The Jews were right all along

Price LB, Liu CM, Johnson KE, Aziz M, Lau MK, et al. (2010) The effects of circumcision on the penis microbiome. PLoS ONE 5(1): e8422. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008422


  1. jimvj
    Posted January 6, 2010 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Just like YHWH to go for a drastic solution. Like flooding a whole planet instead of just nixing the bad humans. And prescribing genital mutilation instead of good hygiene. Why tell guys to wash regularly when you can create jobs for snippers?

    • Hempenstein
      Posted January 6, 2010 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

      Not to mention taxidermists!

  2. james
    Posted January 6, 2010 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    I think the foreskin is a reservoir of weapons for sperm competition.

  3. thatguy
    Posted January 6, 2010 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    This kind of stuff just depresses me. This will cause more parents to mutilate their children with a procedure that should have been banned.

    • Rank Merida
      Posted January 6, 2010 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

      Parents can always leave the choice to the children.
      I submitted to circumcision at age 10. It was a sort of coming-of-age ritual in our community. You’d be taunted if you’re still uncircumcised when you’re grown up.
      Excuse if I may spoil someone’s meal but in my time we did not go to doctors for circumcision. That would brand you a sissy. We had to see a local blacksmith who had a specially sharpened one-edged knife for the purpose. There were others who could do circumcision. But this particular blacksmith had a different method. He’d insert the knife’s point inside the foreskin with the sharp edge towards the skin. Then he would strike the foreskin with a fresh twig from a certain plant until the knife cuts through. Uouch!!
      The blacksmith would then apply freshly scraped pulp from a coconut tree on the bloody foreskin. In the next few days the children would be unable to wear any underwear due to the swelling foreskin. They would drape themselves with oversized shirts which they would carefully grasp near the groin so that the cloth would not touch the swelled foreskin because it would be painful. And as they walk about, the oversized shirts would seem to be badges of courage. Imagine submitting to such harrowing mutilation with nary a whimper.
      Nowadays, like my son, they’d be brought to a doctor and would feel no pain at all. And parents do not need to force them; peer pressure will do the trick.

  4. Gerald
    Posted January 6, 2010 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Or worse: Some circumcised men will think they’re immune to STDs and will stop using condoms.

  5. goy-married-boy
    Posted January 6, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    So timely – I just attended a bris this weekend and was feeling appalled at the tradition. At least now I know there is a possible upside (sorry, not buying the covenant with god explanation). Otherwise, oy vey, I pray for female offspring!

  6. Hempenstein
    Posted January 6, 2010 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    Maybe right about that, but what about the pork & shellfish business?

  7. Posted January 6, 2010 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    The Jews may have been right, but leave it to the Christians to terrorize people with it. In case you didn’t click through, the study was done on Ugandan men. That’s men, as in adult circumcision. I don’t think they were using the services of a mohel. Link has jokes, Wikipedia rocks!

    I wonder if the Pope is supporting this.

    • SLC
      Posted January 7, 2010 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      Considering that Yeshua of Nazareth underwent the procedure on what is now New Years Day, I don’t see what Joe the rat or any other Christian clergyman has to bitch about.

  8. Posted January 6, 2010 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    Oh man, you’ve got to read the Introduction, the first paragraph is a doozy. But this the best by far:

    “However, large-scale population-based male circumcision programs may not always be feasible due to cultural, logistical, and financial barriers.”

    How about pain threshold barriers? Or rational thought barriers? Oy vey!

  9. Sigmund
    Posted January 7, 2010 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    So the authors discovered that surgically removing a part of the body leads to a decrease in the levels of bacteria that can live on that part?
    What next, a piece about the decrease in athletes foot in double leg amputees?
    I noticed the authors start off by stating “Circumcision is associated with significant reductions in HIV, HSV-2 and HPV infections among men and significant reductions in bacterial vaginosis among their female partners.” If you read that line carefully you will notice that it is somewhat convoluted. There is an association of circumcision (in Africa – not elsewhere) with a slight reduction in HIV transmission (although nothing near the protection offered by condoms). On the other hand there is no reduction in the levels of HIV transmission to the female partners of circumcised men – which is why they had to add a separate point about bacterial vaginosis. The trouble with extracting these African studies to a wider context is that the levels of HIV in Africa not only inversely associate with male circumcision but also with areas of female circumcision.
    How about a study on “the effects of female circumcision on the vaginal microbiome”? It would make just as much sense as the current paper.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 7, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      Yes. We can also note how removing lips would decrease the problems of lip infection. (And perhaps some teeth/mouth infection as well – it must have priority!)

      I’m always depressed by seeing the US obsession with cutting of functional organ parts for no obvious reason.

      Where was this research as to how removing foreskins changed the sexual mechanics so that females were less satisfied with both their sensation and the shortening of the sexual act. What became of that?

      Maybe we should all apply for plastic surgery to thicken our foreskins and appear irresistible for women? 😉

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted January 7, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

        Oops! “should all men apply”.

        Seems I get mono-gender tunnel vision when speaking of sex. Curious.

  10. Drosera
    Posted January 7, 2010 at 3:03 am | Permalink

    But did you know that foreskins make a good dowry? Consider this:

    “Wherefore David arose and went, he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men; and David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full tale to the king, that he might be the king’s son in law. And Saul gave him Michal his daughter to wife.” [1 Samuel 18:27]

    • AdamK
      Posted January 7, 2010 at 8:20 am | Permalink

      Which is the actual point of circumcision — war trophies. There is exactly one foreskin per enemy dead, so (like scalps) they make more reliable counters than some other body parts. And even more reliable if the soldiers on your side don’t have any.

