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Circumcision, sexual dysfunction and the child's best interests: why the anatomical details matter
  1. David P Lang
  1. Correspondence to David P Lang, Department of Philosophy, Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Ave, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467, USA; david.lang{at}

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In his contribution to the Journal of Medical Ethics, Joseph Mazor1 makes a logical case, based on the premises underlying his reasoning, for his article's primary thesis: he concludes that parents have the prerogative to determine the ‘best interests’ of their infant son in a circumcision decision. If the facts of the matter were ultimately no different from what he adduces, one could admit the soundness of his argument. But the paper is flawed by some questionable assumptions and grievous incompleteness.

First, the author insufficiently explores the profound implications of a serious equivocation in the term ‘circumcision’ that is common throughout the literature. He does superficially reference the article on ‘Circumcision’ in The Jewish Encyclopedia, which describes in detail the actual steps involved in brit milah versus brit periah.2 Despite this general allusion, though, he hardly discusses the matter further, as though the distinction were practically irrelevant. It does have fundamental import, however. Milah is merely a token clip of the very tip (the overhang flap or akroposthion) of the prepuce, which leaves most of the organ system (including all its essential functions) intact. This was evidently the version practiced in biblical times under the old Abrahamic–Mosaic covenant, before the Talmudic guardians of Judaic ethnic and religious identity proposed (around 150 AD) a means to prevent Hellinising Jewish men from attempting foreskin restoration by stretching their remaining preputial tissue forward. The rabbis mandated the replacement of milah with the more drastic procedure of periah, a radical surgery that cuts and tears from the penis its entire covering, leaving the glans irreversibly denuded. Unlike traditional milah, the innovation of periah necessarily has significant adverse consequences (delineated below).

Second, Mazor concedes that circumcision (periah) might cause a ‘moderate’ reduction of sexual pleasure in the lad's …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • i Of course, it could be pointed out that the special issue to which Dr Mazor submitted his article was concerned with the ethics of infant male circumcision specifically; however, one wonders whether Dr Mazor has felt it relevant or motivating to draft additional articles for other journals concerning the permissibility of pre-emptively amputating body parts besides the prepuce.

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