What is circumcision?

Circumcision is a surgical procedure done on baby boy to remove the foreskin, a fold of skin covering the end of the penis.

The foreskin is a double-layered fold of skin and mucous membranes that protects the head (glans) of the penis from dryness and irritation that may be caused by contact with urine, feces, and clothing.

Circumcision is optional. Some parents choose to have it done and some don't. If you're considering it, here's more information.

How many boys are circumcised in the United States?

As of 2017 (the most recent information available), about 60 percent of baby boys in the United States were circumcised in the hospital at birth.

The procedure can also be done at home by a trained practitioner or in a doctor's office or other nonhospital setting, so the actual percentage of boys circumcised is probably higher. And most Jewish and Muslim families circumcise their sons, so the percentage is probably higher in those groups as well. Worldwide, about 1 in 3 males is circumcised.

Why do some parents choose to circumcise their son?

Families may choose circumcision based on religious or cultural tradition, in response to concerns about health and hygiene, or simply because they want their son's penis to look like his dad's or other family members'.

Why do some parents choose not to circumcise their son?

Some parents consider circumcision unnecessary or not worth the risk of complications. Others think it's unethical to make this choice for their child before he can decide for himself.

What do health experts advise?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend circumcision as a routine procedure for every newborn boy.

From the AAP: "Current evidence indicates that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks and that the procedure's benefits justify access to this procedure for families who choose it."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says: "Parents should be informed of the medical benefits – including reduced risk of future HIV infection – and the risks of male circumcision and should make decisions in consultation with a healthcare provider."

What are the health benefits of circumcision?

Circumcision may reduce the risk of urinary tract infections as well as cancer of the penis and some sexually transmitted infections. The AAP estimates that about 1 in 100 uncircumcised boys develops a urinary tract infection during his first year, while the risk is closer to 1 in 1,000 for circumcised boys.

Also, according to the CDC: Circumcision may reduce the risk of cancer of the penis by as much as 30 percent. But this cancer is already rare, and the risk is further reduced for males who get the HPV vaccine (now recommended for boys at age 11 or 12).

Circumcision can reduce a man's risk of acquiring HIV during sex with an infected female partner by 50 to 60 percent. However, circumcision has not been shown to reduce the risk of male-to-male or male-to-female HIV transmission, which are much more common ways to become infected.

Circumcised men are 30 to 45 percent less likely to get genital herpes than uncircumcised men.

Rates of certain sexually transmitted infections, such as bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis, and human papillomavirus (HPV), are lower in female partners of circumcised men.

How does circumcision help reduce certain health risks? Experts hypothesize that the inner surface of the foreskin and the protected skin of the penis underneath are susceptible to tears (especially during sex) – and such tears provide a way for germs to enter the bloodstream.

The foreskin also creates a moist environment that's conducive to trapping and supporting the growth of bacteria and viruses.