Is Circumcision Just A Medical Procedure?

Katie Wells Avatar

Reading Time: 18 minutes

This post contains affiliate links.

Read my affiliate policy.

Guide to getting great sleep
Wellness Mama » Blog » Health » Is Circumcision Just A Medical Procedure?

Disclaimer: This is a post on a very personal and controversial topic. I have gotten several questions about it lately and while I’ve been avoiding the topic due to its controversial nature, I feel compelled to address it as there is a lot of misinformation on both sides and the person most affected by the procedure can not speak for himself in many cases. This is an extremely emotional issue for me, as I’m sure it is for many parents. My purpose in the post is to explain my position (as I have received many emails asking), present the information I found while researching this decision for our own sons, and to facilitate a kind and charitable discussion. I do not intend to judge or offend and I apologize in advance if anything written here is hurtful to anyone. I am not a doctor or medical professional, only a parent who has seen the pain on both sides of this issue. If this is a topic that is not relevant to you or that you’d prefer not to read, feel free to browse my Start Here Page for an archive of health articles, natural living ideas, and recipes instead.

Circumcision: Yes or No?

This is a very personal, and often very polarizing issue. It is a topic that is not commonly discussed, and for this reason, many parents are given incorrect information if they ask well-meaning family and friends. As moms, we can discuss episiotomies, having a bowel movement while pushing a baby out, or the intricacies of breastfeeding with close friends or trusted relatives, but the topic of circumcision is often avoided or it makes us uneasy to talk about.

My hope is to offer information I found while making this decision in our own family and to facilitate discussion on the matter. I hope that this is not a decision that is ever made lightly, whatever the parents choose, and that facts and research are considered.

Medical Benefits and Risks:

Though routine infant circumcision is a cosmetic procedure, many parents feel they are doing it for medical reasons. Many doctors tell parents that it will make the child cleaner, offers lower risk of UTIs, reduces risk of penile cancer, etc. Many also say that it is not painful for the baby and that there is no need to leave the foreskin attached. (Interestingly, surgeries of all kinds including open heart surgery were often preformed on infants without anesthesia and just drugs to keep them still as recently as a few decades ago. It was believed they could not feel pain, which we now know to be false.)

Some recent news has suggested that circumcision can reduce the risk of HIV infection as well, though this is a statistically flawed argument as I will explain later.

The benefits as listed above are minor, so it seems important to consider the risks as well and to weigh if the potential benefit is enough to make this risk worth it. Many parents list cosmetic reasons as their purpose for circumcision: so that a baby will look the same as his father, not be made fun of in the locker room, etc.

The American Academy of Pediatrics evaluated this and for years, their policy was that circumcision should not be routinely recommended, stating:

“The AAP had formed a task force on circumcision that decided the procedure shouldn’t be routinely recommended. The task force based this policy on 40 years of studies of both circumcised and uncircumcised boys, and it concluded the following:

  • Problems with the penis, such as irritation, can occur with or without circumcision.
  • With proper care, there is no difference in hygiene.
  • There may or may not be differences in sexual sensation in adult men.
  • There is an increased risk for a UTI in uncircumcised males, especially babies under 1 year. However, the risk for a UTI is still less than 1 percent.
  • Newborn circumcision provides some protection from penile cancer, which only occurs in the foreskin. However, the risk of this cancer is very low in developed countries such as the United States.”

Additionally, as research now shows that infants do feel pain as intensely as adults (if not more so), and anesthesia is often not used or used incorrectly. This seems like a very painful experience to subject a child to without a clear medical need, especially just for cosmetic reasons. It can be performed at any point in a man’s life, so should a child want to be circumcised later in life, he can choose this and will be given anesthesia and pain medication which are not given to infants. He will not, however, have the option of getting his foreskin back…

How Is It Done?

Although there are several ways that a circumcision can be performed, the procedure involves forcibly pulling the foreskin back (retracting it) and then removing it from the head of the penis. While the foreskin will retract later in life naturally, doing it at this age is similar to pulling a nail from a nail bed. The foreskin is naturally a very sensitive area and has as many nerve endings as a female clitoris. As this article explains:

“The foreskin, which comprises up to 50% (sometimes more) of the mobile skin system of the penis. If unfolded and spread out flat, the average adult foreskin would measure about 15 square inches (the size of a 3 x 5-inch index card). This highly specialized tissue normally covers the glans and protects it from abrasion, drying, callusing (keratinization), and contaminants of all kinds. The effect of glans keratinization on human sexuality has never been studied.

