Sunday, March 14, 2010

Newborn Circumcision: An Old Tried & True Friend

I like old books, so take me to a flea market and I am sure to find something that interests me. Not long ago, I bought for an original red-covered book for $1 entitled "Modern Home Medical Adviser." It was first published in 1935 but updated seven times until its last publication in 1953, still way long before I was born. The book was designed for parents to consult on just about any ailment in the body. Of course, I looked in the index under "circumcision" and it was a treasure trove of good advice.

I don't know how popular newborn circumcision was back in the 1930s, but these docs sure liked it. "The baby boy should be carefully examined to see if he needs circumcision. If the foreskin can be completely and easily retracted most authorities think circumcision should not be done, but when there is the least doubt about the matter decision should be made in favor of the operation, which is a trivial one when done within the first week or two of life."

Back in the 1930s, people did worry more about boys masturbating. These docs were modern. "Masturbation is probably far less harmful than has been supposed." But they certainly didn't recommend it, and observed the obvious: "When the foreskin is tight or adherent there will accumulate under it secretions which will produce bad odors and cause pain and itching. Such a child is likely to get into the ugly habit of pulling at and handling the genitals." We know that all boys play with their penises, but uncircumcised boys clearly have more reasons for doing that than clean-cut boys.

While the medical reasons for circumcision have certainly grown with the advance of medical science, back in the 1930s there were many more uncircumcised fathers in America and many more parents in general who did not have access to the latest medical developments. This is where the authors of "Modern Home Medical Adviser" get interesting, urging parents of the day to get informed about the latest medical advances and to take responsibility for their children's health.

"It is said that in times of old, parents had the power of life and death over their childrend and could make away with them or sell them into slavery. Atrocious! Nevertheless, parents still have the power of life and death over their children. Parents can neglect their young, and frequently do neglect them, so that they die of the results. We have in mind parents who are probably ruining a child by refusing to have him circumcised. . . . ."

Seventy-five years later, we still have parents who not only refuse to circumcise their sons but also make outrageous claims about the 'dangers' of circumcision and the 'benefits' of a foreskin. I find this all very ironic because the prescient doctors of the 1930s did not have all the medical studies of today. But they knew circumcision was valuable and recommended it. Today, with much more evidence of this "trivial" procedure's medical value, the medical organizations representing today's doctors (like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control) are much more timid than their ancestors.

As we await some definitive conclusions from the AAP and the CDC, perhaps they might consult the docs of an earlier era -- and add a little backbone to taking a strong stand for newborn circumcision. Just saying . . . .


  1. Oh yes, there's a lot of wisdom old books. How about the "Malleus Maleficarum" (Hammer of Witches)? That was a best seller in its day (1486).

  2. Or how about the medical journals that taught students that babies don't feel pain? That's a good one, too. Doctors believed that until about 20 years ago.

  3. Heck, doctors today are pushing female circumcision for the same reasons U.S. docs liked it in the 1930s, e.g.

    A doctor said it, so it must be true. Ladies, the Doctor Will See You Now.

  4. Circumcision is no longer recommended by ANY major health organization in the world, it increases some risks and decreases the others so the benefits are a mixed bag, on the other hand the sexual drawbacks are going to be there no matter what.

    The foreskin contains more nerve endings than any other part of the penis, that's just fact.
    "In the largest study on circumcision in South Korea, Seoul University found 33% of men who were circumcised reported difficulty attaining sexual gratification, 63% said masturbation less enjoyable, and 11% had "frequent" orgasm difficulties.
    (Kim, Peng et all, Seoul University)"

  5. Great blog! I personally think that the book is wrong in one aspect though. Even if the foreskin can be completely retracted, circumcision should still be performed due to the many other benefits.