[back] Male Circumcision

Timeline of Medical Circumcision

"Circumcision is a solution in search of a problem." --Edward Wallerstein

This timeline provides an overview of how doctor's reasons for doing circumcisions on children and babies have changed drastically since the time when they first began promoting it. *~

* 1832 Claude-Francois Lallemand circumcises a patient to cure him from nocturnal seminal emissions. [Des Pertes Seminales Involontaires. Jeune 1836 (1):463-7; 1839 (2):70-162; 1842 (3):266-7, 280-9]

* 1845 Edward H. Dixon declares that circumcision prevents masturbation. [A Treatise on Diseases of the Sexual Organs. New York: Stringer & Co 1845 pp 158-65]

* 1855 Johnathon Hutchinson publishes his theory that circumcision prevents syphilis. [On the Influence of Circumcision in Preventing Syphilis. Medical Times and Gazette 1855;32(844):542-543]

* 1865 Nathaniel Heckford claims that circumcision cures epilepsy. [Circumcision as a remedial measure in certain cases of epilepsy and chorea. Clinical Lectures and Reports by the Medical and Surgical Staff of the London Hospital 1865;2:58-64]

* 1870 Lewis A. Sayre publishes a paper 'proving' that circumcision cures epilepsy. [Circumcision versus epilepsy, etc; Transcription of the New York Pathological Society meeting of June 8, 1870. Medical Record 1870 Jul 15;5(10):231-4]

* 1870 Lewis A. Sayre declares that circumcision prevents spinal paralysis. [Partial paralysis from reflex irritation, caused by congenital phimosis and adherent prepuce. Transactions of the American Medical Association 1870;21:205-11]

* 1871 M.J. Moses declares that Jews are immune to masturbation because of circumcision. [The value of circumcision as a hygienic and therapeutic measure. New York Medical Journal 1871 Nov;14(4):368-74]

* 1873 Joseph Bell announces his discovery that circumcision cures bed wetting. [Nocturnal incontinence of urine cured by circumcision. Edinburgh Medical Journal 1873 May;1(9):1034]

* 1875 Lewis A. Sayre declares that foreskin causes curvature of the spine, paralysis of the bladder, and clubfoot. [Spinal anaemia with partial paralysis and want of coordination, from irritation of the genital organs. Transactions of the American Medical Association 1875;26:255-74]

* 1879 H.H. Kane 'discovers' that circumcision cures nocturnal emissions and abdominal neuralgia. [Seminal emissions, abdominal neuralgia: circumcision: cure. Southern Clinic 1879 Oct;2(1):8-11]

* 1881 Maximillian Landesburg announces that circumcision cures eye problems that he believed were caused by masturbation. [On affections of the eye caused by masturbation. Medical Bulletin 1881 Apr;3(4):79-81]

* 1886 William G. Eggleston declares that foreskin causes crossed eyes. [Two cases of reflex paraplegia(one with aphasia) from tape-worm and phimosis. Journal of the American Medical Association 1886 May 8;6(19):511-5]

* 1888 John Harvey Kellogg promotes circumcision as punishment for boys to discourage them from masturbating. [Treatment for Self-abuse and Its Effects, Plain Facts for Old and Young, Burlington, Iowa, F. Segner & Co. (1888) p. 107]

* 1890 William D. Gentry declares that circumcision cures blindness, deafness and dumbness. [Nervous derangements produced by sexual irregularities in boys. Medical Current 1890 Jul;6(7):268-74]

* 1891 Johnathan Hutchinson declares that foreskin encourages boys to masturbate. [On circumcision as preventive of masturbation. Archives of Surgery 1891 Jan;2(7):267-9]

* 1893 Mark J. Lehman demands immediate implementation of mass circumcision of all American boys. [A plea for circumcision. Medical Review 1893 Jul 22;28(4):64-5]

* 1894 P.C. Remondino says circumcising blacks will help prevent them from raping whites. [Negro rapes and their social problems. National Popular Review 1894 Jan;4(1):3-6]

* 1894 H.L. Rosenberry publishes paper 'proving' that circumcision cures urinary and rectal incontinence. [Incontinence of the urine and faeces, cured by circumcision. Medical Record 1894 Aug 11;4(6):173]

* 1898 T. Scott McFarland says he has "circumcised as many girls as boys, and always with happy results." [Circumcision of girls. Journal of Orificial Surgery, 1898 Jul;7:31-33]

* 1900 Johnathan Hutchinson advises circumcision as way to decrease the pleasure of sex, and hence to discourage sexual immorality. [The advantages of circumcision. The Polyclinic 1900 Sep;3(9):129-31]

