World-wide, circumcision means different things to different cultures. In some, it is a rite of passage, in others it is a religious ceremony, and in the Western Americanized version, it is a widely debated subject among physicians and personal choice among parents. A New York City comedic website, College Humor, produced a satirical but science-based video: “The Real Reason You’re Circumcised Is Not What You Think” on the myths and truths of circumcision.
The host of the video starts off by interrupting two characters prior to a sexual encounter and says to the male, “I see you’re circumcised. But wait, you’re not Jewish or Muslim so that’s kind of strange don’t you think? Apart from those two religions, and a few African tribes, America is actually one of the only cultures that practices circumcision, yet most of us don’t even know why we do it.”
The video raises great questions, especially considering more in 2010 than 80 percent of all U.S. men and boys ages 14 to 59 were recorded as having a circumcised penis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a practice, in which the foreskin of the penis is surgically removed by a doctor very shortly after a male baby is born.
The rite of circumcision is one of the longest-standing traditions of Judaism, in which a specially-trained religious person called a Mohel, performs the surgery to an 8-day-old Jewish boy.
“By the time you were circumcised, it was a long standing tradition, but the source of that tradition is real weird. Though religious circumcisions have been practiced in the Middle East for a millennia,” according to the College Humor video.
Circumcisions were practiced in ancient Egypt before 2300 BCE and were depicted through hieroglyphics, which continued to serve as the foundation for religious people in the Middle East.
Modern-day Westernized parents have their newborns circumcised based on religious beliefs, concern about hygiene, for culture or social reasons such as peer acceptance, according to KidsHealth.org. Currently, there are only hypothesized reasons for how circumcision has come to be the norm in America, however, the College Humor video believes to know the exact reasoning.
“No one did it [circumcisions] in the west until the sex phobic days in the late nineteenth century when puritanical doctors promoted it as a way to stop your kids from committing their favorite sin,” the video host said.
The cultural acceptance of circumcision began with the avocation of John Harvey Kellogg, an American medical doctor and inventor of the corn flakes breakfast cereal with his brother, Will Keith Kellogg. He led the American Medical Missionary College in 1895, where he advocated sexual abstinence and by the turn of the century, began performing circumcisions. He also started the belief that women’s sexual prowess could be controlled by rubbing carbolic acid onto the clitoris. It did not, however, catch on in our modern culture.
Kellogg was, according to the video, “a notorious prude, who straight-up hated sex and thought that by pruning your peeper they could make it less pleasure, taming your base, lustful instincts.”
Circumcision became a safe and regularly practiced medical procedure in America after World War II because soldiers were encouraged to have circumcisions with the belief that it would cut down on rates of venereal disease and infection. Many soldiers, particularly the ones serving in North Africa, had to endure intense heat and poor sanitary conditions.
The presumed thought is that circumcision is overall more hygienic and decreases the chance of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. However, according to College Humor, that was only true for biblical times and because the general public has the luxury of washing themselves daily, the extra skin flap makes no difference.
Today, many doctors are now taking a new stance on circumcision and even have the Doctors Opposing Circumcisions (DOC) Physicians for Genital Integrity organization. Doctors from all 50 states, 12 Canadian Provinces and Territories, and several international countries, join forces to oppose non-therapeutic and neonatal circumcision.
Not only are they opposed to the procedure, but they also believe doctors shouldn’t have a role in “this painful, unnecessary procedure inflicted on the newborn.”
By 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) changed its neutral stance on circumcision because of insufficient data, to the recommendation of routine neonatal male circumcision. The Academy also stated, “It is legitimate for the parents to take into account cultural, religious, and ethnic traditions, in addition to medical factors, when making this choice.” The AAP is currently reviewing and amending their policy in light of new data from the Mayo Clinic.
Circumcision has been found to somewhat reduce the risk of HIV transmission. According to the video, the foreskin serves as a natural lubricant, contains millions of nerve endings and protects glans from being desensitized. The glan of the penis is anatomically comparable to the female clitoris.
The video claims that there is neither harm nor benefit to being circumcised, but research is continually performed today in order to dispel any other rumors that were created from the Western world.