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Everything You Need to Know About Circumcision – AskMen

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It’s no secret that guys are obsessed with their penises. 
They worry about penis size much more than women do, for starters; spending money on creams, gels, pumps, and pills to ensure they have a member they are proud of.
RELATED: Uncircumcised Penis Facts
That’s why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the question of circumcision is one that lots of guys fret about. Circumcised guys might worry that they don’t have enough feeling down there, while uncircumcised guys might be paranoid about cleanliness. As for parents of newborn baby boys, they might be anticipating the same questions and wondering which camp to sort their child into. 
However, recent years have seen an uptick in anti-circumcision discourse, with activists, doctors and people of all faiths calling the practice — and some of the findings that seem to support it — into question. 
Is circumcision a barbaric practice, akin to female genital mutilation, or is it a noble tradition, backed by scientific data? As always, the truth depends on who you ask.
In order to get a better picture of how circumcision works, what effects it has, what the benefits and drawbacks are, and more, AskMen spoke to a number of people, including a urologist and a man who went through adult circumcision. Here’s what they had to say:
Circumcision is the practice of slicing off the foreskin of a male baby’s penis, typically within the first few days after birth. It is a custom that has been practiced by various cultures around the globe for millennia and can be performed by a surgeon or a religious figure such as a mohel. 
It’s also one that’s much more popular in America than it is in most of the rest of the world, and one that’s increasingly come under fire in recent decades as cultural traditions, health data, and child advocates’ points of view collide. 
“According to studies done by WHO in 2019, about 71.2% of the male gender in the USA have been circumcised,” says Barbara Santini, a psychologist and sex and relationship adviser for dimepiecela.com. “According to different statistics collected worldwide, about 35% to 40% of males have been circumcised globally.”
Despite its comparative popularity in America, circumcision rates appear to be dropping stateside. Figures from the Center for Disease Control from 2013 show that circumcision dipped by about 10% from 1979 to 2010, with the percentage of newborns circumcised before leaving the hospital reaching a low of about 55% in 2007. 
Why do people opt for circumcision in the first place, you ask? The answer depends on who you speak to, of course. For people in the Jewish and Muslim communities, it’s often a matter of religious or cultural tradition; some Christians choose the practice because of its inclusion in the Bible’s Old Testament, though it is not remotely as common for Christians as it is for their Jewish and Muslim counterparts. 
For some, it’s a question of hygiene, as circumcised penises are easier to keep clean, while others do it because of a prevailing belief that it’s healthier, as some data has suggested that uncircumcised men are more likely to contract sexually transmitted infections and/or develop penile cancer. 
“Circumcision is hygienic to any male child, as it minimizes inflammatory skin disorders and urinary tract infections,” states Santini. 
On the other hand, it’s not a procedure without downsides. According to Judson Brandeis, M.D., urologist and author of The Twenty-First Century Man, possible drawbacks include bleeding, infection, decreased sensitivity, as well as issues like “dissatisfaction with the cosmetic result” and taking off too much skin so “the scrotal skin pulls up on the penis during an erection.” 
Meaning, circumcision risk is a very real thing.
“An estimated 117 baby boys die each year,” says Georganne Chapin, co-founder and executive director of Intact America. “Meatal stenosis, a condition where the urethra narrows and can close up entirely, threatening the health or life of the boy or man, only occurs in circumcised males. Partial or total amputation of the penis can occur. Eleven percent of pediatric malpractice cases involve circumcision.”
There’s also the likely outcome that circumcision reduces sexual sensation, as studies have shown. This might not be a concern for a newborn, but it will be something the circumcised child has to live with for the rest of their life. 
“Circumcision removes sexually sensitive tissue, including the neurology of that part of the penis,” says author and sex educator Carol Queen. “It changes the sensations of sex for many people who have been circumcised, and in some cases for their partners.”
In recent years, as circumcision rates have gone down in America, the topic has become more of a mainstream discussion. This has led to an increased presence of anti-circumcision advocates’ points being broadcast in the media, and national opinions on circumcision may be shifting as a result. 
“Doctors are performing unnecessary surgery, permanently amputating a normal, healthy part of a baby’s genitals, and the baby is not able to give his consent,” says Chapin, an anti-circumcision activist who believes it’s a human rights issue.
