Ask Doctor Sears
DECIDING WHETHER OR NOT TO CIRCUMCISE YOUR BABY BOY
This is a decision that many parents face. There are many misconceptions and out-of-date information that parents may read. Here is a summary of the pertinent issues that you should consider when making this decision.
Medical benefits - THERE ARE NONE! Do not circumcise your baby because you think there are some medical benefits. A recent review by the American Academy of Pediatrics looked at all the data from the past decades to see if there truly were any medical benefits. Their conclusion - NO. There are no significant medical benefits that make circumcision worth doing. Here are a few benefits that we used to think were true, and now know are not.
- Cleanliness - although it is true, a circumcised penis does not collect any white stuff underneath the foreskin like an intact penis does, THIS IS NOT A MEDICAL BENEFIT. It is really just one less area to wash in the shower.
- Decreased risk of STD’s - this was a myth that we now know is not true.
- Decreased risk of penile cancer - it used to be thought that circumcised men had a much lower chance of cancer of the penis. We now know that this benefit is much smaller than previously thought. The AAP determined that this benefit is so tiny, it is not worth circumcising for this reason.
- Avoiding infections in the foreskin - it is true, occasionally intact foreskins get irritated. This is easily treated with warms soaks and washing. Rarely, the irritated foreskin becomes infected. This requires antibiotics to clear up, but is easily treatable. Even if this does happen once or twice in a person’s life, it is not a reason to circumcise at birth.
- Avoiding the need to do it later on - very rarely, someone has a problem with recurrent infections in the foreskin that need antibiotic treatment. Some of these men then need to be circumcised in an operating room under general anesthesia. This is extremely rare, however, and is not a reason to circumcise everyone at birth.
- Avoiding bladder infections - it used to thought that circumcised boys and men had a much lower chance of bladder infections. The AAP now knows that this benefit is very small, and is only true for the first few years of life. After that, there is no difference in the number of bladder infections. Again, not a reason to circumcise.
THEREFORE, IF YOU DECIDE TO CIRCUMCISE YOUR CHILD, DO NOT DO SO BECAUSE YOU THINK THERE IS ANY MEDICAL BENEFIT.
- Religious reasons - some people choose to circumcise for religious or cultural reasons. This is a personal decision.
- Don’t want to be teased - while this may have been true in the U.S. decades ago, the truth is that your uncircumcised kids will be in good company in the locker room when they are teenagers. Less and less people in the U.S. are now circumcising their boys.
- Too much trouble to take care of - some people think that an intact penis is too much trouble to pull back and clean, especially during childhood. Well, the truth is, you are not even supposed to pull back the foreskin until it naturally comes back on its own between age 3 years and adolescence. So there really isn’t anything to even take care of until then.
- Want your boy to look like dad - the main difference that your child will notice between him and dad is the hair. He won’t even notice any difference in the penis until he is old enough that you can then explain to him the difference.
So, what are the reasons TO circumcise? Here is the list:
- Religious reasons - as discussed above. That is all. There really is no good reason to circumcise other that personal preference and religious reasons.
Are there any reasons NOT to circumcise? Consider these:
- Leave nature alone - whether you believe God created men with a foreskin, or nature simply evolved this way, there must be some reason men have foreskins. Why change something that God/nature has created?
- Sensation and sexual pleasure - the foreskin is filled with nerves, and is therefore extremely sensitive to touch. This enhances sexual pleasure.
- Protects the glans (head) of the penis - the glans is another highly sensitive area. The foreskin protects the glans from constant rubbing and chaffing against clothing that can desensitize it over the years. This preserves sexual pleasure.
- Ethical issues - there are groups of people worldwide, including medical societies, that oppose routine circumcision because they feel it is unethical for a parent to decide to alter the penis of their child without the child’s consent. Parents who are deciding whether or not to circumcise their son may wish to consider the impact this may have in the future if the child decides they wish they were not circumcised.
So, when making this decision, the first thing to ask yourself is this - "Do I have any good reason to circumcise my baby?" If your answer is for religious reasons, then follow your faith. If not, and you can’t think of any other significant reason other than just "because", then consider the above information as you make your decision.