|Circumcision is surrounded by myths and
misconceptions. It is unfortunate that these
falsehoods are often not corrected and explained to
expectant parents. The following is a list of common
myths about circumcision and the foreskin.
Myth: "Circumcision is medically necessary."
Fact: Circumcision is neither medically necessary nor beneficial. In
fact, none of the medical organizations in the world recommend
infant circumcision, including the American
Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Medical Association
(AMA). The current AAP policy on circumcision states 1)
circumcision is not essential to a child's well-being, 2) it
is an elective procedure, 3) medical professionals should not
coerce parents into choosing circumcision, and 4) parents should
make a fully informed decision that is in the best interest
of the child (www.aap.org). The AMA endorses the AAP policy and
calls circumcision “non-therapeutic”.
Myth: "Circumcision is a harmless, simple procedure; it's just a
Fact: Newborn circumcision is a painful, traumatic procedure that
amputates a large amount of sexually sensitive and healthy
tissue. It is often performed without giving the baby any
pain relief. First, the boy is placed on his back on a plastic mold
called a "circumstraint". The boy is then spread eagle and his
arms and legs are strapped down so he can't struggle. The
doctor then inserts a metal probe underneath the baby's
foreskin, ripping it away from the glans (imagine a fingernail being
pulled off a finger). At that point, the doctor uses one of
several clamps and/or cutting devices to crush and amputate the
foreskin. A video of the procedure can be found here: What
Happens During Circumcision? (Warning - explicit content)
Myth: "Circumcision doesn't affect a man's ability to give or
Fact: Circumcision decreases the pleasure experienced by both
the man and woman during sex. The foreskin, which is
amputated by circumcision, plays an important role in human
For the man's benefit, the foreskin is the most sexually sensitive
and pleasurable part of the penis. A specialized ring of tissue
near the tip of the foreskin called the "ridged band"
contains almost 20,000 highly sensitive erogenous nerve endings
(over half of the sexually sensitive nerve endings in the penis).
This special ridged band provides intact (uncircumcised)
men with the majority of their sexual sensation. Circumcision
amputates the entire ridged band and its erogenous nerve
endings, resulting in a dramatic reduction in sexual sensation.
It is a common misconception that the glans is the most sensitive
part of the penis, because most adult men in America do not
have a foreskin to compare to.
The foreskin also improves a woman's sensation and comfort
during sex. During intercourse, the foreskin acts as a natural
lubricant through its unique gliding or "rolling" motion. An
intact penis slides back and forth inside the foreskin during the
thrusting motions, greatly reducing friction (see Anatomy of the
Penis, Mechanics of Intercourse for a full description).
Because of this, most women report improved sensation with an
intact penis (see Kristen O'Hara's book). Many women that have
had sex with circumcised men complain of vaginal
dryness, lack of orgasms during intercourse, and even vaginal
pain. The vagina was not designed to produce enough lubrication
to accommodate a circumcised penis. Instead, the
vagina was designed to leverage the natural penis's mechanical
lubricating action provided by the foreskin. The sexual
ramifications of circumcision are far reaching indeed.
Myth: "A boy should look like his father. If a boy and his father
are different, it would be awkward."
Fact: Keep in mind that the father needn't have been circumcised
in the first place. Still, a circumcised father may be concerned that
his son will feel uncomfortable being "different"
from his dad if he is not circumcised. Don't worry. Many
circumcised fathers are raising intact sons without any feelings of
awkwardness in father or son. If a boy ever notices and
asks why his father is different, the reason is easily explained. A
father should teach his son to appreciate and feel good about his
own body. Good parenting is an excellent alternative to
amputation. Besides, if the father had lost a finger in an accident
earlier in his life, would he want to have his son's finger removed
Myth: "Babies don't feel pain during circumcision."
Fact: Babies feel extreme pain during circumcision, according to
studies referenced by the American Medical Association and
others like this one referenced on CNN: Circumcision
study halted due to trauma. In fact, some doctors have used
circumcision as the definition of the most severe pain a baby can
feel. Studies show that circumcision is intensely painful, and
other studies show that babies are very sensitive to pain. Lastly,
in 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strenuously
recommended that pain relief be administered
during circumcision. However, many circumcisions are still
performed without pain relief according to this study cited by the
Myth: "Even if it does hurt, he won't remember it."
Fact: The fact that a boy won't consciously remember a
traumatic event is not a valid justification for circumcision. If a 1-
year-old baby falls and hits his head while learning to walk, a
parent knows that the baby won't remember the incident, yet
every parent will feel sympathy for and try to comfort their child.
How is the pain of a medically unnecessary circumcision different?
Myth: "If circumcision hurts, a baby is still too young to be
affected by it."
