The Fallen Foreskin
One of the theories I have always held dear is the notion that there’s an industry dedicated to making money out of creating problems out of thin air and then offering solutions to them. For instance, in India where I live, the usual dark skin is suddenly a horrible, career-threatening problem. But rub in Fair and Lovely ointment, and you know what? Any job you want can be yours!
A mite less transparent is something I came across recently on the net, which informed me that, as a circumcised male, I was sexually crippled and was missing out on virtually all the delights coitus had to offer. Not too surprisingly, most of these sites also provided nice helpful links to nice helpful surgeons willing and ready to reconstruct my foreskin for me and return me to sexual non-dysfunctionality.
I am an Indian. Among Indians, circumcision is (barring Muslims) exceedingly rare. As I’m not a Muslim, I wasn’t circumcised in childhood. Nor was I given any kind of instructions on genital health or hygiene; this is not surprising when you consider that almost no Asian parents ever mention the genitals, or sex, or any such thing to their children. Sex education, for instance, is banned in this country since the government has officially declared that sex comes naturally and need not be taught. As far as I know, the situation is similar in Africa. This means that in an arc stretching from Senegal to the Philippines, almost nobody gets access to proper sexual instruction, including how to care for their own genital organs.
Now, being a normal teenager, I began to have erotic dreams, and, of course, I’d have erections. One morning when I was sixteen I woke to find that my foreskin had retracted behind my glans penis; the entire glans was swollen to twice its size. This literally has to be experienced before one can understand what kind of pain it causes.
I was, naturally, mortified. I could not discuss this with my parents because they had never even spoken of sex to me, or of genital health, or anything. Besides, I was terrified of what had happened, and I was – being young and stupid – hoping it would go away by itself.
Well, it didn’t. I walked that day to school and back, as usual, three kilometers either way, and spent the day in agony so excruciating it is still clear in my memory. On the second day I summoned up the nerve to tell my dad. He did nothing much except phone his brother, a doctor, who lived several hundred kilometers away. This brother prescribed some medicines to decrease swelling and that’s all he did. He made no attempt even to tell me what was wrong with me.
By the third day I was no longer capable of walking properly, and my dad finally took me to a doctor. This man pulled the foreskin back without the benefit of anesthetic. I later discovered anesthetic is compulsory for this procedure, once the swelling is as bad as mine was. Can you imagine what I went through while he was pulling back the foreskin? No? Or would you rather not think about it?
What I had is termed paraphimosis – which nobody bothered to tell me at the time. Nobody, including this doctor, thought fit to inform me that it was a medical condition.
The swelling, of course, went down swiftly once the pressure on the glans had been removed, but it left me with a phobia of it happening again. And of course it would happen, whenever I slept and had erotic dreams, which – naturally – was something outside my control. On several occasions I woke in a panic, fumbling between my legs to pull back the foreskin before it got stuck behind the glans.
Over time, this thing led to the following problems:
I developed a phobia around falling asleep. I never slept well, and would start awake multiple times a night, afraid of what might be happening. This became a health problem as anyone who’s suffered from chronic insomnia knows.
Also, I became, literally, terrified of having an erection. Remember that I was at an age when the hormones have just begun surging, and you get the full picture. More than once I had to break off proceedings with girls at a crucial juncture because I could literally feel my foreskin shifting as I erected, and I had to rush off to the bathroom to try and pull it back – a procedure that was always extremely difficult and often painful. This, of course, ruined my chances with the lady of the moment each time. Can you imagine what it did to my sexual self-confidence to be functionally impotent in my late teens and early twenties?
Most doctors I consulted were indifferent, since according to them it wasn’t a problem; the same man who pulled back my foreskin informed me that everything would be all right “when I got married”. I only wish they’d experience what I went through, and then I’d have wanted to hear their opinion.
Finally, when I’d saved up money for the surgery, I got myself circumcised at the age of 29. I had to persuade the reluctant surgeon. “Why do you want this done at all?” he was still asking, as he was about to inject the local anesthetic to do the job. I wonder if you know what it feels like to be circumcised at that age? I’ll discuss that point in a moment.
It was however, worth it. I can sleep now and have over the years had some good sex, although my sexuality was definitely shaped by what I went through in my formative years.
I don’t have any kids nor will I ever have any kids; but I’m a passionate advocate of early circumcision, and I believe that people who militate against it either don’t know what they’re talking about or have an ulterior motive. Certainly surgeons who promote foreskin reconstruction surgery have a motive, the most powerful one of all, Lord Mammon.
While reading up online on circumcision, I came across a lot of extremely vehement and usually somewhat incoherent anti-circumcision rhetoric. Much of the arguments against circumcision – if “arguments” is the word – can be boiled down to a few basic points:
Argument: Foreskins have a lot of useful functions. Response: Yes, foreskins evolved to protect the glans – at a time when people wore no clothing and the penis needed protecting from dust and dirt, and to be kept moist and sensitive. That is no longer true today.
