Diving into online dating sites, sooner or later you’ll be asked “top or bottom?”, followed up by “cut or uncut?”. And when it comes to the foreskin – or lack of it – it isn’t just gay men who have strong opinions.
In a passionate TV debate to be screened on Tuesday, SBS’s Insight program has discovered that three things come to the fore with male circumcision – medical, religious and aesthetic reasons.
There’s a fierce argument in Australian medical circles about whether routine circumcision could significantly reduce the risk of illnesses and infections. Far fewer boys are circumcised now than a generation ago.
Male circumcision still plays a religious role in Australia’s Jewish and Muslim communities and is a traditional cultural practice for some people from Indigenous, African, Middle Eastern and Islander backgrounds. And for some, it’s just the way it’s always been done.
“It’s a tradition we’ve had all along, throughout our history,” Kevin Rogers, who lives in a remote Indigenous community in the Northern Territory, explains. “It prepares them for manhood or young manhood, you know?”
If you decide you want a circumcision for your child, there are hurdles: in some parts of Australia it’s virtually impossible to find doctors who will perform the procedure. And no one seems to be able to agree on what’s the best age.
Pip Fleming has yet to decide whether to circumcise her son and is struggling to make a decision. “As a mother you want to protect your child from that pain. But it’s what my family’s always done. Is that justification for doing something that may hurt a child? So we’re undecided.”
Medical practitioners also have differing opinions. Dr Stan Wisniewski, who runs a practice at Nedlands in Western Australia, questions the cultural angle. “Why is it the way it is? We are all born with foreskins. What have we done in our civilisation to demean the foreskin?”
For some, circumcision is their own personal choice. As Karl Williams explained to Insight’s Jenny Brockie, “I think it’s better, it looks better aesthetically. For a period I wore my foreskin back and that was a part of me figuring out if I would lose sensitivity from it, which didn’t happen so then I decided when I was 18 to go ahead with it. And I’m very happy.”
But some men who’ve had the cut mourn the loss of their foreskin, including Elwyn Moir. He’s started treatment to stretch the skin on his penis to try and re-establish a foreskin.
“I had a choice made for me that there’s not much I can do to undo. When I realised what was missing, when I saw an intact penis, then I was quite shocked. I would very much like to have been able to reach maturity and decide what to do with my own sexual anatomy.”