Circumcision: Should I Keep My Son's Penis Natural?

NOTICE: This health information was not created by the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) and may not necessarily reflect specific UMHS practices. For medical advice relating to your personal condition, please consult your doctor. Complete disclaimer

Circumcision: Should I Keep My Son's Penis Natural?

You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Circumcision: Should I Keep My Son's Penis Natural?

Get the facts

Your options

  • Keep your son's penis natural.
  • Have your son circumcised.

Key points to remember

  • In most cases, there isn't a medical reason for circumcision. Your son was born with a natural penis, and it is safe and healthy to keep it that way if you decide to do so.
  • Some parents choose circumcision based on religious or cultural reasons.
  • If your son is healthy, circumcision most likely won't affect his health either way. There may be some slight health benefits for circumcised males, but these are not reason enough to choose circumcision. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend circumcision as a routine procedure for newborn males.1
  • Circumcision is surgery. It causes pain during and after the procedure. Like all surgeries, circumcision has risks. Major problems, such as scarring of the penis, are rare. Minor risks include bleeding and infection.
  • Circumcision is not just done in newborns. Keep in mind that your son may have his own feelings about circumcision and can decide later in life if he wants a circumcised penis.
FAQs

What is circumcision?

Male circumcision is a surgery to remove the foreskin, the natural covering of the penis. The foreskin provides sensation and lubrication for the penis. In most cases, circumcision is elective surgery, which means there isn't a medical reason for it. If it is done, circumcision is usually done soon after birth.

In the United States, about 60 out of 100 boys are circumcised, and about 40 out of 100 are not.2 Worldwide, the rate of circumcision is much lower.

When should a baby not be circumcised?

If you don't want your baby to be circumcised, he shouldn't be circumcised. Circumcision is a decision you make because you want it for your baby.

Your doctor may feel it's not safe to circumcise your baby if the baby is sick or weak, has a problem with his penis, has a family history of bleeding problems, or was born early (premature) and is not yet ready to go home.

What can you expect after circumcision?

Some swelling and slight bleeding are normal after circumcision. Your baby may be fussy and have trouble sleeping for the first few days. He may feel some pain for a few days when he urinates. For about 2 weeks, he may feel some pain whenever urine or stool touches the tip of the penis.

Your baby will probably start to feel better within 3 to 4 days after circumcision. Even though he may feel better, his penis may look worse. The penis will usually look better about 7 to 10 days after circumcision.

What are the risks of circumcision?

Problems from circumcision aren't common. If they occur, they are usually short-term, such as minor bleeding or infection. Other possible problems include pain and irritation of the tip of the penis.

Long-term problems are even more uncommon, but they can include damage to the opening of the urethra, heavy bleeding, severe infection, or scarring.

Some people have concerns that circumcision can decrease sensitivity in the penis. Some people also wonder if circumcision disrupts the bonding that occurs between mother and son during breast-feeding. But there is not a lot of research about these concerns.

Are there benefits to circumcision?

If your son is healthy, circumcision most likely will not affect his health either way. There may be some slight health benefits for circumcised males, but these must be weighed against the risks. Most experts in the United States agree that these possible benefits are not reason enough to choose circumcision.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend circumcision as a routine procedure for newborn males. When making this policy, the AAP looked at the possible benefits, risks, and costs of the procedure.1 Other major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, agree with the AAP policy.

In the first year of life, urinary tract infections (UTIs) happen less often in circumcised boys than in boys who are not circumcised. But UTIs are not common. No studies support having circumcision done to prevent UTIs.3, 4, 5

Some studies in other countries have shown that circumcised men are a little less likely than men who have not been circumcised to get a sexually transmitted infection (STI), including HIV.6, 7 But circumcision should not be done solely to prevent STIs or HIV.

What if you decide to keep your son's penis natural?

Your child was born with a natural penis, and it is safe and healthy to keep it that way if you decide to do so.

