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In males, circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin which covers the head of the penis. This operation is usually performed early in a child's life. Circumcision is a common practice not only in the United States and the Middle East, but throughout the world and history. It is generally not practiced in most of Europe and largely unheard of in Eastern Asian countries. Ritual circumcision is common in the Jewish and Islamic faiths, but uncommon altogether in Asia, South and Central America, and most of Europe.[1] Circumcision was an outward sign of the covenent between God and the Jewish people as told in the Bible in the book of Genesis.

Circumcision rates in the US have been declining since 1965, due in part to statements from the American Academy of Pediatrics[2][3][4] and the American Medical Association [5] discouraging the practice. While it varies regionally, in 2004 about 57% of newborn boys in the US were circumcised.[6]

The procedure lasts only ten minutes and is often performed in a hospital before the baby is taken home. Local anesthesia and antibacterial ointment are used to prevent pain and infection. Some boys may experience a small amount of bleeding or redness, and this is a normal part of the procedure.

Medical Benefits

The medical benefits suggested to accrue from circumcision are:

  • Reduced incidence of urinary tract infection in infant males
  • Reduced incidences of infection in prolonged exposure to non-hygenic conditions as might take place during war
  • Decreased incidence of penile cancer in adult males
  • Decreased susceptibility to certain sexually transmissible diseases, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Studies taken in the African nations of Kenya and Uganda found that circumcised males were less than half as likely to acquire HIV when involved in intercourse with an infected partner than those who were never circumcised.[7]

AMA Response

Despite these benefits, the AMA does not recommend routine infant circumcision. They state that because the incidence of urinary tract infection in infant males is low to begin with, circumcision is not justified as a preventive measure against this condition; because penile cancer is rare and occurs later in life, the use of circumcision as a preventive practice is not justified; and because behavioral factors are far more important risk factors for acquisition of HIV and other sexually transmissible diseases than circumcision status, circumcision cannot be responsibly viewed as "protecting" against such infections. The AMA concludes that "Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision."[8]

Female Circumcision (FGM)

Female circumcision, practiced in parts of Africa, is a much different procedure that can have lasting effects on a girl's health.[9] The procedure may range from a simple cut in the pubic region to the complete removal of parts of the female reproductive organs. While the procedure is an important part of some African cultures, there is increased pressure by women's groups worldwide to ban it. Female circumcision is often referred to in the medical community as Female Genital Mutilation, or FGM.[10]


  1. AMA report on Neonatal Circumcision
  2. AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS - Task Force on Circumcision - Circumcision Policy Statement [1]
  4. PEDIATRICS Vol. 103 No. 3 March 1999, pp. 686-693 - AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS: Circumcision Policy Statement [2]"A statement of reaffirmation for this policy was published on September 1, 2005."
  5. AMA report on Neonatal Circumcision
  6. United States Circumcision Incidence
  7. Time Magazine, December 27th, 2007, Pg. 84
  8. AMA report on Neonatal Circumcision
  9. JAMA Vol. 274 No. 21, December 6, 1995 - Female genital mutilation. Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association [3]
  10. JAMA Vol. 274 No. 21, December 6, 1995 - Female genital mutilation. Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association [4]