Experts have been unable to understand the origin of the practice of routine male circumcision. Most of the literature shows no awareness of phimosis - its frequency - or the sexual and erectile problems which can be cured by circumcision. If routine circumcision had been introduced for this most obvious reason of eliminating difficult foreskins; then the importance of an alternative modern method, suitable to our culture's attitudes in this day and age, would be clear.

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The Question

What are the origins of the practice of routine circumcision?

The existing anthropological and psychological explanations suggest the introduction and continuation were due to the same reason, as though the practice were in a state of continuous re-creation : Theories range between a manifestation of cultural requirements (e.g. hygiene, initiation, fertility, tribal mark, sexual advantages) or the expression of unconscious tendencies (e.g. castration complex, menstruation envy, regression). All the theories given (except Ploss and Bryk) are devoid of any dynamic impulse which could have provoked the operation.

Conversly, the removal of foreskin conditions would be excluded from any answer relating to continuation ; then logically once the foreskin had been removed, men would no longer experience the need to remove it.

To arrive at a valid answer I believe it would be helpful to consider the question in three parts:

1) Why was the original operation performed?
2) Why was this operation introduced as a general practice?
3) Why did the practice continue?

1) Why was the original operation performed?

Bryk argues that phimosis would have led to the first operations: "There can be no doubt that even in the dark beginnings of time, surgical interventions were carried out on the foreskin on medical grounds, then it is certain even in those times, that congenital phimosis occurred ... or the opening of the foreskin was so narrow, that the prepuce could never be retracted behind the glans." I suggest the first isolated operations would have been among those individuals who had consciously painful or difficult, conditions, infections or injuries.

This was a practical step. Once early man had discovered the usefullness of bamboo splinters or sharp flint stones for cutting skin, (which would have been a primary association due to cutting up animals for food ) primitive surgery became possible. When one considers the ease of cutting skin, one can appreciate how early in surgical history such a step would have been apparent to our pre-literate man to ammend the involuntary, annoying and often painful sexual difficulties inherent in phimosis.

Such a step would be especially obvious to someone of adult age with an infection, or one of the secondary conditions. Here the sufferer is vividly aware of the newly developed encumbrance (possibly feeling frustration or anger or even fear); in contrast to men with congenital conditions he is aware of how the foreskin normally functions he knows the foreskin folds back revealing the glans; he would realise that he must simply pull the foreskin forward and cut off to resolve his irritating involuntary pain or difficulty.

For some men with phimosis, circumcision is a very obvious step. There are a number of examples of men circumcising themselves even in modern times. Throughout history this operation has undoubtedly been self performed by countless individuals.

Performing this operation on a second person e.g. parents circumcising their children, requires a more developed association of thoughts, and therefore must have developed later.

The Origins of Routine Male Circumcision - 3 of 5