I'll never forget my first Leon. In my case, Leon was a foreign exchange student from the Ukraine who attended my high school during our junior year. The first time I saw his uncircumcised penis in the locker room showers, my jaw dropped. For three days, my friends and I assumed that all foreigners were born with funny-looking penises.
In time, our coach, who also taught health education, explained that we all started out just like Leon -- uncircumcised. In fact, our Midwestern, circumcised units were actually the minority when compared to the rest of the world.
Circumcision is a fairly simple procedure, typically performed shortly after an infant's birth. The foreskin of the penis is snipped and removed. The procedure is performed for religious reasons (within the Jewish and Islamic faiths) or social reasons (dad's penis is circumcised). In the 1800s, it was believed that circumcision helped prevent masturbation. Any circumcised man, however, will tell you this is not true.
To Snip or Not to Snip? It is widely -- and falsely -- believed that uncircumcised men stand a greater risk of penile cancer. "As long as the penis is kept clean, there is no linkage between uncircumcised penises and a higher risk of penile cancer," says J. Antonio Alacron, M.D., a urologist in Monterey Park, CA. In fact, in 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics revised its circumcision policy statement and concluded that there is not sufficient data to support the supposed potential health benefits of circumcision. The organization no longer advocates routine neonatal circumcision.
Alacron says that only 1 to 2 percent of males need to be circumcised for medical reasons. Phimosis (the foreskin will not retract) and paraphimosis (the foreskin will not go back over the head of the penis once retracted) are conditions that require circumcision to alleviate the problem.
If you are sporting the uncut look, you do have to take a little extra care in the hygiene department. Alacron recommends a simple soap and water routine. First, make sure that the foreskin is rolled back so that a good cleansing can take place. Following cleansing, the head of the penis should be dried, and then the skin should be pulled back over the head.
How's It Hanging? The difference between a circumcised penis and an uncircumcised one is largely cosmetic. Because most male Americans are circumcised as infants, a circumcised penis is the one we tend to be most familiar with. A circumcised penis is comprised of a smooth shaft topped by the head of the penis. In contrast, an uncircumcised penis has the foreskin still attached. When the penis is flaccid, this foreskin extends over the head, resembling a stocking cap.
One "look" isn't better than the other. However, because we tend to be suspicious of things that are unfamiliar, uncircumcised men have been subjected to plenty of stares in locker rooms. (It's a safe bet that Leon's equipment wouldn't have raised any eyebrows back in the Ukraine.)
Penis fashions, like clothing fashions, don't stand still, and yesterday's hot look is today's old news. Today, circumcision rates in the United States are falling. The National Center for Health Statistics in Hyattsville, MD., placed the U.S. rate at around 64 percent in 1995, the last year for which figures are available. The rate is much lower in other countries. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, circumcision is not the majority in Asia, South America, or most of Europe.
Size Doesn't Matter According to Alacron, circumcision does not affect the size of the erect penis, so you can stop blaming your mom's obstetrician for your teeny peeny. When erect, the uncut penis extends through the foreskin, and for the most part looks like the erect penis of the circumcised male. There is also no medical evidence that one is better off either way in the area of sexual performance. However, anti-circumcision advocates argue that the head of the uncircumcised penis is more sensitive due to the protective nature of the foreskin when not aroused.
A New Look? Some men choose to be circumcised as adults, typically for either religious (conversion to another faith) or cosmetic (they want to have the circumcised look) reasons. Chances are you don't need the operation for medical reasons, and if you're only doing it to change the appearance, think hard about your choice. If you're circumcised and would like to revert to your au naturel state, it is possible to reverse a circumcision through constant stretching of the skin in order to form a new foreskin. However, this can take years to accomplish.
The circumcised versus uncircumcised battle has reached new heights in recent years. There is now a worldwide anti-circumcision movement that is vehement about eliminating the procedure, just as there is increased attention to female genital mutilation. New parents may be surprised to discover that what was once a personal matter between parent and physician has become a political one.
If you are considering a circumcision or a method of reforming the foreskin, make sure you get all the facts from a medical professional so that you can make an informed decision. And the best advice regarding Mr. Happy may just be, if he ain't broke, don't fix him.