If performed in the absence of essential indications, or as a routine procedure, it may be an unnecessary operation. Some men who were circumcised in infancy feel that they have been mutilated and deprived of an important structure without their consent and they are just as obsessional about this as those who clamour to be circumcised. On the other hand feelings of regret or resentment are not engendered in men who are coerced into having the operation when it is not essential (e.g. going to sea or request of fiancée) and they are just as pleased as those who are done for say phimosis.
As with any other operation there are theoretical risks of bleeding, infection, surgical error and death under the anaesthetic. Out-of-date statistics and 'horror' stories from the past are still quoted even though modern infant circumcision with a 'Plastibell' under 'Ketalar' anaesthesia is devoid of these complications. Adults and adolescents can be circumcised using only local anaesthesia so as to again eliminate the risks.
It has been suggested that the operation may cause psychological harm if it is performed at an unsuitable age. It may well be that separation from parents and not the operation is the factor because I have never been able to find any evidence of psychological trauma. Also if circumcision is not explained the child may be disturbed to find he is different from his brothers and friends. Life may also be made miserable by remarks from his uncircumcised school-fellows in the showers about the shorn state of his organ. Conversely in a society where infant circumcision is the rule it is the uncircumcised scholar who is made to feel inferior by his class-mates.
If an uncircumcised infant gets a nappy (diaper) rash his foreskin becomes inflamed but his glans is protected. In the circumcised infant if the glans becomes involved, a sore (meatitis) develops at the opening of the water pipe (meatus) and passing water is painful. The meatus soon heals, occasionally there is slight scarring and very rarely the opening may have to be stretched. Napkin rash is caused by urine in sodden napkins decomposing and releasing ammonia so the condition can be prevented by proper hygiene. Modern high-absorbancy disposable nappies also make the risk negligible. The risk of meatitis, which is the most common complication of circumcision in infancy, is advanced as the main argument against routine circumcision but little mention is made of the fact that balanitis in the uncircumcised male later in life is the most common cause of meatal scarring. Severe inflammation of the foreskin due to nappy rash can result in phimosis or balanitis and thus in any case lead to a need for circumcision.
A number of men complain that a loss of sensitivity or dryness of the glans following circumcision has spoiled their sex lives. At the other extreme are those who seek the operation to achieve these changes in the glans to enhance their sex lives. These complaints are similar to the mutilation obsession because men with naturally short foreskins are not troubled by having the glans exposed.
There are also a couple of alleged disadvantages which are just 'old wives tales':-
Masturbation is prevented. This is definitely untrue but after circumcision the technique may have to be changed and a little lubricant may be initially required.
Patients are in agony for weeks after the operation. There is obviously some discomfort for a few days and the scar is a bit tender for a couple of weeks but that is about all. If there is active balanitis or the prepuce has been adherent to the glans then there is more post-operative discomfort. It is also untrue that the exposed glans rubbing against clothing is uncomfortable.