Re: Male Virginity and Circumcision (was: Re: Origin of circumcision)

Michael Nakis (
5 Nov 1995 01:43:38 GMT


I figured that since Stephanie€s posting mentions me, it would be just to
answer to her under the €Male Virginity and Circumcision€ thread, not under
the thread that LC started.

Thank you for your thoughtful posting, Stephanie. I had started to get
annoyed by the resonance of idiotic little articles that have been posted on
this thread during the last week.

In <47geo6$> (Stephanie G.
Folse) writes:

[copy of LC€s article deleted]

>What I think would be interesting would be to find out howmany of these
>groups practice circumcision-at-birth and how many practice
>circumcision-at-puberty. The African groups I've read about (and I don't
>claim to have read about all or even most) tend to practice
>circumcision-at-puberty, which I think would argue against the
>cleanliness hypothesis for those tribes at least, since a boy would spend
>eight to fifteen years of his life at risk for infections, according to
>the hypothesis.

Yes, it would be interesting to find that out, but it would not say anything
towards or against my hypothesis. At an earlier post I noted that in
cultures where men get circumcised right before sexual initiation nobody ever
sees or hears of a man loosing his virginity, while in cultures where
circumcision takes place immediately after birth nobody ever even sees or
hears of an intact male hymen. What you note about African tribes is one
more reason why the cleanliness hypothesis holds no water as far as
nonwestern cultures are concerned. As a matter of fact, it does not even
hold water in western cultures either, if we are to believe what D. Morris
notes in €Babywatching€ page 194:

There is another, rather unpleasant, reason for male circumcision
being carried out in modern times. In some countries, babies are
treated in this way because it provides an attractive fee for the
doctors who perform the operation. Significantly, in Britain, where
a National Health Service removed the doctor€s fee, the frequency
of the operation fell to 0.41 percent of the male population.

>Circumcision at puberty, I think, is basically a rite of passage, roughly
>analogous to femal menstruation. While girls don't necessarily need a
>rite of passage to mark their entrance into womanhood (although some
>cultures do give them one, sometimes involving femal circumcision, ear
>piercing and other blood rites) since their bodies provide the physical
>evidence, many cultures provide boys with one to mark their passage into

(Isn€t that word supposed to be spelled €female€?)

Well, you can either say that it is a rite of passage and the issue stops
there, or you can actually find some purpose behind it. It is up to you. If
you wish, can also believe that clitoridectomy is the removal of a €dirty€
part of the female body, rather than a means of assuring that woman will
remain uninterested in sex until well after she is married.

>And for the gentleman who started all of this: while his hypothesis is
>interesting, he is assuming that all cultures value female virginity (and
>by extension that all cultures who practice male circumcision value
>female virginity). This is a culture-bound assumption and simply not
>true. Many tribal cultures value female fertility higher than virginity,
>which makes sense since fertility will enhance the survival of the group
>(*biological* sexual impulses tend to enhance the survival and
>continuation of the individual, *cultural* sexal impulses and practices
>also enhance the survival of the group).

Very true, but what does it have to do with the price of tea in China? As I
have noted in previous posts there exist different ways to reach my
conclusions, both in scenarios where female virginity alone is valued, and in
scenarios where virginity for both sexes is considered undesirable. None of
these scenarios intersects in any way with fertility issues. But if that is
not enough for you, then let me tell you that concealing male virginity is
mostly an issue of preserving male macho image, and male macho image is a
universal everlasting phenomenon, and not culture-bound or specific to any
given epoch. Anyway, thanks for finding my hypothesis interesting. It is a
lot more rewarding than being told to €die die die.€ C-:

>Once groups are organized at a more complex level than the tribal one,
>female virginity takes on importance. Male circumcision, however,
>seems to have originated in tribal times. I would say that while Mr.
>Nakis' hypothesis might have some bearing on a few cultures in modern
>times (and it might not, I don't know), the origins of the custom had
>nothing to do with disguising male virginity.
>(I think I spelled his name right -- I don't have any of his posts on hand
>to double-check.)

You spelled my name right, but you failed to make some cause and effect
evident here. In any case, male macho image has existed practically forever,
even before the food gatherers invented agriculture and subsequently

>If we take his hypothesis, that male circumcision is to disguise male
>virginity, and take it to mean that female virginity is valued and male
>virginity is not in these cultures, then the inverse should be true, that in
>cultures where male circumcision is not practiced, we should find that
>female virginity is not valued in these cultures. In medieval and
>present-day Europe, where circumcision was not practiced on the general
>population (excluding Jewish and Arabic settlers), female virginity was
>and is still highly prized (Note that "prize" and "practice" can be two
>differnet things).

