August 2, 1991

What Size Do You Wear, Mister?

Removing parts of people is

The Surgeon's wondrous knack.

But once the part has been took out,

It's hard to put it back.

Ira Pilgrim (The Topic of Cancer,1974)

Some men might answer the question in the title with, "circum."

Circumcision, the removal of the foreskin of the penis,is an ancient procedure. It is mandatory for Moslems and Jews. Some African and island people circumcise males in adolescence, as a coming-of-age ceremony. Jews circumcise on the eighth day of life and it is a ceremonial big deal, with the family getting together for a big celebration. A favorite insult hurled by Moslems is "the uncircumcised dog!" It seems to be one of the most important cultural rituals for those who practice it.

When I was in the eight grade, males swam nude in the school pool, so it was possible to see who was circumcised and who wasn't. You could tell the Jews from the Gentiles at sight. This isn't true anymore since, in this country, most men have been circumcised in infancy. It has become a routine procedure for most newborns, for "health" reasons.This seems to be changing, with more and more people choosing to leave their male offspring uncircumcised.

Are there health reasons for circumcision? A study, done some time ago, showed that a greater number of uncircumcised men got cancer of the penis than did men who were circumcised. Whether this was related to circumcision or other factors is open to question. Like cancer of the cervix in women, cancer of the penis seems to also be related to the number of sexual partners that a man has: more partners, more cancer.

The origin of circumcision is not known. It has existed for millennia. For sure, the ancients who originated the practice had no idea about cancer of the penis.

It is, of course, easier to keep a circumcised penis clean, but not much easier. The question is: is it worth the trouble? The operation is not without some hazard and, in incompetent hands, it has its complications which could be fatal.

It is painful to the infant, but no one remembers that. Now doctors use a bit of local anaesthetic, which will eliminate the pain. It makes sense. There's no reason to cause pain to an infant.

About 15 years ago, I was was having a drink with an Israeli physician and scientist, who is well enough known to have been nominated for the Nobel Prize. I don't remember how we got on to the topic, but we talked about circumcision. He thought that it was medically beneficial. I didn't. "Why", he asked, "are most males in the western world circumcised?" I said that I thought that it might be related to the fact that there are a lot of Jewish physicians who set medical policy, and it's so that you can't tell Jews from Gentiles in the locker room. He turned white. I had apparently struck a nerve. Had I known how he would react, I would never have said what I did. Circumcision can be a very emotional issue. Some people take that little piece of skin very very seriously.

When I was in the army, some men were circumcised as adults because their foreskin was too tight. It was not a nice operation and a few sadistic nurses would sexually tease their patients, who sometimes popped their stitches. Those men wished that they had had it done as infants. There aren't many adult men who would let a doctor with a knife near their penis without a very good reason. There seems no question in my mind that, if you are going to be circumcised, having it done in infancy is better than having it done as an adult.

Others believe that their sex life has been adversely affected by circumcision. A few even go to the trouble of having a plastic surgeon reconstruct their foreskin. That strikes me as a very big fuss over a little thing --but, there's no accounting for taste. They claim that it improved their sex life. That doesn't surprise me, because sex does not happen in the penis, it happens in the brain. Anything that you think will improve your sex life will do so. Some men in the orient believe that eating ground rhinoceros horn will make them horny, and since they believe it, it works. I think that any adult who has penis surgery, unless his life depends on it, is crazy.

There is one case that I know of where a life was saved by a man not being circumcised. An Israeli was ill as an infant and wasn't circumcised. As an adult, he became a spy for Israel. When captured, he was able to convince his Arab captors that he wasn't Jewish by simply exhibiting his penis.

Dean Edell, KGO-TV's doctor is anti-circumcision. I suspect that he has gotten more flack from his colleagues over this issue than anything that he has taken a stand on.

If you want to know whether to have your newborn son circumcised, I suggest that you do what pleases you. Either way, you may be reprimanded when your son grows up, depending on what the fad happens to be at that time. Better still, have only daughters.

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