Intact America Hails New Scholarly Article on Risks and Benefits of Newborn Male Circumcision

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In the Article Published May 19, 2016 in Global Public Health, the Authors Look at the Methodology Used in Statements on Circumcision by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

Georganne Chapin

Georganne Chapin, executive director, Intact America

It's time for the topic of circumcision to come out of the closet.

Citing a just-published article, Intact America is asking the public, medical providers, and the media to re-evaluate their assumptions about newborn male circumcision and current conventional thinking that the benefits outweigh the risks. “Circumcision of Male Infants and Children as a Public Health Measure in Developed Countries: A Critical Assessment of Recent Evidence,” by Morten Frisch and Brian D. Earp, published in Global Public Health on May 19, 2016, challenges the science, sources, and omissions in recommendations made by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2012 and 2014, respectively.

“Doctors and hospitals have inferred from these guidelines that circumcision is a health benefit, even though no medical organization, including the AAP, says newborn circumcision is medically necessary,” explains Georganne Chapin, executive director of Intact America. “The media have widely disseminated this misperception, too, so any parent researching the subject could come to the same conclusion. We hope the public, the media, and doctors will read the Frisch and Earp article, and reconsider the subject with an open mind.”

Intact America, the nation’s largest organization that opposes the involuntary circumcision of newborn boys, with nearly 50,000 followers on Facebook and several hundreds of thousands of monthly visitors to its website, is using the article to encourage discussion about circumcision —the details of which are mostly unknown by the general public, according to Chapin.

“It’s time for the topic of circumcision to come out of the closet,” Chapin says. “What we find is that most Americans circumcise their baby boys because of cultural preference or peer pressure. They just don’t know any better, because nobody wants to talk about it. In my experience, the more one knows about circumcision, the more likely one is to oppose it.”

The article makes the following four points:

1. The true risk of newborn circumcision is not known, because no one measures surgical complications that arise later in life.

Says Chapin: “The article explains that the data aren’t available. For example, one of the most common complications of circumcision is meatal stenosis, in which urination is restricted or compromised. However, this condition isn't noticed while babies are still in diapers. The authors said the CDC statement relied on research that only measured the incidence of meatal stenosis diagnosed during the first 180 days after surgery. The incidence was merely .01 percent. Frisch and Earp wrote that when they looked at a wide number of studies with longer follow-up, they determined that between 5 percent and 20 percent of circumcised boys will develop meatal stenosis. We think that’s an unacceptable risk for a medically unnecessary procedure.”

2.Although there are claims that infant circumcision lowers the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS in the U.S., such claims are not scientifically valid.

Frisch and Earp point out that the CDC and AAP based their findings on HIV-transmission studies of circumcised and uncircumcised adult African men in heterosexual relationships, writing, “The findings from one context cannot responsibly be extrapolated to the other without a great deal of further investigation.” In addition, the authors note that the 2011 Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook shows that the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the United States – where 80 percent of men are circumcised – is higher than in European nations, where circumcision is uncommon.

3. The foreskin is assigned zero value.

The authors write, “the CDC does not...discuss in detail the protective and sexual functions that have been attributed to [the foreskin] in the medical literature.” Says Chapin: “Circumcision surgically removes healthy tissue; the foreskin is the most sensitive part of the penis, providing enormous pleasure to many intact men. That is why, throughout history, from Maimonides to John Harvey Kellogg, circumcision was promoted as a ‘cure’ for masturbation.”

4. The CDC relied on one misleading study to assess how much pain babies feel during circumcision — and the AAP now says repeated pain during infancy can affect brain development and the body’s stress response system.

Frisch and Earp state that the CDC relied on one study (Banieghbal, 2009), which includes inaccurate statistics, to assess whether babies feel pain during circumcision. The article also quotes the AAP task force, statement on pain released earlier this year, which said, “Pain that newborns experience from routine medical procedures [including circumcision] can be significant... Research suggests that repeated exposure to pain early in life can create changes in brain development and the body’s stress response systems that can last into childhood.”

Can America’s Culture of Circumcision Be Changed?

Chapin points to another article just published this spring in Pediatrics that discusses what the AAP meant in its 2012 statement. In “The Circumcision Debate: Beyond Benefits and Risks," by pediatric urologist Andrew Freedman, one of the members of the 2012 AAP task force, the author wrote, “To many, especially in the lay press, [the 2012 AAP statement] was interpreted as moving the needle from a neutral stance... to being pro-circumcision.” Freedman explained that the statement’s actual point was that “the procedure’s benefits justify access to this procedure for families who choose it.”

“What is revealing is that Freedman says parents choose to circumcise their baby boys for cultural, not medical reasons,” Chapin says. “But the truth is that when parents know the real risks involved, the pain circumcision causes, how much the foreskin enhances sexual pleasure for many intact men, and how easy it is to care for their baby’s intact penis, they are more likely to agree with what Intact America keeps saying: ‘Take the whole baby home.’”

About Intact America
Intact America is the largest national advocacy group working to end involuntary circumcision in America, and to ensure a healthy sexual future for all people. Intact America is based in Tarrytown, New York. For more information, visit Intact America at, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

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