Saturday, May 30, 2009




Male circumcision is the removal of some or all of the foreskin (prepuce) from the penis.[1] The word "circumcision" comes from Latin circum (meaning "around") and cædere (meaning "to cut").

Early depictions of circumcision are found in cave drawings and Ancient Egyptian tombs, though some pictures may be open to interpretation.[2][3][4] Male circumcision is considered a commandment from God in Judaism.[5] In Islam, though not discussed in the Qur'an, circumcision is widely practiced and most often considered to be a sunnah.[6] It is also customary in some Christian churches in Africa, including some Oriental Orthodox Churches.[7] According to the World Health Organization (WHO), global estimates suggest that 30% of males are circumcised, of whom 68% are Muslim.[8] The prevalence of circumcision varies mostly with religious affiliation, and sometimes culture. Most circumcisions are performed during adolescence for cultural or religious reasons.[9]

There is controversy surrounding circumcision. Advocates of circumcision argue, for example, that it provides important health advantages which outweigh the risks, has no substantial effects on sexual function, has a low complication rate when carried out by an experienced physician, and is best performed during the neonatal period.[10] Opponents of circumcision argue, for example, that it is a practice which has historically been, and continues to be, defended through the use of various myths; that it interferes with normal sexual function; is extremely painful; and when performed on infants and children violates the individual's human rights.[11]

The American Medical Association stated in 1999: "Virtually all current policy statements from specialty societies and medical organizations do not recommend routine neonatal circumcision, and support the provision of accurate and unbiased information to parents to inform their choice."[12]

The World Health Organization (WHO; 2007), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS; 2007), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC; 2008) state that evidence indicates male circumcision significantly reduces the risk of HIV acquisition by men during penile-vaginal sex, but also state that circumcision only provides partial protection and should not replace other interventions to prevent transmission of HIV.[13][14]

Modern circumcision procedures

For infant circumcision, modern devices such as the Gomco clamp, Plastibell, and Mogen clamp are available.[15]

With all modern devices the same basic procedure is followed. First, the amount of foreskin to be removed is estimated. The foreskin is then opened via the preputial orifice to reveal the glans underneath and ensure it is normal. The inner lining of the foreskin (preputial epithelium) is then bluntly separated from its attachment to the glans. The device is then placed (this sometimes requires a dorsal slit) and remains there until blood flow has stopped. Finally, the foreskin is amputated.[16]

* With the Plastibell, adhesions between the glans and inner preputial epithelium having been separated with a probe, the foreskin is cut longitudinally, the Plastibell is placed over the glans and the foreskin is placed over the Plastibell. A ligature is then tied firmly around the foreskin and tightened into a groove in the Plastibell to achieve hemostasis. Foreskin distal to the ligature is excised and the handle is snapped off the Plastibell device. The Plastibell falls from the penis after the wound has healed, typically in four to six days.[17]
* With a Gomco clamp, a section of skin is dorsally crushed with a hemostat and then slit with scissors. The foreskin is drawn over the bell shaped portion of the clamp and inserted through a hole in the base of the clamp. The clamp is tightened, "crushing the foreskin between the bell and the base plate." The crushed blood vessels provide hemostasis. The flared bottom of the bell fits tightly against the hole of the base plate, so the foreskin may be cut away with a scalpel from above the base plate. [18]
* With a Mogen clamp, the foreskin is pulled dorsally with a straight hemostat, and lifted. The Mogen clamp is then slid between the glans and hemostat, following the angle of the corona to "avoid removing excess skin ventrally and to obtain a superior cosmetic result" to Gomco or Plastibell circumcisions. The clamp is locked, and a scalpel is used to cut the skin from the flat (upper) side of the clamp.[19][20]

