To Circumcise or Not to Circumcise Your Son?

U.S. circumcision rates are on the decline. Why? Here's a look at the pros, cons and future of circumcision in our country as parents weigh out the decision.

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Wondering, “should I circumcise my baby?” Choosing whether to circumcise to not to circumcise a newborn male for non-religious reasons can unleash plenty of fears, ethical quandaries and conflicting feelings for parents. But in recent years, more moms and dads are opting not to circumcise – particularly in the western part of the country and states where Medicaid does not cover the cost of the procedure.

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Trend changes

Specific stats on circumcision rates vary a bit. But one thing seems clear: In the United States, they’ve been on the decline, particularly in the last decade. One well-publicized 2010 report noted a steep drop from around 56 percent in 2006 to about 33 percent just three years later. The actual rate may still be closer 55 percent, according to sources cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, that’s definitely a nosedive from a peak as high as 85 percent in the 1960s.

Yet the tradition still holds up – and was reinforced by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2012. In a new policy statement, it noted that the “health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks” and “the procedure’s benefits justify access to this procedure for families who choose it.” Previously, its 1999 statement was more neutral, noting the potential medical benefits weren’t sufficient to recommend it and advising the use of pain medication.

The newer policy may spark a reverse trend – and many parents still opt to circumcise, whether because dad was or simply because their insurance covers it. But it seems many parents across the country have indeed been reconsidering whether the procedure is necessary.

Making the decision

Parents considering circumcision should discuss it at length before the baby is born, recommends pediatrician Elaine Byers.

“It’s really not medically necessary, so it comes down to religious or personal preferences of the parents,” she says.

Few medical societies outright recommend routine infant circumcision; actually, some European medical societies recommend against it. And more than 80 percent of the males in the world are uncircumcised. Still, advocates say it results in fewer urinary tract infections, a potentially lower incidence of sexually transmitted disease and prevention of penile cancer.

Medical details

Here is some information surrounding these and other factors in the circumcision debate, much of which is from the American Medical Association (AMA) policies on the medical aspects of circumcision.

  • Urinary tract infections: “There is little doubt that the uncircumcised infant is at higher risk for urinary tract infection (UTI), although the magnitude of this risk is debatable,” states the AMA. UTIs can be up to 12 times as common in uncircumcised boys during the first year.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases: Some studies show that circumcised males have a lower risk of syphilis and HIV, but many of these studies were done in Africa, so it is difficult to relate these results in developing countries to proven protective effects in the United States. The best prevention for STDs is safe sex – whether a man is circumcised or not.
  • Penile cancer: The incidence of penile cancer is extremely low, accounting for only 0.2 percent of cancers in men and 0.1 percent of cancer deaths in men in the United States. Other factors like hygiene, family history and sexual history are more significant.
  • Cleanliness: A thick white substance called smegma can accumulate under the foreskin and sometimes cause inflammation, but this is not common.

The takeaway

Like any surgery, circumcision requires anesthesia and carries risks such as bleeding, infection and surgical errors.

Byers says circumcision techniques can vary depending on the obstetrician. She also has noticed a decline in the numbers of parents choosing circumcision, but says the change seems partly due to cultural norms.

“Certain cultures, like Hispanics, don’t tend to circumcise their children, and as we see an increase in these cultures, the rate of circumcision goes down,” she says.

This post was originally published in 2012 and has been updated for 2016.

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Comments
  • The nurses jumped for boy when I told them we we’re not going to circumcise our son! The reply was, ” you lucky boy, you get to keep all your stuff! ” lol!

    Reply
  • Circumcision is a voluntary and irreversible COSMETIC procedure, done to infant boys, without their consent. This article mentions the “risks” of leaving a baby intact, but says nothing of the risks associated with circumcision (too much skin removed, penile adhesions, and even death). We don’t alter the genitals of baby girls at birth, and we should have the same respect for the erogenous tissue of our sons as well. Cicumcision is a barbaric trend, and I hope it continues to fall in popularity.

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  • Circumcision was not originally promoted for health reasons. There is a great “Adam ruins everything” episode to break it down for you. For newborns they do not put them under, which would be very risky, so instead they cut off a large portion of the most sensitive part of the penis. Afterwards, the child is susceptible to infection and botched jobs, where as the penis grows the circumcision makes them lopsided on erection. We did cut our first son but regret it. Second time around with a boy we left him as Nature intended and couldn’t be happier.wish had gotten better information for our first son. I think as more people learn about the origins of it and all the cons, less people will do this rather cruel and barbaric procedure.

    Reply
  • beliefs were often premised on fear & ignorance…as such the idea that it was easier to remove the culprit for male infections due to lack of cleanliness…than to educate the population..with advances in medicine (oh what to do with leeches now that they are out of favor?) and mass communication…it would seem time to eliminate the barbaric ritual to make a few dollars..n’est pas ?

    Reply
  • I think people are once again fooled into believing in a totally uneccesary and bad medical intervention. When you do the research, you realize this is the equivalent to the barbaric female circumcision that some backwards tribal groups still practice. It’s really absurd to give so called “reasons” that if you applied this line of thinking to the female genetalia, people would say that it is absurd. Women have normal discharge, sometimes get infections and UTIs but is that a legitimate reason to cut skin that is a part of their body, like a protective eyelid? Absolutely not! The creator did not make a mistake. These body parts were a part of our human evolution for a reason and they serve a purpose. For “modern” medicine to think we know better is once again proof that man is both ignorant and arrogant. I hope more people will wake up and turn their backs on these barbaric and uneccesary medical interventions.

    Reply
  • His penis, his choice. I am proud every day that my son has authority over his body. And I’m so proud that I loved him so much that I wouldn’t allow a cosmetic procedure.

    Reply
  • No medical organization in the world recommends routine infant circumcision! Once you learn that most of the world’s men are intact, that the male foreskin has16+ functions, and the truth about all the studies then you will see that infant circumcision is a barbaric American tradition. My 26 year old son is intact and has never had a problem. My one year old grandson is intact as well. Fortunately the tide is changing as parents get the correct information and stop allowing this unnecessary, risky surgery be done to their baby boys. Over 100 baby boys die in this country each year due to circumcision. It is time to stop Medicaid funding of it nationwide and it is time to make it illegal. Baby girls have been protected since 1997. Our baby boys deserve the same protection. Watch a video of a baby boy being circumcised. Them tell me you still think it’s okay.

    Reply
  • Not my penis, not my sex life, not my decision.

    You don’t *have to* put your newborns through excruciating pain, people should be estate at that. My ob called it torture, no other country in the world routinely circumcises their newborns.

    Reply
  • Female genital mutilation is illegal, boys should have the same rights. Most of the world does not routinely circumcise. Today’s parents are choosing to leave their sons intact!

    Reply

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