Objective: To evaluate knowledge about the foreskin and circumcision, and to understand the attitudes of parents to circumcision in Korea, where circumcision in childhood is widely practised with no particular religious or medical background. Subjects and methods: A nationwide study involving questionnaires was conducted on 5500 parents with at least one son attending elementary school. Responses were obtained from one of the parents. Results: The response rate was 76.1% (4183); circumcision was most common in boys when aged 11 years, followed by neonatal circumcision. Of the parents, 91.3% believed that circumcision is necessary, while 2.1% believed it to be unnecessary. The principal reasons given for circumcision were 'to improve penile hygiene' (82.4%), followed by 'to improve future sexual potency' (7.5%). Among those who did not believe circumcision to be necessary, the most common reason was the expectation of spontaneous retraction of the prepuce with age (55.1%). Most (88.4%) of the parents believed that smegma is not a clean material, and is infected by microorganisms. Most parents (80.6%) thought that circumcision would prevent genital tract infection of the future spouse. Peer pressure was one of the most influential factors in deciding upon circumcision; 41.9% of the parents were anxious that their child might be ridiculed by his peer group unless he was circumcised, while 27.4% of the parents believed that their child might be ridiculed if he was circumcised. Mothers were more positive about circumcision than fathers (P<0.05). Parents with a higher education and higher socio-economic status were also more positive about circumcision (P<0.05). Mothers were prone to emphasize improved sexual potency (P<0.05). There was no significant difference in response between urban and rural areas. Conclusion: This study indicates that common beliefs held by parents about the prepuce or circumcision differ significantly from current medical knowledge, and these beliefs have a major influence on the practice of circumcision in Korea. More clinical research on the natural history of the foreskin is needed, and it is critical that both children and parents are informed about the potential benefits and disadvantages of circumcision.
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