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Circumcision Rates in the U.S. Falling Fast

By Heather Turgeon |

The rate of circumcision in the U.S. is on a steep decline, according to data presented at the International AIDS Conference this year.

Between 2006 and 2009, the rate of the procedure went from 56 percent to 32.5 percent among newborn boys in this country, says the study.  The research was presented last month, but it wasn’t covered by mainstream media until Monday, when The New York Times wrote a piece about the circumcision controversy.

A researcher from the Centers for Disease Control made the original presentation to the AIDS conference, but since then, the CDC itself said it wasn’t involved in the study’s design and hadn’t analyzed the results (a company named SDI Health did the research).  The buzz started because an image from the scientist’s slideshow circulated the web, showing a plummet in circumcision rates over the last few years. Anti-circumcision groups cheered.Federal researchers say that the rate has steadily fallen, but they can’t necessarily vouch for this particular piece of research.  It wasn’t intended to gather data on circumcision rates—the purpose was to look at possible complications from circumcisions (nothing serious was found, according to the Times).

The population in the study didn’t include any non-hospital circumcisions (as practiced in many Jewish families) or anything not covered by insurance.  So it’s likely to be an overestimation of the actual drop.  Nonetheless, 80 percent of American men are circumcised, so even if it’s an exaggeration, circumcision is definitely falling out of favor in this country.

Image: Flickr/jcgoforth

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About Heather Turgeon


Heather Turgeon

Heather Turgeon is currently writing the book The Happy Sleeper (Penguin, 2014). She's a therapist-turned-writer who authors the Science of Kids column for Babble. A northeasterner at heart, Heather lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two little ones. Read bio and latest posts → Read Heather's latest posts →

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31 thoughts on “Circumcision Rates in the U.S. Falling Fast

  1. laura says:

    Interesting article, but this quote is a little misleading/inaccurate: “Between 2006 and 2009, the rate of the procedure went from 56 percent to 32.5 percent among newborn boys in this country, says the study.” Not newborn boys in the country, newborn boys in the study. According to the article, “measuring the circumcision rate was not the purpose of the study, which was designed to measure the rate of complications from the procedure.” I think you make that point overall, but that sentence is still off.

  2. Sarah says:

    “or anything not covered by insurance” Wait – there are insurance companies that cover circumcision? I mean, I had top-notch insurance (really – it was great stuff! I miss it!) and they didn’t cover circumcision. It is an elective cosmetic procedure. I think the biggest difference is insurance companies dropping what they cover, not a huge drop in circumcisions.

  3. Laure68 says:

    I can’t blame the author for this. (Stating the circumcision rates are dropping steeply when the data does not really show this.) The NY Times did the exact same thing. (btw, I find the NY Times to do this all the time. They make proclamations based on poor/non-existent evidence, especially in the Health articles.)

  4. Rosana says:

    Sarah, my son’s circumcision was covered by my insurance in 2007

  5. Jack says:

    Why is there no mention of the benefits of having a natural penis? The rates are going down as parents are getting the information that the PARTS CUT OFF have function and are a source of pleasure. In particular, male circumcision is nerve damage — a cutting off about 20000 fine touch and stretch sensing nerve endings and removing a source of pleasure from the male FOR LIFE. This is 2/3 of the total pleasure source amputated! This is nerves, blood vessels, protective covering and pleasure zones taken away from a human before the human can experience this. The dynamics and function and pleasure from sex and masturbation of the penis is harmed for good. The only touch organ possessing as rich erogenous innervation as the foreskin is the clitoris.

    There is certainly no consensus in the world as to any benefit of removing erogenous tissue from a baby boys life. In fact the rest of the world often points out the US medical professionals are obsessed with cutting off penis parts of baby boys.

    The most recent US study shows NATURAL men are not at a higher risk of acquiring HPV. In AUS: Circumcision was found to have no protective effects against STIs. The Laumann study (USA, 1997), based on over 30,000 American men, showed no advantage to the circumcised group as to STDs. The most recent comparative study from Dunedin, New Zealand (cohort of about 500 men) backs this up, concluding: “Circumcision does not appear to shield men from most types of STDs in developed nations.” The Africa studies purported to show almost 60% relative change in HIV risk (this is actually about a 1.4% risk change) but this has not been observed in the industrialized world. In the US the risk of getting HIV for a NATURAL (intact ) male is the same as a poor guy missing his pleasure parts. The same circumcision pushers that did the Africa study halted a a study that was indicating that circumcised men pass HIV to women at a much higher rate than natural men.

