Circumcision, the ongoing practice of surgically removing the foreskin from the male penis, has a history rooted in religious rituals, cultural traditions, and medical misinformation. Because this surgery is irreversible, with a few exceptions, it is crucial to critically examine and fully understand the pros and cons of this deeply ingrained practice. This article explores the disadvantages and unsettling facts surrounding circumcision. It is important to shed light on the life-altering risks, suffering, and alarming realities associated with circumcision, also known as male genital mutilation. Together, we can raise awareness and advocate for informed consent, bodily autonomy, and an end to routine, medically unnecessary infant circumcision.
Disadvantages of Circumcision
1) Severe Pain
“According to a study from the University of Alberta, up to 96% of babies showed signs of pain during circumcision when no anesthesia was used.” — Taddio A, et al. Pain. 1997
Circumcision can inflict acute pain on infants. Extensive observations and studies have unequivocally demonstrated that during the process, infants exhibit unmistakable signs of distress, including high-pitched cries, elevated heart rates and blood pressure, decreased oxygen in the blood, a surge of stress hormones, and discernible changes in facial expressions. Furthermore, the post-operative period can be characterized by discomfort during urination and by the chafing of diapers against the healing wound. While pain management techniques, such as local anesthetics, can alleviate some of the immediate pain, they typically do not eradicate it (and were not instituted until the 1990s), and there is also the possibility of discomfort during the recovery phase.
As Marilyn Milos reported in her 2023 memoir, Please Don’t Cut the Baby!, Fran Porter, a research associate in pediatrics at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, and Dr. Richard Marshall et al. studied 50 healthy male infants in the 1980s who were circumcised without anesthesia. “We now know babies are not physiologically protected against painful stimuli,” Porter said. “Although their nerves are to some extent immature and the organization of their nervous system may also be immature, we should not assume that it’s not processing information.” Fran Porter and Dr. Richard Marshall et al., “Infants Feel Circumcision Pain, Study Says.”
Howard J. Stang, MD, and colleagues at Group Health Inc., and the University of Minnesota, recognizing that animals are anesthetized for surgery, asked in an article in 1988, “Are we not morally obligated to do the same for the young of our human species?” It was after this article appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association that anesthesia began to be used for circumcision. Yet, today, decades later, many newborns continue to be circumcised without pain relief. Howard J. Stang, MD, et al., “Local Anesthesia for Neonatal Circumcision: Effects on Distress and Cortisol Response.” Journal of the American Medical Association (259,10:1507-11), 1988. doi:10.1001/jama.1988.03720100025033.
2) Loss of Sensitivity
“A study published in the British Journal of Urology International in 2007 found that the five most sensitive areas of the penis are on the foreskin. Circumcised men had lower sensitivity on their circumcised organ compared to the intact organ of uncircumcised men.” — Sorrells ML, et al. BJU Int. 2007
Circumcision has lasting effects on the male anatomy, impacting both sexual sensation and pleasure. The removal of the foreskin, a crucial part of the penis rich in nerve endings and sensitive tissue, alters the sensory profile of the organ. The foreskin serves as a protective sheath, safeguarding the glans, or head, of the penis. When the foreskin is surgically removed, the glans, which is an internal organ, becomes exposed to constant contact with clothing and the external environment. This prolonged exposure can lead to the toughening or keratinization of the glans, potentially diminishing their sensitivity. Numerous studies and the experiences of circumcised individuals have highlighted a noticeable decline in penile sensitivity. This loss can have implications for sexual pleasure and satisfaction, affecting both individuals and their partners.
3) Psychological Effects
“A study from the Bond University in Australia, using the “Circumcision Feelings Scale,” found that circumcised men reported higher levels of negative emotions, including dissatisfaction, sexual anxieties, and depression, about their circumcision status compared to intact men.” — Boyle GJ, Bensley GA. Bond Univ. 2001
Circumcision can have long-term adverse psychological effects. Some men express feelings of violation, loss, or resentment towards their parents or caregivers for deciding on their behalf. This violation of bodily autonomy can give rise to emotions of anger, sadness, or even grief over the loss of a body part that they had no say in preserving. Additionally, individuals may experience a sense of incompleteness or reduced self-esteem due to societal perceptions surrounding their altered anatomy. Furthermore, if complications arise from the procedure, such as scarring or functional issues, the psychological impact can escalate, leading to anxiety or even depressive episodes.
4) Sexual Disadvantages
“Circumcised men might experience more difficulties with lubrication during sexual activities due to the absence of the foreskin.” — O’Hara K, O’Hara J. “The effect of male circumcision on the sexual enjoyment of the female partner.” BJU Int. 1999.
Circumcision has been associated with various sexual disadvantages stemming from both anatomical and sensory changes following the procedure. The removal of the foreskin, which contains numerous nerve endings, has the potential to diminish penile sensitivity and decrease sexual pleasure. Moreover, the foreskin contributes to the mechanics of intercourse by enabling a gliding motion and reducing friction. Its absence can alter the dynamics of sexual activity, potentially resulting in reduced lubrication and increased discomfort for both partners. Some circumcised men have expressed the need for more intense stimulation to achieve the same level of arousal, while others have reported a decrease in the intensity of orgasms. Although individual experiences differ, it is undeniable that circumcision introduces alterations that can impact sexual function and enjoyment.
