Male circumcision has commonly been all about choice. Some families choose to have their male children circumcised based on religious beliefs, while others choose to leave foreskin intact for the same reason. Circumcision has also been chosen by some parents as a means of making cleaning the penis easier. In recent years, circumcision has been linked to several health issues that may change the mind of some parents who would have once preferred to keep the foreskin intact.
Neonatal circumcision is the medical name for removing foreskin in the first few days of life. According to recent research, the removal of foreskin can reduce the risk of HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, cancer and infection. Even though there has been a recent resurgence of parents choosing to leave the foreskin in place, these health issues play quite an important role in the overall decision.
Ancient Egyptians were the first to utilize circumcision to improve penile health. Sand caught in the foreskin lead to frequent infections; when the skin was removed, these infections were stopped. Jewish and Muslim people chose to integrate the practice as part of religious expectation and the rest of the westernized world soon followed. About 100 years ago, the United States started using circumcision as a means to prevent masturbation.
Despite the health benefits of circumcision, more than 15 states in the United States do not include male neonatal circumcision as one of the routine medical procedures covered by Federal health care (Medicaid). Coverage is limited due to the stance by the American Academy of Pediatrics that data supporting circumcision is not conclusive. The paper revealing this stance was released in 1999.
Harvard medical anthropologist Daniel Halperin believes that stance is wrong. His study of Kenyan and Ugandan men proved adult male circumcision reduced the risk of contracting HIV by 50%. Soon after, the World Health Organization suggested neonatal or adult male circumcision be added to a list of procedures that could prevent illness and infection.
As a result of the Harvard study, the American Academy of Pediatrics chose to revise their 1999 statement about circumcision.
Parents often think about the pain and risk of infection associated with neonatal circumcision. In terms of pain, infants tend to feel discomfort for only a few moments after the procedure is complete. After that, care is limited to washing with soap and applying topical cream. Infection occurs very rarely and is treated with ease. As a surgical procedure, circumcision is deemed the safest with only one death for every 500,000 circumcisions.
While neonatal circumcisions are the most popular, adult circumcisions can be done with fantastic success. Adult males who are circumcised tend to feel a bit more pain than babies and recovery time can be longer. However, reducing the risk of transmitting HIV or contracting an STD is worth the pain and recovery for most people.
At the end of the day, choosing circumcision for your baby or as an adult is all about choice. Research continues to uncover health risks associated with foreskin left in place from birth. The future of circumcision looks to remain voluntary, but that could change depending on the risks versus the benefits.