The Circumcision Decision

A history of circumcision

Although historians disagree on the origin of this ritual, the procedure has been performed for religious, cultural and medical reasons for centuries. Egyptian mummies have been found to be circumcised, and theories abound regarding the origin of the procedure. As it is a ritual practiced in many cultures around the world, it's likely that many different rationales exist.

The prevention of masturbation was one of the primary reasons for circumcision. In cultures in which sexual expression is controlled or ritualized, the practice of circumcision is widespread. Anthropologists have speculated that this was one way society or the church could stake a claim on man's sexual nature. It was felt to sensitize a boy to pain as well '- an introduction to life's tribulations ahead. Not surprisingly, recent medical literature confirms that the pain experienced by newborns does indeed fulfill this ancient goal. Circumcised babies are far more likely to "overreact" to pain experienced in the first year of life than babies who have not been circumcised. They cry more readily and are more difficult to comfort after vaccinations or minor discomforts they experience in the months following the procedure.

Male circumcision takes various forms, from symbolic piercings or small slits to full removal of the foreskin and exposure of the entire glans at the head of the penis.

In some African tribes, circumcision is performed at birth. It is said to assure a child's survival into childhood, and indeed, if a child is strong enough to endure the serious complications of hemorrhage and infection that can accompany such rituals, it may be a valid test of the strength of the bloodline.

In Judaic societies, the ritual, originally a sign of enslavement, is performed on the eighth day after birth, marking the male children as the chosen ones of God. In other cultures, circumcision may be performed during adolescence or in early adulthood as a rite of passage.

With the increased use of surgery and anesthesia in the 19th century came a rise in the number of circumcisions performed. Surgeons of 100 years ago advocated the procedure for a wide variety of conditions, such as impotence, bedwetting, sterility, excess masturbation, night terrors and epilepsy.

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