Tag Archives: John Harvey Kellogg

What Men Lose From Circumcision

I know it’s been a while since I talked about circumcision. Believe me, that’s not a mistake. Most men would rather have root canal while recovering from a hangover than talk about circumcision. There just aren’t many ways to make it an easy conversation.

I’ve talked about my own circumcision and why many attitudes about circumcision, at least in North America, comes from a man who believed that it would stop boys from masturbating. I’d hoped that was the most I would ever need to discuss it on this blog. Unfortunately, those hopes collapsed after a recent conversation I had.

The context of the conversation isn’t that important, but involved a woman I knew online and the recent efforts to end female genital mutilation. By and large, most people in the industrialized world oppose female genital mutilation. It’s seen as a barbaric, brutal practice meant to control women by limiting their ability to experience sexual pleasure. I count myself among those who share in that sentiment.

When it comes to male circumcision, though, those same people just shrug it off. This led to an awkward part of the conversation where I asked why male circumcision gets overlooked while female genital mutilation is considered a major social issue. It led to a somewhat lengthy exchange that I won’t repeat word-for-word, but it came down to this argument.

Men don’t lose as much from circumcision compared to female genital mutilation.

According to the World Health Organization, female genital mutilation is prone to many negative health impacts beyond simply losing the ability to enjoy sex. While male circumcision is prone to its share of complications, the general perception is that it’s a minor issue that does not impair sexual functioning. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics state that the benefits outweigh the risks.

I wasn’t really able to continue the conversation much beyond that. However, I wish I’d had a chance to present more information because, at the end of the day, male circumcision still involves hacking off a part of a man’s anatomy. This isn’t a vestigial tail or a wisdom tooth. This is a man’s penis, a pretty critical part of the body, to say the least.

Even if there are potential health benefits, as the Mayo Clinic states, there is a cost and it’s not just restricted to what a man feels during sex. The most obvious cost is an overall decrease in sensitivity, which leads decreased sexual pleasure and lower orgasm intensity for the man. As with female genital mutilation, the first casualty of this procedure is the basic feelings of sex.

It doesn’t stop there, though. Think about the implications of decreased sensitivity, for a moment. Specifically, if you’re a woman or a gay man, think about how that effects someone’s ability to actually pursue the satisfaction they seek from intimacy. If the sensitivity isn’t there, then that means circumcised men have to work harder to get that same feeling.

This can make for some less-than-intimate experiences. Ever hear of someone complain about how some men resort to “jack-hammering” during sex? Well, those men may not actually be trying to recreate something they’ve seen in porn. That may just be a side-effect of having decreased sensitivity.

Naturally, that can make things uncomfortable for a circumcised man’s partner, be they male or female. Beyond the sensitivity issue, there’s something else that’s lost when a man’s foreskin is absent. However, it’s felt primarily by the man’s partner.

According to a study from Denmark, female partners of uncircumcised men report far less discomfort and far greater lubrication when getting intimate with their partners. Here’s a direct quote from that study that might interest some women if they’ve never been with an uncircumcised man.

“The uncircumcised penis is much glossier, a more velvety feel,” says Dr. Paduch. “So for women who aren’t lubricating well, they have much less discomfort having sex with a guy who is uncircumcised.”

Despite these benefits, there’s still this popular perception that an uncircumcised penis is unattractive and unsightly. Given how prevalent circumcision has been for the past century or so, that’s understandable. However, if that’s the only reason for continuing the routine mutilation of male genitals, it’s not a good one by any stretch.

Now, I don’t doubt that there are some instances in which circumcision is necessary. There are even some drawbacks to having an uncircumcised penis, but it’s debatable just how significant those drawbacks actually are.

The most common issues usually relate to hygiene and risks of infection. That might have been a more pressing issue in the era before anti-bacterial soap and sanitation, but it’s not quite as serious in the modern era. We have soap, showers, indoor plumbing, and condoms. All can work together to mitigate those risks, significantly. Honestly, does it really take that much to convince a man to wash his penis?

For the moment, the primary obstacle to reducing circumcision involves cultural attitudes. For now, uncircumcised penises are still taboo. I’ve written about how taboos come and go. Given that the overall circumcision rate is in decline, there may already be signs that the taboo is waning.

Evolution may be clunky and erratic, but it when it comes to emphasizing survival and reproduction, it’s pretty damn effective. The fact that human beings are among the most successful, dominant species on this planet is a testament to that. That same process created genitals that give us many reasons to enjoy sex. Genital mutilation, for men and women, overtly undermines that to the utmost.

At the moment, society deems any effort to undermine a woman’s ability to enjoy sex to the utmost as immoral, misogynistic, and downright oppressive. As someone who writes erotica/romance novels, I wholly support efforts to preserve a woman’s sexual autonomy. However, when something like circumcision goes on so routinely and without scrutiny, that feels like an egregious double standard.

As it stands, it’s criminal to mutilate a woman’s genitals so that she can’t feel as much pleasure, but it’s accepted to do the same to a man. That’s a fundamental disconnect that cannot sustain itself logically or ethically. If one gender’s pleasure becomes more critical than another’s, then that undermines everyone’s satisfaction in the long run.

5 Comments

Filed under gender issues, sex in society, sexuality

Profiles in Prudishness: John Harvey Kellogg

History is full of crazy, if not deranged, periods of sexual repression. It comes and goes like seasons, but like hurricanes in Florida or blizzards in New York, some seasons are more severe than others. Every nation, society, and culture has their own unique sexual climate so-to-speak. America, contrary to everyone on Fox News, is no exception.

I’ve discussed current trends in sexual repression on this blog before, from the myths of porn addiction to the toxic proclivities that hinder intimacy in modern society. While it may seem bad now, it’s child’s play compared to what our society has experienced in the past.

