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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Decline in male circumcision in South Korea

DaiSik Kim1, Sung-Ae Koo2 and Myung-Geol Pang3*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Physics and Astronomy, Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea

2 Purun Ausung, Seoul, South Korea

3 Department of Animal Science and Technology, School of Bioresource and Bioscience, Chung-Ang University, Anseong, Gyeonggi-Do, South Korea

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:1067  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-1067

Published: 11 December 2012



To investigate the changing circumcision rate in South Korea in the last decade and to propose underlying causes for this change, in the context of the present fluctuating world-wide trends in circumcision.


From 2009 to 2011, 3,296 South Korean males (or their parents) aged 0–64 years were asked about their circumcision status, their age at circumcision, and their information level regarding circumcision. We employed non-probability sampling considering the sensitive questions on the study theme.


Currently the age-standardized circumcision rate for South Korean males aged 14–29 is found to be 75.8%. In an earlier study performed in 2002, the rate for the same age group was 86.3%. Of particular interest, males aged 14–16 show a circumcision rate of 56.4%, while the same age group 10 years ago displayed a much higher percentage, at 88.4%. In addition, the extraordinarily high circumcision rate of 95.2% found 10 years ago for the 17–19 age group is now reduced to 74.4%. Interestingly, of the circumcised males, the percentage circumcised in the last decade was only 25.2%; i.e., the majority of the currently circumcised males had undergone the operation prior to 2002, indicating that the actual change in the last decade is far greater. Consistent with this conjecture, the 2002 survey showed that the majority of circumcised males (75.7%) had undergone the operation in the decade prior to that point. Focusing on the flagship age group of 14–16, this drop suggests that, considering the population structure of Korean males, approximately one million fewer circumcision operations have been performed in the last decade relative to the case of non-decline. This decline is strongly correlated with the information available through internet, newspapers, lectures, books, and television: within the circumcised population, both the patients and their parents had less prior knowledge regarding circumcision, other than information obtained from person to person by oral communication. Within the uncircumcised population, the prior knowledge was far greater, suggesting that information discouraging circumcision played an important role.


South Korean male circumcision is likely to be undergoing a steep decline. The cause for this decline seems to be the increase in information available on the pros and cons of circumcision.

Male circumcision; South Korea; Information; HIV