Excerpts from:

Circumcision: Frankly Speaking

by G.N. Weiss and A.W. Harter

Anatomy of a Circumcision

  For those of you wondering why it would be medically advisable to remove the foreskin - a piece of human body that nature or God, has provided at birth - consider this evolutionary theory. Primitive man walking on "all fours" could have truly used a foreskin to protect the tip of his penis from injury as he traversed the forest. When man evolved to an upright position, standing on two legs, his pendulant penis might rub of foliage, injuring the urinary opening. For many centuries, genital injury from natureīs raw elements has not been a concern for civilized man, so why does the body still manufacture a foreskin? Later, in keeping with the evolutionary process, you will see why some consider the foreskin an antique relic and a "mistake of nature."


  Several studies have suggested that a fetus can feel pain as early as 30 weeks of age, while still safely inside the uterus. To be sure, the anatomical configuration of nerve cells in a normally developing fetus is in place by the stage of neonatal development. However, the nerve responses are not developed sufficiently or organized enough to feel pain the way a 6-month old child may feel pain.

  Try thinking of the neural receptors that transmit pain from the site of injury to the brain as a wooden foot bridge. In the newborn, this neural transmission bridge has some of the planks missing, or not yet "nailed down". Using this example, you may be able to get a rough idea of why an infant wonīt feel prolonged pain or discomfort form the operation of circumcision.

  Here is a good time to point out that a physician or a mohelīs skill is required diring the circumcision to provide not only a desired cosmetic appearance of the penis, but to minimize any discomfort to the child. As you might expect, deft swiftness is a prized trait in circumcision operations. ...

  Before you label the practice of infant operations without anesthetics totally inhumane, think for a moment what the word "pain" means to you. A splinter on the heel of your foot? A smashed finger? A throbbing headache?

  Perhaps someone you know has suffered a serious illness or accident. Truly those situations can register vivid memories of pain.

  Just thinking of the word can make some folks wince. Of course there are other situations that evoke "pain": a sore neck, or even an insult or co-worker that gets on your nerves can cause you anguish and pain.

  An important thing to remember is that pain is often confused with sensation. Have you ever seen a comedy routine where a male gets hit in the groin? The audience members (especially males) are receiving a mental transmission that pain is occurring, although they feel no actual discomfort.

  This is the sympathetic pain, which is a scenario many parents may face when they learn that the newborn circumcisions are routinely performed in a hospital setting without anesthesia. It seems unpleasant in nature, but actually newborn nerve receptors are not fully developed and they do not feel what we adults have come to know as "pain". ...

  Ask a woman who has been conscious during a Caesarian section by having a spinal epidural, and she will likely tell you that she could feel the entire operation! But feeling the sensation of the operation, and experiencing "pain" during the C-section are two entirely different events.

  Pain is a healthy, normal sensation that is intended to remove you from a source of discomforting sensation.

  If someone comes at you with a knife, you move away, because you sense the threat of pain. If you cut your finger while slicing a tomato, then you immediately tend the wound, as your brain is receiving a message that there is an injury to the body.

  These are examples of highly developed reasoning and chemical message patterns that the brain has learned through behavioral patterns. A toddler who has been told that an object is hot, may still test the object with his finger, since the brain has not yet linked a pain message with touching something hot.

  Obviously newborns do not have any learned behavior messages that link pain with actions or events. But holding a child tightly and exposing him to hot or cold stimuli will trigger an instinct to cry quite vigorously - an infantīs alarm that something is amiss. Although the chemical messengers are not fully developed, and they become quite sophisticated within the first weeks of life, there are still some important reflex impulses - such as crying - present at birth.

  Surely an immunization shot produces a sensation, but to what degree does it hurt? Yet would you as a parent forego the immunization protection to avoid inflicting a short duration of discomfort or pain to a child? ...

  The Cancer Question

  ... Penile Cancer is one of the diseases that could be almost totally eradicated in the world, if all cultures subscribed to the practice of circumcision. It is the only surgery that can be performed to prevent cancer which does not affect the function of the organ.

  Women and men who have faced breast or even genital cancer, generally do not hesitate to have one of the most erogenous portions of their bodies removed, wholly or in part, to save their lives....

  ..., there is one preemptive surgery which scientist and cancer specialists say can totally prevent squamous cell penile cancer in males: CIRCUMCISION.

  Doctors have since added a caveat to that statement, saying that circumcision performed during infancy is the best preventive measure. In fact, studies in other European and desert-land countries show that circumcision among adult men did not fully curb the manīs exposure to penile cancer.

  Here is an important reason why that statement is true.

  Remember the waxy, cheese-like substance that builds up under the edge of the foreskin, called smegma? Medical studies have shown that smegma inhibits the skinīs natural defenses against disease and can promote a cancerous reaction (also known medically as a carcinogen).

  If you wore the same sock everyday for a year - never changing it or taking it off - but occasionally washing your feet with the sock on, you would be shocked at the condition of your feet when the sock was removed (if it could be removed!).

  ... The genitals of an uncircumcised male is not so different from a foot in a sock, sweating in a shoe. Tinea cruris, popularly known as "Jock Itch" is a fungal infection, which is prone to affect the crotch area. When a form of that fungus is found in the foot area, it is called Athleteīs Foot. While these fungi can be treated, they are a nuisance and have a favorite human hiding place. So does the herpes virus, which is prone to affect mucous membranes around the lips, vulva and foreskin sites.

  ... Several medical studies, cited in 1966 agreed that penile cancer was largely eradicated by circumcision in the U.S. But the disease is not extinct. The National Cancer Institute in Betheseda, Maryland estimates that in 1995 there will be 1,100 male genital cancers reported, with 210 deaths attributed to the disease. This number is low compared to an estimated 244,000 cases of prostrate cancer in men, which will likely result in 40,000 deaths in 1995. However low the number, research suggests that circumcision can buffer the odds against developing penile cancer.


© G.N. Weiss and A.W. Harter, Wiser Publications 1998.
Extracts reproduced by kind permission of the authors.

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