Circumcision: 7 things you didn’t know about it – but should

All you need to know on the age-old (and still totally controversial) medical practice

We all know the basics of circumcision: it’s the surgical removal of a man’s foreskin (duh). But that’s where the conversation usually stops – and where our knowledge on the subject generally ends.

The ancient practice is a common rite of passage among indigenous tribes, but even men in Western societies are undergoing the painful procedure. Why? Well for a variety of reasons apparently – religion, health and even class supposedly plays a role.

How many men are circumcised? What are the pros and cons? Does it improve sex? Is it emotionally scarring? There are so many unanswered questions that us women (and quite a lot of men) need to know before making our minds up about the procedure.

Not to worry – we’ve got ALL the facts. Here are seven things that you probably didn’t know about circumcision…

How many men are circumcised?

Sex and the City would have us believe that the vast majority of men are foreskin-free, confusing women everywhere who have yet to see a circumcised penis, but just 15% of men in the UK have been through the procedure, a fraction compared to the U.S where well over half of the male population have survived the experience.

What does the circumcision procedure involve?

If you’re squeamish – you might want to skip to the next question. The procedure is actually pretty simple and thankfully anaesthetics and numbing agents play a vital role. Infant circumcisions involve a clamp being applied to the penis, cutting a ring of skin from the foreskin, whereas adults must undergo a 30-minute procedure, slicing the tip, cutting the foreskin off and then stitching the remaining skin around the glans. Ouch. We did warn you.

What is the optimum age for circumcision?

The vast majority of circumcisions are performed during infancy, usually taking place in the first few days after birth, with the risk of the procedure (bleeding and infection) increasing with age.

Why do people get circumcised?

Circumcision isn’t always linked to religion and health benefits (as outlined in question seven) – it’s also a traditional practice that’s been upheld by more conservative societies as a stamp of class. The UK Royals are among those who practiced the custom for these purposes – that’s until Princess Diana refused to continue the tradition, believing the pros of the procedure were outweighed by the cons.

How does circumcision affect sex?

Its effect on sex is hotly debated with some arguing circumcision can reduce sensation and sexual pleasure later in life. The foreskin contains nerves that when rubbed, stimulates the frenulum, and according to a study by the National Organisation of Circumcision Information Resources Centre, the surgery removes the five areas of the penis that are most responsive to light touch.

Does circumcision hurt?

Some studies describe the procedure as ‘among the most painful performed in neonatal medicine’, with proof towards increases in heart rate and hormonal pain response, including increased cortisol in the blood of the patient.

Does circumcision affect size?

Yes, slightly, because circumcision results in a loss of around 30-50% of the penile skin, so when the penis is flaccid, it will appear thinner and shorter because the foreskin would have overhung around it. And when the penis is erect, it could be somewhat shortened because there could be insufficient penile skin to allow for a full erection. On average, erect penises are 8mm shorter.

Are there any mental health implications?

Well, it’s controversial but some arguments prove yes. According to a Danish survey, boys circumcised under the age of five are twice as likely to develop autism. The survey suggested a link between the pain of the surgery and the development of ASD, arguing that circumcision trauma can have severe psychological consequences.

Does circumcision lower the risk of disease?

The effectiveness of circumcision in preventing infection and the spread of STDs is disputable, but studies have proven that the removal of the foreskin (which traps bacteria and viruses) does reduce the risk of infection. Not only this but some research suggests that circumcision is effective in reducing STD transmission rates, including HIV, herpes and genital ulcers. It has even been thought to lower the risk of prostate cancer.

Is circumcision heavily opposed?

Circumcision is a very controversial practice and a number of people publically oppose it, including Ben Affleck who openly admitted to ‘hating’ the custom. The vast majority of procedures take place in the first week after birth – so it is commonly argued that boys don’t have a say in process – and could be a human rights violation. The surgery has been linked to trauma and bodily insecurities as well as trust and confidence issues, with one campaign group (called the ‘Intactivists’) consists of men who were circumcised at birth and will do anything to get their foreskin back, even undergoing skin grafts to feel normal again. A point that is frequently brought up is the fact that boys have no protection against adults who want to perform medically unnecessary surgery on their genitals (sometimes without anaesthetic). Campaigns like Mothers Against Circumcision are trying to change this through education.

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