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 "Circumcision Controversy"

Men's Health > Circumcision > Controversy

Circumcision: A "cutting" issue

Women at Dartmouth College, like women across the country, can go their whole lives without encountering an uncircumcised penis.

In America, it is common to circumcise men in infancy, despite the lack of any significant medical reason for doing so.

Only a small percentage of parents, perhaps as few as 10 percent, of parents circumcise their child for religious reasons. The rest are following a trend that began in the mid-sixties, when statistical research of religious populations showed that circumcised men may have a lower incidence of penile cancer and urinary tract infections.

Later, more research demonstrated that the benefits of foreskin removal were not so clear-cut. To date, it isn't even known whether the minor risks of keeping the foreskin outweigh the potential complications of the operation itself.

A cut above the rest

Culturally, Americans are predisposed to the cut penis. Rumors abound that the denuded penis "feels better," and that the foreskin is somehow in and of itself unclean, a myth perhaps derived from the fact that the foreskin must be moved aside to clean the area of the shaft underneath.

Arguing whether a cut or uncut penis "feels better" is like making the argument that crewnecks are superior to turtlenecks. It's a matter of opinion and personal preference. Men, and their partners, can benefit from remaining au naturel. The foreskin has a similar function to the eyelid, keeping the area under the skin moist and acting as a natural lubricant.

Female Circumcision

Many human rights organizations have condemned the practice of female circumcision, more commonly referred to as female genital mutilation, which is performed under conditions that are often dangerous. Female circumcision almost always includes the removal of the clitoris, a bundle of highly sensitive nerves. The procedure is commonly performed without the benefit of anesthetic or sterilized instruments.

Removing the clitoris takes away almost any chance a woman has of experiencing pleasure during intercourse and, coupled with the removal of the inner labia and the suturing together of the outer labia, can make intercourse painful and endanger a woman's health by interfering with the natural functions of the urinary tract and monthly menstruation.

Male circumcision has aroused far less debate. Most men are circumcised so early in life they have no recollection of the experience, while female genital mutilation is performed on young or adolescent girls who are certainly old enough to be aware of and remember the experience.

Some male circumcisions are also performed without the benefit of anesthesia, as for some time doctors were not convinced that infants felt and processed pain as adults do.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a fact sheet this year stating, "The evidence is now clear that infants experience pain. And, according to numerous studies, there are several safe and effective methods to reduce the pain and stress associated with circumcision."

Thick Skinned

While circumcision is generally a safe procedure, there can be complications. Doctors can remove too much, requiring a skin graft from the scrotum. Seriously botched operations can permanently mangle a boy's genitalia.

Given the potential complications, it's clear that parents should be informed of the lack of clear-cut evidence of medical benefits from circumcision. While there are some cases in which removing the foreskin may be necessary, they are rare. The procedure is not always covered by medical insurance, meaning many parents will have to pay out-of-pocket.

Parents who offer up their children for these procedures have their reasons for doing so -- in some Egyptian societies, a myth persists that a man will suffer or even die if his penis touches a clitoris. Men in American society may want their child's penis to resemble their own, or worry that having an uncircumcised penis will make their son feel "different."

Paul Ellis

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