Circumcision Pros And Cons

In some cases, though, the choice not to circumcise (or at least to wait) is a medical one: Babies with hypospadias (a condition where the opening of the urethra, the tube that empties urine, is in the wrong place) should not be circumcised, because a surgeon may eventually use the foreskin for a reconstructive procedure. Additionally, if you have a family history of bleeding disorders, consult your pediatrician before getting your baby circumcised. And if your baby is born prematurely, they will need to wait until healthy enough to leave the hospital before having the surgery should you choose.

The Pros and Cons of Circumcision

Going back and forth about whether to circumcise your newborn? This list of circumcision pros and cons may help you decide.

By Jenni Singer
Updated on January 7, 2020

Newborn Baby Looking Up

To cut or not to cut? Parents of newborns with penises must decide whether their child will be circumcised. “The circumcision process involves surgically removing the foreskin to expose the head of the penis,” says Vanessa Elliott, M.D., a urologist at UCP Urology of Central PA, Inc. For many families, particularly those of the Jewish and Muslim faiths, circumcision is simply a given. For others, though, deciding whether or not to do it can be fraught with worry and stress.

Research has shown that surgical removal of the penis’s foreskin has potential health benefits, including decreased risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs), penile cancer, and some sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Yet as with any surgery, there are risks, and the percentage of American families choosing to circumcise has decreased over time. In fact, 58.3% of males were circumcised in 2010, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which represents a 10% decrease in the rate of male circumcisions since 1979.

The cost of circumcision may be one reason for the trend, especially because fewer insurance companies are covering it, says Ronald Gray, M.D., a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. But America’s changing demographics also affect the number of males undergoing the procedure. “The increased proportion of Black and Hispanic births in the U.S. affects rates because these groups are less likely to circumcise,” Dr. Gray says.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released an updated policy statement on circumcision in 2012 recognizing the potential medical advantages of circumcision, primarily related to preventing UTIs. But even though the AAP says the benefits of circumcision generally outweigh the risks, they concluded that circumcision shouldn’t be routinely recommended. They encourage parents to make their own decision based on religious, ethical, and cultural beliefs.

Still held up on the circumcised vs. uncircumcised debate? We broke down some potential advantages and disadvantages of the procedure.

Potential Benefits of Circumcision

Parents often choose circumcision for the following reasons.

Decreased risk of urinary tract infections

The AAP reports that circumcision can lower a male baby’s chance of getting a potentially serious urinary tract infection during their first year compared to their uncircumcised counterparts. Left untreated, UTIs can introduce bacteria into the bloodstream, possibly damaging the kidneys.

Lowered rates of sexually transmitted infections

It can be difficult for some parents to picture their newborn as a grown-up with an active sex life, which can make prevention of future STIs feel almost too abstract to contemplate, but as with other choices parents make for their children, there are future implications.

In the case of circumcision, the results of three randomized clinical trials of adult males in Africa were sufficient for the World Health Organization (WHO) to endorse male circumcision as an effective way to reduce the risk of HIV in regions with generalized HIV epidemics, high HIV rates, and few circumcised people.

Although the research was conducted exclusively in Africa, where the risk of HIV/AIDS is much higher, experts in the U.S. believe the findings are relevant for Americans, too. The foreskin is thought to increase the risk of contracting HIV for two reasons. First, the underside of the foreskin contains immune system cells to which HIV cells can easily attach. Second, the foreskin often suffers small tears during intercourse, allowing the HIV cells to enter the bloodstream. Circumcising your baby can eliminate these two risk factors.

What’s more, a 2009 study in the New England Journal of Medicine linked circumcision to a reduced risk of penile human papillomavirus infection (HPV) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). And studies have also shown a lower risk of cervical cancer in female partners of circumcised males with a history of multiple sexual partners. (HPV is associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer.)