Argument: Foreskins are a male baby’s birthright and having a child circumcised is depriving him of it. Response: A cleft palate or congenital hernias can also, by stretching terms only a little (and this is an argument where the other side stretches terms a lot), be considered a particular baby’s “birthright”. Doing something that may be of great benefit to the baby (see link to a medical article analyzing benefits of circumcision, below)
Argument: The circumcised penis gives much less sexual pleasure. Response: As compared to what? How do you quantify sexual pleasure? If one intends to talk about sensitivity of the penis, I can report my own experiences. After my circumcision, there was a sudden and dramatic decrease in penile sensitivity and intensity of orgasms. However, this lasted only a short while before the remaining nerves adapted. Within a year of my circumcision I could no longer detect any difference in sensitivity or orgasmic intensity. This by the way, is the number one reason put forward by Reconstructionists for why one should go in for surgical recreation of one’s foreskin. I consider it a red herring
Argument: Circumcising babies is cruel and can cause death or penile amputation. Response: There are actually two completely different and contradictory points here. Circumcising babies can be a bloody affair because the foreskin adheres to the glans and has to be stripped away, which looks unpleasant. Anti-circumcision writers love to flaunt videos of this procedure to manipulate emotions and arouse a feeling of revulsion. In truth, it’s actually safer than the alternative which involves stretching the foreskin and blindly dividing it. This procedure can actually cause amputation of the glans. Secondly, death can’t occur from circumcision; only from failure to maintain hygiene and concomitant infections post-surgery. With proper care, death from anesthetic complications can be avoided, especially by using local anesthesia, in which case deaths are all but unknown. Of course, after using local anesthesia the child has to be strapped down to stop him moving around, which is called “cruel” by the anti-circumcisionists. None of these anti-circumcision arguments apply to children of the age of about three to five, when they are better able to handle the surgery.
Argument: Adult circumcision is NO Big Deal. Response: Since I was circumcised as an adult, I know something about this first hand. I wonder if you can comprehend the agony of glans rubbing on clothing until the nerve endings grow accustomed to the sensation. How do you like the idea of walking around the house, doing chores, and looking back to see drops of blood behind you on the floor, something that happened to me the next day? How about the itching as the wound dries, itching which feels more like a blazing fire while you were trying to work? I went through hell for a month, and purgatory for almost a year afterwards, before the last of the irritation went away.
If you are a male, I suggest the following experiment: Pull back your foreskin and rub your underwear over your glans. Get it? Now imagine that sensation over your entire glans, all the time for weeks on end…and extreme stinging and itching at the base of the glans, besides, as the wound dries.
Even the Old Testament gives recognition to the fact; Genesis 34 records Jacob’s sons massacring all the males of a city while they lay sore from their mass circumcision.
No big deal? How I wish.
Argument: Male circumcision is equivalent to female genital mutilation. Response: This is a red herring so large one might call it a red whale. The only – and declared – purpose of the horrendous practice known as female genital mutilation is to decrease or eliminate female sexual pleasure and thus keep women faithful to their partners. It is banned virtually universally (I think the lawless land of Somalia is the only nation still legally allowing the practice) but is still performed extensively by family members of unfortunate women. It has no medical benefit and the only point to be noted is that a banning of male circumcision for children would likely drive it underground like female circumcision, with similar high rates of infection, crude surgical practices, morbidity and deaths.
The corollary argument, that circumcision was meant to reduce male sexual pleasure, fails when one considers that it originated in West Africa thousands of years ago and was certainly practiced by the Ancient Egyptians, murals from roughly 2300 BCE illustrates, show both willing and reluctant circumcision in progress. The Hebrews most likely got the idea from them, and it spread eastwards with them while developing independently in other societies like some Australian Aboriginals.
Argument: Teaching proper genital hygiene procedures and teaching prepubescent males to masturbate will reduce the incidence of medically necessary circumcision. Response: As I said above, Asians and Africans wouldn’t dream of discussing sex or genitalia with their children. An average Indian parent would have a heart attack if told to teach his or her son how to masturbate. We live in the real world and have to adapt our responses to the conditions of the real world.
Besides, I know of at least two of my male classmates from college who suffered frenulum tears and bled heavily during their first intercourse. I also, very recently, got a panicky phone call from a close friend whose friend had just had sex for the first time and suffered a retracted foreskin which wouldn’t come back, causing exactly the problem I had.
I suspect that phimosis and paraphimosis are genetically quite common in Indians and that it’s only the sheer number of males in this hyper populated nation which masks the phenomenon. Most people here do not take their children to pediatricians, even today, and only do so in case of illness. Routine genital hygiene of either girls or boys is an unknown concept. So the pediatricians don’t bother telling the parents to clean their children’s wee-wees since the advice will certainly be ignored and more than likely scandalize the parents.
I have not so far alluded here to a famous study that concluded that circumcision can reduce the incidence of HIV since that study is controversial and needs further research before one can arrive at a conclusion. However, the other health benefits of circumcision are pretty clear, and it would be nice if those parts of the world where males are never taught how to take care of their genitals began a mass campaign.
Not that this will happen in India, at least, since hereabouts circumcision is equated with Islam and Muslims are contemptuously referred to as “cut-pricks”. I’m fairly certain that precise figures of circumcision among non-Muslims in India will never be available and any estimates will be far lower than the actual, simply because most non-Muslim males will hide their foreskin-less status.
The foreskin as a fig leaf; what could be more ironic?
For a medical overview of the health benefits of circumcision see-http://www.circs.org/library/wiswell/index.html
Information about penile carcinoma and circumcision-http://www.circs.org/library/dagher/index.html
For information about surgical reconstruction of foreskin-http://www.e-sthetics.com/genital/uncircumcision.html
For anti-circumcision information-http://www.circumstitions.com/index.html
For information on Ancient Egyptian circumcision practices- http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/timelines/topics/medicine.htm
For More information on paraphimosis-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraphimosis
Bill The Butcher-Bill holds forth on a seldom discussed topic of men’s health.