Fact: Studies are showing that events in early childhood and
infancy affect our development a great deal. While few (if any)
men consciously remember their circumcision, all men
remember it subconsciously. The psychological effects of infant
circumcision are serious, but they are often overlooked because
they are so common in America. Infant circumcision is often a
baby boy's first experience with his genitals. Pain and violence
can become associated with his genitals, and therefore sex. This
is extremely unhealthy and emotionally damaging. While
circumcision affects each man differently, no man can avoid some
kind of negative emotional effect.
Myth: "Male circumcision isn't anything like female
Fact: Male circumcision, also known as Male Genital Mutilation
(MGM), is very similar to female circumcision, also known as
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Both male and female
circumcision decrease sexual pleasure, cause severe pain during
the procedure, are performed without the consent of the
individual being circumcised, are done for appearance and
hygiene reasons, and are very harmful. See this page, FGM vs
MGM, for an in-depth comparison of male and female
circumcision. Of course, the AAP does not condone FGM.
Also read this analysis of the difference in AAP policy between
MGM and FGM.
Myth: "All circumcised men are perfectly happy that way."
Fact: Unfortunately, men who are circumcised at birth do not
know what they are missing. They never had a foreskin, and so
have never experienced the wonderful sensations a foreskin
provides. This page, Why Most Circumcised Men Seem Satisfied,
describes why circumcised men seem ok with being circumcised.
However, more and more men are realizing what they
have lost due to circumcision, and are very unhappy about it.
More and more parents are being confronted by their adult sons
who disagree with their decision to have him circumcised when he
was a baby.
Myth: "A circumcised penis is cleaner. Circumcision helps
Fact: Circumcision was once believed to improve male hygiene,
but current medical information shows this is not true.
Circumcision does not make the penis any cleaner or
healthier. Contrary to myth, hygiene is simple and easy for intact
men. Normal bathing and healthy hygiene are recommended for
all men, intact or not. In babies and young children, the child's
non-retractable foreskin protects the head of the penis and
keeps it clean. Only the outer skin should be washed. After the
foreskin becomes retractable, hygiene is as simple asretracting
the foreskin and rinsing with warm water during a bath or shower.
Myth: "The Jews created circumcision so they would be cleaner."
Fact: With a review of the Old Testament, it is clear that the Jews
adopted circumcision as a spiritual pact with God, and not for
hygiene reasons. Nowhere in the Old Testament is
circumcision referred to as being physically cleaner. It is
referenced as a spiritual mark only, with no physical benefits, per
se. For a Jewish perspective on circumcision, visit
Myth: "Circumcision is a part of Christianity."
Fact: It's important to consider that the religious beliefs of the
parents are not necessarily the same as the beliefs of the child
once he becomes an adult. Parents should always keep in
mind that their baby boy will one day be a grown man, with his
own faith and spiritual beliefs.
However, for Christians, circumcision is of no value. Passages in
the New Testament clearly state that circumcision has no spiritual
value and should no longer be practiced. Acts15.org
and Peaceful Beginnings both provide excellent discussions of
Christians and circumcision.
The following is a list of relevant passages in the New Testament:
Acts 15:1-31 Paul speaks to the Apostles and Elders, telling
them that God makes no distinction between circumcised men
and uncircumcised men.
I Corinthians 7:18-20 "Was a man already circumcised when he
was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man
uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be
circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is
nothing. Keeping God's commands is what counts. Each one
should remain in the situation which he was in when God called
Galatians 5:6 "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor
uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith
expressing itself through love."
Galatians 6:15 "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means
anything; what counts is a new creation."
Colossians 3:11 "Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or
uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all,
and is in all."
Myth: "My baby's foreskin won't retract (or is too tight), so he
must be circumcised."
Fact: At birth, the foreskin is normally attached or fused to the
glans (like the fingernail to the finger), and slowly separates as
part of normal development until the child reaches puberty.
The fact that a baby's foreskin won't retract is completely normal
and healthy. As long as your baby can urinate, the foreskin is not
too tight and is perfectly normal. A child whose
foreskin is still attached to the glans and therefore cannot be
retracted is sometimes mistakenly referred to as having
"phimosis." Phimosis is a condition where an adolescent or
adult's foreskin is too tight to retract past the glans, therefore, it
is incorrect to say that an infant or very young child has
phimosis. Phimosis can be treated with topical steroid creams
and gentle stretching (see this link for a discussion of phimosis
and treatment options).
