According to the internet the origins of this common surgical procedure are not fully known, but it has been hypothesized extensively. Historically it has been seen as a rite of passage, superstition around fertility and virility, sexual enhancement, hygiene, masturbation discouragement, beauty, anti-smegma, humiliation, marking of social status, and even to copy the rare natural occurrence of a missing foreskin of an important leader. Whatever the reason, if you are an American born female like me, you’ve only seen the elusive foreskin in porn, on a foreigner, or on the occasional light brown penis.
Why circumcision? Is cosmetic surgery that soon after birth REALLY necessary?
A study shows that approximately 117 neonatal circumcision-related deaths (9.01/100,000) occur annually in the United States.
Two New York area infants in recent years have died from complications related to the Orthodox Jewish ritual of ‘metzitzah b’peh’, during which “the mohel places his mouth on the freshly circumcised penis to draw blood away from the cut,” after contracting Herpes simplex 1. At least three infants are thought to have contracted the disease from the same mohel in 2004. If infant circumcision is 100% elective and all of these deaths are avoidable, then WHY?
Sixth Dynasty (2345–2181 BC) tomb artwork in Egypt is thought to be the oldest documentary evidence of circumcision. Herodotus, writing in the 5th century BC, wrote that the Egyptians “practise circumcision for the sake of cleanliness, considering it better to be cleanly than comely”. Also written as a mark of passage from childhood to adulthood.
In Greco-Roman times, according to Hodges, ancient Greek aesthetics of the human form considered circumcision a mutilation of a previously perfectly shaped organ. Greek artwork of the period portrayed penises as covered by the foreskin, except in the portrayal of satyrs, lechers, and barbarians.
According to Wikipedia, “some Jews tried to hide their circumcision status. This was mainly for social and economic benefits and also so that they could exercise in gymnasiums and compete in sporting events. Techniques for restoring the appearance of an uncircumcised penis were known by the 2nd century BC. In one such technique, a copper weight (called the Judeum pondum) was hung from the remnants of the circumcised foreskin until, in time, they became sufficiently stretched to cover the glans”
Well into the 19th century, there was no circumcision except among the Jewish community. Until late Victorian times, neonatal circumcision was promoted in the English-speaking parts of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom and was widely practiced during the first part of the 20th century in these countries. However, the practice declined sharply in the United Kingdom after the Second World War, and somewhat later in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
It has been argued (e.g., Goldman 1997) that the practice did not spread to other European countries because others considered the arguments for it fallacious.
Circumcision in the US historically:
One of the leading advocates of circumcision in the US was John Harvey Kellogg. He declared war on masturbation at the end of 19th century and advocated the consumption of Kellogg’s corn flakes to prevent it.
“Inspired by Kellogg’s ideas, doctors maintained that “self-abuse may result in exhaustion, paralysis and heart diseases. Because of self-abuse some people will end up losing their minds, others will commit suicide.” – (Mary R. Melendy, MD, The Ideal Woman – For Maidens, Wives and Mothers, 1903) .
Kellogg believed that circumcision would be an effective way to eliminate masturbation in males.
“One can achieve good results only by means of removing a large quantity of skin and mucus from the penis. Following the cicatrisation of the wounds, the skin will cover the organ tight … which will considerably hamper masturbation or eradicate it altogether.” – Kellogg
The AMA states that “virtually all current policy statements from specialty societies and medical organizations do not recommend routine neonatal circumcision, and support the provision of accurate and unbiased information to parents to inform their choice.” Some have voiced ethical concerns about the procedure, and even the South African Children’s Act (No. 38 of 2005) has made the circumcision of male children unlawful except for medical or religious reasons.
As of July 2011, eighteen American state Medicaid programs had discontinued payment for non-therapeutic circumcision.
In conclusion: Why? We are still not really sure.