What to Know About Being Circumcised vs. Uncircumcised

Is one "better" than the other?

Being circumcised ("cut") means that the foreskin of a penis has been surgically removed, while being uncircumcised ("uncut") means that the foreskin is retained.

Historically in the United States, around 64% of male babies have undergone circumcision for preventive health reasons and/or cultural or religious reasons. Even so, the rate of male circumcision has been on the decline in recent years as some people—including some health experts—question whether the procedure is medically necessary.

Newborn infant with hat wrapped in blanket in hospital bassinet

Cavan Images / Getty Images

According to the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), around 30% of all males across the world—representing a total of roughly 670 million people—are circumcised.

This article looks at the various reasons why parents choose for their babies to be circumcised or uncircumcised. It also describes the pros and cons of male circumcision as well as the various medical concerns that may arise if you have a cut or uncut penis.

Gender Definitions

For the purpose of this article, "male" refers to people born with penises without regard to the gender or genders they identify with. The gender terms used in this article are the same used in the referenced source.

Is It "Bad" to Be Uncircumcised or Circumcised?

People often have strong opinions when faced with the issue of male circumcision.

On the one hand, some people consider it "unhealthy" not to undergo circumcision and regard an uncut penis as "unattractive." On the other hand, some regard the procedure as "outdated" and even "barbaric" or suggest that circumcision will undermine the sexual function of the penis.

None of these assumptions are inherently true. If anything, the heated debate can make it all the more difficult to discuss why both may be reasonable options.

How Male Circumcision Is Performed

In the United States, male circumcision is typically performed soon after birth but can also be performed later in life. The procedure is typically performed in a hospital but, for religious or cultural reasons, may be performed on newborns in a nonmedical setting.

Male circumcision involves the removal of the foreskin, the double layer of skin that covers the head (glans) of the penis. It is a relatively simple procedure in which the newborn's foreskin is stretched with forceps and the skin is snipped away with either scissors or a special cutting tool.

To avoid pain, a local anesthetic or a topical pain-numbing cream may be used. While not everyone uses an anesthetic for neonatal (newborn) circumcision, both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend it to reduce pain.

Healing generally takes around a week, although it can take longer for adults.

Reasons Parents Choose One or the Other

There are many reasons a parent may choose to pursue or avoid circumcision for their child. It is ultimately an elective procedure that is not medically indicated unless the foreskin poses health concerns.

Among the reasons parents may opt to have their child circumcised include:

  • Cleanliness: Some people regard circumcised penises as "cleaner" because you do not have to wash under the foreskin.
  • Appearance: Culturally, some people regard an uncircumcised penis as unattractive and will have the foreskin removed for cosmetic reasons.
  • Health benefits: Parents may opt for circumcision after being advised that it may slightly lower the risk of diseases like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), human papillomavirus (HPV), and genital herpes.
  • Religious reasons: Male circumcision is almost universally practiced among Jewish people. Other religions—including Islamic people, Coptic Christians in Egypt, and Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia—regard circumcision as a facet of their religious beliefs.

Among the reasons parents may opt to leave a child uncircumcised include:

  • Surgical risks: While rare, circumcisions pose a risk of complications such as bleeding, infection, and injury to the penis or urethra (the tube through which urine and semen exit the body).
  • Hygiene practices: While it may be easier to wash an uncut penis, the presence or absence of a foreskin doesn't inherently pose a risk to hygiene or health.
  • Personal belief: Some people equate circumcision to "genital mutilation" and regard the practice as unnecessary and unethical, depriving a child of dominion over their own body.
  • Cost: In the United States, circumcision rates are lower in poorer communities, suggesting that price and access to health insurance influence the decision to circumcise or not circumcise.

Effects of Being Circumcised vs. Uncircumcised

Some people argue that male circumcision can negatively impact the sensitivity and sexual function of the penis and that the possible risks outweigh any perceived benefits.

In the past, the AAP largely agreed with the position, stating in the 1970s that there was "no medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn." Since then, an increased understanding of disease transmission has led to a revision of the AAP stance.

Expert Consensus

In its most recent (2012) technical report and policy statement, the AAP found that the "health benefits of circumcision in newborn boys outweigh the risks." But, the AAP also concluded the benefits are not great enough to recommend circumcision for all newborns.