When cleaning your son's natural penis, be careful not to force the foreskin to retract. As your son gets older, teach him how to wash and care for his penis. It's important to keep your son's penis clean whether he has been circumcised or not.

There may be reasons later in life when your son may need a circumcision. A boy or man may have problems retracting the foreskin or may have swelling of the foreskin that requires circumcision. But these problems are rare.

Circumcision is not just done in newborns. Keep in mind that your son can decide on his own later in life if he wants a circumcised penis.

Compare your options

Compare

What is usually involved?









What are the benefits?









What are the risks and side effects?









Have your son circumcised Have your son circumcised
  • During the first month after birth, medicine may be used to numb the penis during circumcision. But your baby will probably be awake for the procedure.
  • For circumcision done after the first month, your baby may need general anesthesia.
  • You can take your baby home the same day he is circumcised.
  • Your baby may have pain during and after surgery. The pain usually lasts 3 or 4 days but can continue for up to 2 weeks.
  • Your baby may not sleep well and will be fussy for a few days after surgery. His penis should heal in 7 to 10 days.
  • If your son is healthy, circumcision most likely won't affect him either way.
  • In the first year of life, urinary tract infections (UTIs) happen less often in boys who are circumcised. But UTIs are rare.
  • Minor problems include bleeding, infection, pain, and irritation of the tip of the penis.
  • Long-term problems, which are rare, include:
    • Damage to the opening of the urethra.
    • Scarring.
  • Short-term problems that are serious but also rare include:
    • Heavy bleeding.
    • Severe infection.
Keep your son's penis natural Keep your son's penis natural
  • No surgery is needed. Your son's penis stays natural. This is safe and healthy.
  • You avoid the pain and risks of elective surgery for your baby.
  • Your son can decide on his own later in life if he wants a circumcised penis.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about circumcision

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

I had my three sons circumcised. None of them ever had a problem from the surgery. I know it hurt, but it didn't last long and they all healed quickly. It was important to me to follow our religious customs.

Robert, age 42

When I was young, my father taught me how to keep my penis clean, and I have never had any problems. Most boys in my gym classes were circumcised, but I never felt that I was strange or different because I wasn't. When my son is born, we will not have him circumcised.

Aidan, age 25

When our son William was born, we didn't have any reason to have him circumcised. We discussed it with our doctor and decided not to have the surgery. When William is older, he can decide for himself if he wants to have the procedure.

Elise, age 49

When our first son was born, we had him circumcised. All the men in my family are circumcised. But the procedure was painful and very stressful for him, so when our second son was born, we decided to leave him uncircumcised. After all, there's no real medical reason to have it done. We decided to spare him that pain. Both our sons are healthy and happy. Neither seems to care that their penises do not look exactly alike. I feel we made the right decision.

Jeff, age 29

What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to choose circumcision

Reasons not to choose circumcision

My religious beliefs make circumcision the best choice for my son.

My religious beliefs are not a factor in my decision.

More important
Equally important
More important

Most of the men in my family are circumcised, and I want my son to be circumcised like them.

Most of the men in my family are not circumcised, and I want my son to have a natural penis like them.

More important
Equally important
More important

The risks of surgery for my baby don't bother me.

I'm worried about the risks of surgery and how I would feel if something went wrong.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm worried that my son won't fit in when he is older if he isn't circumcised.

Many boys are not circumcised. I'm not worried about my son fitting in.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Choosing circumcision

NOT choosing circumcision

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1.

Is circumcision medically necessary for newborns?

  • YesSorry, that's not right. In most cases. there isn't a medical reason for circumcision. Your son was born with a natural penis, and it is safe to keep it that way if you decide to do so.
  • NoYou're right. In most cases. there isn't a medical reason for circumcision. Your son was born with a natural penis, and it is safe to keep it that way if you decide to do so.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." In most cases. there isn't a medical reason for circumcision. Your son was born with a natural penis, and it is safe to keep it that way if you decide to do so.
2.

