Myths, Lies and Half-Truths
about Male Circumcision (Part 1)
This article sets out to explore and explode the myths, lies and half-truths about circumcision which those opposed to it put out as part of their deliberate misinformation campaign. This is particularly pernicious here on the Internet where many young, gullible, teenagers and new parents are seeking genuine information; and the liars can hide behind pseudonyms and anonymous e-mail re-mailers.
The erroneous statements have been grouped into arbitrary sections for easier reference but some could just as easily fit into another section.
List of Sections:
Foreskin Structure and Development
Rights of Parent and Child
Alternatives to Circumcision
The Jews and Circumcision
Doctors and Circumcision
Foreskin Structure and Development
- The foreskin doesn't separate fully from the glans until puberty.
- As stated by Dr. Gairdner in his 1949 anti-circumcision article in The Lancet, the foreskin is usually still adherent to the glans at birth but is normally fully mobile by the age of about 5.
- A few boys do still have adhesions remaining into puberty, but these are a sign of improper development of the penis. They need to be broken down long before the boy reaches puberty so as to allow for proper cleanliness and a normal development into puberty.
- A fully retractable foreskin is necessary for proper cleansing and sexual development.
- Parents shouldn't try to retract their son's foreskin.
- Boys have to be taught to wash under their foreskin when bathing - it doesn't come naturally to them. This can only be done by the parents gently retracting the foreskin as far as it will easily go and washing under it at every bath time. Parents should ensure that their son is washing under it befor allowing him to bath or shower unsupervised.
- It is true that no force should be used, so as to avoid tearing the thin skin of the foreskin, but this doesn't preclude gentle retraction. Early gentle retraction also helps to break down adhesions, however it is desirable for parents to wait until the boy is a year old before starting this gentle retraction at bath time.
- As an alternative to retraction in the early days, a parent can gently stretch the foreskin forwards to help break down adhesions.
- Phimosis cannot be diagnosed in an infant.
- Phimosis is the condition in which the opening in the tip of the foreskin is too small. It has nothing to do with the presence or absence of preputial adhesions.
- In infants it is too small if urine cannot be passed freely. Any ballooning of the foreskin during urination indicates that the opening is too small to allow proper voiding. When the opening is too small, a back pressure is created by the trapped urine. Not only is this painful for the child but it puts a strain on the young bladder and sometimes back to the kidneys. If the condition is very severe then serious kidney damage can be done with dire consequences for the boy in later life.
- In older children, adolescents and adults the foreskin can be too tight to expand over the coronal ridge (at the back of the glans) and thus the foreskin cannot be retracted even though there are no adhesions remaining. This interferes with proper hygiene as well as making sex more difficult and potentially very painful.
- The foreskin acts as a rolling bearing during sex.
- For the majority of men the foreskin has retracted behind the glans during erection and plays no part in penetration, contrary to the assertion implicit in this lie. Once full penetration is achieved the action of the foreskin depends on its original length and how loose it is.
- If the foreskin does not retract on, or before, penetration then it tends to stick to the walls of the vagina and the man virtually masturbates himself within his foreskin whilst giving no stimulus, and thus no sexual pleasure, to his partner.
- In these days of almost universal condom use, however, all this is irrelevant as the retracted foreskin is kept in place by the condom and can play no part in the action. Many uncircumcised men have noticed that the foreskin makes condom wearing much harder as it tends to bunch up and get in the way, or to push the condom back off the penis.
- Smegma is the natural lubricant of the foreskin.
- Natural oils are secreted by Tyson's Glands under the rim of the glans and from the inner surface of the foreskin. It is these oils alone which prevent the foreskin from sticking to the glans and allow it to retract freely. The oils are produced constantly and are thus replaced very quickly after washing.
- Smegma consists of surplus and used oil, dead skin cells, stale urine, stale semen and miscellaneous dirt, all of which have collected under the foreskin. Smegma is a 'waste product' and serves no useful purpose. If not cleaned away regularly it becomes hard and smelly. It is also a breeding ground for bacteria, which can lead to balanitis. Smegma has also been implicated in penile cancer.
- Circumcision removes half the penile skin.
- The amount of skin removed varies from little more than the constricted tip of the foreskin to an amount just slightly longer than the glans. The glans is rarely more than a quarter of the length of the entire infant penis (and proportionately much less in an adult). The lie comes from counting the foreskin length twice "because it has an inner and outer layer". This fact is really irrelevant because coverage is only provided once.
- Circumcision removes hundreds of miles of blood vessels.
- 'Hundreds of miles' is a gross exaggeration which most people can clearly see through but even so, the blood vessels in the foreskin serve only the foreskin itself and hence their removal with the foreskin is of no further consequence.
- The foreskin contains specialized nerve endings.
- All nerves are specialized. There is nothing more or less special about those in the foreskin compared with those elsewhere in the body. The glans also contains nerves which don't usually get fully stimulated when sex is experienced through the foreskin.
- Circumcision removes 20,000 nerve endings.
- This is an outright lie. The figure of 20,000 has been admitted to have been made up by an anti-circumcision activist to make it look as if really serious damage is done by circumcision. There is no scientific evidence that there are even that number of nerve endings in the entire penis.
- Whatever the number, however, the nerves in the foreskin are almost exclusively related to protecting the foreskinitself from harm, just like those elsewhere in the skin. When the foreskin is removed these nerves become irrelevant.
- Circumcision removes Taylor's ridged band.
