New -- 1 April 2007
Updated -- 27 June 2011
In what might be described as the "cutting edge of social debate", male circumcision has emerged in recent years as a highly controversial practice. This should not be too surprising in that in many respects, it has always been a highly controversial topic. For example, in some arenas circumcision was a "mark of defeat or slavery." [1 - reference 2 in the Wikipedia article] This is hardly a positive recommendation for the practice -- although it does not necessarily negate at the outset the various positive reasons claimed by some for the circumcision of males at a specific point in their lives.
Circumcision has been practiced in various societies throughout the ages (including modern day) as:
Again, not a lot to encourage the idea -- particularly the altering sexuality part (which is pretty much guaranteed to not be for better sex). And yet, despite any such encouragement, many societies routinely perform circumcisions without the slightest thought as to what is best for the male infant. Most parents in such alleged cultures do not even think to question the practice or to investigate its possible aftermath.
The "cutting edge" news is that the practice is once again attracting mainstream discussion, debate, and of course controversy. An example of one toss of the gauntlet is an article in The Week news magazine entitled "The battle for Elijah's foreskin" by Neal Pollack . Mr. Pollack, a Texan of Jewish persuasion, has related the intense, religiously based family pressure (primarily by his parents) upon his wife and himself to have their new born son circumcised. Pollack's account of the rather sordid affair has perhaps initiated some knee-jerk reactions from true believers in the practice of what others might call genital multilation. One can in fact gauge the extent of the continuing controversy by the extremes to which many of the arguments gravitate, and also by the fact most of the references on the web tend to be biased one way or the other; either in the form of strongly supporting the idea of circumcision, or strongly opposing it.
Wikipedia, for example, in its article on Circumcision leans rather clearly toward a pro-circumcision stance, while the Circumcision Resource Center  makes no bones about its strong anti-circumcision position. In the process of trying to find the truth of the matter it is therefore encumbent upon the seeker to critically analyse all the conflicting statements and practice a higher degree of discrimination than is perhaps essential in other areas of research.
The Circumcision Resource Center claims, for example, that the studies linking the practice of circumcision and various health problems do "not account for cultural bias on the part of the researchers." The CRC goes on to state [4 - ref 3],
Such a bias might be responsible for the statement from Wikipedia's article :
The CRC notes on the one hand  that, "The lead researchers of the African studies are known American circumcision advocates." This therefore might imply bias.
For example , one can legitimately ask how the alleged bias of these researchers might show up in the various studies they have conducted and upon which they have reported in the literature. It's one thing to claim bias on the part of the opposition, and quite another to demonstrate the nature of this bias. The CRC takes on this challenge.
Assuming one of the reports, the "Kenya report", is scientifically valid, the Circumcision Resource Center notes that the figures indicate that roughly 56 circumcisions were needed to prevent one HIV infection, thus implying that 55 out of 56 men received no benefit. The CRC went on to note that complications from the circumcision procedure occured at a rate of more than 2.5 times greater than the chance of protection from an HIV infection. The CRC also noted that "an association between circumcision and HIV does not prove a cause and effect relationship." 
The latter point is extremely important. It should be self evident, for example, that any individuals who are circumcised have the procedure done because of their (or in some cases their parent's and/or family's) belief system. Because of a stronger family support for the procedure in locales where the studies were done -- e.g., Kenya, Uganda -- it might be assumed that individuals undergoing the procedure might also be more economicaly or socially advantaged, and therefore perhaps better educated, more prone to practice safe sex, and/or simply more likely to practice good hygiene.
It is also important to note the use of the very scary HIV threat as a means of justifying circumcision. Without a cause and effect relationship between HIV and circumcision, it is a questionable (even disreputable) debate tactic to attempt to scare individuals into going along with what might be a highly questionable practice, i.e. circumcise and alter sexuality. HIV is clearly a loaded word, and one which may have been chosen for its fright factor.
