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Male Circumcision

Making an Informed Decision About Circumcision

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Updated November 14, 2006

Circumcision is the surgical removal of part or all of the foreskin that covers the tip of the penis. The foreskin has a number of functions. It protects the glans from general wear and tear and from irritation when the baby is incontinent. It provides lubrication and it contains erogenous tissue, that is, it contributes to sexual arousal.

Male circumcisions are performed all over the world. There is currently a lot of debate about circumcision in the U.S. and whether it should be carried out routinely on baby boys.

Male circumcisions are carried out for a number of reasons; social, cultural, religious and more rarely, for medical reasons. Circumcision is common within the Jewish and Islamic faith communities. Worldwide circumcisions are carried out by people ranging from surgeons, religious leaders, to tribal healers.

Circumcision Statistics

In the U.S., the rate of circumcision is coming down according to the most recent statistical data on circumcision published in 1999. Circumcision used to be higher for white infants. Now, black and white rates are about the same according to data from the National Hospital Discharge Survey. Hispanics, in general, do not routinely have circumcisions carried out on their newborn children.

Because the reasons and circumstances vary, it is difficult to accurately estimate the total number of cases of circumcisions. The United States has one of the highest rates of male circumcision with over 60 percent of newborn males born in a hospital having one. This is down from the rate of 85 percent recorded in the 1970s. Over 1.25 million infants are circumcised annually; that’s more than 3,300 babies each day.

International Statistics on Circumcision

Australia circumcises 15 percent of its male population, Canada 48 percent and the U.K. about 24 percent. Circumcision is uncommon in Asia, South America, Central America and most of Europe, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Norway, Denmark and Sweden, have very low circumcision rates

Medical Reasons for Circumcision

Medical opinion varies considerably on the issue of when and whether circumcision should be carried out. The American Academy of Pediatrics, in their most recent reaffirmation of their Circumcision Policy Statement 2006, states:
"Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision."

Medical circumcisions are also carried out on adults but tend to be done only if conditions such as balanitis or phimosis are not responding to other medical treatments.

Benefits of Circumcision

Male circumcision has often been carried out for reasons of hygiene. It is known that men who have had a circumcision seem to contract fewer urinary tract infections.
Circumcision does offer some defense against sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.
There is also evidence that circumcised men have a lower rate of penile cancer, a very rare form of cancer. Research is unclear about whether circumcision reduces the risk of cervical cancer in female sexual partners.

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