To this end, there are certain factors that may help inform whether circumcision or noncircumcision is the "right" option for you or your child.


With an uncircumcised penis, the foreskin will cover the glans like a hood whenever the penis is soft (flaccid). The foreskin is typically retractable and can be pulled back during urination to prevent splashing. During an erection, the foreskin will automatically retract and expose the head of the penis.

After circumcision, the removal of the foreskin will leave the glans permanently exposed. This can make urination easier and prevent the buildup of skin cells and oils known as smegma, which has a soft, cheesy consistency and unpleasant odor. The texture of the skin may also change.


A foreskin can cause sexual stimulation by rubbing against the head of the penis. The sensation can be further increased by mucous membranes that produce slippery mucus.

Removing the foreskin can alter these features, but it doesn't necessarily reduce sexual pleasure or the sensation of the penis itself.

While research has been conflicting (in part because penis sensitivity and pleasure are largely subjective), a comprehensive review of studies published in Sexual Medicine in 2020 concluded that male circumcision does not inherently reduce penis sensitivity.

Some studies reviewed suggested that circumcision might actually increase sensitivity by providing the glans with unobstructed contact with vaginal tissues during sexual intercourse.

Sexual Performance

The current body of evidence has also shown that male circumcision does not affect sexual function compared to uncircumcised males. With that said, there is evidence that circumcision may affect ejaculation (the emission of sperm and semen from the penis).

Premature Ejaculation Risk

A 2021 review of studies published in the International Journal of Impotence Research suggests that circumcised men may be at greater risk of premature ejaculation (PE) than uncircumcised men.

The condition, in which orgasm and ejaculation occur right before or just after starting sex, is one of the most common sexual problems in males affecting up to 30% at some point in their life.

Even so, the evidence remains conflicted, with some studies suggesting a twofold increased risk of PE in circumcised men, while others show no difference in the risk at all.


There is no evidence that getting circumcised increases the risk of infertility (the inability to achieve pregnancy).

In fact, circumcision may reduce the risk of certain infections that can damage the male reproductive tract and lead to infertility. This includes HPV, a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that some researchers believe is linked to idiopathic (unexplained) male infertility.

Studies suggest that the risk of HPV is 4 times greater in uncircumcised males compared to uncircumcised males. Chronic HPV infection may, in turn, cause urethral inflammation that can potentially reduce the quality of sperm.


Parents who opt to leave a child uncircumcised will usually teach them how to clean under the foreskin. In the end, having an uncircumcised penis does not mean that you are any less hygienic than someone who is circumcised.

With that said, having a foreskin may increase your risk of certain infections if cleanliness is not maintained. This is because the skin under the foreskin is warm and moist, providing the ideal environment for bacteria or fungus (particularly is smegma allowed to accumulate).

A bacterial or fungal infection under the foreskin can lead to a number of inflammatory conditions, such as:

  • Balanitis: Inflammation of the head of the penis
  • Balanoposthitis: Inflammation of the foreskin and head of the penis
  • Meatitis: Inflammation of the opening of the urethra (meatus)
  • Urethritis: Inflammation of the urethra

If a bacterial infection spreads into the urethra, it can lead to a urinary tract infection (UTI).

Penile Medical Conditions

While some people may suggest that one is "better" or "worse" than the other, circumcised and uncircumcised penises are both vulnerable to medical conditions, some of which may be serious.


Medical conditions may arise after circumcision surgery. Postsurgical complications are rare and most often occur when the procedure is performed by a poorly trained nonmedical practitioner.

Possible complications include:

  • Penile skin bridge: This is when the circumcision wound heals improperly, causing the skin on the shaft of the penis to become attached to the head of the penis.
  • Urethrocutaneous fistula: This is when a surgical injury causes an abnormal opening (called a fistula) through which urine can leak from the penis.
  • Secondary phimosis: This occurs when not enough foreskin is removed during the surgery, causing the remaining skin to constrict (narrow) and trap the head of the penis.
  • Meatal stenosis: This is when an injury to the urethra causes the opening to narrow, increasing the risk of splashing, pain with urination (dysuria), or difficulty emptying the bladder (urinary retention).