Protection against penile cancer

Newborn circumcision provides some protection from penile cancer, which only occurs in the foreskin. However, the risk of this cancer is very low in developed countries like the United States. (It represents less than 1% of all cancer cases in the U.S. and Europe.)

No foreskin-related issues

Since the foreskin is removed during circumcision, there is no chance of developing a foreskin infection or other infections related to the foreskin, such as phimosis, a rare condition that makes foreskin retraction impossible.

Potential Drawbacks of Circumcision

Of course, circumcision also has some downsides. Here are common reasons parents choose to decline circumcision.

Risks and complications of surgery

As with any surgery, circumcision comes with risks and potential complications, says Dr. Elliot. If the circumcision is performed by an experienced physician in a sterile environment, the risk of complications should be low. One to 3% of circumcisions will result in minor complications, such as extra bleeding or infection, which topical antibiotics can clear up.

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Other risks include poor cosmesis (the penis doesn’t look right) and penile adhesions. Also, the tip of the circumcised penis may become irritated, which can restrict the size of the urinary opening. This restriction can then lead to urinary tract problems, some of which might require additional surgery to correct.

Serious complications of circumcision, while rare, can include the removal of too much skin or other damage to the penis. A follow-up circumcision or reconstructive surgery may be needed. However, these complications are estimated to occur in less than 1% of circumcisions.

Pain during and after surgery

Prior to the incision, all infants should be given anesthesia, either as a topical cream or an injection. Still, “newborns do feel pain,” Dr. Gray says. Many families who choose to forgo circumcision say they don’t want to put their child through a painful elective procedure and recovery when they can live a healthy life without it.

Experts say that with proper care and infant Tylenol (acetaminophen), a circumcised penis should heal comfortably in a few days to a week, but that is not to say that it comes with no discomfort.

Potential impact on sexual pleasure

Another consideration for some parents is the question of sexual pleasure. There are thousands of nerve endings in the foreskin that is excised with circumcision, so the question raised is whether the surgery can have a negative impact on a person’s future sexual pleasure and sexual satisfaction.

From a scientific standpoint, it’s impossible to study the potential difference in sexual sensation for those who were circumcised at birth. However, Douglas Diekema, M.D., a member of the AAP’s circumcision task force, notes that the few studies done with males who were circumcised as adults show that some found intercourse better afterward, some described it as worse, and the vast majority reported that it was pretty much the same as before.

Should I Circumcise My Baby?

“If you want a circumcision done for non-medical reasons, that’s the parents’ choice,” says Jack Swanson, M.D., a pediatrician in Ames, Iowa, and a member of the AAP task force on circumcision. Some parents feel like it’s easier for a male baby’s penis to look more like their male parent’s, whether they’re circumcised or not. Others lean toward circumcision so their child’s penis will eventually be similar to others in the locker room at school. But consider this: If the current circumcision trend continues, at least a few other kids in their class will be uncircumcised.

It can be tempting to put off making the circumcision decision until later. Some parents argue that circumcision isn’t their call to make. Still, the AAP points out that the risk for complications is much greater for older children than for infants, so it’s better to do it when your child is a baby if you’re inclined to. “Plus, if he waits to make the decision as an adult, he will have missed out on the protective benefits during any previously sexually active years,” Dr. Diekema says.

In some cases, though, the choice not to circumcise (or at least to wait) is a medical one: Babies with hypospadias (a condition where the opening of the urethra, the tube that empties urine, is in the wrong place) should not be circumcised, because a surgeon may eventually use the foreskin for a reconstructive procedure. Additionally, if you have a family history of bleeding disorders, consult your pediatrician before getting your baby circumcised. And if your baby is born prematurely, they will need to wait until healthy enough to leave the hospital before having the surgery should you choose.

Circumcision: Pros, Cons, Risks, Benefits

Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert. She’s also a contributor to and the former editor of Columbia Parent, with countless years of experience writing and researching health and social issues.

