The Psychology of Circumcising
1. From "Moses and Monotheism" by Sigmund Freud
Circumcision is a symbolical substitute of castration, a punishment which the primaeval father dealt his sons long ago out of the awfulness of his power, and whosoever accepted this symbol showed by so doing that he was ready to submit to his father's will, although it was at the cost of a painful sacrifice.
Sigmund Freud, "Moses and Monotheism"
Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-analysis, 1939
[Odd that Freud fails to note that in many cultures - including his own - circumcision is carried out by force, so there is no question of accepting or rejecting this "painful sacrifice".]
1a. From "The Interpretation of Dreams" by Sigmund Freud
It is our suspicion that during the human family's primeval period castration used actually to be carried out by a jealous and cruel father upon growing boys, and that circumcision, which so frequently plays a part in puberty rites among primitive people, is a clearly recognisable relic of it.
- New introductory lectures on psychoanalysis (1933) London, The Hogarth Press; 1964. S.E., XXII, p 86 (quoted in "Freud: The Man and the Cause" by Ronald W. Clark
Jonathan Cape, 1980
But not all of his growing boys, obviously.
2. From "The Rites of Man" by Rosiland Miles
Most terrifying, however, are those initiation ceremonies which purport to confer manhood through an attack on the source and site of manhood itself, the penis. For thousands of years the amputation of the foreskin has been widely practised in the magico-mystical belief that it finally detaches the boy from his mother by 'sexing' him as a male. Stripped of the soft folds of 'female' flesh, the 'real' penis can burst forth in all its power and glory, proveing the unsexed child to be a man. Necessarily, then, the candidate must be pubertal, and preferably adolescent, to be able to take the all-important stand, and tribes from Ethiopia to Ecuador have for thousands of years bloodied their boys in this excruciating way. Female genital mutilation, the so-called 'female circumcision' or 'infibulation', although it is a far greater barbarity than the amputation of the foreskin since its genuine equivalent would be the removal of the penis itself, is not required by either Judaism or Islam, and as a consequence is visited upon far fewer females than circumcision is upon males. Only the Jews have traditionally insisted on infant circumcision (Muslims circumcise in early boyhood), as a sign that the 'covenant' so made was with God, not with man or other men.
- The Rites of Man by Rosiland Miles
[Ms Miles is apparently unaware that USAmericans practice Routine Infant Circumcision.]
3. The Milgram Experiment
In 1961-2 at Yale University, Stanley Milgram conducted a bizarre psychological experiment. Subjects were asked to test an unseen person's memory by presenting them with a long list of word-pairs, and then asking them to choose from a short list the word that had matched a given word. They were told to punish the person for mistakes by giving them electric shocks of increasing strength. As they increased the strength, they heard louder and louder screams. Unknown to them, the unseen person was an actor and no shocks were given.
Contrary to most people's expectations, subjects continued to "increase the strength" until the unseen person seemed to lose consciousness - and even afterwards - their only motivation being the insistence of a man in a white coat with a clipboard and "a stern aura of mechanical and vacant-eyed efficiency". 65% of Milgram's subjects were willing to give "shocks" up to "450 volts".
With the benefit of hindsight, you and I might not be so co-operative today, but if we did not know we were taking part in a Milgram experiment, could we be so sure? (The experiment could not be performed today for ethical reasons.)
In a way, infant circumcision, both "medical" and ritual, is a kind of long-term Milgram experiment being performed on various peoples of the world. Sometimes the tormentors are still men in white coats, but they are also articles, TV sitcoms, parents, in-laws and peers. When are the subjects going to realise that they don't have to obey?
4. From "Holv Virility" by Emmanuel Reynaud
Ignorance and mutilation
For a long time woman's sex organ was considered by scientists to be 'nothing' in itself; the vulva being only the entrance to the vagina, which in turn was a mere recipent [receptacle] for the penis. It was only in the twentieth century that in the West it was recognised in scientific circles that not only did woman have a sex organ but also that it functioned, anatomically, more or less like a man's. Kinsey remarks, in Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female:
In brief, we conclude that the anatomic structures which are most essential to sexual response and orgasm, are nearly identical in the human female and male. The differences are relatively few. They are associated with the different functions of the sexes in reproductive processes, but they are of no great significance in the origins and development of sexual response and orgasm.1
More recently, the sexologists Masters and Johnson have also emphasised the similarity between the physiological reactions the male and the female genital organs.
