ARC letters: Feb 1999
Bob's letters edited together in two parts: Dorsal
Slit and "skinning it back"
(please note the term "autocircumcision" does not mean
SKINNING IT BACK
Because of well-remembered problems I had as a child, I became
something of an authority on foreskins and the various ways of managing
them before I entered the US Army, which subsequently afforded me the
opportunity of observing thousands of penises of all sizes and conditions.
One method of treating the foreskin often utilized in North America
between the wars and before near-universal circumcision became established,
was simply to keep the foreskin pushed back or rolled up behind the
glans, so this stayed exposed at all times. ...
The common method of keeping the foreskin "skinned-back",
was to pull the foreskin back as far as it would go, then fold it inward
upon itself and roll it forward until it formed a sleeve of skin behind
the glans that left this permanently exposed. Without question literally
millions of American men born between 1900 and 1930 would have appeared
to the casual observer to be circumcised, but they were not. ... I
once heard one man in a theater line (all male) at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky,
tell a companion, 'Mine looks circumcised but it's not; it just stays
skinned-back all the time." Then I heard one GI tell another,
"I'm not skinned-back like him.!"
A doctor from Saginaw, Michigan writing in 1951 coined the term
"autocircumcision" to name the condition of a penis that
appeared circumcised but had no history of surgery. He estimated
at the time he was writing that probably 1/3 of the males living
in his area of practice were circumcised, with a greater proportion
of the population among younger men and boys. He estimated that of
men born in 1900, 5 percent were circumcised, 15 percent were autocircumcised,
and the remaining 80 percent remained as God had made them. He assumed
that most of the autocircumcised were that way through their own
choice; nobody else had made them alter their penises. Nowadays,
almost 50 years after the time he wrote, the estimate is that some
85 percent of males living in the Midwestern USA are circumcised,
so very few boys were left with a foreskin to modify for themselves,
as many of their grandfathers had done. Most of the autocircumcised
men you'll find in North America today are 70 years of age and older.
Historically, one group of Native Americans at least, the Lakotah
branch of the Sioux, also practiced autocircumcision commonly. According to Ruth Beebe Hill (in Hanto Yo, Doubleday,
Garden City, New York, 1979) their word for the adult penis translates
literally as "foreskin pushed back." I submit that these men practiced
autocircumcision for other than aesthetic reasons. The value of anyh
practice that eliminated non-venereal penile infections would be
high in a population of nomads whose survival depended upon the ability
to move swiftly, on horseback, at a moment's notice.
Non-surgical penile modifications are reported occasionally in European
literature but would seem to be less common there than in the USA:
one of Moll Flanders' customers had a penis that was "half-capt."
Also, Charles Darwin reported a lady from Chelsea who was astonished
to find that her 2 sons (age not given) appeared to be circumcised
although she was not Jewish and had not had them "done."
Apparently they had been experimenting with their penises and had left
them permanently "skinned-back."
Also, near the beginning of the 3-hour 1977 Italian movie "1900,"
the boy who plays Robert DiNiro as a kid wanders into some tall grass
with a friend (evidently one of the children of a peasant tenant on
the family estate), where they are apparently relieving themselves,
and tells the friend, "See, mine looks like yours now; I yanked
it back!" So, wherever there are boys with uncut penises, there
is likely to be experimentation. ...
... Auto-circumcision appears to have been fairly common in 19th-Century
North America (excluding Quebec), judging from woodcut illustrations
of medical textbooks of the period, plus references to keeping the
prepuce 'withdrawn' behind the glans. This is based on a surgery textbook
printed in Philadelphia in 1868 that belonged to my grandfather, a
physician who died in 1920. ....
There are some recorded reports of circumcision ceremonies observed
among natural groups, such as (not yet Sir) Alexander MacKenzie's observation
of the Sioux's neighbors the Ojibwa (or Chippewas) in what's now Canada
in the 1700's, and Basedow's graphic description of circumcision and
subincision as practiced by the Arundta (sometimes spelled Aranta)
in Australia in the 1930's. (Incidentally, did you hear that when an
anthropologist asked some Australian aborigines why they circumcised,
they said, "We don't know, we just always have!" Not too
different from 20th C. Anglophone North Americans, right?) Also, the
Chimu/Mochica of coastal Peru, whose genitalia are carefully depicted
on many ceramic pieces of high quality in the Larco-Hoyle Museum in
Lima, pretty definitely were circumcised, judging from the available
Best wishes to all, Bob.