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Soc Biol. 1997 Fall-Winter;44(3-4):265-75.

A biocultural analysis of circumcision.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, MetroHealth Medical Center, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio 44106, USA.


The phenomenon of circumcision may well serve a range of religious and symbolic functions. In addition to these conceptual categories, we argue that circumcision also serves a more mundane, practical function of lowering excitability and distractibility quotients--sexual arousal--of pubescent males, i.e., biasing young males more toward increased tractability which would enhance group efforts and less toward individual goals of amorous exchanges. Neurological data suggest that early lesions of the prepuce/foreskin tissues would generate a re-organization/atrophy of the brain circuitry. This re-organization/atrophy, in turn, is suggested to lower sexual excitability. Epithelial data indicate that keratinization of the more exposed glans penis would lower the sensibility, hence sexual excitability, of the circumcised male's genitalia. In addition, circumcision removes the foreskin-prepuce which, by secreting smegma, would also minimize any pheromonic qualities which the smegma may generate. Inferential data support the hypothesis that a practical consequence of circumcision, complementary to any religious-symbolic function, is to make a circumcised male less sexually excitable and distractible, and, hence, more amenable to his group's authority figures.

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