This classic column originally appeared at the barbershop notebooks, where Sex with Timaree runs every Monday.
Question to the Sexpert:
“Thank you soo much for answering my question last week. [note from Timaree: it was the one about whether men or women have funkier tasting genitals, check out this link to read more] But my girlfriend reminded me that I left out a part she feels is very important. She believes uncircumcised guys have the possibility of being much worse. Any opinion?”
Good lord! How could I have forgotten smegma? I’m sure all of you were sitting at home thinking “but the smegma, woman! The smegma!!!” How silly must I look.
But, fortunately for me, circumcision (or lack of it) doesn’t change the answer on the “which is worse?” question because, as I pontificated endlessly, cleanliness is the number one determinant of genital funk and a clean intact penis is no nastier than a clean cut penis. Uncircumcised penises can get REALLY gross if left entirely unwashed, making for an abhorrent blowjob-giving experience, but when clean it should be just fine.
The perception that male circumcision is performed for hygienic reasons is extremely common despite the fact it has no basis in reality in the modern industrialized world. Which brings me to today’s topic, Foreskins: Because The Original Question Didn’t Make For an Entire Column.
When left to its own devices…
An uncut penis creates a natural lubricant called smegma so that the sensitive foreskin and glans (head) can move against each other comfortably. When it’s fresh, it smells fine and can be easily cleaned by retracting the foreskin and washing with warm water and mild soap, but when left to accumulate and harden in the foreskin cavity, it turns into a wickedly funky substance. For more on the foreskin’s purposes: check out this site.
History of Circumcisions
It may have started as long ago as 15,000 years ago or as recently as 5,000. The origins of circumcision involve the sacrifice to a greater power, tribal identification, control of sexual impulses and for hygienic reasons in a time when people rarely had access to proper bathing. Circumcision spread across the world with these intentions and became extremely popular among certain groups.
There was a resurgence in the practice following the World Wars- as men living in foxholes for weeks without showering came down with infections and decided to prevent such a fate befalling their sons. The rate dropped after the American Academy of Pediatrics declared in 1971 that there was no benefit to circumcision. But in 1989 they said it was beneficial, resulting in a rise in popularity. And in 1999 they changed their position again to neither discouraging nor encouraging the procedure.
Worldwide one in four men has had his foreskin removed, the vast majority in America and Canada. Currently around 60% of American boys are cut, down from a high of 90% in the early 70s. Jews and Muslims continue the practice on infant boys for religious reasons and some other cultures circumcise young men as a rite of passage into adulthood (a friend of mine had it done at 13 in the Philippines- it took a month to recover). But more than religion, the number one predictor of whether or not a boy will have the procedure done to him is whether or not his father is cut.
It should be mentioned at some point that male circumcision, regardless of one’s opinion on it, is distinct from female circumcision which has ZERO benefits and carries far more potential dangers (in Egypt alone there have been 2 deaths in the last 3 months from female genital mutilation).
-HIV (and HPV, syphilis, herpes and gonorrhea) risks are significantly reduced because foreskin contains so much mucous membrane, which eases disease spread .
-no need to clean foreskin, eliminating possibility of nasty, hardened smegma and reducing risk of urinary tract infections.
-to look like one’s dad, brother, the other dudes in the locker room or the other guys your partner has been with previously.
-reduced sensation perceived as beneficial for men with premature ejaculation.
-recovery is much faster on a newborn
-Like any surgery, there is the risk of bleeding, injury, disfigurement and infection and newborns almost never receive anesthesia for the pain. Check out this page for a very staunchly anti-circumcision view of the American Academy of Pediatrics brochure.
-It’s a non-consensual procedure that is essentially irreversible and not deemed medically necessary
-reduced sensation in the penis
Things to Consider
-Safer sexual practices are a much better way to reduce risk than circumcision
- Urinary Tract infections can be reduced in newborns by breastfeeding instead
- If you don’t have the procedure done on your son, make sure you (or a babysitter or doctor who is unfamiliar with uncut penises) does not try to force the foreskin to retract on a young boy.
So, there you are. I answered a completely different question than you asked! Tada!
Do you have a question or comment? Please email Timaree directly at sexpert@MarcLamontHill.com