Articles on circumcision

Brief articles

In-depth articles


Encyclopedia Americana entry on circumcision.
The complete entry is reproduced here.

British history

Occasionally in the history of medicine, a single medical journal article will have a dramatic impact on medical practice. Such was the case with a paper by Douglas Gairdner, which appeared in the British Medical Journal in 1949 [Br Med J. 1949; 2:1433-1437]. Shortly following its publication, the British National Health Service discontinued funding routine infant male circumcision, and the circumcision rate fell quickly. By 1972, the infant circumcision rate in Britain was less than one-half of 1 percent [Edward Wallerstein, Circumcision: An American Health Fallacy. Springer, New York, 1980, p. 28-30].

The complete article is reproduced here.

American history

The history of circumcision in the United States has been extensively researched by medical historian David Gollaher [J. Social History 1994; 28:5-36].

Abstract: Neonatal circumcision, a ritual older than history, first entered American clinical medicine in the 1870s through the work of Lewis Sayre, a prominent orthopedic surgeon and president of the American Medical Association. Based on reflex theory, Sayre used the procedure for paralysis and even for mental disorders. Other doctors believed it could prevent cancer, inhibit the spread of syphilis, and deter masturbation, thought to cause insanity. During the 1880s and 90s, physicians began to use it on infants as a preventive operation. Meanwhile, in a period of massive immigration and new concerns about hygiene, circumcision became a mark of social class - of having been delivered in a hospital by a regular physician. Circumcision persisted, despite there being no scientific evidence of its efficacy, because physicians and patients continued to reinforce its social meaning long after the original theories that inspired it were discredited.

The complete article is reproduced here.

Ongoing American Discussion

Below the Belt: Doctors, Debate, and the Ongoing American Discussion of Routine Neonatal Male Circumcision. The complete article in Adobe PDF format

The complete article is reproduced here.PDF

Sexual function

The impact of circumcision on male sexuality is described by Marilyn Milos and Donna Macris in

Human Sexuality: an Encyclopedia [Garland, New York, 1994, p. 119-122].

As currently performed in the United States, circumcision removes a large fraction of the penile skin system. The tissue which is removed, commonly known as the foreskin, has a number of sexual functions, including the following:

  • The foreskin is erogenous tissue, containing an enormous number of nerve endings which contribute to the sexual response of the penis.
  • The foreskin protects the sensitive glans. The glans of a circumcised man loses much of its sensitivity from constant exposure to clothing.
  • When retracted, the foreskin provides loose skin on the shaft of the penis, which facilitates sexual intercourse.

The complete entry is reproduced here.


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Last update August 1, 2016