The Harm of Circumcision

  • George C. DennistonEmail author


Advocates for circumcision employ the veneer of science in an attempt to conceal that they are apologists for the procedure rather than impartial researchers. Furthermore, unlike genuine scientists who would welcome all evidence about circumcision’s consequences, advocates ignore and actively work to suppress scientific evidence demonstrating the short-term and long-term negative sequelae of the surgical alteration of the penis. Consequently, the public is largely ignorant of the extent of the harm caused by circumcision. While the reality of immediate surgical error, such as injury to the glans, loss of the entire penis, gangrene, severe hemorrhage, and even death are grudgingly acknowledged, though downplayed as rare, advocates for circumcision refuse to acknowledge the large body of scientific research showing long-term and permanent negative sequelae to the penis and to sexual function caused by destruction and amputation of the prepuce. Moreover, in addition to the physical and sexological consequences, a body of research now documents that the surgery also has psychological and cultural consequences. This would naturally be expected when such a psychologically significant part of the body such as the penis is surgically altered. These deleterious physical, sexological, psychological, and cultural sequelae of circumcision not only affect the individual, but also affect human relationships and the ethics and mores of the afflicted society, as is demonstrated by the peculiar dynamics of societies that tolerate, encourage, or enforce circumcision.


Circumcision Harm Sexology Ethics 


  1. Auvert B, Taljaard D, Lagarde E, Sobngwi-Tambekou J, Sitta R et al (2005) Randomized, controlled intervention trial of male circumcision for reduction of HIV infection risk: the ANRS 1265 trial. PLoS Med 2:e298PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bailey RC, Moses S, Parker CB et al (2007) Male circumcision for HIV prevention in young men in Kisumu, Kenya: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet 369(9562):643–656PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Boyle GJ, Hill G (2011) Sub-Saharan African randomised clinical trials into male circumcision and HIV transmission: methodological, ethical and legal concerns. J Law Med (Melbourne) 19:316–334Google Scholar
  4. Cansever G (1965) Psychological effects of circumcision. Br J Med Psychol 38(4):321–331PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. DeMause L (1996) Restaging fetal traumas in war and social violence. Pre Per Psychol J 10(4):227–258Google Scholar
  6. Denniston GC (1999) Tyranny of the victims: an analysis of circumcision advocacy. In: Denniston GC, Hodges FM, Milos MF (eds) Male and female circumcision: medical, legal, and ethical considerations in pediatric practice, Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, NYGoogle Scholar
  7. Deuchert E, Brody SA (2007) Lack of autodisable syringe use and health care indicators are associated with high HIV prevalence: an international ecologic analysis. Ann Epidemiol 17(3):199–207PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Falliers CJ (1963) Routine circumcision. Am J Dis Child 106(12):47Google Scholar
  9. Goldman R (1997) Circumcision the hidden trauma. Vanguard Publications, BostonGoogle Scholar
  10. Goldman R (2004) Circumcision policy: a psychosocial perspective. Paediatr Child Health 9(9):630–633PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Gray RH, Kigozi G, Serwadda D et al (2007) Male circumcision for HIV prevention in men in Rakai, Uganda: a randomised trial. Lancet 369(9562):657–666PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Grimes DA (1978) Routine circumcision of the newborn: a reappraisal. Am J Obstet Gynecol 130(2):125–129PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Newell TEC (2004) Judgment of inquiry into the death of McWillis, Ryleigh Roman Bryan, B.C. Coroner’s Service, Burnaby, 19 Jan 2004Google Scholar
  14. O’Hara K, O’Hara J (1999) The effect of male circumcision on the sexual enjoyment of the female partner. Br J Urol Suppl 1:79–84Google Scholar
  15. Paediatric Death Review Committee (2007) Office of the chief coroner of ontario. Circumcision: a minor procedure? Paediatr Child Health 12(4):311–312Google Scholar
  16. Persad R, Sharma S, McTavish J et al (1995) Clinical presentation and pathophysiology of meatal stenosis following circumcision. Br J Urol 75(1):91–93PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Rhinehart J (1999) Neonatal circumcision reconsidered. Transactional Anal J 29:215–221Google Scholar
  18. Richters J, Gerofi J, Donovan B (1995) Why do condoms break or slip off in use? An exploratory study. Int J STD AIDS 6(1):11–18PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Ritter TJ, Denniston GC (2002) Doctors re-examine circumcision. Third Millennium Publishing, LondonGoogle Scholar
  20. Scurlock JM, Pemberton PJ (1977) Neonatal meningitis and circumcision. Med J Aust 1(10):332–334PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Seabrook C (1991) $22.8 million in botched circumcision. Atlanta Const Google Scholar
  22. Sherman J, Borer JG, Horowitz M, Glassberg KI (1996) Circumcision: Successful glanular reconstruction and survival following traumatic amputation. J Urol 156:842–844PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Sotolongo JR, Hoffman S, Gribetz ME (1985) Penile denudation injuries after circumcision. J Urol 133:102–103PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Tagami TY (2010) Atlanta lawyer wins $11 million lawsuit for family in botched circumcision. Atlanta J Const (19 July 2010)Google Scholar
  25. Taylor JR, Lockwood AP, Taylor AJ (1996) The prepuce: specialized mucosa of the penis and its loss to circumcision. Br J Urol 77:291–295PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Van Howe RS, Storms MS (2011) How the circumcision solution in Africa will increase HIV infections. J Public Health in Africa 2:e4. doi: 10.4081/jphia.2011.e4 Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Family MedicineUniversity of WashingtonNordlandUSA

Personalised recommendations