Adult circumcisions are often performed without clamps and require 4 to 6 weeks of abstinence from masturbation or intercourse after the operation to allow the wound to heal.[21] In some African countries, male circumcision is often performed by non-medical personnel under unsterile conditions.[22] After hospital circumcision, the foreskin may be used in biomedical research,[23] consumer skin-care products,[24] skin grafts,[25][26][27] or β-interferon-based drugs.[28] In parts of Africa, the foreskin may be dipped in brandy and eaten by the patient, eaten by the circumciser, or fed to animals.[29] According to Jewish law, after a Brit milah, the foreskin should be buried.[30]

Cultures and religions

In some cultures, males must be circumcised shortly after birth, during childhood, or around puberty as part of a rite of passage. Circumcision is commonly practised in the Jewish and Islamic faiths.

Jewish law states that circumcision is a 'mitzva aseh ("positive commandment" to perform an act) and is obligatory for Jewish-born males and some Jewish male converts. It is only postponed or abrogated in the case of threat to the life or health of the child.[31] It is usually performed by a mohel on the eighth day after birth in a ceremony called a Brit milah (or Bris milah, colloquially simply bris), which means "Covenant of circumcision" in Hebrew. It is considered of such religious importance that the body of an uncircumcised Jewish male will sometimes be circumcised before burial.[32]

In Islam, circumcision is mentioned in some hadith, but not in the Qur'an. Some Fiqh scholars state that circumcision is recommended (Sunnah); others that it is obligatory.[33] Some have quoted the hadith to argue that the requirement of circumcision is based on the covenant with Abraham.[34] While endorsing circumcision for males, Islamic scholars note that it is not a requirement for converting to Islam.[35]
Illustrated account of the circumcision ceremony of Sultan Ahmed III's three sons.

The Catholic Church condemned the observance of circumcision as a mortal sin and ordered against its practice in the Council of Basel-Florence in 1442.[36]

Circumcision is customary among the Coptic, Ethiopian, and Eritrean Orthodox Churches, and also some other African churches.[7] Some Christian churches in South Africa oppose circumcision, viewing it as a pagan ritual, while others, including the Nomiya church in Kenya,[7][37] require circumcision for membership. Some Christian churches celebrate the Circumcision of Christ.[38][39] The vast majority of Christians do not practise circumcision as a religious requirement.

Circumcision in South Korea is largely the result of American cultural and military influence following the Korean War. In West Africa infant circumcision may have had tribal significance as a rite of passage or otherwise in the past; today in some non-Muslim Nigerian societies it is medicalised and is simply a cultural norm.[40]
Circumcision of Jesus. Illumination from a missal, ca 1460. [41]

Circumcision is part of initiation rites in some African, Pacific Islander, and Australian aboriginal traditions in areas such as Arnhem Land,[42] where the practice was introduced by Makassan traders from Sulawesi in the Indonesian Archipelago.[43] Circumcision ceremonies among certain Australian aboriginal societies are noted for their painful nature: subincision is practised amongst some aboriginal peoples in the Western Desert.[44] In the Pacific, ritual circumcision is nearly universal in the Melanesian islands of Fiji and Vanuatu;[45] participation in the traditional land diving on Pentecost Island is reserved for those who have been circumcised.[46]

Among some West African groups, such as the Dogon and Dowayo, circumcision is taken to represent a removal of "feminine" aspects of the male, turning boys into fully masculine males.[47] Among the Urhobo of southern Nigeria it is symbolic of a boy entering into manhood. The ritual expression, Omo te Oshare ("the boy is now man"), constitutes a rite of passage from one age set to another.[48] For Nilotic peoples, such as the Kalenjin and Maasai, circumcision is a rite of passage observed collectively by a number of boys every few years, and boys circumcised at the same time are taken to be members of a single age set.[49]

Ethical, psychological and legal considerations

Ethical issues

Opponents of circumcision question the ethical validity of removing healthy, functioning genital tissue from a minor, arguing that infant circumcision infringes upon individual autonomy and represents a human rights violation.[50][51][52] Proponents of circumcision argue that circumcision prevents infections and slows down the spread of AIDS.[53]


Views differ on whether limits should be placed on caregivers having a child circumcised.

