What is male circumcision?

Male circumcision is a surgical procedure which involves the removal of the foreskin (also known as the prepuce) of the penis. 

The foreskin is a shaft of skin which covers the head of the penis (glans penis). In an adult male the foreskin can be retracted for cleaning purposes. It also retracts naturally during sexual intercourse.adult001a
Circumcision is a very common and relatively simple surgical procedure, which can be performed using a number of methods. 

However like all surgery, circumcision carries risks, including haemorrhage, infection and pain. These complications can be serious (e.g. penile amputation) and even cause death.

Although circumcision has been performed for cultural and religious reasons for thousands of years, most professional medical associations oppose routine neonatal circumcision (and particularly circumcision without anaesthesia), and recommend the procedure only in cases where there are clearly defined medical reasons.

adult002aMany of the health benefits once purported to be associated with circumcision (e.g. reduced masturbation) are now highly questionable. The proven health benefits of circumcision are typically minor (e.g. reduced risk of urinary tract infection) and the conditions are often prevented by other, less invasive measures and/or treated simply with antibiotics. 

The exception is Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and circumcision is now being recommended as an HIV prevention measure in countries where the virus is highly prevalent such as sub-Saharan Africa. 

However as HIV prevalence is relatively low in Australia, widespread circumcision could not be justified for HIV prevention purposes. In Australia circumcision for health or medical purposes is recommended for only a few, relatively rare indications.
Circumcision is performed for personal, cultural and/or religious reasons by a range of cultural groups. For example, amongst Jews and Muslims, the practice is almost universal. Many families in which the father is circumcised, have the male sons circumcised so they will look like the father, or simply because the father is circumcised.


Circumcised males have fewer urinary infections and are better protected against sexually transmitted diseases later in life. According to the National Institutes of Health, adult circumcision can reduce the risk of HIV transmission by 60 percent.

Prevalence of male circumcisionadult003a

Globally, around 25% of the male population is circumcised, although prevalence varies markedly between countries.

In the United States the majority of men are circumcised (60%), however only a small proportion of men are circumcised in many European countries (e.g. 6% in England and 2% in Scandinavia).

Amongst Jews and Muslims, circumcision is highly prevalent and almost all males are circumcised.

In Australia, it is now estimated that 10-20% of the male population are circumcised in infancy.3 More than half (59%) of the adult men living in Australia are circumcised as are 69% of those that were born in Australia. Circumcision is less prevalent amongst younger men, under 20 years of age, of whom 32% are circumcised.