It is a mistaken idea that the sexual organs demand no attention before puberty. It is true that marked changes occur at that epoch, without which the special functions of those organs could not be performed, but it is also true that sexual life begins before birth, is usually or often expressed by outward signs or inward feelings some years before puberty, which marks neither the dawn nor the maturity of that life, and that sexual health may by very decidedly influenced by the treatment the sexual organs receive in the very earliest years. The boy and the girl are different creatures from the first moment they have the power of expression, and the wise parent will not allow the reproductive organs to be neglected in infancy from the false idea that they need no attention till they are fully developed and ready to fulfil their functions.
With regard to the boy, the first attention demanded by the sexual organs, as such, is circumcision. The foreskin is a sort of cap or bag, consisting chiefly of skin outside, and mucous membrane inside, which covers over an enlargement at the extreme end of the male organ of generation, known as the “glans penis.” The foreskin is, usually, capable of being retracted, so as to fully expose the glans, and even when this cannot be done in infancy it often becomes possible in later life. In rare instances, however, there is no orifice in this foreskin for the escape of urine, or the orifice is too small to admit of its retraction behind the glans; in the former case making an immediate operation necessary for the continuance of life itself. Far more frequently the foreskin is so long that it extends beyond the glans, and its retraction is either an impossibility from the superabundance of flesh or, for the same reason, the foreskin is forced over the glans again the moment it is released. In any of the above cases the glans remains covered by the foreskin, at least until years of maturity, while health requires that it be freely exposed.
The glans penis is perhaps the most sensitive point in the whole body, although its sensibility is of a peculiar kind, giving rise both to the pleasure peculiar to sexual intercourse and, by what is called “reflex action,” to the emission of the fluid which follows such intercourse. The glans is not specially rich in nervous of ordinary feeling, and hence its peculiar sensitiveness is not readily appreciated, except in connection with sexual acts. The nerves are there, however, and exciting them to action is known to be one of the most exhausting of the processes of animal life. These nerves are excited naturally by contact with the warm and moist lining of the female organs, combined with friction, and a very similar excitement, milder, but vastly more enduring, is set up by the contact with an elongated foreskin. If, then, this glans be constantly covered by loose skin for several of the earlier years of life, the delicate sexual organs are maintained in a condition resembling, in some degree, a perpetual masturbation or self-abuse, besides which the irritation so induced is a direct and strong temptation to that habit.
Another reason for exposing the glans is found in the fact that around its neck a number of small orifices exist, through which is discharged a fluid of peculiar odor and properties. Unless this discharge is frequently washed away it sets up an irritation closely resembling some of the impure diseases to which these organs are liable, and it can evidently be better cared for where the glans is freely exposed than under other circumstances.
In these two conditions we find the sources of many of the nervous disorders which are known to be caused by a long or tight foreskin, and among which are troubles of every sort in all parts of the body, including wetting the bed, stammering, twitchings, headache, epilepsy, and even something very like hip disease; none of which troubles, when arising from a long foreskin, can be permanently cured without first circumcising the patient.
General, as well as sexual health, then, requires that the glans penis be freely exposed, and that the foreskin be habitually and permanently retracted, and to accomplish this exposure and retraction from earliest infancy circumcision is usually necessary. This rite, as is well known, was made one of fundamental religious importance among the Jews, but was by no means limited to the descendants of Abraham, and undoubtedly was established primarily as a sanitary precaution. The eighth day of life being the established one amongst a race of people scattered over all parts of the globe, shows conclusively that the act can scarcely be performed at too early an age if the infant be otherwise healthy. By all means, then, let every boy baby be circumcised at the earliest convenient day–of course committing the operation to a surgeon–and let every boy or man of whatever age also undergo the operation unless he can habitually retain the foreskin retracted so as to fully expose the glans penis.