Circumcision and other forms of male genital mutilation have always been a puzzle. The ritual mutilations can leave the man vulnerable to infection and even death. So why do some societies insist on such a risky ritual for their men?
There may be an evolutionary explanation, according to Christopher Wilson, of Cornell University in New York, US. It could function to reduce a young man’s potential to father a child with an older man’s wife, he says.
Sperm competition theory predicts that males will evolve ways to ensure that their sperm, and not another male’s, fertilises a female’s eggs. Genital mutilation, in this view, is just another way to win the sperm war.
In some forms of mutilation, the handicap to sperm competition is obvious. There is subincision, for example, where cuts are made to the base of the penis. This causes sperm to be ejaculated from the base rather than the end, and is performed in several Aboriginal Australian societies, says Wilson.
In some African and Micronesian cultures, young men have one of their testicles crushed.
Male genital mutilation makes it less likely that a male will manage to father a child with another man’s wife, Wilson says.
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June 9, 2008 at 3:34 am
Christopher Wilson?s database seems to come from the school of anthropology that ignores anyone who doesn?t wear a grass skirt. Male Genital Cutting is widely practised in the US, Israel, the Philippines, South Korea and used to be prevalent throughout the English-speaking world, none of them societies noted for polygyny.
He deals only with the adolescent rite. Many societies shifted it to early babyhood, for the obvious reason that babies can?t escape.
Wilson?s theories might help explain why the custom was instituted, millennia ago in Africa, Polynesia and Australia, but this discussion of circumcision as a memeplex (cluster of memes, units of culture, transmitted by imitation) goes some way to explaining why it continues: http://www.circumstitions.com/meme.html
June 9, 2008 at 2:22 pm
what about that new cream to apply to foreskin to which thickens it to prevent HIV?
I don’t have either.
June 9, 2008 at 11:05 pm
June 12, 2008 at 12:05 am
I’m reminded immediately if the circumcision episode of Penn & Teller’s Bullshit, one of the better episodes of the series, IMO:
Playlist in 3 parts on YouTube
June 12, 2008 at 8:15 am
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June 12, 2008 at 12:48 pm
Do you sell home self-circumcision kits?
June 13, 2008 at 4:18 pm
This reminds me of a Hump Jones article, where I realized my fictional plot to harvest foreskins for medication really existed — and hilariously, that medication is facial cream for rich white ladies:
And I dig the “Circumcision as Memeplex” article. I also think that Susan Blackmore has a strange conception about memetics, which reminds me of the fact she’s also an outspoken (ignorant) critic of psi research — perhaps there’s a connection there, but I probably just imposed it. And why does my opinion matter anyways?
Oh yeah….CUZ I HAVE AN INTACT FORESKIN.