[If you do not see a blue menu bar on the right, click here. You are at "Hygiene".]

Hygiene. Simple enough concept, no? At least in the United States, your average person takes a shower or bath every other day or every day. But when it comes to the question, "Should we get him circumcised?", suddenly its not so simple anymore.

Circumcising for hygienic reasons dates back to the World Wars in the 20th Century. (See 'History: The Army/Just Like Dad' in the main menu.) The ideas of sexual purity and keeping clean physically became blurred. "Circumcision=clean" became a common-place idea. Like other issues concerning the natural penis, this aspect of common knowlege in the American society could not get handed down and so was lost.

"The hygiene issue is hysterical to me. It goes something like this: 'This is dirty, so let's cut it off.' If indeed the foreskin is dirty, then the vagina is dirtier. If indeed an excuse is that the foreskin is dirty, then we have a better excuse to circumcise females. Soap and water is the solution. It's only we in America who cling to this out-moded belief-- we, squeaky-clean Americans, you know, who have sudsed the world and cleansed it with our products and our antibacterial jihad."

Dr. Dean Edell, MD., National radio host.

A major reason for the idea that the natural penis is difficult to clean is a small, but feared word: "smegma". It even sounds ugly, so who wouldn't believe what they might hear about it and the non-circumcised penis? Actually, the word itself comes from the Greek smegma translated as "detergent", "cleansing medicine",and "soap". Smegma can be found between the glans and the foreskin and between the clitoris and its hood, as well as between the labia. (Both the penis and the clitoris form as the same tissue in the womb during the first trimester of pregnancy.) In both sexes, its job is to lubricate and cleanse. If it is washed away too frequently, the mucous membranes of these parts can become dry and irritated. The picture that is sometimes given of smegma is of a flowing, cheesy substance which smells. (I picture feta cheese, myself, when I hear this comparison!) Frankly, if smegma were to be allowed to build up to this amount, the man or woman would surely know about it before it began to smell, as going that long without washing would make one itch - and not only in the genital area either! In actuality, it is a whitish, pasty substance which doesn't really have much of an odor. It does not "flow" and is easily removed with a rinse with water, or soap and water if one prefers.

"The male and female prepuce require no retraction and cleansing prior to puberty. Neither does a young girl need to have a douche or a Q-tip clean her out. What is called "debris" is the very same thing that ends up on the crotch of a woman's underwear -- and why she buys new ones every few years. It's nothing more than the sloughed vaginal cells. The prepuce operates the same way.

"Nothing will cause increased smegma production (as a way of defense) more than to use soap on the mucous membrane of the inner prepuce and glans of an intact boy.

"When boys reach puberty in non-circumcising societies, if they are told anything, they are taught to wash prior to sex for politeness and after sex for protection.

"When I was on a tv show in Seattle a few years ago, a Tibetan man stood up and said, 'In Tibet, most people bathe only once a year, at Tibetan New Year. When I came to America, I couldn't believe what was done to baby boys. I thought, "This is barbaric!" Some people in Tibet who don't want to wash away the 'good yang stuff' never bathe. And, we don't even have a word for circumcision in our language! It is NEVER done.'

"Increased attention to the penis with regard to cleaning does not allow a child's natural sense of unconcerned boyhood. The prepuce is self-cleaning. Anything more than that stems from our own concern, and is nothing that we need to act upon." --Marilyn Milos, RN

Many people say they circumcised their sons to "prevent infections".

In the 1997 article, Where is My Foreskin? for Mothering magazine, Dr. Paul Fleiss explains:

"The mucous membranes that line all body orifices are the body's first line of immunological defense. Glands in the foreskin produce antibacterial and antiviral proteins such as lysozyme. Lysozyme is also found in tears and mother's milk. Specialized epithelial Langerhans cells, an immune system component, abound in the foreskin's outer surface. Plasma cells in the foreskin's mucosal lining secrete immunolglobulins, antibodies that defend against infection."

Ironically, many people have been reporting more infections in their circumcised sons as the premature tearing away of the foreskin from the glans - and the recommended frequent retraction of the remaining foreskin- invites infection.

"I have three circed sons and one intact son and I can say for a FACT that it is easier to care for an intact penis on a baby than a circed one. I have no fuzzies to pick out [on my intact son's] and I don't have to pull it back all the way to try and get all the poops out.

"I have to clean the penises on my older three boys every time they shower because they don't pull the skin back far enough so they get infections. They laugh the entire time making it very difficult to clean. The three circed boys all suffered from swollen inflamed penises when they were in diapers no matter how often or thoroughly I tried to clean them. Yet my fourth baby has NEVER even been slightly red.