Is circumcision a pain-free and risk-free surgery?

  • YesSorry, that's not right. Circumcision is surgery. It causes pain during and after the procedure. And like all surgeries, it has risks.
  • NoYou're right. Circumcision is surgery. It causes pain during and after the procedure. And like all surgeries, it has risks.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Key points to remember." Circumcision is surgery. It causes pain during and after the procedure. And like all surgeries, it has risks.
3.

Will circumcision protect your baby from health problems?

  • YesSorry, that's not right. If your son is healthy, circumcision most likely won't affect his health either way. There may be some slight health benefits for circumcised males, but these are not reason enough to choose circumcision.
  • NoYou're right. If your son is healthy, circumcision most likely won't affect his health either way. There may be some slight health benefits for circumcised males, but these are not reason enough to choose circumcision.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." If your son is healthy, circumcision most likely won't affect his health either way.

Decide what's next

1.

Do you understand the options available to you?

2.

Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3.

Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1.

How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure
3.

Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

Your Summary

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.

Your decision  

Next steps

Which way you're leaning

How sure you are

Your comments

Your knowledge of the facts  

Key concepts that you understood

Key concepts that may need review

Getting ready to act  

Patient choices

Credits and References

Credits
Credits Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Peter Anderson, MD, FRCS(C) - Pediatric Urology

References
Citations
  1. Task Force on Circumcision, American Academy of Pediatrics (1999, reaffirmed 2005). Circumcision policy statement. Pediatrics, 103(3): 686–693.
  2. Merrill CT, et al. (2008). Circumcisions performed in U.S. community hospitals, 2005. HCUP Statistical Brief #45, pp. 1–9. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Also available online: http://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb45.jsp.
  3. Singh-Grewal D, et al. (2005). Circumcision for the prevention of urinary tract infection in boys: A systematic review of randomised trials and observational studies. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 90(9): 853–858.
  4. Malone P, Steinbrecher H (2007). Clinical review: Medical aspects of male circumcision. BMJ, 335(7631): 1206–1209.
  5. Van Howe RS (2005). Effect of confounding in the association between circumcision status and urinary tract infection. Journal of Infection, 51(1): 59–68.
  6. Siegfried N, et al. (2009). Male circumcision for prevention of heterosexual acquisition of HIV in men. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2).
  7. Tobian AAR, et al. (2009). Male circumcision for the prevention of HSV-2 and HPV infections and syphilis. New England Journal of Medicine, 360(13): 1298–1309.
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Circumcision: Should I Keep My Son's Penis Natural?

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
  1. Get the facts
  2. Compare your options
  3. What matters most to you?
  4. Where are you leaning now?
  5. What else do you need to make your decision?

1. Get the facts

Your options

  • Keep your son's penis natural.
  • Have your son circumcised.

Key points to remember

  • In most cases, there isn't a medical reason for circumcision. Your son was born with a natural penis, and it is safe and healthy to keep it that way if you decide to do so.
  • Some parents choose circumcision based on religious or cultural reasons.
  • If your son is healthy, circumcision most likely won't affect his health either way. There may be some slight health benefits for circumcised males, but these are not reason enough to choose circumcision. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend circumcision as a routine procedure for newborn males.1
  • Circumcision is surgery. It causes pain during and after the procedure. Like all surgeries, circumcision has risks. Major problems, such as scarring of the penis, are rare. Minor risks include bleeding and infection.
  • Circumcision is not just done in newborns. Keep in mind that your son may have his own feelings about circumcision and can decide later in life if he wants a circumcised penis.
FAQs

What is circumcision?

Male circumcision is a surgery to remove the foreskin, the natural covering of the penis. The foreskin provides sensation and lubrication for the penis. In most cases, circumcision is elective surgery, which means there isn't a medical reason for it. If it is done, circumcision is usually done soon after birth.

