Circumcision is a surgical procedure to remove the foreskin of the penis. Up until the early 1970s the procedure was routinely carried out for newborn boys, usually within a few days after birth. Today it is estimated that around 10% of male babies in New Zealand are circumcised, mostly for social, cultural or religious reasons.
It is generally agreed among medical professionals that there is no medical reason for routine circumcision. Ethical and human rights questions have also been raised relating to infant male circumcision. On the other hand, it is known that circumcision can reduce the risk of developing urinary tract infections, cancer of the penis and some sexually transmitted infections (STI’s). Circumcision also eliminates the risk of developing infections of the foreskin.
Medical indications for circumcision include conditions such as balanitis (where there is repeated inflammation of the head of the penis) and phimosis (where there is tightness of the foreskin, usually due to recurrent infection of the foreskin).
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians position on infant male circumcision, published in 2010, is: "After reviewing the currently available evidence, the RACP believes that the frequency of diseases modifiable by circumcision, the level of protection offered by circumcision and the complication rates of circumcision do not warrant routine infant circumcision in Australia and New Zealand. However it is reasonable for parents to weigh the benefits and risks of circumcision and to make the decision whether or not to circumcise their sons."
To reduce the risks and discomfort to the child, circumcision is usually performed under a general anaesthetic after about six months of age.
A typical surgical technique involves making an incision around the area of the foreskin where it joins the skin that covers the shaft of the penis. The foreskin is then carefully pulled away from the tip of the penis and is cut away down to the level of the initial incision. The skin covering the shaft of the penis is then sewn back underneath the head of the penis.
Another technique for circumcising young babies is the attachment of a plastic ring under the foreskin. This is tied into place and works by restricting blood flow to the foreskin. The ring and the foreskin fall off after a few days. This technique is performed using a local anaesthetic.
The penis may have a dressing applied after the operation. It is important to keep the area clean and an antibiotic cream may be prescribed in order to prevent infection. Pain relief medication such as paracetamol and/or anaesthetic ointments may be used for any pain and discomfort after the operation.
As with any surgery there are possible complications that should be discussed with the surgeon.
Uncircumcised penis hygiene
Hygiene for the uncircumcised penis is important and it should be cleaned just as any other part of the body is cleaned. At birth, and for some years into childhood, the foreskin is firmly attached to the head of the penis. While this is the case it is extremely important not to retract the foreskin during cleaning as this can damage it. When the boy's foreskin becomes retractable, it can be retracted and the surface underneath cleaned during the daily bath or shower.
Franz, J. F (2006) Circumcision. The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Third Edition. Jacqueline L. Longe, Editor. Farmington Mills. Thompson Gale.
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians - Paediatrics & Child Health Division (2010). Circumcision of infant males (PDF). The Royal Australasian College of Physicians. Sydney.
O'Toole, M.T. (Ed.) (2013) Mosby's Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing & Health Professionals (9th ed.). St Louis: Elsevier Mosby.
Last Reviewed – 26 April 2013