Circumcision - Miscellaneous

(When items in this section gather enough detail, they will be moved to their own pages.)


The Shakespeareans
Many articles about circumcision in the mass media fall into two classes,

  • the Hamlets and
  • the Caesars.

The Hamlets are typically called "To Cut Or Not To Cut?" (cf Hamlet III, 1, 56) and often subtitled "The Circumcision Decision". (Originality is not their strong point.) They present circumcision as a decision parents must make, "after weighing all the evidence". They then present all the medical evidence for circumcision. They invariably mention early on how ancient circumcision is, and sometimes quote the text of the command to Abraham (Gen 17 10) in full - as though this has any relevance to present-day gentile parents. If they mention objections, it is dismissively. If they mention foreskin restoration, they stress its outlandishness.

An observer comments:

"The apparently universal assumption that circumcision is quite a reasonable choice seems to me analogous to:

  • Wives: to beat or not to beat
  • Feet: to bind or not to bind
  • Politicians: to lynch or not to lynch"

In other words, not all decisions that can be expressed as "X or not X?" are evenly divided.

The Caesars are typically called "The Most Unkindest Cut" (Julius Caesar III, 2, 188). They commonly begin with parents agonising over whether to have their son circumcised. (They almost invariably do. If parents who do not circumcise are introduced, their reasons are diffidently expressed: "We just didn't think it was necessary" and the like.) They are much more likely to mention complications, the lack of support for circumcision by professional bodies, and human rights issues - but not to analyse them in any detail.

The July 2001 issue of (Australian) "Men's Health" has an anomalous article, called "The Unkindest Cut?" but in every other way a Hamlet. It draws extensively on physiology professor Brian Morris, who makes the absurd claim that foreskin restoration - not circumcision - is genital mutilation.

Episodes of the TV Sitcoms "The Nanny" and "Off Centre" have been called "The Unkindest Cut". Both were strongly pro-circumcision.

Article in the Oakland Tribune. "The unkindest cut? Many parents disenchanted with circumcision", March 14, 2004 includes quotes from both Marilyn Milos and Edgar Schoen

The Sydney Morning Herald for February 21, 2010 has an article called "More boys go under knife as parents opt for kind cut" which is wrong in almost every particular.

An article in Mother Jones, March-April 2010, is called "Much Ado About Cutting". (Since "Cutting" stands in for "Nothing", this might trivialise the issue, but the article is quite balanced.)

Few articles condemn circumcision outright, or make central the baby's human right to decide the fate of his own penis. They might be classed as Banquos: "Too cruel any where." (Macbeth II, 3, 95)

See also "How to write about circumcision"

(In New Zealand, articles on circumcision also have a theatrical bent: at least six have appeared using the title of Greg McGee's hit play "Foreskin's Lament" and have documented its decline over the last several decades.)

Circumcision in Shakespeare

"There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will...."

This section has been removed to The Stage.

The foreskin and circumcision in other literature.

Balanitis and Diabetes

These pages until recently listed as one of the few legitimate reasons for circumcising,

"As a treatement of last resort for chronic balanitis (inflammation) due to diabetes"

A doctor recommends instead "topical antifungals and better control of the diabetes."

And a diabetic writes "so long as I consume a lot of real yoghourt, I can avoid Monistat Derm if I am careful with my intake of sugar."

Another doctor writes:
It is probably not glucose in the urine of a diabetic which contributes to the high incidence of balanitis, but rather the high tissue and vascular glucose levels in the penis itself, like every other tissue in the diabetic. Remember also that urine is generally sterile (not infectious) whether or not it contains higher than normal levels of glucose. Therefore, tight control of diabetes is the answer to preventing balanitis and other infections which are found so commonly in diabetics. And then the issue of circumcision for balanoposthitis becomes moot. Truly the only people I have referred for circumcision (2 in the last 20 years) have been diabetics who have not taken care of themselves (usually drinking too much alcohol concurrently) and for whom no topical or anti-microbial therapy has given long-lasting cure of their penile inflammations and infections.