Some medical associations take the position that the parents should determine what is in the best interest of the infant or child,[16][54][55] but the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) and the British Medical Association (BMA) observe that controversy exists on this issue.[56][57] The BMA state that in general, "the parents should determine how best to promote their children’s interests, and it is for society to decide what limits should be imposed on parental choices." They state that because the parents' interests and the child's interests sometimes differ, there are "limits on parents' rights to choose and parents are not entitled to demand medical procedures contrary to their child's best interests." They state that competent children may decide for themselves.[57] UNAIDS states that "[m]ale circumcision is a voluntary surgical procedure and health care providers must ensure that men and young boys are given all the necessary information to enable them to make free and informed choices either for or against getting circumcised."[58]

Some argue that the medical problems that have their risk reduced by circumcision are already rare, can be avoided, and, if they occur, can usually be treated in less invasive ways than circumcision. Somerville states that the removal of healthy genital tissue from a minor should not be subject to parental discretion and that physicians who perform the procedure are not acting in accordance with their ethical duties to the patient.[50] Denniston states that circumcision is harmful and asserts that in the absence of the individual's consent, non-therapeutic child circumcision violates several ethical principles that govern medicine.[59]

Others believe neonatal circumcision is permissible, if parents should so choose. Viens argues that, in a cultural or religious context, circumcision is of significant enough importance that parental consent is sufficient and that there is "an absence of sufficient evidence or persuasive argumentation" to support changing the present policy.[60] Benatar and Benatar argue that circumcision can be beneficial to a male before he would be able to otherwise provide consent, that "it is far from obvious that circumcision reduces sexual pleasure," and that "it is far from clear that non-circumcision leaves open a future person’s options in every regard."[61]

Acknowledgment of pain

Williams (2003) argued that human attitudes toward the pain that animals (including humans) experience may not be based on speciesism; developing an analogy between attitudes toward the pain pigs endure while having their tails "docked", and "our culture's indifference to the pain that male human infants experience while being circumcised."[62]

Psychological and emotional consequences

The British Medical Association (2006) states that "it is now widely accepted, including by the BMA, that this surgical procedure has medical and psychological risks."[57] Goldman (1999) discussed the possible trauma of circumcision on children and parents, anxieties over the circumcised state, a tendency to repeat the trauma, and suggested a need on the part of circumcised doctors to find medical justifications for the procedure.[63] Milos and Macris (1992) argue that circumcision encodes the perinatal brain with violence and negatively affects infant-maternal bonding and trust.[11] Moses et al. (1998) state that "scientific evidence is lacking" for psychological and emotional harm, and cite a longitudinal study which did not find a difference in developmental and behavioural indices.[64] In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated: "In a study of adolescents, only 69% of circumcised and 65% of uncircumcised young men correctly identified their circumcision status as verified by physical exam."[65]

Legal issues

In 2001, Sweden passed a law allowing only persons certified by the National Board of Health to circumcise infants, requiring a medical doctor or an anesthesia nurse to accompany the circumciser and for anaesthetic to be applied beforehand. Jews and Muslims in Sweden objected to the law,[66] and in 2001, the World Jewish Congress stated that it was “the first legal restriction on Jewish religious practice in Europe since the Nazi era.”[67] In 2005, the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare reviewed the law and recommended that it be maintained. In 2006, the U.S. State Department's report on Sweden stated that most Jewish mohels had been certified under the law and 3000 Muslim and 40–50 Jewish boys were circumcised each year.[68]

In 2006, a Finnish court found that a parent's actions in having her 4-year-old son circumcised was illegal.[69] However, no punishment was assigned by the court, and in 2008 the Finnish Supreme Court ruled that the mother's actions did not constitute a criminal offense and that circumcision of a child for religious reasons, when performed properly, is not a crime.[70] In 2008, the Finnish government was reported to be considering a new law to legalize ritual circumcision if the practitioner is a doctor, "according to the parents' wishes, and with the child's consent", as reported.[71]

