Mass circumcision: cornflakes magnate vs. masturbation

American cornflakes magnate John Harvey Kellogg (the manufacturer of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes) declared war on masturbation at the end of 19th century. Being an influential politician, he sparked off an “anti-masturbation hysteria” in society. Inspired by Kellogg’s ideas, the 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) .

Kellog decided to use circumcision for protecting protect the boys from the terrible consequences. “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.”

(E.J. Spratling, MD. Medical Record, Masturbation in the Adult, vol. 48, no. 13, September 28, 1895, pp. 442-443) .

According to Kellogg, “circumcision in infancy is a good remedy for masturbation, it helps in most cases. It is important to perform surgery without using any anesthetic so that pain during an operation may affect the mind. It would be good if pain could be also associated with the idea of punishment. Cauterizing the clitoris with carbolic acid can help women combat the perverted ways of getting sexual pleasure.” (John Harvey Kellogg, M.D., “Treatment for Self-Abuse and its Effects,” Plain Fact for Old and Young. Burlington , Iowa : F. Segner & Co. (1888). p. 295) .

Surprisingly enough, U.S. doctors quickly embraced Kellogg’s controversial concepts. Moreover, the babyhood circumcision became widespread in other English-speaking countries. Doctors in Europe were quite quick in giving up the operation. It is still performed in the U.S., though. American doctors no longer fight with masturbation. Nowadays they remove the foreskin to treat medical conditions. For more than a hundred years, doctors have been putting forth new scientific evidence to back the reports on the beneficial effects of circumcision. Meanwhile, ordinary Americans have been paying medical bills for the “required” operation.

Circumcision is an ancient rite that originated in ancient Egypt. Children from the Jewish and Islamic families still undergo the operation, which is performed on a properly anesthetized patient. Nobody attempts to induce a feeling of guilt in a child.

There is not much point in musing about the pros and cons of the rite. A team of Australian researchers looked into the expediency of performing a mass circumcision “for medical reasons”.

The results of their study were published by December issue of the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, (Sex Transm Infect, 2003; 79: 427-428).

Two medical lobbies took shape in the U.S. by the end of the 1970s. One group of doctors maintained that circumcision is a good means of preventing infections and cancer. The other doctors pointed out complications resulting from the operation.

The penis does not have a “pocket” on its tip after a circumcision, and therefore it no longer houses various viruses and bacteria. Circumcision in this case not only leads to fewer cases of venereal diseases, it also brings down the cervical cancer morbidity rate in women who have sex with circumcised men. Circumcision also prevents the development of penile cancer.

Besides, Americans came up with the estimates showing that a circumcision can greatly cut the medical bills for the treatment of boys’ venereal diseases.

However, the opponents of circumcision believe that all the money saved by circumcision will eventually spent on the treatment of complications caused by the operation. The most common complications include hemorrhage and infection of a wound following the operation. At times complication requires additional operations including removal of the penis. Besides, the operation causes damage to receptors on the male genitals.

Circumcision may be a distressing experience to the mind of an infant because no general anesthesia is used during the operation. One of the articles on the subject says that a post-traumatic stress disorder affects the children as a result. The disorder will become a chronic problem haunting men throughout their life. (Ramos S. Boyle GJ. Ritual and medical circumcision among Filipino boys: evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder. In: Denniston GC, Hodges FM, Milos MF, eds. Understanding circumcision: a multi-disciplinary approach to a multi-dimensional problem. New York , Kluwer/Plenum,2001) .

In the meantime, doctors continuously polish up the procedures that make up a circumcision. Therefore, it has been getting less painful year in and year out. Less pain results in fewer chances of having a trauma.

According to some researchers, circumcision can also lead to low self-esteem, unjustified resentment or depression. Men will vent their frustration on other persons. A circumcised father is likely to have his son circumcised too. Doctors who were circumcised will become the advocates of the operation for the same reasons. They will prove the benefits of circumcision to their patients. That is why circumcision has been fully embedded in society once the former became a matter of tradition.


Translated by Guerman Grachev

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov