Written by Brian Krans | Published on August 7, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is Circumcision?

Circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis. It is typically done on a newborn for religious reasons. In adults, several diseases may require circumcision, including balanitis, phimosis and paraphimosis.

Circumcision is primarily a religious procedure in the Jewish and Islamic faiths. For newborns there is no medical reason for the procedure.

In Judaism, circumcision is called a “brit milah” and is typically performed as part of a religious ceremony in a synagogue by a “mohel.” The procedure is almost always done when the baby boy is 8 days old. However, it is also sometimes performed in a hospital.

In Islamic culture, it is called “khitan.” In some parts of the Islamic world, the procedure is performed as part of a religious ceremony. In other parts, it is done in a hospital setting. In most Islamic countries, the khitan is performed when the boy is a baby. However, in some, it is done when the boy enters puberty.

This procedure is typically elective, and the subject of heated debate.

Pros and Cons of Circumcision

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that there are no overwhelming health-related reasons for circumcision to be routinely performed on all newborn males. Therefore, it is a decision best left to the parents.

Despite rumors to the contrary, circumcision has no effect on a man’s fertility, nor does it affect—negatively or positively—sexual pleasure for either partner, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Here are some of the pros and cons of male circumcision:

Pros of Circumcision

  • decreased risk of urinary tract infections
  • decreased risk of penile cancer
  • decreased risk of sexually transmitted diseases
  • easier genital hygiene

Cons of Circumcision

  • some see circumcision as mutilation to the body
  • it is not a life-or-death procedure
  • rare complications include cutting the foreskin too long or too short, and improper healing
  • bleeding or infection

How to Prepare for a Circumcision

Circumcision is often done in a hospital nursery, between one and 10 days after the baby’s birth. As a parent, you’ll have to sign a consent form. For adults, the surgery will most likely be performed in a hospital or surgery center on an outpatient basis. This means that you will normally go home the same day.

How a Circumcision Is Performed

During the procedure, your son will lay on his back while anesthesia—via injection or cream—is used to numb the foreskin. A clamp or ring will be attached to the penis and the foreskin will be removed with a small incision. Afterward, the area will be covered with an antibiotic salve and a loose dressing.

If a plastic ring is used for removal of the foreskin, it will be left on the tip of the penis to allow the wound to heal. The ring will fall off on its own within five to seven days of the circumcision.

After a Circumcision

Healing time for a newborn circumcision is about a week to 10 days. Your son may be a bit cranky as the anesthesia wears off—and no one can blame him—but some over-the-counter painkillers typically will help him feel better.

It’s normal for the penis to be slightly red or bruised for a few days after the circumcision.

You can wash the penis and should change the dressings with each diaper change. Keep the diaper slightly loose to help the tip of the penis heal.

Call your doctor if your son shows the following symptoms, as these could be signs of problems or infection:

  • abnormal urination within 12 hours of the circumcision
  • foul-smelling drainage
  • persistent bleeding
  • plastic ring doesn’t fall off after two weeks
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