A Tale of Circumcision – UPDATED

I don’t even remember how Forbes.com’s Richard Hyfler and I came to be correspondents but his email friendship is one of those joyful fringe benefits of being a blogger. He’s a very smart fellow with a good heart, a free mind and terrific sense of humor. A while back, having stumbled over one of my old posts wherein I ranted unto madness about The Vagina Monologues (I rarely write like that anymore; I told you prayer has slowly changed my blogging!). Wondering whether it would amuse of horrify Hyfler, I sent his way. That our correspondence continued suggesting to me that he was either unafraid or thick-skinned.

And today he sent a note my way noting, “you’re not the only one who writes about sexual organs” and including a link to this hoot of a piece from his blog: Circumcision: You Can’t Have It Both Ways:

The motion to ban circumcision in San Francisco, which voters there will have an opportunity to vote on in November, has been noted at Forbes and on hundreds of other sites. Sources ancient and modern have been brought to bear on the subject, pro and con, but what most surprised me was learning that many circumcised men felt that by being subject to circumcision in infancy they were denied their full measure of sexual enjoyment as adults. They feel that they’re missing something other than a flap of skin. Prior to reading that, I hadn’t heard of foreskin envy.

To claim they’re missing something, circumcised males must rely on testimony by the uncircumcised and those who study them. We don’t know of any circumcised males who have reverted to their natural, uncircumcised state, thus having it both ways (and preferring the latter). Having it both ways, of course, brings to mind the mythical Tiresias, whom the gods turned into a woman as punishment for striking two snakes while they were mating.

Hyfler notes that the Jewish God, “has a sense of humor,” and after all this time, “a capricious one, too!” You’ll want to read the whole thing

Over on FB, William Cook added this old Dave Barry piece to the mix; as it was written in 1991, it seems this San Francisco move has been a long time coming:

This is a common medical procedure that involves – and here, in the interest of tastefulness, I am going to use code names – taking hold of a guy’s Oregonian and snipping his Post-Dispatch right off. This is usually done to tiny guy babies who don’t have a clue as to what is about to happen. One minute a baby is lying happily in his little bed, looking at the world and thinking what babies think (basically, ”Huh?”), and suddenly along comes a large person and SNIP WAAAAHHH the baby is dramatically introduced to the concept that powerful strangers can fill his life with pain for no apparent reason.

This is excellent training for dealing with the Internal Revenue Service, but it’s no fun at the time.

Most of us guys deal with this unpleasant experience by eventually erasing it from our conscious minds, the way we do with algebra.

But some guys never get over it.

I base this statement on a San Jose Mercury News article, written by Michael Oricchio and mailed to me by many alert readers, concerning a group of men in California who are very upset about having been circumcised as babies.

Humor aside, the Feast of the Presentation is one of my favorites.

UPDATED I: No, there are no intended double entendres in this post. If you think there are, go to confession, because they’re originating with you! :-)

UPDATE II:
Some more serious thoughts on circumcision, men, women, etc

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Joseph Marshall

    I think the “sexual pleasure” argument is just goofy. Sexual pleasure happens in the brain, not in the privates. It is a matter of endorphins and not mere skin surfaces. This is why endorphin release can be elicited by drugs, electronic brain stimulation, or even by eating enough jalepeno poppers.

    When someone starts a hubbub like this about a custom that is thousands of years old and has not caused the meltdown of civilization, I am compelled to ask what is the real agenda of those who are starting it. Since the only real function of circumcision in our culture is meeting a Judaic religious requirement, the only sensible explanation is some kind of hostility, covert or overt, to Judaism. The rest is just window dressing, even if the party involved manages to repeat the excuses often enough to believe them.

  • HV Observer

    Slight correction: The Circumcision and the Presentation were two separate events. The first was eight days after the birth (for the child) and the second was forty days after the birth (for the mother).

  • cathyf

    Circumcision is practiced by lots of other groups, cultures, religions than Judaism. Since it is used in some African tribes and not practiced at all in others, we have learned that circumcision dramatically lowers the probability that a man infected with HIV will transmit the disease to women who are his sexual partners. HPV is another infection much less likely to be transmitted by a circumcised man.

    Circumcision can be medically necessary for certain medical conditions in men, but most of the benefits of circumcision accrue to women. Which makes the proposed San Francisco law rather more ominous, yes?

