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We Talked To Experts About Penis Circumcision To Answer Any Questions You Might Have

Your questions, answered.

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Circumcision is the removal of the foreskin – the layer of skin covering the head (or the glans) of the penis. And, over the years, the topic of circumcision has been widely controversial.

Male circumcision is actually an ancient practice that originated in religious rites. But, today, parents may circumcise their sons for several other reasons besides religion.
rejuvalinemedspa / Via instagram.com

Male circumcision is actually an ancient practice that originated in religious rites. But, today, parents may circumcise their sons for several other reasons besides religion.

To learn more, BuzzFeed talked to experts Mary Jane Minkin and Adam Hittelman. Minkin is a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine and Hittelman is a pediatric urologist.

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Both have performed well over a thousand circumcisions.

How is a circumcision procedure done?

Minkin: Today, infant circumcisions are done in the hospital, one to two days after birth. They are usually done in the nursery, not in an operating room. To start the procedure, the baby is placed on a circumcision board where the baby's feet are put into little straps – they don't hurt them – it is just to keep the baby from kicking. A lot of times we give the baby some sugar syrup to suck on that is said to relieve pain. And some people give some sort of Novocain to the baby, through a topical anesthetic or local injection anesthetic. The whole procedure, from start to finish, typically only takes ten minutes.Hittelman: There are several different approaches, and depending on your age, there are different types of procedures that will be performed. In infants, it is typically done with a clamp-like device. It can be done with clamp called a gomco, which is almost like a bell that you put over the glans to protect the glans. You pull the foreskin over the glans and cut around the gomco. Another way is to use a mogen clamp where you pull the foreskin over the glans and then use the clamp to protect the glans while you cut the skin beyond that point. The last approach is where they place a plastic covering, called a plastibell, over the glans and then tie a string around the skin and cut off the residual skin. Then, after time, the string will cause the skin to close and the plastibell will fall off in its own.When children are beyond the first two months of life, a procedure is done in the operating room under anesthesia where you make two incisions in the skin and remove the sleeve of skin between the two incisions. Sutures are used to hold the skin back together. The procedure on adults will either be done in an operating room or under local anesthetic in the office.
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Minkin: Today, infant circumcisions are done in the hospital, one to two days after birth. They are usually done in the nursery, not in an operating room. To start the procedure, the baby is placed on a circumcision board where the baby's feet are put into little straps – they don't hurt them – it is just to keep the baby from kicking. A lot of times we give the baby some sugar syrup to suck on that is said to relieve pain. And some people give some sort of Novocain to the baby, through a topical anesthetic or local injection anesthetic. The whole procedure, from start to finish, typically only takes ten minutes.

Hittelman: There are several different approaches, and depending on your age, there are different types of procedures that will be performed. In infants, it is typically done with a clamp-like device. It can be done with clamp called a gomco, which is almost like a bell that you put over the glans to protect the glans. You pull the foreskin over the glans and cut around the gomco. Another way is to use a mogen clamp where you pull the foreskin over the glans and then use the clamp to protect the glans while you cut the skin beyond that point. The last approach is where they place a plastic covering, called a plastibell, over the glans and then tie a string around the skin and cut off the residual skin. Then, after time, the string will cause the skin to close and the plastibell will fall off in its own.

When children are beyond the first two months of life, a procedure is done in the operating room under anesthesia where you make two incisions in the skin and remove the sleeve of skin between the two incisions. Sutures are used to hold the skin back together. The procedure on adults will either be done in an operating room or under local anesthetic in the office.

Jews, Muslims, and some Christians circumcise for religious reasons. For those who don't do it for religious reasons, why do they choose to circumcise their children or themselves?

