Pub. Date:
University of Chicago Press
Surgical Temptation: The Demonization of the Foreskin and the Rise of Circumcision in Britain

Surgical Temptation: The Demonization of the Foreskin and the Rise of Circumcision in Britain

by Robert DarbyRobert Darby
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In the eighteenth century, the Western world viewed circumcision as an embarrassing disfigurement peculiar to Jews. A century later, British doctors urged parents to circumcise their sons as a routine precaution against every imaginable sexual dysfunction, from syphilis and phimosis to masturbation and bed-wetting. Thirty years later the procedure again came under hostile scrutiny, culminating in its disappearance during the 1960s.

Why Britain adopted a practice it had traditionally abhorred and then abandoned it after only two generations is the subject of A Surgical Temptation. Robert Darby reveals that circumcision has always been related to the question of how to control male sexuality. This study explores the process by which the male genitals, and the foreskin especially, were pathologized, while offering glimpses into the lives of such figures as James Boswell, John Maynard Keynes, and W. H. Auden. Examining the development of knowledge about genital anatomy, concepts of health, sexual morality, the rise of the medical profession, and the nature of disease, Darby shows how these factors transformed attitudes toward the male body and its management and played a vital role in the emergence of modern medicine.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226136455
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 07/16/2005
Edition description: 1
Pages: 374
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Robert Darby is an independent medical historian and freelance writer. His most recent books is an abridged edition of George Drysdale’s classic polemic against Victorian morality, Elements of Social Science. He lives in Canberra, Australia. Further information at 

Table of Contents

Part I. The European Background
1. Introduction: The Willful Organ Meets Fantasy Surgery
2. The Best of Your Property: What a Boy Once Knew about Sex
3. Pathologizing Male Sexuality: The Masturbation Phobia and the Invention of Spermatorrhea
Part II. Medico-Moral Politics in Victorian Britain
4. The Shadow of Parson Malthus: Sexual Morals from the Georgians to the Edwardians
5. The Priests of the Body: Doctors and Disease in an Antisensual Age
6. A Source of Serious Mischief: William Acton and the Case against the Foreskin
7. A Compromising and Unpublishable Mutilation: Clitoridectomy and Circumcision in the 1860s
Part III. The Demonization of the Foreskin
8. One of the Most Grievous Diseases of Humanity: Spermatorrhea in British Medical Practice
9. The Besetting Trial of Our Boys: Finding a Cure for Masturbation
10. The Unyielding Tube of Flesh: The Rise and Fall of Congenital Phimosis
11. Prevention Is Better Than Cure: Sanitizing the Modern Body
12. The Purity Movement and the Social Evil: Circumcision as a Preventive of Syphilis
13. The Stigmata of a Gentleman: Circumcision and British Society
14. Conclusion: The End of the Culture of Abstinence

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