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Slice Of Life - The Circumcision Debate

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  • Slice Of Life - The Circumcision Debate

    Slice of life: the circumcision debate

    Dear Cecil:

    My wife and I are expecting a baby boy. Soon we will face the prickly question: to circumcise or not to circumcise? As far as we can determine, the dispute has not been settled which is healthier. As youngsters we heard that circumcision fosters cleanliness. Then we heard that this argument is feeble in a society familiar with the concept of soap. Then we heard of correlations between uncircumcised penises and cancers of the prostate and vagina. Then we heard that these reports are bunk. If you can resolve these questions, great.

    But it's the sexual angle that most intrigues us at the moment. Which choice is the right one in terms of the sex life of the boy and a future partner? Some argue that circumcision is cruel because a circumcised penis is less sensitive, providing the man less sexual stimulation. Others counter that this is a good argument FOR circumcision: a reduction in circumcision delays male climax, providing both partners more satisfaction. What say you, Cecil? --J.B., Chicago

    Dear J.B.:

    I say it doesn't make much difference, on average. Which is not to say it doesn't make much difference. It's just that individual reactions to circumcision run the gamut and there's no telling how things are going to turn out for your kid.

    Cecil knows this because he has been inquiring once again on the Internet--not the most scientific technique in the world, but how else are you going to find out about things like this? I turned up four men who were circumcised as adults and were thus in a position to compare. Two said sex was better before, two said it's better now. The two who bitched said that over time the foreskinless glans (the tip of the penis) became less sensitive. This may be due to abrasion from clothing. It certainly isn't because the foreskin contains the greatest concentration of nerve endings, as some circumcision opponents allege; from an anatomical standpoint, God's little mudguard is basically ordinary skin.

    Of the two satisfied customers, one was circumcised because he had a tight foreskin that split and bled copiously during his first attempt at intercourse--admittedly (and mercifully) not a common problem. The other guy just didn't like the way his stalk looked. Now, he says, not only is he more sensitive, he doesn't have problems with odors, splash when urinating, or get his foreskin caught in his zipper. Your kid's prospective partners (in a moment of heterosexism, Cecil assumed they would be women) are also divided in their views; several said an uncircumcised man had more to play with, while others prefer the streamlined look.

    This isn't really helping you, is it? It gets worse. One cost-benefit analysis (Ganiats et al, 1991) found that circumcision had a "net discounted lifetime cost" of $102 and a health cost of 14 hours of healthy life. In other words, you wound up poorer and sicker--but only slightly. "These results suggest that the financial and medical advantages and disadvantages of routine neonatal circumcision cancel each other and that factors other than cost or health outcomes must be used in decision making," the researchers wrote. But I guess you knew that.

    In English-speaking countries routine circumcision of newborns began in the latter 19th century as a quack medical technique intended to curb masturbation and other ills. Circumcision opponents, a passionate lot, decry the practice as "ritual genital mutilation." Those unhappy with their circumcised members (a common complaint is that the skin is too tight, making intercourse and, yes, masturbation painful without lubrication) sometimes resort to "foreskin restoration," in which the skin is stretched with clamping devices. Sounds awful, but they say it works.

    The medical establishment first began questioning the wisdom of routine circumcision in 1949; since 1971 the American Academy of Pediatrics has opposed it. Apart from cultures where it is done for ritual purposes, it remains common only in the U.S. but is dropping in popularity there--from 86 percent in 1975 to 71 percent in 1984, according to one study.

    So chuck it, eh? Not so fast. In 1989 the AAP withdrew its opposition to circumcision because accumulating evidence suggests it does have health benefits, preventing penile cancer and reducing urinary tract infections in infants. And circumcisees do wind up with a basically maintenance free tool. Bottom line? Your kid will survive either way. Flip a coin.


    Dear Cecil:

    Your column about infant circumcision contained erroneous information. The enclosed remarks by Dr. John Taylor should clarify that "God's little mudguard" is not basically ordinary skin. It is a high specialized organ that serves several distinct and important purposes.

    Arguments about penile cancer and urinary tract infections may be enough to scare American physicians into perpetuating this dubious practice, but the fact is that 85 percent of the world's males are uncircumcised. Enclosed are two articles from just 35 years ago which seriously promoted female circumcision. It will not be long before we look back with equal horror on male circumcision. Violating the genital integrity of an innocent child of either sex by submitting him or her to unnecessary surgery when s/he cannot consent is genital mutilation and a violation of human rights. --Tim Hammond, National Organization to Halt the Abuse and Routine Mutilation of Males (NOHARMM), San Francisco

    Circumcision reduces sexual sensitivity 50 to 75 percent. No one has the right to do this. --Cliff P., Mabelvale, Arkansas

    There was talk at my old job that circumcised men had something like one eighth the chance an uncircumcised man has of catching AIDS through unprotected intercourse with an infected woman. My recollection is that catching any venereal disease is less for circumcised than uncircumcised men. My own father was circumcised at eight (very painful) because of smegma, inflammation, etc.--and his was a household that was quite familiar with soap and water; this was not a hygiene problem. Suggested advice: don't be a dunce, uncover that schwuntz. --Dave Schutz, Washington, D.C.

    Cecil replies:

    We do have a diversity of opinions here, don't we? To address the points raised in these and similar letters:

    - The foreskin is not ordinary skin, but rather is "replete with nerve endings of sexual pleasure."