The frenar band of soft ridges — the primary erogenous zone of the male body. Loss of this delicate belt of densely innervated, sexually responsive tissue reduces the fullness and intensity of sexual response.

The foreskin’s “gliding action“– the hallmark mechanical feature of the normal, natural, intact penis. This non-abrasive gliding of the penis in and out of itself within the vagina facilitates smooth, comfortable, pleasurable intercourse for both partners. Without this gliding action, the corona of the circumcised penis can function as a one-way valve, scraping vaginal lubricants out into the drying air and making artificial lubricants essential for pleasurable intercourse.

Thousands of coiled fine-touch mechanoreceptors called Meissner’s corpuscles, the most important sensory component of the foreskin, encapsulated Vater-Pacinian cells, Merkel’s cells, nociceptors, and branches of the dorsal nerve and perineal nerve. Altogether, between 10,000 and 20,000 specialized erotogenic nerve endings of several types, which can feel slight motion and stretch, subtle changes in temperature, and fine gradations in texture are lost.”

This website explains the procedure and shows videos of actual circumcision (graphic).

While I was told by family members and even registered nurses that the foreskin has no purpose, in researching it myself, I found that it actually serves several important purposes:

  • “Protection: Just as the eyelids protect the eyes, the foreskin protects the glans and keeps its surface soft, moist, and sensitive. It also maintains optimal warmth, pH balance, and cleanliness. The glans itself contains no sebaceous glands-glands that produce the sebum, or oil, that moisturizes our skin. The foreskin produces the sebum that maintains proper health of the surface of the glans.
  • Immunological Defense: The mucous membranes that line all body orifices are the body’s first line of immunological defense. Glands in the foreskin produce antibacterial and antiviral proteins such as lysozyme. Lysozyme is also found in tears and mother’s milk. Specialized epithelial Langerhans cells, an immune system component, abound in the foreskin’s outer surface.13 Plasma cells in the foreskin’s mucosal lining secrete immunoglobulins, antibodies that defend against infection.
  • Erogenous Sensitivity: The foreskin is as sensitive as the fingertips or the lips of the mouth. It contains a richer variety and greater concentration of specialized nerve receptors than any other part of the penis. These specialized nerve endings can discern motion, subtle changes in temperature, and fine gradations of texture.
  • Coverage During Erection: As it becomes erect, the penile shaft becomes thicker and longer. The double-layered foreskin provides the skin necessary to accommodate the expanded organ and to allow the penile skin to glide freely, smoothly, and pleasurably over the shaft and glans.
  • Self-Stimulating Sexual Functions: The foreskin’s double-layered sheath enables the penile shaft skin to glide back and forth over the penile shaft. The foreskin can normally be slipped all the way, or almost all the way, back to the base of the penis, and also slipped forward beyond the glans. This wide range of motion is the mechanism by which the penis and the orgasmic triggers in the foreskin, frenulum, and glans are stimulated.
  • Sexual Functions in Intercourse: One of the foreskin’s functions is to facilitate smooth, gentle movement between the mucosal surfaces of the two partners during intercourse. The foreskin enables the penis to slip in and out of the vagina nonabrasively inside its own slick sheath of self-lubricating, movable skin. The female is thus stimulated by moving pressure rather than by friction only, as when the male’s foreskin is missing.”

(source for above list of functions)

I felt that I needed to know and understand what this surgery does before I could choose it for my son, so I found videos of a routine circumcision  (like this one)  Here are some pictures that show, less graphically, the procedure of a plastibell circumcision.

History of Circumcision

Circumcision is often a cosmetic choice today, though there are certainly those who choose it for religious reasons as well. Before making this decision, it may be helpful for parents to understand the history of the procedure.

