PHIMOSIS THROUGH THE AGES
INDEX AND SUMMARY
of ANTHROPOLOGICAL LITERATURE on PHIMOSIS
The sexual significance of the circumcised penis vs. the uncircumcised has been discussed by
almost every anthropologist since the days of Philo, Herodotus and
other names which bear witness to their antiquity -
(For general background info please see : Advised Anthropological Literature)
Diderot`s Encyclopédie (Fr) (1779)
Diderot English Translation
Ploss original German
Ploss English translation
Richard Andree (.de) (1889)
Heinrich Schurtz (.de) (1902)
B. Renz (.de) revising Ploss (1912)
Hastings Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (1910)
Bryk original German
Bryk English translation
Mircea Eliade`s Encyclopedia of Religion (1987)
For general background info please see : Advised Anthropological Literature
Following is a summary of anthropological literature regarding
phimosis. A web of sub-files are linked to each individual
researcher. - The only anthropologists who show
any understanding of the specific sexual effects of phimosis were Bryk and Ploss.
DIDEROT - 1779
Diderot`s Encyclopédie shows considerable knowledge of phimosis and indicates some of the sexual problems involved with foreskin conditions.
He makes one
small implication that phimosis could be connected with the routine operation.
PLOSS - 1880s
Ploss is a time honoured authority in the entire anthropological field.
Ploss's theory on the Origin of Routine Male Circumcision (published
in 1884) is to my knowledge the first time in an anthropological treatise
that phimosis was specifically indicated as cause and origin of the
He concludes the Jewish practice was due to thoughts of ensuring offspring and numerous posterity,
and he backs this up with Bible quotes, (and an awareness of fertility would be expected among such an advanced
When he talks of natural peoples Ploss principally discusses the
normal appearance of the adult penis and the questionable or worrying appearance of infant phimosis, he talks
of phimosis "causing difficulties during sexual activity", "as being
more or less an obstacle to coitus", even that circumcision occurred
at an age preparing for merely "the enjoyment of sex" ... "which
prepares for sexual adulthood".
Plosses theory only received the rather limited interpretation
that phimosis only hindered fertility. The original German and English translation
are made available and please see paragraphs 3 and 4 which are the passages concerning Ploss's central theory.
ANDREE AND SCHURTZ - 1890s
Even the highly respected Andree rejected his previous indecision (1881)
and embraced what he understood as Plosses new theory about fertility.
The theories on fertility should be in fact credited to Schurtz
(1902) who never mentions phimosis, but who "agrees" with Ploss - even
going so far as suggesting that following circumcision`s success (at increasin fertility), mutilations
such as subincision were introduced to reduce the subsequent unwanted
over population ....
RENZ - 1912
In 1912 Plosses original work was rewritten and considerably updated
by Renz complete with Renz`s theories on the spiritual elevation of
fertility, suggesting routine circumcision sanctified the generative
faculties, as complement and expression of the fertility cult.
In 1899 Spencer and Gillan broke the news which is now an accepted
anthropological fact : native peoples have no concept of the relationship
between semen and fertility (see- fertility).
Even though the medical discussion still continued on whether phimosis
did or did not hinder fertility (till at least 1960), as far as
any anthropological theories were concerned fertility was invalid
as explanation for any of the customs and practices of the natural
HASTINGS - 1910
Hastings Encyclopedia of Religion gives an excellent introduction to
the subject in its entirety. Louis H. Gray who wrote the article, shows
a good knowledge of foreskin conditions and modern medical practice
concerning infections and even impotence, but does not make any connection
between modern and ancient surgery.
Throughout the entire article on the ancient practice he indicates
a number of general sexual reasons for the operation, but he mentions
phimosis only once, when he quotes Ploss suggesting "as an
attempt to correct nature, and, by averting phimosis, to ensure
offspring for the person operated on. The frequent performance of
the rite long before puberty he interprets as an effort to guarantee
the child a posterity as numerous as possible'" (77).
Louis H. Gray is the only researcher (apart from myself), who relies
on Plosses original text instead of Renzs rewritten misinterpretation.
