What is a Circumcision?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2016
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Circumcision is a medical procedure in which the foreskin of the penis is removed. In an uncircumcised penis, this loose flap of skin acts as a protective sheath most of the time, with the ability to retract when necessary. The term “circumcision” is also used to refer to a practice in which tissue from the female genital area is removed, with some people preferring the term “female genital cutting” to describe this procedure. Depending on where one is in the world, this may be a widespread practice or an unusual one, and there are a number of arguments for and against the procedure.

The history of this ceremony is inarguably ancient, as evidence from Egyptian tombs clearly indicates. Several religions also specifically prescribe circumcision for their male adherents, including Judaism and Islam. Traditionally, the procedure is done to infants or young children, depending on regional cultural practices. In Islam, for example, ritual circumcision or khitan is done on boys around the age of 12, while the Jewish bris is performed on young infants.


At one time, the procedure was widely encouraged for medical reasons, and male infants were routinely circumcised in many hospitals. The argument for the procedure was that it was easier to keep the penis clean, and that it reduced the risk of infection in unhygienic conditions. It also eliminated the risk of developing a tight foreskin, an uncommon but painful occurrence. However, people raised questions about ethical issues related to circumcision, including the issue of performing an unnecessary medical procedure on minors, and the potential for future mental distress. These protests led to a reform in hospital policy, with most facilities now asking parents if they want their boys to be circumcised.

Some studies have suggested the procedure may actually increase the potential risk of contracting HIV and genital warts, although these study results have been disputed. Other opponents have argued that the foreskin is meant to protect the delicate genital tissue, and that removal of the foreskin can lead to an increased risk of injury, and a loss of sensitivity.

The decision to circumcise or not is ultimately personal. Parents can weigh a dizzying array of arguments for and against, and many of these arguments are sprinkled with misleading statistics and the results of studies of questionable validity. The greatest argument for waiting is that it allows the boy to make a personal choice later in life about whether or not he wants to be circumcised, because the procedure can be performed at any age in the event that someone opts for it, but it is difficult to reverse in the case of people who wish that their foreskins had been left intact.

Parents who are expecting the birth of a baby boy should definitely discuss the issue before the birth, not least because the father may have strong personal feelings about circumcision.


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Post 4

I don't think I care a bit what a female thinks is the best type of penis a man can have to have sex with. That would be like me saying I prefer women with a long clitoris!

And if that woman was an American, the possibility would be most unlikely as females with long clitorises are considered to have a malformation of their genitalia, and it is shortened soon after birth. American "surgeons" seem hell bent on interfering with children's genitals regardless of their sex and personal choice.

@anon265302: You're speaking from your perspective as a female, not a female's perspective, since I very much doubt you've been in contact with every heterosexual female on the planet, who's had sex with butchered and entire men, and can really only give your personal perspective.

Post 3

I am a late middle aged female and have strong opinions about circumcision. My three grown sons were not mutilated when they were babies, so if they are now circumcised, they had it done as adults. Before, during and after my long marriage, I had sexual intercourse with quite a variety of males, both cut and uncut. As a result of all this experience, I'd have to say that I prefer sex with uncircumcised men. My preference applies to oral sex, too. Also, the foreskin provides another erogenous zone for him.

As for how males feel about this barbarous practice, I can't say. But from a female perspective I can't imagine having the prepuce covering my clitoris surgically removed for any reason, whether religious, esthetic or conformist. Ouch!

Post 2

Having lived in continental Europe, the USA, and Australasia, I can assure you that the American point of view on circumcision is an odd one.

In Australia and Canada, parents are out of pocket if they circumcise. Few maternity wards offer the service; you have to go to a pediatrician who specialises in doing them. Korea circumcises boys when they are in middle school and high school. Otherwise, no advanced society circumcises boys simply because their parents think it healthier.

Cutting off parts of the body because they could malfunction in the future is simply not on. And the only reliable way to attain the alleged health objectives of routine circumcision is being faithful to one's sexual partner, or using condoms.

A majority of the world's circumcised men are Muslims. American parents circumcise their boys because to them the natural penis looks sexually off-putting. A growing number of Americans of childbearing age are moving away from this shallow conformist stance.

Post 1

Circumcission is not a medical procedure it is penis butchery. And where I come from "circumcission" is spelled with two S's just in case you think I'm in error? Circumcision destroys sexual feeling, and is primarily practiced by backward people from backward religions, and others who are generally backward anyway!

The original argument for RIMC was to prevent boys from masturbating, but it has no effect of that at all. And regular masturbation is the best way to keep a penis clean. That's my very enjoyable experience.

Moderator's reply: wiseGEEK articles are written primarily by authors from the United States. According to Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, "circumcision" is the correct spelling, at least in American English.

Thanks for reading and for contributing to the discussion forums.

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