  • The first recorded history of circumcision I could find were references to primitive tribes that used both male and female circumcision as a rite of passage into adulthood thousands of years ago. Other rituals involved skin mutilation, walking on hot coals or other feats of strength and bravery. Many of these rituals often ended in death.
  • There is speculation that the ancient Egyptians practiced circumcision, although this theory is largely based on paintings found from this time period that seem do depict a circumcision, though these don’t show the context or explain the reason. Other interpretations are that these paintings show pubic hair being shaved. No circumcised mummies have been found.
  • About 600 BC the first five books of the Hebrew bible were compiled, including the command to Abraham to circumcise himself and his descendants. Circumcision is adopted in the Jewish faith as part of a covenant with God. Historical evidence suggests that this was a different practice than what is done today, involving a nick or “shedding of blood” or removal of a small part, but not all, of the foreskin, as this would have been a difficult and dangerous procedure at this time, especially for adults.
  • During this time, historians note that several cultures, most middle eastern, practiced circumcision.
  • Jesus was born and circumcised in accordance with Jewish teaching. (though again, historical evidence shows that this was probably a much different procedure)
  • In roughly 43 AD, the Council of Jerusalem, led by Apostles Peter, Paul, John, and James the Lesser decided that members of the newly formed Christian church were not bound by Jewish ritual or custom including dietary guidelines, restrictions against dining with Gentiles, and circumcision.
  • 570 AD- Mohammed born “already circumcised,” which supposedly led to the rule of circumcision among Muslims, who are the largest group of circumcised men today.
  • From this time to more modern time, there were many bans on circumcision in Christian nations, forced circumcision in other nations (often my Muslim conquerers) and reversals. You can see those details here.
  • 16th-17th centuries- Medical research started to explore the function of the foreskin,  finding that it provided lubrication and pleasure during sex.
  • 1716 AD- “Publication of Onania, or the heinous sin of self-pollution, and all its frightful consequences in both sexes in London, giving rise to the irrational phobia about masturbation which persisted throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For the next 250 years doctors insist it is a scientifically proven medical fact that masturbation is physically and mentally harmful and must be stopped at any cost.” (source)
  • In the 1740s, medical science found ways to remove tissue that was affected by syphilis, and since this infection often occurred on the foreskin, one doctor advanced the idea that circumcised men were less prone to the disease.
  • 1758- “Publication of Onanism, or a treatise on the disorders produced by masturbation, by Swiss physician Simon-Andre Tissot, further spreading the theory of masturbatory disease throughout Europe.” (source)
  • 1850s- “James Copland, in Dictionary of practical medicine, popularizes the idea of circumcision as a means of discouraging masturbation among boys.”
  • 1860s- “Circumcision as means of curing or preventing masturbation in boys becomes widespread medical dogma in Britain. For the next 100 years (and in the USA 150 years) doctors insist it is a scientifically proven medical fact that the foreskin is harmful to the physical and moral health of males and must be surgically removed before they even become conscious that it was ever there.”
  • 1870- “In the USA Lewis A. Sayre applies theories of Lallemand and announces that circumcision cures “paralysis” (polio), epilepsy and masturbation, setting off the medical craze for “therapeutic” circumcision. Calls for universal circumcision of male infants.”
  • 1877- “John Harvey Kellogg MD (1852-1943, of Kellog cereal fame) publishes the first edition of Plain facts for old and young, in which he promotes circumcision as a cure for masturbation. He writes that the operation was to be performed “without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment.””
  • 1882- “Norman H. Chapman, Professor of Nervous and Mental Disease at the University of Kansas City, writes: “It is always good surgery to correct this deformity [a long and contracted foreskin] … as a precautionary measure, even though no symptoms have as yet presented themselves”, thus ushering in routine or “preventive” circumcision. (Medical News (Philadelphia) Vol. 41, p. 317)”
  • 1885- Dr. Samuel Newman promotes routine circumcision of newborn boys, claiming the advantage that it could be done without anesthetic and he borrowed the idea of strapping the baby to a board from the Indians. This board, the circumstraint, is still used in many hospitals during circumcision.
  • 1880s- “The newly formed American Academy of Pediatrics supports Lewis Sayre’s call for routine neonatal circumcision. Determined to lower the nation’s infant mortality rate by reducing often-lethal diarrhoea, the AAP argues that the foreskin irritates the penis, which irritates the nervous system, which hampers digestion, which causes diarrhoea. Simultaneously, the AAP also condemns breast milk, claiming it is a leading cause of infant diarrhea. This is the nineteenth century version of the urinary tract infection scare (UTI), the only surviving justification for infant circumcision.” (source)
  • 1914- “Abraham Wolbarst, Jewish doctor in New York, urges universal male circumcision as a preventive of syphilis, cancer and masturbation. (Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 62, 1914, pp. 92-7)”
  • 1941- “Alan Guttmacher writes (approvingly) that some US doctors circumcise routinely without even consulting parents, and that 75 per cent of boys born in urban hospitals are circumcised. (“Should the baby be circumcised?”, Parents Magazine, Vol. 16, pp. 26, 76-8)”
  • 1965- “W.K.C. Morgan publishes “The rape of the phallus”, the first criticism of circumcision’s murky psychology to appear in a US medical journal. Full text here.”
  • 1971- The American Academy of Pediatrics declares that they find “no valid medical reasons for routine infant circumcision.”
  • (during this time, the debate about the necessity of circumcision raged and it was first addressed by some in the US as a human rights issue. Read the full details here.)
  • 1996- Female Circumcision (genital mutilation) banned in the U.S.
  • 1997- Research released showing that circumcision can heighten pain and reaction to vaccines and other procedures. Evidence also found that circumcision does not reduce STD risk.
  • 1998- A baby dies from anesthesia in a procedure to reverse damage done during circumcision in a highly publicized case. Research also finds that statistically, it would take 195 circumcisions to prevent one UTI.
  • 1999- “The American Academy of Pediatrics issues new policy on routine male circumcision which states that the potential medical benefits of circumcision do not warrant performing it routinely, but that pediatricians may perform it at the parents’ behest for “cultural, religious, and ethnic” reasons, but that analgesia is essential. You can compare that policy with their policy on female genital mutilation.”
  • 2002- At Barcelona conference, World Health Organisation rejects circumcision as element of strategy in control of AIDS in Africa.
  • 2007- Information released that human baby foreskins are actually big business and used in cosmetic uses like the making of face cream. (good reason to make your own!)