"Now if you circ you sons because it's a religious rite, fine, do it. But that isn't the reason most people circ their sons. They do it because they are FALSELY led to believe that it's easier to clean and there will be fewer infections and it's easier to care for and everyone else does it. BLAH BLAH BLAH! Don't try to fool yourself because I've been there done that. They'll also argue the asthetics of the penis. I would place that excuse right up there with those 15 and 16 yr old girls who get breast implants!

"Then intact boys are diagnosed with phimosis or some other stupid and WRONG diagnoses so that some doctor can make money by cutting off a perfectly healthy, normal and functioning part of the penis.

"It's more a money issue than health." --Mary Burgess, Mother of 4 boys (7/10/00)

In the U.S., circumcision was done to both males and females for the sake of better hygiene. Yet, today, no one would think of cirucmcising a female here. (In fact, it was outlawed in 1996.) But back in the 1800's and first half of the 1900's, it was touted as a cleanliness and health measure for both sexes. (See "Female Circumcision" under the "Yes that Happens!" section in the menu bar.)

The following is from "Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique" by Th. H. Van de Velde, MD c. 1968 (First edition, 1926.)

"Between the glans and the prepuce of the clitoris on the sides of the frenulum is the preputial sack. In this sack, in the tiny folds of the prepuce, is found a greasy secretion, the white fluid smegma clitoridis, which, if not carefully removed, solidifies and becomes almost flaky. The smegma clitoridis is mainly responsible for the specific feminine genital odor, with all its personal nuances and semitones. There is a certain, though limited, attractive and selective function in this humble product, for if secreted in a moderate amount, and exhaling a very faint yet fresh odor, it can have a distinct appeal to the opposite sex.

"But if the smegma collects in excessive quantities -- and it is present to excess if it is at all visible to the unaided eye! -- the normal odor become obtrusive, or, far worse, it changes, through the process of fermentation, and very rapidly, to a putrid repulsive smell, which is extremely offensive, and must inevitably have a fatal effect, even on a desire which has been already aroused.

"The most unfortunate and extremely disgusting results occur when, owing to neglect of personal cleanliness where it is most needed, the natural local secretion becomes mixed with the products of urination, menstruation, and even with excrement! A regular process of putrefaction sets in and affords a forcing-house for bacteria! And there are other consequences, less obviously nauseating, but dangerous. The by-products generated by the chemical forces in putrefaction are at once rancid and acrid, and cause irritation of the neighboring membrane and tissues, whose symptoms are redness, swelling and watery discharges. The local inflammation increases the unpleasantness of the putrid odor and causes acute itching and burning sensations, which make sexual intercourse difficult and painful.

"Thus the smegma clitoridis must be promptly and regularly removed. The sins of omission in this respect are without number, and not at all only on the part of generally uncleanly or slovenly women, but in those who are careful to wash all other portions of their bodies. No lay person would credit the facts which are constantly revealed to the gynaecologist in the course of his professional duties. There is this excuse, that neglect to properly cleanse the genitalia arises often from IGNORANCE OF THEIR STRUCTURE [emphasis his] and/or from a certain modesty and aversion to handling them. The smegma is mostly exuded on the inner surface of the prepuce. But it can also be found on the outer surfaces, in the deep grooves between the outer labia and the prepuce, and the recesses running between the inner and outer labia. It is not there so specifically odorous as on the clitoris, but otherwise its importance is the same. Fortunately, it is easily accessible and easily removed, so that its presence in profuse quantities between the labia is a sign of gross personal uncleanliness."

"A further problem arises in collection of fresh smegma in sufficient amount for experimental research. For this reason some workers have used smegma from horses because these animals produce it in large amounts. But despite repeated inoculations of horse smegma into the vaginas of laboratory animals, the results have been conflicting with regard to its inducing malignant disease."

Joyce Wright, MD., "How Smegma Serves the Penis"; Sexology (New York), Vol 37, no. 2 (9/1970), pp. 50-53.

"I regret it because of the pain he was in and the way his penis looked after the procedure. Even though he'll never remember the pain there was no reason for him to be circumcised. He's 8 months now and his penis looks fine but it also looked fine at birth. Keeping your body clean is something you have to teach children whether circumcised or not. I keep hearing people say that an uncircumcised penis is attracks more germs because of the extra skin. There are just as many germs on an circumcised penis. I clean my son thoroughly everyday and I will teach him to do the same."-- Anon. Mother