Researching Circumcision, Part 1: What Is the Foreskin?
Even though infant circumcision is still referred to as a “routine” aspect of newborn care, as many as 46% of expectant parents are not given any information on the procedure by their doctors. (1) What’s worse? Over 82% “of parents in the first six months of their baby boy’s life regretted the decision they made about circumcision.” (2)
This article is the first in a series I am writing to help expectant parents get a jump start on their research about circumcision. Please check back the next two Mondays for the follow-up articles in this series. Part one is on the foreskin and its normal, necessary functions. Part two will look at the circumcision procedure: what it removes, how it is performed, and what the short- and long-term consequences are. Part three will present information on many of the common concerns parents have when considering circumcision (including an examination of the research on STD’s, cancer, and other health issues).
Please take a moment now to subscribe to my RSS feed for free updates so that you will not miss the remaining articles in this series.
If you are an expectant parent, please read this series, the sources cited herein, and then continue to research information on your own. You owe it to your son to arm yourself with the facts before considering a procedure that will permanently alter his genitals.
If you have any questions, I would be happy to help answer them (or direct you to someone who can). As always, respectful comments are welcome.
What is the Foreskin?
Each baby boy is born with a normal, intact penis. Every normal, intact penis has a continuous skin system that begins at the base of the penis and ends at the tip of the foreskin or “prepuce.” The foreskin is actually two layers of skin: the penis’s skin system folds in on itself near the tip (the glans or “head”) of the penis and reattaches somewhere behind the glans. This fold is the foreskin. (3)
Some people mistakenly think that the foreskin is just an “extra flap,” unnecessary, separate. This could not be further from the truth. In reality, the foreskin is as much a part of the whole penis as the glans is. The penis is made up of an outer foreskin layer (the continuation of the skin of the penis’s shaft), an inner foreskin layer, a ridged band (the interface between the two layers), the glans, and the frenulum (a connecting membrane on the underside of the penis).
“The foreskin contains a rich concentration of blood vessels and nerve endings. It is lined with . . . a smooth muscle layer with longitudinal fibers.” This muscle layer protects the urinary tract from contaminants. The inner layer of the foreskin is packed with nerve endings that provide erogenous sensitivity later in life. The inner layer of the foreskin is actually more sensitive than the head of the penis. (4)
The Functions of the Foreskin
The foreskin provides many functions that are lost after circumcision. These functions include:
1. Protection: Just as the eyelids protect the eyes, the foreskin protects the glans and keeps its surface soft, moist, and sensitive. It also maintains optimal warmth, pH balance, and cleanliness. The glans itself contains no sebaceous glands-glands that produce the sebum, or oil, that moisturizes our skin. The foreskin produces the sebum that maintains proper health of the surface of the glans.
2. Immunological Defense: 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 immunoglobulins, antibodies that defend against infection.
3. Antibacterial Function: To help fight harmful bacteria, the foreskin supports a rich flora of beneficial bacteria. . . . The good bacteria that live in the inside of the foreskin are similar to the bacteria found in the mouth, nose, the female genitals, and the skin in general. It must be stressed that this good bacteria is both harmless and highly beneficial. Without these friendly bacteria, the urethra would become an easy entry point for germs and harmful strains of bacteria, which could cause disease.
4. Erogenous Sensitivity: The foreskin is as sensitive as the fingertips or the lips of the mouth. It contains a richer variety and greater concentration of specialized nerve receptors than any other part of the penis. These specialized nerve endings can discern motion, subtle changes in temperature, and fine gradations of texture.
5. Coverage During Erection: As it becomes erect, the penile shaft becomes thicker and longer. The double-layered foreskin provides the skin necessary to accommodate the expanded organ and to allow the penile skin to glide freely, smoothly, and pleasurably over the shaft and glans.
6. Self-Stimulating Sexual Functions: The foreskin’s double-layered sheath enables the penile shaft skin to glide back and forth over the penile shaft. The foreskin can normally be slipped all the way, or almost all the way, back to the base of the penis, and also slipped forward beyond the glans. This wide range of motion is the mechanism by which the penis and the orgasmic triggers in the foreskin, frenulum, and glans are stimulated.
7. Sexual Functions in Intercourse: One of the foreskin’s functions is to facilitate smooth, gentle movement between the mucosal surfaces of the two partners during intercourse. The foreskin enables the penis to slip in and out of the vagina nonabrasively inside its own slick sheath of self-lubricating, movable skin. The female is thus stimulated by moving pressure rather than by friction only, as when the male’s foreskin is missing. (5)
Circumcision Removes a Healthy, Functioning Sexual Organ
The foreskin is a necessary part of a complete, functioning penis. These vital protections and benefits are stripped along with the foreskin in circumcision.
If you are considering circumcision for your newborn or you know someone who is expecting, please read the information found at some of the links below first and then pass the knowledge on to others. It is our responsibility as parents to make informed, ethical choices for our children.
Resources and Information on the Foreskin and Circumcision
Are You Fully Informed? (includes an excellent list of books, articles, and websites dedicated to the subject of circumcision and the normal, intact foreskin)
Basic Care of the Intact Child (it’s easy: clean what you see and never retract)
Cut: Slicing Through the Myths of Circumcision (a documentary on circumcision)
Please see the following sources (including the studies and material cited therein) for more information.
(1) One of Attachment Parenting International‘s (API) eight principles of parenting is to prepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenthood. Part of that preparation is to “[r]esearch all aspects of ‘routine’ newborn care, such as bathing, circumcision, eye drops, blood samples, collecting cord blood, etc.” “Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting,” http://attachmentparenting.org/principles/prepare.php
(2) Fleiss, Paul, M.D., “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Circumcision” at xi, available in part at http://books.google.com/books?id=rQUqA-AftAQC&dq=fleiss+what+your+doctor+may+not+tell+you+about+circumcision&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=rXqG60HLo7&sig=6iNt8qLfkoOUuWylWWM51mLkO6M&hl=en&ei=oU7GSo2TBZLU8QbJqpBG&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false
(3) Garcia, Francisco, “What Exactly Is Circumcision and What Is It Not?,” http://www.cirp.org/library/anatomy/garcia/
(4) CIRP, “Anatomy of the Penis, Mechanics of Intercourse,” http://www.cirp.org/pages/anat/; Fleiss, Paul, M.D., “The Case Against Circumcision,” http://www.mothersagainstcirc.org/fleiss.html; “Fine-touch Pressure Thresholds in the Adult Penis,” http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/118508429/HTMLSTART?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0; What Exactly Is Circumcision and What Is It Not?
(5) The Case Against Circumcision. Dr. Fleiss goes on to say: “The foreskin may have functions not yet recognized or understood. Scientists in Europe recently detected estrogen receptors in its basal epidermal cells. Researchers at the University of Manchester found that the human foreskin has apocrine glands. These specialized glands produce pheromones, nature’s chemical messengers. Further studies are needed to fully understand these features of the foreskin and the role they play.”; “Functions of the Foreskin: Purposes of the Precupuce,” http://www.drmomma.org/2009/09/functions-of-foreskin-purposes-of.html
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"Researching Circumcision, Part 1: What Is the Foreskin?"
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