The current rationales/rationalizations for infant circumcision developed after the operation was in wide practice. Some of them include: to make sons resemble their circumcised fathers; to conform anatomically with peers (note: circumcised boys now find themselves in the minority); to improve hygiene; to prevent tight/non-retractile foreskin (which is normal in childhood); as prophylaxis against urinary tract infection (UTI), sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and cancer of the penis, prostate, and cervix. If circumcision were a new procedure being proposed today for any of the above conditions, it would not be acceptable based on insufficient medical evidence and/or medical ethics (it is against medical ethics to perform unnecessary surgery).

Risks of routine circumcision include: infection (including infection with MRSA), lacerations, skin bridges, chordee, meatitis, meatal stenosis, urinary retention, glans necrosis, hemorrhage, meningitis, sepsis, gangrene, penile loss requiring sex re-assignment, pain, irritation, prolonged bleeding, nursing strike, loss of or diminished sexual function, accidental cutting of an artery during the procedure, erectile dysfunction later in life, and even death (every year more than 100 American boys die from circumcision complications).

[Note: all quotes from this timeline unless otherwise noted]

Statistics and Facts

While circumcision is considered a common procedure in some places, especially within the U.S., it is interesting to note that worldwide, this is not the case. In fact, “Worldwide, only about 20 out of every 1,000 male infants are circumcised—and 18 of those 20 are in the United States alone.”

While parents are often told that circumcision is common and their sons outcast in the locker room if they aren’t circumcised, even in the U.S., circumcision rates have fallen from 56% to 32% in the last 4 years alone, meaning that for current newborns, circumcised males will be in the minority.

Circumcision is often done to prevent risk of future problems like penile cancer, though each year, only about 300 men die from penile cancer, while 500+ die from complications related to circumcision. In the U.S. alone, “About 117 boys die each year as a result of their circumcision, most from infections or blood loss.”

While it is a cosmetic procedure, it medically alters the body and changes the sensitivity of the penis drastically. “Circumcision regularly removes a shocking 3/4 of the penis’ sensitivity through the removal of the ridged band, foreskin “lips,” and most often the entire frenulum.”

“As adults, men circumcised in infancy are almost 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with erectile dysfunction (ED).” (source)

“The complication rate for circumcision varies from 3 to 6 percent. The average male will have more health problems from being circumcised than from being left alone” (source)

“Circumcision has never been proven to be effective in either reducing or treating cervical cancer, penile cancer, urinary tract infections, or sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS.” In fact, the recent studies that suggest that circumcision may lower HIV rates are reporting circumcisions done on ADULT males in high risk areas with only a six month to a year follow up period. It seems logical that in this time, a man would still be partially recovering from this painful procedure and would not be as likely to engage in sexual activity or may be more careful about using “protection” which also both reduce the risk of AIDS. Additionally, as HIV/AIDS are not always diagnosed immediately, this doesn’t account for longer term rates.”