  6. Restoring Tally says:

    I wish the circumcision rate had fallen a long time ago. I might still have all of my sex organ instead of being circumcised at birth. I am restoring my foreskin now to undo some of the damage of my circumcision. I would have preferred to keep my body intact and not have to tug.

  7. Manjari says:

    It’s good news that the rate is falling! I wish I could go back in time and not circumcise my son. I feel like I was given the wrong information, and I wish I had done my OWN research. Now it seems so barbaric to me, and I wish I had it to do over again. :(

  8. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    I preferred to keep my son’s whole. I didn’t realize it was such a radical choice. It just ain’t my body to go messing with.

  9. ann05 says:

    My child was suffering enough in the Nicu, I wasn’t going to slice off part of his penis for giggles while we were there. I’m not terribly worried about HIV and Aids, since I have no issues talking to him about sex, safe sex, and potential consequences. Also, unlike in parts of Africa, we don’t think that one way to get rid of Aids is rape a virgin. It’s crazy talk to extrapolate from Africa to the US.

  10. K. says:

    My son’s circumcision was covered, but he needed one because the foreskin had formed abnormally, and trapped the urine inside because the opening was too small to push back. I think they have to cover it when it poses a problem for the child.
    Also, I was the only one in my ECFE group that even considered not circumcising (all 12 boys are circumcised), so I was surprised to see that it is becoming the trend. I would definitely do it again if I have another boy.

  11. Lisa says:

    Both of my boys circs were covered, the last in 2009. And no, it wasn’t done for giggles, nor did it cause them pain or misery and they both seem to enjoy their penises just fine. I accompanied my youngest. He cried more when they opened his gown than anything else.

  12. Linda says:

    Manjari, I know how you feel. My first son was circumcised (we are Jewish) without our having done any research at all in to the matter. I totally regret it. When we had our youngest, we left him intact. And Lisa, that’s called SHOCK ~ don’t delude yourslef. It hurts to have part of your penis cut off without anesthesia. My first son screamed and screamed. I’ll never forget it as long as I live.

  13. Frank OHara says:

    The fact that only hospital circumcisions covered by insurance were the only ones considered will not have a major impact on the figures.

    It has been observed in the states where Medicaid does not cover the procedure that few of these boys are circumcised and the same will probably be true of those not covered by private insurance. Jews are 1.75% of the population in The US and not all Jewish babies are circumcised so this will only have a small effect on the overall numbers/percentages. This is testimony that the infant circumcision rate in The US is dropping rapidly and circumcision is a fad that is going the way of the leisure suit.

  14. Lisa says:

    Linda, both boys were given locals as they had their circs in the hospital. There was no shock, no pain, no discomfort.

  15. bob says:

    Leaving the non-hospital circs out of the stats makes them better, it seems to me. I would want the rate among those who are not doing this ceremonially.

    I did some internet research on this a couple years ago, looking for reliable current statistics, and I found them somewhat difficult to locate. I succeeded only in getting a sense that rates were roughly 50/50 and declining.

    This post is juxtapositioned nicely on the blog with the one about CIO. I think the practices are are both in a similar pivotal place, culturally: perhaps falling out of favor, still a hard call for some parents weighing pros and cons and trying to ascertain the possibility of long-term impact. In both cases, it’s something perhaps most in our generation ‘endured’ as babies without apparent harm. I think the parents doing these things today are making the best decisions the can at a time when the information available is far from perfect, so I don’t think anybody should be made to feel guilty about their choices. Double that for the poor grandparents who made this decision 20-40 years ago.

  16. Magnoliama says:

    Awesome news!

  17. Hugh7 says:

    If it’s true, that’s really good news. Now “We cut him to protect him from being teased in the locker room” can carry no weight. If anything, he may be teased if he’s cut, and which would you rather tell him – “Well, the others are all different because their parents had part cut off their [euphemism]s, but we didn’t” or “The others are all different because we had part cut off your [euphemism] but their parents didn’t”?

    Another figure in that slide claimed only 0.08% of males are circumcised post-neonatally. So much for “Do it now, because it’ll only have to be done later”!

