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Circumcision - Topic Overview

What is circumcision?

Male circumcision is a surgery to remove the foreskin, a fold of skin that covers and protects the rounded tip of the penis. The foreskin provides sensation and lubrication for the penis. After the foreskin is removed, it can't be put back on again. See a picture of the penis before and after circumcision camera.gif.

If circumcision is done, it's usually done soon after birth. In the United States, about 60 out of 100 boys are circumcised, and about 40 out of 100 are not.1 Worldwide, the rate of circumcision is much lower. Circumcision has both risks and benefits. The decision about whether to have a baby circumcised is often based on the personal preference of the parents.

Some older boys and men need circumcision to treat problems with the foreskin of the penis (such as phimosis or paraphimosis) or for swelling of the tip of the penis (balanitis).

This topic focuses on the circumcision of newborns.

How will you know if circumcision is right for your son?

It's up to you whether you have your baby circumcised or keep your son's penis natural. The American Academy of Pediatrics says the health benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks of the surgery. They also say that parents should be the ones to decide what is in the best interest of their child.2 When you make this decision, it may help you to think about your personal and cultural preferences. For example, you may want to consider your religious and family traditions while you weigh the pros and cons of the surgery.

Circumcision is not just done in newborns. Keep in mind that your son can decide on his own later in life if he wants a circumcised penis.

What problems can occur if your son is circumcised?

Problems from circumcision are not common. If they occur, they are usually minor. The most common circumcision problems are:

  • Bleeding.
  • Blockage of the opening of the urethra (meatal stenosis).
  • Infection of the circumcision site.
  • Irritation of the exposed tip of the penis.

More serious problems are rare. They include damage to the opening of the urethra, heavy bleeding that requires stitches, severe infection, and scarring.

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