The circumcision decision


"Jews and non-Jews both know foreskins are not clean enough."
--Rabbi David Kedmi, Englewood, New Jersey

Pro and anti-circumcision advocates are locked in debate about the hygiene benefits of circumcision. According to a number of physicians, however, cleanliness is not rooted in the removal of the foreskin.

Dr. Paul Fleiss of the University of Southern California Medical Center says the natural penis requires no special care. A child's foreskin, like his eyelids, is self-cleansing. For the same reason it is inadvisable to lift the eyelids and wash the eyeballs, it is inadvisable to retract a child's foreskin and wash the glans. Immersion in plain water during the bath is all that is needed to keep the intact penis clean.

The white emollient under a boy's foreskin, known as smegma, is one of the most misunderstood and unjustifiably maligned substances in nature, says Dr. Thomas J. Ritter. Smegma is clean, not dirty, and is beneficial and necessary. It moisturizes the glans and keeps it smooth, soft, and supple. Its antibacterial and antiviral properties keep the penis clean and healthy. All mammals produce smegma.

Dr. David Kaufman is an assistant professor of clinical urology at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. In a 1996 New York Times article, Kaufman said, "If proper hygiene is practiced, all of the potential medical problems can be avoided."

Studies suggest that it is best not to use soap on the glans or foreskin's inner fold. Forcibly retracting and washing a baby's foreskin, he says, destroys the beneficial bacterial flora that protect the penis from harmful germs and can lead to irritation and infection. The best way to care for a child's intact penis is to leave it alone. After puberty, young men can gently rinse their glans and foreskin with warm water, according to their own self-determined needs.

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