Circumcision: Not Just a Health Issue

Circumcision, or the surgical removal of the skin covering the tip of the penis, can be a matter of family tradition, parental preference or religion—but what are the sexual, health and social aspects surrounding this sometimes controversial issue?

Although statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the rates for circumcision have decreased slightly in the past decade, it is still the most common surgical procedure in newborn males in the U.S., with 65.5 percent of white newborns and 64.4 percent of black newborns receiving the procedure.

The majority of parents in the U.S. most likely choose circumcision for their newborn sons for one or all of these health reasons:

- Decreased risk of urinary tract infections;
- Prevention of penile problems, such as inflammation or difficulty in retracting the penis;
- Decreased risk of penile cancer;
- Decreased risk of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

The policy statement on circumcision from the American Academy of Pediatrics says that although there are many benefits to the surgery, they are not strong enough to recommend routine circumcisions for all newborn boys. The AAP states it leaves the decision to parents and supports the use of anesthetics for the surgery.

Newborn circumcision is most often done in the hospital nursery, usually within one to 10 days after birth, taking about seven to 10 days for the penis to heal.

Dr. Manny Alvarez, senior managing editor of Fox News Health and head of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Hackensack University Medical Center said he thinks the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks.

“Although one could argue that it's not an overwhelming medical necessity, it still falls into the category of procedures that are well established in the medical curriculum,” he said.

Alvarez said he believes it is strictly a parental choice.

“Decisions about circumcision should be analyzed or recommended only by the medical community. This is a common procedure that poses no great medical risks,” he said.

There is no evidence that circumcision affects fertility, and experts have long debated the idea that circumcision enhances or decreases sexual pleasure for men or their partners.

Dr. Ian Kerner, a New York City-based sex therapist told there is not enough scientific evidence to back the sexual pleasure of either type of penis.

“Some say being circumcised increases stimulation because the underside of head of penis is exposed, and believe they are more prone to premature ejaculation because of it. Others who are not circumcised say the rolling of the foreskin back and forth really enhances pleasure. There isn’t really a verdict out on that,” Kerner said.

Regardless of being circumcised or not, Kerner said it should not prevent men from enjoying sex.

Kerner also addressed the social stigma that can come with the topic of circumcision.

“Circumcision is more the norm than not, but more and more parents are deciding not to. Our idea of average and normal is really changing. There will be less concern that your son is different in today’s multicultural locker room,” he said.

Kerner emphasized that being teased for something as an adolescent is nearly impossible to prevent.

“Boys get teased for so many different things—small penis, large penis, uncircumcised, developing pubic hair. Boys will find reasons to tease and parents have to be able to give their kids a solid sense of self-esteem and being comfortable in your body,” he said.

Overall, Kerner said, the decision to circumcise or not should be between your partner and doctor.

“If you are a parent and the reason you are circumcising your son is because of worrying about being teased in the locker room, you are making it for the wrong reason,” he said.