Covering The Bald Headed Penis


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.

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17 thoughts on “Covering The Bald Headed Penis

  1. Oh dear. I was just about to shut down and go to bed. Thought I’d drop by yzed and see the latest. What do I find but a posting on one of my own pet peeves. How can I silently slip under the covers without putting my two cents in? I can’t. I choose not to.

    Circumcision, in my personal AND professional opinion, is a cruel and unusual social custom, with no basis in medical practice. There is no health reason that balances the suffering. Sure, they’re less likely to get cancer of the foreskin if they have no foreskin. Duh! Should we then amputate female babies’ breasts to prevent breast cancer? Sure, they’re a little more likely to get infections under the foreskin if they have a foreskin. Just like you’re likely to get infected gums if you don’t clean your teeth. So they learn to clean their penises. Big deal.

    The discussion about whether a kid should look like his father was very clearly and eloquently answered by G above. Our son isn’t circumcised and his father is. When the topic came up, we told him the truth. His hair isn’t like his dad’s either, and that’s much more likely to catch comments from strangers than his foreskin! Besides, he does look like his dad, underneath the foreskin. He just got lucky and was spared that particular torture at the age of 1 day. That’s thanks to his mother, I might add.

    When I was an intern on the OB service, it was my job to do the circumcisions the day after I was on call, before I went home. That means after I was up all night delivering babies. The next day, running on empty, I would go to the nursery, strap those poor little guys down and do their circumcision. I hated it. I had heard all kinds of mollifying crap: “They’re not in pain- they just don’t like to be tied down.” “They forget all about it.” Bullshit. You watch a circumcision, or, worse yet, do one, and you KNOW they feel it. Come on! They get a clamp around their foreskin at the tender age of less than 24 hours old, it gets tightened down until there’s no blood flow beneath it, then they’re sliced right around the head of their penis, and you tell me that doesn’t hurt?

    When I was pregnant with our #2, we discussed what we’d do if it were a boy. My husband was leaning toward circumcision. I said, “Fine. You come with me and you watch me do one. Then you tell me you want that done to our son.” He declined my invitation. Our son is intact.

    I can’t help but wonder what effect it has on a man to have his tenderest area, the seat of future passion and procreation, mutilated at the raw beginning of his life.

    Sheesh. Now I’ll probably have gomco nightmares. (the name of the clamp)

  2. Funny that I ran across this blog. I was just looking up the historical roots of circumcision for a paper and read the Wikipedia article on it. I found it interesting that you said there was no medical basis for it when circumcision has been shown to decrease the chances of urinary tract infection by a factor of 10. Not only that but it is often more hygienic and decreases the odor. I also believe that local anesthetics can be used to minimize pain. Just some thoughts from a snipped male. I also know a guy who decided to get circumcised for medical reasons when he was past his teens so perhaps that is some extra bias for me.

  3. Curtis – What I said was that there is no medical reason to balance the suffering. I mean, no medical reason strong enough to justify the procedure. In my opinion.

    Local anesthetics can indeed be used. We used to do a regional block called a penile block, which involved injecting anesthetic just proximal to (above) the base of the penis. Theoretically this numbed the big nerve that fed the whole penis. I say theoretically because clearly the shot itself was painful for the little guys, and they still screamed like the dickens afterwards.

    As to hygiene and odor, it’s a matter of cleanliness. If you don’t clean your body, it will smell stronger than if you do. Body odor is a natural thing, and varies from body part to body part. We have been socialized to dislike body odors but even still, if a circumcised male keeps himself clean, the odor shouldn’t be strong or unpleasant.

    By the way, I trust you’re using better sources than Wikipedia for your paper.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Curtis. And thanks for the added information on urinary tract infections. My sense is that the infections occur not because men have a foreskin but because those men don’t clean themselves well or regularly. Not being a specialist in women’s anatomy, I’m guessing that the same is true for women and some of their urinary tract infections.

    Saying that we should regularly remove foreskins because men get infections is like saying we should remove men’s teeth because they get cavities.

    Wish you well on your paper.

  5. You might have seen in the news this week that a study in S. Africa showed that men who are circumcised have a far less risk of contracting HIV from heterosexual sex than those who are not. Apparently this news has caused a run on the Urology clinics.

    I concede that here is some evidence that circumcision can be healthier than not, in a certain circumstance. However, far more effective in preventing HIV transmission than circumcision would be the simple use of condoms.

  6. Who cares about those so called ‘studies’ about the effects of circumcision on aids: how do you think all those gay guys were contaminated in the States in the late 70’s, early 80’s? They were ALL circumcised and it didn’t protect them…Not to mention any other types of STDs: they’re as present in the States where most males are cut than anywhere in the world…

    Besides, has anyone thought of the right of the children to grow up with all their parts and make the decision for themselves whether they want to stay that way or not?
    THAT should be the main issue, not pseudo medical studies or references, don’t you think?

