Weighing it up: Sorting through the pros and cons of circumcision

Posted in Baby Health.

Got a baby boy on the way and wondering what circumcision is all about? While it isn’t as common as it used to be in Australia, choosing whether or not to circumcise your baby is a personal choice and needs to consider information that weighs up the risks and benefits of going through the procedure.

What is circumcision?

Circumcision is an operation that removes the foreskin, which is the skin that covers the end of the penis. It can be done a few days after birth under a local anaesthetic or with no anaesthetic. Alternatively it can be performed a few months later or even as a teenager or adult later in life.

Why circumcise?

Prior to the 1950s, the majority of boys in Australia were circumcised, however over the past 50 years this has reduced to 20%. Around the world, about 15 percent of boys are circumcised. Reasons for circumcision include concerns about the appearance of the penis, reduced risk of medical problems associated with having a foreskin or cultural traditions.

Both sides of the debate

There are many strong opinions about circumcision but it comes down to your personal choice, which needs to be thoroughly researched in order to minimise potential risks of the procedure. You also need to ensure that whoever performs the operation has had experience in doing so and gives you balanced information about the procedure.

Reasons for circumcision

Some medical benefits associated with  circumcision include:

  • reduced risk of urinary tract infections in the first few months of life (although this is a rare condition for boys, affecting just 1 percent of them as babies)
  • easier genital hygiene
  • less risk of infections under the foreskin
  • prevention of too-tight foreskin (a problem that affects 4 percent of older boys)
  • reduced risk of some sexually transmitted diseases (although these benefits have not being scientifically confirmed)

For some parents, these benefits are considered good reasons to have their boys circumcised. Other reasons include:

  • concerns about the appearance of the penis
  • concerns about how their son will feel when he compares his body with boys whose penises look different to his
  • cultural and religious reasons

Reasons not to circumcise

For the majority of parents who decide not to circumcise their sons the reasons are that:

  • the foreskin is a natural part of the body, some believe that it doesn’t need to be removed, adding that the benefits of doing so don’t outweigh the potential harms
  • others say that because the baby can’t consent to the procedure, the decision to circumcise should be left to the individual boy when he is old enough to make his own choice
  • the surgery is considered by many experts to be unnecessary and carries risks of complications, including bleeding and damage to the urethra
  • removing the foreskin may affect sexual satisfaction later in life, as the foreskin contains many nerve endings
  • the surgery can be painful
  • some also question why male circumcision is still legal when female circumcision is prohibited in Australia

Where to get more advice

Be selective about where you receive information about circumcision, as people from different sides of the debate may express passionate opinions to you that clash with your own views. Approach the topic with an open mind and seek out a credible source of information that you can trust.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians is a good place to start as they provide up-to-date research. While they don’t recommend circumcision as a routine procedure, they do accept that different parents will have their own views and reasons for wanting to have the procedure done.

When all is said and done, the decision to circumcise comes down to you and your partner. If you decide to go ahead, be sure to discuss how it will go with the doctor who has agreed to perform the operation for you. Ask all the questions you need and be sure that he explains the potential risks to you. Not all circumcisions go as planned, even with an experienced doctor.

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