  • VikR

    Fine, but you want to make it a LAW? You want the state forcing families at gunpoint to enforce this antisemitic view?

    If you want personal freedom in America, rather than a state that makes all these decisions for families and then forces them on every family alike under the threat of arrest, fine, and jail time, then go ahead and vote for this. Your own freedoms will die next.

  • VikR

    P.S. “…according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, circumcision has been associated with a lower risk for HIV, urinary infections and the transmission of STD’s.”

    http://www.ktla.com/news/landing/ktla-circumcision-ban-santa-monica,0,857021.story

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Yes, indeed.

    I also think it has something to do with the over-fetishization of male private parts.

    And I think too many people in our society have too much time on their hands to sit around fretting about things such as; “Did I possibly miss out on some wonderful physical pleasure, because I was circumsized?”

    To me, it’s sort’ve the male version of the “Vagina Dialogues”. (Sorry for bringing that up, but the Anchoress’ posts on that were spot on.)

    Most of the circumcized men I’ve known seem to–ahem!—do just fine!

    As I said—too much time on too many peoples’ hands; the idle mind, and all that. . .

  • TomB

    Actually, there is a procedure called a “Foreskin restoration”, in which, as you may imagine, tissue is stretched, either manually or surgically, from the base of the head of penis.

    Now it is not meant to completely replace the missing foreskin, because there are nerve endings that are specific to that area. But I guess some guys really miss that little piece of tissue.

    On a more personal note, as a circumcised male, as far as “enhancing the sexual experience”, I cannot even begin to imagine mine being, ahem, more ‘enhanced”.

    The inmates are truly running the asylum.

  • kenneth

    For my rejection of the bulk of my Judeo-Christian upbringing, I have to say I don’t mind the circumcision. I rather like it, in fact. Does anyone really NEED more unventilated folds of skin? I think not… Nor do I feel cheated of pleasure at all. I live a very, very rich life in that area. I’m skeptical that a foreskin would add that much to it, and if it did, I’d never get anything else done!

    I also find that the instinct to micro-manage other people’s lives is every bit as ugly coming from liberals as from conservatives….

  • Lori K

    I saw a show about foreskin restoration for men who had circumcisions and later regretted it. Maybe some of your readers can benefit from reading about the subject and options. WARNING: The following article is explicit with pictures. http://www.circumstitions.com/Restore.html

  • Brown Line

    Having been born in 1952, I was circumcised as an infant; the procedure was routine, even in Catholic hospitals in those days.

    However, none of my three sons were circumcised, by my choice. If you want to know why, look up something called the “scalded skin syndrome”, which are subcutaneous staph infections resulting from nonsterile circumcisions. It’s an awful condition, and completely unnecessary, because the procedure itself is pointless. The benefits of circumcision accrue to women who have had sex with men who have had multiple sex partners within a relatively short period of time, and who do not practice proper sanitation. Needless to say, that’s a risky business by definition, regardless of whether or not the male has an intact foreskin; a condom would probably do the job better. Further, the notion of promoting sanitation by snipping off a part of one’s body strikes me as absurd; by that standard, I would have had my ears and fingernails removed as well.

    Of course, faithful Jews who wish to follow the instructions in the Torah have a compelling reason for the procedure; for the rest of us, who are under no such obligation, don’t. And, speaking as one who is foreskin-challenged, I think the Californians who are up in arms over having been circumcised need to get a life.

    You might also want to consider the Muslim practice of circumcising boys at puberty – a procedure that’s much more traumatic, both physically and mentally, than infant circumcision. I have to wonder whether Muslims’ lunacy on the subject of sex is a byproduct of that barbarous practice.

  • TomB

    “. If you want to know why, look up something called the “scalded skin syndrome”, which are subcutaneous staph infections resulting from nonsterile circumcisions.”

    Scalded Skin Syndrome has nothing specific to do with circumcisions. It is an infection due to Staph Aureus, which has made a recurrence in recent years due to its resistance to common antibiotics (see MRSA).

    The truth is that SSS is an infection that anyone in a hospital setting can get. It isn’t just confined to circumcisions. And that is extremely rare. So if SSS is such a concern for you, you might want to avoid delivering your child in a hospital.

  • TomB

    I forgot to address this:

    “The benefits of circumcision accrue to women who have had sex with men who have had multiple sex partners within a relatively short period of time, and who do not practice proper sanitation.”