The CRC also notes that "Other studies have found no significant effect of circumcision status on HIV acquisition." [4 - ref 4] The CRC then claims, "The fact is that the United States has a high circumcision rate and the highest prevalence of HIV infection in the developed world. [4 - ref 5] Other countries have lower rates of HIV infection than the United States and do not practice circumcision." The CRC then points out:
This strongly suggests that the Wikipedia article is in fact biased (i.e. pro-circumcision) and needs to be read with that in mind... which, of course, is quite likely to lead one to seriously question its motives. Of course, the same might be said for the CRC when it states in somewhat more crude language:
The CRC goes on to argue forcefully against any and all alleged health benefits of circumcision, and at the same time raises the spectre of the potential psychological trauma of any procedure on males of any age, but in particular as infants. The general gist of the latter is that the infants upon being circumcised tend to cry bloody murder, go into shock, exhibit behavioral changes after circumcision, endure changes in pain response for months after the response, and/or in general demonstrate evidence of lasting neurological effects and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. [4 - ref 14] Furthermore,
Another excellent source of the psychological and neurological impacts of circumcision is CIRP . CIRP has pointed out, for example, that:
It should be noted that a call for additional research does not negate the conclusion that circumcision produces significant problems, but only that in order to quantify the degree to which such problems exist, more studies are needed. It's a bit like knowing that sex is good, but understanding just how good will require additional, extensive, and enthusiastic research. CIRP, for example, has described everything from behavioral changes in six month old boys "suggestive of PTSD", to fathers and doctors, who in a serious denial of their own loss, adamantly insist on perpetuating the problem.
An example of the latter might be the unspoken thought, "I don't want a son with an intact penis to remind me of what I have lost." Such a parent might want to consider that in order to avoid this problem he might want to leave his son's penis alone, and simple never see his son again.
Never underestimate the power of such a view of life. It is the ultimate "sour grapes" issue, and one which is likely to be the major obstacle in forging any change in the circumcision practices.
Meanwhile, the CRC addresses one of these fundamental [pardon the pun] issues:
The No Harmm website  raises the spectre of another plague-like side effect of male circumcision: "Researchers believe trauma/abuse lowers serotonin levels and that lowered serotonin levels are associated with increased violent behavior."
Jeannine Parvati Baker, in her article, "Perspectives On Violence", quotes Psychiatrist Rima Laibow who "finds that men carry an unconscious rage against their mothers for betrayal, abandonment, and the assault of circumcision. In other words, the unconscious mind of the son blames his mother for his circumcision, not the 'tradition', the circumciser, or the father who wanted his son to look like himself -- only the mother. It's just like some bad Jewish-mother joke." Ms. Baker goes on to say,
The potential for circumcision-induced violence later in life cannot be easily dismissed. In the case of infant circumcision, the boy is clearly in an enormously vulnerable state, and to have any natural trust slammed by the sudden infliction of pain -- often following a preparatory stage designed to place the infant at ease and give him a sense of comfort just prior to cutting without mercy -- is to teach him one of the earliest possible lessons in life: don't trust the person cuddling you; they may wound you to the core. Small wonder that violence against the world, women, and mom might be a wholly natural reaction.
Given the strong suggestion above of nothing short of genital multilation, violence, and long-lasting psychological damage, why in the world would any civilized society routinely practice, encourage, or demand circumcision?
One answer is tradition. In other words, if there are no good reasons for a practice, a good fall back position is tradition. In the Judeao-Christian tradition, Genesis 17: 10-14 makes it clear in no uncertain terms that circumcision is a critical part of the covenant between Abraham and his deity. It is, of course, this same biblical passage which has encouraged various Christian religions with reverence toward the Old Testament to likewise follow suit.
