What Is Circumcision?
Circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin, the tissue covering the head (glans) of the penis. It is an ancient practice that has its origin in religious rites. Today, many parents have their sons circumcised for religious or other reasons.
When Is Circumcision Done?
Circumcision is usually performed on the first or second day after birth. (Among the Jewish population, circumcision is done on the eighth day.) The procedure becomes more complicated and riskier in older babies, children, and men.
Circumcision Surgery: What to Expect
During a circumcision, the foreskin is freed from the head of the penis, and the excess foreskin is clipped off.
The procedure begins with medical staff cleaning then numbing the penis, either with a small shot of medicine or a numbing cream. They’ll put a clamp or ring on the penis, and the doctor removes the foreskin. A topical antibiotic ointment or petroleum jelly will then be put on the area, and it’s wrapped with gauze.
Older boys and men may be given medicine to sleep during the procedure, if it's done in the hospital.
When a newborn is circumcised, the procedure takes about 5-10 minutes. Adult circumcision takes about an hour.
Circumcision Surgery Follow-Up
The circumcision generally heals in 5-7 days.
With an infant, you should wash the penis with only soap and water until it heals. Don’t use diaper wipes. Gently apply petroleum jelly to the area every time you change a diaper and loosely rewrap the gauze bandage if the gauze is still clean or replace gauze with a new piece. Fasten diapers loosely when you change them. The area might look a little red or bruised, and you could see a little yellow fluid in the diaper. If there is excess blood or pus then consult your doctor immediately.
Males circumcised as adults or older boys should take things slowly for 2-3 days. They should rest, do no heavy lifting and take pain meds as prescribed. Then it’s usually OK for them to go back to school or work. They should drink plenty of water and other clear fluids, especially in the first 24 hours after the procedure. They also should ice the area for up to 2 hours the first day, 10-20 minutes at a time. They’ll need to wear loose, comfortable underwear and keep the dressing over the area until the doctor says to take it off.
It’s important that they take the full dose of antibiotics if it is prescribed. Call the doctor right away if something stronger is needed for pain. Don’t take more than one pain medication unless the doctor says it’s OK.
Boys shouldn’t swim or take a bath for at least a week after the procedure. They should avoid bike riding and sitting on toys for at least 3 weeks, and they shouldn’t do strenuous activities like running for 4-6 weeks.
Adults can start being active by walking, going a little longer each day, but should wait 4 to 6 weeks to get back to activities like jogging or weightlifting.
Call the doctor right away if you notice:
- Any trouble peeing
- A fever
- Any bleeding
- An unusual smell or discharge at the tip of the penis
If there’s a plastic ring instead of a gauze wrap, call the doctor if it stays on longer than 2 weeks.
Is Circumcision Necessary?
The use of circumcision for medical or health reasons is an issue that continues to be debated. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) found that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision (prevention of urinary tract infections, penile cancer, and transmission of some sexually transmitted infections, including HIV) outweigh the risks, but the benefits are not great enough to recommend universal newborn circumcision.
The procedure may be recommended in older boys and men to treat phimosis (the inability to retract the foreskin) or to treat an infection of the penis.
Parents should talk with their doctor about the benefits and risks of the procedure before deciding whether to circumcise a male child. Other factors, such as your culture, religion, and personal preference, will also be involved in your decision.
There is some evidence that circumcision has health benefits, including:
- Less risk of urinary tract infections
- A reduced risk of some sexually transmitted diseases in men
- Protection against penile cancer and a lower risk of cervical cancer in female sex partners
- Prevention of balanitis (inflammation of the glans) and balanoposthitis (inflammation of the glans and foreskin)
- Prevention of phimosis (the inability to retract the foreskin) and paraphimosis (the inability to return the foreskin to its original location)
Circumcision also makes it easier to keep the end of the penis clean.
Note: Some studies show that good hygiene can help prevent certain problems with the penis, including infections and swelling, even if the penis is not circumcised. In addition, using a condom during sex will help prevent STDs and other infections.
Like any other surgical procedure, there are risks in getting circumcision. But this risk is low. Problems linked to circumcision include:
- Risk of bleeding and infection at the site of the circumcision
- Irritation of the glans
- Higher chance of meatitis (inflammation of the opening of the penis)
- Risk of injury to the penis