The Purpose of Circumcision: Understanding Its Advantages

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The Purpose of Circumcision: Understanding Its Advantages



Updated on February 13, 2024

Medically verified by Dr. Arya

Fact checked by Dr. Pournami

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You already might know what circumcision is. If you don't, here it is. There is a skin covering the tip of your penis which is called foreskin. And the surgical removal of the foreskin is known as circumcision.

Because of its religious roots, circumcision has always been a controversial subject. Though an ancient ritual, circumcision has now been added to the realm of medical practices.

In this blog, we will dissect the advantages and controversies surrounding this age-old tradition.

Circumcision And Its History

Circumcision has a history of thousands of years. It has both historical and cultural significance across various civilisations and religions.

Want to know more about it? Here you go:

  • Circumcision was considered as a rite of passage, a religious mandate and a cultural practice in many communities around the world.

  • Hieroglyphs and artefacts from ancient Egypt(2300 BCE), shows that circumcision was prevalent in Egyptian society.

For them it was a symbol of purity and was associated with religious rites and norms.

  • For Jews, circumcision has always been a part of their religious identity.

  • Circumcision emerged as a covenant between God and Abraham , and it is considered a secret pact and is a sign of belonging to the community.

They usually celebrate this ceremony on the eighth day of a baby boy’s birth.

In Islam, though not mentioned in the Quran, it is practised as a symbol of cleanliness and adherence to the teachings of Prophet Muhammed. It is often performed during childhood or adolescence.

Circumcision has also cultural significance among various African tribes, Aboriginal groups, and indigenous people around the world.

Most of them consider it as a marker of adulthood, fertility, or social status and connection with the notions of masculinity, identity and community belonging

Medical Benefits Of Circumcision

Beyond its cultural and religious context, modern society has recognised the medical benefits of Circumcision. It ranges from lowering the risk of urinary tract infections in infants to reducing the chance of sexually transmitted disease in adults.

Some of the medical benefits of circumcision are listed below:

Reduced Risk of Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

  • Circumcised infants have a lower risk of UTIs compared to uncircumcised infants.

  • Removal of the foreskin reduces bacterial accumulation, preventing UTIs which can be serious in infants.

Lower Incidence of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

Circumcision can reduce the risk of acquiring HIV, herpes, and HPV.

Removal of the foreskin decreases surface area for microorganisms, reducing infection transmission.

Prevention of Penile Problems

  • Circumcision prevents phimosis (inability to retract foreskin) and balanitis (inflammation of the glans).

  • Better hygiene and reduced risk of infection due to foreskin removal.

Decreased Risk of Penile Cancer

  • Circumcision may lower the risk of penile cancer by removing the moist environment under the foreskin.

  • Eliminates the potential accumulation of cancer-causing agents

Circumcision and Hygiene

Circumcision has hygienic benefits as well. They are listed below:

  • Circumcision reduces the bacterial growth. It eliminates the warm moist condition under your foreskin, where bacteria could grow. This reduces the chance of bacterial infections and bad smell.

  • Removal of foreskin makes it easy to clean your penis. Now it's a simple straightforward process since you don’t have to retract and clean under the foreskin.

  • Smegma is a mixture of your dead skin cells and body oils. It gets accumulated under your foreskin, and this causes bacterial growth and bad smell. Circumcision prevents smegma accumulation.

  • Balanitis is the inflammation of the penis head. Poor hygiene is a reason for this. And it is more common among uncircumcised people. Circumcision reduces the risk of balanitis.

  • Genital hygiene could boost your self image and psychological well being and thus your confidence.

Circumcision And Sexual Health

Now we will discuss some of the benefits of circumcision on sexual health.

  • It reduces the risk of sexually transmitted infections(STIs) like HIV, herpes simplex virus(HSV), and human papillomavirus(HPV). This is because, after the circumcision there will be less surface area for the transmission of virus and bacteria during sex.

  • STIs like herpes and syphilis can give you genital ulcers. Through circumcision you reduce the chance of getting STIs and thus genital ulcers.

  • Circumcision reduces the risk of penile cancer. This is because by removing foreskin, you get rid of the moist environment where cancer causing agents could accumulate.

