What is circumcision?

Circumcision is a procedure in which a portion of the foreskin is removed.

How does the foreskin develop?

The foreskin is normally stuck to the glans of the penis in early childhood. As the child develops the foreskin begins to separate from the glans. By early teens it is usually possible to retract or pull back the foreskin over the glans. If the foreskin cannot be pulled back by the age of 16 years then it is probably too tight. This condition is called phimosis.

Why is circumcision done?

Circumcision is done either for religious or medical reasons. Religious circumcision is performed within the Jewish and Muslim traditions. Non-religious circumcision began in the 19th century and became almost routine in certain countries. It is estimated that approximately 1.2 million 'routine' circumcisions are performed each year in the USA. Routine circumcision never became standard practice here in Ireland. There is no rationale for carrying out this extremely painful, traumatic and potentially dangerous procedure on male infants. While female genital mutilation (FGM) is banned in Ireland and regarded as a serious assault, circumcision, which is a form of male genital mutilation, is not illegal and the procedure is still undertaken by some doctors. 

The principal medical reasons for performing circumcision in Ireland are:

How is circumcision performed?

Non religious circumcision is performed as an elective surgical procedure. It is usually performed under a general anaesthetic. The piece of foreskin to be removed is cut with a surgical knife and the remaining cut end is sewn with surgical thread. Circumcision not performed under general anaesthetic can be an intensely painful and traumatic procedure, with potential for negative long-term consequences, both physical and psychological.

The red line indicates the portion of foreskin that is removed.

Are there alternatives to circumcision?

If the foreskin is too tight it may be possible to loosen it over time by gently stretching it over the glans. This could take several months to achieve and must be done gently. If this is not done gently it can lead to tiny tears in the inner lining of the foreskin which can result in scarring and further tightening of the foreskin. Sometimes a mild steroid cream may assist the process of stretching.

 Myths about circumcision

  • Circumcision does not prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Circumcision does not prevent HIV infection.
  • Circumcision does not prevent urinary infections.
  • Circumcision does not prevent cancer of the penis.

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