Minkin: For many, many years in this country, the vast majority of males were circumcised. So, if a man was having a son, he didn't want his son to look differently than him. For that reason, a lot of people had circumcisions done because the father had been circumcised – a lot of it was for social reasons. In addition, there is the topic of hygiene. The foreskin retracts off of the glans, and the issue as far as cleanliness, is that there are some secretions underneath the foreskin that need to be kept clean. Now, guys who are not circumcised will tell you it is easy enough to clean; you can retract the skin to clean and it's not a major issue. However, the issue is that sometimes there are certain times where this foreskin cannot be retracted – it could be from scarring or other things like that – and that will necessitate a medically-needed circumcision later on in life. That is where I think a lot of the issues regarding circumcision come up, because people think it's better to do it on an infant that doesn't know what's going on rather than waiting until adulthood when the person will be aware of the pain and what is going on.
grapesandchirps / Via Instagram: @grapesandchirps

Minkin: For many, many years in this country, the vast majority of males were circumcised. So, if a man was having a son, he didn't want his son to look differently than him. For that reason, a lot of people had circumcisions done because the father had been circumcised – a lot of it was for social reasons.

In addition, there is the topic of hygiene. The foreskin retracts off of the glans, and the issue as far as cleanliness, is that there are some secretions underneath the foreskin that need to be kept clean. Now, guys who are not circumcised will tell you it is easy enough to clean; you can retract the skin to clean and it's not a major issue. However, the issue is that sometimes there are certain times where this foreskin cannot be retracted – it could be from scarring or other things like that – and that will necessitate a medically-needed circumcision later on in life. That is where I think a lot of the issues regarding circumcision come up, because people think it's better to do it on an infant that doesn't know what's going on rather than waiting until adulthood when the person will be aware of the pain and what is going on.

What are the pros and cons of circumcision?

Minkin: Some pros would be that there is an increased risk of cervical cancer in women who are with or married to partners who are not circumcised – not a huge risk, but a slight one. The other issue is, particularly in Africa, men who are not circumcised have a higher chance of passing on HIV infections, so there have been intermittent pushes for circumcisions to prevent the spread of HIV.Some cons are people who say the baby feels just as much pain as the adult does, they just can't articulate it. Also, any surgical procedure involves a risk of bleeding or infection, and some people are concerned about too much foreskin getting trimmed off.Hittelman: I think folks are looking for certain medical indications for circumcision. The American Academy of Pediatrics periodically will put out recommendations for circumcision as to whether or not to do it, and the most recent recommendation was in favor circumcision. But, to be honest, the indications for doing it now versus saying they didn’t think it was worth doing in the past, hasn’t really changed. Some people argue there are benefits for reducing urinary tract infections or reducing sexually transmitted diseases, such as penile cancer, but you have to weigh that with the risk of injuring the penis in the act of doing the circumcision. Although I think those are good benefits, they are not absolute benefits. Circumcision reduces the risk of getting a UTI, but the risk of a male getting one anyway is very low, same thing is true with penile cancer.
shauny_1989 / Via Instagram: @shauny_1989

Minkin: Some pros would be that there is an increased risk of cervical cancer in women who are with or married to partners who are not circumcised – not a huge risk, but a slight one. The other issue is, particularly in Africa, men who are not circumcised have a higher chance of passing on HIV infections, so there have been intermittent pushes for circumcisions to prevent the spread of HIV.

Some cons are people who say the baby feels just as much pain as the adult does, they just can't articulate it. Also, any surgical procedure involves a risk of bleeding or infection, and some people are concerned about too much foreskin getting trimmed off.

Hittelman: I think folks are looking for certain medical indications for circumcision. The American Academy of Pediatrics periodically will put out recommendations for circumcision as to whether or not to do it, and the most recent recommendation was in favor circumcision. But, to be honest, the indications for doing it now versus saying they didn’t think it was worth doing in the past, hasn’t really changed. Some people argue there are benefits for reducing urinary tract infections or reducing sexually transmitted diseases, such as penile cancer, but you have to weigh that with the risk of injuring the penis in the act of doing the circumcision. Although I think those are good benefits, they are not absolute benefits. Circumcision reduces the risk of getting a UTI, but the risk of a male getting one anyway is very low, same thing is true with penile cancer.

