The verdict on circumcision is in. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a report concluding that it’s beneficial for both infant males and adolescents to be circumcised.

Choosing whether or not to have a newborn son circumcised is a personal decision, of course. But as Dr. Jonathan Mermin of the CDC notes, “the scientific evidence is clear that the benefits outweigh the risks.” Though most American boys are circumcised, rates of circumcisions have decreased over the years due to an onslaught of parents who believe the procedure is wrong since babies can’t give consent. Other critics claim the practice is a form of genital mutilation.

Activists who oppose circumcision protest in front of the White House in 2013. CC BY-SA 2.0

But research has suggested otherwise. Circumcision is, in fact, protective, and now the CDC has official guidelines advocating it. “Our role is to provide accurate information so people can make informed decisions,” Mermin told The New York Times. “The first thing it’s important to know is that male circumcision has been associated with a 50 to 60 percent reduction of HIV transmission, as well as a reduction in sexually transmitted infections such as herpes, bacterial vaginosis, and the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes penile and cervical cancer.”

The CDC report was aimed somewhat at adolescent males who are uncircumcised, noting that sexually active teenage boys who aren’t circumcised are at a higher risk of contracting HIV or other STDs. It also points out that circumcision can reduce a man’s risk of genital herpes and urinary tract infections during infancy. However, circumcision does come with some risks. Research has shown that there is a very low chance of complications like bleeding or infection during infancy, but after the first year of life the risk increases by up to 20 times. Circumcisions, of course, can’t protect people from all types of infections or STDs, and everyone must continue to use contraceptives like condoms.

The practice, which involves removing the foreskin of the penis, has been a part of cultural life for Jews and Muslims for thousands of years. Only in the past century has it become popular in the states. In 1900, only about 25 percent of U.S. infant males were circumcised, but by the 50s and 60s, that number grew to 80 percent. Since that number began dropping again recently, the CDC hopes that their guidelines will help people accept circumcision more readily.

“Male circumcision is in principle equivalent to childhood vaccination,” Brian J. Morris, emeritus professor of medical sciences at the University of Sydney and the author of a study outlining the benefits of circumcision, told The Times. “Just as there are opponents of vaccination, there are opponents of circumcision. But their arguments are emotional and unscientific, and should be disregarded.”