According to the Book of Genesis in the Bible/Torah, God made a covenant with Abraham (a Jewish patriarch) in which Abraham and his descendents would be given great lands, riches and success, but with one catch: Abraham, his descendants and any slaves purchased or born in his household must be circumcised by the eighth day of life. Not doing so would mean that the uncircumcised male would be separate from his people and live without the favor of God. The Jews have held up their end of the deal. Rates of circumcision remain high in Jewish men: about 98 percent of American Jews are circumcised.
In addition to his son Isaac, who would grow up to lead the Jewish people, Abraham also fathered a child with a slave woman in his household. This child, Ishmael, was circumcised according to God’s demands but later cast out at the insistence of Abraham’s son Isaac. Considered the forefather of the modern-day Arab people, Ishmael passed down the custom of circumcision to his ancestors, including the prophet Muhammad.
When Muhammad’s teachings were collected into the Quran, there was no directive regarding circumcision. Nonetheless, most Muslims do circumcise their sons for the simple reason that Muhammad was circumcised. Some Muslims circumcise their infant sons (traditionally by the seventh day of life), while other Muslim young men are circumcised around adolescence. Today, almost two out of every three circumcised men on the planet are Muslim.
Most Christian sects don’t endorse circumcision, leaving the choice up to the family. Other religions, such as Buddhism or Hinduism, don’t have a stance on circumcision. Hindus, in fact, may not practice it simply because many people view it as an Islamic practice.
The history of circumcision has such a strong identification with Judaism that it’s easy to think the practice got its start in the Torah, but it’s believed that Jews were exposed to the custom by the ancient Egyptians, who practiced it for thousands of years before the birth of Christ. Regardless of whether the Jews taught the Egyptians or the Egyptians taught the Jews, people all over the world who had no contact with either group were practicing circumcision.
Both the Mayans and the Aztecs circumcised their male children and the practice has occurred for time immemorial by the native peoples of Australia, parts of Africa, Asia and the Americas.
Ancient historian Herodotus mentioned in his writings that circumcision was practiced by Colchians, an ancient people who lived in what is now modern-day Georgia.
Circumcision for medical purposes seems to have — in modern times at least — come into vogue in the 19th century as doctors began treating adult phimosis, although there are indications that the procedure might have been performed much earlier to prevent or treat venereal diseases.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, doctors began performing circumcisions more often, and now with anesthesia. (This isn’t to say that all previous operations through history have been performed with an entirely sober and fully cognizant adult patient.) As with various patent medicines and medical beliefs of the time, circumcision was seen by some as a cure for a range of ailments, from impotence to homosexuality.
As we seen, circumcision is a big deal in a lot of religions and cultures. As a matter of fact, you’re considered “unclean” if you’re not circumcised. Children who are circumcised as infants, grow up not even knowing the difference between circumcised and uncircumcised. Although the nerves packed into the foreskin provide additional stimulation during sexual activities. Its lubricating function also assists in sexual intercourse.
Additionally, the frenulum (which is removed in some circumcisions) provides stimulation. Since the glans is kept moist and soft by the foreskin, it too is more sensitive to touch. Though they serve a protective purpose, foreskins can cause problems. Since the foreskin keeps the glans lubricated, it must also be kept very clean to prevent bacteria buildup. When regular hygiene is not maintained, a white cheesy discharge called smegma may accumulate beneath the foreskin. Continued poor hygiene can lead to infections and urinary tract infections. Uncircumcised men are more prone to STDs and cancer of the penis.
I’ve dated both the ‘circumcised’ and the ‘uncircumcised’ and all I can say is – the penis in its erect state looks the same. Do I have a preference? My answer is yes – but this only due to health reasons. The good thing is that neither being circumcised or uncircumcised affects sexual performance.
Circumcision is better performed on male children when they’re infants. It was not even an option I had to think about when I was pregnant with my son. I already knew I wanted him circumcised and the hospital I birthed him in had a large selection of qualified doctors. New York Columbia Presbyterian is is one the most comprehensive university hospitals in the world, with leading specialists in every field of medicine so it was so an easy decision for me.