Circumcision is often done to “lower the risk of UTI” which is increased the most in the first year of a child’s life. Both circumcised and uncircumcised males have a lower rate of UTI than all females, though in most places, it would be considered barbaric to recommend female circumcision to reduce the risk of UTI.

“The foreskin contains over 240 feet of nerves and over 1,000 nerve endings, as well as being a highly vascularized structure.”

“Women have a foreskin as well, which covers and protects their clitoris. It is alternatively referred to as the clitoral foreskin, clitoral prepuce, or clitoral hood.”

“Complications are often overlooked or un(der)reported. They include: Lacerations, skin bridges, chordee, meatitis, meatal stenosis, urinary retention, glans necrosis, hemorrhage, meningitis, sepsis, gangrene, and penile loss requiring sex re-assignment. The literature abounds with reports of morbidity, and even death, from infant circumcision.”

“Ob/Gyn fees for circumcision range to $400, averaging $137 nationwide [U.S.] Circumcising 10 infants weekly for only 10 months of the year at $125 each (1987 U.S. rate), circumcisers earn at least an additional $50,000 annually. 74% of the Ob/Gyns surveyed perform circumcision. Ob/Gyns are generally not aware of preputial (foreskin) structure and function, or of the growing numbers of men undertaking foreskin restoration.”

“In the 1980s, retrospective studies by Wiswell et al. suggested that 98-99% of intact (non-circumcised) male infants will not develop UTI (compared with his finding of 99.9% in circumcised male infants). In 1989, the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) cautioned that Wiswell’s studies comparing the two groups may be methodologically flawed, and that the percentage of intact male infants who will not develop UTI may be even higher. Research in the 90s has since confirmed that Wiswell’s studies are flawed, as the AAP cautioned, and that the incidence of UTIs in intact male infants is significantly lower than the 1-2% he reported.”

“Scandinavian society (virtually non-circumcised) has a lower rate of cervical cancer than the U.S (a majoritarily circumcised society).”

Religious Aspects:

Certainly, as circumcision was/is a part of Jewish belief and teaching, there is a religious aspect to some parent’s choice to circumcise or not. What I did find fascinating in my research was that the circumcision done in biblical times was likely very different from the one done today. As this writer explains:

Turns out modern circumcision is nothing like what happened in Biblical times. The two Hebrew words used to describe Old Testament circumcision are namal & muwl. Namal means “clipped,” like you might clip your fingernails. The word muwl means “to curtail, to blunt, to cut shorter.” There are totally different words used in Hebrew for “cut off” or “removed.”

The whole idea of circumcision as it was ordained by God at that time in history was that a little blood would be drawn as a symbol. It was a symbol of the sin of the world, which would eventually be repaid by the Messiah. God-ordained circumcision was in the same category as animal sacrifices (another symbolic tradition with blood that found its fulfillment in Jesus).”

From my understanding, even today, Jewish circumcisions are sometimes done in this way, by a specialized practitioner, at home, on the 8th day, and are in stark contrast from the circumcisions performed in hospitals on the first or second day after birth. Interestingly, there are modern, faithful Jewish people who do not believe that circumcision is necessary and there is even an organization called Jews Against Circumcision.

For Christians, the command to circumcise was lifted with Christ’s sacrifice. Some Christians go so far as to say that God forbids circumcision in the New Covenant. This is even addressed in the New Testament in several places:

~Rom. 3:29-30 “Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles, also? Yes, of Gentiles also. Since the God who will justify those of the circumcision out of faith, and those of the uncircumcision through faith, is One.”

~1 Cor. 7:17 “As God has called each man, in this manner let him walk. And thus I command in all the churches. Was any man called in the circumcision [i.e. Old Covenant]? Let him not try to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in the uncircumcision [i.e. New Covenant]? Let him not be circumcised! Circumcision is nothing. And uncircumcision is nothing but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let each man remain in that condition in which he was called.”

~Gal. 5:6 “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision gives spiritual power, but faith working through love.”

~Gal. 5:11 “But if I still proclaim circumcision. . . then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.”

