Circumcision is a surgical procedure that removes the foreskin of the penis. In an uncircumcised penis, the foreskin remains. The main differences include appearance and hygiene practices.
People may have a circumcision for many different reasons, including:
- religious reasons, such as if a person follows the Jewish or Muslim faith
- cultural reasons
- a family history of circumcision, so a person may decide to continue the tradition
- personal preference
- for health reasons, such as if a person is prone to frequent foreskin infections
One 2016 study estimated that 37–39% of males across the world have a circumcision. The researchers estimated that 71.2% of males in the United States have a circumcision.
According to the American Urological Association, the areas of the world with the highest rates of circumcision are:
- the Middle East
- South Korea
- the U.S.
The lowest rates of circumcision are in Europe, Latin America, and most of Asia.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the U.S., rates of circumcision among newborn males decreased by around 10% between 1979 and 2010.
An uncircumcised penis retains the foreskin, which covers the head of a nonerect penis. When the penis is erect, the foreskin pulls back to reveal the glans.
A circumcised penis has no foreskin, which exposes the glans when the penis is both erect and nonerect.
Scientific studies have produced conflicting reports on the effect of circumcision on sex.
For example, one 2013 study looked at the sexual sensations of 1,059 uncircumcised males and 310 circumcised males. The group of circumcised males reported lower rates of sensitivity in the glans than the uncircumcised males.
A 2013 review looked at studies into the effect of male circumcision on sexual function and enjoyment. The review found that in the most accurate studies, circumcision had no negative effects on sexual function, sensitivity, pain, or pleasure during sexual intercourse.
However, one 2012 study found that there was not enough scientific evidence in some previous research to suggest that circumcision affects sexual function. The study concluded that circumcision has no negative long-term impact on sexual function.
A 2016 study compared the penis sensitivity of 30 circumcised males with that of 32 uncircumcised males ages 18–37. The study found that there was minimal difference between penile sensitivity in the uncircumcised and circumcised males.
It is important for people without a circumcision to keep the foreskin clean.
For teenage and adult males, pulling back and washing underneath the foreskin with mild soap and water, rinsing well, and then rolling back the foreskin can help maintain good hygiene.
Good hygiene of the foreskin can help reduce the risk of infections. Without regular cleaning, bacteria, dirt, and bodily fluids can all build up under the foreskin and form smegma, which looks yellow-white.
Poor genital hygiene can cause an infection of the glans or foreskin, such as:
- phimosis, wherein the foreskin becomes too tight around the head of the penis and cannot pull back
- balanitis, an infection of the glans and foreskin
- posthitis, a fungal infection of the foreskin
In young boys, the foreskin may not retract easily. It is important to note that they should not try to force it back.
A circumcised penis will not require any extra hygiene care, so people can wash the penis with mild soap and water as part of their regular bathing routine.
According to a 2012 policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), circumcision can lower the risk of HIV from heterosexual intercourse and reduce the risk of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Research from three randomized clinical trials found that adult male circumcision lowered the risk of HIV infection over time by 50–60%.
Circumcision in males with male sexual partners may reduce the risk of HIV infection, but this requires further research.
Both circumcised and uncircumcised males should use condoms as often as possible during sex to reduce the risk of transmitting or contracting an STI.
There is no scientific evidence to suggest that the presence or lack of a foreskin affects fertility.
The causes of male infertility relate to sperm production, which occurs in the testicles.
Some of the main reasons for male infertility include:
- low sperm count
- no sperm production
- the production of sperm that are an unusual shape or that move abnormally
- problems ejaculating
- chromosome structure
- taking certain medications
Repeated infections can cause blockages in the male reproductive tract. If the sperm cannot leave the testicles as normal during ejaculation, it can affect fertility.
Maintaining good hygiene of the penis, as well as seeing a doctor if there are any unusual or uncomfortable symptoms around the penis or genital area, can help reduce the risk of infection.
Males may have a circumcision for cultural, religious, or personal reasons. In some cases, adult males who develop frequent infections of the foreskin may choose circumcision for health reasons.
Recent scientific evidence has found very few negative effects associated with circumcision on sexual function and satisfaction.
The AAP say that the benefits of circumcision in newborn males outweigh the risks, but that any health benefits of circumcision are not enough to recommend it as a routine procedure for all male babies.
Circumcision in older males can carry a higher risk of complications with the surgery.
It is vital for both circumcised and uncircumcised males to maintain good genital hygiene, and for uncircumcised males to regularly and gently wash the area under the foreskin to prevent possible infection.
Using condoms as often as possible during sex can help reduce the risk of STIs for both circumcised and uncircumcised males.