Should Your Son Be Circumcised?

If you're having a boy, choosing whether or not to have him circumcised will be one of the first decisions you make as a parent. For people of certain religions, like Judaism and Islam, the choice is easy since circumcision is part of a religious mandate. But for those who have to weigh the pros and cons, it can be difficult. To help you make sense of it all, we've polled the experts and looked at the research. These are the questions you should consider.

Are There Health Benefits from Circumcision?

Although the American Academy of Pediatrics' position on circumcision states that there's not enough medical evidence to recommend it to everybody, two recent studies offer strong evidence that circumcision can be beneficial to your child's health. A 2006 study in the journal Pediatrics found that uncircumcised men are three times more likely to contract a sexually transmitted disease than men who have been circumcised, and a Kenyan study in the Lancet found that circumcision reduced the risk of HIV infection in heterosexual men by as much as 60 percent. (Even though experts aren't completely sure how circumcision lowers a man's risk of HIV, most theorize that the foreskin contains receptors that the virus attaches to or that the foreskin gets microscopic tears during intercourse, making it easier for the virus to enter the bloodstream.)

These results were enough for the American Urological Association to recommend that circumcision be presented to parents as an option with health benefits. "Sixty percent lower risk of HIV is an astronomical success rate -- especially when you consider that there is no cure for AIDS," explains Craig Niederberger, MD, head of the department of urology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Not so fast, say other experts. For starters, that study was done in Africa, where the virus is rampant. The risk of HIV to men in the United States is much lower. "Even if you circumcise your son, you'll still need to teach him about abstinence and safe sex," says Parents advisor Jennifer Shu, MD, coauthor of Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality.

Although it's true that circumcision does reduce a baby's risk of getting a urinary-tract infection (UTI), the fact is that UTIs are not very common in boys. The same goes for penile cancer, which is diagnosed in fewer than 1,600 men every year.

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