The debate over newborn circumcision and whether it has clear-cut medical benefits has continued for the past several decades, and a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report states that overall, the national rate of circumcision has decreased in the U.S.
The CDC report measured trends of male newborns being circumcisioned during birth hospitalizations. However, the report does not include circumcisions that were performed outside of a hospital.
It reviews the prevalence of circumcisions between 1979 and 2010, a 32-year period, and notes that the national rate has declined from 64.5 percent to 58.3 percent. This was measured by the use of data from the National Hospital Discharge Survey (NHDS), which is conducted by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).
The report found that circumcision trends fluctuated – declining during the 1980s, rising in the 1990s, and once again decreasing in the beginning of the 21st century. These fluctuations could be accounted for by changing opinions on the benefits of newborn circumcision; in 1989, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stated that there were potential medical benefits to circumcision, but ten years later the AAP revised its policy again to state that there wasn’t enough evidence to recommend circumcision.
Once again in 2012, the AAP came back and revised its stance on the matter, saying that the health benefits of circumcision for newborns actually did outweigh any potential risks. It released this information in a report published in Pediatrics. It had taken the AAP several years to sort through and analyze research on the issue, before noting in 2012 that male circumcision could help prevent urinary tract infection in newborn babies, and could also prevent men from being infected with STDs.
Those who prefer to not circumcise their child often contend that the procedure can cause complications like excessive bleeding or injury to the glans. However, when performed in a clinical setting, complications are usually rare and minor. And although it has been mentioned in the past that circumcision might dull sexual sensation, no studies have been able to entirely confirm this.
In certain religions, such as Islam or Judaism, circumcision is a common procedure and is sometimes obligatory. The World Health Organization reports that about 98 percent of Jewish men in the U.S. are circumcised.
The BBC Ethics Guide notes that cultural factors have a role in circumcision as well – it becomes more prevalent if it’s a social tradition, such as in the Philippines or South Korea, where it's associated with the idea of hygiene. The World Health Organization states that prevalence of circumcision is linked to ethnicity as well, and can vary within a country based on that.
"In the majority of these cultures, circumcision is an integral part of a rite of passage to manhood," the WHO states. "Circumcision is also associated with factors such as masculinity, social cohesion with boys of the same age who become circumcised at the same time, self-identity and spirituality." In the same report, the WHO estimated that about 30 percent of the world's males over age fifteen are circumcised, and that two-thirds of those are Muslim.