One is reminded of the story of Jacob, so nicely told by the Jewish writer, Anita Diamant, in her novel The Red Tent . The gist of the story is that Jacob's daughter, Dinah, falls in love and marries Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince in whose land Jacob is living as a guest. In order for such a marriage to be considered valid in Judaism, however, Jacob -- at the urging of his sons -- demands as a bride price that all of the prince's subjects -- none of whom are Jewish -- be circumcised. The prince, for the sake of his son's happiness, orders this to be done... immediately after which Jacob's sons slaughter the males, i.e. murder "every man they found alive". They also escape with the livestock and the wealth of the slaughtered males. It is worth mentioning that Jacob does not refuse such wealth (even as he contemplates the troubles he might incur among the Canaanites and Perizzites because of his taking it). Another noteworthy point is that Jacob's sons were able to accomplish their treachery in large part because of the inability of the newly circumcised -- i.e. raw converts to a basic tenet of Judaism -- to offer any notable degree of resistance due to the immense pain of their enforced surgeries. Recounted in Genesis 34, this may be just the sort of story Jewish Rabbis enjoy recounting to the members of their flock when the subject of the wonderful traditions of the Jewish religion arises. Or maybe not.
The "sacrifice" and "sign of a submission to a deity" reasons for circumcision appear to be highly applicable to the Jewish religion. And yet, what is really the "sacrifice" of a man who subjects not himself but his infant son to the pain, trauma, and aftermath of being circumcised? How does the infant son display his submission to his deity, when the act is done unknowingly, unwillingly, in a state of extreme vulnerability, and in such a manner as to teach at the deepest level the inadvisability of trusting one's elders? How does the Jewish father show submission to his deity, when in fact it is no skin off his nose or for that matter any other bodily part? [pardon the pun]
This of course goes back to the story of Abraham who is more than willing to sacrifice (aka cold bloodedly murder) his son in order to benefit from a covenant with his god. Hells bells! Why would anyone turn down the benefits of divine protection and intervention(s) when it is someone else who's paying the price? Abraham may have been somewhat limited in his supply of sons (especially after he had driven out Ishmael), but his actions are fundamentally cowardly and self-serving. Alternatively, his "attempt to kill his only son to pacify some stupid God [is] even more ridiculous."  Can you imagine the reaction if a modern day Abraham-think-alike tried this?
Somehow, the "sacrifice" and/or "sign of submission" bits don't hold up when it's the infant sons who are the chattel who have no recourse or remedy in paying the price. Keep in mind that the Genesis scripture is very clear in demanding that the infant sons are circumcised on the 8th day of their life. Clearly, were the sons allowed to knowingly make their own choice when they came of age, there just might be a lot of hesitant sons willing to make the sacrifice that is fundamentally up close and personal. One might lose a whole generation of true believers if the same were allowed to choose.
There are numerous other biblical references to circumcision; enough to remind one of the book, Read the Bible: It Will Scare the Hell Out of You. There is, for example, the "very educational tale of Moses and his wife Zipporah in the desert, before he returned to Egypt to lead the Exodus."  The curious part is that Moses was uncircumcised at the moment that Zipporah cut off her son's foreskin (in order to forestall "the LORD" from murder). Being born in Egypt, Moses escaped the circumcision cabal, but did end up with the operation prior to showing up before the Pharoah for the first time. These people really are insane.
Other biblical references are included at Studylight. These include references in the New Testament to when Peter and Paul were vying for top honors in the new-religion-on-the-block sweepstakes. Specifically,
So why is circumcision so widely practiced in allegedly Christian countries? Perhaps it is because of another, more devious reason for circumcision -- other than tradition. It is probably best described by the twelfth century Jewish scholar, Moses Maimonides in his Guide of the Perplexed (1190):
Okay. This is really where the rubber really meets the road. I think it is now safe to conclude that the only viable reason for circumcision is that sexually inept or inhibited anal retentives can feel comfort in knowing that sexually active people will not be enjoying their favorite past time nearly as much as they by rights should be. Only an alleged deity who was fundamentally opposed to humans and their enjoyment of life could have concocted "a mark of defeat or slavery" as a "Very Special Mark of Honor from God Almighty Himself" upon his "chosen people".
The fact circumcision has been justified for religious reasons is really quite astounding. It is even more incredible that it has evolved from the madness of a select people to encompass a far greater, wider-ranging collection of anti-sex enthusiasts. As pointed out earlier, Christians are not required -- according to Pauline Christianity -- to practice and/or inflict circumcision upon its members. But neither does it prohibit it.
