Brief history of circumcision : A guide to Circumcision

Circumcision is one of the oldest procedures which dates back thousands of years. It has been suggested that circumcision arose as a means of defining masculinity, a religious sacrifice or a rites of passage but these are theoretical.

Rite of passage

What may be the common to all of these is the need to belong to a group and in certain cultures that is still the case. It is seen as a rite of passage, as part of the transition from childhood to adult status which conveys all sorts of privileges.

As part of a ritual

Most circumcisions are performed during infancy or puberty. This is particularly common within Islam and Judaism who see this is as a ‘symbolic offering to God’as well as a confirmation of faith.

These are discussed further in our religious/cultural reasons section.

Cultural identity

There are tribes in certain parts of the world who still practise circumcision. This is seen as an affirmation of cultural identity as well as a rite of passage for young boys. Some tribes in West Africa use circumcision as part of an initiation ceremony for young boys to mark their passage from boyhood to manhood. Circumcision is seen as a way of removing any ‘female’ characteristics so that the boy can become a man.

These cultural aspects are discussed further in our religious/cultural reasons section.

Hygienic measure

The religious reasons for circumcision have been well documented but another less well known reason is that of hygiene. Circumcision was routinely performed during the late 19th/early 20th century as a way of dealing with dirt and preventing infection.

There were various theories at that time which viewed the human body as unclean and germ ridden. This included various secretions from the body via the orifices and in this case, the penis. This part of the body attracted particular criticism and was viewed as ‘dirty’.

Circumcision was seen as a necessary means of removing dirt and germs as well as preventing ‘deviant’ behaviour such as masturbation.

It was also seen as a useful means of preventing diseases such as syphilis, phimosis and balanitis.

Circumcision was performed in parts of the world such as America, New Zealand and to a lesser extent, the UK. It was carried out on infants as a means of removing germs and preventing these diseases. However opposition to this grew amongst the medical profession who argued that there was no medical need in the vast majority of cases.

In 1946 the NHS refused to pay for infant circumcisions.

Current guidelines recommend that circumcision for religious/cultural reasons should be carried out at a private clinic.

(Source: NHS Choices: Circumcision: 21.10.2009)


© Medic8® | All Rights Reserved