More Information

For the most in-depth information and results about male circumcision based on medical research, see circinfo.net.

The Health Benefits of Circumcision


Circumcision - the Benefits Outweigh the Risks

Tom Wiswell, neonatologist and a respected authority in the USA was a strong opponent, but then switched camps as a result of his own research findings and the findings of others. This is what he had to say: "As a pediatrician and neonatologist, I am a child advocate and try to do what is best for children. For many years I was an outspoken opponent of circumcision ... I have gradually changed my opinion". This ability to keep an open mind on the issue and to make a sound judgement on the balance of all available information is to his credit ... he did change his mind!

Wiswell looked at the complication rates of having or not having circumcision performed in a study of 136,000 boys born in US army hospitals between 1980 and 1985. 100,000 were circumcised and 193 (0.19%) had complications, mostly minor, with no deaths, but of the 36,000 who were not circumcised the problems were more than ten-times higher and there were 2 deaths [Wiswell & Hachey, 1993].

A study by others found that of the 11,000 circumcisions performed at New York's Sloane Hospital in 1989, only 6 led to complications, none of which were fatal [Russell, 1993]. An early survey saw only one death amongst 566,483 baby boys circumcised in New York between 1939 and 1951

There are no deaths today from medical circumcisions in developed countries. Very similar to the study by Wiswell above, it was found that of 354,297 infants born in Washington State from 1987-96, only 0.20% had a complication arising from their circumcision, i.e., 1 in every 476 circumcisions [Christakis et al., 2000]. Most of these ‘complications’ were minor and readily treated. It was concluded that 6 urinary tract infections could be prevented for every circumcision complication, and 2 complications can be expected for every penile cancer prevented [Christakis et al., 2000].

Problems involving the penis are encountered relatively frequently in pediatric practice [Langer & Coplen, 1998]. A retrospective study of boys aged 4 months to 12 years found uncircumcised boys exhibited significantly greater frequency of penile problems (14% vs 6%; P < 0.001) and medical visits for penile problems (10% vs 5%; P < 0.05) compared with those who were circumcised.


A Brief Summary of Health Benefits of Circumcision

The benefits of circumcision include:

• Decrease in physical problems involving a tight foreskin.

• Lower incidence of inflammation of the head of the penis.

• Reduced urinary tract infections (for the a recent research article, see here.)

• Fewer problems with erections, especially at puberty.

• o Decrease in certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV, high-risk (cancer-causing) HPV, genital herpes, syphilis, trichomonas and other micro-organisms in men and their sexual partner(s).

• Almost complete elimination of invasive penile cancer.

• Decrease in urological problems generally.

Reviews:

Reviews: Besides the information contained in the present Internet review, the reader can consult other reviews on the topic of circumcision and its benefits. These are as follows: [American Academy of Pediatrics, 2012; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2014; Morris, 1999; Alanis & Lucidi, 2004; Schoen, 2005; Thomson et al., 2006; Morris, 2007; Schoen, 2007; Morris, 2009; Morris & Castellsague, 2010; Morris & Cox, 2010; Tobian et al. 2010; Morris et al. 2014. The message they convey is consistently a positive one. As can be appreciated, the benefits are different as the human male progresses through life.


Why are men born with a foreskin?

The foreskin plays a role during embryogenesis and development of the distal end of the penis, including the head (glans) and anterior aspect of the urethra. Separation of the prepuce from the glans during development is completed in the 5th month of gestation [Diebert, 1933]. For modern humans the foreskin has no role after birth. Complete absence of a prepuce in a healthy 5 day-old boy has, moreover, been reported [Temiz & Akcora, 2007]. There is no good evidence of any adverse effect of lack of a foreskin and in fact, we now know that the foreskin poses a risk to the male from various diseases and adverse conditions over his lifetime. 

Nevertheless, one might speculate that the foreskin in primitive humans or pre-humans could have protected the head of the penis from long grass, shrubbery, etc when our primitive ancestors wore no clothes. Evolutionarily, our basic physiology and psychology are little different than our savannah-wandering or cave-dwelling ancestors tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago. It might also be speculated that the moist tip of an uncircumcised penis could have facilitated quicker penetration of a female. In those times, lengthy foreplay and intercourse might have been a survival disadvantage. One might expect that the risk to the copulators from predators and human enemies would have been greater the longer they were engaged in sexual intercourse.

But there is another possibility. The foreskin could in fact be the male equivalent of the hymen. It may have served as an impediment to sexual intercourse in adolescent primeval humans before the advent in our species of civilization and cultures [Cox, 1995]. Way back then, Cox says, the foreskin would have reduced “successful” sexual acts in those too young to adequately care for any offspring that might arise.

With the advent of civilization, Cox suggests that control of the sexual behavior of the young by society made the physical mechanism redundant and society introduced circumcision to free the individual from the impediment of having a foreskin. Interestingly, the physical difficulties experienced by the uncircumcised may explain why the word for uncircumcised in Hebrew means “obstruction” or “to impede”, so explaining the Biblical term “uncircumcised heart” when referring to obstructionism.

What is the best age for circumsion?

Circumcision is best done during infancy as soon as possible after birth. For further information and the reasons why circumcision should not be delayed, see e.g. the Medical article "A 'snip' in time: what is the best age to circumcise?" BMC Pediatr v.12; 2012.


Further Reading

  1. Infant male circumcision: an evidence-based policy statement, B. Morris, A. Wodak et. al., Open Journal of Preventive Medicine, Vol.2, No.1, 79-92 (2012). For the pdf article, see here.

  2. Why circumcision is a biomedical imperative for the 21st century, B. Morris, BioEssays 29.11. For the pdf article, see here.

  3. Benefits and risks of circumcision, E. Warner and E. Strashin,CMA JOURNAL/NOVEMBER 1, 1981/VOL. 125, 968. For the pdf article, see here