A San Diego, California-based group submitted a proposed bill to U.S. Congress called the Male Genital Mutilation Bill ("MGM bill"), seeking to ban the practice of circumcising baby boys. In 2005, a CNN columnist stated that the bill had not yet found a Congressional sponsor, but that it raised "important questions about the relationship between the protection of children, gender equality, and religious freedom, questions that have ramifications beyond the proposed bill itself."[72]

In March 2009 a jury awarded $2.3 million in damages to a 4-year-old boy and his mother for a botched circumcision.[73]

Medical aspects

Medical cost-benefit analyses of circumcision have varied. Some found a small net benefit of circumcision,[74][75] some found a small net decrement,[76][77] and one found that the benefits and risks balanced each other out and suggested that the decision could "most reasonably be made on nonmedical factors."[78]

Pain and pain relief during circumcision

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics' 1999 Circumcision Policy Statement, “There is considerable evidence that newborns who are circumcised without analgesia experience pain and psychologic stress.”[16] It therefore recommended using pain relief for circumcision.[16] One of the supporting studies, Taddio 1997, found a correlation between circumcision and intensity of pain response during vaccination months later.[79] While acknowledging that there may be "other factors" besides circumcision to account for different levels of pain response, they stated that they did not find evidence of such. They concluded "pretreatment and postoperative management of neonatal circumcision pain is recommended based on these results."[79] Other medical associations also cite evidence that circumcision without anesthetic is painful.[80][81]

Stang, 1998, found 45% of physicians responding to a survey who circumcise used anaesthesia – most commonly a dorsal penile nerve block – for infant circumcisions. The obstetricians in the sample used anaesthesia less often (25%) than the family practitioners (56%) or pediatricians (71%).[82] Howard et al. (1998) surveyed US medical doctor residency programs and directors, and found that 26% of the programs that taught the circumcision procedure "failed to provide instruction in anesthesia/analgesia for the procedure."[83] A 2006 follow-up study revealed that the percentage of programs that taught circumcision and also taught administration of topical or local anesthetic had increased to 97%.[84] However, the authors of the follow-up study also noted that only 84% of these programs used anesthetic "frequently or always" when the procedure was conducted.[84]

J.M. Glass, 1999, stated that Jewish ritual circumcision is so quick that "most mohelim do not routinely use any anaesthesia as they feel there is probably no need in the neonate. However, there is no Talmudic objection and should the parents wish for local anaesthetic cream to be applied there is no reason why this cannot be done."[31] Other researchers claim that because traditional Jewish bris is rapid and does not rely on clamps or ligature for hemostasis, it is less painful than other circumcision techniques, and that the pain of an analgesic injection would actually cause more distress than the procedure itself.[85]

Lander et al. demonstrated that babies circumcised without anesthesia showed behavioral and physiological signs of pain and distress.[86] Comparisons of the dorsal penile nerve block and EMLA (lidocaine/prilocaine) topical cream methods of pain control have revealed that while both are safe,[87][88] the dorsal nerve block controls pain more effectively than topical treatments,[89] but neither method eliminates pain completely.[87] Razmus et al. reported that newborns circumcised with the dorsal block and the ring block in combination with the concentrated oral sucrose had the lowest pain scores.[90] Ng et al. found that EMLA cream, in addition to local anaesthetic, effectively reduces the sharp pain induced by needle puncture.[91]


One study looking at 354,297 births in Washington State from 1987-1996 found that immediate post-birth complications occurred at a rate of 0.2% in the circumcised babies and at a rate of 0.01% in the uncircumcised babies. The authors judged that this was a conservative estimate because it did not capture the very rare but serious delayed complications associated with circumcisions (eg, necrotizing fasciitis, cellulitis) and the less serious but more common complications such as the circumcision scar or a less than ideal cosmetic result. They also stated that the risks of circumcision "do not seem to be mitigated by the hands of more experienced physicians".[107]