In the United States, about 60 out of 100 boys are circumcised, and about 40 out of 100 are not.2 Worldwide, the rate of circumcision is much lower.

When should a baby not be circumcised?

If you don't want your baby to be circumcised, he shouldn't be circumcised. Circumcision is a decision you make because you want it for your baby.

Your doctor may feel it's not safe to circumcise your baby if the baby is sick or weak, has a problem with his penis, has a family history of bleeding problems, or was born early (premature) and is not yet ready to go home.

What can you expect after circumcision?

Some swelling and slight bleeding are normal after circumcision. Your baby may be fussy and have trouble sleeping for the first few days. He may feel some pain for a few days when he urinates. For about 2 weeks, he may feel some pain whenever urine or stool touches the tip of the penis.

Your baby will probably start to feel better within 3 to 4 days after circumcision. Even though he may feel better, his penis may look worse. The penis will usually look better about 7 to 10 days after circumcision.

What are the risks of circumcision?

Problems from circumcision aren't common. If they occur, they are usually short-term, such as minor bleeding or infection. Other possible problems include pain and irritation of the tip of the penis.

Long-term problems are even more uncommon, but they can include damage to the opening of the urethra, heavy bleeding, severe infection, or scarring.

Some people have concerns that circumcision can decrease sensitivity in the penis. Some people also wonder if circumcision disrupts the bonding that occurs between mother and son during breast-feeding. But there is not a lot of research about these concerns.

Are there benefits to circumcision?

If your son is healthy, circumcision most likely will not affect his health either way. There may be some slight health benefits for circumcised males, but these must be weighed against the risks. Most experts in the United States agree that these possible benefits are not reason enough to choose circumcision.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend circumcision as a routine procedure for newborn males. When making this policy, the AAP looked at the possible benefits, risks, and costs of the procedure.1 Other major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, agree with the AAP policy.

In the first year of life, urinary tract infections (UTIs) happen less often in circumcised boys than in boys who are not circumcised. But UTIs are not common. No studies support having circumcision done to prevent UTIs.3, 4, 5

Some studies in other countries have shown that circumcised men are a little less likely than men who have not been circumcised to get a sexually transmitted infection (STI), including HIV.6, 7 But circumcision should not be done solely to prevent STIs or HIV.

What if you decide to keep your son's penis natural?

Your child was born with a natural penis, and it is safe and healthy to keep it that way if you decide to do so.

When cleaning your son's natural penis, be careful not to force the foreskin to retract. As your son gets older, teach him how to wash and care for his penis. It's important to keep your son's penis clean whether he has been circumcised or not.

There may be reasons later in life when your son may need a circumcision. A boy or man may have problems retracting the foreskin or may have swelling of the foreskin that requires circumcision. But these problems are rare.

Circumcision is not just done in newborns. Keep in mind that your son can decide on his own later in life if he wants a circumcised penis.

2. Compare your options

  Have your son circumcised Keep your son's penis natural
What is usually involved?
  • During the first month after birth, medicine may be used to numb the penis during circumcision. But your baby will probably be awake for the procedure.
  • For circumcision done after the first month, your baby may need general anesthesia.
  • You can take your baby home the same day he is circumcised.
  • Your baby may have pain during and after surgery. The pain usually lasts 3 or 4 days but can continue for up to 2 weeks.
  • Your baby may not sleep well and will be fussy for a few days after surgery. His penis should heal in 7 to 10 days.
  • No surgery is needed. Your son's penis stays natural. This is safe and healthy.
What are the benefits?
  • If your son is healthy, circumcision most likely won't affect him either way.
  • In the first year of life, urinary tract infections (UTIs) happen less often in boys who are circumcised. But UTIs are rare.
  • You avoid the pain and risks of elective surgery for your baby.
  • Your son can decide on his own later in life if he wants a circumcised penis.
What are the risks and side effects?
  • Minor problems include bleeding, infection, pain, and irritation of the tip of the penis.
  • Long-term problems, which are rare, include:
    • Damage to the opening of the urethra.
    • Scarring.
  • Short-term problems that are serious but also rare include:
    • Heavy bleeding.
    • Severe infection.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about circumcision

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

"I had my three sons circumcised. None of them ever had a problem from the surgery. I know it hurt, but it didn't last long and they all healed quickly. It was important to me to follow our religious customs."

