Circumcision – the removal of the foreskin from the penis – is practiced by cultures around the world. While many males are circumcised as infants, others have the procedure as adults.
Men may choose circumcision for esthetical and sociocultural factors. However, there are also medical reasons for circumcision.
Typically, an uncircumcised man can pull his foreskin forward and back. But sometimes, the foreskin tightens and cannot be retracted back. This is called phimosis, and it can be caused by infection, inflammation, and poor hygiene.
Milder cases of phimosis might be treated with an ointment that softens the foreskin. But more serious cases may require circumcision.
Paraphimosis occurs when the retracted foreskin cannot be pulled forward into its normal position. The result is a tight, constricting ring. Men with paraphimosis often experience pain and swelling.
Paraphimosis needs immediate medical care. Left untreated, blood flow to the tip of the penis might be blocked. Men with severe cases of paraphimosis may need to be circumcised.
Inflammation of the Penis
Circumcision may be necessary for men with these conditions, especially if they recur:
- Balanitis – inflammation of the glans penis (the tip or “head’’ of the penis)
- Posthitis – inflammation of the foreskin
- Balanoposthitis – inflammation of both the glans penis and the foreskin
Balanitis, posthitis, and balanoposthitis have been associated with infections (such as sexually transmitted infections), allergic reactions, and other skin conditions. Men with diabetes are at higher risk.
Penile discomfort, painful sex, and a short frenulum are other reasons adult men might be circumcised.
Circumcision is sometimes practiced to potentially lower risk for infections, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that “male circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexually acquired HIV infection in men by approximately 60%.”
Even though circumcision may reduce the risk of STIs, including HIV, it does not eliminate that risk. Men and their partners should still use safe sex practices, such as using condoms during every sexual act.
Circumcision is also thought to lower a man’s risk for penile cancer.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“Information for providers counseling male patients and parents regarding male circumcision and the prevention of HIV infection, STIs, and other health outcomes”
(August 22, 2018)
Iliades, Chris, MD
“Adult Circumcision: The Basics”
(April 12, 2016)
International Society for Sexual Medicine
“How is phimosis treated?”
“What is phimosis?”
Medical News Today
“Paraphimosis: Symptoms, treatment, and prevention”
(August 8, 2017)
Merck Manual – Consumer Version
Shenot, Patrick J., MD
“Inflammation of the Penis (Balanitis; Posthitis; Balanoposthitis)”
(Last review: August 2019)
SA Health (Government of South Australia)
“Balanitis and balanoposthitis diagnosis and management”
(Last updated: January 2017)
World Health Organization
“Male circumcision for HIV prevention”