Inflammation vs Infection

Inflammation: <pathology> A localised protective response elicited by injury or destruction of tissues, which serves to destroy, dilute or wall off (sequester) both the injurious agent and the injured tissue. It is characterised in the acute form by the classical signs of pain (dolor), heat (calor), redness (rubor), swelling (tumour) and loss of function (functio laesa).
Histologically, it involves a complex series of events, including dilatation of arterioles, capillaries and venules, with increased permeability and blood flow, exudation of fluids, including plasma proteins and leucocytic migration into the inflammatory focus. Origin: L. Inflammatio, inflammare = to set on fire

Infection: 1. <microbiology> Invasion and multiplication of microorganisms in body tissues, which may be clinically unapparent or result in local cellular injury due to competitive metabolism, toxins, intracellular replication or antigen antibody response. The infection may remain localised, subclinical and temporary if the body's defensive mechanisms are effective. A local infection may persist and spread by extension to become an acute, subacute or chronic clinical infection or disease state. A local infection may also become systemic when the microorganisms gain access to the lymphatic or vascular system.

Balanitis, posthitis, balanoposthitis, etc, are inflammations, not infections. The inflammation may be caused by a localized infection, or may be a reaction to a different irritant without infection.

An infection only exists when an abnormal microorganism has been identified as the cause of the problem, not merely through presence (vast numbers of microorganisms normally live on our bodies). A microorganism must be identified in order for an infection to be declared.

If no microorganism is overabundant in the area, then balanitis, posthitis, or balanoposthitis are all simple inflammations which will go away soon after the removal of the the cause: manipulation, urine, soap, some tap water, lotions and moisturizers, creams (prescribed or over the counter), fabric softeners, detergents, body wash, cologne, etc).

By premature forcible manipulation of the foreskin, tears can be made which in themselves can cause inflammation. By allowing these tears to heal, preventing further manipulation and not introducing other agents, the inflammation will subside on its own.

Inflammation is a defensive action of the body. Infection is an invasion by a microorganism. They are two completely different things. Either can occur without the other.

Permanent retraction

A significant number of intact men have their foreskins permanently retracted. Especially if they began doing it in childhood, the foreskin fails to grow.

  • A New Zealand man was told by his mother that he must keep it retracted at all times "or it might have to be cut off". (This is apparently a misunderstanding of the instructions issued to the nurses of the Plunket Society during the period 1917-1949 to ensure that foreskins were fully retractable by a week after birth.) Faced with such a threat, he naturally obeyed (and the psychological effect of such a near-castration threat is unknown).
  • This behaviour appears to be common in parts of Japan, unknown in others.
  • At least one Indonesian man used this means as a boy to conceal his foreskin and escape circumcision. He was very pleased by the effect of foreskin restoration, which is even more pronounced here, where all the nerves of the ridged band are retained, than where the foreskin has been surgically removed.

Do babies remember being circumcised?

... since infant circumcision occurs well and truly before the onset of language acquisition, and before the cerebral cortex matures sufficiently to have commenced functioning properly, it is obvious that memory traces associated with the trauma of infant circumcision involve more primitive parts of the human brain - eg. brain stem and sub-cortical regions.

Classical conditioning of emotions is certainly possible in these more primitive brain regions, so circumcision must certainly have a profound effect on the baby's brain. No question - especially if, like most circumcisions, it is performed "cold" without any anaesthesia. Very traumatic for the child - no question!

But non-verbal, emotional memories cannot be retrieved as words, so verbal reports (under hypnosis etc.) of being able to consciously "remember" this trauma must be questionable. People often fantasize, and conscious "memory" is easily distorted by later intrusions - ask any good trial lawyer.

Having said all that, there still remains the strong likelihood that infant circumcision trauma adversely affects a person's emotional reactivity throughout his life.

- Gregory J. Boyle, Ph.D
Professor of Psychology
Bond University, Gold Coast
Queensland, Australia


Neuroscience has shown that the major brain structures essential for forming conscious (explicit) memories are not functional during the first two years of life, providing an elegant explanation of what Freud called infantile amnesia. As Freud surmised, it is not that we forget our earliest memories; we simply cannot recall them to consciousness. But this inability does not preclude them from affecting adult feelings and behavior. One would be hard-pressed to find a developmental neurobiologist who does not agree that early experiences, especially between mother and infant, influence the pattern of brain connections in ways that fundamentally shape our future personality and mental health. Yet none of these experiences can be consciously remembered. It is becoming increasingly clear that a good deal of our mental activity is unconsciously motivated.

