Paul M. Fleiss, MD. “The Case Against Circumcision”. Mothering. Winter 1997 – Millions of years of evolution have fashioned the human body into a model of refinement, elegance, and efficiency, with every part having a function and purpose. Evolution has determined that mammals’ genitals should be sheathed in a protective, responsive, multipurpose foreskin. Every normal human being is born with a foreskin. In females, it protects the glans of the clitoris; in males, it protects the glans of the penis. Thus, the foreskin is an essential part of human sexual anatomy.
Information about the foreskin itself is almost always missing from discussions about circumcision. The mass circumcision campaigns of the past few decades have resulted in pandemic ignorance about this remarkable structure and its versatile role in human sexuality. Ignorance and false information about the foreskin are the rule in American medical literature, education, and practice. Most American medical textbooks depict the human penis, without explanation, as circumcised, as if it were so by nature.
What Is the Foreskin?
The foreskin is a uniquely specialized, sensitive, functional organ of touch. No other part of the body serves the same purpose. As a modified extension of the penile shaft skin, the foreskin covers and usually extends beyond the glans before folding under itself and finding its circumferential point of attachment just behind the corona (the rim of the glans). The foreskin is, therefore, a double-layered organ. Its true length is twice the length of its external fold and comprises as much as 80 percent or more of the penile skin covering.6,7
The foreskin contains a rich concentration of blood vessels and nerve endings. It is lined with the peripenic muscle sheet, a smooth muscle layer with longitudinal fibers. These muscle fibers are whirled, forming a kind of sphincter that ensures optimum protection of the urinary tract from contaminants of all kinds.
Like the undersurface of the eyelids or the inside of the cheek, the undersurface of the foreskin consists of mucous membrane. It is divided into two distinct zones: the soft mucosa and the ridged mucosa. The soft mucosa lies against the glans penis and contains ectopic sebaceous glands that secrete emollients, lubricants, and protective antibodies. Similar glands are found in the eyelids and mouth.
Adjacent to the soft mucosa and just behind the lips of the foreskin is the ridged mucosa. This exquisitely sensitive structure consists of tightly pleated concentric bands, like the elastic bands at the top of a sock. These expandable pleats allow the foreskin lips to open and roll back, exposing the glans. The ridged mucosa gives the foreskin its characteristic taper.
On the underside of the glans, the foreskin’s point of attachment is advanced toward the meatus (urethral opening) and forms a bandlike ligament called the frenulum. It is identical to the frenulum that secures the tongue to the floor of the mouth. The foreskin’s frenulum holds it in place over the glans, and, in conjunction with the smooth muscle fibers, helps return the retracted foreskin to its usual forward position over the glans.
Dr. Spock stated, “I feel that there’s no solid medical evidence at this time to support routine circumcision.” He recommends “leaving the foreskin the way Nature meant it to be.”