The percentage of men in America that are circumcised is currently 81 percent according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC found the circumcision rate in newborns has declined slightly from 83 percent from the study done in the 1960s. The question in my mind is why, not why has it declined, but why so high a percentage.
The procedure is most often an elective surgery performed on babies and children for religious and cultural reasons. In other cases it may be done as a treatment for a condition or for preventative reasons. Let’s deal with the second issue first, medically speaking, is it a must?
Medically, it is a treatment option for problematic cases of phimosis, balanoposthitis that does not resolve with other treatments, and chronic urinary tract infections (UTIs). Having been circumcised at birth I did not have the option to choose otherwise and have been fortunate enough to never have had suffered from these three issues.
Phimosis is an unusually tight foreskin that cannot be drawn back from the head of the penis resulting in painful erections and multiple cases of infection and occurs in less than one percent of those uncircumcised. Defined as the inflammation of the foreskin and glans in uncircumcised males, balanoposthitis occurs over a wide age range and may have any of multiple bacterial or fungal origins or be caused by contact dermatitis and occurs in less than three percent of uncircumcised men.
So, in looking at the population of approximately 119 million men in America, today we can estimate 15.5 million are uncircumcised and roughly 150-350,000 are at risk for one of these conditions. Not wanting to have either of these conditions myself I can see the logic, yet this seems to be an aggressive number of procedures for such a small percentage of occurrences. We will leave that part to the world of medicine and move on.
Where did we get the idea to start lobbing off parts anyway? I am not real fond of my littlest toe as it can find a table leg faster than I can find the remote, but, I am not about to go after it with a knife. In his 1891 work History of Circumcision, physician Peter Charles Remondino suggested that it began as a less severe form of emasculating a captured enemy: penectomy or castration would likely have been fatal, while some form of circumcision would permanently mark the defeated yet leave him alive to serve as a slave.
According to secular historians, “evidence suggests that circumcision was practiced in the Arabian Peninsula by the 4th millennium BCE, when the Sumerians and the Semites moved into the area that is modern-day Iraq. The earliest historical record of circumcision comes from Egypt, in the form of an image of the circumcision of an adult carved into the tomb of Ankh-Mahor at Saqqara, dating to about 2400–2300 BCE.”
Circumcision did not become a common medical procedure in the world until the late 19th century when British and American doctors began recommending it primarily as a “deterrent to masturbation”. Deciding which is more debilitating? It seems rather obvious to me but then again I am not a doctor and I don’t even play one on TV.
In the book. Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia, by Vern & Bonnie Bullough (1994) “Prior to the 20th century, masturbation was believed to be the cause of a wide range of physical and mental illnesses including epilepsy, paralysis, impotence, gonorrhea, tuberculosis, feeblemindedness, and insanity.” While the most reliable source, mom and dad, said I would go blind.
After a brief (not boxers) introduction to circumcision we find only 1 in 800 need it medically outside of Bullough’s findings. Can we then say that the majority of circumcision is based on personal and spiritual belief systems? I would say yes.
Circumcision is very important to most branches of Judaism the basis for its observance is found in the Torah of the Hebrew Bible, in Genesis chapter 17, in which a covenant of circumcision is made with Abraham and his descendants. Although there is some debate within Islam over whether it is a religious requirement, circumcision (called khitan) is practiced nearly universally by Muslim males. Islam bases its practice of circumcision on the Genesis 17 narrative, the same Biblical chapter referred to by Jews. Many tribal groups use circumcision for rights of passage, tradition, purification, or it may be interpreted as a mark of subjugation.