“Circumcision” by David L. Gollaher

A physician argues the case against lopping it off.

Topics: Books,

"Circumcision" by David L. Gollaher

When Britain launched its national health-care program after the
Second World War, doctors and politicians scrutinized common
medical procedures in order to determine which ones the
government should pay for. Circumcision had been in vogue
there, as in the United States, for several decades, but in the
absence of solid evidence for its health benefits, the postwar
English government opted not to pay for it, and only a small
percentage of British boys who are not Jewish or Muslim have
undergone the procedure since. But in America, 50 years on,
one of the first quandaries faced by the parents of a newborn
boy remains whether to hack off a chunk of his penis. The
American Pediatric Association has waffled on the subject for
the past few decades. Doctors tend to advise it and insurance
companies cover it. Thus, more than 60 percent of American
foreskins are left on the cutting-room floor.

In “Circumcision: A History of the World’s Most Controversial
Surgery,” medical historian David L. Gollaher rounds up
thousands of years’ worth of religious, cultural and medical
arguments for and against circumcision. While he is civil toward
the operation’s proponents, he’s firmly against it, and in the
course of his elegant, sometimes dauntingly academic
discussion he prompts many crotch-clutching winces with tales
of aboriginal stone knives, accidental amputations resulting in
impromptu infant sex-reassignment surgery and the howls of
babies circumcised without anesthesia. It’s the crossed-legs read
of the year.

How did we come to be so gung-ho about lopping off foreskins?
Disparate tribal cultures require boys (and often girls) to
undergo some form of genital surgery — some that make the
average American circumcision seem as invasive as a haircut –
though the social and spiritual significance of the act varies
from place to place. Both Jews and Muslims do it on scriptural
authority. That slick rhetorician Paul saw that it would hinder
converts to Christianity, and so he told Gentiles that they needed
to undergo only a metaphorical “circumcision of the heart.”



Sixty or so generations of uncut Christians later, in the 19th
century, a few influential American and British doctors began
touting circumcision as a prophylactic against everything from
venereal disease and masturbation to epilepsy and paralysis. In
the Victorian climate of squeamishness about hygiene,
moralistic prurience and across-the-board self-improvement, the
upper classes went along with it, and, willy-nilly, the rabble
followed: “Out of the complicated social milieu at the turn of
the 20th century — when eugenics was another popular public
health measure — grew an ideal of the normal healthy body:
nature’s product improved by modern surgery.”

The crux of Gollaher’s argument is that neonatal circumcision
directly flouts the Hippocratic oath: First, do no harm. Why
perform surgery when the statistical risks — from scarring to
those nightmarish knife slips to the occasional death — are
greater than any proven benefits? Except in the case of disorders
resulting from attached or too-tight foreskins, which can’t
ordinarily be diagnosed until puberty anyway, the medical
evidence is fuzzy. Penile cancer virtually never strikes
circumcised men, but it’s a rare disease in any event, and its
incidence among the almost unanimously uncut men of Finland
and Denmark is significantly lower than that in the United
States. Gollaher notes pithily that “circumcision prevents penile
cancer just as mastectomy prevents breast cancer.” Studies
linking foreskins and venereal-disease transmission have been,
he shows, “stunningly contradictory.”

And it’s for purely social reasons that most American parents
have their sons circumcised: Junior should look like Dad, and
like the other kids in the locker room. Anti-cutting activists
claim that circumcision drastically reduces male sexual pleasure
– the same claim made, with opposite intent, by puritanical
authorities of the past 150 years, including one Dr. C.W.
Cockshut — and Gollaher cites anatomical evidence that the
foreskin is full of hypersensitive nerves. I’d point out here what
Gollaher doesn’t: Cut men, like uncut men, generally have a
pretty excellent time with their penises, and they don’t generally
point to their maimed organs, or to buried memories of the
trauma of circumcision, as a reason for sexual dysfunction. But
Gollaher’s lucid essay ought to inspire parents to consider
whether paying a doctor to surgically modify their newborn’s
weenie is a choice motivated by real social benefit, ancient
ritual or merely easy medical habit.

Greg Villepique plays guitar in the band Aerial Love Feed.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>