- "Freud Returns," by Mark Solms
Scientific American, May 2004, p 85

Sickle-cell trait and magical mutilation

Sickle-cell trait is genetic, carried on the HbS gene. Those with two of the genes (homozygous) suffer from sickle-cell anaemia and only half survive to adulthood. Those with only one (heterozygous) gain some protection from malaria. As a result, the gene is common where malaria is prevalent. Among the Igbo tribes of Nigeria, 25% are carriers. The gene also also alters the shape of the skull and may shorten fingers.

Finger shortened by sickle-cell trait
Children born with such traits may have another finger mutilated to protect them against dying from the disease. It may be that circumcision originated in a parallel, magical way.

Male nipple removal
Some African tribes cut male foreskins "to remove the female element from the male".  Here is another operation with the same purpose:
"... ablation of the male nipple is practised among, for example, the Djangero in the high valley of the Omo Bottego in Western Ethiopia. According to Freud's disciple and friend Marie Bonaparte, the French explorer of Ethiopia, Jules Borelli, reported in 1888 that the custom was practised because 'a man should not look like a woman.' Forty years later, in 1928, when Marie Bonaparte visited the area, she was given the same justification for the persistence of the rite."

- "Why Not the Earlobe." Fearful Symmetries: Essays and Testimonies
Around Excision and Circumcision

Chantal Zabus ed. (Editions Rodophi B.V. Amsterdam, 2008) pp xx-xxi (Introduction)

Two other valuable organs once thought useless:

  • The appendix

    For a long time the human vermiform appendix was thought to be a useless "vestigial" organ. It turns out the appendix contains special "gut-associated lymphoid tissues".

    "Thus ... a growing quantity of evidence indicates that the appendix does in fact have significant function as part of the body's immune system. The appendix may be particularly important early in life because it achieves its highest state of development shortly after birth and then regresses with age, eventually coming to resemble such other regions of gut-associated lymphoid tissue as the Peyer's patches in the small intestine. The immune response mediated by the appendix may also relate to ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory conditions."

    - Scientific American, Nov 2001, p 84

    People who have had their appendix removed are more likely to develop the digestive disorder Crohn's disease, results of a new study suggest.

    "It's not clear if appendicitis increases the risk of Crohn's disease, or if people at risk for Crohn's disease are more likely to develop appendicitis. However, the findings may help shed light on both conditions," according to the lead author of the study, Dr. Roland E. Andersson.

    - Reuters Health

    But of course there's a third possibility: the appendix performs some function that tends to prevent Crohn's disease.

    For example:

    January 15, 2008

    And Here's Why You Have an Appendix:

    When you're sick, it re-boots your gut with good bacteria.
    by Josie Glausiusz

    In September, a team of surgeons and immunologists at Duke University proposed a reason for the appendix, declaring it a “safe house” for beneficial bacteria. Attached like a little wiggly worm at the beginning of the large intestine, the 2- to 4-inch-long blind-ended tube seems to have no effect on digestion, so biologists have long been stumped about its purpose. That is, until biochemist and immunologist William Parker became interested in biofilms, closely bound communities of bacteria. In the gut, biofilms aid digestion, make vital nutrients, and crowd out harmful invaders. Upon investigation, Parker and his colleagues found that in humans, the greatest concentration of biofilms was in the appendix; in rats and baboons, biofilms are concentrated in the cecum, a pouch that sits at the same location.

    The shape of the appendix is perfectly suited as a sanctuary for bacteria: Its narrow opening prevents an influx of the intestinal contents, and it’s situated inaccessibly outside the main flow of the fecal stream. Parker suspects that it acts as a reservoir of healthy, protective bacteria that can replenish the intestine after a bacteria-depleting diarrheal illness like cholera. Where such diseases are rampant, Parker says, “if you don’t have something like the appendix to harbor safe bacteria, you have less of a survival advantage.”


    A useful appendix

    Once thought of as a vestigial organ, the appendix is filled with filmy life, consisting of billions or even trillions of microbial cells. Bill Parker at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, thinks he has figured out what it does - or did, if you happen to have had yours removed. He sees the appendix as an old-growth forest, containing all the species needed to reseed the rest of the gut with beneficial microbes should the need arise (Journal of Theoretical Biology, vol 249, p 826). lt is most crucial when the natural flora in the rest of the gut is laid waste by infections such as cholera - or, in the modern world, following overuse of antibiotics.

