Male circumcision involves the surgical removal of the foreskin, the protective sleeve of skin that covers the head of the penis. There are various reasons for performing male circumcision – it is helpful to have as much information as possible when making a decision.
Reasons for circumcision
There can be several medical reasons for a boy or a man to be circumcised.
- Phimosis is a condition where the foreskin is too tight to pull back. This is normal for infants, but can be a problem if it is still there in adulthood.
- Paraphimosis is a rare condition where the foreskin can’t be returned to its original position after it has been pulled back. This causes a painful constriction and can cut off blood supply to the head of the penis, so if you think this has happened go straight away to the nearest emergency department.
- Recurrent balanitis is an infection of the head of the penis.
However, male circumcision is also commonly performed for religious or cultural reasons, or as a matter of family tradition or parental preference.
Because the foreskin protects part of the penis, circumcision is not routinely done on newborn boys in Australia unless there is a medical reason. Most doctors don’t recommend circumcision. If you’re not sure, it is best not to circumcise your baby. He can always make the decision to be circumcised later, if he wants.
Age at time of circumcision
Circumcision for religious reasons is often performed on newborn boys, or in puberty in some cultures as a coming of age ceremony. Circumcision for medical reasons may occur at any age, although it is more common in adulthood.
Risks and benefits of circumcision
Complications of male circumcision are rare, but it will be painful for the baby and child at the time of the operation and for a few days afterwards. Some boys and men have a little bleeding or infection. Occasionally it can be severe.
Care after circumcision
For infants, antibiotic cream should be applied to the wound to protect against infection, and to stop the wound sticking to nappies. For adults, loose fitting underwear should be worn for 5–7 days and sexual arousal should be avoided for 6 weeks to allow the healing process to occur.
For further information on male circumcision, visit the Pregnancy birth and baby circumcision page.
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Last reviewed: June 2020