Although many 19th-century misconceptions about the foreskin have been dispelled since it was shown that infantile phimosis was not an abnormality, the ideas that ritual or religious circumcision arose as a hygiene measure, and that circumcision makes no difference to sexual response, have persisted. The first idea should be dismissed as a myth and the second has been seriously questioned by modern research.
Owsei Temkin, renowned medical historian, has written: ". . . we are all apt to accept a historical myth where we cannot rely on historical knowledge. Where history is lacking, mythology takes its place, and those who disdain history are among the foremost victims of mythology."1 This is most certainly true when we consider male circumcision.
- 1. Temkin O. The double face of Janus, and other essays in the history of medicine. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977: 69.
- 2. Gollaher DL. Circumcision: a history of the world's most controversial surgery. New York: Basic Books, 2000: 53-72.
- 3. Aldeeb Abu-Sahlieh SA. Male and female circumcision among Jews, Christians and Muslims: Religious, medical, social and legal debate. Pennsylvania: Shangri La Publications, 2001.
- 4. Remondino PC. History of circumcision from the earliest times to the present: moral and physical reasons for its performance. Philadelphia: FA Davis, 1891.
- 5. Van Howe RS. Circumcision and infectious diseases revisited. Pediatr Infect Dis J, 1998; 17: 1-6.
- 6. Royal Australian College of Physicians. Policy statement on circumcision. Sydney, September 2002.
- 7. Hodges F. The ideal prepuce in Ancient Greece and Rome: male genital aesthetics and their relation to lipodermos, circumcision, foreskin restoration and the kinodesme. Bull Hist Med 2001; 75: 375-405.
- 8. Laqueur T. Making sex: body and gender from the Greeks to Freud. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991.
- 9. Hunter J. A treatise on the venereal disease. London: 1786, 221.
- 10. Acton W. The functions and disorders of the reproductive organs in childhood, youth, adult age and advanced life. 3rd London ed. Philadelphia: Lindsay and Blakiston, 1865: 22.
- 11. Parsons GP. Equal treatment for all: American medical remedies for male sexual problems, 1850–1900. J Hist Med 1977; 32: 55-71.
- 12. Hammond WA. Sexual impotence in the male and female. Detroit, 1887, facsimile reprint. New York: Arno, 1974: 272-273.
- 13. Hutchinson J. The advantages of circumcision. Med Rev 1900; 3: 641-642.
- 14. Darby R. Circumcision as a preventive of masturbation: a review of the historiography. J Soc Hist, Spring 2003. In press.
- 15. Valentine RJ. Adult circumcision: a personal report. Med Aspects Human Sexuality, 1974; 8: 31-42.
- 16. Taylor JR, Lockwood AP, Taylor AJ. The prepuce: specialised mucosa of the penis and its loss to circumcision. Br J Urol 1996; 77: 291-295.
- 17. Cold CJ, Taylor JR. The prepuce. BJU Int 1999; 83 Suppl 1: 34-44.
- 18. Wolper RS. Circumcision as polemic in the Jew Bill of 1753: the cutter cut? Eighteenth Century Life 1982; 7: 24-36.
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