  11. bad Jim
    Posted January 7, 2010 at 3:07 am | Permalink

    A Catholic church and a synagogue are locked in competition. The parish buys its priest a Cadillac, and he baptizes it with a sprinkling of holy water. The synagogue responds by buying its rabbi a Lincoln. He thinks for a moment, then gets the tin shears from his garage and cuts an inch off the tailpipe.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted January 7, 2010 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      Pretty good! Here’s my favorite:

      The old mohel has decided it’s time to retire, and so he goes to his friend the taxidermist with a package under his arm – forty-three years worth of foreskins.

      Here! The remnants of my life’s work. I want you should make me something special!

      What should I make?

      Surprise me!

      So he gets a call some days later and walks back into the shop. The taxidermist flips a wallet onto the counter.

      A wallet! Forty-three years I save these and this is what you make me?

      Ah, but if you rub it, it turns into a suitcase!

      • Bob
        Posted January 7, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

        Here about the Moyle who slipped and got the sack?

  12. Tim Harris
    Posted January 7, 2010 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    Not only the Jews – I suggest reading Wilfred Thesiger’s account of the quite horrific, and not uncommonly fatal or maiming for life, circumcision rituals for adolescents among certain Arab tribes – and, as with the Jews of old, it was (is? – but surreptitiously since modern governments have banned the practice) done not for hygienic reasons but for religious ones, so, I am sorry, Jerry, you can’t really say the Jews were right – they weren’t foreseeing HIV. In any event, in Britain, where I come from, and in Japan, where I live, baby boys aren’t circumcised more or less automatically, as they have been in the States, and yet, so I have heard, the incidence of HIV (in percentages of the population) is much less than it is in the States; so it seems that circumcision does not necessarily and of itself lead to a lower incidence of HIV infections: there are other factors involved.

  13. Posted January 7, 2010 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Oh no, eunuch elitism is going to make a comeback.

  14. Posted January 7, 2010 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Hoo boy, I’m surprised this thread hasn’t gotten long and venomous yet…

    My wife comes from a Jewish family and her mother was a real jerk to her about our decision not to circumcise our son. Like, really bad. It was not cool. The rest of her family was kind of incredulous (isn’t a funny coincidence how Orthodox Jews seem far more likely to interpret the medical literature as being in favor of circumcision? Go figure…)

    From my reading, unless you are living in an area with a serious HIV epidemic, e.g. many parts of Africa, then risk-benefit-wise it’s about six one way, half a dozen the other. Which is not to say new research couldn’t tip the balance somewhat, but… when in doubt, I generally don’t remove body parts from my son ;p

    That said, because there appear to be hygienic benefits that counter-balance the risk of complications from the procedure itself, I don’t feel strongly about what other people do. People should make the choice they feel is right for them (except possible in parts of Africa, where routine circumcision is probably a damn good idea, as an emergency measure to combat HIV).

    My wife is far more radical about it than I am 🙂 Which makes it tough with her family. :/

  15. Posted January 7, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Circumcision is a surgery in search of a justification. The point that it reduces infection for the same reason cutting off your feet would reduce athlete’s foot is well-taken.

    Indeed, I’m surprised at you; surely an evolutionist should understand that we probably wouldn’t have a foreskin if it were maladaptive. Genital anatomy is precisely the sort of thing that is under strict selection pressures; for foreskins to persist so long (not only in humans, but in most other mammals), either it must ultimately provide some survival benefit, or females must prefer it (I’ve seen other studies saying it improves sexual lubrication), or at the very least it can’t be very harmful.

    Circumcision is basically the same thing as all of the other forms of ritual mutilation; it’s a way of marking “our people” as different from “their people”. It just so happens that this particular religion has survived to modern times, hence this particular mutilation has survived as well.

    • MJ
      Posted January 7, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      Bzzt! Try again. Consider “People probably wouldn’t suffer from hemophilia if it were maladaptive”.

      I personally don’t understand the feet argument. You need your feet. Even if they’re prone to infection, they’re better off not removed at birth– they could come in handy (ahem, footy). The appropriate analogy might be to compare removing everyone’s appendix at birth vs. removing their foreskins. Then you have to compare the risks of the surgery (pain, complications) with the risks of not having it (infections). It’s not obvious that circumcision is wrong then– though it’s not obvious it’s right either.

      But that’s why scientists conduct and care about studies like this one.

      • Notagod
        Posted January 7, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        I’ve heard christians complain about the elective removal of the appendix but not the elective removal of the foreskin, why is that?

      • joel
        Posted January 23, 2010 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

        I’m sorry, but you cannot compare an internal organ with very little known function to EROGENOUS GENITAL TISSUE!

        The foreskin belongs to only one person, and its NOT the parents.. its the individual born with it.

        If someone doesn’t want to wear a condom, or doesn’t want to wash themselves, and they are convinced circumcision is the answer.. let them go get circumcised themselves.. but forcing it on a baby is DEAD WRONG.

        To pretend the foreskin isn’t packed full of nerve endings, and has no sexual value is INCREDIBLY naive.

        You cannot justify this practice, but that doesn’t stop a whole lot of people from trying their best to find a way to. My guess is that it has a lot to do with the huge money this practice makes.

  16. Notagod
    Posted January 7, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    This might be completely different but I’m going to ask because the study doesn’t correlate the bacteria found on the foreskin and bacteria present in seminal fluid or vaginal secretions in relationship to the occurrence of circumcision. More precisely, why didn’t they check to determine the occurrence of bacteria in the urethra and ejaculate at the same time they checked the foreskin for bacteria?

    This study concludes that circumcision doesn’t help:

  17. aratina cage
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Should we take this as an indication that the unnamed poster supports forced child circumcision? In no way were the Jews right unless someone has gotten Jerry Coyne to back off on how religion is incompatible with science.

  18. Posted January 11, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    At 72 I wonder whether a reversal would be beneficial.

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