Genital Mutilation American Style
How a father discovered, too late, that circumcision is not a good thing.
by Rio Cruz
It's no coincidence that circumcision has its greatest detrimental effect on sexuality. Maimonides (or Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, a twelfth-century philosopher, legal scholar, and physician often called "Judaism's Aristotle") said: "As regards circumcision, I think one of its objects is to limit sexual intercourse and to weaken the organ of generation as far as possible, and thus cause man to be moderate... The bodily injury caused to that organ is exactly that which is desired; it does not interrupt any vital function, nor does it destroy the power of generation. Circumcision simply counteracts excessive lust; for there is no doubt that circumcision weakens the power of sexual excitement, and sometimes lessens the natural enjoyment; the organ necessarily becomes weak when it loses blood and is deprived of its covering from the beginning."
The "weakening" of sexuality was precisely the reason circumcision was introduced into medical practice in the United States as a "prophylactic" during the 19th century. Until that time, the practice was virtually nonexistent. Here in good ol' God-fearing, Puritanical America, masturbation was not only considered sinful, but was deemed a major health peril as well. Countless maladies were thought to accrue from this "degenerate" practice, and, in 1888, J. H. Kellogg--the All Bran laxative king--together with other Victorians of his ilk, began proselytizing for mass circumcision as a deterrent to "self abuse." Their purpose was to keep the male youth of America from masturbating, going blind and insane with hair growing on the palms of their hands. Kellogg said, "Tying the hands is also successful in some cases... Covering the organs with a cage has been practiced with entire success. A remedy which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision... The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment."
These self-promoting defenders of public health and morality claimed that circumcision also cured a vast litany of masturbation-related ills and proselytized for its mass acceptance as an "immunizing inoculation." They claimed it cured everything from alcoholism to asthma, curvature of the spine, enuresis, epilepsy, elephantiasis, gout, headache, hernia, hydrocephalus, insanity, kidney disease, rectal prolapse and rheumatism. In the face of rationality and modern research, contemporary circumcisionists have abandoned most of these claims but have now updated their list to include cancer, urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and premature ejaculation.
The cancer argument has been an especially effective scare tactic, prompting officials of the American Cancer Society to write a letter to the American Academy of Pediatrics condemning the promulgation of the myth that circumcision prevents penile cancer. "The American Cancer Society does not consider routine circumcision to be a valid or effective measure to prevent such cancers... Perpetuating the mistaken belief that circumcision prevents cancer is inappropriate."
Of course it is. Penile cancer is an extremely rare condition, affecting only one in 100,000 men in the United States. Penile cancer rates in countries that do not practice circumcision are lower than those found in the United States. Fatalities caused by circumcision accidents may approximate the mortality rate from penile cancer, and, for circumcised men who do contract penile cancer, the lesion may occur at the site of the circumcision scar. Portraying routine circumcision as an effective means of prevention distracts the public from the task of avoiding the behaviors proven to contribute to penile and cervical cancer: especially cigarette smoking and unprotected sexual relations with multiple partners. The ACS has recently reiterated this position on their web site and also notes that "...circumcision is not medically necessary."
On a recent BBC radio broadcast of "Case Notes", pediatric urologist Rowena Hitchcock pointed out that "Even using the figures of those who support circumcision one would have to perform 140 circumcisions a week for 25 years before you could prevent one case of cancer. Of those cancers, 80% are treatable and they are avoidable by simply pulling the foreskin back and washing it, which I would prefer to 140 circumcisions a week for 25 years."
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