Circumcision and the Socially Imagined Sexual Body


In a generation, Australia has changed from a country where most boys are circumcised in infancy to one where circumcision is the minority experience.

Proponents argue that routine circumcision is desirable because it protects against a number of conditions. Yet circumcision can be seen rather as a sociocultural intervention with post hoc medical justification. As a form of body modification, it serves to exaggerate the visual difference between male and female. Reducing the ambiguity and untidiness of the penis turns it into a neat phallus more specifically fitted for what is seen as its purpose in a gendered sexual culture focused on coitus. Does circumcision reduce penile sensitivity?

Applying the methods of evidence-based medicine to this question has problems, centrally that of how 'sensitivity' is to be measured. The nature of the loss is in a sense 'unspeakable' and for many people unimaginable, because the reception of delicate sensation is not part of their notion of masculine sexuality.


Juliet Richters
National Centre in HIV Social Research, University of New South Wales, NSW


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circumcision, sexuality, masculinity, sexual dimorphism, social constructionism, sociology


PP: 248 - 257

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