    As noted above, the CDC (and the WHO) would disagree with you on that:

    “But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, circumcision has been associated with a lower risk for HIV, urinary infections and the transmission of STD’s.”

  • Kevin

    Let’s imagine that circumcision was not an established tradition in this country. Someone today pipes up with a study showing the same health benefits as touted above and advocates that everybody should start excising healthy tissue from infant penises. The public reaction? Most likely horror, followed by derision–the same reaction we in the West have toward female circumcision as practiced in parts of Africa.
    However, banning circumcision completely is not right either. A law ensuring that parents are provided a neutral presentation of the pros and cons before deciding would be a much better use of legislation, if a law is warranted at all.
    The best part of the SF proposal is all the discussion it’s stirring up.

  • nan

    It’s barbaric. And I speak as a nurse who tries to comfort the li’l one as the procedure is done.

  • mts1

    Since I am a circumcised male, I can say that I found being circumcised to be no impediment to a sex life. I found being bald and broke to be bigger impediments :)

    Seriously, I’ve known guys to complain about their pubic hair getting caught in the foreskin and pulling, and a couple mention getting infections down under there. I was born in 1964, and I’m guessing all males got the treatment back then. It was no bigger than, say, needing braces for crooked teeth, and getting glasses was a bigger deal. I really can remember flashes of memory, just broken pieces and not whole events, from babyhood (I floored my mother once by mentioning Dr. Carbone, though she stopped seeing him before I was 1), and nowhere was the trauma of circumcision there.

    The last generation used to say “what we need is another war or depression to straighten out this new generation” whenever they thought someone was being a wimp about something, like people who want to claim an addiction to lip balm, or to want the sleep trouble you get from working shift work to be classified an actual syndrome you get disability for. But being that we have both another war, and a depression in all but name, and they haven’t straightened people out as to what’s critical in life, I say my mom (who knew both the Depression and WW II) was wrong in her assessment.

  • TomB

    The public reaction? Most likely horror,

    From the same public that pierces their girls (and boys) ears while still infants or buys their daughters new breasts for their sixteenth birthday?

    Highly unlikely.

    –the same reaction we in the West have toward female circumcision as practiced in parts of Africa.

    Except for the fact that there are real, tangible health benefits to male circumcision, while “female circumcision” is solely a tool of subjugation.

    The comparison is silly in the extreme.

  • jkm

    On the subject of foreskin restoration (and no, I never thought I’d have occasion to begin a comment that way, either), this bit of historical trivia: During the time of the Maccabees, when Jerusalem was ruled by the Greek/Syrian Seleucids, public business was conducted, as in Greece, in the gymnasium (Greek for “place where guys stand around naked making deals”). For circumcised Jews who had not joined their rebellious brethren in the hills, this obviated some measure of “when in Greek-ruled Jerusalem,” so some enterprising businessperson developed little foreskin “hats” that Jewish men could wear to the gym so as not to draw attention to their status as the occupied. Kind of like rep ties in Ivy League boardrooms.

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    There are a lot of good “tips” in these comments. :-P

  • Dave

    The mildest form of FGM removes the clitoral hood or prepuce. The clitoral prepuce is the anatomic analog of the foreskin. Both have specialized nerve endings that enhance the sexual experience. It should also be noted that even the most extreme form of FGM does not remove the deep portions of the clitoris and that even women who have undergone the most extreme form of FGM report the ability to obtain orgasm. This has been studied in detail by the FGM working group at the University of Padua in Italy. So comparing FGM and circumcision is not as absurd as it may seem, particularly since the reasons given for FGM in many areas of Africa are virtually identical to the reasons given by the proponents of male circumcision in the U.S.

  • Dave

    In the only study to date that has looked at the entire male member it was shown that the foreskin is the part of the penis that is most sensitive to fine touch. Its ridged band, which, believe it or not, was not identified until the late 1980s, contains both fine touch and stretch receptors. Pulling back on the foreskin causes the bulbocavernosus muscle to contract. That muscle mediates the male orgasm. It is not surprising that circumcised males suffer from premature ejaculation more often than intact males because they lack the stretch receptors and fine touch receptors that are essential to ejaculatory control.