~Col. 2:8-14 “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men…rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form and in Him you have been made whole.. and in Him you were also circumcised, with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, and raised up with Him through faith. And…in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him. . . having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us which were hostile to us. And He has taken them out of the way, having nailed them to the cross.”

[Note: More biblical verses and explanation here]

There are also several Christian organizations that oppose circumcision including Catholics Against Circumcision, and parts of the NoHarmm organization.

My Personal Experience

Our two sons are not circumcised. While I am extremely grateful that we researched extensively and made this decision when we were pregnant with our first son, I have regret and guilt for not sending information to several pregnant friends who I later found out did circumcise their sons because they hadn’t researched both sides of the argument and then deeply regretted it.

Researching the actual circumcision procedure was the turning point for me in my decision not to circumcise. Prior to my pregnancy with our first child, I had never even considered the topic and knew incredibly little about it. I vaguely knew that such a procedure existed, but as a woman, it wasn’t something that had ever affected me.

Once I was pregnant, I started researching everything from delivery options to episiotomies, to Vitamin D testing, to gestational diabetes testing, to all of the medications used in childbirth. I tended to glaze over the topic in books because I figured it was a decision my husband would make, but something kept nagging me about it.

When I was working on my birth plan, this was something that was suggested to include, so I started researching it and I am forever grateful that I did. My husband researched the issue in depth as well, and thankfully, he came to the same conclusion, as I have seen this be a source of disagreement and pain for several couples. While my husband and I are in complete agreement on this issue, it is a source of disagreement (and sometimes pain) in our extended family.

For those who may have concerns of the care of an uncircumcised penis, less care is actually needed in the younger years than with a circumcised infant and nothing must be done to it other than basic bathing and hygiene. The skin will retract when they are older and they are the only ones who will ever need to retract this skin (injury can occur if it is done by others or too soon). In fact, many of the problems commonly associated with being uncircumcised are actually caused by forced retraction at an early age by someone other than the foreskin’s owner.

Neither of my sons has ever had a UTI or any other issues or complications from not being circumcised.

This post is written in hope that I won’t ever feel the same guilt that I feel with my friends for not presenting this information to any of you who are genuinely curious or researching. I also share this in hope that no one becomes one of these thousands of parents who live with this guilt because they didn’t have all the information. It is based on my own personal research and convictions.

I know several friends who deeply regret their decision to circumcise, and share their story in hopes of sparing other mothers this pain. For the record, I have tremendous respect for parents who have made the decision to circumcise, and after research regret their decision but still share their pain for the benefit of others.

I hope that I have conveyed my research and opinions on this in a non-judgmental way and I certainly would NEVER judge anyone for the decision to circumcise, especially since I have seen first hand how this procedure is marketed as a much more medically necessary and beneficial procedure than I found it to be in my research. I read the pain and heartache of many parents who regretted their decision in my own search for information, and I am so grateful to them for sharing their pain and sparing our family the same pain.

I implore parents to research this issue thoroughly, make sure they are familiar with the procedure (witness one in person if possible, or a video if not), the technique, the possible risks, and the form being signed before consenting to a circumcision if this is the decision they make. (More here on some of the actual problems with the consent forms for circumcision).

This article addresses many of the reasons often given for “medically necessary” circumcisions and I’d also encourage parents to thoroughly research any of these particular issues before consenting.

In the end, to me, the issue comes down to whether we (as parents) have the right to make a permanent medical decision (that some consider a human rights issue) for a child who is not even yet old enough to talk or verbalize pain when there is no clear medical need, and the issue of risk vs. benefit can certainly be hotly debated.

For us, the answer to this question was unequivocally that we do not have this right, and we chose to leave our sons as God created them (just as we did for our daughters). My plea is that all parents will give this issue a lot of through, consideration and research before making a decision, and not do it for strictly cosmetic reasons or because a doctor or family member suggests it.

My sons could, if they wish, choose this procedure at any point in their lives. Many ethicists suggest that parents only have the right to choose life saving procedures and surgeries for their children but that surgeries like circumcision that alter the body without medical need can be unethical.

Though I personally consider this a human rights issue that boys should have the right to make on their own, I also think the the slope of letting the government be involved in the process at all would be a very slippery one (though female circumcision is banned in the U.S., despite some people who have personal or religious reasons for doing so). I do know men who were circumcised who feel strongly that parents should not have the right to make this decision and who have anger over the decision that their parents made.

