Q: I’m pregnant and expecting a boy. I’m still undecided as to whether I should have him circumcised. What can you tell me?
A: Ultimately, it’s a personal decision, but the majority of parents do decide to have it done. Between 1997 and 2000, 61 percent of all newborn males in the U.S. were circumcised. Numerous studies have shown that circumcision can reduce the risk of urinary tract infections in male infants, and in later life can decrease the risk of penile cancer, penile inflammation and transmission of some STDs.
One study of 58,000 infants showed that the rate of hospitalization for bladder infections among circumcised males was 1.9 versus 7.0 for uncircumcised males.
Another recent study out of South Africa involving 3,000 men demonstrated that circumcision of adult men (ouch!) resulted in a decreased risk of infection with HIV after the men had intercourse with infected women. Other studies have looked at HIV risk in men who were circumcised as infants, and a review of 30 such studies found that uncircumcised men were 1.5 to 8.5 times more likely to contract HIV than those who had been circumcised.
Because I’m a gynecologist, I am also inclined to consider the effect of circumcision on the future health of women. Female partners of circumcised men have been shown to have a decreased incidence of cervical cancer. This may be due to reduction in risk of persistent human papillomavirus (HPV) among circumcised men.
Having said all this, I also want to mention the possible side effects of circumcision. The chief one is pain, followed by bleeding and infection. Some vocal anti-circumcision groups are highly incensed by the fact that a little baby cannot consent to the procedure. However, most children don’t consent to any of their healthcare; instead, they “rely” on their parents.
The official word of the American College of Pediatrics is that “existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits to newborn circumcision, but the data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision.”
The American College of Gynecologists states the same, but adds that analgesia (usually with an anesthetic that is injected into the nerve supplying the penis) should be used routinely during the procedure.
Dr. Reichman’s Bottom Line: Religion and “what daddy looks like down there” greatly influence parents’ decisions about circumcision. But health concerns should also play a role: you have to consider the baby’s current and long-term health, plus the health of his potential future partner. I personally would go for it. Then again, I don’t have a penis.
Dr. Judith Reichman, the “Today” show's medical contributor on women's health, has practiced obstetrics and gynecology for more than 20 years. You will find many answers to your questions in her latest book, "Slow Your Clock Down: The Complete Guide to a Healthy, Younger You," which is now available in paperback. It is published by William Morrow, a division of .