  7. I agree with you both, Peg and Nico. My sense is that despite the results of the studies, the foreskin is not an intrinsically flawed or undesirable part of the body. It is not something to be snipped like a toenail that’s grown too long.

    I strongly suspect that the reason circumcision among adult men in South Africa is being encouraged is related to the desperation people are feeling in that part of the world where HIV is epidemic. As Peg said, if the men used condoms, there would not be a need for circumcision.

    Nico, you make a good point in your reference to those circumcised men in the ’70s who contracted HIV. Your other point about the right of children to grow up with all their parts is also important.

    However, I believe that in places like Sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV is so rampant, and where sexual hygiene is frustrated by village myths that suggest you can be cured by having sex with a virgin, in places like these, any kind of progress against this disease is acceptable. If circumcision became routine worldwide (or even in Europe and North America), on the basis of this study, I would have a problem with it.

    Thanks for submitting your posts.

  8. Peg: I have corresponded with a woman who resigned from nursing school the day after witnessing her first routine infant circumcision. She is now married to an intact DH and the mother of 2 intact sons.

    With the exception of urinary tract and yeast infections, no infection can be blamed on the foreskin alone. You also need a nonmonagamous sex life without condoms.

    During the nappy wearing phase of life, it seems that intact boys are 10x more likely to contract a urinary tract infection that circed boys. Baby girls are 2-3x more likely to contract such infections than intact boys, a fact no one talks about that, and a fortiori no one proposes to do anything about it either. As a father with a weak sense of smell who often cleaned up after his daughter’s poos, I can assure you that runny faeces have a nasty way of insinuating themselves into the girly bits. She never came down with anything, but I have no trouble believing that some girls are not so lucky.

    20 years ago, a study carried out in a Swedish hospital confirmed that intact boys experience a higher rate of urinary tract infections (UTI). But the authors did not conclude that routine infant circ was the answer. Rather, they pointed out that before the 20th century, a woman typically defecated late in labour, so that babies entered this word covered in shit. Hence they were exposed to a healthy does of coliform bacteria. This exposure made UTI less likely. Babies born in modern hospitals miss out on this exposure because standard obstetric practice includes a pre-parturition enema. Hence the Swedes concluded that babies born in contemporary sanitary conditions should be deliberately exposed to benign coliform bacteria, in order to lessen the likelihood that they contract a UTI later.

    We men are insufficiently aware of our ability to infect our partners with recurring yeast infections, and intact men may be somewhat more at fault than cut ones. But the solution is not universal circ, but more awareness among men about low level yeast infections. Incidentally, my spouse battled yeast for years yet never once passed it on to intact yours truly.

    Nico: your point about AIDS being rampant in the circumcised USA is an excellent one I make at every opportunity.

  9. Just a little note on the sexual side of circumcision as a woman who has been with both cut and uncut: the foreskin adds overall girth to a male penis, so as far as pleasure for a woman goes I’d say this is plus. My current boyfriend is not circumcised and we talked about it a little bit, and he said he was always self conscious growing up because he had his foreskin and was always afraid of being made fun of in the locker room (this was never an issue after all because he was so good at sports and such a big guy… 6’5″). And I’ll tell you that I’ve never had better sex than him, now that can’t be completely attributed to the foreskin, but still.

    I see no basis for removal of the foreskin, medical, religious, or otherwise. I believe that religiously it is an outdated tradition and that people who are religious nowadays should focus more on faith than works, and circumcision is a work. If a male wants to be circumcised late in life for whatever reason that should be his choice. Just like people should have a choice about being baptized and parents shouldn’t christen their babies. My parents had me christened as a baby and I wish that they hadn’t because when I was in high school and found the Lord and acknowledged him as my savior I wanted to do some sort of work to reaffirm everything, such as get baptized, but I couldn’t and I had already gone through confirmation as a middle schooler. Wow, what a tangent I just went on…

    Circumcision should be completely abolished as a practice in newborns and be up to the individual… or just be a non-issue. I believe that male and female circumcision are sadistic practices and that if people maintain that doing this will keep sexual desires at bay, then sometime in the distant distant future if/when communities such as the ones in the book The Giver, they will be common practices used by dictators to control their subjects. And that a circumcised woman will be likely to never enjoy sex and therefore be basically raped everytime she has sex.

    Sorry for any grammar or spelling mistakes its late and I have a chemistry final tomorrow.

  10. Hmm it appears like your blog ate my first comment (it was
    super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.
    I as well am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any tips and hints for inexperienced blog writers? I’d definitely appreciate it.

    • Thanks for your appreciation. Too bad your post was eaten; would have liked to have viewed it. My hints: write about what you have passion for; be specific, not global; in other words, don’t write about everything, choose a subject (one blogger chose “feet” as her topic.).

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