Circumcision & Human Behavior

The emotional & behavioral effects of circumcision
by George Hill

Psychologists now recognize that male circumcision affects emotions and behavior. This article discusses the impact of male circumcision on human behavior.

Contents

Introduction

Medical doctors adopted male circumcision from religious practice into medical practice in England in the 1860s and in the United States in the 1870s. No thought was given to the possible behavioral effects of painful operations that excise important protective erogenous tissue from the male phallus. For example, Gairdner (1949) and Wright (1967), both critics of male neonatal non-therapeutic circumcision, made no mention of any behavioral effects of neonatal circumcision.[1] [2]

The awakening
Other doctors, however, were beginning to express concern about the behavioral effects of male circumcision.

Levy (1945) studied the behavioral effects of various operations, including circumcision, on young children.[3] He found that children who had undergone operations experienced an increase in anxiety and various fears, including night terrors, fear of physicians, nurses, and strange men. The oldest age group exhibited greater hostility and aggression. Levy compared their behavior to that of soldiers who suffered from what was then called “combat neurosis,” and now recognized as post-traumatic stress disorder. Anna Freud (1952) pointed out that operations on the genitals, such as circumcision, would cause “castration anxiety.”[4]

Cansever (1965) tested Turkish boys before and after circumcision.[5] Cansever reported severe disturbances in functioning, including regression in behavior, and withdrawal of the ego as protection against outside threats. Cansever also observed various anxieties, including castration anxiety. Foley (1966) noticed that circumcised men are more likely to be biased in favor of circumcision.[7] Moreover, he said that circumcised men are more likely to engage in “problem-masturbation” but non-circumcised men were equally unlikely to engage in “problem-masturbation.” Grimes (another critic of non-therapeutic neonatal circumcision) (1978), apparently unaware of the research described above, sounded an alarm:

“In contrast to the sometimes dramatic somatic responses of the neonate to operation without anesthesia, the psychological consequences of this trauma are conjectural. Psychoanalyst Erik Erickson has described the first of eight stages of man as the development of basic trust versus basic mistrust. For the baby to be plucked from his bed, strapped in a spread eagle position, and doused with chilling antiseptic is perhaps consistent with other new-found discomforts of extrauterine existence. The application of crushing clamps and excision of penile tissue, however, probably do little to engender a trusting, congenial, relationship with the infant’s new surroundings.”[8]

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