Meatal stenosis (a narrowing of the urethral opening) may be a longer-term complication of circumcision. It is thought that because the foreskin no longer protects the meatus, ammonia formed from urine in wet diapers irritates and inflames the exposed urethral opening. Meatal stenosis can lead to discomfort with urination, incontinence, bleeding after urination and urinary tract infections.[108][109][110]

Circumcisions may remove too much or too little skin.[111][104] If insufficient skin is removed, the child may still develop phimosis in later life.[104] Van Howe states that "when operating on the infantile penis, the surgeon cannot adequately judge the appropriate amount of tissue to remove because the penis will change considerably as the child ages, such that a small difference at the time of surgery may translate into a large difference in the adult circumcised penis. To date (1997), there have been no published studies showing the ability of a circumciser to predict the later appearance of the penis."[112]

Cathcart et al. report that 0.5% of boys required a procedure to revise the circumcision.[113]

Other complications include concealed penis[114][115], urinary fistulas, chordee, cysts, lymphedema, ulceration of the glans, necrosis of all or part of the penis, hypospadias, epispadias and impotence.[105] Kaplan stated “Virtually all of these complications are preventable with only a modicum of care" and "most such complications occur at the hands of inexperienced operators who are neither urologists nor surgeons.”[105]

An uncommon complication of infant circumcision is skin bridge formation, whereby the end of the severed part of the foreskin fuses to other parts of the penis (normally the glans) on repair. This can result in pain during erections and sometimes minor bleeding can occur if the shaft skin is forcibly retracted.[116] Van Howe advises that to prevent adhesions forming after circumcision, parents should be instructed to retract and clean any skin covering the glans.[112]

Although deaths have been reported,[105][117] the American Academy of Family Physicians states that death is rare, and cites an estimated death rate of 1 infant in 500,000 from circumcision.[80] Gairdner's 1949 study[118] reported that an average of 16 children per year out of about 90,000 died following circumcision in the UK. He found that most deaths had occurred suddenly under anaesthesia and could not be explained further, but hemorrhage and infection had also proven fatal. Deaths attributed to phimosis and circumcision were grouped together, but Gairdner argued that such deaths were probably due to the circumcision operation. The penis is thought to be lost in 1 in 1,000,000 circumcisions.[119]

Hygiene, and infectious and chronic conditions

The American Academy of Pediatrics (1999) stated: "Circumcision has been suggested as an effective method of maintaining penile hygiene since the time of the Egyptian dynasties, but there is little evidence to affirm the association between circumcision status and optimal penile hygiene."[16]

An inflammation of the glans penis and foreskin is called balanoposthitis; that affecting the glans alone is called balanitis. Both conditions are usually treated with topical antibiotics (metronidazole cream) and antifungals (clotrimazole cream) or low-potency steroid creams. Although not as necessary as in the past, circumcision may be considered for recurrent or resistant cases.[144][145] Escala and Rickwood recommend against a policy of routine infant circumcision to avoid balanitis saying that the condition affects no more than 4% of boys, does not cause pathological phimosis, and in most cases is not serious.[146]

Fergusson studied 500 boys and found that by 8 years, the circumcised children had a rate of 11.1 problems per 100 children, and the uncircumcised children had a rate of 18.8 per 100. During infancy, circumcised children were found to have a significantly higher risk of problems than uncircumcised children, but after infancy the rate of penile problems was significantly higher among the uncircumcised. Fergusson et al. said that the great majority of penile problems were relatively minor (penile inflammation including balanitis, meatitis, and inflammation of the prepuce) and most (64%) were resolved after a single medical consultation.[147] Herzog and Alverez found the overall frequency of complications (including balanitis, irritation, adhesions, phimosis, and paraphimosis) to be higher among the uncircumcised children; again, most of the problems were minor.[148] In a study of 398 randomly selected dermatology students, Fakjian et al. reported: "Balanitis was diagnosed in 2.3% of circumcised men and in 12.5% of uncircumcised men."[149] In a study of 225 men, O'Farrell et al. reported: "Overall, circumcised men were less likely to be diagnosed with a STI/balanitis (51% and 35%, P = 0.021) than those non-circumcised."[150] Van Howe found that circumcised penes required more care in the first 3 months of life, and that circumcised boys are more likely to develop balanitis.[151]

