Father Tony

Circumcision: A cut above the rest, or the cruelest cut of all?

Filed By Father Tony | April 30, 2009 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: circumcised penis, cut or uncut, Jewish tradition

Dear Father Tony, I read where you were at a dinner party where circumcision was discussed. I just had to tell you that my parents, my brother, his pregnant wife and me had a big knock down last night about this! My brother wants the kid cut. I said it was stupid. Let the kid decide when he is old enough to know what he wants for his own penis. My parents just shrugged when we asked them why they had us cut. They just did what everyone else did. My mother doesn't even remember the doctor asking her. Then my sister-in-law dropped the bomb. She said that her husband/my brother wants his kid to look just like him. My brother said yes, that's why he wants it and then he said that I only care about it because I'm gay!!! Now we are not talking!!

Cut in Arkansas

Dear Cut,

I have always deeply resented the fact that a little bit of me - a bit that I would have prized - ended up in either a landfill or an incinerator soon after my birth, and that I had no say in the matter. Sometimes, I consider bringing suit against the doctor and the hospital that did this brutal deed. It's not that I consider the circumcised penis to be unattractive, it's just that the procedure is such an unnatural, unnecessary and unjustifiable barbarism.

Let's clear up some things.

  1. God does not demand or prefer that his male humans be circumcised. God does not find the sight of an army of circumcised faithful soldiers prettier than an army of uncut ones. If those religions that demand this operation as a rite of passage think they are pleasing God, they are totally deluded. If they do it because of tradition and membership and remembrance of heritage, that is a different matter about which I say "Find yourselves another sign or symbol. Something less nasty. Why not just clip a toenail and have it bronzed? Why not pick something more visible to heathens, perhaps the left earlobe? Honestly, people, that's a little baby boy penis you've got in your knife-wielding hands. It's not the ark of the covenant or the holy grail or the true cross. Leave it alone. Think of some better initiation rite, why can't you." Here's a suggestion for my Jewish friends: why not have your foreskins inked with a red dotted line instead of actually cutting them off. That way you retain the tradition in a bloodless way. Look at how successfully we Catholics have tidied up and bejeweled the crucifixion! No mess, no pain, on a golden chain!
  2. Uncut men somehow manage to keep the region under the hood clean. Amazing, isn't it, how the natural design of the human body generally works best if not tampered with. In this regard, circumcision is like binding young women's feet. Not good. Those who say circumcision is hygienic are simply wrong.
  3. There is no conclusive evidence that a circumcised penis is less susceptible to HIV. You'll find all sorts of medical opinions and stats about this. None is the final word.
  4. Some men have extremely tight foreskins that make washing difficult and are not easily retractable during sex. In those cases, adult circumcision may be a solution. These men constitute a small minority of all the foreskin owners in the world.
  5. I have always been amazed when folks argue about the sensation of sexual activity as being different in quality and degree because of the presence or lack of a foreskin. That is like wondering if men with larger penises "feel more" when they cum. Completely silly speculation. The only experts on this matter are the guys who became circumcised as adults, and even they argue about its effect on sensation.
  6. Some gay men love the feel, appearance, taste and smell of an uncut penis, and some are quite the opposite. The percentages are insignificant but make for great cocktail chatter, if you'll pardon the inevitable pun (I held off as long as I could).

There are many sites to visit that will champion either the pros or cons of circumcision. I am particularly recommending this very informative slideshow about the history of circumcision. Especially delicious are the slides quoting two experts who opined about the matter. Their names were Doctor Cockshut (in 1935) and World Health Organization director, Kevin DeCock (in 2007). I kid you not.

You should know that one of the little known tourist attractions in the city of Rome is the church that houses the relic of the sacred foreskin of Jesus. Using carbon dating and factoring in two thousand years of shrivel, Italian experts have concluded that our savior was hung like the donkey he rode into Jerusalem. I kid you not.

Seriously, your brother's desire to make his son's penis look like his own is quite common, and is very often the reason why dads say yes to this nonsense. You ought to tell your brother that you are sorry for butting into a private matter (even if you are not really sorry). You ought to overlook his clumsy remark about your gay perspective. He's right! We do have a heightened interest in the penis! Then you must show him this diagram of the usage of a 1934 invention called the Gomco clamp (still in use today) and scalpel on an infant penis and see if he does not change his mind. Or better yet, purchase a gomco clamp from a medical supplier and have it engraved with the name of your soon-to-be-born nephew and his mutilation date (and the name of the damn doctor who did it!) Dear God, we are a primitive people.

