The health benefits of infant male circumcision far exceeds the risks associated with the procedure, according to a recent article that reviewed studies in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, an online journal.
In the United States, the rate of circumcision in men ages 14 to 59 has increased to 81 percent over the past decade from 79 percent. However, the study authors found an alarming decrease in infants, which showed that circumcision had declined from a high of 83 percent in the 1960s to 77 percent today.
They worry that a falling rate of newborn circumcision will result in a marked increase in overwhelming infection in newborn males in the U.S. and long-term increased rate of venereal disease in them and cervical and anal cancer in their sexual partners. The evidence given by Brian Morris, DSc, PhD, and his colleagues is very strong, but like everything involved with sex and sexual organs – the emotions and religious feeling the subject releases will lead to controversy.
When my son was circumcised on his eighth day of life, we had a huge party and religious ceremony. My family and 150 guests prayed and sang and danced and had a feast. Every year at the national pediatric meeting, a handful of protesters marches outside to prevent “torturing” and “maiming” newborns with circumcision. In Europe, the Germanic countries have banned circumcision and the Scandinavian countries are considering doing the same in spite of the medical evidence in favor of the procedure and the infringement of this ban on religious freedom. Though in truth no one is enforcing this ban, it effectively has forced the procedure out of hospitals and established medical care in these countries.
The controversy goes back thousands of years. Egyptians circumcised, Romans did not. Jews thought that circumcision was a covenant from God (as later did Muslims), but St. Paul In Galatians 2:1-5 says that Christians do not need to be circumcised and is often interpreted as being against this rite, in spite of St. Paul and Christ obviously being circumcised since they were born Jewish. Just looking up sources for this article were difficult since my hospital system had banned its computers from going to many sites concerned with this procedure as it does for any site concerned with sexual matters.
So what’s the evidence supporting infant male circumcision? Uncircumcised males have:
1) Almost 10 times the rate of urinary tract infections in the first month of life compared to circumcised males, and at least 3 times the rate even as adults. This can result in serious side effects and even death.
2) Significantly higher rates of yeast infections, prostate cancer, hypertension, and two diseases of the foreskin: balanitis and phimosis.
3) Higher rates of all the sexually transmitted illnesses including herpes, and venereal warts. In high HIV countries, the World Health Organizations says that circumcision markedly lowers transmission of HIV. Adult circumcision is now the most common operation in Sub-Saharan Africa.
4) Twenty times the risk of penile cancer.
5) Sexual partners with venereal disease rates two to five times higher than sexual partners of the circumcised and 2.4 times higher rates of cervical cancer
6) The same sexual satisfaction as circumcised males. Another claim is that circumcision diminishes sexual function, sensitivity, and pleasure. A recent large scale analysis suggests that this is not the case.
7) They also state that injury rates of circumcision are very low.
Since about 80 percent of adult males in the U.S. are circumcised, why are the authors worried? Because with changes in whether insurance will pay for the procedure (Medicaid in 19 states does not pay for circumcision anymore), the rate among newborn has fallen about 4 percent in the last few years. They state that if this trend continues for 10 years it will cost the health care system about 4.4 billion dollars because of the increased disease engendered.
What answer do I give when asked, “Should I get a circumcision for my baby boy? “ I used to say, in spite of my religious convictions: “a baby should look like his father.” I now say that I believe circumcision is a better choice.
Have a question for the Healthy Kids panel? Ask it here. Read more from the Healthy Kids blog »