South Korean boys'...
An intact boy...
Circumcision started when?
As far as we are
aware, there has been no article on circumcision written by a Korean
doctor and published in an international journal. Thus, we must
rely largely on articles published by doctors in the lay press to
determine their views on circumcision. The attitude apparent of
Korean doctors, i.e. to classify both the very small percentage
of males with phimosis and most of those with normal, uncircumcised
prepuces as ¡®abnormal¡¯, seems to have changed little over recent
years. Therefore, most sources are very much in favour of universal
circumcision and the question is not whether a male should be circumcised
but when the operation should be performed. For instance, a popular
textbook states that
or redundant (long) prepuces may cause; (i) penile or cervical cancer;
(ii) increased susceptibility to various sexually transmitted diseases;
(iii) bad smells in the penis; (iv) premature ejaculation.¡±
While offering no references
for the origin of these statements, this text mentions the supposedly
lower penile cancer rates in Jews and Moslems compared with Hindus.
Most of these beliefs were, or still are, held by some Americans.
Most are controversial, e.g. the association with cervical cancer.
In America, premature ejaculation is seldom, if ever, mentioned
as a justification for circumcision, whereas in Korea, the belief
in the enhancement of sexuality through circumcision is very popular,
not only among the general public but also apparently in the medical
community. A popular Korean website advises, with no reference,
that ¡°nearly all Korean males
need circumcision¡±. The same website also
states, ¡°there is no specific
age at which circumcision should be performed¡±.
Another popular website providing sexual education for teenagers
states that ¡°the best age for
circumcision is known to be between 12 and 14 years¡±, again with
no reference cited. Yet another site advises
parents that ¡°if a child feels
different because he is not circumcised and his friends boasts of
having superior penis because of circumcision, it is good to have
him circumcised for psychological reasons¡±.
In one widely read Korean encyclopaedia it is stated that ¡°if prematurely ejaculating, circumcision
must be performed¡± and ¡°cervical cancer should be prevented through
circumcision¡±. For comparison, a recent edition
of the Encyclopaedia Britannica mentions nothing about premature
ejaculation or cervical cancer in relation to circumcision, and
states that the practice is in decline even in America.
also instructive to consider some of the leading newspaper articles
on circumcision. Although these articles might not best reflect
the general attitude of the Korean medical community, most are written
by popular urologists, or refer to them. These articles no doubt
influence popular beliefs about circumcision and therefore warrant
consideration, especially because they help to understand why most
males choose to be circumcised. Some of these titles are listed
in Appendix 1. A relatively liberal position taken by Korean doctors
on circumcision can be found in a recent textbook in which the authors
state that ¡°not every male needs to be circumcised¡±. It is apparent
that nearly all textbooks, encyclopaedias and newspaper articles
essentially advocate universal or near-universal circumcision, and
the debate is about when to be circumcised or to circumcise, not
about whether to or not.
It is clear that the beliefs held by
the Korean public and medical community were directly influenced
by the beliefs of some Americans in the past and, to a lesser degree,
at present. It is interesting as to why Koreans are circumcised
at much later ages, after popular medical advice. At the start of
Korean circumcision, nearly all procedures were performed on adults.
Therefore, it is possible that simply by habit, the operation is
generally performed mostly on older males and not on infants. Currently,
many Korean doctors tend to recommend circumcision mostly
at the onset of puberty. It appears that the recently changing American
attitudes toward circumcision may have exerted some indirect influence.
There are numerous American studies on the pain felt by infants
when circumcised and this is a cause for debate. When recommending
circumcision at specific ages, Korean doctors routinely cite recent
American studies showing that even infants feel the pain. It seems
that Korean doctors recommend circumcision at the onset of puberty
because at that age, boys tend to accept the procedure as a ¡®rite
of passage¡¯. One recent newspaper article by a urologist states
that ¡°these days, even in America, the neonatal circumcision rate
is declining and only about 60% are neonatally circumcised because
infants also feel pain¡±. This urologist goes on to recommend near
universal circumcision at the onset of puberty. However, it is possible
that this doctor assumed that most of the uncircumcised American
infants would later be circumcised. This assumption goes against
the present American situation where the decision about circumcision
is primarily made at birth and not later.
Titles of articles
about circumcision, published recently in leading Korean newspapers.
should be performed at around 12 years of age
(HanKyeoRae Shinmun, June 16, 1997)
of false teeth, circumcision, removal of warts and acne are best
performed at the winter breaks
Ilbo, Dec. 21, 1996)
patient who was circumcised
Sep. 24, 1996); in this article the urologist mentions that this
man wished to be circumcised so that his children would not be embarrassed
when they performed the ritual bath upon his death!
Danger!: Self-Operating Circumcision Machine
(SeGye Ilbo, August 15, 1996)
The time to be circumcised: Is it when a baby is born,
or is it around 10 years of age? Medical Community sharply divided.
(SeGye Ilbo, Aug. 12, 1995).
Premature Ejaculation (states that ¡®phimosis or long
prepuce causes premature ejaculation¡¯)
Cervical Cancer: A cancer
(KyungHyang Shinmun, Oct.
9, 1995); states ¡®the probability
of getting cervical cancer is enhanced when having sex with uncircumcised
males¡¯. In the same article, it is stated
that to prevent cervical cancer, the male partner must be circumcised.