Perhaps one of the most important – and often stress producing – questions new parents of baby boys must ask themselves is should we or shouldn’t we have our newborn circumcised?
For man parents there is no question. Their religious beliefs or customs mandate the procedure be done shortly after the child is born. For other parents the question remains and the controversy over the “should we/shouldn’t we” has raged for ages and shows no signs of diminishing.
Although the decision rests squarely on the shoulders of the parents, what does the most recent research suggest about the pros and cons of circumcision?
The definition of circumcision is basically the excision of the male foreskin. The earliest biblical reference to circumcision is Genesis 17:9-14 when Abraham was instructed that “every man child among you shall be circumcised.”Credit: Wikipedia commons
It is estimated that 20 percent of all men in the world are circumcised. But the number varies widely from country to country and among different ethnic and racial groups.
One of the most influential sources on the subject is the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The organization believes that circumcision has potential medical benefits and advantages, as well as risks but it has concluded that the existing scientific evidence is not enough to recommend routine circumcision.
Research That Shows Benefits
The AAP decision sites several pros and cons about circumcision. Among them are medical benefits such as a lower risk of infant boys acquiring a urinary tract infection. According to recent research , a circumcised boy has a one in 1,000 chance of developing a urinary tract infection in his first year, while an uncircumcised child’s risk of developing an infection is one in 100.
Another recent study  involving close to 400 boys ages three years or younger who went to the hospital with symptoms of a urinary tract infection showed that about 25 percent of uncircumcised boys had urinary tract infections, compared with five percent of circumcised boys.
Still study in 2000 confirms the finding  that “newborn circumcision results in a 9.1-fold decrease in incidence of UTI during the first year of life as well as markedly lower UTI-related medical costs and rate of hospital admissions. Newborn circumcision during the first year of life is, thus, a valuable preventive health measure, particularly in the first 3 months of life, when uncircumcised males are most likely to be hospitalized with severe UTI.”
Credit: Royalty-Free/CORBISAnother argument in favor cited by the AAP is that circumcision may protect against penile cancer (although the occurrence of this ailment is rare in any case). The American Cancer Society agrees and says “men who were circumcised as children have a lower chance of getting penile cancer than those who were not, but studies looking at this issue have not found the same protective effect if the foreskin is removed as an adult. Some studies even suggested a higher risk of penile cancer in men who were circumcised as adults. The reasons for this are not entirely clear, but may be related to other known risk factors.” Studies have shown that men who are circumcised cannot develop the condition called phimosis, and cannot accumulate material known as smegma, two conditions that increase penile cancer risk. The later a man is circumcised the more likely it is that one of these conditions will occur.
Yet another benefit of circumcision, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, is that circumcised men are less likely to get and stay infected with the human papilloma virus (HPV), have a slightly lower risk of getting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are less prone to foreskin infections, and find it easier to maintain cleanliness of the genital area.
Arguments Against Circumcision
On the other side of the issue, the AAP cites a number of risks associated with circumcision, including bleeding, infection, cutting the foreskin too short or too long, and improper healing. There are also a number of beliefs, although not proven by research, such as the sentiment the foreskin is needed to protect the tip of the penis or that removal of the foreskin can affect sex by making the tip of the penis less sensitive, causing a decrease in sexual pleasure later in life.
One of the resources that touts mostly the negative aspects of circumcision is the Circumcision Resource Center of Boston, Massachusetts that addresses other issues that they say weigh in against circumcision, such as how circumcision harms women, how it might lead to colic in children, and more.
The debate over circumcision shows no signs of letting up and sometimes the debate is intense. For example, in Germany in 2012 a court ruled that circumcision was the same as “great bodily harm” and therefore constituted a criminal act. The ruling forced many hospitals to stop performing circumcision . Also, in California a ballot proposition was offered, although later struck down by courts, which would have banned circumcision in San Francisco.
Ultimately the decision is up to parents to decide.
1. The Indian Journal of Urology. Indian J Urol. 2010 Jan-Mar; 26(1): 12–15. Circumcision: Pros and Cons by Berk Burgu, et. al.
2. Visibility of the Urethral Meatus and Risk of Urinary Tract Infections in Uncircumcised Boys by Alexander Sasha Dubrovsky, Bethany J. Foster, Roman Jednak, Elise Mok, David McGillivray CMAJ cmaj.111372; July 9, 2012
3. Newborn Circumcision Decreases Incidence and Costs of Urinary Tract Infections During the First Year of Life, by Edgar J. Schoen, MD, Christopher J. Colby, PhD, G. Thomas Ray, MBA: PEDIATRICS Vol. 105 No. 4 April 1, 2000 pp. 789 -793