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.

French Original Text

Diderot gives the most advanced education on foreskin conditions in his time (1779) and for at least the following century... Need we question how seldomly circumcision was performed among the majority of a poor illiterate European population ... influencing an entire cultures traditions and relating behaviour.... see European Question


Compiled & published by M. DIDEROT, &
concerning the Mathematical Section, by M. D'ALEMBERT

Tantùm series juncturaque pollet,
Tantùm de medio sumptis accedit honoris!

Edition exactly in conformity with that of PELLET, in quarto.



Translation: R.Stuart


FRENULUM OF THE PENIS Anat. & Surg. it is thus, that one names the small cutaneous ligament which attaches the prepuce under the glans. Its structure appears fairly similar to that of the membrane under the tongue; however in addition to this it swells up, & stiffens. Its extreme sensitivity shows that it must be covered with a quantity of nervous papillae; & perhaps for these reasons it merits more attention on behalf of the anatomists than they have given it up until present; moreover it is exposed to the flippances of nature, and these demand surgical remedies.

It is so short among some people, that it is necessary to cut it in order that these people are in a position to fulfill the goal of marriage:

(on this subject it is clear the frenulum if short leads ...

(hoc enim vinculum si brevius fuerit, hypospadiaeos facit, dum praeputii depressionem impedit: said Riolan.

In others, the frenulum extends up to the urine channel; so that during the forceful movements of love, the rigid penis is pulled downwards by this bridle, & bends very painfully in the form of an arc:

this second eventuality requires the same operation; it must be performed with care and attention, & all the necessary precautions so as not to wound the glans: the treatment must avoid the coherance of the wound with the prepuce.

Tyson reports having been not only obliged to sometimes cut the frenulum of the penis because it was too short, or because it was too long, but also of having done this in some subjects, following a scar that venereal ulcers had there left. (D.J.)


PHIMOSIS, this is an ailment of the penis, in which the prepuce is stuck & tightly closed around the glans; in a manner that one cannot draw it backwards to uncover the glans. see. GLANS. PREPUCE. This word is Greek; it correctly means tying with a string, -Greek word-, meaning bond made with a cord.

Sometimes a phimosis hides ulcers which are on the glans or around it. It is sometimes so virulent, that it leads to inflammation & finally gangrene in this part.

One distinguishes between a natural phimosis & an accidental phimosis. The natural comes from birth; usually it is not at all dangerous, unless an inflammation occurs there due to acrimony of the urine remaining between the glans & the prepuce for a long time.

The accidental phimosis can be benign or malignant. The first originates from something external irritating the prepuce, which becomes inflammed & swells & tightens so much that a circular rim is formed at its end which prevents this from being reversed to uncover the glans.

The malignant phimosis is similar to this; but a venereal virus is identified as the cause ; it often occurs with gonorrhea, ulcers; & with other venereal diseases which infect the prepuce.

Natural phimosis can require an operation even without an inflammation occurring there. If the opening of the prepuce does not correspond precisely to the opening of the urethra, the urine is not able to exit in a continuous jet, but gets trapped between the glans & the prepuce. Lack of care in such cases have often given place to the collection of urine, & consequently to the formation of stones in this area.

If one takes care to press the prepuce after one has urinated one can avoid this disadvantage, however it is felt, that such people are not in the position to have children, because the the seminal fluid would suffer the same fate as the urine.

A small incision of the prepuce on one side of the penis, will give the facility to uncover the opening of the urethra, & remove the obstacles which hinder ejaculation.

A small steel instrument has been invented to dilate a prepuce which is too narrow. The former end is put in the hole of the prepuce, & one dilates the branches, by loosening the screw between them.

When the phimosis is accidental, it is necessary to bleed the patient depending on the nature & progress of the inflammation, to make palliative injections between the prepuce & the glans, to apply pain-killing & resolvent poultices, while observing the placement of the penis; which must be lying on the stomach, for the reasons which we explain regarding PARAPHIMOSIS: it is only after employing all these methods without success, that it is necessary to consider an operation.

Chirurg: The patient may sit in an armchair... The surgeon takes the penis in his left hand... The perfection of the operation of phimosis consists in cutting equally the skin & also the internal membrane of the prepuce... (Y)


PARAPHIMOSIS, is an ailment of the penis, in which the prepuce is inverted & inflated so securely behind the glans that it is no longer able to cover it. see PREPUCE. GLANS.

This word is Greek, composed of multum, much, & of obligo, constringo: tie up, constrict, because the paraphimosis clenches the penis as if it is tied.

This inconvenience is often a symptom of venereal disease. It can occur accidentally when the prepuce is naturally narrow, & when one forcefully pulls it behind the crown of the glans ; from whence the width prevents the prepuce from subsiding & recovering the end of the penis.

