THE ORIGINS OF THE PRACTICE
ROUTINE MALE CIRCUMCISION
2) Why was this operation introduced as a general measure?
The principle reason for the anthropologists dismissal of phimosis is that
it is thought to be a rarity; however the anthropologists who discussed
this subject never referred to a statistical study. It appears that
no study on the statistics involving anything more than guesswork was
available previous to the 1940s.
from a variety of reputable medical studies, show that between
2.4% and 14% of all adolescents have a recognisable phimosis on the flaccid
penis. However, because by nature, these conditions do not stretch
to the same extent as the surrounding foreskin, the effects become
more pronounced during erection. The erectile frequency has never been measured. Also this figure does not include youths
who have relative phimosis (invisible when flaccid) or boys who were
operated for phimosis before puberty, also omitted are cases of phimosis which develop
in middle and old age; nor does it include any appreciation of the
short frenulum. No statistics are available for persistent short frenulum
except among animals (higher mammals) where between 0.5% and 5.7% have
In addition almost every child appears to have phimosis, for scientific thinkers this leads to no confusion, however for ancient peoples, all these reasons add up to a significantly higher frequency of
the "apparent" need to circumcise, than could be found in
scientifically conducted surveys.
But these statistics are only valid because they refer to large
sample groups, and therefore they must be rejected because the operation developed among hunting peoples who lived in small groups. Statistics
are known to fluctuate notoriously when measured in small groups.
We may expect that the smaller the sample group the more the frequency
would fluctuate - for example a group the size of an extended family
would be unacceptable and unreliable for scientific purposes, simply
because measurements would sometimes reveal nothing and at other times
indicate a commonplace occurrence.
In addition the various problems sometimes with urination during
infancy sometimes with masturbation at beginning of puberty sometimes
during first intercourse or with secondary phimosis developing unpredictably
in middle age and the almost inevitable old age phimosis - would enable
males of several generations to have simultaneous problems.
This all adds up to an extremely high periodical incidence. With a basic background scientific figure of 10% we could expect in small groups a fluctuation of between 0% and 100%
When viewed on an objective time scale, the modern man might correctly
dismiss localised and specific high frequencies as unrelated and meaningless.
Howver among ancient peoples one could imagine that such simultaneously
occurring events would stimulate an emotional response, and that this
in turn could result in a practical or decisive course of action.
It is often criticised when one supposes how natural peoples might
have thought and felt. Bryk called the pre-literate man, the prelogical
thinker, and described a part of his intellectual understanding
as follows: (original
German): " ... due to his incredible suggestibility,
intention and its fulfillment occur synchronically. Indeed, all
primitive systems of therapeutics are based on this assumption."
I believe it is not arrogant to recognise that pre literate peoples
were more inclined to believe in the validity of their subjective experience
and feelings and be moved to action on these grounds; they certainly did not look for scientific proof. One may speculate about
the accuracy of emotional decisions, but the significant point is that gut
feelings motivate spontaneous action, without years of delay differentiating
between cause and effect to define and prove the exact nature of problems
involved before acting.
CONFUSING SYMPTOMS and
To gain a good understanding of the symptomatic complexity of foreskin
conditions please see Chapter One The Conditions
We are considering a large variety of erectile difficulties influencing
various different areas of sexual health and activity.
There are hundreds of different
individual degrees and combinations of frenular-phimotic variations
each causing specific physical effects when erect. All conditions cause
some restriction on the free movement of the foreskin during erection.
Some conditions are merely difficult or irritating others are intensely
painful, some cause problems by masturbation others first during intercourse,
and still others for several days after intercourse. A few common examples : Pain often occurs during puberty
with paraphimosis or a relative phimosis abrasively irritating the
corona of the glans and sometimes causing infections, during love making
a partial phimosis may bag up hindering penetration or the frenulum
may rip, alternatively the frenulum may pull and strain causing pain
for several days afterwards.
Among young adults my findings are similar to Beauge : "From the interviews it appears that the great majority of these
subjects are virgin, and that among those who have had sexual experience,
many have failed, with difficulty in penetration, pain and loss of
Consider that even these days medical knowledge on these subjects is in its infancy. As recntly as 1996 a number of medical publications suggest "the definition of this condition is obscure in most publications ... " The different ring types "fibrotic, lichenoid, normal," were first defined by Clemmensen in 1988, exact causes are still not known. Medical knowledge on frenulum breve is comparable; Grewel suggested a collective repression about frenulum breve. See The Medical Taboo
How could anyone in pre-literate times have started understanding
and defining these problematic conditions in all their possible degrees
The causes would have been irrelevant, the symptoms totally mystifying,
but contrary to the confusion of this complicated situation, the cure
would have been obvious, simple and practical - to free up the foreskin and open out this enclosed area in some way.
The anthropological and psychological theories on the origins of
the practice discuss this as though it were the manifestation of impersonal
unconcscious urges or cultural needs. All the theories given are devoid of any dynamic
impulse which could have provoked the operation or its routine practice.
The idea that individuals introduced the measure has apparently never
been discussed, nor, what reasons they may have had for this. A man
who had personal experience of the erectile problems involved with
foreskin conditions may well have had previously unconsidered reasons
for introducing the practice.
An adult male or female may have noticed and been concerned by the periodic high frequency. However
I believe that it is only someone with personal experience of some
of the problems involved with retracting his own foreskin, and of treating it successfully with circumcision, who would
have the personal conviction (or maybe the emotional compulsion), necessary
to introduce such a dramatic measure in a routine form.
The most natural and simple scenario, involves a man who had personal experience of some
of the problems involved with phimosis, and of treating it himself successfully with circumcision. It could have been a father or grandfather.
If a child in his care developed similar problems through for example paraphimosis
or infections at puberty, one imagines whenever primitive communities started caring for their sick individuals, that this child would also be cured with circumcision.
a second son, (either simultaneously, or at a later time when he reached
his brothers present age), may easily have been automatically circumcised as a preventative measure,
and by being automatic, the practice became routine.
(It is easy to understand that communities started caring for their ill a few thousand years before they started using flint tools, however preventative caring requires a special study).
"It is a significant fact that circumcision . . . is invariably
performed before or at the age of puberty, or at latest before
marriage." (53). This is often seen by anthropologists as an added point of confusion. However, the
conditions cause recognisable and functional problems through infections
or pain, before puberty, at puberty as a result of masturbation,
or often when making love for the first time. It appears that the
primitive intelligence realised the sense in establishing some
measure at an age previous to when these first problems occurred.
Thus originally this preventative step would have been determined by the incidents
the originator had witnessed (or imagined) among his extended family
From this perspective instead of it being a reason for extra confusion,
the diversity of the ages at which circumcision is traditionally performed,
is a perfect reflection of the many different reasons and ages a youth,
boy or child, may need, or appear to need circumcision.
I suggest routine partial circumcision
was originally performed by men who had personal
experience of foreskin problems.
I suggest the first routine steps were taken during one of
the periods of high frequency.
I suggest routine circumcision was originally introduced
as an all cure as a practical and simple solution to, and prevention
of, a number of confusing and chaotic problems.