Male circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin (the hood of skin covering the end of the penis, which can be gently pulled back).

Circumcision may be carried out for:

  • religious reasons – circumcision is a common practice in the Jewish and Islamic faiths, and is also practised by many African communities as a tribal or ethnic tradition
  • medical reasons – although alternative treatments are usually preferred to circumcision

This topic focuses on the medical aspects of circumcision.

Routine circumcision

During the 19th century, many medical practitioners believed that being circumcised was more hygienic than not being circumcised.

As a result, the routine medical circumcision of all boys, regardless of religious faith, became a widespread practice in England. However, routine male circumcision gradually became less common as many members of the medical community began to argue that it had no real medical benefit in the majority of cases.

Routine circumcision may offer a number of potential benefits, such as reducing the risk of some types of bacterial or viral infections. However, most healthcare professionals now agree that the risks associated with routine circumcision, such as infection and excessive bleeding, outweigh any potential benefits.

Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of circumcision.

NHS availability

The majority of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) don't fund routine circumcision or circumcision carried out for religious reasons.

The NHS mainly funds circumcision used to treat a small number of medical conditions (see below). In such cases, it's usually regarded as a "treatment of last resort", when all other treatment options have failed.

It's important to note that some CCGs in England do currently fund religious or ritual circumcision on the NHS. The decision is based on priorities relating to an area's local population.

Read more about NHS authorities and trusts.

In rare cases, circumcision may be considered for the following health conditions:

  • paraphimosis – a condition where the foreskin gets trapped under the tip of the penis
  • balanitis xerotica obliterans – an uncommon condition that causes the tip of the penis to become hard and inflamed

However, these conditions are very rare in children and other treatments are usually preferred.

Circumcision may also sometimes be considered in severe cases of phimosis (a tight foreskin that can't be retracted), or recurrent balanitis (inflammation of the tip of the penis and foreskin).

Read more about when circumcision may be necessary.

How circumcision is performed

Circumcision for medical reasons is usually carried out on a day-patient basis. This means that you won't have to stay in hospital overnight.

Older children and adults who are circumcised are usually given a general anaesthetic, so that they're unconscious during the procedure.

The circumcision procedure is relatively simple. The foreskin is removed with a scalpel, scissors or a surgical clamp. Any bleeding is either cauterised (closed using heat), or the remaining edges of skin are stitched together using dissolvable stitches.

After circumcision, there may be some pain and swelling, and the penis will be easily irritated until it heals. The healing process can take up to four to six weeks. Read more about recovering from circumcision.

Speak to your GP if there are signs of any bleeding or infection after a circumcision. Complications are rare when circumcision is carried out for medical reasons, but there are some risks of circumcision that should be considered.

Female circumcision

Female circumcision has no medical benefits and is illegal under the Female Genital Mutilation Act (2003).

Read more about female genital mutilation.

Page last reviewed: 29/09/2015

Next review due: 29/09/2017