Published on February 08, 2023

Sarah is a writer, researcher and avid yoga practitioner with a decade of experience covering health and lifestyle topics for a variety of digital and print publications.

newborn with mother in hospital

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

For some parents, the decision to circumcise their newborn is a given as soon as they find out they are having a boy. For others, the decision is fraught with anxiety and stress as they weigh the pros and cons and try to determine what is best for their newborn baby.

Regardless of which camp you find yourself in, keep reading. We’ll walk you through the benefits and risks of circumcision as well as let you know what to expect should you decide to have your newborn circumcised. Afterward, you will be armed with enough information to make an informed decision.

What You Should Know About Circumcision

Circumcision is one of the most common procedures performed in the world, representing more than 10% of all pediatric urology cases. In the U.S., an estimated 58.3% of male newborns and 80.5% of males ages 14 to 59 years are circumcised. Yet, despite its widespread use, circumcision is not a routinely recommended procedure, and instead is considered elective surgery.

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement on circumcision in which they indicated that there are some potential medical advantages of circumcision. But even though the AAP recognizes that the benefits of circumcision typically outweigh the risks, they still do not routinely recommend circumcision to parents. “Doctors provide factually correct, non-biased information about circumcision when asked by the parents,” says Nivedita More, MD, a pediatrician at Bayside Medical Group at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health. “Parents ultimately make an informed decision about circumcision.” This follows the AAP’s guidelines.

What Are the Benefits of Circumcision?

There are a number of benefits of circumcision. Aside from making the area easier to clean, there also is a reduced risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) and sexually transmitted diseases. In fact, research suggests that there is a 90% reduction in the risk of UTIs in infancy.

“The penis also becomes easier to clean for parents (and ultimately for the child), which helps reduce the risk of infection from bacteria,” says Dr. More. “Other benefits from male circumcision include prevention of urinary tract infections, acquisition of HIV, the transmission of some sexually transmitted infections, and near elimination of lifetime risk of penile cancer.”

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There also is a reduced risk of balanitis, an infection of the glands or the head of the penis. Likewise, circumcision can also eliminate cases of phimosis, or the inability to retract the foreskin as well as reduce the incidence of posthitis, which is an infection of the skin covering the head of the penis.

“Some research has suggested that circumcision may also decrease the risk of a man getting HIV from an infected female partner,” says Jorge Perez, MD, a neonatologist and cofounder of KIDZ Medical Services. “Others may choose circumcision so that the child does not look different from his father or other boys. For some people, it is a part of cultural or religious practices.”

Circumcision as Part of Culture and Faith

As one of the oldest surgical procedures known, circumcision sometimes has cultural importance or religious significance. Initially, male circumcision was practiced by Semitic people including Egyptians and those of Jewish faith.

In the Jewish religion, male infants are traditionally circumcised on their eighth day of life to represent the covenant made between Abraham and God. Today, male circumcision continues to be almost universally practiced by Jewish people.

Meanwhile, Islam is the largest religious group to practice male circumcision. Islamic people use circumcision as a confirmation of their relationship with God and as a sign of purification. People who follow the Christian faith also practice male circumcision. But, it is not part of their faith. In fact, in 1442 the Roman Catholic Church stated that circumcision was not required.

What Are the Risks of Circumcision?

In most cases, circumcision is a routine and safe procedure with very few risks. “When an infant is circumcised by a well-trained and competent professional under sterile precautions, there are very few risks and complications following the procedure and are extremely rare,” says Dr. More.

According to Boston Children’s Hospital, the complication rate is relatively low—between 2% to 3%— and most of the time involves only minor bleeding following the procedure. “Some of the potential complications include infection of the site, excessive bleeding, or urinary retention,” Dr. More explains.

There also is the risk that not enough foreskin is removed, which can lead to the baby needing a circumcision revision.

Timing also can play a role in the risks associated with circumcision. For instance, there is a greater risk of complications from circumcision if the child is older. Research suggests that the risk of complications increases after the neonatal period. For instance, adolescents have a 6% risk of complications compared to infants.