* 1901 Ernest G. Mark notes that the "pleasurable sensations that are elicited from the extremely sensitive" inner lining of the foreskin may encourage a child to masturbate, which is why he recommends circumcision since it "lessens the sensitiveness of the organ". [Circumcision. American Practitioner and News 1901 Feb 15;31(4):122-6]

* 1902 Roswell Park publishes paper 'proving' that foreskin causes epilepsy and that circumcision cures it. [The surgical treatment of epilepsy. American Medicine 1902 Nov 22;4(21):807-9]

* 1914 Abraham L. Wolbarst claims that circumcision prevents tuberculosis and demands the compulsory circumcision of all children in America. [Universal circumcision as a sanitary measure. Journal of the American Medical Association 1914 Jan 10;62(2):92-7]

* 1915 Benjamin E. Dawson says that since the clitoral hood is the source of many neuroses, female circumcision is necessary. [Circumcision in the Female: Its Necessity and How to Perform It. American Journal of Clinical Medicine, 1915 Jun;22(6):520-523]

* 1918 Belle Eskridge concludes circumcision will relieve one of the greatest causes of masturbation in girls. [Why not circumcise the girl as well as the boy?, Texas State Journal of Medicine, 1918 May;14:17-19]

* 1926 Abraham L. Wolbarst claims that circumcision prevents penile cancer. [Is circumcision a prophylactic against penis cancer? Cancer 1926 Jul;3(4):301-10]

* 1930 Norton Henry Bare claims that he has cured a boy of epilepsy by circumcising him. [Surgical treatment of epilepsy with report of case. The China Medical Journal 1930 Nov;4(11):1109-13]

* 1934 Aaron Goldstein and Hiram S. Yellen invent and mass market the Gomco clamp which makes it easier for doctors to cut off even more skin than in traditional circumcisions. [Bloodless circumcision of the newborn. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, July 1935;30(1):146-7]

* 1935 R.W. Cockshut demands that all boys be circumcised in order to desensitize the penis and promote chastity. [Circumcision. British Medical Journal 1935 Oct 19;2(3902):764]

* 1941 Allan F. Guttmacher promotes mass circumcision as a means of blunting male sexual sensitivity. He also spreads the false claim that a baby's foreskin must be forcibly retracted and scrubbed daily. [Should the baby be circumcised? Parents Magazine 1941 Sept;16(9):26,76-8]

* 1942 Abraham Ravich claims that circumcision prevents prostate cancer. [The relationship of circumcision to cancer of the prostate. Journal of Urology 1942 Sep;48(3):298-9]

* 1949 Eugene H. Hand declares that circumcision prevents venereal disease and cancer of the tongue. [Circumcision and venereal disease. Archives of Dermatology and Syphilology 1949 Sep;60(3):341-6]

* 1949 Douglas Gairdner points out that the previous years cases of infant circumcision deaths were not necessary given the lack of medical justification for circumcision. (Note: This paper helped encourage the National Health Service to drop coverage for infant circumcision which led to the practical elimination of non- religious circumcision in the United Kingdom.) [The fate of the foreskin. British Medical Journal 1949 2:1433-7]

* 1951 Abraham Ravich invents claims that circumcision prevents cervical cancer in women. [Prophylaxis of cancer of the prostate, penis, and cervix by circumcision. New York State Journal of Medicine 1951 Jun;51(12):1519-20]

* 1953 R.L. Miller and D.C. Snyder unleash their plans to circumcise all male babies immediately after birth while still in the delivery room to prevent masturbation and provide "immunity to nearly all physical and mental illness." [Immediate circumcision of the newborn male. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 1953, Jan;6(1):1-11]

* 1954 Ernest L. Wydner claims that male circumcision prevents cervical cancer in women. [A study of environmental factors of carcinoma of the cervix. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 1954 Oct;68(4):1016-52]

* 1956 Raymond Creelman invents the Circumstraint which straps down and immobilizes the baby's arms and legs. [USPTO patent number RE24,377]

* 1958 C.F. McDonald says "the same reasons that apply for the circumcision of males are generally valid when considered for the female." [Circumcision of the female. General Practitioner 1958 Sep;18(3):98-99]

* 1959 W.G. Rathmann finds that among the many benefits of female circumcision is that it will make the clitoris easier for the husband to find. [Female Circumcision: Indications and a New Technique. General Practitioner 1959 Sep;20(9):115-120]