— Robert, age 42

"When I was young, my father taught me how to keep my penis clean, and I have never had any problems. Most boys in my gym classes were circumcised, but I never felt that I was strange or different because I wasn't. When my son is born, we will not have him circumcised."

— Aidan, age 25

"When our son William was born, we didn't have any reason to have him circumcised. We discussed it with our doctor and decided not to have the surgery. When William is older, he can decide for himself if he wants to have the procedure."

— Elise, age 49

"When our first son was born, we had him circumcised. All the men in my family are circumcised. But the procedure was painful and very stressful for him, so when our second son was born, we decided to leave him uncircumcised. After all, there's no real medical reason to have it done. We decided to spare him that pain. Both our sons are healthy and happy. Neither seems to care that their penises do not look exactly alike. I feel we made the right decision."

— Jeff, age 29

3. What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to choose circumcision

Reasons not to choose circumcision

My religious beliefs make circumcision the best choice for my son.

My religious beliefs are not a factor in my decision.

More important
Equally important
More important

Most of the men in my family are circumcised, and I want my son to be circumcised like them.

Most of the men in my family are not circumcised, and I want my son to have a natural penis like them.

More important
Equally important
More important

The risks of surgery for my baby don't bother me.

I'm worried about the risks of surgery and how I would feel if something went wrong.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm worried that my son won't fit in when he is older if he isn't circumcised.

Many boys are not circumcised. I'm not worried about my son fitting in.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

4. Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Choosing circumcision

NOT choosing circumcision

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

5. What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1. Is circumcision medically necessary for newborns?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm not sure
You're right. In most cases. there isn't a medical reason for circumcision. Your son was born with a natural penis, and it is safe to keep it that way if you decide to do so.

2. Is circumcision a pain-free and risk-free surgery?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm not sure
You're right. Circumcision is surgery. It causes pain during and after the procedure. And like all surgeries, it has risks.

3. Will circumcision protect your baby from health problems?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm not sure
You're right. If your son is healthy, circumcision most likely won't affect his health either way. There may be some slight health benefits for circumcised males, but these are not reason enough to choose circumcision.

Decide what's next

1. Do you understand the options available to you?

2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

  • I'm ready to take action.
  • I want to discuss the options with others.
  • I want to learn more about my options.

3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

Credits
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Peter Anderson, MD, FRCS(C) - Pediatric Urology

References
Citations
  1. Task Force on Circumcision, American Academy of Pediatrics (1999, reaffirmed 2005). Circumcision policy statement. Pediatrics, 103(3): 686–693.
  2. Merrill CT, et al. (2008). Circumcisions performed in U.S. community hospitals, 2005. HCUP Statistical Brief #45, pp. 1–9. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Also available online: http://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb45.jsp.
  3. Singh-Grewal D, et al. (2005). Circumcision for the prevention of urinary tract infection in boys: A systematic review of randomised trials and observational studies. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 90(9): 853–858.
  4. Malone P, Steinbrecher H (2007). Clinical review: Medical aspects of male circumcision. BMJ, 335(7631): 1206–1209.
  5. Van Howe RS (2005). Effect of confounding in the association between circumcision status and urinary tract infection. Journal of Infection, 51(1): 59–68.
  6. Siegfried N, et al. (2009). Male circumcision for prevention of heterosexual acquisition of HIV in men. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2).
  7. Tobian AAR, et al. (2009). Male circumcision for the prevention of HSV-2 and HPV infections and syphilis. New England Journal of Medicine, 360(13): 1298–1309.

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