The parallels in reaction to effective sexual stimulation emphasise the physiologic similarities in male and female responses rather than the differences. Aside from obvious anatomic variants, men and women are homogenous in their physiologic responses to sexual stimuli.2
Taking clinical observations and recent research as a basis, it is possible to compare the reactions of the two sexual organs during sexual stimulation. It is obviously not a matter of going into a detailed description of all the anatomical reactions of the various elements which compose the genital organs - labia, clitoris, scrotum, testicles, etc. - we shall concentrate only on the movements of the vagina and the penis, as they are the two organs which the male imagination focuses on. As far as the vagina is concerned, any sexual stimulation causes a rush of blood and induces a discharge; the vagina secretes and grows noticeably in size. As the excitement becomes more intense, a fresh rush of blood causes the external third to dilate, this is what Masters and Johnson call the 'orgasmic plateau'; in other words, it becomes firmer and takes on a more definite shape. Finally, during orgasm, it contracts frequently and regularly around the orgasmic plateau, and then little by little it goes back to its usual shape. As for the penis, it follows more or less the same pattern; except that behavioural manifestations are external and there is no mucoid secretion. In response to stimulation the blood vessels dilate and the penis becomes enlarged; then a second rush of blood slightly increases the circumference. mainly around the coronal ridge and during orgasm, like the vagina, it contracts at regular intervals - incidentally, the rhythm of the contractions is the same - then it gradually goes back to its regular shape. And so, anatomically and physiologically, the two organs are very similar; and yet this has not stopped man from ignoring the vagina and regarding it as a mere inert hole, or from being almost entirely ignorant concerning his own penis, which he sees as a power symbol and an instrument of sexual appropriation. Quite obviously man does not know his own genitals, and now science has recognised this. Masters and Johnson, no doubt wishing to make up for lost time, comment:
The functioning role of the penis is as well established as that of any other organ in the body. Ironically, there is no organ about which more misinformation has been perpetrated. The penis constantly has been viewed but rarely seen. The organ has been venerated. reviled and misrepresented with intent in art, literature and legend through the centuries . . . These 'phallic fallacies' have colored our arts, and possibly, of even more import to our culture, influenced our behavioural and biologic sciences ... Why. . . should the functional role of the penis have been shrouded so successfully by the 'phallic fallacy' concepts? This, indeed, is one of the great mysteries of biologic science.3
[Reynaud seems unware that Masters and Johnson, coiners of the phrase "phallic fallacy", themselves perpetrated one of the biggest of them, that circumcision makes no difference to sexuality.]
Is it really so mysterious? How indeed can these 'phallic fallacies' be avoided, when the penis is precisely the organ that determines membership of the man class. Man turns a little bit of soft, delicate and highly sensitive flesh into the factor which bestows power on him; he is blind to the warmth, the fragility and the hypersensitivity of his penis, he represents it as cold, hard and sharp as a blade. It becomes a symbol and instrument of power. He forces himself to control it and tries to separate it from the rest of his body; often even mutilating himself in practising a symbolic separation through circumcision. Circumcision is a mutilation practised widely through the world, and doubtless has different purposes in the different societies where it is a ritual. Bruno Bettelheim, based on his studies of schizophrenic children and pre-literate peoples,4 believes it could be, for example, 'a male substitute for girls' first menstrual cycle'. This hypothesis may be true in some cases but it does not shed any light on the real purpose of mutilation in the history of Judeo-Christian patriarchy.