My purpose of this article is certainly not to judge anyone over a decision either way, and my purpose was to share information that shaped my decision in hopes that it might be helpful to others. While my heart aches for men who were never given the right to make this decision, I think that the answer is access to research and information, not government intervention or policy.


Here is a list of resources I found helpful in my research on this topic. It is by no means an exhaustive or unbiased list, just ones I found worth the read:

Catholics Against Circumcision

Doctors Opposing Circumcision

DrMomma: Are You Fully Informed? (Huge list of resources and things to consider)

Mothering Circumcision Forum (Huge forum of parents who regret circumcision their sons and experience from actual people, not just statistics)

The National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers (NOCIRC)

The National Organization to Halt the Abuse and Routine Mutilation of Males (NOHARMM)

Nurses for the Rights of the Child

The Case Against Circumcisions

Infant Pain, Adult Repercussions: How Infant Pain Changes Sensitivity In Adults

Dr. Momma: Cut Vs. Intact Outcome Statistics

Babies Do Feel Pain

Basic Care of the Intact Child

Is this an issue you have had to decide? What influenced your decision? [Let’s keep the comments kind and charitable. I am all for open debate, but any personal attacks or rude comments will be removed]

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


206 responses to “Is Circumcision Just A Medical Procedure?”

  1. Roxana Avatar

    Thank you so much for posting this. I am trying to hold back tears as I feel so much guilt about having my oldest son circumcised. It’s been 10 years and I so wish I could’ve read this before he was born. I was so ignorant and just did it because we thought he should “look like dad.” I hope others will read this and not make the same mistake.

  2. Danchy Avatar

    In Europe we do not do it to our boys or men. It feels so strange to us to even consider it. I have never been with a circumsized man, my husband is uncircumsized and so is my boy! My husband never had any urinary infection, of any kind, since we met, and neither did my son. Also I never heard anyone complaining about the sex problems because of the foreskin, that’s just ridiculous. Actually I saw a neighbour’s son naked this sommer, while he was playing in the garden with my boy. He was 2 at the time. His father is a muslim I think so they had him curcumsized, although it is a real rarity here. I felt so sorry for the kid, it just looked so awful to me. So the estetics argument would also probably be debated in other parts of the world.

  3. Matthew Reed Avatar
    Matthew Reed

    Thank you so much for this article. My wife and I just found out that we are having a baby boy. I can now make this decision with peace of mind. I hope that one day he will thank you too. 🙂

    This was a difficult subject to research. Most sites and articles were entirely condemning of the other side in their approach. Or they were loaded with opinions passed off as facts. Thank you for a thoughtful, well researched, and documented opinion. People don’t seem to learn that you will catch more ants with honey than you do with vinegar. 🙂

    Thanks for all you do. It may be geared towards moms, but dads and our baby boys appreciate it too. 🙂

  4. John Jasper Avatar
    John Jasper

    So we are concerned about making a decision(to circumcise)for a baby that can’t speak for himself, but yet some have no problem aborting the innocent child who is defenseless.

  5. Lindsay Mierwood Avatar
    Lindsay Mierwood

    Thanks for sharing this. I made the choice not to circumcise any sons when I was 16 or 17. I heard my mom and step dad arguing and debating circumcision one day. My step dad was for it. My mom said it was cruel and none of my sisters and me would have been circumcised if born male. I went home and researched. I used to make fun of intact guys with my girlfriends. But after researching and experiencing a couple intact boyfriends, I realized it indeed was much more pleasurable (no pain—yay!). My first child was born in January and a boy. He’s intact. ?? I am thankful every time I see something about circumcision that I didn’t do that to my sweet boy. He’s so happy and I’m so grateful for my mom and for the intactivist movement for informing me about this 8 years ago!

  6. James Avatar

    It is ONLY up to the owner of the penis, as a consenting adult, whether he wants to have his penis surgically reduced, or any other body modifications. Parents have no business whatsoever to cut off part of a child’s genitals.

  7. Nat Avatar

    Hello, I’m glad to read this article almost 19 years after my son was born. I really didn’t give it much thought so left it up to my husband whom I trust and he said no circumcision. Mind you every male in my family is circumcised but it wasn’t their decision to make and frankly they didn’t fuss. We (my family) are all devout born again Christians and it’s not about the body but more of the heart now per your quoted Scriptures. My son has not had any issues with that whatsoever. I think everyone should make his or her own decision and it should be respected. I have no ill feelings whether someone does or doesn’t.