The American Medical Association state that circumcision, properly performed, protects against the development of phimosis.[54] Rickwood and other authors have argued that many infant circumcisions are performed unnecessarily for developmental non-retractability of the prepuce rather than for pathological phimosis.[152][153] Metcalfe et al. stated that "Gairdner[118] and Oster[154] made a strong case for leaving boys uncircumcised, allowing the natural separation of the foreskin from the glans to take place gradually, and instructing boys in proper hygiene. This obviates the need for 'preventive' circumcision."[155] In a study to determine the most cost-effective treatment for phimosis, Van Howe concluded that using cream was 75% more cost-effective than circumcision at treating pathological phimosis.[156]

Urinary tract infections

A meta-analysis of 12 studies (one randomised controlled trial, four cohort studies and seven case-control studies) representing 402,908 children determined that circumcision was associated with a significantly reduced risk of urinary tract infection (UTI). However, the authors noted that only 1% of boys with normal urinary tract function experience a UTI, and the number-needed-to treat (number of circumcisions necessary) to prevent one urinary tract infection was calculated to be 111. Because haemorrhage and infection are the commonest complications of circumcision, occurring at rate of about 2%, assuming equal utility of benefits and harms, the authors concluded that the net clinical benefit of circumcision is only likely in boys at high risk of urinary tract infection (such as those with high grade vesicoureteral reflux or a history of recurrent UTIs, where the number needed to treat declined to 11 and 4, respectively).[157]

Some UTI studies have been criticized for not taking into account a high rate of UTI's among premature infants, who are usually not circumcised because of their fragile health status.[16] The AMA stated that “depending on the model employed, approximately 100 to 200 circumcisions would need to be performed to prevent 1 UTI," and noted one decision analysis model that concluded that circumcision was not justified as a preventative measure against UTI.[54]

Policies of various national medical associations

Most guidelines make a distinction between therapeutic and non-therapeutic circumcision. Therapeutic circumcision (where there is a medical need to circumcise) is rarely controversial. Neonatal circumcision is not considered medically necessary and is therefore categorised as non-therapeutic.[citation needed]


The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) state that "after extensive review of the literature" they "reaffirm that there is no medical indication for routine neonatal circumcision". They also state that "if the operation is to be performed, the medical attendant should ensure this is done by a competent operator, using appropriate anaesthesia and in a safe child-friendly environment." Additionally, the RACP state that there is an obligation to provide parents who request a circumcision for their child with accurate, up-to-date and unbiased information about the risks and benefits of circumcision, adding that "there is no evidence of benefit outweighing harm for circumcision as a routine procedure in the neonate."[56]

The Tasmanian President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Haydn Walters, has stated that the AMA would support a call to ban circumcision for non-medical, non-religious reasons.[161]


The Fetus and Newborn Committee of the Canadian Paediatric Society posted "Neonatal circumcision revisited" in 1996 and "Circumcision: Information for Parents" in November 2004.[81] The 1996 position statement says that "circumcision of newborns should not be routinely performed," (a statement with which the Royal Australasian College of Physicians concurs), and the 2004 advice to parents says it "does not recommend circumcision for newborn boys. Many pediatricians no longer perform circumcisions."[55]

