Recently, at one of those lunchtime conversations, my colleagues and I talked about circumcision and its place in a boy’s life. It started with comments about female circumcision in Muslim countries, and how obviously cruel and barbaric that practice is. Mutilation, we called it, and agreed that it benefited the distorted desires of men for control over women who at the time of the procedure are pre-pubescent girls. However, I found the conversation intriguing when it flowed into discussion about male circumcision. Although not as brutal as the female version, the procedure for boys is as fraught with myths and rationalizations as the female one.
One of our group was a woman who was expecting a baby. She and her husband had been struggling about whether to have their child circumcised if he were born male. She seemed ambivalent about the matter. So, over tuna-fish sandwiches and microwaved spaghetti we casually discussed the issue.
“But it’s supposed to be healthier for men,” she said. “It reduces the likelihood of them getting a sexually transmitted infection. Or giving it to their mates.”
“There’s absolutely no medical reason,” I replied, “for circumcision. Historically, only Jews have undergone the procedure – and only for religious reasons. Besides, there’s no evidence that removal prevents the transmission of any kind of sexually transmitted infection.”
One of the physicians at our table jumped in. He said, “Well, that’s not exactly true. There’s been some evidence that women are less likely to contract Human Papiloma Virus if their partners are circumcised. But the degree to which transmission is reduced is so small that it doesn’t warrant circumcision.
I appreciated the doctor’s response. If the likelihood of transmission is so small, and is specific to this kind of infection, of what use is it to recommend wholesale removal of the prepuce. I mean…we were born with it! There must be some reason in the evolutionary process that warranted its invention. Ear lobes seem just as redundant – why not cut them off too?
My pregnant colleague mused for a moment and asked, “But shouldn’t a boy be like his father?”
I’d heard this reasoning before, and had been astounded each time. So I facetiously replied, “Do you think he’ll suffer some kind of emotional trauma if he’s different from dad?”
She understood that my question was rhetorical and added, “But what if he asks his father why he’s different?”
“Well then, his father will simply tell him the reason. And take this perfect opportunity to talk about male sexuality in an age appropriate way. Besides…how often is your son going to be looking at his father’s penis?”
The glans is soft and vulnerable – especially when it sits atop an erect penis. It seems to me that its jacket was designed for protection and comfort. Wikipedia has said that the foreskin maintains the mucosa in a moist environment. In males wo have been circumcised, but have not undergone restoration, the glans is permanently exposed and dry [This translates as ‘not good.’]. contrary to widely held belief, the glans of the circumcised penis does not develop a thicker layer [The glans doesn’t protect itself by adapting to the change in its environment. This translates as ‘not good.’]…Many males who have restored their foreskin observe increased [sexual] sensitivity, which is often attributed to the increase in moistness of the covered glans [This translates as ‘good.’]…
My colleague said, “I knew a woman who told me she had sex with a man who had a foreskin, and that it really turned her off.” Reflecting her friend’s experience she grimaced.
“Does this mean,” I asked, “that we should operate at birth on our male children because fifteen or twenty years later they might find a female who is turned off by the vest at the top of their penis?”
What turns a woman on or off about a man’s body is individual. Removing our boys’ foreskins may make them more desireable to certain women but less so to others. My sense is that most women don’t give a hoot about the circumstances of our foreskin. Besides, if the sexual desirability of a man depends on whether he is circumcised or not, then his prospective life-long partner is probably not the one for him.
Men were designed with foreskins in mind. When we were being created, some engineer must have realized we were bald down there and decided it would be a good idea to give us a hat, ostensibly for comfort and protection. That slip of skin keeps us in good working order. Remove it at your own risk.