Years ago, it was the norm to circumcise male babies. Today, the medical fraternity and parents do not see it as a necessity and it appears that far less boys are being circumcised. Was there a reason why little boys were circumcised (apart from being for religious reasons) in the first place? Does circumcision offer any benefits?
Circumcision for a male entails the surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis.
Circumcision in days gone by
Male circumcision can be traced back as far as to the ancient Egyptians, when circumcisions were done in a bid to enhance male hygiene and to purify the -impure’ male. Circumcision performed on male infants also formed part of the Abrahamic covenants with Jehovah and all males in the tribe were required to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant. This tradition of male circumcision is still practiced today by the followers of Judaism and Islam. In certain African cultures, circumcision is seen as a rite of passage into manhood.
Followers of the Christian faith originally did not adopt the practice but circumcision became a popular norm in the mid-19th century and it was performed as a means to stamp out masturbation. In terms of medical benefits, circumcision was endorsed as a means of preventing or treating a number of medical problems, including, epilepsy, polio, and diarrhoea (Ouch! A definite case of the cure being worse than the disease!).
Why are babies circumcised today?
One of the biggest factors that influence the parent’s decision on circumcision is the father’s circumcision status. If a child’s father is circumcised, the chances are high that the newborn son will be circumcised. Parents are also swayed by the opinions of family members and mothers may feel that a circumcised penis is easier to keep clean.
It’s been found that male infants who are circumcised are less likely to develop urinary tract infections, especially in the first year of life. An uncircumcised infant is 10 times more at risk of developing a urinary tract infection than a circumcised infant.
Although there is no solid evidence to support this claim, there are medical professionals who believe that circumcised men are at lower risk for penile cancer. This disease is, however, quite uncommon in both circumcised and in uncircumcised males, and as such there are no facts to support or refute the claim. Recent studies have also shown that circumcision may be able to offer a line of defence against Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), including HIV. Although research is ongoing, there is again no definite proof that a circumcised male is at a lowered risk of contracting STDs.
It has also been found that penile problems such as irritation, inflammation and infection are more commonly experienced by uncircumcised males. The belief is that it is a lot easier to care for or keep a circumcised penis clean. This may not necessarily be seen as a pro for circumcision as uncircumcised boys should be taught how to clean under the penis foreskin. The foreskin becomes retractable usually some time before the boy’s 5th birthday. Mothers should never force the foreskin on a penis back (in boys younger than 5) in order to clean it. It needs to become dad’s responsibility to teach their young sons how to keep the area under the foreskin clean.
Besides circumcision being performed for hygienic reason, there are claims that circumcision can either lessen or heighten the sensitivity of the tip of the penis. This may either decrease or increase sexual pleasure later in life. This is again an unfounded claim and there is no solid proof of this fact!
It may seem that circumcision does offer medical benefits but at the same time, the procedure also carries certain risks. The procedure is a surgical one and as with all surgical procedures, risks are involved – although they are relatively small. Complications with newborn circumcisions are generally uncommon and only affect as few as 0.2% to 3% of boys. The most common risk is minor bleeding and local infection but both these risks can be easily treated by a doctor.
Parents must accept the fact that a circumcision can be painful. When circumcisions were performed on male babies in the past, it was uncommon to provide pain relief for the babies; however since studies have shown that it benefits the infant to receive anesthesia, most doctors who do perform the procedure now offer pain relief.
What is the purpose of the foreskin?
Every part of the human body serves a purpose. Should we be removing a male’s foreskin? Does the foreskin have a purpose or should it simply be seen as -waste’ and removed soon after birth?
The foreskin is also known as the prepuce and its purpose is to cover and protect the tip of the penis. Removal of the foreskin will cause the tip of the penis to be unprotected and this may cause the skin to harden and toughen and the tip may become less sensitive. The foreskin accounts for as much as one third (in some cases one half) of total penile skin.
Is circumcision actually necessary and is it the only way we can get our sons to keep their penises clean? Circumcision may be seen as being a little too radical when our goal is only to achieve good hygiene! If little boys do not wash behind their ears, would we go the extreme of removing their ears?