United Kingdom

There is a spectrum of views within the British Medical Association's (BMA) membership about whether non-therapeutic male circumcision is a beneficial, neutral or harmful procedure or whether it is superfluous, and whether it should ever be done on a child who is not capable of deciding for himself. Moreover, the Association states that “there is significant disagreement about whether circumcision is overall a beneficial, neutral or harmful procedure. At present, the medical literature on the health, including sexual health, implications of circumcision is contradictory, and often subject to claims of bias in research.”[57] As a general rule, the BMA believe that "parents should be entitled to make choices about how best to promote their children’s interests, and it is for society to decide what limits should be imposed on parental choices." They also state that "both parents...must give consent for non-therapeutic circumcision", and that parents and children should be provided with up-to-date written information about the risks involved.[57]

According to the BMA, circumcision for medical purposes should only be used where less invasive procedures are either unavailable or not as effective. They state that "to circumcise for therapeutic reasons where medical research has shown other techniques to be at least as effective and less invasive would be unethical and inappropriate." Furthermore, the BMA believe that children who are capable of expressing a view should be involved in the decision-making process with regard to their own circumcision, and their views should be taken into account. The BMA state that they "cannot envisage a situation in which it is ethically acceptable to circumcise a competent, informed young person who consistently refuses the procedure."[57]

The BMA state that parents should be informed about the lack of consensus within the medical profession with regard to the potential health benefits of non-therapeutic circumcision, adding that they consider the evidence for such benefits to be insufficient as the sole reason for carrying out a circumcision.[57]

United States

The American Academy of Pediatrics (1999) stated: "Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision. In the case of circumcision, in which there are potential benefits and risks, yet the procedure is not essential to the child’s current well-being, parents should determine what is in the best interest of the child."[16] The AAP recommends that if parents choose to circumcise, analgesia should be used to reduce pain associated with circumcision. It states that circumcision should only be performed on newborns who are stable and healthy.[16]

The American Medical Association supports the AAP's 1999 circumcision policy statement with regard to non-therapeutic circumcision, which they define as the non-religious, non-ritualistic, not medically necessary, elective circumcision of male newborns. They state that "policy statements issued by professional societies representing Australian, Canadian, and American pediatricians do not recommend routine circumcision of male newborns."[54]

The American Academy of Family Physicians (2007) recognizes the controversy surrounding circumcision and recommends that physicians "discuss the potential harms and benefits of circumcision with all parents or legal guardians considering this procedure for their newborn son."[162]

The American Urological Association (2007) stated that neonatal circumcision has potential medical benefits and advantages as well as disadvantages and risks.[163]

History of circumcision

It has been variously proposed that circumcision began as a religious sacrifice, as a rite of passage marking a boy's entrance into adulthood, as a form of sympathetic magic to ensure virility, as a means of suppressing sexual pleasure or to increase a man's attractiveness to women, or as an aid to hygiene where regular bathing was impractical, among other possibilities. Immerman et al. suggest that circumcision causes lowered sexual arousal of pubescent males, and hypothesize that this was a competitive advantage to tribes practicing circumcision, leading to its spread regardless of whether the people understood this.[164] It is possible that circumcision arose independently in different cultures for different reasons.
Family circumcision set and trunk, ca. eighteenth century Wooden box covered in cow hide with silver implements: silver trays, clip, pointer, silver flask, spice vessel.

The oldest documentary evidence for circumcision comes from ancient Egypt.[165] Circumcision was common, although not universal, among ancient Semitic peoples.[166] In the aftermath of the conquests of Alexander the Great, however, Greek dislike of circumcision (they regarded a man as truly "naked" only if his prepuce was retracted) led to a decline in its incidence among many peoples that had previously practiced it.[167]

Circumcision has ancient roots among several ethnic groups in sub-equatorial Africa, and is still performed on adolescent boys to symbolize their transition to warrior status or adulthood.[168]

