A Surgical Temptation: The Demonization of the Foreskin and the Rise of Circumcision in Britain

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University of Chicago Press, 2005 - History - 374 pages
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In the eighteenth century, the Western world viewed circumcision as an embarrassing disfigurement peculiar to Jews. A century later, British doctors urged parents to circumcise their sons as a routine precaution against every imaginable sexual dysfunction, from syphilis and phimosis to masturbation and bed-wetting. Thirty years later the procedure again came under hostile scrutiny, culminating in its disappearance during the 1960s.

Why Britain adopted a practice it had traditionally abhorred and then abandoned it after only two generations is the subject of A Surgical Temptation. Robert Darby reveals that circumcision has always been related to the question of how to control male sexuality. This study explores the process by which the male genitals, and the foreskin especially, were pathologized, while offering glimpses into the lives of such figures as James Boswell, John Maynard Keynes, and W. H. Auden. Examining the development of knowledge about genital anatomy, concepts of health, sexual morality, the rise of the medical profession, and the nature of disease, Darby shows how these factors transformed attitudes toward the male body and its management and played a vital role in the emergence of modern medicine.

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The Willful Organ Meets Fantasy Surgery
What a Boy Once Knew about Sex
The Masturbation Phobia and the Invention of Spermatorrhea
Part II MedicoMoral Politics in Victorian Britain
Sexual Morals from the Georgians to the Edwardians
Doctors and Disease in an Antisensual Age
William Acton and the Case against the Foreskin
Clitoridectomy and Circumcision in the 1860s
Finding a Cure for Masturbation
The Rise and Fall of Congenital Phimosis
Sanitizing the Modern Body
Circumcision as a Preventive of Syphilis
Circumcision and British Society
The End of the Culture of Abstinence

Part III The Demonization of the Foreskin
Spermatorrhea in British Medical Practice

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Page 344 - LEA'S MEDICAL CARPENTER (WILLIAM B.), MD, FRS, &.C., Examiner in Physiology and Comparative Anatomy in the University of London. PRINCIPLES OF HUMAN PHYSIOLOGY; with their chief applications to Psychology, Pathology, Therapeutics, Hygiene, and Forensic Medicine.

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About the author (2005)

Robert Darby is an independent medical historian and freelance writer. His most recent books is an abridged edition of George Drysdale's classic polemic against Victorian morality, Elements of Social Science. He lives in Canberra, Australia. Further information at www.historyofcircumcision.net. 

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