Skip to main content

circumcision

circumcision (sûr´kəmsĬzh´ən), operation to remove the foreskin covering the glans of the penis. It dates back to prehistoric times and was widespread throughout the Middle East as a religious rite before it was introduced among the Hebrews. It is performed by Jews on the eighth day after the birth of the male child, unless postponed for reasons of health. It is also practiced among Muslims and by other peoples in many parts of the world.

Explanations of the origin of circumcision are entirely conjectural. It is related to rites of initiation. Among Jews it is considered to involve membership in the community and to be a sign of the covenant between God and humans. The decision that Christians need not practice circumcision is recorded in Acts 15; there was never, however, a prohibition of circumcision, and it is practiced by Coptic Christians. Despite some controversy, it also has been widely practiced in modern times, especially in the United States, as a sanitary measure believed to give some preventive advantage against penile cancer and sexually transmitted diseases (studies have shown it to be associated with a significant reduction in the risk of HIV transmission, particularly among heterosexuals).

Since 1971, when the American Academy of Pediatrics stopped recommending routine infant circumcision, the number of circumcised newborns in the United States has declined; the infant circumcision rate is now around 33%. In the early 21st cent., however, the benefits of circumcision in controlling the spread of HIV has led to a renewed interest in the practice, particularly in parts of Africa where heterosexually transmitted AIDS is common, and nonsurgical circumcision techniques have been developed for use on large numbers of adult men. These methods typically involve using elastic bands or plastic clamps to cut off the blood flow to the foreskin, which results in its dying, drying up, and being easily removed after a week.

So-called female circumcision, in the form of excision of the labia minora and clitoris (clitoridectomy) aimed at destroying sexual sensation, is known in Islam (although it is a cultural, not a religious practice) and in certain societies of Africa, South America, and elsewhere. Also called female genital mutilation, it is a controversial practice, but deeply rooted in local custom; there are movements toward prohibition in some countries. In the United States it is illegally practiced among some immigrant populations. In some instances women have sought asylum in the United States or other Western nations to prevent forced operations on themselves or their daughters. A World Health Organization study released in 2006, which involved more than 28,000 women in six African countries, found that the practice increased the risk of complications and death during and after childbirth for mothers and their newborns.

See study by D. L. Gollaher (2000).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"circumcision." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"circumcision." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/circumcision

"circumcision." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/circumcision

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.