    - New Scientist, December 3, 2011, p 53

  • Jacobson's Organ

    Jacobson's organ (the vomeronasal organ) is a tiny sensory organ inside the nose near the nostrils, distinct from the olfactory bulbs which detect the smells of which we are conscious. In other mammals, Jacobson's organs detect pheromones (sexual attractants). If the organ is removed from mice, guinea pigs or prarie voles, they no longer display courtship or mating behaviour towards the opposite sex, or fail to recognise their own offspring.

    Like the appendix and the foreskin, Jacobson's organ has commonly been removed in the belief that it has no function - ironically, often in the course of rhinoplasty (nose-jobs), so an operation intended to make someone more attractive may also make them less attracted.

    - from "Jacobson's Organ and the remarkable nature of smell"
    by Lyall Watson

Of course, it doesn't follow that every organ once thought to be useless will turn out to have value, but they are other examples of something doctors assumed could be removed with impunity.

Circumcision and royalty

The penile status of royalty seems to have an abiding fascination for both circumcisors and Intactivists, as if they should set some kind of example to us.

It is widely reported that Louis XVI of France could not father children until he was circumcised. Unfortunately for the story, he was already a father well before the alleged operation. Remondino invented this lie in his history of circumcision. It served his need to find historical precedent for circumcision in Europe, to make the ritual seem less alien and more familiar. These were calculated lies without any historical basis. A more scholarly study from France (Le phimosis de Louis XVI (1754-1793) aurait-il été a l'origine de ses difficultés sexuelles et de sa fecundité retardée? [Prog Urol. 2002; 12(1):132-7] by G. Androutsos) thoroughly debunked this myth.

It has recently (2013) become part of popular wisdom that George I began Royal circumcision in England and even that he "brought the custom from Hanover". There is no shadow of evidence that it was ever the custom in Hanover. This seems to be a complete fabrication by circumcision fetishists.

The claim is widespread that Queen Victoria ordered her sons and their descendents circumcised because she was a "British Israelite" who believed she and they were directly descended from King David. It is further claimed that Prince Charles was circumcised by a mohel.

This claim has been spread by anti-Semites, in order to discredit the royal family, by Jews in order to give status to circumcision, and by others in order to make it respectable. What truth there is to it, if any, is shrouded in royal reticence. It is now generally acknowledged that royalty sometimes make mistakes.

There is eyewitness evidence from his babyhood that Prince William is intact. (The unlikely claim has also been made that Prince Charles had Wills and Harry circumcised after their mother's death.)

There was widespread discussion around the time of the birth of Prince George, about whether he would be circumcised, based on the above stories, but this seems highly unlikely.

Robert Darby and John Cosijn have written a historical paper, making the same points, The British Royal Family’s Circumcision Tradition, in Sage Open journals, October 16, 2013

Sikhs and Intactness

The Sikh faith actively discourages all body modification, even haircutting.


Questions and Answers (about Sikhism by Jasprit Singh)

SELF-ACCEPTANCE (kesh, tattoos, body piercings...)

Self-acceptance is an integral part of the Sikh faith. Guru Gobind Singh, when confronted with spineless men and women of Indian society...people who blindly followed and bowed before manmade laws, no matter how degrading...introduced the Kesh-Kangha privilege: Kesh (or unshorn hair) as a symbol of acceptance of the Creator's given form, and Kangha (or comb) to take care of the Kesh...to keep it healthy and clean. In most cultures body modifications such as haircuts (many jobs are off-limits for men with kesh), circumcision, tattoos, etc., are demanded to ensure conformity and order. So much so that in the 1960s when the Hippie Movement started in America, men grew their hair long and kept their beards as a symbol of rebellion. However, the Sikh concepts of kesh-kangha is not a sign of rebellion...it is a sign of acceptance of the Creator's gift and a nurturing of that gift.

Q: Why does Sikhism reject haircuts, circumcision and other similar rituals that a large fraction of the world's population practices? Do Sikhs consider these people sinners or bad people?

A large part of the world's population does participate in rituals such as shaving of hair, circumcision, body piercing, etc. In this sense, Sikhs are in the minority. However, for a Sikh, acceptance of Nature's beautiful body is an important component of the Sikh value system. Acceptance of one's God-given physique without "improving" it by razors and scissors is a first step in accepting other laws, the foremost of which is becoming a universal being. Sikhs view others who engage in such rituals as people who carry unnecessary burdens in their lives; not as sinners or bad people.

