An overview of the arguments for and against male infant circumcision
Advantages - Reasons For Circumcision
Prevention of medical conditions
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Recent large studies have shown a 30 - 60% reduction in most severe STD’s including HIV, Syphilis, Herpes and Human Papilloma Virus
- Cancer of the Penis
20 times less likely if circumcised
- Urinary Tract Infections
10 times less common in circumcised boys
Treatment of medical conditions
- Scarring closure of the tip of the foreskin (Phimosis) that causes delay in the urine flow and increases the risk of infection and cancer
- Recurrent infection of the foreskin (Balanitis)
- To look like other men in the family
- To avoid the distress in recovery observed in older children and adults, when circumcision is required at that later age.
Reasons Against Circumcision
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians suggests that the frequency of these conditions prevented by circumcision and the level of protection circumcision offered does not warrant advising universal infant circumcision. They considered that the medical reasons offered small advantages only and not sufficient to outweigh the following possible disadvantages:
During the procedure and in the recovery stages
Risk of Complications
Bleeding, Wound Infection, Scarring, Complications of general and local anesthesia
Risk of Misadventure
Poor surgical skill has led to rare cases of traumatic injury to the penis
There is no convincing evidence of benefit or detriment to the sexual experience from having a foreskin or from having it removed.
How to decide? Should I circumcise my son?
One side of the debate will tell you that this procedure is a vital public health measure reducing sexually transmitted diseases significantly, and that not circumcising your son would be irresponsible. They note that the complications described above in the hands of experienced surgeons are extremely rare. They advise that the benefits far outweigh these very rare risks.
The other side declares circumcision ethically wrong and medically unnecessary, and that it should be actively discouraged.
So what does a parent do?
Overall, there is not yet a broad agreement that the advantages of circumcision are powerful enough to determine that all male children must be circumcised. In part, this appears to be due to some activists holding firm to their emotive views for or against circumcision, despite the trials and scientific evidence. Unfortunately, the tone of the debate is often framed in emotive language rather than rational assessment and each side seems to selectively choose reports that rationalise their own emotive stance.
However, the studies available in recent years are extremely persuasive; there ARE significant advantages to the child and to the child’s future partner if he is circumcised. And secondly, the complications are extremely rare.
Therefore, a parent should seriously consider the procedure for their son.
Some fathers prefer that their son looks like them, whether circumcised or not. As a child’s sense of belonging and identity is developed about the age of 4 years, it is reasonable to take the view that for a child to be different to the father or brothers at this stage would be unfair or unwise. However, this is clearly only an important issue to some parents.
Ultimately the parents must decide if their reasons for circumcision (cultural, personal, or medical) are sufficient to overcome inflicting a brief period of pain and small risk of complications. If these reasons are important to the parent, then it is only 60 seconds of pain. And if these reasons are not important to the parent, then one should not inflict even this amount of pain or risk.
Therefore, I have the view that Circumcision is in fact a reasonable choice, and at the same time not to circumcise is quite reasonable also. Neither choice should be considered wrong.
In particular, a parent should not be subjected to unfair emotional criticism for wishing their son to have such a safe simple quick and tiny cosmetic procedure.
If a parent chooses to circumcise their son, then they should expect a professional non-judgmental approach from their health advisors and they should expect to have access to skilled experienced surgical options.