A little off the top

I don't know if you've ever driven a man to tears. You may be thinking, "No, but I'll get the car keys if you give me a map." No way. Nothing makes you feel like you kicked a puppy, told your granny you never liked her and ordered the veal more than making a man cry.

Women cry much too freely. I have a girlfriend who burst into tears during the song, "There's always tomorrow . . . " in the "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" special. Rudolph, fercrissakes. Then again, women have more to bitch about, so we're more practiced. Our list of grievances is so long you couldn't write it all on RuPaul's legs: sexual harassment, unequal pay, job discrimination, lower metabolisms -- the price of girlhood is eternal vigilance. We toss out our tears, sorrows and insecurities like sprinklers, and men, passive as a lawn, take it. Men seem to have it made. Then something like Viagra comes along and the ensuing clamor makes you think, "Damn, who even knew they were suffering, let alone this much?"

Because men keep themselves on such a tight emotional leash even if it's choking them, we tend not to know something is wrong until it goes really wrong, and then, like a comet that passes over once every 20 years, it's a spectacle that can't be ignored; you'd better get a good look into it right now.

Pains-taking research

Open up the most recent issue of Men's Health magazine and you'll get a better look at male pain than you ever wanted. It contains an in-depth report, with pictures, on circumcision, making the procedure seem more an act of torture instead of the one thing that is shared by more American boys than basketball or a Spice Girls crush. We take circumcision for granted. "Saturday Night Live" even did a sketch about it, showing a rabbi performing the procedure in the back seat of a luxury car to show how smoothe the ride was.

So, when you discover that a group of people has endured something awful, involuntary, probably needless and which may have robbed them of undeterminable sexual pleasure, how do you say, "oops ..."?

According to the article, that little piece of severed skin contains 240 feet of nerves, serves like an eyelid as a protective and lubricating layer, and no medical purpose is served by taking it from its owner, although some still defend the ($400 million a year) practice. I won't go into too many particulars lest my editor (male) faint and not be discovered on the floor of his private office for a day or two, but the foreskin is essentially torn from the infant, usually with no anesthesia. One doctor even says that the brain can be damaged from such extreme levels of shock and pain so early in its career as a human.

Women and children

Some Welcome Wagon, huh? When we do our speculating about men behaving madly, maybe circumcision ought to be marked with a big yellow highlighter and enough arrows to make the notation look like St. Sebastian. Its counterpart, female genital mutilation (FGM), is practiced mainly in African cultures to control sexuality and has scandalized the world with stories of women seeking asylum to avoid it. Realizing that a very similar thing is going on among infant boys right here at home is kind of like campaigning for the rights of animals in some distant lab and then discovering that someone has been starving dogs in the yard next door.

Circumcision, like FGM, is just a cultural tradition and wasn't commonly practiced in America until the Victorian era when doctors, including John Harvey Kellogg (of cereal fame) lauded it as "a remedy for masturbation." But we all know it didn't work, and now those doctors look like the big wankers, at least figuratively.

It's not prevention of the party of one but rather insurance that seems to perpetuate circumcision these days. In England, when the insurance industry stopped paying for the procedure, the rate of operations decreased dramatically. If the procedure also stopped being covered here, would the poor boys' private parts start to be?

For lots of guys who know what they're missing but not from experience, foreskin is an afterthought. There are some, though, who want theirs back. Non-surgical reattachment is one idea, and a review of the book "The Joy of Uncircumsizing," by John Bigelow, Ph.D., appearing in the British Medical Journal, has the reviewer describing his efforts using tape and weights to stretch the skin back over where nature put it. (Further description is likely to send my editor careening to the floor, so we won't go on.)

Like forcing left-handed kids to use their right hand, circumcision may one day be seen as a cultural myth, a phallusy, if you will, and this Men's Health article is worth a gander if you have an infant son or plan on getting one. It remains a religious practice in the Jewish community. But still you wonder: If you believe the Lord giveth, why would you want a doctor to taketh away?


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