Q: What does the Guru Granth Sahib say about body modifications such as haircuts, circumcision, tattoos, body piercings, etc.?

It is common for religion texts to provide very detailed outlines of do's and don'ts. The Bibles (old and new) and the Koran provide very detailed guidelines to their flock on daily living. The Guru Granth Sahib refrains from doing this. The Guru only provides us basic Universal principles (One God, Truth brings bliss, oneness of the human race, etc.) and the path to reach Truth (by minimizing ego and seeing oneself in everyone). In the Sikh "rahitnama" or code of conduct, kesh is to be accepted as the Creator's gift and taken care of with a kangha (comb). Acceptance of the Creator's given body is a natural outcome of a lifestyle that is in conformity with the Guru's teaching. Of course, this does not preclude the use of surgery or other medical interventions when the body has become ill.

Q: I am a twelve year old boy. When I go to the gym locker room I see that most of the other boys are circumcised. I feel so different because I am not circumcised and I keep my hair long. How should I get over these feelings of being different?

According to Jewish and Islamic beliefs is the duty of a good Jew or Mulsim to be circumcised. This practice spread in North America and by the 1970s almost all American boys were routinely circumcised. This practice is reversing, and fast. It is expected that in another generation very few American boys will be circumcised (in European countries, this practice is rare). In a way, the idea of self-acceptance is spreading and more people are looking at male circumcision as a barbaric practice. Respected child psychologists and the American Association of Pediatrics are raising their concern against this practice. Even Jewish groups are arguing for the discontinuation of the practice of circumcision. So it is very likely that the boys you see in the locker room are envious that your parents did not circumcise you.

From Akal Sangat (www.akalsangat.com)



"Because of the love of woman, circumcision is done; I don't believe in it, O Siblings of Destiny. If God wished me to be a Muslim, it would be cut off by itself. If circumcision makes one a Muslim, then what about a woman?"

- Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Ang 477


This site (About.com Sikhism) speaks more strongly:

Sikhs do not believe in practice, or condone circumcising infant, or adult, males or females.

Circumcision is irreversible genital mutilation of either gender. Circumcision involves amputation of the most sensitive areas of either male or female genital organs and is commonly performed on helpless infants without anesthesia. ...

Sikhs do not practice or condone circumcision of either gender during infancy, childhood, puberty, or adulthood. Sikhs believe in the perfection of the Creator's creation. Therefore Sikhism completely rejects the concept of gender mutilation by circumcision.

... In addition to such consequences as infection and physical deformity resulting in child bearing difficulties, *psychologists have determined trauma of circumcision in both males and female, regardless of age, may last throughout the entire life. Sikhism considers circumcision performed on minors below the legal age of consent child abuse and a violation of civil rights.

Sikhs have traditionally acted to protect the weak, innocent or oppressed and to defend the defenseless. In 1755, Baba Deep Singh aided the rescue of 100 boys and 300 girls from forced conversion by Islamic invaders which included circumcision and returned the young ones to their families unmolested.

... there is no prohibition against anyone who may have suffered previous genital mutilation being initiated into the Sikh faith later in life.

... No body piercing to accommodate jewelry, tattoo inklings, or other mutilation is permitted. The code of conduct carefully outlines in detail what is expected of Sikh parents regarding their infant children and gives no instructions for circumcision rather admonishes parents not to harm so much as a hair on the child's head.

The Sikh code of conduct also outlines carefully in detail all matters concerning matrimony including conjugal obligations and again no mention is made of circumcision, for either gender, ...

... First Guru Nanak and Bhagat Kabir both address circumcision as abnormal, and Fifth Guru Arjun Dev refers to it as a meaningless ritual in Sikhism's Holy Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib. Bhai Gur Das writes that circumcision does not insure liberation in his Vaars. Tenth Guru Gobind Singh states in Dasam Granth that establishing ritual circumcision has not instilled anyone with the knowledge of the divine.

Hinduism and Circumcision

What is Hindusism?

C H A P T E R 44
Medical Ethics

HINDU MEDICINE, KNOWN AS AYURVEDA, the “Science of life,” has a highly developed system of practical ethics derived from the Hindu principles of nonhurtfulness, the sanctity of all life, the existence of the soul separate from the body and a willingness to accept life’s circumstances as defined by one’s karma and dharma.

In 1999, HINDUISM TODAY was approached by the Texas Medical Association to help them revise and expand a book on medical issues called Faith of Our Patients. ...

