Neonatal circumcision: a review of the world's oldest and most controversial operation

Obstet Gynecol Surv. 2004 May;59(5):379-95. doi: 10.1097/00006254-200405000-00026.


Untimely old, circumcision has elicited more controversy and war of words than any surgical procedure in history. Although previous claims of benefits like curing masturbation, gout, epilepsy, and even insanity were no doubt absurd, important research has shed light on real medical benefits of circumcision. In particular, the procedure has consistently shown to result in the decreased risk of debilitating and costly diseases such as HIV, cervical cancer, and infantile urinary tract infection. Because of advances in the understanding of the anatomy of the foreskin and pain conditioning in infants, prevailing attitudes have changed about anesthesia and analgesia during the procedure. This article objectively summarizes the bulk of significant medical literature over the last century to provide an accurate statement about what we know and what we do not know about neonatal circumcision, including its history, epidemiology, medical benefits, complications, contraindications, techniques, management for pain, and current controversies.

Target audience: Obstetricians & Gynecologists, Family Physicians.

Learning objectives: After completion of this article, the reader should be able to describe the evolution of circumcision, to list the potential benefits of circumcision, to outline the various neonatal circumcision techniques, and to summarize the data on the use of analgesia for circumcision.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Circumcision, Male* / adverse effects
  • Circumcision, Male* / history
  • Circumcision, Male* / methods
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain / prevention & control
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / prevention & control
  • Urinary Tract Infections / prevention & control