To cast the net a bit wider, we should note that the Wikipedia essay with which we began  states that,
Obviously, the practice of a "ritual sacrifice or offering" and/or "a sign of submission to a deity" seems to be pretty well established in Judaism. Pollack's article  -- well worth the read -- is a case in point, as well as the testimony described below by one reader of halexandria.org. In both cases, families use the close knit Jewish society to first isolate their members from non-Jewish relationships, and then threaten to deny any recalcitrant member all his remaining (i.e. Jewish) relationships if they do not abide by such practices as the circumcision imperative.
It is probably readily apparent that any religion which uses manipulations of any kind (whether governmental, societal, physical restaint, or whatever) in order to force blind allegience and/or faith upon its subjects, is not a religion which offers sufficient benefits which might otherwise attract someone to willingly and knowingly adhere to the religious precepts. If the only reason a religion can maintain a vibrant populace is through force majeure, then such a religion has little or no value. It is something to be discarded along with the used cat litter.
In terms of the circumcision controversy, however, the applicability of Wikipedia's statement with respect to Islam [and Christianity] is highly questionable.
In Wikipedia's article on female genital cutting , for example, the article states under the heading of "Type I: Clitoridectomy": "Although labeled Sunna by Islamic advocates of the practice, most Muslim clergy oppose all forms of female genital cutting as it is viewed as a social custom, rather than a religious practice. According to Dr. Sami A. Aldeeb Abu-Salieh at the Swiss Institute of Comparative Law:
Such a conclusion can be applied to every religious or other belief system that advocates what must be considered at this point in the narrative to be the most barbaric and dehumanizing of practices routinely instituted against males. Why not just use babies for cannon fodder?
In this regard, consider the testimony of a Jewish male born in Russia (where they were not practicing circumcision), but living in Israel for most of his adult life :
It's necessary to remember that the Jews are not like other people, having been separated from their "homeland" for millennia, yet managing to retain their distinct identity in the face of nearly continuous persecution. There is no parallel example of this in the world; so they have to be measured with a somewhat different marker. In that respect, Judaism has served as the most important unifying concept, completely defying space and time to keep these people together no matter what. That's why they still pursue such things as circumcision today. However, many have reached new heights of hypocrisy, having managed to pervert even our old religion.
Needless to say, I feel that circumcision is an absolutely barbaric ritual which has to be discarded immediately, and anybody who continues doing it to their children is exercising needless and idiotic cruelty. This horrific procedure has been magnified manifold in Pollack's article : "Most parents are pressured to hand their baby sons over to a stranger, who, behind closed doors, straps babies down and cuts their foreskins off." That's where many Jews totally went off the reservation, completely leaving both reason and religion behind.
The whole point of the circumcision ritual is the Family Gathering. Though still horrible and barbaric, the child is nevertheless lovingly held in his father's arms, with his two grandfathers standing to the sides, and as many guests as one can invite watching the whole thing from two feet away and singing very loudly. A professional dude who does this all his life, cuts it off right in front of your face. The child is given a few drops of wine to numb him. All this was discontinued as "inhumane" by some hygiene-obsessed neurotic Jews, who feel that being strapped down on the sterile bed of some stranger is somehow better for their children. [Actually it sounds a whole lot better for the parents who don't want to witness their son's mutilitation.]
I've done some research on circumcision in the past. It began to be medically studied after WWI and became really wide-spread in the West after WWII, during which many US soldiers found themselves living in filthy environments and not showering for days or weeks. This resulted in their developing various infections on their penises, whom they presumably continued to whack regardless. This is not a problem where running water is available and one can just wash the thing off with soap every few days - but it was a big problem for the old Israelites in the desert, which is where the tradition started. The local Arabs and Bedouins of course all circumcise as well, as do many desert African tribes.