Please note that the foreskin should never be forcibly retracted
before it's ready. The first person to retract a boy's foreskin
should be the boy himself and no one else. It is not
necessary for anyone to "check" under the foreskin. Premature
retraction of the foreskin can cause bleeding, infection, and even
Myth: "The foreskin is just a little flap of skin. Removing it is no
Fact: The foreskin is anything but a flap of skin. The foreskin is a
double-sided tube of sexually sensitive skin and muscle that
covers the glans, or head, of the penis. The foreskin is
important for sex and for protecting the penis. The foreskin is
mobile tissue, and by the time puberty is reached, it can be
manually retracted or pulled back to expose the glans. The
foreskin is the only moving part of male or female sexual
anatomy. The foreskin is also quite large - when laid out, it's
almost the size of your hand! In an adult, the foreskin is
approximately 15 square inches in size, the same as a 3x5 note
card (see Not a "Snip," But 15 Square Inches and Not "just a flap
Myth: "My son has a problem with his foreskin, so he has to be
Fact: In the vast majority of cases, problems with the foreskin
can be treated without resorting to amputation (circumcision). If
your doctor recommends circumcision without first trying every
conservative treatment available, protect your son from incorrect
recommendations and find a new doctor that is more
knowledgeable about intact male anatomy.
Myth: "If I don't have him circumcised as a baby, he will need
to have it done later."
Fact: Circumcisions later in life are very rare. Only 1 in 500 intact
men choose to be circumcised as an adult.
Myth: "His foreskin will get infected if he's not circumcised."
Fact: The idea that the foreskin is prone to infection is not
supported medically. The vast majority of men never have a
problem with their foreskin. In the rare circumstance that the
foreskin has an infection, it can usually be treated with topical
creams and antibiotics. When any part of the body gets infected,
the goal is to cure the infection. Amputation of the
infected body part is always the absolute last resort.
Myth: "Almost all men are circumcised."
Fact: The vast majority of men are intact (not circumcised).
About 85% of men in the world are not circumcised, because
America is the only country in the world that routinely
circumcised for non-religious reasons. In places like Canada and
Europe, circumcision is very rare (approximately 5% or less). In
the US, circumcision rates were very high (90%) during
the 1970s, but since then, circumcision rates have been
decreasing. As of 2001, 50-60% of baby boys were circumcised
in the US, but it varies by region. Current statistics can be found
Myth: "Circumcision has always been common."
Fact: Circumcision has actually been very rare throughout
history. It was only in the 20th century that non-religious
circumcision became common in certain areas, like the US.
Circumcision was introduced in the US during the 1890s by
people who thought that desensitizing the penis would curb
masturbation (which was thought to cause insanity and
many other diseases).
Myth: "An uncircumcised penis is gross."
Fact: The wives of billions of intact men abroad and the wives of
millions of intact men in the US don't think so. Most people in
America certainly are more used to the look of a circumcised
penis, but that doesn't make an intact penis less attractive.
Besides, if it really comes down to appearances, then circumcision
is purely a cosmetic procedure. We wouldn't
give a baby a nose job or a face lift, would we?
Myth: "Circumcision is important for a boy to feel accepted in
society," or "He will be made fun of in the locker room if he isn't
Fact: Circumcision is becoming less common (see this page for
current statistics). In certain areas of the country, like California,
circumcised boys are in the minority (only 33% were
circumcised in 2001). As awareness increases about circumcision,
and more state Medicaid programs and private insurance
companies stop funding it, circumcision is going to become much
less common. If, however, a parent is worried that a boy will
stand out in school locker rooms, then the parent should explain
it before the boy encounters such a situation. With positive
reinforcement that he is whole, natural, and healthy, he should
be able to handle the situation. Here is a great web page that
describes how you can talk to your son about this issue: Why is
mine different? A parent can raise his or her son to appreciate
and feel good about his own body. Good parenting is a great
alternative to amputation.
Myth: "The foreskin is just extra skin."
Fact: The foreskin is not excess skin. The length of the foreskin
is necessary to accommodate full erections, to facilitate the
lubricating action so necessary to pleasurable intercourse, and
to cover and protect the glans from abrasion and infection. This
is a diagram of how the foreskin retracts and moves.
Myth: "Sex with a circumcised penis feels better."
Fact: The foreskin provides direct pleasurable sensation to the
man because of it's erogenous nerve endings, and provides
pleasure and comfort to the woman through it's gliding motion.
Also, according to surveys, most women who have had sex with
both intact and circumcised partners prefer sex with intact men
(see Kristen O'Hara's book).
Myth: "Men who aren't circumcised must be strange."
Fact: Many famous and respected men were not circumcised,
including Adam (e.g., The Book of Genesis), William Shakespeare,
Beethoven, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, 3 of the 4
Beatles, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It's also interesting to
note that every American President until the mid-20th century
was not circumcised, including George Washington and
Abraham Lincoln. Click here to view a gallery of (clothed)
celebrities who are intact.