To respond to their request, we enlisted the help of Swami Bua, Swami Satchidananda, Swami Ranganathananda of the Ramakrishna Mission, Swami Chidanand Saraswati (Muniji), Swami Omkarananda, Swami Pragyanand, Swami Tejomayananda of Chinmaya Mission, Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami and his successor, Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami. We also consulted with Dr. Virender Sodhi, an ayurvedic and allopathic doctor in Washington, and Cromwell Crawford of the University of Hawaii, an Indian-born specialist in Hindu medical ethics. ...

Fortunately, as pointed out by Professor Crawford, the ancient codifiers of ayurveda, Sushruta and Charaka, carefully considered and documented the ethics of their profession and its various medical procedures. They did so within the context of a Hindu view of man, which, as Swami Ranganathanananda put it, “is that his essential, real nature is the atman or Self, which is immortal, self-luminous, the source of all power, joy and glory. Everything that helps in the manifestation of the divinity of the soul is beneficial and moral, and everything that obstructs this inner unfoldment is harmful and immoral.” ...


Matters of Birth Hindus consider children a gift from God, and the conception, development and birth of a child are sacred events, honored by a ceremony, or samskara, marking these rites of passage. Today’s medical technology has developed many means for conceiving children (and for their disposal before birth). Hindus have a general unwillingness to interfere with nature and a special aversion to abortion, based on the belief in reincarnation and the sanctity of marriage.


Hindus consider the practice of circumcision for males unnecessary and do not practice it. Doctors should be alerted to Hindu views on this often-standard procedure. A circumcised Hindu boy could face ridicule and discrimination. In rare ocassions, the procedure is required as a medical necessity for an adult, but is kept secret.

Bahá´ís and circumcision

The Bahá´í faith was founded by Bahá´u´lláh (Mírzá Husayn-`Alí Núrí) after a series of mystical experiences when he was imprisoned in Iran in 1853 for his involvement with the Bábí faith. Muslims regard both as heretical for believing in prophets after Muhammad. An estimated 4,490,000 people were Bahá´ís in 1988.


Male circumcision is a requirement of Jewish law, and has become a universal Islamic practice. Many Bahá´ís of Jewish or Muslim background continue the practice, but it is neither encouraged nor forbidden in Bahá´í law.

- A Concise Encyclopedia of the Bahá´í Faith
by Peter Smith (Oneworld, Oxford, 2000)

Sociobiology and circumcision

Circumcision as a meme These items have been merged and moved to their own page.

Darwin and circumcision

Circumcision is of interest in the study of human variation because it is an artificial variation that has been carried out for millenia. (The Jewish custom is the best documented, but other groups have done so for as long).

Before evolution by mutation and natural selection was fully understood, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) proposed that characteristics acquired during an individual organism's life are transmitted to its offspring; so a blacksmith's son might be expected to have brawny arms. It was supposed that doing so repeatedly, generation after generation, would strenghten the effect.

This is a testable claim, and one test would be whether Jews are more likely than gentiles to be born without foreskins.

Darwin was unaware of Mendelian genetics (because Gregor Mendel was an obscure monk who had published his work in an obscure journal) and of genes as units of inheritance, but he was well aware of Lamark's theory and considered this question. He wrote:

With respect to Jews, I have been assured by three medical men of the Jewish faith that circumcision, which has been practised for so many ages, has produced no inherited effect. Blumenbach, however, asserts57 that Jews are often born in Germany in a condition rendering circumcision difficult, so that a name is given them signifying "born circumcised;" and Professor Preyer informs me that this is the case in Bonn, such children being considered the special favourites of Jehovah. I have also heard from Dr. A. Newman, of Guy's Hospital, of the grandson of a circumcised Jew, the father not having been circumcised, in a similar condition. But it is possible that all these cases may be accidental coincidences, for Sir J. Paget has seen five sons of a lady and one son of her sister with adherent prepuces; and one of these boys was affected in a manner "which might be considered like that commonly produced by circumcision;" yet there was no suspicion of Jewish blood in the family of these two sisters. Circumcision is practised by Mahomedans, but at a much later age than by Jews; and Dr. Riedel, Assistant Resident in North Celebes, writes to me that the boys there go naked until from six to ten years old; and he has observed that many of them, though not all, have their prepuces much reduced in length, and this he attributes to the inherited effects of the operation.

