What is circumcision?

Circumcision is the most common surgery among males. It is the removal of the foreskin (the sheath of tissue covering the head of the penis). In most cases, circumcision is performed on newborns. Circumcision is ancient practice that had its beginnings in religious rites. Today, it is done for both religious and medical reasons.

Who gets a circumcision?

In the United States, five or six of every 10 boys are circumcised. The world’s highest rates for circumcision are in the U.S., the Middle East, and South Korea. Worldwide, about one in three males is circumcised. The surgery is rare in Europe, Asia, and South America. Circumcision is a part of both Jewish and Muslim religious customs. In the Jewish faith, circumcisions are performed on the eighth day of a life.

When are most circumcisions performed?

In general, circumcisions in the U.S. are done a day or two after birth. The longer the procedure is delayed, the more risky it becomes. Even so, circumcisions can be done on older boys and adult males.

Who performs a circumcision?

Depending on when a circumcision is performed, it can be done by an urologist or pediatrician in the hospital in the days right after birth. It also can be done later in a doctor’s office.

Jewish newborns usually are circumcised by a rabbi in a religious ceremony called a bris.

How is a circumcision performed?

A circumcision is a simple procedure. The newborn baby is placed on his back, with his arms and legs restrained. His penis area is cleaned. In most cases, an anesthetic is injected or applied as a cream. A clamp is attached to the penis and the excess foreskin is clipped off. An ointment may then be applied to the baby’s penis, which is wrapped in gauze. The procedure usually takes only five to 10 minutes.

Circumcision in older boys and adults is usually done in the same way. The surgery takes about an hour. A general anesthetic may be needed to control pain. Stitches may be needed after a circumcision in an older male.

What are the risks of circumcision?

Circumcision is a very common procedure that usually is safe. However, there are some risks with any surgery. These include:

  • Infection: The most common side effect
  • Reaction to anesthesia
  • Pain
  • Meatitis: Inflammation of the opening of the penis
  • Irritation of the glans, which is the round tip of the penis
  • Cutting the foreskin too short or too long

In rare cases, the foreskin may fail to heal properly. Sometimes, the remaining foreskin might again attach itself to the end of the penis, resulting in a second surgery being needed. Circumcision does not affect fertility. Circumcision is not thought to either hurt or enhance a person’s sexual pleasure.

What are the benefits of circumcision?

  • Hygiene: The most basic benefit of circumcision is that it makes the penis simpler to wash, especially for children.
  • Lower risk of urinary tract infections: UTIs are more common in uncircumcised males.
  • Lower risk of sexually transmitted infections. Circumcised men have a lower risk of certain sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. For this reason, circumcision is on the rise in African countries where HIV is prevalent.
  • Prevention of balanoposthitis, which is the inflammation of the glans and foreskin
  • Prevention of phimosis, which is not being able to pull back the foreskin
  • Prevention of paraphimosis, which is not being able to return the pulled-back foreskin to its original location
  • Lower risk of penile cancer: Cancer of the penis is less common in circumcised men.
  • Protection against cervical cancer: This cancer is less common in female sex partners of circumcised men.

What is involved in the recovery from a circumcision?

Recovery from circumcision usually takes about eight to 10 days. During the healing process, the penis may look swollen and red. There may also be a yellow crust on the tip.

Your healthcare provider will advise you on how to care for your child following circumcision. You will be advised to wash the penis as it heals and change the bandage at each diaper change.

If your baby’s penis does not seem to be healing correctly, contact a healthcare professional.

When should I call the doctor after a circumcision?

Call for medical advice if there are any signs that the penis may not be healing properly. These include:

  • Bleeding that occurs often or will not stop
  • Urination that does not resume in 12 hours
  • Foul-smelling drainage
  • The attachment (after two weeks) of the plastic ring used in circumcision

Do healthcare professionals recommend circumcision?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Urological Association (AUA) both believe that circumcising newborns has benefits as well as risks. Both groups suggest that the decision be left to parents. The AAP also recommends the use of pain medicines in babies undergoing circumcision.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 5/10/2016...#16194