The doctor who performed my son’s circumcision was Arab and did an excellent job. I have found Arab and/or Jew physicians to be the best. This is not to say non-Arabs/Jews won’t do a good job. Since they’re infants, they don’t remember the pain and also don’t know that they’ve had such ‘work’ done.
If you do ever consider circumcision, make arrangements with a qualified doctor/hospital. You won’t regret it. The question now remains how do you go about getting your partner or teenage son to undergo surgery? Most men won’t talk about their desire to be circumcised and they also won’t feel comfortable enough discussing it with you. Whatever their decisions are, support is important.
Benefits of circumcision:
- A lot of men, and their partners, prefer the appearance of their penis after circumcision, It is odor-free, it feels cleaner, and they enjoy better sex. Awareness of a good body image is a very important factor in building self confidence.
- The adult procedure takes 20-30 minutes under local anesthetic. Any embarrassment will quickly pass. Afterwards there can be some pain, as with any cut, but it can be managed with pain killers. The stitches will dissolve, but if any are left after 2 weeks, your physician should and will remove them. Sure, it will be swollen at first, but intercourse can resume after 4 weeks and careful masturbation earlier.
- Some older men develop cancer of the penis – about 1 in 1000 – fairly rare, but tragic if you partner or your son are in that small statistic.
- Infant circumcision gives almost 100% protection, and young adult circumcision also gives a large degree of protection.
- Cancer of the cervix in women is due to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). It thrives under and on the foreskin from where it can be transmitted during intercourse. Surely that alone makes it worth doing right?
- Urinary tract infections sometimes occur in babies and can be quite serious. Circumcision in infancy makes it 10 times less likely.
Circumcision practices around the world
- Customs vary in Africa across regions, countries and tribes. Some communities circumcise at birth, while others arrange a large ceremony and treat it as a coming-of-age event. Some parts of Africa aren’t frequented by trained circumcisers, so often a villager will perform the procedure, which increases the rate of infection. When a trained circumciser does travel through remote areas of Africa, it’s not uncommon for a family to produce boys of many different ages to be circumcised.
- The rate of circumcision is high in the Middle East and Central Asia. Countries throughout Asia that don’t have large Muslim populations don’t tend to practice circumcision, except in South Korea and the Philippines. In South Korea, circumcision wasn’t practiced until the latter half of the 20th century; some believe it’s a direct result of the Koreans’ proximity to American service members who were stationed throughout the country, many of whom were circumcised.
- From about 1980 to 1999, 65 percent of infants born in the United States were circumcised; in 2005, that percentage had dropped to 56, where it has generally held steady since. Rates of circumcision vary across the regions of the United States: Three out of four Midwestern babies are circumcised, while only slightly more than half of all Southern babies are cut. Only about 21 percent of infants are circumcised in the West.
- Hispanics are less likely than non-Hispanics to circumcise male children. The greater concentration of Hispanics in the West over the last 30 years is believed to be responsible for the regional decline in circumcision.
- Falling rates of circumcision in the United States may also be related to the back-and-forth of private insurers and especially Medicaid over whether or not the procedure is covered. Insurance companies have an interest in seeing circumcision fall out of fashion. Though the cost is included in total billing for hospital births, circumcisions cost around $200. That doesn’t seem like too much money, until you consider that of the 2.1 million males born in the United States in 2005, 1.2 million of them were circumcised
If you’re pregnant, consider having your newborn son circumcised. It’s a lot easier when they’re babies than when they’re adults. For more information on circumcision, consult your physician.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading Circumcision – the case of the missing foreskin…
- NY puts restriction on Mohels sucking freshly circumcised baby penises (gawker.com)
- The Pros and Cons of Circumcision (everydayhealth.com)
- ‘Foreskin pride’ movement set to protest Vancouver circumcision clinic (news.nationalpost.com)
- Follow Germany’s lead on circumcision (ynetnews.com)
- Spiritual Circumcision Hurts (daileytalks.wordpress.com)
- Circumcision: Is It Really Necessary? (paradisewellness.wordpress.com)
Statistic Source: WHO