“The best time to have a newborn male circumcision is in the hospital before discharge or few days after discharge,” Dr. More adds. “Babies are smaller and don’t move a lot as newborns during the procedure. It is easier to perform the procedure in an office or hospital setting under local anesthesia since it is less painful. Also, when the procedure is done a day or so after birth, babies can be observed after the procedure. If the baby is older, they need general anesthesia to help with pain and reduce the risk of injury to the penis, since they move more.”

That said, there are times when a circumcision does not make sense, Dr. More adds. When the baby is born prematurely, is medically unstable, has an illness at birth, has a family history of bleeding problems, or if the opening of the urethra is not at the tip of the penis, they should not be circumcised at birth, she says.

What to Expect During Circumcision

If you choose to have your baby is circumcised at the hospital shortly after birth, they are typically awake and are given pain medications to make them comfortable during the procedure. Usually, this involves doing the procedure under local anesthesia by blocking a nerve to reduce pain.

“Most newborns are held still or placed into a circumcision brace or board with a baby blanket,” Dr. More explains. “The baby is then given a sucrose pacifier to improve comfort during the procedure. Most babies are comfortable during the procedure, which takes only a few minutes.”

During the procedure, your baby should not feel any pain, Dr. Perez says. Afterward, you will need to care for your baby’s penis as it heals by washing it with mild soap and water.

“With each diaper change, the penis should be cleaned and petroleum jelly applied on a gauze pad and placed directly over the wound,” he adds. “Change diapers frequently so that urine or stools do not cause infection. In most cases, the skin will heal in seven to 10 days.”

Usually, you cannot immerse your baby in water or bathe them for the first seven days after the procedure, Dr. More adds. If your baby had a plastic ring type of circumcision rather than an incision, the care will be slightly different.

“Parents are asked to wash the area with warm water once or twice a day and if the area is soiled with poop,” Dr. More says. “The plastic ring usually falls off in seven to 14 days after the procedure. No dressing is needed for this technique.” When a ring is used, parents are able to bathe their child daily (only if the umbilical cord has fallen off). Once the ring falls off, you can resume a standard bathing schedule for your baby.

A Word From Verywell

Deciding whether or not to circumcise your baby is a personal decision often based on your preference, research, culture, and faith. And if you know the sex of your baby ahead of time, it is probably a decision best made prior to labor and delivery.

If you have questions or concerns about circumcision, be sure to talk to a healthcare provider. They can answer your questions and help dispel any myths.

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Guevara CG, Achua JK, Blachman-Braun R, et al. Neonatal circumcision: What are the factors affecting parental decision?. Cureus. 2021;13(11):e19415. doi:10.7759/cureus.19415
  2. TASK FORCE ON CIRCUMCISION, Blank S, Brady M, et al. Circumcision policy statement. Pediatrics. 2012;130(3):585-586. doi:10.1542/peds.2012-1989
  3. Eisenberg ML, Galusha D, Kennedy WA, Cullen MR. The Relationship between Neonatal Circumcision, Urinary Tract Infection, and Health. World J Mens Health. 2018;36(3):176-182. doi:10.5534/wjmh.180006
  4. UNAIDS: Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. Male circumcision: Context, criteria and culture.
  5. Bar-Yaakov N, Mano R, Ekstein M, et al. Parental regret following decision to revise circumcision. Front Pediatr. 2022;10:855893. doi:10.3389/fped.2022.855893
  6. Gologram M, Margolin R, Lomiguen CM. Need for increased awareness of international male circumcision variations and associated complications: A contemporary review. Cureus. 2022;14(4):e24507. doi:10.7759/cureus.24507

Additional Reading

  • Morris BJ, Krieger JN, Klausner JD. CDC’s male circumcision recommendations represent a key public health measure. Glob Health Sci Pract. 2017;5(1):15-27. Published 2017 Mar 28. doi:10.9745/GHSP-D-16-00390

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.

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