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What is a Circumcision?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Circumcision is a medical procedure in which the foreskin of the penis is removed. In an uncircumcised penis, this loose flap of skin acts as a protective sheath most of the time, with the ability to retract when necessary. The term “circumcision” is also used to refer to a practice in which tissue from the female genital area is removed, with some people preferring the term “female genital cutting” to describe this procedure. Depending on where one is in the world, this may be a widespread practice or an unusual one, and there are a number of arguments for and against the procedure.

The history of this ceremony is inarguably ancient, as evidence from Egyptian tombs clearly indicates. Several religions also specifically prescribe circumcision for their male adherents, including Judaism and Islam. Traditionally, the procedure is done to infants or young children, depending on regional cultural practices. In Islam, for example, ritual circumcision or khitan is done on boys around the age of 12, while the Jewish bris is performed on young infants.

At one time, the procedure was widely encouraged for medical reasons, and male infants were routinely circumcised in many hospitals. The argument for the procedure was that it was easier to keep the penis clean, and that it reduced the risk of infection in unhygienic conditions. It also eliminated the risk of developing a tight foreskin, an uncommon but painful occurrence. However, people raised questions about ethical issues related to circumcision, including the issue of performing an unnecessary medical procedure on minors, and the potential for future mental distress. These protests led to a reform in hospital policy, with most facilities now asking parents if they want their boys to be circumcised.

Some studies have suggested the procedure may actually increase the potential risk of contracting HIV and genital warts, although these study results have been disputed. Other opponents have argued that the foreskin is meant to protect the delicate genital tissue, and that removal of the foreskin can lead to an increased risk of injury, and a loss of sensitivity.

The decision to circumcise or not is ultimately personal. Parents can weigh a dizzying array of arguments for and against, and many of these arguments are sprinkled with misleading statistics and the results of studies of questionable validity. The greatest argument for waiting is that it allows the boy to make a personal choice later in life about whether or not he wants to be circumcised, because the procedure can be performed at any age in the event that someone opts for it, but it is difficult to reverse in the case of people who wish that their foreskins had been left intact.

Parents who are expecting the birth of a baby boy should definitely discuss the issue before the birth, not least because the father may have strong personal feelings about circumcision.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon1002249 — On Oct 08, 2019

You people, you don't know squat. I was cut at age 25, am now 65, and sex is far better than just humping you own foreskin. As for sensation loss, barely any. I've had it both ways, and the circumcised penis is the only one to have. Women I've been with all agree and many have commented that if I hadn't been cut, I wouldn't have been lucky with them. So, I say that, unless you can tell me you know that uncut is better than cut, then why don't you run out and get cut and find out for yourself which is better? I bet you will switch opinions the minute you are back in action.

And as for keeping clean, it won't even be an issue again. I was extremely cautious about cleanliness, and even then, it didn't take long to develop an odor under the foreskin. I also happen to be one of those people who can go for days (while mountain climbing) without developing body odor, so it's not like I have an odor problem. Yet even after showering, within a half hour the glans was already starting to smell. No woman I know of likes the smell or discharge that some develop, and I have had a few women tell me this.

I had a foreskin that in full erection still covered 3/4 of the glans, and it was loose and easy to retract, so there really wasn't a big problem there. When having sex, I would hold my foreskin tightly back, and the sensations were incredible for both me and my partners, who loved it. That, along with the cleaner, better look convinced me to get cut. So, I think most uncut people are either afraid to get cut due to the implied pain, which didn't hurt at all, or for some reason they think they are going to lose all sensitivity, which is absolute BS. Once again, you uncuts should just carry on with your lives, and quit trying to make normal, healthy men feel inadequate because of their cut status. In other words, just mind your own business unless you care to get cut so you can properly debate both sides from personal knowledge.

Some women and men also happen to relate circumcision to the removal of a woman's clitoris. What? That would be like cutting the glans off a penis. Wouldn't the female having her hood cut off be a better comparison? Sometimes I have to just sit back and laugh to myself at some of the absolutely ridiculous comments and remarks I read. But I don't dwell on the subject too much unless I happen to come across some while surfing around.

Those who spend all their time trying to get rid of circumcision are wasting their time, even though it's not as popular as it once was. Like all things else, fads come back, and when most men get older, there are always going to be a bunch who end up having problems, and end up getting smart and getting cut to finally give them the relief they have longed for, probably secretly, and then realizing the true benefits they will receive as well as their partners. Women also may well insist on their lovers being cut as that still seems to be the large majority. 'Nuff said.

By XXYGuy — On May 15, 2012

I don't think I care a bit what a female thinks is the best type of penis a man can have to have sex with. That would be like me saying I prefer women with a long clitoris!

And if that woman was an American, the possibility would be most unlikely as females with long clitorises are considered to have a malformation of their genitalia, and it is shortened soon after birth. American "surgeons" seem hell bent on interfering with children's genitals regardless of their sex and personal choice.

@anon265302: You're speaking from your perspective as a female, not a female's perspective, since I very much doubt you've been in contact with every heterosexual female on the planet, who's had sex with butchered and entire men, and can really only give your personal perspective.

By anon265302 — On May 01, 2012

I am a late middle aged female and have strong opinions about circumcision. My three grown sons were not mutilated when they were babies, so if they are now circumcised, they had it done as adults. Before, during and after my long marriage, I had sexual intercourse with quite a variety of males, both cut and uncut. As a result of all this experience, I'd have to say that I prefer sex with uncircumcised men. My preference applies to oral sex, too. Also, the foreskin provides another erogenous zone for him.

As for how males feel about this barbarous practice, I can't say. But from a female perspective I can't imagine having the prepuce covering my clitoris surgically removed for any reason, whether religious, esthetic or conformist. Ouch!

By anon127233 — On Nov 15, 2010

Having lived in continental Europe, the USA, and Australasia, I can assure you that the American point of view on circumcision is an odd one.

In Australia and Canada, parents are out of pocket if they circumcise. Few maternity wards offer the service; you have to go to a pediatrician who specialises in doing them. Korea circumcises boys when they are in middle school and high school. Otherwise, no advanced society circumcises boys simply because their parents think it healthier.

Cutting off parts of the body because they could malfunction in the future is simply not on. And the only reliable way to attain the alleged health objectives of routine circumcision is being faithful to one's sexual partner, or using condoms.

A majority of the world's circumcised men are Muslims. American parents circumcise their boys because to them the natural penis looks sexually off-putting. A growing number of Americans of childbearing age are moving away from this shallow conformist stance.

By XXYGuy — On Oct 27, 2010

Circumcission is not a medical procedure it is penis butchery. And where I come from "circumcission" is spelled with two S's just in case you think I'm in error? Circumcision destroys sexual feeling, and is primarily practiced by backward people from backward religions, and others who are generally backward anyway!

The original argument for RIMC was to prevent boys from masturbating, but it has no effect of that at all. And regular masturbation is the best way to keep a penis clean. That's my very enjoyable experience.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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