In Jensen's entire book on circumcision, his only mention of phimosis
is where he rejects Ploss who suggests "as reason the correction
of phimosis which we reject, along with many other attempts at explanations,
because this suggests that the originators of this practice had
ulterior motives and from everything we know of them, this was certainly
far from these peoples way of thinking." (43).
(implicitly referring to the principle that natural peoples had
no understanding of fertility - though Jensen`s logic is not apparent
then "the correction of phimosis" which is what Ploss
suggested is not the fertility for which he is rejected ... nevertheless
... rather than bore you with Jensen ...).
The Summary of Bryk gives quotes and references in full
Bryk's book is the most detailed study of circumcision. He devotes 116 pages to the origins of the practice. Bryk`s study is entertaining and enlightening, however it also displays
his ability for academic debate of all possible angles and this can
confuse the reader!
Bryk based his understanding of routine circumcision on "the foreskin complex" and the natural response to this was to uncover the glans, which he calls denudation. He refers to many cultures
where an almost intuitive uncovering of the glans takes place. He
establishes (Bryk`s italics) "This mechanical uncovering of the glans is the fundamental
motive for circumcision." - Undoubtedly
this is a very common and elementary occurrence, sometimes even a custom, but as he says "It did not cause circumcision, but stimulated
it and prepared the ground" He argues that this
"prepared the ground" for observations in the animal and
adult world, which provided the "impetus" to introduce circumcision
as a routine measure.
Bryk discusses at great length the "foreskin complex"
as though this were a general problem with foreskins, which mysteriously sometimes displays disconnected symptoms, however, he fails
to identify the symptoms of frenulum
breve and phimotic ring in their differing lengths and forms.
"... the foreskin often places
a decided restriction in the way, which is sometimes even painful,
for after penetration the glans can be strangulated,
which complicates the act, or, when the prepuce does not lay the glans
bare, ..." - Here, Bryk
describes paraphimosis and phimosis without actually naming them
Bryk continues quoting Eylmann and demonstrating his clear lack of understanding
. "Cases of the sort where the opening is so small, that making
love causes pain, and even urinating is not easy occur so seldomly
that our discussion does not need to take them into consideration."
All the different degrees can not be jumbled together in one sentence.
The degrees of phimosis which cause pain during sex do not restrict
urination. (see Phimosis)--- Concerning the frenulum he writes "by which the glans
of the penis is drawn crooked during erection, ejaculation is made
more difficult". (see Frenulum)
He understands phimosis as a rarity, and he fails to identify phimosis in its various forms and symptoms. He argues "the foreskin complex" as a general problem with foreskins with denudation as the natural response.
LEYMANN - 1950s
In 1957 Leymann presents the most recent anthropological source
available to me which mentions phimosis. He jumbles phimosis and
infections together as `hygienic' reasons for the operation, and
then says that hygienic reasons will "always remain individual
The logic of the above discussions was accepted as common
sense, and as hygiene and fertility were discounted, and anyway
as phimosis only required "an occasional operation" then
any theories on phimosis vanished from the books. Bettelheim Weiss
and Eliade`s Religious
Encyclopedia not even mentioning foreskin conditions except
in one remarkable passage:
BETTELHEIM - 1960s
Bettelheim's is a wonderful source book, but he never mentions phimosis. He collectively discards all
theories to do with fertility, (including Freud`s
oedipus complex) for the reasons given in the discussion on fertility.
His psychological perspective on the subject is truly fascinating, but he missed the obvious, the physical.
In one remarkable passage about a
boy suffering painful adhesions, Bettelheim says: "From
this we cannot draw conclusions about the emotions of boys in pre
literate societies toward circumcision, if they are not suffering
from adhesions." (12).
He does not seem to have realised that practically all infants suffer
NOTE: Hastings, Bryk and Bettelheim are wonderful source books (moreso than the inspired Ploss who unfortuantely rambles repetitively) well worth reading, thoroughly
researched, offering intelligent information and thought on many
aspects of circumcision.
ELIADE - (1987)
A modern perspective on the
subject. Short, balanced explanation of the modern anthropologist's thinking on the subject. Eliade never mentions phimosis.
For general background info please see : Advised Anthropological Literature