5) Excessive Bleeding
“A review of circumcision complications found that hemorrhage was one of the most common early complications. Bleeding rates were reportedly as high as 35% in various studies.” — Weiss HA, Larke N, Halperin D, Schenker I. “Complications of circumcision in male neonates, infants and children: a systematic review.” BMC Urol. 2010.
One major circumcision risk is excessive bleeding, which can occur due to the cutting of vascular tissue during the process. In certain cases, blood vessels may not clot as quickly or effectively as expected, leading to prolonged bleeding. Factors like inherited blood disorders (such as hemophilia) or other clotting disorders can further increase this risk. Additionally, variations in surgical technique, the expertise of the practitioner, or the instrument used can impact bleeding outcomes.
6) Botched Circumcisions
“One study from Saudi Arabia indicated that around 12% of patients who had been circumcised experienced excessive removal of skin, which can lead to issues with erections in adulthood.” — Al-Marhoon MS, Jaboub SM. “Circumcision: prospective study of complications.” J Pediatr Surg. 2003.
Botched circumcisions are a deeply concerning drawback associated with the procedure. Improperly performed circumcisions can result in a myriad of complications, ranging from excessive bleeding and infection to more severe outcomes like disfigurement, partial amputation, or, in extreme cases, even death. Beyond the immediate physical consequences, these botched circumcisions can have long-term effects on both the body and the mind. Men who have endured poorly executed circumcisions may encounter difficulties in sexual function, reduced sensitivity, or concerns about appearance, all of which can significantly impact their self-esteem and emotional well-being.
7) Circumcision Complications
“A comprehensive review published in the journal “BMC Urology” found that the median frequency of any adverse event following neonatal and infant circumcision was 1.5%. This includes minor and major complications.” — Weiss HA, Larke N, Halperin D, Schenker I. “Complications of circumcision in male neonates, infants and children: a systematic review.” BMC Urol. 2010.
Circumcision complications can range in severity, with some being relatively minor, such as post-operative bleeding or localized infections. In contrast, others can be more severe, including meatal stenosis (a narrowing of the urethral opening) or injury to the penile shaft. In certain cases, an inadequate amount of foreskin may be removed, resulting in an appearance that closely resembles an uncircumcised state. On the other hand, excessive removal can lead to painful tension during erections. Another potential issue is the risk of the circumcision scar adhering to the penile shaft, necessitating further surgical intervention.
8) Risk of Death
“In the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, where traditional circumcision practices are widespread, it was reported that over a period of a decade, there were over 800 deaths and cases of penile mutilation related to circumcision rituals.” — Meissner O, Buso DL. “Traditional male circumcision in the Eastern Cape – scourge or blessing?” South African Medical Journal, 2007.
One of the most pressing concerns surrounding circumcision is the rare yet undeniable risk of death associated with the procedure. The possibility of a life-threatening outcome resulting from an elective procedure is deeply troubling and goes against the very Hippocratic oath doctors swear to adhere to. Causes can vary from excessive bleeding and severe infections to adverse reactions to anesthesia. Additionally, underlying medical conditions in infants that were undetected before circumcision can lead to complications. Each case represents a significant and devastating loss. For numerous parents and critics of the practice, the message is clear: any risk of death, no matter how small, is an exorbitant price to pay, particularly for a medically unnecessary procedure.
Horrifying Circumcision Facts
9) Commercial Motivations
“Foreskins are sometimes sold to biomedical companies, which use them for various types of research, often related to wound healing.” — The Atlantic
The commercial motivations surrounding circumcision extend far beyond the immediate costs of the procedure itself. One particularly contentious aspect of the commercial side of circumcision revolves around the market for products derived from the foreskin. Foreskin fibroblasts, cells crucial for collagen production, have attracted the interest of bio-research companies. These cells are obtained from donated foreskin tissue and utilized in creating various commercial products, such as luxurious facial creams and rejuvenating treatments. These harvested cells are also sometimes utilized in biochemical research to generate new skin for burn victims and individuals with specific skin conditions. The commercialization of foreskin tissue raises ethical concerns, particularly since the donors, who are circumcised infants, cannot provide consent. On top of that, the potential profits from these products derived from foreskin inadvertently create a financial incentive to promote circumcision, necessitating a careful evaluation of the medical justifications against commercial interests.
10) Lack of Training
“In developing countries where medical facilities might be limited, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that complications from circumcisions, potentially due to lack of training or substandard conditions, can be as high as 20-35%.” — WHO)
The practice of circumcision, especially when performed outside of medical facilities, poses even more danger and risks. It is disconcerting to note that individuals without formal medical training or standardized certification are often involved in these procedures. In many cultures and regions, circumcision rites are conducted by community or religious leaders who may lack formal medical education. While these traditional practitioners may have accumulated experience over time, the absence of standardized training leaves room for procedural inconsistencies, unsterile conditions, and potential errors. Acknowledging that this lack of training can result in various complications, from infections to more severe physical traumas, is important.