Why is cutting the foreskin off of a penis a thing?
The male genitalia comes in all forms, shapes, and sizes. There are fat penises, tiny weenies, thin dicks, and tall rods. But one fascinating variety (from a strictly historical perspective) is the circumcised penis.
Male circumcision is an ancient practice from various cultures that has survived to this day. It is the surgical removal of the foreskin from the penis, with some anesthesia applied to relieve the pain and stress. It’s estimated that around one-third of all men are circumcised for various reasons — some men for religious or cultural, others for medical reasons.
There are many theories about how male circumcision began — none of them absolute. Some have suggested that it started as a rite of passage marking the transition from boyhood to manhood. Others had posited that it was a way to reduce and control sexual pleasure, as well as aid hygiene in a time when bathing was irregular and often impractical.
Ancient history and religion
Ancient Egyptian records point to practicing circumcision for all of the above-stated reasons. The earliest recorded form of male circumcision is dated around the 5th century BCE, when the Greek historian Herodotus noted that the Egyptians “practice circumcision for the sake of cleanliness, considering it better to be cleanly than comely.”
Performed primarily on the upper classes and those seeking to enter the priesthood, it was said that circumcision allowed men to access and witness certain mysteries. It was one of their many sexually rooted traditions.
While the Greeks shunned the practice and considered it mutilation of a “perfect organ,” the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Ethiopians, and Jews continued to perform circumcisions. Gradually, the Greeks' distaste for circumcision caused other countries to follow suit, and by the 2nd century, the practice was confined largely to Jews, Jewish Christians, Nabatean Arabs, and Egyptian priests.
The Jewish practice of circumcision has religious significance. In the Book of Genesis, God commanded the prophet Abraham to circumcise himself and all the men in his household as part of an “everlasting covenant.” To this day, modern Jewish theologians believe that the cutting was symbolic of the covenant's sealing. After all, the Hebrew term “karat berit,” which means “sealing a covenant,” is literally translated into “cutting a covenant.”
Christians who previously adopted the practice began to take a negative view of circumcision. St. Paul, also known as Paul the Apostle, appeared to praise Jewish circumcision in Romans 3:2. He then shifted to indifference towards the practice in 1 Corinthians 7:19, before turning to condemnation in Galatians 6:11–13 and saying outright to Christians to “beware the mutilation.”
As a result, most Europeans — except for Jews — were uncircumcised. But by the 20th century, circumcision grew in popularity once more due to medical rather than religious reasons.
Early medical theories around circumcision
Around the late 1800s, circumcision was redefined as a medical rather than a religious practice. From the said period, medical journals called it a procedure “done as a preventive measure in the infant” and “performed chiefly for purposes of cleanliness.”
This redefinition fit well with the conservative views of the time. The medical community started to believe that circumcision could reduce the risk of getting sexually transmitted diseases. It was also said to help curb the urge to masturbate — an “unfavored practice” for such a mainly traditional society.
Nineteenth-century doctor Jonathan Hutchinson can be credited for circumcision’s sudden acceptance as a medical procedure. The British physician advocated its practice, publishing a study where he compared the incidence of venereal disease in London’s Jewish and gentile (non-Jewish) communities. While it’s more likely that the Jewish community's lower incidence was due to cultural factors, the study asserted that circumcision made you less vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases.
Calling the foreskin a “harbor for filth” and claiming it increased the risk of contracting syphilis or getting cancer in old age, Hutchinson advocated circumcision as a necessary health measure. Another British doctor, Nathaniel Heckford, even claimed that it would help prevent epilepsy and chorea cases.
These largely unfounded claims were even applied to women, with doctor Isaac Baker Brown controversially advocating clitoridectomies — the removal of the clitoris — as providing similar health benefits. He performed numerous clitoridectomies without his patients' consent, causing him to be expelled from the Obstetrical Society of London. Nevertheless, his ideas became popular in America, where clitoridectomies were used to “cure” hysteria, nymphomania, and otherwise “unfeminine” behavior.
Doctors increasingly and disturbingly began to try circumcision as a treatment for all kinds of diseases. Asthma, insanity, skin cancer, and bladder stones were just some of the illnesses they linked to the foreskin. They attributed this to the smegma that collected under the foreskin. It was seen as an unhealthy, dirty waste product, with circumcision a surgical practice that promoted good penile hygiene.
By the 1920s, many of these baseless claims were debunked. However, circumcision is still seen today as a proper corrective surgery for certain penile conditions, such as phimosis. With this condition, the foreskin can’t be stretched to pull it back from the tip of the penis, making erections painful — and circumcision is a quick solution to this medical problem. It’s also done to prevent the inflammation and infection of the penis tip and foreskin.
Are there really any health benefits to circumcision apart from those special conditions? Some studies say there are in order to prevent urinary tract infection for infants.
But having things cut definitely won’t do anything about your asthma, and there’s no evidence whatsoever that it can curb masturbation. So, at least historically, the presence or absence of foreskin won’t make your wang that different from anyone else’s.