Male circumcision is one of the oldest surgical procedures worldwide. There are many reasons to do it: religious, cultural, social, medical. Many anthropologists tried to find out the origin of circumcision. They had many different theories: it was a religious sacrifice, a rite of passage marking a boy’s entrance into adulthood, a form of magic to ensure virility or fertility, a means of enhancing sexual pleasure, an aid to hygiene where regular bathing was not possible, a means of marking those of higher social status, a means of humiliating enemies and slaves by symbolic castration, a means of differentiating a circumcised group from their non-circumcised neighbors, a means of discouraging masturbation or other socially proscribed sexual behaviors, a means of removing excess pleasure, a male counterpart to menstruation or the breaking of the hymen etc.
The oldest documentary evidence for circumcision comes from ancient Egypt. Sixth Dynasty (2345–2181 BC) tomb artwork in Egypt is thought to be the oldest evidence of circumcision. Historians say, Egyptians practiced circumcision for cleanliness or a mark of passage from childhood to adulthood. Circumcision was then adopted by some Semitic people living around Egypt.
According to Genesis, God told Abraham to circumcise himself, his household and his slaves as an everlasting covenant in their flesh.Those who were not circumcised were to be “cut off” from their people (Genesis 17:10–14).In Judaism, it is considered a commandment from God. In Islam, circumcision is widely practiced even though it is not mentioned in the Qur’an. But it is mentioned in the Hadith, the words of prophet Muhammad. “Five practices are characteristics of the Fitra: circumcision, shaving the pubic hair, cutting the mustaches short, clipping the nails, and removal of the hair of armpits.” (Bukhari, Book 72, Hadith 779)
Georganne Chapin, the founder of Hudson Center for Health Equity said,
‘Circumcision is not medically necessary, is unethical and can cause irreversible harm to men. My argument against circumcision of children and infants is no more and no less than that it’s a human rights issue. All people, male as well as female, are entitled to bodily integrity, and nobody — for any reason — has the right to cut off part of another person’s body when that person is too young to understand and to consent.
Under bio-ethical principles, parental consent for medical treatment is permitted only if the treatment being considered will save the life or health of the child. Circumcision is not medically necessary, and so it violates those principles, as well as that child’s entitlement to a complete body, his own personal freedom and autonomy.
There are medical risks involved with circumcision. The baby loses the protective function of the foreskin, which means that the head of the penis can build up extra layers of skin, or the baby could develop skin ridges, a bent penis or sexual dysfunction later in life. A study published in the British medical journal Lancet in 1997 demonstrated that babies who have been circumcised have a lower pain threshold for subsequent immunizations; they are extremely distressed, their cries are different. There is also a risk of infection and death, or of a botched procedure.
The foreskin serves a number of purposes sexually. It contains thousands of nerve endings, and if you’re cutting off such an exquisitely sensitive body part you’re going to lose sexual sensitivity. During intercourse, the foreskin also provides a natural gliding action and a lubricating function that’s lost if the person is circumcised.
In this country, we’ve made female genital cutting a crime and grounds for refugee status, but we do the same thing to boys that other cultures do to girls. Those in favor of male circumcision say that one is mutilation and the other is helpful, but the act of cutting off part of a child’s genitals is the same, whether it’s a boy or a girl.
Some men even say that they have post-traumatic stress disorder that they associate with their circumcision as infants. I think we would have no trouble believing that from a woman, but we write off men’s trauma and recollection as being whining and unmanly.
Circumcision is a so-called cure that’s in search of a disease. The vast majority of men in the world are intact, and they are not suffering from illness or infection. There is no justification for cutting off a body part for a hypothetical future disease, especially ones like STDs that can be prevented in ways that don’t involve mutilation. It’s crazy that we don’t think it’s crazy.’
30 percent of males worldwide are circumcised.
Many doctors support circumcision. They believe that ‘circumcision provides a number of health benefits. It reduces the risk of HIV and penile cancer in men. It also reduces the risk of several other sexually transmitted infections in both men and women, including syphilis and herpes, and of cervical cancer in women. Urinary tract infections in infants are about 10 times less likely if the boy has been circumcised’.
They also say that ‘in Africa, circumcision reduces heterosexual HIV infection in men by at least 60%. The foreskin provides a ready access to cells that are the entry point for HIV because the skin there is very soft and permeable, making it more vulnerable to infection. The area underneath the foreskin is also humid and provides a hospitable environment for infections, whereas they can’t proliferate as well on the dry skin of the circumcised penis.
In countries where there is not good access to running water, another reason to circumcise is hygiene. And in a study of nurses in a U.S. geriatric unit, about 90% were strongly in favor of circumcision because it was difficult to bathe uncircumcised men in their 90s. When we look at a baby and we think about circumcision, we have to think not just about that baby but that he’s going to turn into a man and, eventually, an old man’.
But recently a Canadian study finds that personal factors, rather than medical reasons, influence primary care physicians’ recommendations for routine infant circumcision.