Queen agrees, stating that the procedure “is done at an age when the circumcised person has absolutely no power to consent or withhold consent.”
“Particularly because this may impact the person’s later expression of sexuality, I find that enormously troubling,” she adds.
As with any issue, opinions often differ along cultural lines. The prevalence of circumcision within the Jewish or Muslim communities can make it feel like an important form of inclusion in a specific group, and if a long line of ancestors all practiced the same tradition, regardless of why, it may feel like your birthright to practice it as well.
In this light, criticisms of the practice from non-Jews or non-Muslims may feel like attacks.
RELATED: AskMen Readers Reveal Their Circumcision Thoughts
“I’m not here to express to religiously devout people how they should or shouldn’t practice their faith,” says Queen. “I will say that there are anti-circumcision voices inside even communities that traditionally turn to it, and that every religious community contains diversity.”
That being said, Queen notes, “Apart from groups that embrace circumcision for religious reasons, there are also many, many families that accept it as a cultural given with no degree of questioning it. So to me this is not simply a religious/belief question.”
When it comes to the notion that circumcision is the healthier choice, the science remains frustratingly unclear for people on both sides of the debate, making it a fraught issue that pits people’s personal beliefs and experiences against each other. 
RELATED: Here’s How to Take Care of Your Penis
While many studies suggest that circumcised men are more at risk for STIs, others do not show a clear link; some people have hypothesized that the issue is that circumcised men are less likely to wear condoms, or to wear them improperly, rather than the foreskin itself having a direct impact on STI transmission. 
WebMD, for instance, states that there is “some evidence” that circumcision reduces the risk of urinary tract infections, as well as penile cancer, and inflammation of the glans or foreskin, but notes that practicing good penile hygiene, such as regularly washing beneath the foreskin, can also greatly impact the likelihood of infection or irritation. 
None of these health benefits have been shown to be overwhelming. So, in many cases, if a study does suggest a slight health benefit, it’s worth asking whether the more marked drop in sexual pleasure makes that slim benefit worth it in the first place, as not everyone will answer that question the same way. 
“What’s often lost in any conversation about male child genital cutting is that the foreskin is not superfluous,” says Chapin. “It contains thousands of nerve endings that are sensitive to the lightest touch, which makes it the most erogenous part of the male genitalia.”
She suggests that this impacts sex not just for the person whose penis it is, but also for their sex partners.
“Without the foreskin, the glans — the head of the penis — is not protected, and over the years, it […] loses sensation.” This, she says, can lead to “the ‘pounding’ so many American women complain about.”
RELATED: ​​7 Ways to Enhance the Male Orgasm 
Though Queen points out that many people who were circumcised at birth resent their lost pleasure, not everyone does. American author Michael Chabon, who is Jewish, in his 2009 memoir Manhood for Amateurs, discusses the sexual pleasure that he wasn’t able to experience due to his own circumcision:
“There is plenty of convincing evidence that sexual pleasure is considerably diminished by the absence of a foreskin. But I never know how to think about that one. It is like in [the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel] A Princess of Mars, in which we are informed that on the red planet Barsoom they have nine colors in their spectrum and not seven; I have tried and failed many times to imagine those extra Barsoomian colors.”
If you’ve just had a child, or are considering it, the various issues discussed above may be foremost in your mind if said child ends up being a little boy. One man who spoke with AskMen acknowledged that there was a lot of back-and-forth before within his family before committing to his son’s circumcision. 
My wife and I talked about it for years. We both changed our minds a few times. Ultimately, we decided on doing it because I took a stronger position in favor in the end. We did it for the connection to history and culture. I myself am circumcised, and feel Jewish because of it, despite not having had a bar mitzvah. When I was a kid it made me feel a little bit like an outsider, but now that I am older I am extremely thankful for the sense of connection it gives me. We went to a private clinic instead of using a mohel. My zaide (grandfather) paid for it. The surgeon was Muslim. However, we did have a ceremonial bris with our family. – Will, 34
While Will and his wife brought their son to a private medical clinic, many circumcisions are performed in a religious setting by a religious practitioner. 
If you do go the religious route, not all mohels approach the matter the same in terms of painkillers. In Chabon’s aforementioned essay, he explored the different options he came across:
“Traditionally, the only painkiller was a drop of sweet wine introduced between the lips on the wine-soaked tip of a cloth, and a lot of mohelim stuck to that way of doing things. Some of them would suggest giving the boy Tylenol an hour beforehand. And then there were those who prescribed a cream such as Emla.”
