The Happy Trail

Circumstances of Circumcision

By Nayla Lee

John Harvey Kellogg (yes, the cereal guy) advocated for circumcision as an anti-masturbation technique. In his book Plain Facts for Old and Young, he wrote “The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment.” He later invented corn flakes in another attempt to inhibit sexual appetites. But what is circumcision, exactly? Phallic circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin, a fold of skin that covers the glans (head) of the penis. In the United States, non-ritual circumcisions are most often performed in the hospitals within 48 hours of birth.

The Gomco clamp is the most popular in-hospital circumcision instrument in the United States. During these procedures, a medical device is used to break the bond between the foreskin and glans, and an incision is made on the foreskin. The foreskin is then rolled back, and a bell-shaped cap is placed over the glans. The foreskin is returned to its normal placement around the head, and a clamp is placed at the corona (where the shaft meets the glans). The skin around the top of the clamp is detached with a scalpel, and the procedure is done (usually within about ten minutes, or longer depending on how long the clamps are in place). When anesthesia is used, it is local (meaning it is only injected into the affected area, as opposed to general anesthetic or “going under” which can be extremely risky).

This is not going to be a piece about the relative merits or drawbacks of circumcision. There are people staunchly in both camps, and valid arguments for both, and I am nowhere near an expert. I watched a video (okay, a lot of videos), and it turned my tummy, but so would pretty much any surgical procedure. The internet is full of conflicting information, and I wouldn’t want to pass something along only to later find out I am way out of my element.

While researching this topic, however, I leared a bunch of really interesting things that can fly under the radar in light of such a heated debate. For example, the origins of the tradition in the first place. It is uncertain where and when the first phallic circumcision was performed, and motivations vary regionally.

Research on its history in Africa was published by scholar Jeff Marck, who notes that in the region between the Niger and Congo rivers, circumcision was performed as part of warrior initiation and training. In Kenya and Tanzania, unanesthetized public circumcision ceremonies were traditionally seen as displays of courage that signified readiness for adulthood. While these elaborate ordeals are largely a thing of the past, the tradition of circumcision still remains.

Religious circumcision can be traced back to the Old Testament. In the book of Genesis, God tells ninety-nine year old Abraham to circumcise himself, his descendants, and his slaves as a sign of the covenant between them. Judaism and Islam, which are Abrahamic religions, traditionally observe this ritual. The Jewish tradition, called a bris or a brit milah, is performed by a mohel, usually when the baby is 8 days old, unless there are health complications.

Like many features of bodily modification, styles and trends affect circumcision. One interviewee brought up an interesting piece of history from the Hellenistic period: circumcision was not popular with the Greeks, and for the sake of participation in sports and bath houses, some Jews would attempt to make their foreskins appear uncircumcised. This was possible because, until around 140 CE, circumcision was performed in the milah style, which removed considerably less skin.

Today, foreskin restoration can be performed in more sophisticated ways. One method is tissue expansion. This technique stretches skin tissue in order for new skin cells to grow. It can also include the use of balloons to be slowly expanded beneath the skin in order to promote growth. Another non-surgical method uses weights to stretch the skin, and is nicknamed “tugging.” Surgical methods include skin grafts, and are considered less safe than their slower counterparts. Reasons cited on CIRP (the Circumcision Information and Resource Pages) for the procedures include enhancing sensitivity, reducing premature ejaculation, and aincreasing mobility and glide.



  1. There are no valid arguments for circumcision. The claims of circumcision advocates that are made have been refuted by professionals in various countries. Watching a circumcision video is worth thousands of words. Trust your feelings. Trust what is natural. Would you allow someone to do that to you? For more information visit the Circumcision Resource Center.

  2. The article is highly biased and replete with anti-circumcision tactics of distortion and omission of high quality research findings. It even refers to an old (1999) policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) rather that the 2012 AAP infant male circumcision statement that found benefits exceed risks and that unbiased education be given to parents early in infancy, as well as other recommendations clearly designed to encourage this highly beneficial procedure.

    The benefits of infant male circumcision exceed the risks by over 100 to 1. Over their lifetime, half of uncircumcised males suffer a medical condition caused by their foreskin (see article in Mayo Clin Proc in May issue 2014):

    Many men will die as a result of their foreskin, as will their sexual partners …. from genital cancers, HIV/AIDS and syphilis.

    Given the benefits and very low risks early infant male circumcision is in many ways similar to vaccinations. In fact it would be unethical now to recommend the procedure to parents of baby boys:

    Beware of comments posted by anti-circumcision activists on this website. It is their usual practice to use such sites to promote their dangerous fallacies.

    Multiple large systematic reviews and a meta-analysis have debunked the myth that the foreskin improves sexual pleasure. See work in the USA, Denmark, Australia and China, all published in peer-reviewed journals:

    Men circumcised as sexually experienced adults report better sex after being circumcised. This was the finding of two large high quality randomized controlled trials in Africa and Central America:

    Sexual sensation resides in the head of the penis, not the foreskin:

    All well-designed unbiased research studies, including high quality randomized controlled trials, find that the overwhelming majority of women prefer a circumcised man for sexual activity and pleasure.

    A study of 1.4 million males by CDC researchers found adverse events from circumcision to be 0.4%, virtually all being minor and easily treated with complete resolution.

    Failure to recommend circumcision is akin to failure to recommend vaccination.

    The reader it advised to consult PubMed or reputable sources such as the website of the Mayo Clinic for reliable advise, not opinion pieces that appear in the lay news media.

    Brian Morris Professor Emeritus in Medical Sciences, Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney

    1. The article has some interesting historical information.

      My apologies for pre-empting comments sure to be posted on this site by the anti-circ camp, who are intent on doing enormous damage with their fallacies about early infant and later age male circumcision.

      They are the same kind of mindset as the anti-vaxxers.

    2. It should be noted that Brian Morris’ home country of Australia has collectively and thoroughly ignored Mr. Morris’ pleas for universal male circumcision, where he is no doubt distressed so many boys there – over 90% – now get to come home and grow up intact. All other countries’ inhabitants should be so wise to follow suit and ignore the pleas of a man who is, let’s be honest, a little too eager to see little boys forcibly circumcised against their will. He has now been reduced to braying on blogs because no one in Australia seems to take him seriously, especially in a field out of his actual academic specialty.

  3. Breaking the bond between the foreskin & the head(glans) th the babies penis is an euphemism fo RIPPING the foreskin away from (glans)penis. It is supposed to be adhered till it comes.loose naturally sometime usually completely by the teens.

  4. Foreskin feels REALLY good. Circumcision alters sex dramatically. Informed adults can decide for themselves. Forced genital cutting is unethical.

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