Circumcision in the English-speaking world

Infant circumcision was taken up in the United States, Australia and the English-speaking parts of Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and to a lesser extent in the United Kingdom. There are several hypotheses to explain why infant circumcision was accepted in the United States about the year 1900. The germ theory of disease elicited an image of the human body as a conveyance for many dangerous germs, making the public "germ phobic" and suspicious of dirt and bodily secretions. The penis became "dirty" by association with its function, and from this premise circumcision was seen as preventative medicine to be practiced universally.[169] In the view of many practitioners at the time, circumcision was a method of treating and preventing masturbation.[169] Aggleton wrote that John Kellogg viewed male circumcision in this way, and further "advocated an unashamedly punitive approach."[170] Circumcision was also said to protect against syphilis,[171] phimosis, paraphimosis, balanitis, and "excessive venery" (which was believed to produce paralysis).[169] Gollaher states that physicians advocating circumcision in the late nineteenth century expected public skepticism, and refined their arguments to overcome it.[169]

Although it is difficult to determine historical circumcision rates, one estimate of infant circumcision rates in the United States holds that 32% of newborn American boys were being circumcised in 1933.[98] Laumann et al. reported that the prevalence of circumcision among US-born males was approximately 70%, 80%, 85%, and 77% for those born in 1945, 1955, 1965, and 1971 respectively.[98] Xu et al. reported that the prevalence of circumcision among US-born males was 91% for males born in the 1970s and 84% for those born in the 1980s.[172] Between 1981 and 1999, National Hospital Discharge Survey data from the National Center for Health Statistics demonstrated that the infant circumcision rate remained relatively stable within the 60% range, with a minimum of 60.7% in 1988 and a maximum of 67.8% in 1995.[173] A 1987 study found that the most prominent reasons US parents choose circumcision were "concerns about the attitudes of peers and their sons' self concept in the future," rather than medical concerns.[174] However, a later study speculated that an increased recognition of the potential benefits of neonatal circumcision may have been responsible for the observed increase in the US rate between 1988 and 2000.[175] A report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality placed the 2005 national circumcision rate at 56%.[176]

In 1949, the United Kingdom's newly-formed National Health Service removed infant circumcision from its list of covered services, and circumcision has since been an out-of-pocket cost to parents. As a result, prevalence in the UK is age-graded, with 12% of those aged 16-19 years circumcised and 20% of those aged 40-44 years,[177] and the proportion of newborns circumcised in England and Wales has fallen to less than one percent.

The circumcision rate has declined sharply in Australia since the 1970s, leading to an age-graded fall in prevalence, with a 2000-01 survey finding 32% of those aged 16-19 years circumcised, 50% for 20-29 years and 64% for those aged 30-39 years.[178][179]

In Canada, individual provincial health services began delisting circumcision in the 1980s.[citation needed]

Prevalence of circumcision

Estimates of the proportion of males that are circumcised worldwide vary from one-sixth[104] to a third.[180] The WHO has estimated that 664,500,000 males aged 15 and over are circumcised (30% global prevalence), with almost 70% of these being Muslim.[8] Circumcision is most prevalent in the Muslim world, parts of South East Asia, Africa, the United States, The Philippines, Israel, and South Korea. It is relatively rare in Europe, Latin America, parts of Southern Africa, and most of Asia and Oceania. Prevalence is near-universal in the Middle East and Central Asia.[8] The WHO states that "there is generally little non-religious circumcision in Asia, with the exceptions of the Republic of Korea and the Philippines".[8] The WHO presents a map of estimated prevalence in which the level is generally low (< 20%) across Europe,[8] and Klavs et al. report findings that "support the notion that the prevalence is low in Europe".[181] In Latin America, prevalence is universally low.[182] Estimates for individual countries include Spain[183], Colombia[183] and Denmark[184] less than 2%, Finland[185] and Brazil[183] 7%, Taiwan[186] 9%, Thailand[183] 13%, New Zealand[187] less than 20% and Australia[179] 58.7%.

The WHO estimates prevalence in the United States and Canada at 75% and 30%, respectively.[8] Prevalence in Africa varies from less than 20% in some southern African countries to near universal in North and West Africa.




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