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If there's no difference in sensation as an adult, but there is a possibility that it might prevent infection, and it may be an important religious tradition to both the parents and the eventual adult, why does it matter to you whether a child is circumcised or not?

Or better yet, purchase a gomco clamp from a medical supplier and have it engraved with the name of your soon-to-be-born nephew and his mutilation date (and the name of the damn doctor who did it!) Dear God, we are a primitive people.

Whether one supports circumcision or not, to call the practice of circumcision "primitive" is pretty offensive, especially considering that it is a big part of religions tradition for some people.

I'd like to know exactly how much you know about the significance of circumcision (and the family, and tradition!) in Judaism. Seriously.

Finally, I think the comparison of circumcision to foot-binding is incredibly offensive. Male circumcision has no effects on the performance of or pleasure derived from the penis (as you yourself say, though I've heard different from people) and the circumcision is often performed with anesthesia. In contrast, foot-binding is an ongoing painful process and can leave one disabled. Why don't you go ahead and compare male circumcision to female genital mutilation while you're at it?

Tammy Swanson | May 4, 2009 5:29 PM

How much do YOU know about the religious significance of circ? Originally it was just the very tip of the foreskin that was cut off, not the WHOLE THING! They did the whole foreskin after the Greeks made fun of the Jews because of their snipped foreskins.

Also, there are other people like Australian aboriginies, Turks, Muslims that also do this brutal and primitive ritual. NOT just Jews.

Jewish mother on circumcision: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfnqN3YgTd8&feature=PlayList&p=CF3A13A9F11BBF57&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=8

A wise person listens, and hears wisdom. A foolish person listens and hears only noise.

Bi Avenger: Actually, a lot of people do compare male circumcision to female circumcision. Of course that's hyperbolic, but bear in mind that it's done without the child's consent. As for foot binding, I do agree with that comparison. Circumcision isn't fully reversible (even with foreskin restoration), and it can impact one's sex life. Notice, for example, how cut guys often have to use baby oil or hand lotion to jerk off, while uncut guys don't. That's not surprising, considering that it was originally adopted in the English-speaking world in the late 1800s and early 1900s as a way to prevent masturbation!

Second, the practice he's referring to is the routine circumcision that's done to boys in this country, not the religious practice among Jews and Muslims. There's no conclusive evidence that it has any medical benefit, including preventing infections, at least any more than using a condom and bathing regularly.

It's also worth noting that the U.S. is highly unusual in this practice. It's mostly died out in Canada and other English-speaking countries, and never really caught on in mainland Europe or Latin America. It's pretty common in South Korea, only because they picked it up from us, but uncommon in Japan and China.

We started doing it in this country because of misguided Victorian-era medical thinking, and now it's mostly because fathers don't want to have to explain why daddy's winky looks different and because stupid kids in the locker room might make fun of the guy with an "anteater."

I was fortunate enough to keep my foreskin, and I actually prefer guys who still have theirs as well.

The circumcision debate is somewhat interesting from a health policy perspective, but I have two main thoughts whenever the discussion turns personal.

1. Men who reach adulthood and begin or continue to mourn the loss of their foreskins need to just get over it. It's not coming back, and there are probably unrelated adjustments you can make to greatly increase your sexual pleasure.

2. Whether parents are going to have their child circumcised is a matter for them to decide and is not anyone else's business. Most boys I've met would be much more mortified to find that people are discussing their foreskins than to find that part of theirs is missing.

"Whether parents are going to have their child circumcised is a matter for them to decide and is not anyone else's business."

You mean it's not the child's business, either? I've never bought the "personal decision" argument for the simple reason that the kid doesn't have a say in the matter.

I've met plenty of guys who were circumcised as infants who don't mind. I've also met a lot of guys who wish they hadn't been circumcised. However, I've hardly met any uncut guys at all who would choose to be circumcised, and plenty who are happy they weren't.

The issue -- beyond religion, which I'll leave alone here -- is that circumcision still persists in this country because so many parents have mistaken health information and/or because it's out of conformity (e.g. "Everyone else is doing it! I don't want my son to look different from the other boys! I want him to look like dad!").

I try to stay out of the whole pro-circumcision/anti-circumcision debate because the "activists" on both sides tend to be pretty kooky, but I still think it's just another example of Americans being their usual backward selves.

Ross Presser | December 29, 2010 1:16 PM

It's between the parents (who authorized it), the kid (who experienced it) and perhaps the individual who performed it (if you can consider it a blot on his soul or moral character).

It's NOT YOUR BUSINESS HERE ON THIS BLOG.