Yet the institution of circumcision plays an important part in the Old Testament. A few chapters after the description of the mythical separation of man from his phallus-snake, it seems in fact, like the symbolic separation that man engraves in his own flesh, his 'covenant' with God:
God said to Abraham, 'For your part you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you; circumcise yourselves, every male among you. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between us.' (Genesis XVII: 9-11)
The other condition of the 'covenant', the advantages gained - i.e. the point of the mutilation - is presented quite straightforwardly:
As an everlasting possession I will give you and your descendants after you the land in which you now are aliens, all the land of Canaan, and I will be God to your descendants. (Genesis XVII: 8)
Thus circumcision is established as the price man must pay not only in order to assert his power as father, leader and proprietor, but also to perpetuate and extend it, from one generation to the next, by handing it down from father to son, in fact the rite through which man generates supremacy: and he forces it on his son almost immediately after his birth: 'Every male among you in every generation shall be circumcised on the eighth day.' (Genesis XVIII: 12) The Old Testament has revived a marriage initiation rite, practised among the ancient Hebrews at the time of betrothal, and by applying it to new-born males, made it the sign of the covenant with God. The mutilation of the penis was no longer the last stage of initiation into 'manhood' before taking a wife, it became the very symbol of man's power, inscribed on his penis from the earliest age. Thus, in the history of Judeo-Christian ideology, circumcision is the baton through which the father passes his power to his son. I can't agree with Bettelheim's theory that one of purposes of the rite is to pretend that men too can hear children',5 as it is not the ability to reproduce life that man is concerned with when mutilating his son's penis. but rather reproduction of power. Nor is circumcision, as Freud supposed 'the symbolical substitute of castration, a punishment which the primeval father dealt his sons long ago with the fullness of power. '6 On the contrary, it is the transmission of the father's power to the son.
The separation from his penis, which man achieves mythically in the description of original sin, and symbolically through circumcision, has nothing to do with castration. Its purpose is diametrically opposed. Castration is the removal of the symbol of power and the instrument of sexual appropriation - it was, for example, in certain cultures, inflicted on the defeated enemies by the victors who secured a trophy celebrating their triumph and, at the same time, removed the criterion of the power from men who, now they were slaves, were no longer entitled to it. [Circumcision was also used for this purpose - HY] Circumcision, on the other hand, is an attempt to make the symbol more convincing and the instrument more effective. By mutilating his son's penis, the father engraves the symbolic image of the sacrifice of sexuality in the struggle for power, in his son's flesh.
Christianity later abolished this rite to replace it with the image, considered more eloquent, of the sacrifice of the body. Since the Son became the Father under the strokes of the hammer nailing his limbs to the cross, man no longer had to pay for his future right to his father's power with the strokes flint cutting through his foreskin. The symbolic mutilation as a preparation to the assumption of power was replaced by the mythical sacrifice, which justifies all the real sacrifices in the power race. Yet, using medical pretexts, Christians today are tending to return to the practice of circumcision. The removal of the foreskin obviously loses its symbolic significance: but, under the surgeon's scalpel whose object is to make the penis 'cleaner' and 'more suitable' for its purpose. it is still an attempt to improve the instrument through mutilation.
"A new motto: What has been done to you, poor child?"
letter to Wilhelm Fliess, Dec.22, 1897,
citing Goethe, after relating his patient's memory
of having been raped by her father at age two.
Since genital mutilation is one of the most widespread childrearing practices, its presence alone makes incest a universal practice - despite our habit of denying its sexual motivation by terming it a "rite of passage (it often involves no passage to a new state at all) or a "puberty rite" (it usually occurs long before puberty). Also, the sexual excitement of the adults attending the mutilation is overlooked, even when - as in Siwa - the mother masturbates the child prior to the mutilation, or when - as in Morocco - prostitutes regularly attend the mutilation ceremony in order to relieve the sexual tensions generated, or when - as in Australia - the mutilation is followed by group rape.(195)
The mutilation of children's genitals is such a important need in humans that whole religions and state systems have been founded upon the practice. Yet when scholars attempt to explain why almost everyone since the beginning of recorded history has massively assaulted the genitals of their children, they assiduously deny that it is a sexual perversion or that those who do it ever mean any harm to the children.