    The chief evidence for this seems to be research by John Taylor. Dr. Taylor opposes circumcision, has not formally published his research, and is not a specialist in neurology. His remarks on the structure and purpose of the foreskin are highly conjectural and include such statements as, "We haven't done a strict quantitative study [but] to my mind [certain nerve endings] are rather more commonly found here in the prepuce than they are in the glans of the penis." It would be foolish on the basis of such work to make any definite statements about the foreskin's contribution to sexual sensitivity or anything else.

    - The medical arguments in favor of circumcision are specious; circumcision causes more medical problems than it prevents.

    Not true. Complications from circumcision are low, approximately 0.2 to 0.6 percent. A total of three deaths have been ascribed to circumcision since 1954. In contrast, more than 1,000 U.S. men develop penile cancer each year, 225-317 of whom die. Circumcision effectively prevents penile cancer. Of 60,000 cases since 1930, fewer than 10 have involved circumcised men. Circumcision also eliminates foreskin problems such as inflammation, failure to retract, etc. These persist in non-circumcising nations such as the UK despite presumed familiarity with proper foreskin hygiene.

    - Circumcision is performed without anesthesia and is painful.

    Anesthesia presents a greater danger to infants. Circumcised infants remember nothing of the operation later in life. There is no evidence for the claim that this early trauma conditions the infant to a life of sexual violence.

    - Male circumcision is a violation of human rights comparable to female circumcision. Infants cannot give informed consent; the operation should be delayed until they can.

    Female circumcision often destroys the woman's capacity for sexual pleasure; male circumcision does not. Parents routinely consent to operations on behalf of their minor children. Post-infancy circumcision is far more traumatic and expensive.

    - Circumcision reduces the chances of getting AIDS and other venereal diseases.

    According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the evidence for this is conflicting.

    The gist of my original column was that no compelling argument could be made either way regarding circumcision. Having read the above, does anybody still have doubts?

    Though this article tries to slyly "pay off" the women by saying cirumcision makes men last longer, I'LL SAY IT DOES THE OPPOSITE. Anyone can understand the idea that the nerves that cause ejaculation are not the same as what causes pleasure. Different nerves. They may be related, but they are not the same. Specifically, the foreskin nerves(inner and outer) may have nothing to do with ejaculation. Thus, removing this sensitive part reduces pleasure WITHOUT increasing time. However, this loss in sensitivity of circumcision does cause men to thrust more in an out. Females are not stimulated much more by this because it is the clitoris that is responsible for female pleasure. Rocking and light in and out is close to the same for women. However, I strongly suspect that the nerves that cause ejaculation are more heavily stimulated by the heavy thrusting(in an attempt to make up for lost sensitivity) and thus the man comes sooner. While the excessive thrusting causes increased soreness for the women. Not to mention the process of circumcision removes the "filthy" lubricant under the foreskin which leads to increased friction and soreness during sex. Do you think that 10th Century men had access to ID Glide or other lubricants? THEY DIDN'T NEED THEM.

    On to men's satisfaction:
    Notice the fake "four people who had circumcision as adults, two liked it". Of course, one of those two had a serious, and rare medical condition. And, probably, of the two who didn't like it, one(or both) probably ALSO had a medical condition and they were STILL unhappy. That's assuming you believe the numbers, which I don't. We are still out with 66% of healthy males "unhappy". Of course, people who voluntarily have circumcision would be expected to be biased in favour of their choice.

    There is no mention in this article of the frenulum, which is often routinely severed during circumcision. The frenulum is a web of tissue connecting the foreskin to the underside of the glans (similar to the frenulum under the tongue or the upper lip). The penile frenulum is densely nerve-laden and is described as a male 'G-spot'. Any uncircumcised man who has had this little bridge of skin stimulated orally knows of its sensitivity and pleasurability.

    And no statistics are ever mentioned on the "health aspect".

  • #2

    Apparently, you're the expert.
    And, frankly, it has never occured to me that "winning" a debate is important, or that I should be hurt when someone like Airshark or kah, among others (for whom winning a pseudo debate or declaring intellectual superiority over invisible others is obviously very important) ridicule me.

    -The Artist formerly known as King in KC


    • #3
      I woke up this morning with a bad hangover
      And my penis was missing again.
      This happens all the time.
      It's detachable.

      [background singing begins: "detachable penis" over and over]

      This comes in handy a lot of the time.
      I can leave it home, when I think it's gonna get me in trouble,
      or I can rent it out, when I don't need it.
      But now and then I go to a party, get drunk,
      and the next morning I can't for the life of me
      remember what I did with it.
      First I looked around my apartment, and I couldn't find it.
      So I called up the place where the party was,
      they hadn't seen it either.
      I asked them to check the medicine cabinet
      'cause for some reason I leave it there sometimes
      But not this time.
      So I told them if it pops up to let me know.
      I called a few people who were at the party,
      but they were no help either.
      I was starting to get desperate.
      I really don't like being without my penis for too long.
      It makes me feel like less of a man,
      and I really hate having to sit down every time I take a leak.
      After a few hours of searching the house,
      and calling everyone I could think of,
      I was starting to get very depressed,
      so I went to the Kiev, and ate breakfast.
      Then, as I walked down Second Avenue towards St. Mark's Place,
      where all those people sell used books and other junk on the street,
      I saw my penis lying on a blanket
      next to a broken toaster oven.
      Some guy was selling it.
      I had to buy it off him.
      He wanted twenty-two bucks, but I talked him down to seventeen.
      I took it home, washed it off,
      and put it back on. I was happy again. Complete.
      People sometimes tell me I should get it permanently attached,
      but I don't know.
      Even though sometimes it's a pain in the ass,
      I like having a detachable penis.

      [background voices continue to sing "detachable penis" for
      a while, then out]
      Are you on the list?