Writing Sample from Circumcision: How an Ancient Ritual Became a Questionable Surgery Affecting Millions of Males– A Complete Analysis

The History of Medical Circumcision

Medical circumcision removes the foreskin purely for health reasons.

As we have seen, circ (my abbreviation for circumcision) disappeared from Christianity early on. And yet the largely Christian United States is the only country in the world where most boys are medically circumcised.

Why?

It started at the dawn of the Victorian era, with its renowned sexual prudery, as exemplified by the 1716 book Onania: Or, the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution [masturbation] and All its Frightful Consequences (in Both Sexes) Considered with Spiritual and Physical Advice to Those who have Already Injured Themselves by This Abominable Practice by Anonymous.

A Dr. Lallemand believed that boys masturbated because of irritation from “secretions” beneath the foreskin, which were likely just normal smegma.

One problem with Western medicine is that there is an intense focus on disease and a neglect of wellness and physical pleasure. That’s why Lallemand assumed a boy masturbated due to a medical condition -– it couldn’t just be for orgasmic joy! He even invented a medical condition he called “spermatorrhea” (excessive ejaculations), thus transmogrifying natural sexuality into a reprehensible and dangerous practice. But he had a solution: circ.

Lallemand established principles which are still accepted today:

  1. It is legitimate to amputate boys’ genitals.
  2. Parents of minors are the client, and there is no need to accommodate the wishes or needs of the actual patient.

Lallemand lived in France, but two of the greatest marketers in US history, Sylvester Graham, inventor of Graham crackers, and John Harvey Kellogg of cereal fame, promoted his ideas. In  fact, the Graham cracker and Kellogg’s cereals were both initially designed to inhibit lust and masturbation (perhaps because they thought starchy foods would do that). The moguls’ wealth made them into all-knowing icons, like the line from the Fiddler on the Roof song, If I were a rich man, “when you’re rich they think you really know.” This phenomenon continues today: Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world, successfully promotes circ in Africa, even though he is a college dropout with no medical training. (This is not to impugn his character; by all accounts, he sincerely wants to help humanity.)

Graham wrote, “A masturbator becomes a confirmed degraded idiot, whose deeply sunken vacant glassy eyes, livid shriveled countenance, ulcerous toothless gums, fetid breath, feeble broken voice, emaciated dwarfish crooked body, bald—covered perhaps with suppurating blisters and running sores—denoting premature aging—a blighted body and ruined soul.”

In case that wasn’t graphic enough for you, here’s a triptych of illustrations from a French book published in that era, Le Livre Sans Titre – Consequences Fatales De Masturbation (Book without a Title — the Fatal Consequences of Masturbation).

Left panel: Cover of “Le Livre Sans Titre – Consequences Fatales De Masturbation

Center panel: A healthy 17-year-old boy

Right panel: The same boy wasting away from the dire effects of frequent masturbation

Kellogg was the author of the 1888 bestseller Treatment of Self-Abuse [masturbation] and its Effects. Among the sadistic treatments he proposed for masturbation were piercing the foreskin with wires to prevent erection and using carbolic acid to burn the clitoris. He noted, “Covering the organs with a cage has been practiced with entire success. Tying the hands is successful in some cases, but will not always succeed.”

Kellogg finally decided that there were only two effective remedies for masturbation: Kellogg’s cereals and circ. And he added, “circumcision should be performed without anesthesia so pain is associated with the habit we wish to eliminate.”

Similarly, a few years later, British surgeon Sir Jonathan Hutchinson published the influential On Circumcision as Preventative of Masturbation. Circ, he maintained, would prevent Satan from stealing a boy’s soul via masturbation. These campaigns were so successful that in 1910, the Encyclopedia Britannica described circ as a “surgical operation which is commonly prescribed for purely medical reasons,” whereas before it had described it as a religious ritual.

In the Victorian era, circumcising a boy was an easy decision for a doctor—he looked virtuous and made money at the same time. So, some of them gave every rationalization imaginable to justify circ. This process continues even today. Here is a catalog of doctor’s false, and even racist, statements about circ:

1845: “prevents masturbation” — Edward Dixon

1855: “prevents syphilis” — Jonathan Hutchinson

1865: “prevents epilepsy” — Nathaniel Heckford

1870: “prevents spinal paralysis” — Lewis Sayre (president of the American Medical Association)

1873: “cures bedwetting” — Joseph Bell

1875: “prevents scoliosis, paralysis of the bladder, clubfoot” — Joseph Bell

1879: “cures nocturnal emissions and abdominal neuralgia” — H. Kane

1881: “cures all eye problems” — Maximillian Landesberg

1888: “prevents masturbation, thus curing 31 different ailments” — John Harvey Kellogg

1890: “prevents blindness, deafness, and dumbness” — William Gentry

1894: “… prevents Negroes from raping white women” — Peter Remondino Bonus: Also cures nearly 100 different conditions.

1900: “curbs sensuality, prevents syphilis and other disorders” — E. Harding Freeland

1902: “prevents priapism (persistent and painful erection of the penis), masturbation, and most functional nervous diseases of childhood” — L. Emmett Holt

1914: “prevents tuberculosis” — Abraham Wolbarst

1949: “prevents prostate cancer, venereal disease, and cancer of the tongue” — Eugene Hand

1985: “reduces incidence of urinary tract infections” — T. E. Wiswell

2007: “reduces transmission of HIV infection” — R. C. Baily et al