Yeah, I can't help but dismiss the people resorting to loaded language and appealing to emotion. All the righteousness wears on me.

Will you moralize Heidi Klum's husband's parents for the ritual scars on his face?

Just butt out of others' parenting decisions. How arrogant to presume to tell your brother how he should manage his child's development.

The gay bias accusations were funny, though.

Since you went off topic with your analogy, I will point out the scars on Seal's face are the result of lupus Seal suffered as a teenager, and were not part of any tribal mutilation.

Wow, Father Tony, this is an issue that gets my blood boiling. The fact is the correct term here is barbaric! Religion itself is barbaric. They have a history of murder, torture, hate-mongering and yes, circumcision is barbaric. To cut on a small child (more often than not without anesthesia)is BARBARIC. How can anyone say cutting on someone who just comes into this world that it's Christian? How un-Christian!

Bi Avenger and Lucrece are out to lunch. Stupid in fact. Just plain stupid and arrogant. They are both barbaric in their thinking.

I heard the "boys should look like their fathers" argument before my son was born.

I said, "unless they have a piercer on staff at the hospital that's not gonna happen."

So, yeah - i believe modifications are best left to the individual to decide what is right for themselves.

I just love these people who tell other people to butt out and not offer an opinion about male circumcision. Is it also "righteous" to have an opinion against female circumcision?

Any by the way, circumcision is a disgusting practice. Have you ever seen a botched circumcision? Not an attractive thing.

Have you ever seen a botched boob surgery? Yeah, not an attractive thing.

I thought the foreskin was supposed to be buried in the dirt in your backyard. There were no backyards in the South Bronx. I think this is a popular ritual because people feel males are uncooth, unclean and generally sloppy so let's make it easier on the mothers of newborns by eliminating "their" problem. Since a healthy penis is a source of immense joy, i don't see why the foreskin does not contribute to that significantly. I would also like to insist that all fathers of boys be present to witness the event. Great way to experience not protecting your kid in a moment of need the very first time you meet him. Ghastly. just horrible. Look at the pain involved. Tears and screams mean pain. I think circumcision is an assault on male infants that is meant to shock them into someones warped interpretation of the cruel world they have just come into.

About the cleanliness issue, I've heard people say that "Well, guys are icky anyway, so it'll keep them cleaner."

But having been in a public shower in a country where men are typically not circumcised, I've noticed that guys there tend to be pretty meticulous in keeping themselves clean. I know this from personal experience with said guys too, of course.

By contrast, a lot of the cut guys in this country seem to think that you can just let a little water run over your penis in the shower, and it's clean. Suffice it to say I've encountered a lot more odors in the nether regions among cut guys than among uncut guys.

Ewe, I guess you have never been to a bris (ritual circumcision). The baby's father is indeed present and usually beaming with joy and pride throughout the ceremony. Likely the baby's grandfather and uncle, cousins and other assorted relatives are also present. So there goes your theory that if the fathers were present the practice would end. Also, Jewish ceremonies don't use a Gomco clamp. They use a special scalpel. And the ceremony is performed eight days after birth, not the same day, as is the hospital practice.

The place of honor at a bris goes to the "sandek" a male relative who has the privilege of having the baby sit in his lap while the circumcision is performed by the "mohel," the appointed and trained rabbi or other Jewish cleric who conducts the ceremony.

Jews who knew they were slated for death in concentration camps in WWII secretly circumcised their newborns. Jews in Communist Russia performed circumcisions despite the threat of imprisonment. The Brit Milah, this covenant with God, is a sacred rite to the Jewish people. Calling it barbaric shows a profound lack of respect for the traditions of others.

Babies don't get a say in whether they are vaccinated, despite a growing lobby that links these shots to autism. I don't see people here clamoring against that practice.

If your belief system doesn't include circumcision, I have no issue with you leaving your sons their foreskins. But just as religious society has NO business telling gay people whether they can marry or not, civil society has NO business telling a religious community that what they are doing is wrong when millions of adults who have experienced the practice are fully sexually functioning adults.

Dave in Northridge | April 30, 2009 4:02 PM

Let's be clear on this. The only reason Christianity doesn't insist on circumcision (as Judaism and Islam do) stems from a marketing decision Saul of Tarsus made to make Christianity more appealing to adult pagan men. I'm Jewish, so the decision was automatic, and I like uncut men as much as anyone.

Yes, I generally oppose ANY opinion that's based on something in the Bible, but in this case I think we should understand the history involved. As long as there are no civil laws either way, why does it bother anyone that other people follow their beliefs?

Circumcision is torture!!!!! Helloooooooooooo

1. A parent making a life choice for an infant simply becasue they can is... well, barbaric. The child is an infant today and your child sure. But they do tend to grow up and someday will have the capacity to make that descision for themselves.
2. Circumsion isn't a hair cut, it doesnt grow back.
3. IMHO Enough accidents and infections happen that render the penis unviable afterwards to make this a really questionable practice.

And this is different from nutrition how? Some parents choose to raise their kids with certain nutritional customs.

Do we have any witch hunts because someone's son ended up not reaching the highest potential height?

A. J. Lopp | April 30, 2009 5:21 PM

A set of questions for students of art:

I have always assumed that if King David was the ruler of Israel, then Michelangelo's statue of David would be circumcised --- but a friend of mine who made it to Italy and saw the masterpiece itself swears that it looked to him to be uncircumcised.

(1) OK, someone with art authority please decree: Is the great marble manhood of David circumcised or not?

(2) Why would an Old Testament Jewish King not be circumcised?

(3) Was Michelangelo making an aesthetic statement, may haps, per chance?

The statue of David by Michelangelo is indeed uncircumcised. Yes, Kind David would have been, in fact, circumcised. Michelangelo was either ill-informed, didn't care or made an aesthetic decision. The statue of Moses that Michelangelo also made has horns, and the delightful source of myth that persisted into the 1940's that Jews are born with horns. Art does not always imitate life.

I specifically did not have my sons circumcised, rather deferring that decision to their own judgement as they got old enough. I guess I was sensitized to it by seeing the stories of intersex surgeries performed without their consent.

When asked by others didn't I want my sons to look like me, I said "Hell no," and then went off and had sexual reassignment surgery, lol.

Michelangelo's David is indeed uncircumcised. Many of the great Italian artists weren't much for realism, however. If, for example, you take a walk through any of the major Italian art museums, you will see any number of Annunciations in which it is apparent that Mary received the good news while reading in her well-appointed parlor in Tuscany.

Most people really can't properly say how terrible Circumcision is.

I myself am one of the people mentioned in "D" up there in this article, The foreskin was closing up and they had to cut it off, and really, comparing it to Binding feet is right on the spot.

Now I can't testify on whether it made sex more or less desirable since I'm a virgin, but even after the initial 2 weeks I had to recover from the circumcision and let the stitches dissolve, it took another 2 weeks to recover emotionally.

It was painful enough recovering from it, I can only imagine the pain of the babies, they aren't put under with laughing gas first and they don't get prescribed Pain killers to weaken the pain.

If you have a baby boy and you got him circumcised and he just wont stop crying and you've tried everything, it's probably because you circumcised him!

Sure, people who were circumcised from birth don't think it's a big deal but they don't remember having foreskin, and people who weren't circumcised can't even imagine how bad it is.


Who cares if it's important religiously to you, Mormons find Polygamy important to them, we don't make that legal.

Also pants are less comfortable without foreskin.

jessnatenuff | April 30, 2009 5:59 PM

Back in the 80's, I watched an episode of The Phil Donahue Show that discussed circumcision. The show was amazingly informative. It pointed out that while the US is the only industrialized nation left that performs circumcisions, the medical profession has admitted that the procedure has absolutely no health benefits. It is done in hospitals for aesthetic reasons, only. It also pointed out, at the time, circumcision was a 2 billion dollar a year business. It also showed a clip of how an infant is strapped down (by his four limbs)and then cut. Often there is no anesthesia. One mother told of her experience with her son. The doctor convinced her to let him "trim" her son. The mother stated that soon afterwards, from the next room, she heard her son let out a blood curdling scream that sent her into depression. She could not believe that she allowed her son to experience such horrific sounding pain.

Personally, I see know difference between female and male circumcision. Both are cruel acts of violence. I use to excuse male circumcision when it was done for religious reasons. Then I heard a woman on Oprah say something that I found interesting. This woman had been a victim of religious based circumcision. She said that she refused to believe that after God made females God then yelled down to earth and said, "Wait, I forgot to remove a 'little something'. Could you please do it for me." I feel the same way about religious circumcisions for males.

Maybe I'm missing something but I can't think of another part of a child's body that is removed or altered without a medical reason. Is it any surprise that circumcision is performed on sex organs. We don't needlessly cut or justify cutting any other part of a child's body except their sex organs. That speaks volumes concerning our views of sex.

The Donahue Show also pointed out that in other countries that commit to the practice, men are the chief forces behind female circumcision while in the US, women are the biggest supporters of male circumcision. Why don't each gender that support such things mutilate themselves instead of making judgements about how the other sex should look or function sexually.

David: My comment was not exclusively about jewish people and i did not call it barbaric. I do not respect taking a knife to a newborn boy anymore than i do to a female entering womanhood. I never said that the right to circumcize should be denied you. I did not disrespect religion simply because you choose to honor your own. However, there are UNNECESSARY things people will do if they think they are behaving as god would deem fit. I do not have a theory about this and you are mistaken that i said it was "wrong" or implied that some law should be enacted not permitting the practice.

Ewe,

You will have to forgive me as I used your comment as a launching pad to address a number of things that a number of people stated in this post and its comments. I apologize that it appears all my comments were directed at you.

However, for the record I find equating female "circumcision" (which is not mentioned in any official religious text with which I am familiar) with male circumcision inaccurate at best and a gross distortion at worst.

I also admit that my attachment to the practice is illogical in some respects, but there is nothing logical about religious faith. It is by nature a belief that transcends the requirement for proof. I could not imagine raising a son without him having a brit milah. I simply could not do it.

Two brothers are no longer talking. This is the more important issue.


I read that penis foreskin is often turned over to tissue banks for use in plastic surgical repairs for accident victims. The skin is especially useful for eyelid replacements.
I had to laugh when I read this, wondering if this made the recipients cockeyed?

And if you ever noticed, ones cock is the same color as their eyelids. Check it out.

Well David, i know from your posts how important your religion is to you and i can hear that in your words. I do think though that cutting is cutting. Although i admit after the physical healing, circumcision does not cause any further pain. It really is not a necessary procedure. I equate it more on the level of people with dredlocks. I have been told they believe god is going to pull them up to heaven like one pulls a carrot out of the ground hence; the hair is kept that way. We both know that if there is a god (that there is no need to prove), god will not select those with dreds only. I enjoyed hearing your pride in how the procedure is done but i did not hear the significance as to why? That would be interesting to know as well. There must be a spiritual reason that eveyone believes to put an infant child through that pain at eight days old.

I attended international schools where I was in the majority with my intact penis. I did however discover through interactions with several South Asian girls that our minority of cut males was balanced by a minority of cut girls.

My Indonesian friends for example informed me that over 95% of both boys and girls in that country are mutilated. My choice of words tells you where I stand on this issue. In their culture they believe that by removing the external portion of the clitoris they remove the "male" portion of the vagina and by removing the foreskin they remove the "female" portion of the penis.

I had a rare opportunity to discuss this issue in an Ethics class with Jewish males and Muslim girls present. The arguments are identical. The girls felt just as strongly that their religious rights must be respected and that having the tip of their clitoris removed at birth was an essential part of their relationship with God. The American media has been very careful to compare the most benign and "safe" forms of male genital mutilation with the most severe forms of female genital mutilation.

This doesn't represent reality. For every "civilised" Bris there is a surgeon removing a clitoris under local anesthetic and for every girl held down in a ditch and cut with a dirty knife there is a boy enduring the same fate perhaps nearby. The difference is that the Western world has agreed to protect the girl and ignore the boy.

I understand this is a controversial topic, but I think there is a difference between male & female circumcision. While male circumcision removes an extra piece of skin, female circumcision actually cuts into the clitoris. This would be analogous to cutting off part of the head of the penis.

As a circumcised male, I can't speak to the sensitivity difference. But, I have seen several studies that point to the lower medical risks of circumcised males. I agree that the choice should be with the individual, not the parents.

Having said that, I'm glad my parents had mine done while I was young enough not to remember. I can't imagine getting it done as an adult. I have no memory of the event, & frankly, I certainly have had no regrets.

The foreskin isn't an "extra piece of skin." If it were "extra," you wouldn't be born with one.

I made my circumcision for the converting purpose of my muslim girlfriend's wishes. Her family arranged to my khatnah on their ritual way and it did not allow any skin to cover my glan. The circumciser pull my foreskin as much as he can to top and all extra skin over glan is removed by his sward then he made only sulture over edge. At this process he did not use any medicine. After healing, I and my gf like my all time exposed circ style. As for me, its not only hygiene but also my circ scar is love trade mark for my gf.

My friend wrote up a hilarious (yet accurate) argument about circumcision. Read it at his blog: http://thingsthatshouldntstillexist.wordpress.com/2010/09/23/03-circumcision/

to and fro as you like,

till the milk will flow i let it go .

skin it back nice and tight .

milk the boy butter out of me .

all these u.s.a. girls need an education on natural men ..

save the earth , go green , chop the skin!