57 'Philosoph. Mag.' vol. iv., 1799, p. 5.

The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, vol 1, pp 467

Thus Darwin left the question open and "came out through that same door where in [he] went".


Never heard of mithridatum? Cheer up, you are not alone.

Marvellous mithridatum

IT BEGAN with a king, Mithridates VI, ruthless ruler of the ancient kingdom of Pontus on the southern shores of the Black Sea. ...

Like many powerful people of the time, Mithridates was afraid of being poisoned ... Assassins could choose from any number of deadly plants, with henbanes, hellebores and hemlocks ... venoms from local snakes, scorpions or spiders. The king's answer was to create an antidote that would protect him against them all. ... the ultimate antidote included extracts from around 50 plants, a legless lizard and musk from a beaver's scent glands, all mixed into a palatable paste with honey. ... There were other antidotes - known as theriacs - but Mithridates's theriac, or mithridatum, clearly outclassed all others. ... the Emperor Nero ... exhorted his physician Andromachus to develop a still better theriac.

Andromachus added extra herbs, upped the opium content and dropped the lizard, opting instead for viper flesh - assuming that it must contain something that protected the snake from its own venom. Andromachus's mithridatum contained 64 ingredients and was much more than an antidote, he claimed. Not only did it "counteract all poisons and bites of venomous animals", it would also "relieve all pain, weakness of the stomach, asthma, difficulty of breathing, phthisis [tuberculosis], colic, jaundice, dropsy, weakness of sight, inflammation of the bladder and kidneys and the plague".

[Does this sound familiar?]

A century after Nero, Andromachus's theriac received the ultimate seal of approval ... Galenus, or Galen as we know him, declared Andromachus's formula the best: "Whoever took a proper dose in the morning was ensured against poison throughout that day."

Word of the amazing remedy spread across Europe. Soon it was regarded not just as proof against poison but as a panacea, an effective remedy for all manner of illnesses, including the most feared disease of all, bubonic plague. ... In England, theriac, or "treacle" as the English called it, was the best the plague doctors had to offer, unrivalled as both preventive and treatment, they maintained.

... From Byzantium to Bologna and Padua to Paris, the manufacture of theriac became a public spectacle, with elaborate procedures and ceremonies

... So much trouble, and for what? In 1745 William Heberden, a London doctor, wrote An Essay on Mithridatium and Theriaca ridiculing the remedy. It did little more than make a patient sweat,.he argued. By the end of the century, theriac had been dropped from the London Pharmacopoeia, although versions remained in some European pharmacopoeias until the late 19th century.


Stephanie Pain, New Scientist, 26 January 2008

Speed the day when circumcision is obscure as mithridatum!

The Day of Ashura

The Day of Ashura is on the 10th day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar and marks the climax of the Mourning of Muharram.

It is commemorated by Shi'a Muslims as a day of mourning for the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad at the Battle of Karbala on 10 Muharram in the year 61 AH (October 10, 680 CE).[1] According to Sunni Muslim tradition, Muhammad fasted on this day and asked other people to fast.

In some Shi'a regions of Muslim countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Lebanon, and Bahrain, the Commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali has become a national holiday and most ethnic and religious communities participate in it.

Some Shi'ite men and boys slash themselves with chains (zanjeer) or swords (talwar) and allow their blood to run freely. Others consider that heretical.

(Adapted from Wikipedia)

Those who consider such commemorations should not be done on non-consenting boys, and that boys should not be coerced into doing them to themselves, need to consider whether infant circumcision is any better.


Tongue-tie is a condition in which the lingual frenulum, a band under the centreline of the tongue, linking it to the floor of the mouth, is short, preventing the tongue from projecting beyond the teeth. It can cause difficulty in establishing breastfeeding and, later, speech impediment.

It is analogous to frenulum breve in the penis. Like that condtion, it can be readily corrected, when necessary, with a small nick - frenuloplasty.

Parents should not allow anyone to berate them with a charge of hypocrisy if they leave their son's penis intact but have this condition corrected. Tongue-tie is a minor abnormality that may impair function. The surgery really is minor, and causes no known impairment to any other function. Tongue-tie is in no way analogous to possessing a foreskin, and correcting it in no way analogous to circumcision.

The expression "tongue-tied" meaning too shy to speak, is a metaphor for this condition.

Adapted with thanks from Life's a Salad Bar


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