compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), babies in the Midwest were circumcised more often, with the rate increasing between 1979 and 1999. But the rate of circumcisions for babies born in the West dropped from 62 percent in 1980 to 37 percent in 1999.

Circumcision, the surgical removal of the foreskin at the tip of the penis, is a controversial topic. Over the past several decades, the debate over whether circumcision should be routinely done on newborns has raged with some communities trying to enact laws to ban the practice. While we will go over some of the pros and cons of this surgery, the choice is a personal decision which often has roots in religious beliefs and cultural traditions.

The Pros of Circumcision

According to some research, there are definite medical benefits to circumcision. Some studies, according to an article in the New York Times, helps to prevent contracting and spreading certain STDS. In the article, Maria Wawer, a professor at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health indicates [3] that those who have been circumcised helps by:

  • Reducing the risk of acquiring herpes
  • Helps to prevent the spread of the HPV virus
  • May help protect men from contracting the HIV virus
  • Besides the possible health benefits, parents choose to have their child circumcised for a number of different reasons:
  • Fathers are circumcised and want their sons to look the same
  • Parents are concerned that their child will be made fun of by other boys for being different if he is not circumcised
  • It is easier to keep the penis clean after circumcision and the possibility of urinary infections may be reduced

Cons of Circumcision

Some medical experts dispute these finding, believing that the reduced risk is minimal and the risk of performing the surgery make it unnecessary. Specifically, opponents of circumcision indicate:

  • All surgeries have medical risks, including excessive bleeding and infection and only surgeries which are considered "medically necessary" should be performed
  • Babies are exposed to unnecessary pain and medications. Local anesthetics are used during the surgery and many are given pain medications after.
  • The foreskin is meant to protect the head of the penis and removing it takes away that natural protection
  • The foreskin has blood vessels and nerves which can help to increase sexual pleasure later in life although according to, there is no proof that circumcision impacts sexual satisfaction, positively or negatively
  • Some insurance companies have stopped paying for circumcision because it is not medically necessary. Parents may end up with a large medical bill.

In addition, many people opposed to routine circumcision believe that performing this surgery goes against medical ethics because doctors have taken an oath to "First, do no harm" and performing an unnecessary surgery which causes pain and possible repercussions later in life is doing harm to boys.

Circumcision - A Personal Decision

Although the American Academy of Pediatrics has previously released statements recommending against routine circumcision, their latest statement, issued in May 2011 indicates that parents should consult with their doctor to discuss the benefits and risks and to take into account their own religious and cultural beliefs before making a decision.

In many countries around the world, circumcision is not considered a routine surgery and many men grow up without it. Circumcision rates are higher in the United States than in other countries. It all comes down to parental preference and beliefs.


[3] "Circumcise or Don't? Quandary for Parents," 2011, Aug 22, Roni Caryn Rabin, The New York Times:

"Circumcision: Pros and Cons," Reviewed 2010, June 2, Bardon D. Schmitt, M.D., Children's Physician Network:

[2] "Trends in Circumcisions Among Newborns," Updated 2010, Feb 3, Staff Writer, Centers for Disease Control, National Center for Health Statistics:

[1] "USA Circumcision Rates," Updated 2011, March 14, Jake H. Waskett, Circumcision Independent Reference and Commentary Service: