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A Source of Serious Mischief

The Demonization of the Foreskin and the Rise of Preventive Circumcision in Australia
  • Robert Darby
Chapter

Abstract

Between the 1890s and the 1920s, there was a minor revolution in the treatment of the male body in Australia. From being an anomaly peculiar to Jews or a mutilation practiced by savages, circumcision became the mark of a clean, healthy boy and one of the stigmata of a gentleman. In this paper, I trace the outlines of this transformation and show how a combination of medical advice, sexual fears (particularly fear of sexual pleasure) and social ambition led to the introduction of circumcision as an all but inescapable incident in the life of the Australian boy. More specifically, I argue that this institutionalization of male genital mutilation, eventually dignified under the euphemism “routine neonatal (or infant) circumcision,” was a direct response to the nineteenth century’s search for a cure for the imaginary disease of spermatorrhoea and specifically a response to its phobia about masturbation. I also argue that Australia inherited the medical wisdom on these matters from Britain and the US with very little local discussion and scarcely a murmur of dissent.

Keywords

Venereal Disease Legal Aspect British Medical Association Glans Penis Sexual Precocity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Darby

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