To give you just a faint idea of how extreme sexual repression got at one point in American, I’d like to do a quick profile of one of this country’s Grand Poobah of prudes, John Harvey Kellogg. If his name sounds familiar, it should. It’s the same Kellogg behind the breakfast cereal brands that most of us eat or have eaten at some point in our lives. By the time you learn about the man behind the meal, you may never look at cereal the same way again.

So who was John Harvey Kellogg? Well, before his name became synonymous with breakfast food, he was a respected doctor and an active participant in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.However, as is often the case with the devoutly religious, he took his religion more seriously than most and this is what led him down the road to repression.

By and large, his views didn’t differ much from most other ardent Seventh-Day Adventists of the time. This is a religious sect that is repressive in more than just sexuality. It recommends a strict vegetarian diet, abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, and regular exercise. Kellogg was said to have adhered to this regiment, but he just had to take it several steps further.

Rather than go into the complex theological and psychological underpinnings of Kellogg’s personal views, I’ll just come out and say it as simply as I can. John Harvey Kellogg was obsessed with masturbation. I’m not talking the kind of obsession that leads to 10-hour masturbation contests. I’m talking about the kind of obsession that drove one man to make it his life’s mission to stop men and boys from masturbating.

It sounds like a bad joke from a Sunday morning sermon at a Mormon Church, but it’s true. John Harvey Kellogg really obsessed over masturbation. He wasn’t alone either. During the late 19th and early 20th century, America found itself in a good old fashioned moral panic over masturbation.

Was it logical? No. Did it have any science behind it? Of course not. Moral panics don’t work that way. They don’t have to. It just has to involve a large number of people being totally convinced that all the ills in the world are caused by one thing and one thing only, as though the human condition is ever that simple.

Let’s face it though. We’re human. We like easy answers. Back then, for reasons that religion and bad science helped fuel, masturbation was that easy answer. As such, John Harvey Kellogg took it upon himself to rid the world of this horrific vice.

So how did he plan on accomplishing this? Well, this is where his famous breakfast cereal comes into play. True to some of the other tenants of his church, he sough to use diet as a means of curbing the desire pleasure one’s self. He believed corn flakes would temper dangerous passions and limit the dangerous desires that lead to masturbation. Absolutely none of this is made up.

Remember this the next time you eat cereal with the Kellogg brand. While times have changed, its founder really wanted you to not masturbate. He thought diet and nutrition would accomplish that. The fact that dildos, lube, erotic fiction, and internet porn are still major industries shows just how badly he failed. However, Kellogg didn’t stop at diet. Remember, this guy was really obsessed with masturbation.

When diet and nutrition just weren’t enough, Kellogg favored an even greater extreme. In his seminal (pun totally intended) work, Plain Facts for Old and Young, he also recommended using circumcision as a means to discourage masturbation. Want to know why circumcision is so common among men in America? Well, you have Mr. Kellogg to thank for that.

Before he and his kind came along, circumcision was primarily a Jewish rite. It was rarely performed for medical reasons and was fairly uncommon. However, that changed once masturbation became public enemy number one. The idea was that the presence of the foreskin made masturbation too easy and they can’t have that. If someone is going to self-indulge, they need to make it challenging.

Once again, Cracked.com does an admirable job describing how these fears shaped the modern world that emerged in the 20th century. They also quote one of Mr. Kellogg’s recommendations for using circumcision. If you’re a man and you have a weak stomach, you might want to close this page.

5 Insane Ways Fear of Masturbation Shaped the Modern World

“The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases. The soreness which continues for several weeks interrupts the practice, and if it had not previously become too firmly fixed, it may be forgotten and not resumed.”

Still with me? Are you done cringing? Good, because as a man, it is pretty distressing. The idea of a young boy or a baby going through this procedure should make anyone feel queasy. It’s one thing to just preach and lecture others on the evils of enjoying one’s self on one’s own terms. It’s quite another when it involves involuntary mutilation.

This is how far sexual repression can go. People like John Harvey Kellogg can become so obsessed with this one act of sexual expression that they are willing to actually torture and mutilate others to stop it. We still see that happening today with female circumcision, an equally horrifying process that I’ll save for another blog post. However, even today’s ardent prudes would cringe at what Kellogg recommended.

The anti-masturbation crusade of the late 19th century still affects America to this day and not just because of the lack of foreskins on many men. At the time, masturbation was part of a moral panic that believed this one particular vice would destroy society. It set a pattern for future panics.

We had panics over alcohol, which resulted in Prohibition and the crime it inspired. We had panics over marijuana, which are still being fought today. Now, thanks to the likes of Pamela Anderson, we may be on the cusp of a new moral panic over porn.

In every case, there’s no inherent logic to the moral panic. In the same way that the anti-porn crusaders of today shroud their panic under the guise of public health, John Harvey Kellogg did the same with his pro-corn flakes, pro-mutilation policies for curbing masturbation. It’s all for “public health” or “the welfare of children.”

Now it’s easy to ridicule men like Kellogg for their obscenely extreme views on sex, vice, and overall fun. However, I think that ridicule needs to be tempered to some degree because men like him, as well as women like Pamela Anderson, are very likely sincere in their beliefs to some degree. They’ve really convinced themselves that these vices are a problem.

Again, there’s no logic to this conviction, but they don’t care. They just need to grasp at whatever evidence, be it anecdotal or completely made up, will affirm this conviction. John Harvey Kellogg had a valid excuse to some extent because he lived during a time when our understanding of biology, physiology, and sexuality was still limited. However, in the age of the internet and Wikipedia, the anti-sex crusaders of today have no excuses.

8 Comments

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights