Once upon a time, circumcision was as much a rite of passage as your son’s first step, word or unaided walk. After all, your religion spoke of it as a necessary ritual that you had to go through at some point to, in your old folks’ words, “truly become a man.”
For some, this would mean undergoing the procedure as an infant, with an experienced doctor performing it in a medical setting.
For others, this would mean teenage boys or even adult men facing some elderly guy with a sharp blade followed by some herbs and a dive into the nearby river.
But with the advent of modern medicine and an ongoing debate over the ethical and medical ramifications of male circumcision, it understandably raises questions to whether it should still be practised and whether it confers any legitimate health benefits, religious context aside.
With that in mind, we’ll talk about what circumcision is as well as what the pros and cons are to this procedure.
Circumcision: The Basics
Male circumcision is the removal of the foreskin from the human penis. To begin, the foreskin is a layer of skin that covers the penis itself when it’s flaccid (or not erect). While the foreskin retracts when there’s an erection, it covers the penis once it retracts to the previous state.
The foreskin serves to protect the glans (or the head of the penis) from exposure to ammonia and feces in diapers (for infants) and from abrasions and trauma throughout the rest of a man’s life.
In circumcision, the amount of foreskin to be removed is first estimated. Afterward, the foreskin is carefully separated from the penis and carefully cut away. Since the procedure is painful, pain relievers in various forms are given and the penis is allowed to heal for four to six weeks. During this time, adults and older male children are advised to abstain from masturbation or intercourse to allow proper healing.
The Main Pro: Health Reasons
Now, regarding the arguments favoring circumcision fall into two camps, which are the religious and the medical camps.
In the interest of fairness, we’ll focus on the medical benefits. For instance, males having difficulty retracting their foreskin during an erection due to infections or other medical conditions can undergo a circumcision to address this.
Studies by the World Health Organization (WHO) have also shown it to be a cost-effective public health intervention against the spread of certain sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS (caused by HIV, also known as the human immunodeficiency virus), HPV infection (or human papillomavirus, which causes genital warts and cancers of the cervix and penis, among others), and even a reduced risk of urinary tract infections. And for those who are circumcised, it’s obviously a lot easier to keep clean.
The Main No: Religion and Culture
As for the opposing camp, there are claims that studies reviewing the benefits of circumcision are flawed and not done thoroughly enough.
Others point to the procedure being unnecessary, noting that the procedure did not gain widespread acceptance in the English-speaking world until the 1800s, when it was deemed to be a deterrent to masturbation, following the predominant Christian beliefs of the time.
Still others point to the ethical ramifications in exposing an infant who is unable to decide for themselves to such a procedure, which leaves the choice to the parents to decide in his best interest.
The Myth: Does Circumcision Make You Taller?
So while the jury is out on the definitive benefits on male circumcision, what we can say for sure is that circumcision doesn’t make you taller.
This is purely circumstantial, since the age at which most boys are circumcised is also when they begin to experience a growth spurt in their early teens, which is caused by the surge of hormones at that age. So no matter what age you are, your genetics matter more than getting rid of that extra bit of foreskin.
So what now?
That being said, the wider medical community has taken a stance that the procedure should still be performed only with the informed consent of the parents and if agreed to by the parents, to perform the circumcision to ensure it is done safely with the best possible outcome for the patient.
As such, the parent has the last say on whether the procedure should be performed or not given the differing religious beliefs they may espouse.
In any case, circumcision is a procedure that does involve making a significant change to your body and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Before you or your child undergo this procedure, it’s best to discuss the pros and cons with your doctor or pediatrician to ensure that you’re aware of what to expect and to deal with the consequences of whichever decision you make — to cut or not to cut.