The human penis is a marvel of architecture and design, including the foreskin. Whether it is tight and hugs the glands or loose and hangs over the tip, the foreskin is a natural part of the male anatomy. Most of the Western world has, if not respect for, a casual acceptance of this appendage, but Americans have a long history of almost hatred toward dick skin. We take a long look at this, for some reason, controversial body part and break down the major issues, including what it is, what it does, and why someone would want to cut it off.
What is a Foreskin?
“The foreskin is not an optional extra for a man’s body or an accident; it is an integral, functioning, important component of a man’s penis. An eye does not function properly without an eyelid, nor does a penis without its foreskin.”
Normal Anatomy and Function:
- At birth, the normal foreskin (prepuce) is attached to the glans and has a tight opening (preputial ring) at the distal end, and it is not retractable in most newborns.
- Retractability increases with age, with full retraction possible in
- 10% of boys at one year
- 50% of boys at ten years
- 99% of boys at seventeen years
- A non-retractable foreskin is a standard variant and needs no intervention. It is different from true phimosis.
- The foreskin should never be forcibly retracted for cleaning. Once it becomes freely retractable naturally, the child should retract it as part of routine bathing, ensuring immediate replacement over the glans to prevent paraphimosis.
The British Association of Urological Surgeons, based on research conducted on the autopsy of 22 foreskins, states that “the prepuce (foreskin) provides a large and important platform for several nerves and nerve endings” and presents uniquely specialized sensory tissues such as the preputial mucosa and the ridged band.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia has written that the foreskin is “composed of an outer skin and an inner mucosa that is rich in specialized sensory nerve endings and erogenous tissue.
The Royal Dutch Medical Association (2010) states that many sexologists view the foreskin as “a complex, erotogenic structure that plays an important role ‘in the mechanical function of the penis during sexual acts; such as penetrative intercourse and masturbation.
Among other things, the foreskin provides:
- Protection The foreskin fully covers the glans (head) of the flaccid penis, thereby protecting it from damage and harsh rubbing against abrasive agents (underwear, etc.) and maintaining its sensitivity
- Sexual Sensitivity The foreskin provides direct sexual pleasure in its own right, as it contains the highest concentration of nerve endings on the penis
- Lubrication The foreskin, with its unique mucous membrane, permanently lubricates the glans, thus improving sensitivity and aiding smoother intercourse
- Skin-Gliding During Erection The foreskin facilitates the gliding movement of the skin of the penis up and down the penile shaft and over the glans during erection and sexual activity
- Varied Sexual Sensation The foreskin facilitates direct stimulation of the glans during sexual activity by its interactive contact with the sensitive glans
- Immunological Defense The foreskin helps clean and protect the glans via the secretion of anti-bacterial agents
Why chop it off?
As stated above, the foreskin is a natural part of the male body that we are born with. Under normal circumstances, there are zero medical reasons to remove a healthy foreskin surgically, but the practice has been done for centuries.
Recently, the subject of male circumcision has been brought back into the public light due to the issue of “choice”. A growing number of males consider this purely cosmetic surgery to be nothing less than genital mutilation, akin to female circumcision, even though the former is legal and the latter is not. The internet is now filled with groups of men protesting and educating others about this medical procedure, with people on both sides fighting hard for their position.
At GMJ, we consider ourselves humanists and believe in the right of all people to have agency over what happens to their bodies. This includes babies and males. But, we also understand the religious nature behind this operation and will not critique this matter in this article. We will discuss this procedure, the argued Pros and Cons, and what to do if you want your foreskin back.
NOTE: We dissected the most common medical arguments in favor of circumcision, including the fallacy that it helps prevent HIV infection, HERE, and answered each point with facts, science, and a dash of common sense.
The following are some other rationales outside of valid modern medical concerns, based more on fear, shaming, religion, and/or societal mores.
Once again, we are not going to debate the merits of religious circumcision but rather state the origins of a practice continued to this day.
The best-known circumcision ritual, the Jewish ceremony of brit milah, is thousands of years old, and it survives to this day, as do others practiced by Muslims and some African tribes.
“As medical historian David Gollaher recounts in his book Circumcision: A History of the World’s Most Controversial Surgery, early Christian leaders abandoned the practice, realizing perhaps that their religion would be more attractive to converts if surgery wasn’t required. Circumcision disappeared from Christianity and the secular Western cultures that descended from it for almost two thousand years.”
This story is so great in its absurdity that we wanted to re-print it in its entirety.
“One day in 1870, a New York orthopedic surgeon named Lewis Sayre was asked to examine a five-year-old boy suffering from paralysis of both legs. Sayre was the picture of a Victorian gentleman: three-piece suit, bow tie, mutton chops. He was also highly respected, a renowned physician at Bellevue Hospital, New York’s oldest public hospital, and an early member of the American Medical Association.”