- Taylor 'discovered' this 'ridged band' at the tip of the foreskin by studying less than a dozen dead bodies! This was by no means a scientific study. On the basis of these few observations he postulates (ie guesses) that there is a band of tissue at the tip of the foreskin with an erotic purpose. He fails to recognise that these men might, like so many uncircumcised men, have been suffering from phimosis or that rigor mortis, which would have already set in, might itself be the explanation. In practice the small ring of muscle there is simply to hold the tip closed to prevent dirt entering.
Rights of Parent and Child
- Infant circumcision violates the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
- Article V, United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states that "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." It says nothing about circumcision of infants nor when it is chosen by adolescents and adults. This Article is aimed fairly and squarely at the treatment of captives, prisoners and suspects by law enforcement and military authorities. Its only relevance to circumcision is to prohibit this as a forcible treatment of captives or prisoners.
- Circumcision, with its proven prophylactic benefits, cannot ever be officially regarded as contravening the UN Declaration when performed by suitably qualified persons at the request of the patient or his legal guardians.
- Parents have no right to inflict circumcision on their sons.
- An infant cannot make his own decision to be circumcised (just as he cannot make his own decision about immunisation, religious upbringing, choice of schooling, etc). Parents have the right and duty to make, on behalf of a child, those decisions which he cannot make for himself, It is thus up to the parents to make the decision based on what they see as the benefits and risks. They make many other far-reaching decisions for their children every day, so why not this one too?
- Furthermore, in a number of cultures the social norm is for boys to be circumcised. Boys not circumcised in accordance with these norms will not fit in with their cultural heritage.
- Circumcision should be left for the boy to decide when he is older.
- Numerous research projects have shown that, in addition to the multiple long-term benefits, infant circumcision reduces the risk of infant urinary tract infectins (UTIs). This benefit doesn't accrue if the circumcision is performed after infancy.
- If a boy is not circumcised as an infant then he is unlikely to be able to afford the extra cost and very much longer healing time of a circumcision in his teens or early adulthood. Furthermore, the (unwarrented) anticipation of great pain from the operation is likely to put him off making the decision even when phimosis is present.
- Infant circumcision is highly traumatic for the boy.
- There is little evidence that circumcision itself is more than slightly stressful for the average baby. All babies cry when they are undressed or restrained. Many babies sleep quite peacefully through their circumcision, whilst others go to sleep contentedly as soon as they are comfortably dressed again after it.
- General anaesthetics should normally be avoided with infants, but a local anaesthetic to provide a dorsal penile nerve block should always be used whenever possible. Some doctors (and most Jewish Mohels) prefer to completely avoid the small risks posed by any anaesthetic agents. Instead, a few drops of wine or a sugar solution pacifier have been found to have excellent results.
- Although a baby can feel pain, he has no memory of it. A baby cannot localize any pain from his circumcision; has no sense that his penis is in any way different from any other part of his body; and doesn't remember anything of the circumcision (whereas an older child - say over 2 years old - will localize and remember any pain).
Alternatives to Circumcision
- Soap and Water are all that are needed to keep a boy's
- This is true; but fails to recognize the fact that most young boys avoid the use of soap and water on any part of their bodies if not pressured and checked. Nearly all parents find it necessary to check that their sons have washed behind their ears and cleaned their teeth before going to bed at night. Simply teaching the boy to wash somewhere doesn't mean that he will wash there. If not washed daily the foreskin collects stale urine and smegma. Both contribute to inflammations of the foreskin and glans, known as balanitis, as well as causing bad odours.
- Regular washing under the foreskin also presupposes that
the foreskin is fully retractable and that the boy has been taught
to retract it. As we have already
seen, the anti-circumcisers would have us not retract our
son's foreskin to perform this regular washing. One cannot have
it both ways!
- Phimosis can always be dealt with by conservative means
- The foreskin is a fairly elastic structure and will normally naturally stretch to allow the glans to be uncovered or urine to be voided without problems. However a significant number of boys and men have foreskins which are not elastic enough. Gentle stretching, if started young enough whilst the skin is still very thin and supple, can sometimes work - especially where the phimosis is only slight. However this is uncomfortable and can be highly embarrassing for the boy - and often also for his parents who have to participate in the daily stretching.
- If the foreskin is stretched beyond its elastic limits then minute tears will occur, in the thin inner layer, which are not usually noticeable to the naked eye. These (like any other tears or breaks in the skin) will heal with formation of scar tissue. The scar tissue is even less elastic than the skin around it and thus the phimosis is made worse not better.
- Even when foreskin stretching appears to have effected a cure for phimosis this can return, especially during puberty. Many boys who have undergone foreskin stretching as a 'cure' for phimosis still end up having to be circumcised. They therefore unnecessarily experience the double trauma of the unpleasant, embarrasing and unsuccessful stretching, followed by the circumcision that they could, and should, have had in the first place at a much younger age.
- Balanitis can always be cured by antibiotics.
- Balanitis caused by bacteria can be alleviated with antibiotics,
but they have no effect on fungal induced balanitis - the most
common kind. Furthermore, unless the conditions which encourage
the breeding of the bacteria are removed the problem will most
likely return after the antibiotic treatment has ceased.
- Antibiotics are being over-prescribed the world over and as a result many organisms have become resistant to them. This poses a real threat for doctors treating the most serious cases, where many available antibiotic treatments have become useless. It is necessary to drastically cut down on the use of antibiotics in cases where other treatments are available, especially where such treatments will prevent repeat occurrences of the original problem and further use of antibiotics.
- It is quite reasonable to use antibiotics to treat an isolated case of balanitis, but circumcision should always be the treatment of choice for recurrent balanitis.
Myths, Lies and Half-Truths about Male Circumcision (Part 2)
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Updated December 2012
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