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Circumcision: A Man Thing

"Circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis. "
By: Risa Caldoza-De Leon MD, FPAPSHPICircumcision: A Man Thing

The traditional “pukpok” I saw involved a river, guava leaves, a piece of wood called lansadera, a piece of cloth, a piece of string, and a sharp (I hope) razor knife called labaha. Lined up in front of the local “manong” were seven pubescent boys whose countenance ranged from boastful, resigned to terrified. After bathing in the river to soften the skin, a boy would put his penis on a piece of wood, and a razor whacks the foreskin off. He then would spit guava leaves he had previously chewed to the wound. The tip of the penis is inserted through a hole in a piece of cloth, wrapped around the shaft and pulled with a string at the base. The cost was P50.00. A brave boy is now a man.

Circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis. It is one of the oldest and most common surgical procedures worldwide. One-third of males 15 years old and over are circumcised, says the World Health Organization (WHO). It is common in the Muslim states, Israel, parts of Southeast Asia and Africa, the United States, the Philippines and South Korea. However, it is rarely done in Latin America, Europe, parts of southern Africa, and most of Asia and Oceania.

Circumcision is done for medical and hygienic purposes, religious and cultural conformation, and as a rite of passage for young boys. Nowadays, circumcision is done by physicians in the safety and sterile environment of a clinic or a hospital, complete with anesthesia and antibiotics. In most industrialized countries, circumcision is normally done on the first or second day after birth. Most boys are circumcised between the ages of 10 and 12 in the Philippines.

A Journey to Manhood

For the Egyptians, the procedure was a ritual to adulthood, or a prerequisite to enter the priesthood. The Greek historian Herodotus in the 5th century wrote that Egyptians practiced circumcision for the sake of cleanliness.

References to circumcision abound in the Old Testament. Jewish religious practice requires boys to be circumcised from eight days old. In tribal settings, the severed part is offered as a sacrifice to spirit beings. Among Arabs, circumcision existed before the time of Muhammad before 570 AD and done in infancy. Interestingly, in 1442, the Roman Catholic Church denounced religious circumcision. This was written in Cantate Domino. The English have adopted the custom too but mainly for medical purposes such as hysteria, sexually transmitted disease, hypersexuality and even hiccups.

Muslim settlers introduced circumcision to our natives in the southern Philippine Islands as part of their religious practices. This influence of Islam was prevalent 200 years before the advent of Christianity in the 16th century in our country.

Medically speaking

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) believes circumcision is a decision for parents to make based on their religious, ethical and cultural practices. The WHO, NIH and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have concluded that circumcision can help stop the spread of HIV. Our local Department of Health (DoH) advocates male circumcision is to lower STD (sexually transmitted diseases) in the country.

Not everyone is a fan. Critics of circumcision list a host of disadvantages, such as pain to the child, infection, urinary complications, and higher risk of disease, even death. They say that the baby has no "power" to say no and that circumcising an infant imprints violence on the baby's brain and causes trauma.

Complications arising from circumcision, such as infection and bleeding, are rare, and occur in about one in every 500 procedures. Circumcision does not affect male sexual function or sexual sensitivity.

Yes, it may be a cultural bias, but for Filipinos at least, circumcision is inevitable and here to stay. It is a point of pride, a coming of age. So boys, and parents, ready yourselves …

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