Circumcision Controversy Continues

What you need to know about making the circumcision decision.


Foreskin removal has become a mainstream practice in the United States, mainly for cultural or personal reasons. Many circumcised fathers want their son's penis to look like theirs, and some people just think it's "cleaner" (although cleanliness really isn't an issue, as long as the boy is taught good hygiene). However, the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) official policy is that there are not sufficient data to recommend routine newborn circumcision.

Perhaps for this reason, according to the National Hospital Discharge Survey, circumcision rates in all regions of the country declined from 63 percent in 2001 to 56 percent in 2003. (Rates vary from a low of 31 percent in the West to 78 percent in the North Central states.)

What the Two Sides Say

Pro-circumcision advocates, such as Ed Schoen, M.D., author of Ed Schoen, MD, on Circumcision (RDR Books, 2005) and chairman of a previous AAP Task Force on Circumcision, say that research shows a lower risk of severe infant urinary tract infections (UTIs), as well as HIV in circumcised males.

Jack Swanson, M.D., a pediatrician in Ames, Iowa, and a member of the 1999 AAP Task Force on Circumcision, does not dispute that there is a slight increase in the number of UTIs in uncircumcised boys in their first year of life, but notes that it is not a common enough problem to justify routine circumcision. The task force also did not find grounds to promote routine circumcision as an HIV/AIDS preventative.

Some circumcision critics even feel the procedure is no less than a human-rights violation. "Much of the talk assumes that the foreskin is an unnecessary, redundant organ, and that is not the case. There is quite a bit of evidence that circumcision alters sexual function because it lessens sensitivity," says Dean Edell, M.D., author of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Healthiness (HarperCollins, 2004).

If you do decide to have your son circumcised, ask that he be given pain relief. "Analgesia should definitely be used," Swanson says. For information on post-circumcision care, go to


Find it on the web For more information on circumcision from the American Academy of Pediatrics, go to