  8. Arthur Avatar

    I like your point that all parents should put a lot of thought into whether to circumcise their children, but ultimately it should be up to them. Unfortunately there’s no way to consult the child on this decision. My wife and I are thinking through the same process, and this article was great food for thought, thank you.

    1. James Loewen Avatar
      James Loewen

      There is no need to consult the child on his opinion about cutting off part of HIS penis just as there is no way to consult the child about cutting of HIS finger or HIS ear. There is no need to cut any part of a child’s body off. Circumcision is a violation of that child’s body and his trust.

      Common sense teaches us to protect children from harm. Cutting off part of a child’s genitals is inherently harmful.

  9. Fiona Avatar

    Phew, so relieved to read this as I would never have subjected my son to this pain when he was a baby. My doctor was very against circumcision also. We laughed at the reasons and excuses people made when they forced it on their babies.
    It’s a barbaric North American tradition.

    1. Cindi Avatar

      Canada and Mexico don’t do it. It goes far beyond the United States tho.

  10. Kristi Palmer Avatar
    Kristi Palmer

    Thank you for researching and writing this article! I will definitely pass it on when I have the opportunity. I also researched when I had my son 12 years ago and ultimately chose not to have him circumcised. I am still happy with that decision. I kept thinking that Abraham used a flint knife in rudementary conditions, and also circumcised grown men, so it didn’t seem possible that the procedure was remotely the same as what is done now. After much searching, I found the following article that explained that, indeed, original biblical circumcision was significantly different, with only the tip of the foreskin that hung over the end of the glans being removed. I think it’s interesting that it would be a ring, which is still a sign of covenant. This form of circumcision could easily be done with a flint knife, and it could also provide more air to the glans for health, without exposing it fully or removing nerves. As all things do, it went downhill when religious men added to what God ordained taking it to an extreme never intended in their own efforts to control sin.

    I was also surprised at the difference in size of the penis between birth and day 8, when biblical curcumcision was to be done. And as to the peace of some babies in a ritual circumcision, if done on day 8, it coincides with the highest level of natural vitamin K and the highest level of natural pain tolerance.

    Circumcision Then & Now

  11. Bonnie Avatar

    Great article, Katie! That was a ton of research! It was great of you to put it out there in the community. It’s a really, really important topic that parents need to be aware of and consider. Thank you!

  12. J. Wilson Avatar
    J. Wilson

    I’m so glad you posted this. I had never considered it mutilation until I read this but you are absolutely right. I have 5 children, only 1 son. I left it up to my husband to decide whether our son should be circumcised and he chose to have it done but I wish I had educated myself. It was very traumatic for me, I can only imagine how he felt.

  13. Kathy Avatar

    In spite of the following, we are glad we did not circumcise our sons. This is a warning for boy babies with a UTI: Our son had a UTI, and was subjected to barbaric diagnostic testing of the kidneys (standard protocol for one UTI in a male at the time), involving catheter, filling the bladder with dye “until they scream” (the diagnostician’s term-he told me that in response to my question about why there was no anesthesia ), and then doing a scan (mother can’t be near by because of radiation risk-baby has no one to comfort him through the pain). Turned out his kidneys were fine but they always do that test because UTIs are so rare in boys. Having shared the above, we think in hindsight it was all unnecessary and the UTI was because he had had diarrhea (in a diaper-which could force bacteria up there). I only write this as a warning for those parents whose boys DO get a UTI. This was back in 1994 and we trusted the doctor, but DO YOUR RESEARCH!!! One UTI, depending on the circumstances, may not automatically need the brutal protocol he was exposed to.

  14. kathy Avatar

    I don’t have an opinion on either side of the issue but a few years back I had a friend who was having trouble getting pregnant. Her husband was uncircumcised. After much testing, the doctor suggested that he get circumcised since in some cause being uncircumcised can cause sterility in men. He had the circumcision and I might add he told his wife it was a very painful recovery. After the circumcision, my friend got pregnant and they went on to have two boys. This is a very interesting story even if it is not necessarily the case for everyone.

    1. James Loewen Avatar
      James Loewen

      What nonsense! Having a whole penis most certainly does NOT “cause sterility in (some) men.

      “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” ~ Desmond Tutu

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *