If you are expecting a baby boy in the near future, you may be considering whether or not to have him circumcised. Circumcision is commonly performed in the United States and in many different countries throughout the world. The procedure is often done according to religious or cultural traditions or for personal or medical reasons. Circumcision has always been a debated practice, but in recent years, the controversy surrounding circumcision has grown. If you are considering having your baby boy circumcised, it is important to weigh both the risks and benefits of the procedure so that you can make the best decision for your family.
What is Circumcision?
Circumcision is a medical procedure that removes a boyï¿½s foreskin from his penis. The foreskin is a sleeve of skin that covers the lower shaft of the penis, working to protect the head, or "glans" of the penis. Circumcision is typically performed one or two days after labor and birth, and is usually done in hospital or at home by your health care professional or a trained religious leader.
The male circumcision procedure is fairly straightforward and only lasts about ten to fifteen minutes. Your baby is placed on a sterile tray or bed with his arms and legs restrained. The penis and surrounding area are washed with antiseptic and a local anesthetic is injected into the base of the penis. Your health care provider will then clamp the penis and cut your babyï¿½s foreskin. Petroleum jelly and sterile gauze are then applied to the wound to help prevent infection. It typically takes between seven and ten days for the circumcision wound to heal.
The History of Circumcision
Circumcision is not a new practice; it has actually been around for thousands of years. In fact, there is evidence of infant circumcision being performed in many pre-literate societies.
Circumcision has generally been performed for ritual or medical reasons. Ritual circumcisions have been taking place for hundreds of years in many societies. Jewish and Muslim people have been actively circumcising boys for religious reasons, and circumcisions have also been performed for cultural reasons in areas of Africa and the Middle East. Circumcision was introduced to Britain and the United States in the end of the 19th century. Here, circumcision was thought to lower the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases and to prevent masturbation.
How Common is Circumcision?
About 20% of all men are circumcised at some point in their lives; however, circumcision rates vary from country-to-country and even from state-to-state. Circumcision became widely popular in the United States throughout the 20th century, and it remains a widely practiced procedure in the Midwest and Southern states. In fact, during the 1980s, as many as 80% of all male children were circumcised in some parts of the United States.
However, circumcision rates are declining throughout the United States and Canada as the controversy surrounding the practice grows. Approximately 60% of boys in the United States are now circumcised while fewer than 25% of Canadian boys undergo the procedure.
Why Choose Circumcision?
There are numerous reasons why you and your partner may choose circumcision for your baby boy. Common reasons for circumcision include:
- Religious Beliefs: Many cultures and religions practice circumcision as a traditional rite of passage.
- Personal Preference: Some families opt for circumcision in order to ensure that their son looks like his father, brothers, or friends.
- Hygiene: Circumcision is often performed in order to make personal hygiene easier and to lower the risk of infection.
Possible Benefits of Circumcision
Dozens of different studies have been performed on circumcision, and the procedure has been associated with a number of different health benefits. Circumcision may work to:
- Reduce the risk of STDs (studies show that circumcised boys may be less at risk for the HIV and HPV viruses).
- Reduce the risk of urinary tract infections (some studies suggest that uncircumcised boys are ten times more likely to suffer from a urinary tract infection).
- Decrease the likelihood of penile cancer (though already a rare disease, circumcision may further reduce your risk of contracting penile cancer).
- Make personal hygiene easier (removal of the foreskin may reduce the amount of skin cells and bacteria caught inside the penis, and it can make washing of the penis easier).
Possible Risks of Circumcision
As with any surgery, there are some risks associated with the circumcision procedure. These risks include:
- penile abnormalities (if the foreskin is cut too long or too short)
There are also a number of other drawbacks to the circumcision procedure, including:
- Pain: Babies are very sensitive to pain and often suffer tremendously after the circumcision is performed. Some studies suggest that this early pain experience leads to a change in your babyï¿½s central nervous system. As a result, your baby may actually experience heightened pain sensation in the future.
- Reduced Sexual Enjoyment: The foreskin contains highly sensitive nerve endings which help to increase lubrication and enjoyment during sexual intercourse.
- Increased Hygeine Care after Birth: Circumcision may actually increase the amount of personal care you give your child after birth. The wound must be carefully cleaned and bandaged to prevent infection.
Some parents may also be against circumcision as they view the practice as a type of mutilation, instead preferring to let their child make the decision whether or not they would like to be circumcised when they are older.
Tips on Deciding on Circumcision
Circumcision is a highly personal decision that your and your partner must make together. Here are some tips to help you make the right decision for your child.
- Make an appointment to talk with your health care provider about circumcision.
- Talk with other parents who have had the procedure performed on their children.
- Watch a circumcision being performed, either in person or on videotape.
- Be sure to consider your religious beliefs and cultural attitudes.
- Consult with your insurance provider for information on how much the procedure will cost or if it is covered by your insurance provider.