* 1966 Masters and Johnson claim that there is no difference in sensitivity between penises with and without foreskin. (Note: Their work helps propagate the medical dogma that circumcision has no effect on sexuality go practically unquestioned for nearly the next four decades.) [Human Sexual Response, Boston, Ma: Little Brown & Co, 1966]

* 1969 Morris Fishbein calls for circumcision to prevent nervousness and of course also masturbation. [Sex hygiene. Modern Home Medical Adviser. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co: 1969 pp 90, 119]

* 1971 Abraham Ravich claims that circumcision prevents cancer of the bladder and the rectum. [Viral carcinogenesis in venereally susceptible organs. Cancer 1971 Jun;27(6)1493-6]

* 1971 The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Fetus and Newborn issues a warning to the Nation that, "There are no valid medical indications for circumcision in the neonatal period." [Committee on Fetus and Newborn Issues. Circumcision. Hospital Care of Newborn Infants 5th Edition. Evanston, Ill: American Academy of Pediatrics; 1971 p 110]

* 1973 R. Dagher, Melvin Selzer, and Jack Lapides declare that anyone who disagrees with their agenda to impose mass circumcision on America is deluded. [Carcinoma of the penis and the anti-circumcision crusade. Journal of Urology 1973 Jul;110(1):79-80]

* 1975 The American Academy of Pediatrics Task force on Circumcision declares, "There are no medical indications for routine circumcisions and the procedure cannot be considered an essential component of health care." [Report on the ad hoc task force on circumcision. Pediatrics 1975;56:610-1]

* 1976 Benjamin Spock, after recommending circumcision for thirty years, revises his best-selling parenting book: "I strongly recommend leaving the foreskin alone. Parents should insist on convincing reasons for circumcision and there are no convincing reasons that I know of." [Baby and Child Care, New York, E P Dutten, 1946-76]

* 1985 Thomas E. Wiswell claims that circumcision prevents urinary tract infections. [Decreased incidence of urinary tract infections in circumcised male infants. Pediatrics 1985 May;75(5):901-3]

* 1986 Aaron J. Fink claims that circumcision prevents AIDS. [A possible explanation for heterosexual male infection with AIDS. New England Journal of Medicine 1986 Oct 30;31(18):1167]

* 1988 Aaron J. Fink invents the falsehood that circumcision prevents neonatal group B streptococcal disease. [Is hygiene enough? Circumcision as a possible strategy to prevent group B streptococcal disease. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 1988 Aug;159 (2):534-5]

* 1989 Under the direction of Edgar J. Schoen, the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Circumcision declares circumcision is necessary. [Report of the Task Force on Circumcision. Pediatrics 1989 Aug;84(2):388-91]

* 1991 Edgar J. Schoen tries and fails to convince European countries to institute mass circumcision. [Is it time for Europe to reconsider newborn circumcision? Acta Paediatrica Scandanavian 1991 May;8(5)573-7]

* 1991 Aaron J. Fink declares mass circumcision is necessary to prevent sand from getting into the soldiers' foreskins. [Circumcision and sand. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 1991 Nov;84(11):696]

* 1996 J.R. Taylor finds that the average amount of amputated foreskin was nearly half of the total penile skin. [The prepuce: Specialized mucosa of the penis and its loss to circumcision. British Journal of Urology 1996 Feb;77:291-5]

* 1997 Edgar J. Schoen tries and fails once again to convince European countries to institute mass circumcision. [Benefits of newborn circumcision: Is Europe ignoring the medical evidence? Archives of Diseases of Childhood 1997 Sep;7(3):258-60]

* 1997 Janice Lander discovers that circumcision without anesthesia is traumatic for babies. (Note: Before this, almost all infant circumcisions were done without anesthetic due to the prevalent belief among circumcisers that babies are not capable of feeling significant pain and if they could it doesn't matter since they won't be able to remember it.) [Comparison of ring block, dorsal penile nerve block, and topical anesthesia for neonatal circumcision. Journal of the American Medical Association 1997 Dec;274(24):2157-2162]

* 1998 Howard Stang, inventor of an upright circumcision restraint fails to mention this conflict of interest in his article promoting infant circumcision. [Patent #5,160,185, Infant support and restraint system 1992] [Circumcision Practice Patterns in the United States, Pediatrics, 1998 Jun;101(6):E5]

* 1999 J. R. Taylor, after studying the foreskin's specialized innervation, concludes that it is the "primary erogenous tissue necessary for normal sexual function." [The prepuce. British Journal of Urology 1999 Jan;83(1):34-44]