Arnold van Gennep calls genital mutilation a ceremony "whose essential purpose is to enable the individual to pass from one defined position to another," never wondering why parents couldn't celebrate the maturing of their children in a less harmful way." Bruno Bettleheim claims that little boys want their genitals cut - because of an inborn "vagina envy" - and that the mutilation was so "pleasurable" to the victims that they asked adults to cut them, so they could "express their happiness."(197) Others have claimed genital mutilation was done "to enforce social cohesion" (Yehudi Cohen), "to break an excessively strong dependence upon the mother" (John Whiting), to show the child "We love you, but we must rid you of your infantilisms" (Theodor Reik), and to make the penis look like that of a kangaroo (John Cawte).(198)
There is hardly an imaginable form of genital assault that is not regularly performed on children. Girls' genitals are tattooed, cut off, sewn up, burned off, and ripped open with the fingers.(199) Boys' genitals are pierced by objects, sewn up, burned, cut off, flayed, "gashed open [so that] wedges of flesh are removed," and slashed through to the urethra so that "the penis splits open like a boiled frankfurter."(200) The topic of childhood genital mutilation is so rich in meaning that it will have to await further discussion in the next two major sections of this study, "The Cross-Cultural Study of Incest," where the universality of incest in contemporary preliterate groups is documented, and "The History of Incest," where evidence is presented for the historical stages in the evolution of Homo eroticus from incest to love.
7. An evolutionary interpretation - but what about the West?
March 7, 2008
Theory explains why 25 percent of cultures cut male genitals
Chris Wilson explains his research on the evolution of male mutilation at a recent research symposium.
Almost 25 percent of indigenous societies practice some form of male genital cutting, ranging from circumcision to the ritual removal of a testicle. The reason, reports a Cornell scientist, may be to reduce pregnancies from extramarital sex. More subtly, it could be to reduce conflict among men.
Chris Wilson, a doctoral candidate in Cornell's Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, observes that cultures often express the reasons for what anthropologists call "male genital mutilation," in terms that have immediate meaning, such as religion, tradition, hygiene or initiation into adulthood. The new research suggests that these psychological rationales exist to serve a deeper evolutionary purpose in certain societies, even though men are not consciously aware of the complex evolutionary logic shaping their thoughts and behavior. [What makes "certain societies" different from others, such as ours?]
Writing in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, Wilson says that because genital alteration is a painful and even risky procedure, especially under primitive conditions, it must have some evolutionary benefit or it would not have persisted.
Wilson hopes that the evolutionary explanation he offers for genital cutting will prove useful to anthropologists, doctors and policy-makers as they grapple with cultural, ethical and medical issues surrounding the ancient practice. The evolutionary origin of circumcision may be of especially broad interest, as this particular operation is not only performed in 20 percent of indigenous societies, but on approximately one-third of all men worldwide. [Which means that the other 60% somehow manage to get by without this evolutionary benefit.]
In his research article, Wilson asks, "Why have 180 cultures all converged on this practice?" The different types of cutting suggest that several societies independently developed the practice before recorded history.
Wilson, who works with Paul Sherman, Cornell professor of neurobiology and behavior, says that genital cutting may limit extramarital sex. In evolutionary terms, a man benefits from such affairs by passing his genes to a child who requires no further investment on his part.
"If natural selection has designed the genitals for fertilization, then changing that design will harm this function," says Wilson. "In particular, modifying the shape of the genitals makes it physically less likely that a man will impregnate a woman during an affair [but is this borne out in practice?], and, therefore, the evolutionary incentive for adultery is smaller." [How about the immediate biological incentive?]
He explains that the procedure therefore allows men within a society to trust each other more, because it reduces conflict over paternity and sexual indiscretion. In the indigenous societies that practice genital cutting, Wilson suggests that the social benefits outweigh the costs, and so the custom persists.
His research found much higher rates of cutting in societies where men have multiple wives [Israel? The US? South Korea? The Philippines? Polynesia?], especially when wives live far apart. In these cultures, the opportunities for extramarital affairs are high because a husband can't keep a close eye on all of his wives at once. Genital alteration acts as a physical signal of sexual honesty [How reliable a signal?], reducing mistrust between the married and unmarried men.
After controlling for numbers of wives, Wilson also found lower rates of extramarital affairs in societies that practice male genital cutting, compared with those that do not, suggesting that it does indeed play a role in limiting adultery. [Correlation =/= causation.]