“After the boy’s sore genitals were pointed out by his nanny, Sayre removed the foreskin. The boy recovered. Believing he was on to something big, Sayre conducted more procedures. His reputation was such that when he praised the benefits of circumcision – which he did in the Transactions of the American Medical Association and elsewhere until he died in 1900 – surgeons elsewhere followed suit. Among other ailments, Sayre discussed patients whose foreskins were tightened and could not retract, a condition known as phimosis. Sayre declared that the condition caused a general state of nervous irritation and that circumcision was the cure.”
“His ideas found a receptive audience. To Victorian minds, many mental health issues originated with sexual organs and masturbation. The connection had its roots in a widely read 18th-century treatise entitled Onania, or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution, and All Its Frightful Consequences, in Both Sexes, Considered. With Spiritual and Physical Advice to Those Who Have Already Injur’d Themselves By This Abominable Practice. The anonymous author warned that masturbation could cause epilepsy, infertility, “a wounded conscience,” and other problems. By 1765 the book was in its 80th printing.”
EVIL Incarnate (i.e. masturbation):
The foreskin is a “malign influence” that could weaken a man “physically, mentally and morally; to land him, perchance, in jail or even in a lunatic asylum.” Insurance companies, he advised, should classify uncircumcised men as “hazardous risks.” (Dr. Peter Charles Remondino, in his celebrated 1891 book about circumcision)
Many doctors took up the notion that foreskins were terrible, and caused physical and mental diseases and bouts of constant masturbation. Circumcision of the offending body part was the answer. At no point did any reputable procedure produce the desired effects, and no scientific studies could provide proof of its necessity.
John Harvey Kellogg, Yes, THAT Kellogg, maker of your favorite breakfast cereal and promoter of abstinence, was against male masturbation and advocated foreskin removal as a cure. “A surgeon should perform the operation without administering an anesthetic,” instructed Kellogg, “as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment.”
By the turn of the 20th century, the Victorian fear of masturbation had waned, but by then, circumcision had become a prudent precaution and one increasingly implemented soon after birth. A desire to prevent phimosis, STDs, and cancer had turned the procedure into medical dogma. Antiseptic surgical practices had rendered it relatively safe, and anesthesia made it painless. Once a procedure for the relatively wealthy, circumcision had become mainstream. By 1940, around 70 percent of male babies in the United States were circumcised.
By the 1970s, more than 90 percent of USA men were circumcised, according to one study. Sadly, the American foreskin had become a thing of the past.
But, some countries have banned male circumcision outright. In Denmark and Sweden, circumcisions that aren’t medically necessary are not allowed on children under 12. Germany came close to an effective ban after a high court’s condemnatory ruling, but Parliament rushed to protect it in response to Muslim and Jewish outcry. Iceland was to be the first E.U. nation to outlaw circumcision, but that bill seems to be dead in the water due to religious backlash from Jewish and Muslim followers.
In the 1970s, the American Academy of Pediatrics agreed that “there are no valid medical indications for routine circumcisions, and the procedure cannot be considered an essential component of health care.” The Academy’s 2012 policy addressed this claim, stating “the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks,” but stopped short of recommendation.
The chances of male circumcision being outlawed in the United States seems like a long shot, primarily due to the medical industry and strong Jewish and Muslim religious protections of the procedure.
It’s ugly, and it smells bad too:
Let’s say it; many Americans don’t like foreskins because, culturally, they think they are funny looking and have an unpleasant odor. The truth is that all penises have a particular “aroma” that is unique to each man. This is not a congenital disability but a mating characteristic that has helped the human race survive for thousands of years.
Pheromones can either attract or repel a sexual mate. We won’t get deep into the science for this article because we are saving it for its unique feature, but we know the real issue you want us to discuss is smegma.
Smegma is a mixture of skin cells, secretions, and fluid; this fluid can be urine but also sperm. This mixture mainly forms under the edge of the glans under the foreskin of the penis. Smegma occurs in almost every male mammal and, therefore, in humans. All mammals, male and female, can produce smegma. Smegma can be recognized as white moisture and can emit a strong odor due to the lactic acid bacteria. If not removed immediately, it can spread an awful smell and cause infections. You can easily remove smegma at home with water.
There is nothing unnatural about smegma, and it is easily cleansed away. Why all the fuss? We don’t know.
Fun fact: smegma and all of the aromas around a man’s private parts are not only desired by many gay males but are also considered a fetish, even more, sought out…yes, in the United States, where uncircumcised males are rarer.
As for looking funny, get over it!