* 1999 The American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Circumcision, after reviewing 40 years worth of medical studies, concluded that the "potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision... are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision." This report is also the first time the AAP has acknowledged(after decades of doctors mindlessly repeating the belief that babies don't feel significant pain) that circumcision without anesthesia is traumatic and if circumcision is to be done, anesthesia should be used. Here are some highlights from the report:
_______Role of Hygiene: "there is little evidence to affirm the association between circumcision status and optimum penile hygiene."
_______STDs including HIV:"behavioral factors appear to be far more important than circumcision status."
_______Penile Cancer: "in a developed country such as the United States, penile cancer is a rare disease and the risk of penile cancer developing in an uncircumcised man, although increased compared with a circumcised man, is low."
_______Urinary Tract Infections: "breastfeeding was shown to have a threefold protective effect on the incidence of UTI in a sample of uncircumcised infants. However, breastfeeding status has not been evaluated systematically in studies assessing UTI and circumcision status." meaning that the earlier UTIs studies results were confounded. Even if their numbers were accurate, in order to prevent one UTI during the first year of life by circumcising a baby boy, approximately 195 babies who will not get a UTI would need to be circumcised. Also infant girls commonly develop UTIs(in some studies at even higher rates than infant boys) and the standard treatment for them is antibiotics which works just as well for infant boys with UTIs. The AAP concludes this section noting that "the absolute risk of developing a UTI in an uncircumcised male infant is low (at most, ~1%)".
_______Ethics: Here they say while even though cutting off part of your baby's genitalia "is not essential to the child's current well-being" they are perfectly fine with parents and doctors using cultural tradition as justification.
(Note: The report does not mention whether they also think cultural tradition is an acceptable reason to anesthetize infant girls and then cut off their clitoral hoods(which are biologically analogous to foreskin)). [Task Force on Circumcision. Circumcision Policy Statement. Pediatrics 1999;103 (3):686-693]

* 2002 W.K. Nahm extends the storage life of specialized cell cultures derived from "freshly harvested neonatal foreskin tissue." (Note: Since the 1980s, some amputated infant foreskins have been sold without the knowledge of the parents to biomedical companies for research and even use in commercial cosmetic products such as anti-wrinkle creams.) [Sustained ability for fibroblast outgrowth from stored neonatal foreskin. Journal of Dermatology Science. 2002 Feb;28(2):152-8]

* 2003 Edgar J. Schoen steps up pressure on American Academy of Pediatrics to reverse its policy on circumcision, claiming that circumcision prevents AIDS. [It's wise to circumcise: time to change policy. Pediatrics. 2003 Jun;111(6 Pt 1):1490 -1]

* 2005 R.Y. Stallings finds that HIV rates are significantly lower in circumcised women. (Note: There was no WHO call for mass female circumcision to help prevent AIDS) [Female circumcision and HIV infection in Tanzania: for better or for worse? Third International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis and Treatment. Rio de Janeiro, 25-27 July 2005]

* 2007 R.C. Bailey ends his study early with the conclusion touting circumcision as a 'vaccine' that prevents HIV infection. (Note: This and other similar studies were widely reported throughout the American media.) [Male circumcision for HIV prevention for young men in Kisumu, Kenya. Lancet 2007;369 (9562):643-56]

* 2007 L. de Witte finds that Langerhans cells found in the foreskin are a natural barrier to HIV infection. (Note: This and other similar studies were widely ignored throughout the American media.) [Langerin is a natural barrier to HIV-1 transmission by Langerhans cells. Nature Medicine 2007;(13):367-371]

* 2007 M. Sorrells tests the relative sensitivity of the penis and finds that the foreskin is the most sensitive part of the penis and the glans is the least. [Fine touch pressure thresholds in the adult penis. British Journal of Urology International. 2007;99:864-9]

"Historically, circumcision has been touted to cure whatever disease at the time was on the minds of the population." --Steve Scott

For a referenced discussion(comprehensible to non-professionals) of the more recent claims within the medical literature that routine infant circumcision is effective in preventing UTIs, STDs, AIDS, various cancers, sand accumulation etc, visit: http://www.cirp.org/library/disease/

Most of the timeline was assembled by Dan Bollinger from the Fall 2003 article: Circumcision Timeline - A History of Medical Error, Medical Fraud, and Medical Abuse by Frederick Hodges in issue 71 of The Compleat Mother. Feel free to repost all or part of this timeline elsewhere:-)

A variant of this timeline is available in slideshow form: http://www.icgi.org/medicalization/
And in youtube video form: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4unKTMpBGA