Finally, among societies practicing genital alteration, older men gave trust and benefits to younger men who underwent the procedure, supporting Wilson's theory that the procedure improves trust and social status.
Source: By Amelia Apfel, Cornell University
8. From "Fire in the Belly: on being a man" by Sam Keen
The implicit message ... is that your body henceforth belongs to the tribe
and not merely to yourself.... That so primitive and brutal a rite
continues to be practiced nearly automatically in modern times when most
medical evidence indicates that it is unnecessary, painful, and dangerous
suggests that circumcision remains a mythic act whose real significance is
stubbornly buried in the unconscious. That men and women who supposedly love
their sons refuse to examine and stop this barbaric practice strongly
suggests that something powerfully strange is going on here that is obscured
by a conspiracy of silence.
- Sam Keen, Fire in the Belly: on being a man p.30,
New York: Bantam/Doubleday, 1992.
9. Unsurprisingly, doctors' recommendations are influenced by their own status
Journal of Men's Health, Volume 7, Issue 3 , Pages 227-232, October 2010, 2011
To cut or not to cut? Personal factors influence primary care physicians' position on elective newborn circumcision
Andries J. Muller, MBCHB, MPraxMed, CCFP
Elective circumcision in newborns has always been a controversial issue. The purpose of this study was to determine whether personal factors play a role when physicians provide advice to parents regarding elective circumcisions in infants.
Questionnaires were sent to Family Physicians, Urologists, Obstetricians, Paediatricians and Family Medicine residents in Saskatchewan, Canada. The questionnaire contained demographic questions, questions regarding the carrying out of surgical procedures, personal and family circumcision status and factors influencing decision-making regarding elective newborn circumcisions.
Of the questionnaires, 57% (572/1009) were returned. Of the 572 respondents, 65% were male, 80.4% were Family Physicians or General Practitioners and 77.1% (441/572) stated that they based their decisions regarding circumcisions on medical evidence. When asked if they were in support of circumcisions, 68.3% (125/183) of the circumcised males were in support of it and 68.8% (106/154) of the uncircumcised males were opposed to it (p<0.001).
Although most respondents stated that they based their decisions on medical evidence, the circumcision status of, especially, the male respondents played a huge role in whether they were in support of circumcisions or not. Another factor that had an influence was the circumcision status of the respondents’ sons.
10. Circumcision - a culture-bound or culture-specific syndrome?
Salem News, April 24, 2012
CIRCUMCISION: Culture-Bound and Culture-Specific Syndromes with Shared Psychotic Disorder
Richard L. Matteoli
Imagination is more important than knowledge. - Einstein
(MONTEREY, CA) - Circumcision is a Basic Social Act, affects all levels of society and allows everyone to participate with their own particular quirk. Social rituals are insulated acts of violence or representations of violence. Basic Social Acts give coherent meanings for group unity. Actions are repeated on successive generations with observable experiences.
The American Psychiatric Association is updating its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The current fourth edition is the DSM-IV. This manual of definitions is the guideline for diagnosis, determinant of mental illness, reference to insurance coverage and used in criminal justice.
Circumcision, a Genital Dismemberment, is so intertwined it applies to many psychological conditions. Circumcision is not included in its Appendix of Culture-Bound Syndromes that are mental diseases peculiar to certain cultures. Genital Dismemberments apply to many accepted disorders and also disorders not included in the current DSM-IV.
Culture-Bound and Culture-Specific Syndromes are often acting-out primitive folk illnesses with strong superstition and religious overtones. Superstition and religion can be part of the DSM’s Shared Psychotic Disorder. Shared Psychotic Disorder was originally termed Folie a Deux (a madness shared by two). Folie a Deux should be considered more appropriate when regarding the vastness in matriarchal and patriarchal role-play of Socialized Genital Dismemberments.
A Culture-Bound Syndrome involves local patterns of aberrant behavior including troubling experiences.  Culture-Bound Syndromes do not become commonly accepted social behaviors and considered a type of sickness in that society.
A Culture-Specific Syndrome is another form of disturbed behavior specific to a cultural system. Culture-Specific Syndromes are considered normal behavior within that society. They may spread to other cultures from contact through Cultural Imperialism and is historic to Genital Dismemberments.
