Twentysomething man considers circumcision: Is it safe?

Originally Published: September 13, 2002 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: October 3, 2008
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Dear Alice,

I am a male in his twenties, and I am considering circumcision. Is it safe to be circumcised at my age? And how many days do I need to recover?

Dear Reader,

Circumcision is a safe procedure. For adult men, it is usually performed on an outpatient basis with local or regional anesthesia. The health care professional (often a urologist) will inject anesthetic around the base of the penis to numb the entire genital region. Once the area is numbed, the foreskin covering the glans is removed, usually by electrocautery. Stitches close the area from which the skin has been removed, and the penis is wrapped in gauze bandages that are typically left in place for the first 24 to 48 hours after the procedure. Barring any complications, a man can go back to his normal routine within a day or two after circumcision, but needs to refrain from all sexual activity, including masturbation, for four to six weeks, since erection can dislodge the stitches and interfere with healing.

Potential complications of adult circumcision include infection, bleeding or bruising, the removal of too much or too little skin, or dissatisfaction with penile appearance. In addition, some men who've been circumcised as adults report altered sexual feeling, including decreased penile sensitivity and changes in sexual response and arousal patterns. You might want to think about how changes in the appearance and/or sensitivity of your penis could affect you before choosing to be circumcised.

Men are often circumcised for religious, social, or cosmetic reasons. Some believe that circumcised penises are easier to clean or are more appealing to potential sexual partners, and can decrease cervical cancer risk in women who have sex with "cut" men. Adult men also might become circumcised for medical reasons; for example:

Phimosis
This is when the foreskin cannot be properly retracted (pulled back) over the glans (head of the penis). This naturally occurs in infants and young boys who are not circumcised, usually resolving on its own with age. If this condition remains in adulthood, some men may develop a tight ring of scar tissue around their foreskin that makes retraction difficult, and can make erections and sex painful.

Paraphimosis
With this condition, the foreskin that has been retracted over the glans becomes "stuck" and cannot be returned to its natural position. Paraphimosis can occur when foreskin is forcibly retracted (during sex, bathing, or medical procedures) and then not returned to its normal position. Penile piercings can cause this condition if the placement of the piercing causes irritation to the glans or forces the foreskin to stay retracted. Paraphimosis can cause swelling and an interruption of the blood supply to the glans, and is a medical emergency that can require immediate circumcision to save the tissue of the penis.

Balanitis
An inflammation of the glans, balanitis is often caused by phimosis or lack of proper hygiene that allows smegma or other discharge from the penis to accumulate underneath the foreskin. This can cause recurrent penile or urinary infections that might be treated with circumcision.

If you would like to pursue a circumcision, a good place to start is with your health care provider. Students at Columbia can call x4-2284 or log on to Open Communicator to make an appointment. As with any medical procedure, it's important to talk candidly with your health care provider about the potential benefits and possible complications to the procedure before you make your decision.

Alice

March 15, 2012

508632
I was embarrased by my foreskin all through junior and senior high school. I was in the minority. I was circumcised at age 24, perfectly safe procedure, no problems. But my advice is to think twice....
I was embarrased by my foreskin all through junior and senior high school. I was in the minority. I was circumcised at age 24, perfectly safe procedure, no problems. But my advice is to think twice. I have regretted the surgery every since I had it performed. You lose a lot of sensitivity in the head of the penis because it is no longer protected, but chafes against your clothing causing it to become desensitized. Oh, how I wish I had mine back!

November 7, 2003

20514
Dear Alice, I was circumcised in my late twenties to sort out phimosis. In the UK, patients are usually offered some sort of tranquilizer in order to prevent nighttime erections. This is something...
Dear Alice, I was circumcised in my late twenties to sort out phimosis. In the UK, patients are usually offered some sort of tranquilizer in order to prevent nighttime erections. This is something that patients do need to consider. In my case, I was offered a tranquilizer, the name of which I forget. I refused because it was known to be addictive and that was not a risk I was prepared to take. The consequences of my decision were that I used to wake up every night at about two or three o'clock in the morning with the most excruciatingly painful and unwanted erection. It was painful to the extent that I used to dread going to sleep. This was not something which I was warned about, but it is important to discuss with your doctor what drugs you will be given, why they are being prescribed, what side effects they have, what alternatives may be available, and what the effects of refusing certain drugs may be. The other side of the coin, however, is that I have never regretted having the operation. It not only sorted out the physical problem, but it also did a lot for my sexual confidence, too. Murray