Circumcision is a surgical operation to remove the foreskin of the penis. An adult may decide to undergo this procedure for religious, cosmetic, medical, or cultural reasons.

Circumcision is fairly common in the United States, where some research estimates that 71.2% of males have undergone the procedure.

Some health authorities, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), encourage circumcision on the basis that it appears to reduce the risk of HIV infection through vaginal sex. However, there is still some debate on the benefits of circumcision.

Some people with an uncircumcised penis may decide to have the procedure later in life. In adulthood, the procedure is more complicated than it is in infants, and it usually involves a longer recovery.

In this article, we discuss adult circumcision in detail, including the possible benefits and risks of the procedure.

Doctors performing an adult circumcision procedure.Share on Pinterest
Image credit: Morsa Images / Getty Images.

Circumcision is a procedure that removes the foreskin of the penis. The foreskin is the hood of loose skin that covers the head of the penis. Doctors most commonly perform circumcision on newborn infants.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Urological Association recommend that doctors offer circumcision as an option and discuss the possible risks and benefits with parents or caregivers.

Circumcisions in adulthood are less common. As an adult, uncircumcised individuals can decide for themselves whether they want to undergo the procedure. While some may opt for circumcision for aesthetic, hygiene, or religious reasons, others may require circumcision for various health reasons.

It is rare for a medical condition to necessitate circumcision, but the procedure may reduce the severity and frequency of certain symptoms.

The reasons an adult might consider circumcision include:

Lower risk of certain illnesses

Circumcision may reduce the risk of penile cancer, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and some sexually transmitted infections (STIs). However, studies that look at risk reduction have looked at whole populations, not individuals.

Personal, cultural, or religious reasons

Many different cultures and religions have rules about hygiene that suggest or require circumcision. Therefore, a person who converts to a new religion may consider circumcision.

Others may simply choose to undergo circumcision because they prefer the look of a circumcised penis.

Phimosis and paraphimosis

Phimosis occurs when the foreskin becomes too tight, and a person cannot pull it back over the head of the penis. Paraphimosis is a similar condition that occurs when the foreskin becomes stuck after being pulled behind the tip of the penis.

Both of these conditions can be painful, undermine sexual function, and make it easier for harmful infections to develop. As they involve the foreskin, circumcision may be a way to prevent these conditions from recurring.

In very severe cases, paraphimosis can be a medical emergency, and a person may need to undergo circumcision to treat it.

Posthitis and balanoposthitis

Posthitis is inflammation of the foreskin, while balanoposthitis is inflammation of both the foreskin and the head of the penis. Research suggests that balanoposthitis occurs in roughly 6% of uncircumcised males.

If a person frequently experiences either condition, and the symptoms do not improve with treatment or self-care strategies, they may consider circumcision.

Injuries

If the foreskin tears during sex or in an accident, some people may opt for surgery to remove it. This option may be easier than repairing the foreskin.

For most people, the surgery does not cause serious complications. However, recovery can be painful, and some may fear the surgery itself. Some potential risks include:

  • Excessive bleeding: Some people may bleed more than is normal or safe during the procedure. They may also notice bleeding around the incision for a few hours or days after the procedure.
  • Infection: Any injury to the skin can provide a site for bacteria to grow. A circumcision creates a wound, which may become infected. Following a doctor’s postsurgical care instructions can reduce the risk of infection.
  • Anesthesia complications: As with any surgery, a person may experience anesthesia-related complications, such as allergic reactions, nausea, vomiting, or difficulties waking up from general anesthesia.
  • Pain: It is normal to feel pain after the procedure. For some people, the pain is intense or lasts weeks or months. Very rarely, injuries to the penis or surrounding nerves may cause chronic pain or make sex painful.

Typically, a doctor will perform the circumcision procedure under general anesthesia, but they may sometimes use local or spinal anesthesia instead.

With general anesthesia, a person is totally asleep and feels nothing. Local anesthesia numbs the area but allows a person to stay awake, while someone who has a spinal anesthesia will be unable to feel anything below the waist.

The surgery itself takes about 30 minutes, but the whole procedure, including delivering anesthesia and waking up, may take longer.

After surgery, a doctor applies a dressing to the site of surgery, which usually stays on for about 2 days. They may also give the person some pain medication. Some swelling and bruising will likely last for several days.

Recovery from an adult circumcision may take up to 6 weeks. The penis may feel very sensitive for the first 2 weeks, and dissolvable stitches may last for 2–3 weeks. It is also advisable to keep the area dry for 48 hours and avoid swimming for up to 2 weeks.

A person should wear loose-fitting clothing for the first few days after the procedure and refrain from any sexual activity for 4 weeks. It is common to experience pain during an erection while recovering.

Applying petroleum jelly may help ease itching and pain, and it can help prevent stitches from sticking to clothing. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help if a person experiences any discomfort.

An adult may choose to have a circumcision for religious, cosmetic, medical, or cultural reasons. While circumcision is usually a simple procedure, it is more complicated in adults than it is in infants and usually involves a longer recovery.

Anyone considering circumcision should discuss this with a doctor or urologist.