How the Australian climate demands circumcision (1903)

In the performance of circumcision the foreskin of the male organ is removed. This is the part which is medically known as the prepuce (pree’pews) . It owes its origin to the Latin, praeputium, the foreskin. The prepuce may be described as a kind of fleshy cuff which covers the end of the male organ. When the foreskin is unduly long, it gives rise to the condition having the medical name of phimosis (fi-mo’sis). The significance of this term will be better understood when it is explained that it comes from the Greek, phimosis, a muzzling or closure. As a matter of fact, many of these long foreskins cannot be drawn back so as to show the opening of the water pipe. The derivative meaning of phimosis – a muzzling or closure – is therefore very expressive.

The front, rounded end of the male organ, which is covered by the foreskin, is called the glans. It is derived from the Latin, glans, an acorn, because of its fancied acorn shape. Behind the glans itself there is a collection of little cells which manufacture a whitish substance termed smegma (smeg’mah) – from the Greek, smegma, soap. When this material is allowed to remain undisturbed, it acquires a very unpleasant, even markedly offensive, odour. It is, moreover, particularly liable to accumulate under a long foreskin, and frequently produces considerable irritation of the parts.

A long foreskin may be troublesome in one of two ways. The internal surface of the foreskin often grows to the top of the glans. When this has occurred, it will sometimes be possible to carefully peel back the prepuce. But the two parts may have so tightly grown together that this cannot be accomplished. In these circumstances the operation of circumcision is necessarily required, as it affords the only means by which the two adherent surfaces can be separated.

In other instances, the orifice of the foreskin is exceedingly small. The opening may be so tiny that it will barely admit the end of a hair pin – after it has been made into a straight, long wire. A curious event often happens, when a foreskin has such an unusually small orifice. The urine, as it issues from the water pipe, cannot get away, but accumulates inside and distends the foreskin in a most remarkable manner. This is the so called “ballooning” of the foreskin.

A long or tight foreskin is likely to be attended with many serious disadvantages. The parts under the prepuce often become irritated and inflamed from the accumulation of smegma and other retained products. Different disorders of the water pipe and bladder are also disposed to occur. There may be the ailment known as “wetting the bed”. The straining in trying to pass water, occasioned by a long or tight foreskin, is liable to bring on rupture. The same condition of the prepuce predisposes to various nervous disorders. It is considered, likewise, that bad habits are frequently induced by boys meddling with themselves, in consequence of the irritation produced. Nor is it to be forgotten that an unnaturally tight foreskin may actually interfere with the proper growth and development of the organ.

In this semi-tropical Australian climate of ours, it would be infinitely better if circumcision were the rule and not the exception. Beside the Jewish race, many other eastern nations follow the practice. No male with a proper sense of cleanliness can feel that his bath has been complete, in the presence of a long or tight foreskin. Without the slightest exaggeration I may say that hundreds of male patients have told me how much they bitterly regretted that circumcision had not been performed on them, when they were young. But never yet have I met with a single individual who was sorry that he had been circumcised. The operation is almost uniformly successful. It has its failures, at times, but they are, comparatively speaking, rare.

Philip Muskett (1903), The illustrated Australian medical guide (2 vols, Sydney: William Brooks, 2nd edn 1909), Vol. 1, pp. 219-20

Photo from 'Boyhood Australia' by George Hughes - no connection with Muskett's article.