Do circumcisions cause loss of sensation during sex?

Minkin: People do not lose sensation from my understanding. There are some who argue that, but I haven't seen any convincing literature about it.Hittelman: Some people say you lose sensation during sex and other people say it actually increases sensation, but I don’t think either is true, and there’s nothing that’s easily proven or published that demonstrates it. I think these are things that people propagate to either do circumcision or not do circumcision.
thehagatha / Via instagram.com

Minkin: People do not lose sensation from my understanding. There are some who argue that, but I haven't seen any convincing literature about it.

Hittelman: Some people say you lose sensation during sex and other people say it actually increases sensation, but I don’t think either is true, and there’s nothing that’s easily proven or published that demonstrates it. I think these are things that people propagate to either do circumcision or not do circumcision.

Does circumcision really make it easier to clean the penis?

Hittelman: Circumcision doesn’t necessarily make it easy to clean the penis. Sometimes on children it’s a little more difficult to protract the foreskin, but I think as people get older, the foreskin starts to relax and it’s easier to clean. More than half the world does not circumcise, clearly they’re not having hygiene issues. But in general, if you take care of your penis the way you take care of the rest of your body, hygiene should not be an issue.
dysfunktional1984 / Via Instagram: @dysfunktional1984

Hittelman: Circumcision doesn’t necessarily make it easy to clean the penis. Sometimes on children it’s a little more difficult to protract the foreskin, but I think as people get older, the foreskin starts to relax and it’s easier to clean. More than half the world does not circumcise, clearly they’re not having hygiene issues. But in general, if you take care of your penis the way you take care of the rest of your body, hygiene should not be an issue.

How common is circumcison today?

Minkin: Recently, it has been much more common not to do a circumcision in the U.S., and for European countries, most are not circumcised. A lot more people chose not to circumcise than thirty years ago. Statistics vary from region to region.Hittelman: I think circumcision rates were higher in the past and part of the problem – good or bad – is when the American Academy of Pediatrics will change their consensus statement and that will drive insurance reimbursement. When the AAP promotes circumcision, then pediatricians are promoting it, and then circumcision rates go up. I think it depends on where you live and what you’re exposed to. At the end of the day, there’s a lot of things that people believe. People come to see me because they have trouble retracting their foreskins and their pediatrician said they have to be circumcised. And, in my practice, I tell folks, that unless you’re having a medical problem like a UTI, or a penile infection, then we will discuss circumcision at a clinical and medical level. But, that's a rare case. The majority of the time, circumcision is a personal choice. If they’re not having problems and if they’re not having infections, then they don’t need to be circumcised. It’s not required that you be circumcised and it’s not required that you not be circumcised.
pretty_little_moon / Via instagram.com

Minkin: Recently, it has been much more common not to do a circumcision in the U.S., and for European countries, most are not circumcised. A lot more people chose not to circumcise than thirty years ago. Statistics vary from region to region.

Hittelman: I think circumcision rates were higher in the past and part of the problem – good or bad – is when the American Academy of Pediatrics will change their consensus statement and that will drive insurance reimbursement. When the AAP promotes circumcision, then pediatricians are promoting it, and then circumcision rates go up. I think it depends on where you live and what you’re exposed to.

At the end of the day, there’s a lot of things that people believe. People come to see me because they have trouble retracting their foreskins and their pediatrician said they have to be circumcised. And, in my practice, I tell folks, that unless you’re having a medical problem like a UTI, or a penile infection, then we will discuss circumcision at a clinical and medical level. But, that's a rare case. The majority of the time, circumcision is a personal choice. If they’re not having problems and if they’re not having infections, then they don’t need to be circumcised. It’s not required that you be circumcised and it’s not required that you not be circumcised.

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