This often happens with children whose glans had not ever yet been uncovered, & who, from creativity & curiosity, have retracted their prepuce by force.

This also happens to newly married men, who make the attempt to deflower the young girls who they have married. Dionis says that he reduced a young man's paraphimosis which happened to him on the day of his marriage, &, who accused his wife of having given him this venereal problem. The author comforted this young man a great deal, by telling him everything which could possibly reconcile him to the pain which his wife had been able to save him, if she had been less wise.

Chirurg.; There are various methods of reducing the prepuce, according to the circumstances. If the prepuce has not strangled the glans for a long time ... initially one sprays cold water...or one soaks these parts in a vessel ... If the inflammation has reached a certain point...he then has need of the surgeons hands ... He takes the penis between the two index fingers between the two hands, the backs of which show towards the patient's stomach & he moves the prepuce over the glans, which is compressed laterally with the two thumbs to stretch it out ...... If the inflammation is large, it will be necessary to make an incision on the internal membrane of the prepuce, to eliminate the strangulation. .... (Y)


PREPUCE Anatomical term, extension of the penile skin which covers the glans or the end of the penis. See PENIS & GLANS.

Doctor Drake observes that in none of the works of nature does one see as many variations as in the prepuce; & that among different men, the shape & the proportion there is always completely different.

It is more than apparent that the development of circumcision, practised so universally throughout the East, is necessary to consider less as an act of religion, but as a means of keeping the part clean, & of eliminating the diseases which originate in these regions due to the retention of mucosity which is provided by glands which are underneath the prepuce ;

& the same author adds that he saw Orientals, who having large inflated prepuces, were frightened to see a mucosity seeping out, which undoubtedly would not have been there, except that it built up between the prepuce & the glans; & it is without doubt this disadvantage among others, that the divine legislator of the Jews wished to prevent, by making the law of circumcision. see CIRCUMCISION.*

The skin of the prepuce is double: at the place where the inner skin joins with the other parts, there are a number of oval or almost round glands, placed irregularly around the union of the glans with the corpus cavernosum, & on the glans itself.

Their use is to filter a liquid which eases the movement of the prepuce on the glans. When this liquid becomes rancid from old age, or following a venereal ailment, the glans grazes the prepuce; & even sometimes tightens the latter, so much so that it is sometimes necessary to make an incision there to uncover the glans. See PHIMOSIS & PARAPHIMOSIS.

This loose fold of penile skin which one names prepuce & which usually embraces the base of the glans, is sometimes attached to it owing to malformation; & this cohesion demands all the dexterity of a skilful operator in order to avoid wounding the prepuce & the glans.

Another malformation is sometimes the end of the prepuce is so narrow that it is neither possible to urinate without pain, nor to be able to uncover the glans in any manner.

At other times the prepuce is very elongated beyond the glans, & this elongation is so narrow that in addition to the problems of urination, a certain quantity of urine always remains there, retained between this elongation of the prepuce & glans, as in a small tank, it then runs out by itself little by little; or by pressing the extremities of the prepuce; these two natural forms of phimosis can be cured by circumcision.

Palsyn reports having seen a 70 year old man with a phimosis accompanied by a small stone which was placed between the glans & the prepuce, directly infront of the opening of the urethra; so that each time he wanted to urinate, the patient was obliged to move the small stone with a suitable instrument, from the front of the opening of the urethra. He had tolerated his discomfort for nearly fourty years, during which time he had ejected several small stones. He was cured by the operation.

The same Palsyn reports having seen another 60 year old man, who had a natural phimosis, & a very long prepuce; in addition he had many problems urinating, a portion of urine always remained between the glans & the prepuce, it was retained there as if in a purse, leaking imperceptibly in his breeches; it was necessary to relieve him of this inconvenience by a circumcision.

It is believed that the Turks & several other peoples, where circumcision is practised, would have a too long prepuce, if one would not have the precaution of cutting it.. Boulaye says that he saw in the deserts of Mesopatania & Arabia along the rivers of the Tiger & Euphrates, a quantity of little Arab boys, who had a prepuce which was so long, that he thought that, without the help of circumcision these people would be incompetent in marriage.

Finally sometimes children are born without any opening in the prepuce; in this case, it is necessary to immediately make a suitable small incision there, which one then bandages with a piece of linen.

Relig. critiq. Jews... St. Paul... Leviticus xix. 23,-. These fruits that must be cut from the tree without eating them, are those of the first three years; perhaps up until the fourth year, the fruits of young trees are worthless in Palestine..... some Jews put themselves in the hands of the doctors, to restore their prepuce. .... .(D.J.)

* (Diderot on Circumcision is totally outdated for example he writes "Circumcision started at the time of Abraham")

French Original Text