Circumcision, especially infant circumcision, is a controversial issue. Historically, circumcision was done for cleanliness: ancient societies didn’t have as much in the way of soap. In the US, circumcision is the most common medical procedure. But is it still practical?
In the circumcision procedure, the foreskin is held out, cut with a knife, and the new edge is sewn shut right below the rim of penis head. There isn’t a perfectly clear cutoff line, so sometimes incomplete or overzealous circumcisions are performed. Adults are usually given an anesthetic, but infants are not always extended this privilege: there is a general consensus that infants don’t remember the trauma. The exposed mucosal head eventually becomes keratinized like skin over the rest of our bodies.
This keratinization, or toughening, makes the skin more impervious to infections. Uncut men are at increased risk for HIV, HPV (genital warts), UTI’s other STI’s. The foreskin covers a mucus membrane that is easier for viruses and bacteria to infect. However, STI’s are better prevented by the common condom. We don’t need a medical procedure when Trojans and forethought will do just fine.
However, circumcision can be helpful as a disease prevention method in places where HIV is rampant and condom compliance is low, such as many areas of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In places where HIV is tearing people apart, every extra precaution helps.
Uncircumcised males can suffer from painful conditions called phimosis and paraphimosis. Phimosis is when the foreskin can’t be pulled back past the head of the penis. In adults, a buildup of smegma (dirt and oil) causes the foreskin to literally stick to the head of the penis, which hurts a great deal. In extreme cases, circumcision may be necessary. (Please note, however, that phimosis is normal in young children.)
Paraphimosis is when the foreskin stays pulled back past the head of the penis. It is caused by a buildup of scar tissue and can be painful and dangerous. Paraphimosis can cut off blood circulation to the head of the penis and requires immediate medical attention. Some people advocate stretching the foreskin to prevent or cure paraphimosis, but this can cause small tears and more scar tissue. Circumcision may also be necessary if this situation occurs.
There’s mixed evidence about whether circumcision increases (or decreases) pleasure; pleasure is very objective. The foreskin does have a large number of nerve endings, and intact males tend to orgasm minutes faster. Most men who get adult circumcisions report a decrease in sensation (although a few report an increase). In the cases of adult circumcision, it is unclear whether they have a decreased sensation because the foreskin objectively increased sensation or because they were just used to it. Science is unable to go the other way and attach new foreskins to cut males, so we can’t objectively say the foreskin actually heightens the feeling.
Strangely enough, vanity is the biggest reason for circumcision: parents put their babies under the knife because they think cut penises are more attractive. This astounds me. Our society would never endorse giving our girl babies a cosmetic procedure at birth. Good luck asking for your newborn girl to get breast implants or labiaplasty.
With proper hygiene, there’s not really much of a call to circumcise babies in this day and age. The American Medical Association claims that while there are potential medical benefits, the current data, “are not sufficient to recommend routine [infant] circumcision.” Think: if nobody else in society did it to their kids, would parents still opt for the operation?
Now, do not think I am trivializing female circumcision. Female circumcision (or more correctly, mutilation) is overwhelmingly a barbaric procedure that should have no place in any society. Female mutilation can go as far as to remove the clitoris, clitoral hood and labia and stitching the sides of the vagina together. It is normally practiced on prepubescent girls who vividly remember the pain. Male circumcision in general is very different from female circumcision in terms of lost sensation and pure pain.