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The Unkindest Cut of All

Richard Haines
XTRA West!, p. 11, April 22,1994

Shout It Out I'd like to talk about the most controversial part of the male anatomy - the foreskin. June Engel, PhD and editor of Health News and author of The Complete Canadian Health Guide claims: "[Circumcision]... prevents infant urinary tract infections, reduces risks of penile inflammations and possibly lowers risks of penile cancer. [Circumcision provides]... better hygiene... little boys often forget to wash under foreskins." None of these claims she makes are based in any medical truth. She is spreading misconceptions and (mis)information, perpetuating notions of the foreskin as being dirty, unnecessary and a health risk. Her ignorance is based on cultural and social misconception about a perfectly natural, intact part of a male's body.

When I was going though my teen years, I couldn't help notice that I was different "down there" from most of the other boys in the gym class showers. I had a few comments concerning my foreskin, but nobody said anything about it being dirty, useless and vile. It wasn't until I started my coming out process that I began to understand just how much prejudice, hatred, and ignorance surrounds having, or not having a foreskin. Yes, I couldn't believe that men had such, pardon the pun, "hang-ups" about circumcision. I was being told I should chop off that useless, extra skin that "just gets in the way" and have it skinned back into a man's penis, so that it's no longer a "boy's penis." I was told that a foreskin is "disgusting and gross and smelly and cheesy."

I'm not suggesting that an individual should censor himself or herself: an individual has the right to decide for himself how he feels about circumcision. But I feel each person should make an effort to make their decisions based on information and not ignorance and cultural values.

Bud Berkeley, author of Foreskin: A Closer Look, says, "Much of the prejudice against smegma (a secretion of the foreskin) originated with reports that it can cause penile cancer." Berkeley goes on to explain that with proper hygiene the threat is removed. The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on the Fetus and Newborn Report of the Ad Hoc Task Force on Circumcision filed in 1975 says that while circumcision doesn't prevent prostate cancer or cancer of the cervix, it can prevent carcinoma of the penis. However this cancer is very rare and good principles of penile hygiene are adequate prophylactic alternatives. Their conclusion: "There is no absolute medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn. Therefore, circumcision of the male neonate cannot be considered an essential component of adequate total health care."

To me, circumcising a baby boy just to prevent penile cancer (religious reasons aside), seems to make about as much sense as pulling all of a man's teeth out to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. The foreskin is filled with very sensitive nerve endings; it sheaths and protects the sensitive head of the penis, keeping it moist and away from harm until it is needed - for sex or masturbation. Then the sensitive penis head slides easily in and out of it's sleeve with the erotic inner lining foreskin, filled with nerve endings, exposed to either the insides of the vagina or anus or the palm of a hand. Circumcision removes either most or all the foreskin, thereby removing the sensitive nerve endings found in the inner lining of the foreskin, therefore depriving the circumcised male the pleasure of the natural sliding motion of a lubricated intact foreskin.

Take time to consider what I've written and understand that it hurts when people say ignorant things to us. Foreskin is the only part of our bodies that other males have made us feel ashamed about having, let alone talking about. It's time we examined all the misconceptions and started talking about our bodies.

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