  • newton

    When the people of SF loudly and forcefully condemn the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), which is practiced in many Muslim countries to the detriment of the female anatomy…

    … and threaten to send anyone who does that to a female child or adult to a good, long ten to twenty years in jail and very hefty fines, and educate the populace on how that practice traumatizes women, physically and psychologically…

    Then, and only then, will I take anything regarding the prohibition of circumcision one-twentieth seriously.

    The people of SF can be kind and women-minded enough to bring such a matter to a vote… right? Right?…

  • Max Lindenman

    “…but he reminds himself that if Susan slept with Zyosha, he will never be able to win her back, quoting Bereshit Rabba (the midrash on Genesis) to the effect that it is hard for a woman who has slept with an uncircumcised man to separate from him.”

    Does that make Susan a goy toy?

  • Ben David

    Hyfler:
    We don’t know of any circumcised males who have reverted to their natural, uncircumcised state, thus having it both ways
    - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -
    … but we DO have men who were circumcised in adulthood.

    In fact, here in Israel there are tens of thousands of them – Russian emigres who underwent Jewish ritual circumcision.

    And yes, they were surveyed by an Israeli urologist.

    The results split evenly between “no change” “better” and “worse”.

    When researchers went back and looked at the motivation for surgery – it turned out that most of those who felt “worse” were coerced by social pressure or girlfriends.

    So it seems the nerves between the ears are more important than those between the legs…

  • TomB

    . So comparing FGM and circumcision is not as absurd as it may seem,

    Shameful.

    “The terminology used to describe this procedure varies. The term ‘female circumcision’ has been used historically. However, as the harm that such procedures caused to girls and women became increasingly recognized, and because this procedure in whatever form it is practiced is not at all analogous to male circumcision”

    Cook, Rebecca J.; Bernard M. Dickens, Mahmoud F. Fathalla (2003). Reproductive Health and Human Rights: Integrating Medicine, Ethics, and law.

    ____________________________________

    the term female circumcision “implies a fallacious analogy to nonmutilating male circumcision”

    Toubia, Nahid F. (1999). Male and Female Circumcision: Medical, Legal, and Ethical Considerations in Pediatric Practice

    the reasons given for FGM in many areas of Africa are virtually identical to the reasons given by the proponents of male circumcision in the U.S.

    And what, exactly, would those reasons be?

  • sj

    “and threaten to send anyone who does that to a female child or adult to a good, long ten to twenty years in jail and very hefty fines, and educate the populace on how that practice traumatizes women, physically and psychologically…”

    The argument being made in San Francisco is that since female “circumcision” is already banned in California, it is a denial of equal protection to male babies not to ban the alleged equivalent.

  • Maureen

    Somewhere in California, there is a man demanding that women have no children until men can become pregnant. Which is all funny stuff until the executions begin.

  • Rachel

    In poking around various natural pregnancy/birth/child-rearing (as an interest, I’m unmarried) and/or pro-life sites, I came across the group Catholics Against Circumcision. I learned a LOT at their fine site. They have a wealth of information, articles, quotes, ecclesial documents, medical data, etc. For one thing, circumcision was the ‘foresign’ (not sure of correct term to use, and no pun intended!) of the sacrament of baptism. Baptism replaced circumcision; there is NO need for it whatsoever, medically or spiritually. The commenter who mentioned that the foreskin is the most sexually sensitive part of the male sexual organs is also correct. That is not some made-up nonsense. So in light of ToB and the way God designed things, there are great implications for the removal of the foreskin, then. There is so much more, I can hardly do any of it justice. I am just mentioning things from memory, if you want the whole deal, please go read for yourself!! :)

    I encourage everyone who may read this to check out their site and, well, be prepared to learn a lot! That’s all I can say. http://www.catholicsagainstcircumcision.org/

    As for myself, I most certainly will not have any little boys God gives me as a mother someday bodily mutilated through circumcision. Baptized? Of course. :)

  • TomB

    As for myself, I most certainly will not have any little boys God gives me as a mother someday bodily mutilated through circumcision

    __________

    mu·ti·late
    verb \ˈmyü-tə-ˌlāt\
    mu·ti·lat·edmu·ti·lat·ing
    Definition of MUTILATE
    transitive verb
    1
    : to cut up or alter radically so as to make imperfect
    2
    : to cut off or permanently destroy a limb or essential part of : cripple

    _______________________

    It seems you don’t quite understand the term “mutilate”.

    Using it only makes you sound highly unserious.

    And the Vatican is officially neutral on circumcision.


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