Circumcision is the surgical removal of the skin covering the tip of the penis. It is also the removal or surgical alteration of the vulva, clitoris, or other female genitalia and when performed on a female is often referred to as Female Genital Mutilation, or FGM.
It is an ancient practice that has its origin in religious rites and superstition. In most first world nations it is not a popular or common ritual. However, in the United States where it’s a multi-million dollar industry that spills over from medicine into research and cosmetics, to name just two ways the removed foreskin is used, it is much more common.
“Parents who choose circumcision often do so based on religious beliefs, common myths about hygiene, or cultural or social reasons, such as the wish to have their child resemble his father,” says sex therapist Kimberly Jackson, LCSW.
Because male circumcision is so common in the US, few Americans realize how rare it is nearly everywhere else. It is unpopular and in the minority in Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, and New Zealand, and less than 20% of all male Europeans are circumcised. The Danish Medical Association has recommended ending the practice for boys, arguing that because it permanently alters the body it should be “an informed, personal choice” that young men make for themselves.
South Africa has the highest rate of penis amputations in the world, in large part because of the persistence of traditional male circumcision in many communities
A district judge in Germany ruled in 2012 that ritual circumcision of children is a crime that violates “the fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity.” South Korea is the only Asian country to embrace the procedure, possibly as a holdover of America’s occupation following World War II. But even there, circumcision rates are quickly declining, as the teenage boys who would otherwise surrender to the procedure (as local custom dictates) gain access to research about its dangers online.