Male Circumcision

What is Male Circumcision?

Male circumcision has a long history and–because of its mentioning in various passages of the Bible−most likely began as a religious practice. Circumcision is required among certain religions, such as traditional Judaism (called a Brit milah, or “Bris”), unless there is a health concern or medical reason preventing circumcision, such as phimosis

What is the History of Circumcision?

Male circumcision has a long history and was probably started as a religious practice. It is discussed in passages of the Bible. Circumcision is required among certain religions, such as traditional Judaism, unless there is a health concern or medical reason not to do it. Other religions have varying ideas concerning circumcision. Some sects of Christianity are against circumcision, while others advocate it. It is also viewed differently in different cultures. In the United States, this surgery used to be very common, taking place shortly after birth, but it is less common today than in 1970. However, it is still more common in America than in Europe and the rest of the world.


What are the Health Benefits of Circumcision?

Bacterial infections are less common in circumcised males because there are not as many places for bacteria to accumulate and grow.  Interestingly, it may be easier for uncircumcised males to contract many STIs, including HIV, compared with circumcised males due to the build up of bacteria under the foreskin. The United States Center of Disease Control’s director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention states, “The scientific evidence is clear that the benefits (of circumcision) outweigh the risks.” You can read more about the health benefits of a circumcision here. The advantages of circumcision are very few; condoms offer much better protection against STIs than going under the knife. Special attention to hygiene and washing habits are less critical for the circumcised male than for the uncircumcised, for whom dead skin cells and oil get trapped under the foreskin and form a white or yellow cheesy substance called “smegma”. Smegma can cause the foreskin to stick to the head of the penis, which makes retraction of the foreskin difficult and painful; this can lead to painful erections during masturbation or sexual activity.

Almost Everyone I Know is Circumcised; Is it Okay if I am Not?

There are benefits to being uncircumcised, both medically and sexually. Some males claim that the large number of nerves in the foreskin increases sexual pleasure. Keep in mind, however, that it is nearly impossible to determine whether uncircumcised males experience more pleasure than circumcised males. Sexual pleasure is relative and immeasurable, which makes it difficult to compare different people's sensations at different times.

Male Circumcision and Future HIV Prevention

There have been many major discoveries in the past decade within the fields of HIV research, and more importantly, of HIV prevention. Current scientific research reveals male circumcision could, in fact, be one of the most effective tools in combating HIV transmission among countless males and females in sub-Saharan Africa. Research shows that male circumcision could decrease a person’s risk of HIV infection by 50-60% and reduce the risk of contracting herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV) by 30%. Circumcising males in many poverty-stricken African countries could prevent two million new cases of HIV and up to 300,000 or more deaths within the next 10 years.1 Additional studies found that circumcision also lowered the risk of other STIs- including herpes, syphilis, and chancroid. Circumcision was also associated with a lower risk of penile cancer and urinary tract infections (UTIs).2

Due to the benefits found in these studies, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a draft on male circumcision on December 2, 2014 in which it recommended that healthcare providers educate their patients on the health benefits of male circumcision.1 This is the first time that the CDC has released a public draft in active support of male circumcision. Male circumcision does have risks, such as pain, bleeding, infection, and unsatisfactory appearance. However, since these complications are rare, the CDC states that the health benefits of male circumcision outweigh the risks.2 A study found that the rate of adverse effects for medical circumcision is less than 0.5 percent for newborns, approximately 9 percent for children, and approximately 5 percent for adults.1 

What about Female Circumcision?

Some people may compare female circumcision to male circumcision, but the comparison is not valid. Female circumcision is an incredibly painful process, ranging from entire or partial removal of the clitoris (Clitordectomy) to removing both the clitoris and all or part of the labia minora (Excision). In the most extreme cases, it results in the removal of the clitoris and labia minora, and the labia majora are stitched together to cover the urethral and vaginal entrances, while a new hole is created to allow passage of urine and menstrual blood (Infibulation). These procedures are usually performed without anesthetics and under unsterile, unhygienic conditions at an age of anywhere between 4-12 years when the females will register and remember the pain. Female circumcision greatly decreases pleasure for almost all surgery recipients. It is viewed as a way to keep women sexually inexperienced and "pure" before their marriage and is considered an important rite of passage.

The Debate Continues

Male circumcision is a controversial issue: many believe there are more benefits to having the foreskin removed, while others feel it is better to leave it intact. Most doctors recommend circumcision at an early age to prevent medical problems in the future. Some medical doctors claim that circumcision is painful and barbaric since it is performed on infants without anesthetic, or the consent of the recipient. For more information about circumcision, read the Centers for Disease Control's fact sheet on circumcision.



1. “Draft CDC Recommendations for Providers Counseling Male Patients and Parents Regarding Male Circumcision and the Prevention of HIV Infection, STIs, and Other Health Outcomes.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. E1-3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2 Dec. 2014. Web. 12 Jan. 2014.

2. "Male Circumcision." Pediatrics 130.3 (2012): E756-785. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. 8 Jan. 2014. 

3. LeVay, Simon, Janice I. Baldwin, and John D. Baldwin. Discovering Human Sexuality. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2012. Print.


Last Updated: 13 January 2015.