After WWII the doctors decided they didn't want this to be a problem anymore in case another war breaks out, and so since around the mid-fifties the US and Western Europe started automatically circumcising every new-born baby, as a matter of course and usually without telling anyone. [The Europeans have largedly now discontinued the practice.] But this was not done in most of the Soviet block, and certainly not in the USSR itself, where I myself was born. So they didn't do it to me. The funny result of this was that when I was in Navy Bootcamp in Great Lakes, Illinois in 1980, I was the only Jew in a company of eighty men, and also the ONLY uncircumcised one there. For several millennia circumcision was used to tell the Jews apart - and in Carter's US it still was, but the other way around.
The reason I researched circumcision, is because I live in a religious country that's a lot like the Ayatollah's Iran in many ways. For example, all marriage here is done only by the Religious Authorities, and going around this is a long and arduous route. ALL weddings in this country, bar a very few exceptions that only the rich can afford, are religious, officiated by rabbis and official witnesses.
But when at the age of 28 I went to the Chief Rabbinate to register for marriage, the first question he asked me was whether I was circumcised. My father had gotten married in this country as well, and nobody had asked him the same question. Consequently, he didn't tell me to watch out for it. But he got married in the 70's, when the rabbis hadn't gotten wise to the uncircumcised Soviet males yet, whereas this was 1987, and it appeared that they had.
I had no idea this was so important and told the kind rabbi that I most certainly wasn't; at which point he closed the file and said he couldn't speak to me further or proceed with the marriage registration until I did, in fact, get a circumcision. Needless to say this was a deep shock. I was a budding lawyer then, and went off to various places to loudly protest this, even staging a sit-in strike for a few hours in the Chief Rabbi's office, till he had to call security. I presented them with difficult questions of Talmudic Law, but all to no avail - it was either get circumcised, or not have a rabbi officiating at the wedding.
Now mind you, my future wife deeply supported me through all this and said she didn't want me to suffer needlessly and didn't give a fig for a religious wedding. Her parents, however, were a completely different story. They are Yemenite Jews, born in the Old Country and extremely traditional. Having their oldest daughter discard a traditional wedding would've been the gravest of insult to them and to her entire family (this is a few hundred people now.) Her parents were very kind people who liked me, but without that religious wedding, my relationship with them would've been marred forever, which is a very bad thing. So despite my deep disgust with religion (not to mention the awful anticipation of the doctor mistakenly loping the whole thing off) - I agreed to go through with it, basically just for them. There's absolutely no denying that this was no less idiotic than what Pollack  describes in his article, but there you are.
As I was 28 already and had requested that it was done strictly non-religiously, they did strap me down and loped it off under total sedation. I woke up in strange hospital bed a couple of hours later just dying to pee, and after somehow managing to crawl to the bathroom got a *real* major shock! Swinging aside the hospital gown I discovered in the place of my pride and joy a bloated and bloody potato with big ugly stitches sticking to all sides. Shit! Any stirring to the poor thing caused major pain, so I had to avoid even looking at my bride for a while. But funnily enough, less than two weeks later I was already dancing at my wedding. Of course having actual sex took an additional two weeks, and was awfully fun after the forced break.
So - having tasted sexual life before and after the actual disfigurement, I can sadly report that what they say is really true - the circumcision certainly does deaden the whole thing. We are born with the entire head of the penis as a mass of highly sensitive nerves, which undoubtedly offer different heights of possible enjoyment. All these nerves completely lose their sensitivity soon after circumcision, though for almost a year afterwards I could still feel them rubbing themselves off on the underwear. Now the head of my penis is totally sexually dead, exactly like that Rabbi's wife.
This whole circumcision business has to be stopped immediately, if we truly want our children to live in a better world. Unfortunately I was not able to prevent it from being done to my own son - because growing up as a child here who's uncircumcised when everybody else is, would've been very cruel to him. But this WILL change in the next generation, a lot of people here are working on this. In the West they've basically stopped the automatic circumcisions over a decade ago already, unless the parents specifically request it.
The reference above to the routine practice of circumcision in western cultures for non-religious reasons -- that of keeping soldiers healthier in times of war -- is perhaps worth further mention. One can, for example, imagine the next recruitment poster reading:
The fact that governments may be using religion in order to impose their various and nefarious practices does not excuse religions who zealously continue their barbaric and dehumanizing rituals. The greater danger, of course, is when government and religion join forces. It is an indicator of the extent that a religion is wholly dysfunctional and acting contrary to the best interests of its populace when it requires governmental decrees in order to force its citizenry to accept the insane edicts of that religion.
