If you are considering circumcision for your baby boy, read on. We explain what male circumcision is, medical reasons for it, and what it involves.
What is male circumcision?
Male circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin. The foreskin is the retractable fold of skin that covers the head of the penis (NHS, 2022a). It's a continuation of the skin that covers the whole penis.
There are medical reasons why a boy may need to be circumcised. It could be a last resort treatment for certain conditions.
Circumcision might also be considered for religious or cultural reasons in boys. It’s common practice in Jewish and Islamic communities and occurs in many African communities. Most cultural circumcisions are carried out in babies or young boys.
Is male circumcision for babies common in the UK?
It’s estimated that approximately 20% of males in the UK are circumcised (Morris et al, 2016).
Circumcision is more usual in certain cultural or religious communities. Men from minority ethnic groups (except those of black Caribbean ethnicity) are significantly more likely to be circumcised than those described as white. Most Jewish and Muslim boys are circumcised and a minority of Sikhs, Hindus, and Buddhists (CIRP, 2006).
Does the NHS provide male circumcision procedures?
It's uncommon for doctors to recommend that boys have circumcisions for medical reasons. They can normally use less invasive and less risky treatments for conditions that affect the penis (NHS, 2022a).
If you wish to have your son circumcised without a medical reason, discuss this with your health visitor or GP. They might refer you to a private practitioner. Some NHS trusts might consider offering religious or cultural male circumcision, if they feel it would be safer than the circumcision being carried out elsewhere.
What would be a medical reason for male circumcision?
Medical reasons for circumcision are a tight foreskin that can’t be pulled back, and recurrent foreskin infections.
- A foreskin that's too tight to pull back over the penis head (phimosis) can be painful during an erection. Rarely, a tight foreskin makes it difficult to have a wee and this would need to be treated immediately (NHS, 2022a). Contact your GP if you’re concerned.
- Phimosis is normal in babies and toddlers for the first two to six years. By the age of about two, the foreskin should start to separate naturally from the penis. Sometimes it takes longer but this isn’t usually a sign of a problem, it will detach later on (NHS, 2022b). Never try to force your child’s foreskin back as it might be painful or cause damage.
- Recurrent infection in the penis (balanitis) is when the foreskin and head of the penis become inflamed or infected. It's not usually serious but you should see your GP if you think your son has it (NHS, 2020).
These conditions can often be treated successfully with non-surgical treatments, which will usually be tried first before circumcision is considered.
In rare cases the following conditions might require circumcision:
- Paraphimosis – this is when the foreskin can't go back to its usual position after it is pulled back. This makes the head of the penis swell up and become painful. This needs to be treated immediately so that serious complications can be avoided (e.g. restricted blood flow to the penis) (NHS, 2022a). Contact your GP if you’re concerned.
- Balanitis xerotica obliterans – this condition causes phimosis and sometimes also leads to scarring and inflamation of the head of the penis (NHS, 2022a).
What happens during a male circumcision?
Most boys have their circumcisions as day patients. So your child would have surgery on the day he goes into hospital and wouldn't need to stay overnight (NHS, 2022a).
They will usually be given a general anaesthetic, so they'll be unconscious during the operation and will not feel any pain or discomfort (NHS, 2022a).
Circumcision is quite a simple operation. It involves removing the foreskin from the head of the penis with a scalpel or surgical scissors. Dissolvable stitches are then used to stitch together the edges of skin that are left (NHS, 2022a).
The time it takes for the penis to fully heal will be up to six weeks (NHS, 2022a).
Is circumcision painful?
Your son wouldn't feel anything during the operation because he'd be unconscious. He might find having a wee a bit uncomfortable after the operation but he'll be discharged from hospital after he has done so (NHS, 2022a).
Your son will have a sore, inflamed penis for a few days after the procedure. But he might be given some ointment that can be used for a few days to help with healing. There's also a small risk of infection after having a circumcision (NHS, 2022a).
There's usually no need for a follow-up appointment after a circumcision but do contact your GP or hospital care team if your son:
- has a bleeding penis
- still has a swollen penis two weeks after the procedure
- is still finding it painful to have a wee a few days after the procedure.
What is FGM?
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is when the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed for no medical reason. It is sometimes known as female circumcision or cutting. It's illegal in the UK and is classed as child abuse (NHS, 2019).
Where it happens, FGM is usually performed before girls enter puberty – sometime between when they are babies and 15 years old. FGM is an extremely painful procedure and it can cause some serious health issues (NHS, 2019).
Help and support is available if you’ve had FGM or you’re worried you’re at risk. See below in Further information for details.
This page was last reviewed in June 2022.
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If you're concerned a girl may be at risk of FGM, contact the NSPCC helpline on 0800 028 3550 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you're under pressure to have FGM performed on your daughter, ask your GP, health visitor or other healthcare professional for help, or contact the NSPCC helpline.
If you've had FGM, you can get help from a specialist NHS gynaecologist. You can ask your GP or midwife about this.
CIRP. (2006) United Kingdom: incidence of male circumcision. Available at: http://www.cirp.org/library/statistics/UK/ [Accessed 29th June 2022]
Morris BJ, Wamai RG, Henebeng EB, Tobian AA, Klausner JD, Banerjee J, Hankins CA. (2016) Estimation of country-specific and global prevalence of male circumcision. Popul Health Metr. 14:4. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12963-016-0073-5
NHS. (2019) Female genital mutilation (FGM). Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/female-genital-mutilation-fgm/ [Accessed 29th June 2022]
NHS. (2020) Balanitis. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/balanitis/ [Accessed 29th June 2022]
NHS. (2022a) Circumcision in boys. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/circumcision-in-boys/ [Accessed 29th June 2022]
NHS. (2022b) Tight foreskin (phimosis). Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/phimosis/ [Accessed 29th June 2022]