Should My Baby Boy Be Circumcised? Weighing the Evidence
Author: Dr. Anna Kaplan
Circumcision is a procedure from ancient times that has carried over to modern society. It is considered essential for Jewish males, who are circumcised by a mohel on their 8th day of life. Muslims, too, circumcise infants. It is still a religious or cultural necessity for Jews, Muslims, and many different tribes in Africa, in which adult circumcision is often done. It is a very common procedure for infants in the United States, but less so in Europe.
Circumcision involves removing a part of the foreskin of the penis. An infant's foreskin is up around the glans of the penis. Over the first few years of life, the foreskin separates from the skin of the penis, and it becomes retractable. Once it is retractable, it is somewhat difficult to clean. The skin has secretory glands, and a substance called smegma accumulates. The area can get infected with bacteria.
Foreskin removal is a surgical procedure, albeit a usually small and quick procedure. It still involves cutting or clamping of skin, which can result in bleeding, infection, and in very rare cases, damage can be done to the penis. It also causes pain. Whereas in the past, doctors often performed it on newborn babies without anesthesia, it is now the norm to provide local anesthesia.
Why do so many Americans chose this procedure for their babies if it is not for religious or cultural reasons? Many parents believe it is more hygienic to remove the foreskin. Many of the men have been circumcised, and they believe that their sons will want to look like them in that way. They also believe that their sons will want to look like most of the other boys. While there are possible complications, millions of babies are circumcised without any problem.
It can be argued that the possibility of future problems is not a good enough reason to remove the foreskin of every male baby. This debate has gone on century after century, and decade after decade. Some of the new evidence to support the procedure includes the fact that circumcision appears to protect men from many sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). This includes HIV (the AIDS virus), HPV (human papillomavirus, genital warts), chlamydia, and possibly others. It also lowers the incidence of urinary tract infections. Because of the decreased incidence of HPV, there may be less penile cancer and less cervical cancer in women whose partners are circumcised.
If you are trying to decide what to do if you have a baby boy, you can certainly talk to your doctor and get his or her advice. If the procedure is going to be done in the hospital, you should find out if anesthesia is going to be used.
If you decide against circumcision, you need to learn how to clean the area as the baby gets older. You should not attempt to retract the foreskin of an infant. After two or three years, when the skin becomes retractable, you must carefully clean the area. Eventually, your baby will grow up and will need to do it himself. As for the STDs, using a condom provides more protection. However, from a public health point of view, anything that reduces the spread of STDs is a good thing.
This is one surgical procedure that does not have a definite yes or no in terms of performing it on a baby. There is a constant back-and-forth of opinion. There are people who feel very strongly for it, as well as against it. At this time, the pendulum seems to be swinging back more towards recommending circumcision.
Should an uncircumcised boy grow up and have trouble with his foreskin in terms of serious infections, he may wind up with the surgery as an adult, which can be both very painful and also psychologically traumatic. That thought may be one of the reasons why parents chose to have infants circumcised.