Of course, for those governments prone to such logic, they may have to find other dastardly means to justify such things as female genital cutting, aka female genital mutilation. This subject appears to have less controversy surrounding it than male circumcision, with virtually all sane people finding it reprehensible. In addition to the quote above from the Islamic authority at the Swiss Institute of Comparative Law, there is also the fact that "many Muslim scholars believe FGC [Female Genital Cutting] is practiced as a result of ignorance [Duh!] and misconceived religious fervor rather than for reasons of true religious doctrine."  Finally,
Meanwhile, perhaps a solution to the Jewish dilemna is that the Jewish mothers who are so insistent upon having their sons circumcised should first be required to undergo their own genital mutilation as a sign of their submission to the insane whims of a wholly monstrous deity. Such a procedure would be accomplished preferably prior to their marriage in the first place, but following the time when such women had become fully aware of the ramifications of their "sacrifice".
In this regard, it should be noted that male circumcision is more likely to be roughly equivalent in the female case to the removal of a woman's prepuce only. This is shown as an FGC Type I A in Wikipedia's article and its instructive, related images. In both cases the covering of a highly sensitive sexual organ is removed, resulting in the organ losing much of its sensitivity and the organ becoming increasingly calloused. It's perhaps ironic that such calloused organs are due to the actions of apparently very calloused people.
Anyone else -- i.e. those still in possession of the slightest amount of intelligence and compassion toward others -- might spend even more time investigating thoroughly the subject of male and female circumcision. Websites which this author found worthwhile include:
More recently (June 2011), the issue has become regenerated by an upcoming ballot issue in San Francisco, where those opposed to circumcision are trying to use the power of law to prevent the barbaric practice. And politics being politics, a proposed ban on something, which incidentally is also anti-religious-barbarism has also generated, among other knee-jerk reactions, charges of anti-Semitism. Obviously, this has nothing to do with someone arguing against the practice of any particular religion; it is instead arguing against a very specific practice of several religions which can only be construed as barbaric.
Meanwhile, numerous other credible websites have arisen, which suffice to justify this update. These include:
There are some good websites here. If you are indeed interested in the topic, then visit each of them and read what they have to say.
A parting note is that the author is a circumcised gentile who initiated his research on this topic after reading Mr. Pollack's article, and who was initially tempted to find some justification for his circumcision (which had been accomplished in his case while he was an infant). The idea was to find sufficient cause, and thereby justify both conditions: that of being circumcised and that of being uncircumcised. Perhaps find a meeting ground on the merits and demerits of circumcisions.
His evolution on the subject is perhaps evident within the narrative. It's one of those cases where the "Get Ye Over It" advice offered so prolifically on this Halexandria.org website, comes home to roost. Please realize, however, that this does not imply that I might want to prevent others from incurring the same damage... and thus a reason for this particular webpage.
Still... there may be a light on the distant horizon. There is, for example, the possibility of Foreskin Restoration, described in some detail by CIRP, NORM, and Circumstitions. And as if one needed the motivation, there is this by Sol :
Foreskin restoration could be, admittedly, something of a stretch... but it may very likely be worth it. Let's hope so. It would be nice to get rid of this recently acquired symptom known technically as "phantom foreskin".
 Circumcision, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circumcision
 Neal Pollack, "The battle for Elijah's foreskin", The Week news magazine, March 16, 2007.
 Circumcision Resource Center, http://www.circumcision.org
 Circumcision and HIV, http://www.circumcision.org/hiv.htm
 CIRP, "Psychological impacts of male circumcision," http://www.cirp.org/library/psych
 Call for Research, http://www.noharmm.org/callresearch.htm
 Anita Diamant, The Red Tent, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1997.
 Sol, private communication, March 2007.
 On Circumcision, http://www.noharmm.org/pain-pleasure.htm
 Female Genital Cutting, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_genital_cutting
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