Purity and Danger and Foreskin

Posted by Madam Bubby


I was born into a world where baby boys were routinely circumcised, whether they were Jewish or not. Hygienic purposes. (These were also the days when nurses wore caps, which were later deemed to be unhygienic. Go figure.)

These were also the days when women at least in middle class white America were knocked out in order to give birth. Babies were kept in rooms behind windows, often in incubators even if they weren’t under five pounds, held up for viewing like specimens by nurses in crisp white caps. (I am remembering the episode of the birth of Little Ricky on I Love Lucy, which corresponded to Lucille Ball scheduling a caesarian section for the birth of her son, Desi Arnaz, Jr.)


Ricky in the hospital waiting room, from I Love Lucy
Ricky in the hospital waiting room (Source)


It's like anything that resembled the nitty gritty raw materials of sex and blood and birth and death was hidden, sterilized as much as possible. Dirt was disorder. Sex was dirty unless it produced babies, but giving birth to those babies was a disordered process that required forceps and scalpels and anesthesia to control it, get it out of the realm of actual living.




And of course any type of sex other than what took place behind closed doors in a missionary position for procreative purposes was generally deemed dirty and disordered. Thus LGBTQ persons themselves were deemed by the general population as irredeemably dirty, unless they could cleanse themselves and rejoin the pristine world of Father Knows Best, itself but an idealized fantasy.

Mary Douglas in her seminal book Purity and Danger explored this primal desire to contain dirt and disorder, like the way we still keep our basic bodily functions of urination and defecation in a toilet which is supposed to be sparkling clean and in a room that is also supposed to be sparkling clean. The toilet itself is an image that contains in itself this fraught tension which informs our attitudes toward sexuality and even to parts of the body that one uses to express that sexuality.


Purity and Danger cover
Purity and Danger cover

Scrubbing a toilet


Thus, that foreskin had to be brutally cut off, to cleanse, make pure, the member of an appendage would make its appearance and its role sexual act even more exciting, promising deep, dark, rich scents and that pungent but also enticing smegma.

It revealed the mystery in order to contain it. When I experienced sexually a man who was uncut for the first time (in the bathroom, and in the shower, ironically), which could imply he was somehow more complete, even “holy” which word can also mean complete, I experienced mystery. And in that mystery, glory, and by glory, I am thinking of not a vague disembodied entity or feeling in the clouds, but physical reality itself charged with an energy that creates and propels the orgasm but also encompasses it.


Images from The U.N.C.U.T. Club of L.A. & Club Mandom 1: Blue Collar Cheese Factory
Images from The U.N.C.U.T. Club of L.A. (top) and Club Mandom 1: Blue Collar Cheese Factory (bottom)


His phallus contained on it a boundary, and it’s through crossing boundaries one grows, changes, lives, dies. I could experience at that time a fullness and as I said above, a mystery that transcended the rigid binaries which result from treating sexual, in fact, all human experience as something we have to dissect with scalpels and pull apart with forceps.

I’m not advocating for an end to circumcision, as it is a boundary-crossing, consensual ritual of initiation for males in many cultures, but, significantly, also a source of horrific pain and suffering for so many, especially women and girls who are circumcised in order to completely suppress their sexual desire, eliminate it like it is indeed something dirty and thus disordered. They in essence are forced into becoming objects only defined by what the culture deems as purity, but at the same time depriving them of living as full, complete persons.

Yes, there’s dangerous realities we do need to contain, as a virus plagues the world and we must first try and control it, then eradicate it, by amplifying up to the nth degree our bathroom rituals of cleansing and purifying. But our complicated, messy, exciting and ultimately glorious sexuality can and should become for humans both dangerous and pure, exploding the tension in that binary if only for a moment. A holy moment.

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"Are You Jewish by Hospitalization?" The Origins of Circumcision


I am not Jewish by birth (I was by marriage, rather, but that's a long story), but Jewish by hospitalization. During the time period I was born, in the United States, the majority of Gentile baby boys went under the knife, supposedly for hygienic reasons. 

(And unlike Jewish baby boys, I wasn't the focus of a big bris party with tons of deli. Not that I would have remembered anyway. Oh well...) 

Rabi eating

Why even circumcise? There's a clear directive in Genesis 17; all male descendants of Abraham on the eight day after birth, require foreskin removal. Thus both Jews and Muslims follow the practice, Muslims because they regard themselves as descendants of Abraham through his first son, Ishmael. 

But though this text, from a source in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) called the “P” or “Priestly” source that concerns itself primarily with rituals and explanations for their origins and practices, seems to imply that the practice began with the ancient Israelites, it actually did not. 

Many of the nations who bordered on Israel practiced it, including the Egyptians, the Moabites, and the Ammonites. The Philistines did not practice it (Judges 14:3 and I Samuel 17:26). Thus, one of the most famous Philistines, the nine-foot tall Goliath, most probably sported a huge uncut cock. 

big uncut cock

The Egyptians waited until puberty to perform the ritual; in that culture and in many other cultures, it was a rite of passage for young men. In Genesis 34, after the rape of their sister Dinah by a Canaanite prince, Jacob's sons insist he be circumcised before he can marry her. (Yes, this story is in the Bible. It's quite shocking on many levels. Check it out.

Based on the Bible, it's not clear if the Israelites originally performed the ritual at puberty; the “P” sources that claim it should be done on infants are rather late. 


Before/AFter Circumcision illustration

Some Jewish athletes around the time of the Maccabees (2nd century B.C.E.), actually underwent an incredibly painful procedure to surgically create a foreskin in order to participate in Greek competitions, which meant they would no longer be Jewish. 

St. Paul in Romans 4:1-12, writing a few decades after the life and death of Jesus (a Jew, and thus he was circumcised; see Luke 2:21), claims that Christians don't need to be circumcised like Jews, as their salvation is not contingent on being physically born of a certain people. 

By the way, someone supposedly saved Jesus' foreskin. It is called the Holy Prepuce. (Ew … ) 


Painting: Circumcision of Jesus

Yet, as I mentioned above, circumcision became a mainstream medical practice in the United States and in the United Kingdom, especially in the middle twentieth century. Some reasons included: a fear that uncircumcised men would more easily spread venereal disease; the view of childbirth and anything associated with it (including the baby) as the object of a sterile medical procedure that should only occur in a hospital; and a deep-rooted hostility to masturbation (not that being cut precludes one from wanking off). 

Since the 1970s, doctors in the United States have come to realize that removing the foreskin on baby boys is unnecessary, potentially harmful, and possibly unethical, unless some medical emergency or specific condition requires it. 

Check out our titles that feature famous cut and uncut cocks. Cut or uncut, the cock is still a cock. 


uncut cock and cut cock


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