  • Reduces the risk of bacterial and fungal infections.

  • It simplifies genital hygiene and thus increases the overall genital health.

  • Though there are mixed opinions, some studies show that circumcision can subtly increase sexual function and satisfaction. But this totally depends on the specific individual.

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Controversies Surrounding Circumcision

As mentioned above, there are many benefits for circumcision. But its religious and cultural roots are a reason for the controversies surrounding it. This is because, in many cultures and religions, they are performed on infants and are strictly required.

Some of the controversies surrounding circumcision is listed in the box below:

Bodily Autonomy

One of the primary concerns surrounding circumcision is the violation of bodily autonomy.

Opponents of circumcision argue that individuals should have the right to make decisions about their own bodies.

Circumcision, particularly when performed on infants or young children who cannot provide consent, raises questions about the ethical implications of permanently altering a person's genital anatomy without their explicit agreement.

Lack of Consent

Despite medical and cultural justifications, circumcision performed on infants raises ethical concerns regarding the lack of informed consent.

Some argue that individuals should have the right to decide whether to undergo circumcision when they are capable of understanding the procedure's implications and providing consent.

This lack of autonomy can lead to ethical dilemmas, especially when circumcision is performed for non-medical reasons.

Cultural and Religious Practices

Circumcision holds deep cultural and religious significance for many communities worldwide.

For some, it is a sacred ritual passed down through generations, symbolising religious identity, communal belonging, and cultural heritage.

Circumcision plays a central role in various religious traditions, shaping individual and communal identities.

Respect for cultural and religious diversity necessitates sensitivity and understanding when discussing the ethical dimensions of circumcision.

Cultural Sensitivity

Cultural sensitivity is a crucial consideration in discussions about circumcision, particularly in multicultural societies.

While circumcision may be a cultural norm in some communities, it may be viewed differently in others.

Critics argue that imposing circumcision practices based on cultural or religious norms may infringe upon individuals' rights to autonomy and bodily integrity.

Balancing cultural traditions with ethical principles of autonomy and consent is essential for promoting respectful dialogue and understanding across diverse cultural contexts.

Medical Justifications

Proponents of circumcision cite medical benefits such as reduced risk of urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted infections, and penile problems as justification for the procedure.

From a public health perspective, circumcision has been endorsed by organisations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization for its potential health advantages.

However, critics argue that the medical benefits of circumcision may not outweigh the risks and ethical considerations, especially when performed on infants for non-medical reasons.

Medical Necessity vs. Cosmetic Surgery

Circumcision is often debated as a medical necessity versus cosmetic surgery.

While some view circumcision as a preventive health measure with tangible benefits, others question the necessity of surgically altering healthy genital tissue.

The classification of circumcision as a cosmetic procedure raises ethical questions about performing irreversible surgery for non-medical reasons.

Critics argue that medical interventions should prioritise patient well-being and adhere to ethical principles of beneficence, non-maleficence, and respect for autonomy.

Key Takeaways

Circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin covering the tip of the penis.

Circumcision has been practised for thousands of years and holds deep cultural and religious significance in many communities worldwide.

Circumcision offers various health advantages, including a reduced risk of urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), penile problems, and penile cancer.

Circumcision simplifies genital hygiene by reducing bacterial growth, eliminating the need to clean under the foreskin, preventing smegma accumulation, and lowering the risk of balanitis.

Circumcision can lower the risk of STIs like HIV, herpes, and HPV, reduce the incidence of genital ulcers, decrease the risk of penile cancer, and simplify genital hygiene.

While some studies suggest that circumcision may subtly enhance sexual function and satisfaction, individual experiences vary widely.

Ethical debates surrounding circumcision revolve around issues of bodily autonomy, lack of consent for infants, cultural and religious practices, and the medical necessity versus cosmetic surgery.

Respect for cultural diversity and religious beliefs is crucial in discussions about circumcision, as practices and viewpoints vary across different communities.

Balancing medical benefits, cultural traditions, and individual autonomy is essential in decision-making about circumcision, ensuring respect for diverse perspectives and ethical principles.

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