Dear Alice,

I'm a guy who's considering being circumcised. What sort of health benefits are there to the procedure? Are there any drawbacks? Also, how much of the foreskin is removed? A little bit? Most of it? All of it, right down to the base of the head? Or what?

—Considering Clipping

Dear Considering Clipping,

Circumcision is the surgical removal of all or part of the foreskin, the skin that covers the head of the penis. The procedure is usually performed for religious, cosmetic, and/or hygienic reasons. Circumcision also can alleviate problems that arise from certain medical conditions, such as phimosis, where the foreskin is so narrow that it is difficult, if not impossible, and painful, to pull back. As a medical procedure, circumcision has both health benefits and risks. However, in August 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics modified its policy on circumcision to state that the preventative health benefits of infant circumcision clearly outweigh the risks of the surgical procedure.

Proponents of adult circumcision advocate it for a number of reasons, including:

  • Cleanliness or ease of maintaining hygiene
  • Lowered risk of getting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV — the virus that causes AIDS) human papillomavirus (HPV — the virus that causes genital warts), and syphilis.

Before having surgery, it is important to be aware of any risks or potential complications as well. Critics of adult circumcision point certain disadvantages, including:

  • Temporary pain after the operation
  • Temporary irritation of the glans (the head of the penis)
  • Different and/or decreased sensation during sex
  • Risk of complications and/or surgical errors (again, as with any surgery)

Also, for what it's worth, health care providers recommend that after circumcision a man abstains from any kind of sexual activity for four to six weeks to allow for a full recovery. In fact, even having an erection in this period of time after the procedure can cause complications, such as discomfort, pain, and disruption of the sutures. Moreover, some men may find arousal, erection, and/or ejaculation to be so uncomfortable that they may not mind the break from sex.

Some critics may also argue that after the surgery, some men may find that their penises just aren't what they used to be, aesthetically speaking. On the other hand, some advocates of circumcision may believe that circumcised penises are better looking. In the end, it comes down to personal preference. Regular cleaning of the foreskin and the glans usually alleviates most potential hygienic problems. Additionally, both circumcised and uncut men can always practice safer sex techniques to prevent transmission of STIs.

From this point, your best bet is to speak with your health care provider. If circumcision is the final choice, then you are encouraged to discuss a variety of topics about the operation (including the amount of foreskin that is removed, healing time, etc.) with a surgeon, usually a urologist.


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