The First Cut

Ironically, the first foreskin I ever saw up close belonged to a Jew.

Barry took off his clothes so hesitantly, I found myself wondering if he were about to reveal a tail. “It’s a birth defect,” he explained, finally showing me. The hole in his foreskin was very awkwardly situated—more on the shaft than the head—and he could barely get it over the glans. It was as if he had put a poncho on sideways, with an arm through the neck hole. I couldn’t even imagine how the poor guy peed.

Apparently, the odd positioning of Barry’s foreskin made safe removal impossible, so his parents had gotten a special dispensation from their rabbi to allow their son to remain uncircumcised. It reminded me of how certain Catholics manage to get their marriages annulled by the Church despite the pesky reality of children.

Barry was embarrassed by it, ashamed of the glove of skin covering his dick. But the foreskin itself had no deleterious effect on the sex; only his self-consciousness did that.

Barry came to mind recently, when a controversy erupted in San Francisco. Last week, Gov. Brown signed a law forbidding individual cities in California from banning the circumcision of minors, in response to a referendum that had been proposed for the San Francisco ballot to do just that. When I posted a link to a news story about the ballot measure on my Facebook page, voices were raised, and someone—inevitably—referred to the measure as “anti-Semitic.”

If circumcision were practiced only by Jews and Muslims, that argument might hold a bit more weight. But in the United States, at least, that is simply not the case. I’ve seen a lot of penises in my time, and I can probably count on one hand the number of foreskins that were attached to them.

I was never properly introduced to my own foreskin. In fact, you could say that our relationship was severed before it had a chance to get started. So I can only speculate on how my life would be different if that little piece of flesh were still around. Rumor, and some scientific studies, suggest that removal of the foreskin reduces sexual pleasure—for both partners. Frankly, I’m not sure I could stand for my penis to be any more sensitive than it already is, but that’s not to say I’m not curious.

My parents (both Christian, but barely) had no particular rationale for this decision: in those days, they told me, it was simply a given. Circumcision was considered hygienic—sparing parents the trouble, I suppose, of teaching their sons how to clean their genitalia. Better to remove the hiding place of smegma than have to talk to your kids about it. Maybe, I thought, circumcision was just another example of our culture’s squeamishness about sex. I’ve heard that people once advocated it as a way to decrease masturbation. Good luck with that one.

One of my favorite memes of feminism is that if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament. I totally agree. And here’s the corollary: if it were illegal to circumcise boys, there would be no circumcised men.

The ugly truth is that men anxiously cross their legs at the mere mention of circumcision. In a post-Lorena Bobbitt world, they’re justifiably protective of their junk. One false move and kerplooey, there goes a lot more than just an extra flap of skin. I’m willing to bet that most men who believe in circumcision are glad they were snipped as infants and therefore didn’t have to make the decision for themselves.

That said, I’m not completely convinced that the practice of circumcision should be outlawed. As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, the jury is still out on both its advantages and its disadvantages. And parents, after all, have the right to make all sorts of decisions on behalf of their children, many of which have lasting effects. And if we’re going to start legislating how much trauma parents are entitled to inflict, the road will get pretty slippery. Frankly, if people had to demonstrate as much competence in childrearing as they do in driving a car, hardly anyone could get a license for it.

The Facebook flap—and this blog—caused a bit of controversy in my own household, as well. Chad just doesn’t get why I’m so interested in the subject. “I’m perfectly happy with my own cut dick,” he says—and I have to agree with him.

Actually, I’m suddenly wondering whether he knows I agree with him. Could it be that he thinks all my ranting about foreskins is somehow an aspersion against Little Chad? For the record, let me make it perfectly clear that nothing could be further from the truth.

That’s the irony, actually. To be perfectly honest, if I were judging a beauty pageant for penises, it’s unlikely that an uncircumcised one would make the final cut. But the search for beauty isn’t necessarily a reason to fuck with Mother Nature.