The debate about whether to circumcise or not rages on. The ever-amazing Robin Williams once compared the appearances of the two types of penises as “a German army helmet” versus “a snail in a turtleneck.” In the interest of full disclosure, I am, and enjoy being, a German army helmet. On a side note, I’m a huge history geek and own an actual German army helmet as well.
Firstly, I would like to address two of the most common arguments against circumcision, and in my opinion, by far the weakest: circumcisions make sex feel less good, and it is traumatizing for babies.
The first argument states that the lack of foreskin reduces the sensitivity of the penis. Frankly, this is silly. Any reduction of sensitivity is miniscule at most, and as a circumcised male, I can say with complete certainty that sex feels amazing. As for the second argument, I am in no way traumatized, nor are any of the circumcised males I’ve asked. Now that that’s out of the way, on to topics more worthy of discussion.
The biggest criticism of circumcision is the circumcision of babies, as opposed to adult circumcision. The main issue here is one of consent, because the baby obviously cannot give consent. This is a valid ethical concern that I feel is the single strongest argument against neonatal circumcision.
The largest argument in response to that is one of parental control. There is a strong precedent of parents being able to make unilateral decisions for the baby’s health. While some parental choices are clearly more necessary than others, parents legally and ethically have the right to make decisions for the betterment of the baby.
There are a number of valid health concerns that are addressed by circumcision.
The smallest problem is that uncircumcised penises are harder to clean. I am told by uncircumcised people that it just takes a little bit of extra effort in the shower to make sure it is clean. That may very well be true; however, the numbers still show a notably higher rate of yeast infections, urinary tract infections, skin disorders and other fungal infections among the uncircumcised population.
More seriously, circumcision dramatically reduces the rates of STD infections.
Four studies conducted between 2009 and 2011 and published in respected journals found that in certain cases, the removal of the foreskin reduced rates of AIDS and HIV infection by as much as 38–66 percent. Similarly, in five different studies conducted between 2010–2012, circumcised men show a lower rate of infection for HPV, as do their sexual partners. This is especially important for women, as HPV can cause cervical cancer and other health complications.
There are more medical conditions that circumcision prevents. Children and the elderly are both vulnerable to an extremely painful condition where the foreskin cannot retract over the head of the penis. Among the elderly, this has the lovely name “strangulated foreskin.”
I am told by my girlfriend’s mother, who works in geriatric care, that it is extremely unpleasant to deal with.
Circumcision is the way to cure strangulated foreskin, and being circumcised at age 80 is much more mentally adverse and also more prone to complications than being circumcised as a baby.
There is also a recurring condition known as balanoposthitis where the head of the penis swells a bit and therefore the foreskin cannot retract. The Scientific World Journal reports that 4–11 percent of the uncircumcised population suffers this at least once.
Beyond the health benefits, there remains personal preference, which is a nebulous area. As it stands, the majority of males in the U.S. are circumcised, with the highest rates being on the Eastern Seaboard and the lowest rates among majority Hispanic and Asian populations on the West Coast. The issue is complicated due to the fact that circumcision is often done as part of religious ceremonies, most notably among Jews, Muslims and various Orthodox Christian denominations. When anecdotal evidence is combined with hard data regarding circumcision rates, it indicates that the majority of Americans still prefer circumcised penises.
Regardless of aesthetics and cultural preferences, it seems to me that the health benefits make circumcision a net positive operation.