The fact that some cultures did not discover (or perhaps even abandoned) the
ritual means nothing other than that males in those cultures felt pretty
comfortable with themselves and did not find loss of virginity a much too
terrible thing to bear, or that they regarded genital mutilation as a much
too far-fetched way of dealing with the problem. Do not forget that the same
cultures are generally less into other bloody rites of passage.

>I simply do not see a clear correspondence between the occurrence of male
>circumcision and the valuation of virginity within cultures. That does
>not mean it is not there, since I have not sat down and done the
>research, but at first glance I do not see it.

I am not sure whether the above means €despite what Mr. Nakis has said I
still do not agree€ or €I have not read what Mr. Nakis has said.€ If the
latter is the case, I could dig-up some previous postings and email them to
you. If the former is the case, I could further debate the issue with you if
you tell me exactly why you did not find what I said convincing.

>(This is not intended to be a dismissal, but a suggestion for the next

Thank you for your non-destructive attitude on the issue. I wish more people
saw it this way.

>What I suggest is that Mr. Nakis fully develop his hypothesis, figure out
>what evidence he needs to look for, sit down with a bunch of
>ethnographies and other books, and chart the correspondences between male
>curcumcision and attitudes towards virginity in males and females
>cross-culturally. Then in six months or a year, provide us with the numbers
>and then let us merrily argue out whether or not his research was accurate.

That is what I should have done or I might have to do. However, my original
idea was to start this thread in sci.anthropology in order to see what other
people think and get some ideas from them, and perhaps even find some real
Anthropologist who is interested in the issue and would like to do the
research. My field is NOT anthropology, so I would be very inefficient in
researching the subject, and even if the research yielded any positive
results, they would not be of much value, since nobody would believe a
non-Anthropologist anyway.

In any case, it seems to me that out of the two different hypotheses that I
am trying to make, most people focus on the circumcision story, and very few
seem to have anything to say on the male hymen issue. The €Circumcision as a
Means of Obliterating the Notion of Male Virginity€ hypothesis is only
secondary to the €Presence of a Virginity Hymen in Males€ hypothesis. I
suppose this happens because most people reading the thread are either female
or circumcised, meaning that they have no personal experience to speak of.
Still, a famous anthropologist suggested to me via email that I better look
for the scientific name of what I call €male hymen€ or else nobody will care
to hear what I am trying to say. This is based on the understanding that
even though science may not necessarily have a clue as to what the function
of this little piece of skin is, science may nonetheless have a name for it.
If anyone out there has access to any real good anatomy book, I would
appreciate any feedback on this. Otherwise, I will enlighten all you people
out there when I find the time to go pay a visit to the UCI library, whenever
that may happen.

>(The next paragraph are not directed at Mr. Nakis personally, but to
>readers of sci.anthropology in general)
>This is a forum for discussing issues, hypotheses and theories relating
>to the science of and subject of anthropology -- cultural and biological.
>Posts suggesting new ideas are certainly welcome, but getting angry
>because no one will believe those ideas without actually taking into
>account *why* they are being dismissed is not particularly good form.
>The reverse is also true -- posting messages dismissing them
>without saying why the ideas are being dismissed is a waste of
>bandwidth. I don't think anyone has been convinced by solely "You're
>wrong." People *have* been convinced by "You're wrong -- due to (a),
>(b) and (c)." If you don't agree and don't care to explain why, the
>solution is simple: don't post. Not being challenged on USENET does not
>mean the idea is generally accepted, so don't worry that you're doing the
>world a disservice by not refuting it.
>And getting miffed because people -- good heavens! -- bring cultural
>definitions and discussions into what is essentially a newsgroup about
>culture is just silly.
>I have little hope anyone will pay attention to what I just said, but it
>feels good to get it off my chest.
>As always, calm discussions for or against any of my above points are
>welcome. If someone presents me with a reasoned case against them, I
>have no problem considering it and possibly discarding my original point.
>That's the process of science.
>If this is still being crossposted to alt.religion.kibology, then of
>course really odd responses are expected. :)
>Stephanie Folse
><*> ||
> + Museum Studies grad student|| "Will you cut that out? +
> + Department of Anthropology || Everybody knows Isz don't have eyeballs." +
><*> University of Denver ||====>I claim this .sig for Queen

What is an Isz?

Michael Nakis.