If you and/or your spouse are Jewish but are balking at going through with a circumcision, you’re not alone. In recent years, an alternate approach has gained some popularity.
“It is called brit shalom, in which the boy is welcomed into the covenant of Judaism with prayers and celebration, but without cutting his genitals,” says Chapin. 
You can also leave the choice up to your child once they’ve reached adulthood by foregoing circumcision for the newborn. 
If you weren’t circumcised as a newborn, and you’re curious about undergoing the procedure as an adult, there are a variety of things to consider. 
It’s hard to find exact numbers, but adult circumcision is “much less common” than newborn circumcision, according to Brandeis. He says, in his experience, it’s either done to address a condition like phimosis, for religious reasons, for “cosmetic or cleanliness reasons,” or to address premature ejaculation — although this should be considered an extreme approach to that issue, since P.E. can also be treated with numbing gels and practice, among other things. 
RELATED: Tips for Curing Premature Ejaculation
According to Brandeis, adult circumcision can be done under either general or local anesthetic. While he has developed an approach that allows for what he calls a “local block” — where the patient remains fully conscious — “some doctors use nitrous and some use a light general anesthesia,” which will render the patient unconscious. 
Apart from the medical aspect, there’s the question of what your motivations are, and whether you’re in fact mature enough to make a permanent decision like this. 
Ryan, 36, underwent the procedure roughly a year ago. Over email, Ryan related what the process was like for him, from deciding on it, to the surgery itself, to healing, to his feelings about it in the year since: 
I had an adult circumcision in March of 2021. My wife is Jewish, and as part of my conversion to Judaism, this was a requirement. We both discussed many times early on in the relationship that if we ever got married I’d convert to Judaism, so I had six-plus years to ponder. I can’t say I was really “hesitant,” but at the same time I was scared right up ‘til the day of the surgery. 
The whole process took about 1.5 hours (including prep and wait time). You remove all clothes and get in a hospital gown, then lie on your back on the operating table, lift up the gown, and they put a covering around everything except for where the operation takes place. They clean the area, then they inject you several times with a painkiller. The first needle is quite painful, which goes in about 2 inches above the genitals, is quite painful, but after that you don’t feel pain, just a lot of pressure, like heavy water balloons sitting on your groin. During the surgery itself, you feel a lot of pulling and tugging, but no pain. Once finished, they wrap you in gauze very tightly and you can slowly walk out of the clinic.
Around an hour later, the anesthetic or painkillers started to wear off and there’s a lot of pain. I would highly recommend picking up your pain medication in advance if the doctor allows you to do so. Aside from a small whole in the gauze for you to pee, you can’t see anything, and you aren’t supposed to remove the gauze for at least 48 hours. You will need to replace the gauze often, so make sure you have gauze, medical tape, and polysporin. For me the self-dissolving stitches seemed to rub on my clothing, and even on my body, which was terribly painful, so I was most comfortable with it fully wrapped. Of course, you don’t want it to get too moist to prevent healing, so I spent half the day fully bandaged and the other half letting the incisions heal. Arousal was brutally painful, and sometimes woke me up at nights. It got better after about four or five days. 
I don’t really have any regrets. My biggest worry was that I heard you could lose sensation in the penis post-surgery. But one year later, I don’t notice a difference. I never had a problem with being uncircumcised, to be honest. The biggest difference, aside from the appearance, is friction. As an uncircumcised male I never needed to lube myself for sex or masturbation when I had foreskin, as there was skin there that moved. But post-surgery, now for either of the aforementioned activities, there needs to be a lubricant. My sex life wasn’t really impacted (aside from not being able to have sex for about six weeks post-procedure, and the lubrication issue). The first few times, it was a bit more sensitive, and I couldn’t last as long as I used to, but after a year, I don’t really notice the difference, and my wife hasn’t had any complaints. It’s like I switched from a turtleneck to a crewneck, but it’s still the same person wearing the shirt.
Circumcision is not a decision that you should undertake lightly. Whether it’s right for you (or your child) will depend on a variety of factors, and doing research beyond reading articles like this one is still a good idea. 
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