Ok, a final argument for getting boys snipped is based on societal reactions and looking “normal.” Circumcision has been practiced for so long in the U.S. that some parents are concerned that their son will be picked on or bullied if his cock doesn’t look like the other boys. Further, there is the “I want him to look like his father” argument. Both of these are inane because:
- most American children are teased for one reason or another, no matter what
- very few boys attend regular physical education classes/sports and shower in the nude in the U.S. anymore
- not many boys are checking out their dad’s junk to see if it matches his in looks
- maybe his father wishes he was circumcised but wants his son to remain intact
What is lost
It is impossible to put an emotional price tag on circumcision. For many males, it was an unwanted assault and battery upon their bodies that they did not consent to. But, if one were to put a monetary dollar amount on how much people will pay for “discarded” foreskins, look to the scientific and cosmetic industries, and they are the big winners in the cut cock game.
Physically, when a man is circumcised, a large portion of the skin covering his corona is cut and removed, exposing his head to the elements, clothes, fabrics, and other abrasive materials. If you take a look at the above illustration, you will see that it is “more than a piece of skin” that is taken.
A 2013 study “shows in a large cohort of men, based on self-assessment, that the foreskin has erogenous sensitivity. It is shown that the foreskin is more sensitive than the uncircumcised glans mucosa, which means that after circumcision, genital sensitivity is lost.”
“This study confirms the importance of the foreskin for penile sensitivity, overall sexual satisfaction, and penile functioning. Furthermore, this study shows that a higher percentage of circumcised men experience discomfort or unusual sensations than the uncircumcised population. In the present study, there is strong evidence of the erogenous sensitivity of the foreskin. Hopefully, this knowledge can help doctors and patients decide on circumcision for a non-medical reason.”
“Before circumcision without medical indication, adult men, and parents considering circumcision of their sons, should be informed of the importance of the foreskin in male sexuality.”
There is a mental and emotional toll some men experience after being circumcised. The thought of looking down daily at a portion of your body without its natural protections seems wrong, and for them, their penis is ugly and naked. Wanting to be made “whole” again is the root of the foreskin restoration movement.
“The term “foreskin restoration” can refer to any method of recreating a facsimile of a foreskin (prepuce) to cover the head of the penis (the glans) for men who have lost their original foreskin due to circumcision. This can be done either surgicallly or non-surgically by gradual stretching (tissue expansion). A more accurate term for surgical restoration is “foreskin reconstruction.” Most of the resources on the Internet are focused on non-surgical restoration.”
“Despite the name “restoration” or “reconstruction,” it is not possible to restore a lost foreskin. A natural foreskin contains specialized nerve endings, muscles, and blood vessels necessary for normal sexual function and sensation. While these functions can be recreated to some degree, once the original tissue is cut off and thrown away, it can never be fully recovered.”
“Nevertheless, foreskin restoration can greatly enhance the sexual experience and improve daily personal comfort. Restored men have reported feelings of wholeness, empowerment, and “taking back their bodies from the circumcisers.”
The anti-circumcision movement, whose members sometimes call themselves intactivists (a portmanteau of “intact” and “activist”), strives to prohibit involuntarily and forced circumcision internationally. As reported by Charlotte Shane for Splinter News:
“You can’t force a medical procedure on someone, no matter how beneficial it is,” says Anthony Losquadro, founder of the anti-circumcision group, Interaction. He uses the example of a cancer patient who forgoes chemotherapy. “How can you not sympathize with this position?”
“Even though we usually defer to legal guardians about what happens to the bodies of children—whether that involves dietary choices and medical treatments or even ear piercings—the intactivists find elective genital surgery particularly indefensible since it involves such an intimate part of the body.”
“Most Americans are loath to consider the ethical implications of male circumcision given many men’s apparent apathy about their own. If it’s not usually a problem for those who’ve been through it, what’s the big deal? But Americans also claim to staunchly support independence and free will, whether that means freedom from the desires of the state or another individual, and bodily integrity is a crucial part of that. When debates about campus assault, the sentencing of convicted rapists, and the alleged sexual crimes of Bill Cosby and Roger Ailes dominate mainstream news, Americans are becoming more fluent in the language of consent. So why shouldn’t it apply to babies and their penises?”
“Though their tactics can be inflammatory and sometimes rely on troubling, unexamined analogies, the anti-circumcision advocates have a point: America’s embrace of male circumcision, established in an era deeply hostile to sexuality, uniquely lays bare our gendered double standards about bodies, physical pleasure, and trauma.”
Being born with a penis is a blessing, and a foreskin is not a medical condition to be corrected. If you have one, take great care of it, and it will take great care of you. If you have been circumcised, don’t let fear or stigma keep you from enjoying intact guys. After all, a man is much more than his cock.