There are a number of conditions that uncircumcised males are vulnerable to. In addition to an increased risk of infection, a foreskin will sometimes not retract as it's supposed to, leading to aggravating and potentially serious conditions known as:

  • Phimosis: This is when the foreskin is too tight to be pulled back over the glands. This may cause pain during sex (dyspareunia) or make urination messy or difficult.
  • Paraphimosis: This is a medical emergency in which the foreskin becomes trapped behind the head of the penis, blocking blood circulation. Unless treated immediately, the loss of blood flow can damage the penis and, on rare occasions, require surgical amputation.

A foreskin can also increase the risk of getting certain sexually transmitted infections, albeit in slightly different ways, including:

  • HIV: Having a foreskin increases the risk of HIV by roughly 60%. This is because low-level inflammation under the foreskin draws immune cells, known as CD4 T cells, which HIV preferentially targets for infection.
  • HPV: Having a foreskin may increase the risk of human papillomavirus tenfold. Compared to circumcised males, uncircumcised males tend to have a greater concentration of HPV under their foreskin.
  • Genital herpes: Having a foreskin increases the risk of herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2) by 30%. HSV-2 is the type of herpes most commonly linked to genital herpes.

Penile Cancer Risk

Some studies suggest that having a foreskin may also increase the risk of penile cancer, a disease linked to chronic HPV infection. Even so, the evidence remains inconclusive, and removing a foreskin during adulthood is unlikely to reduce the risk.

Circumcision as an Adult

Although circumcision is most commonly performed in newborns, there are occasions when it is medically indicated in adults, such as for phimosis or paraphimosis. Others may opt to be circumcised if it causes pain during sex or if faced with recurrent balanitis or UTIs.

Others still may schedule revision surgery to correct a botched circumcision or decide to pursue circumcision for cosmetic, religious, or relationship reasons.

Whatever the reason, the procedure is largely the same as it is in babies, albeit with a few alterations, as follows:

  • General anesthesia is generally preferred to put you fully to sleep.
  • Adult circumcisions are performed with either a scalpel or a device called a cutting stapler that removes the foreskin and seals the wound simultaneously.
  • If a scalpel is used, the wound is most often closed with absorbable sutures (stitches) or electrocautery (which burns the skin with an electrical current).
  • From start to finish, adult circumcisions take around 30 minutes to complete.

As long as there are no immediate complications, most people can return home on the day of the surgery. Recovery time can take anywhere from two to three weeks.


Neither circumcision nor the lack of circumcision is "bad" or "good." Each poses certain health benefits and risks.

Uncircumcised penises are vulnerable to infection and conditions like balanitis, phimosis, and paraphimosis. Having a foreskin may also increase the risk of getting sexually transmitted infections like HIV, HPV, and genital herpes.

While circumcision is relatively safe, there may be a risk of infection and other post-op complications. With that said, circumcision is generally not associated with the loss of sensitivity, sexual function, or fertility.

Despite the potential benefits, the decision to have your baby—or yourself—circumcised is an individual one. There is no "right" or "wrong" choice.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does being circumcised vs. uncircumcised affect erection?

    Having a circumcised or uncircumcised penis has no inherent impact on your ability to achieve or sustain erections. With that said, a condition called phimosis—in which the foreskin does not retract over the head of the penis as it's meant to—can cause painful erections and interfere with your ability to maintain erections.

  • Do circumcised and uncircumcised penises feel the same?

    People will tell you different things about how their penis feels before and after circumcision. Some report greater sensitivity, while others report less or no change in sensitivity. The answers tend to be subjective. But, on its own, circumcision is not associated with a loss of sensitivity or sexual pleasure.

  • Is being circumcised or uncircumcised better?

    Being circumcised or uncircumcised is neither "good" nor "bad." The decision may be based on religious or cultural concerns or the perceived health benefits or risks. With that said, having an uncircumcised penis does not mean you are either "unhygienic" or at inherent risk of disease. The decision to have or not have a circumcision is ultimately a personal one.

23 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By James Myhre & Dennis Sifris, MD
Dennis Sifris, MD, is an HIV specialist and Medical Director of LifeSense Disease Management. James Myhre is an American journalist and HIV educator.