Today we will be talking to you about male circumcision.
Now, what are the origins of this practice? When did it start? And by the way, if you’d like to read up a little bit on this subject, there’s a very good book called “Circumcision: A History of the World’s Most Controversial Surgery.” And the author is David Gollaher. It was published in the year 2000 by Basic Books, and we’ll put the link up on the site for you so you can find this book if you’re interested.
Let’s look at some numbers here. In the mid-90’s at the University of Chicago, some researchers there did something called a “National Health and Social Life Survey,” and they questioned thousands of men and women throughout the country. And of the 1420 American men that they questioned, they also asked them questions about circumcision, and they found that the men who had been circumcised masturbated more frequently than men who were not circumcised. That was one of the findings of this study that had lots and lots of questions, not just about sexuality but I think this was really interesting that they found that circumcised men tend to masturbate more than non-circumcised men. The same study also found some ethnic differences with respect to circumcision. And what they found is – so this is in the United States – that among whites, 81% of the men were circumcised, and the age range was from 19-59 – the age range of men that they were asking questions. African-American men, 65% had been circumcised. Hispanic men, 54%. And there also seems to be a relationship to the education of the mother. The higher education the mother has, the higher percentage of sons were circumcised. 87% of the sons of mothers who had a college degree, and those mothers who had less than a high school degree only 62% of the sons were circumcised. So the higher education for some reason, it’s more likely that the son will be circumcised.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that the trend to circumcise in the United States has changed a little bit over the last few years. It started in 1971, when the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a statement saying there was no valid medical indication for circumcision in the neonatal period (this means right after birth) – that they found absolutely no valid medical reason to circumcise. This is in the 70’s, and at that time, 4 out of 5 boys were circumcised. Nowadays the rate is a little bit lower, it’s more like 61%, or 3 out of 5 boys are circumcised. So the rate has fallen a little bit since the 70’s, and it may all have started with this statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Now let’s go back a little bit and talk about where this custom comes from. I want to cite a couple of sentences here from the Old Testament, of all things. This is from Genesis, and it says: “Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.”
So this is from the Old Testament, a very strong argument for circumcision. The history, though, goes back even much further, it goes back to ancient Egypt, because they have found some ancient carvings in Egypt that show circumcision scenes, so it’s obvious that this is a practice that has been happening for thousands of years. And not only in Jewish and Egyptian history, but also in Islam, and Australian aboriginals and some of the African tribes have adopted circumcision to mark a covenant with God and to initiate a rite of passage. And how the practice evolved in this country, in the United States, is really not that clear, but we do know that the surgery did not become routine among American practitioners until the late 19th century. So that’s when it apparently changed, and actually, in 1896 there was a very popular parenting book called “All About Baby” and that book recommended circumcision for most boys as a way to halt the vile habit of masturbation. So remember what I told you, that this very recent study found that the circumcised men actually tend to masturbate more. In this book written in 1896, it was said that circumcision would prevent masturbation – which is not true.
About pleasure after a man has been circumcised
Now one question that a lot of men and women would like to know is, is there less pleasure after a man has been circumcised. And this question is really hard, if not impossible to answer. And there are very few scientific studies that have even attempted to look at this question. I think it’s one of the reasons is that it’s really hard to measure any loss of pleasure – how do you show scientifically that someone has less pleasure than someone else, or maybe has lost pleasure. Some people speculate that the fact that the foreskin contains so many nerve endings means that people who don’t have the foreskin anymore have less pleasure. And again, I don’t know whether this is true – we just don’t know. It’s really hard to prove this statement. Another thing that people think is that the fact that in the circumcised penis the glans is always rubbing against clothing, and it’s very exposed, and many people think that maybe that makes the glans less sensitive to touch than a glans that has been protected by the foreskin all the time. And uncircumcised men, their glans is really only exposed during an erection, when the foreskin is pulled back. So usually the foreskin is protecting the glans of the penis. But again, I cannot tell you whether there is more or less pleasure when you are circumcised or not – it’s something that we cannot show, there are not really any scientific studies on this.
One study that I do want to mention was published in 1999 by the authors O’Hara and O’Hara – it was published in the British Journal of Urology and the title was “The Effect of Male Circumcision on the Sexual Enjoyment of the Female Partner.” And what they did was they looked at 139 women who had had sex with both circumcised men as well as uncircumcised men. And they asked these women a lot of questions, and apparently, 73% of these women reported that they preferred the more gentle and shorter thrusts of men who had not been circumcised. But again, this is one study that had looked at this – there is really no research in this area.
The debate about whether to circumcise or not
Finally, the debate about whether to circumcise or not is not over. Some people are very strong advocates for circumcision, and then there are some people who are very much against it, and strongly criticize circumcision. And some of the arguments for circumcision have been that circumcision apparently reduces the rate of penile cancer. And this has been found not to be true. There have been two scientific studies – one from my home country Denmark, and one from Norway, that show that this is not true – that there is not less penile cancer in men that have been circumcised. The other argument that people who advocate circumcision use is that apparently, they think that the risk of HIV, syphilis, and genital ulcers is higher in uncircumcised men. And again, there are some conflicting results in this – there is no scientific proof that this is really true.
And I just want to finish off by emphasizing that the American Academy of Pediatrics really is still – I already read this one quote from them back in the early 1970’s – and it’s still the same, they still have the same statement. Of course, they have been looking at all the research that has been coming out all the time, but they still do not recommend circumcision, and there is simply no proven actual benefits for circumcision. I’d like to finish off and I do want to thank you very much for listening in today.