A leading US organisation of paediatricians says the medical benefits of male circumcision outweigh the risks, but they're not enough to recommend the controversial procedure be performed on all baby boys.
"There are modest benefits and modest risks," said Dr. Andrew Freedman, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics task force that issued the new guidelines. "We recognise that the topic cuts across many paradigms in your life – cultural, religious, ethnic, family tradition, aesthetic. We're not in a position to make recommendations on those paradigms."
The new guidelines, published online yesterday (27 August 2012) and in the September print issue of the journal Pediatrics, offer stronger evidence about the benefits of circumcision, especially in terms of preventing the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, Freedman said.
The guidelines also say that circumcision lowers the risk of urinary tract infections in infants, genital herpes, human papilloma virus, cervical cancer in women and penile cancer.
Still, "the degree of benefit is modest enough that you don't have to say everyone has to do it," Freedman said. "It's not like wearing a seatbelt vs. not wearing a seat belt."
Risks include significant bleeding, which occurs in about one in 500 boys, he said. As for loss of sexual sensation during adulthood because of the loss of nerve endings on the foreskin, Freedman said it's a poorly studied issue.
"There are lots of people who are unhappy" about a lack of sexual sensation, he said, but "millions of men are perfectly happy. From a scientific standpoint, we really don't have a good handle on it."