Skip to content

Health & Baby

Font Size

Cutting to the Point on Circumcision

Weigh the Options

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Sept. 26, 2001 -- From the time Debra Sherman and her husband, Mark Wilcox, learned through prenatal genetic tests that they were having a boy, they agonized over whether to circumcise their baby. "I didn't want the first decision we made for him to be a bad one," Sherman says.

In the end, the Chicago couple decided against taking that extra surgical snip of foreskin from Alex's penis. Without overwhelming medical evidence favoring circumcision, Sherman says, it would have seemed to her like deciding to cut off his ear lobes.

"From everything we read and everyone we talked to, it seemed like there was no medical reason to do it," says Sherman. "Plus, I'm not religious, Mark's not religious, and I just thought it was an awful thing to do to a baby."

The fact is, the circumcision decision is a very personal one. Experts say parents need to understand the advantages and disadvantages, then decide what's right for them. Here are the latest facts and a look at how some parents are choosing.

Vive la Difference

Locker rooms have a way of reducing each sex to its least common denominator. Peel away the Levi's and Jockeys, put aside sizes and shapes, and the equipment is all basically the same -- at least that was the case when today's generation of new dads were kids.

Parents in the U.S. have routinely circumcised their sons since the 1940s, in large part because doctors believed it promoted good hygiene and prevented disease. To Jews and Muslims, circumcision is a sacred ritual symbolizing their covenant with God. By the mid-1960s and early 1970s, about 90% of all boys were circumcised.

But that trend is shifting. In 1996, circumcision rates declined to about 65%, although rates differ depending on demographics: 80% in the Midwest, 68% in the Northeast, 64% in the South, and 34% in the West. Among whites, the rate is 81%, compared with 65% among blacks and 54% among Hispanics.

In fact, many observers predict that by the time the first generation of boys born in the new millennium is old enough to hit the locker-room showers, the haves and have-nots may be about equally divided.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Baby's First Year Newsletter

Because every week matters, get expert advice and facts on what to expect in your baby's first year.

Today on WebMD

mother on phone holding baby
When you should call 911.
Mother with baby
Unexpected ways your life will change.
baby acne
What’s normal – and what’s not.
baby asleep on moms shoulder
Help your baby get the sleep he needs.

mother holding baby at night
mother with sick child
Chinese mother breast feeding newborn baby girl
Track Your Babys Vaccines
Baby Napping 10 Dos And Donts
Woman holding feet up to camera
Father kissing newborn baby
baby gear slideshow