  18. Julia says:

    Great news! I am having a boy in few weeks and he won’t be circumcised.
    Lisa, I don’t know how in the world you would know that your sons didn’t experience any pain, you were not the one getting a piece of your body cut off.

  19. Linda says:

    Lisa, you still amputated a functioning part of their penis for no reason. I did the same thing to my first son. I just don’t delude myself that it was a good choice.

  20. Linda says:

    Um, Bob, it’s pretty easy to “ascertain” the long term effetcs of supervision. A body part has been amputated without the child’s consent and it’s never coming back.

  21. Linda says:

    LOLOLOLO. I can’t believe I wrote “supervision”. C i r c u m c i s i o n.

  22. bob says:

    It’s interesting that you would make that point, Linda, because I was defending people like you, who chose to circumcise without perfect knowledge. But if you want to beat yourself up, be my guest.
    I was referring to the long term impact on sexual enjoyment/function and the psychological ramifications and likelihood of being different from your peers and father.

  23. Manjari says:

    I really appreciate the way you frame this, bob. I do beat myself up about it, but there isn’t much I can do about it now. I’m just glad that circumcision is on the decline.

    Speaking of trying to ascertain the long-term impact… part of the reason I went along with the circumcision was because of an older relative in my family who had to have his foreskin removed in middle age. Another relative told me how horrible it was, and how much better to avoid having that happen in adulthood. I wish I had thought more clearly about how rare that is, and also that I had made the connection between an adult who can express how awful it was and a baby, who can’t.

  24. Marj says:

    I did do a lot of research, and learned both sides of the argument. I still decided to have my sons circumcised and I am not Jewish. I’m not going to go over step by step my reasons for choosing the way I did, they are many. However, I respect the rights of people to do so, or not to do so. I can only choose for my own family. The boys felt nothing and half-slept through the procedure, healed quickly and have had no problems.

  25. Lantean says:

    If male circumcision is such a beneficial procedure as we are led to believe then why do not masses of intact males (nearly 85%) rush to avail themselves of this surgery?

    Should not the purpose of surgery and any medical treatment be to help preserve parts of the human body as long as possible – or is it to amputate normal and vital body parts of non-consenting individuals?

  26. JBoogie says:

    I’m with you Marj.

  27. [...] Circumcision Rates in the U.S. Falling Fast. SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "C-Section Twice As Likely When Doctors Induce Labor", url: "" }); Comments: (0) Tags: Cesarean, cesarean section, induce labor, inducing labor, rising cesarean rates « « Even One Month of Breastfeeding Benefits New Mothers [...]

  28. Shan says:

    I am happy that circumcision is declining. I hope it will continue to decline until the procedure is very rare. I hope that someday all infants, girls and boys, will never again suffer from genital mutilation in the name of culture, religion, chastity, or perceptions of cleanliness.

  29. Andi says:

    I was lucky to have a professor in graduate school who did a lot of research on the cross cultural, medical necessity (or lack thereof) and the history of circumcision and in class we heard both sides of the argument. When I did have my third child, a son, I left him intact. I believe that circ. is a cosmetic procedure that many people simply don’t want their son to be “different”. It’s highly doubtful that people would be as supportive of the removal of the clitoral hood at birth to make it “cleaner”. Most europeans are NOT circ’d, by the way. And MANY studies have shown that there is a serious lack of appropriate anesthia, local or not, for infants this young. Thus, many infants, still to this day, are given sugar to deal with the pain, which studies have shown only changes the facial expression of the infant, not the level of pain. I think it’s barbaric.

  30. Laurel says:

    We chose to leave our son intact. My husband was circed as an infant and though he doesn’t feel he was “cheated,” he was very adamant that we leave the circumcision decision to our son when he’s of age. If he really wants to do it, we will support him in that. There is a lot of hype and hoopla over it in the US, but most of Europe and Asia (from what I’ve gathered in speaking to people from these continents) do NOT circumcise. We also do “family bed” which is very common in most of the world, as is natural potty training or elimination communication. All these things seem “weird” to a lot of Americans, but the rest of the world sees us as somewhat barbaric. (chopping off our sons’ penises? leaving our newborns alone in dark rooms for hours? letting babies and young children sit in their wastes?) It sounds awful when you think about it from the perspective of the baby!

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