Although circumcision is a long-established tradition and is very common in the United States, it is a perpetual subject of controversy. There is a substantial body of evidence that circumcision might have health benefits, but the procedure also comes with risks. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not consider the benefits of circumcision significant enough to outweigh the risks, which is why they do not officially recommend circumcision, saying that it “is not essential to the child’s well-being.”
However, even the AAP is ambivalent on the matter, recommending that parents “make an informed choice [to] determine what is in the best interest of the child.” All in all, there are no easy answers to this question, and parents should rely on their own judgment. But in order to make that decision a little easier, let us look at some of the major pros and cons of having a male child circumcised.
Reasons to circumcise
Religious tradition is the most common reason why parents in the U.S. have their children circumcised. The circumcision ritual is important in the Jewish and Muslim faiths, and it is also traditional in many Christian denominations. Beyond those cultural reasons, there are other factors in favor of circumcision:
- Since the majority of males in the U.S. are circumcised, many parents have the procedure done so their sons will be “normal.”
- Circumcised males have a slightly lower risk of urinary tract infections that can lead to severe medical problems, especially in children.
- Circumcised males have a slightly lower risk of cancer of the penis, a rare but serious type of cancer.
- Studies have shown that circumcised males have a slightly lower rate of sexually transmitted disease, including HPV and HIV. However, it should be noted that the reduced STD rate is relatively minor and that circumcised males still need to practice safe sex.
- Circumcision makes hygiene easier.
- Circumcision is a safe procedure (when performed in American hospitals), and its risks are minor, with complications occurring in only 0.2 percent of cases.
Reasons not to circumcise
And here are a few reasons why many parents choose not to have their sons circumcised:
- All surgical procedures involve some degree of risks, and circumcision is no exception. Risks of the procedure include excessive bleeding, infection, improper healing, and doctor error.
- Although the circumcision procedure usually involves local anesthesia, it is still painful, and the pain can linger even after the anesthesia wears off.
- Many parents consider it wrong to circumcise a child who is too young to make the decision on his own. The procedure can be performed at any time, even in adulthood.
- The procedure cannot be reversed.
- Some insurance companies do not cover the circumcision procedure. Check what your policy covers in advance so that you are prepared to make an informed decision when the time comes.
- Circumcision is especially risky in children born prematurely or with infant illness.
While these drawbacks of circumcision are significant, they are not as serious as many who oppose circumcision would have you believe. Meanwhile, many of the myths about circumcision are just plain untrue: it does not affect fertility, it does not diminish (or improve) sexual sensation, and there is no evidence that it causes lifelong psychological trauma for the baby. The procedure has existed for thousands of years, and the vast majority of circumcised males have no long-term ill effects.
By Lisa Pecos