Dhat occurs in the Indian sub-continent. It includes hypochondria and depression with a belief that emitting too much semen creates a loss of Vital Fluid. Those affected develop psycho-somatic symptoms. Semen-loss Anxiety is more widespread than originally thought with variants found in Nepal, Britain and the United States. In China it is termed Shen-k’uei with fear of loss of the Yang.
Kellogg’s Dhat, influenced by Ellen White, is for Dr. John Harvey Kellogg who was one of the first medical advocated of circumcision for both sexes in the United States. He was with the first Seventh Day Adventist hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. Other clinical services included enemas and ice baths to decrease libido. His brother marketed Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.
Shared Psychotic Disorder (DSM)
Shared Psychotic Disorder is a delusion imposed on a person from a close relationship with another who already has a Psychotic Disorder with prominent delusions. The delusion in the second person is similar to the delusion of the person who already has a delusion and termed Induced Delusional Disorder (Folie Imposee).
Usually the original person with the delusional Psychotic Disorder is dominant in the relationship. Depending on severity conditions become either Transferred Neurosis or a Transferred Psychosis.
Genital Dismemberments include Transference of Aggression in criminal behavior.
Shared Psychotic Disorders may develop in families (Folie en Famille). Genital Dismemberments are extreme socializations (Folie a Plusieurs). For some the dismembered body part has become the cultural totemic icon.
Genital blood rituals exist worldwide. They arise from psychosexual Blood Relations for status and power.
If the relationship is terminated the delusion in the second person often diminish and may eventually disappear. Left untreated Shared Psychotic Disorder becomes chronic and pervasive.
First Conquer Thyself
Determinant psychological evaluations are strongly driven by the person making the diagnosis from their own socialized perspectives. No doubt, circumcision will not be mentioned in the upcoming revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Dr. Roberto Lewis-Fernandez, clinical psychiatry professor, Columbia University, helped write the Culture-Bound Appendix nearly 20 years ago and will lead its update. Let us hope circumcision will be included.
We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. - Einstein
 Bell, Catherine, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, Oxford University Press, 1992.
 American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-IV, 4th edition, American Psychiatric Association, 1996.
 Nasser, Latif, “Do some cultures have their own way of going mad? As psychiatry revises its manual of disorders, it faces a sticky question: what to do about “culture-bound syndromes,” The Boston Globe, January 08, 2012.
 Matteoli, Richard L., Comixio Religionis: Socialization of Violence and Abuse, Nemean Press, 2008. To date unpublished for distribution. A Mandated Report to the social body.
 Yap, Meng Pow. “Mental Diseases Peculiar to Certain Cultures: a survey of comparative psychiatry,” Journal of Mental Science, 1951, 97: 313-327.
 Matteoli, Richard L., The Munchausen Complex: Socialization of Violence and Abuse, pp. 146-147, 2nd Ed., Nemean Press, 2010. A Mandated Report to the social body.
 Sumathipala A, Siribaddana SH, Bhurga D (2004). “Culture-bound syndromes: the story of dhat syndrome,” British Journal of Psychiatry, 184: 200-209.
 Rin Hsein. (1966) “Two forms of vital deficiency syndromes among Chinese male mental patients,” Transcultural Psychiatric Research, 3: 19-21.
 Kellogg, John Harvey, Treatment for Self-Abuse and Its Effects, Plain Facts for Old and Young, P. Segner & Co., 1888.
 Little, Margaret, Transference Neurosis & Transference Psychosis, Jason Aronson, 1993
 Matteoli, Richard L., The Munchausen Complex: Socialization of Violence and Abuse, p. 68, 2nd Ed., Nemean Press, 2010. A Mandated Report to the social body.
 Buckley, Thomas and Gottleib, Alma, Blood Magic: The Anthology of Menstruation, University of California Press, 1988.
 Knight, Chris, Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture, Yale University Press, 1991
 Laferriere-Rancour, Daniel, Signs of the Flesh: An Essay on the Evolution of Hominid Sexuality, Indiana University Press, 1985.