Dec 04, 2014 1:00 AM

Author: Libby Mitchell

It is one of the first decisions parents of boys face, and it may be one of the hardest: whether or not to circumcise. The practice was born of religious ritual, and then became common place in the 20th century. However, in recent years the number of boys circumcised at birth has dropped as people have questioned the benefits of the practice. Some have even compared it to female genital mutilation.

However, the tide may be turning again.

Two years ago the American Academy of Pediatrics said the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks. Now, the Centers for Disease Control is proposing a recommendation that doctors counsel parents, as well as grown men, about the benefits of circumcision. “Clinical trials over the past 9 years have shown that adult circumcision reduces the risk of contracting certain sexually-transmitted diseases,” says Karen F. Buchi, MD, chief of the Division of General Pediatrics for University of Utah Health. STDs are not the only issue to consider. “There are certain diseases that ONLY occur in uncircumcised men, such as phimosis, paraphimosis, and balanitis,” says William Brant, MD, a University of Utah Health urologic surgeon.

For some who oppose circumcision, the surgery itself is only part of the problem. The other issue is that it is commonly performed soon after birth, and the child doesn’t get to give consent. But both Brant and Buchi say soon after birth is the best time for a circumcision to be done. “Circumcised males have a lower rate of urinary tract infections in the first year of life,” says Buchi. Adds Brant, “Adults may have pain with their nocturnal erections in the postoperative period.  There are several techniques that are used in children than are very fast and, when combined with local anesthetic, are fairly painless.”

Of course, there are some that will never consider circumcision due to cultural norms, religious beliefs or personal preference. “The main thing that men can do is pay attention to their hygiene, making sure they fully pull back the foreskin to clean themselves, then carefully replace the foreskin,” says Brant. And all men, circumcised or not, should take precautions against STDs by wearing condoms. Says Buchi “It is important to emphasize that while circumcision has been shown to reduce the risk of transmission of sexually transmitted infections, it does not reduce the risk to zero, so safe sex practices are still warranted.”

Libby Mitchell

Libby Mitchell is the Social Media Coordinator for University of Utah Health Care. Follow her on Twitter @UUHCLibby.

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