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A Stiff Debate

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Earlier this year, trawling round the net, I came across a new comic-book hero - Foreskin Man.

Styled after Superman, Foreskin Man is an all-American, all-flying, all-powerful, muscle-man in tights. Blonde, square-jawed, and fully-foreskinned, he flies round the world with his companion Vulva Girl, rescuing infants from circumcision. So far they've swooped down on Kenya, grabbing baby boys from the arms of a tribal circumciser - flown through the windows of a Californian hospital to steal newly borns from the clutches of Dr Mutilator - and snatched screaming infants from Monster Mohel, a black-hatted Jewish foreskin remover with a fearsome pair of scissors.

The reason for all this was a referendum in San Francisco that proposed banning circumcision for under 18s except as a medical emergency. Some of the "for" people were behind the comic book, and it led to fierce discussion. "Stiff debate over circumcision rights" was how a Californian TV station put it.

Jewish community leaders called the Foreskin Man comic-book "vilely anti-semitic". But really it wasn't; any more than it was anti-African or anti-American. It was simply very anti-circumcision. And how could it put the case against circumcision without naming the people who do it - tribal, medical or religionist?

After a few months of kerfuffle, the San Francisco referendum was cancelled by a judge who decided a city shouldn't be able to decide the fate of a medical procedure, only a state. It was a pity. Because had it become law it would have been fascinating to see how many young men (Jewish, Moslem, or anything less), having managed to get through adolescence with their penis still intact, would rush to the doctor on their 18th birthday to request its immediate decapitation.

Something interesting I learnt from all this was - whereas in the rest of the world the medical profession long ago decided it was best not to meddle with babies' sex organs, in America fifty per cent of boys are still circumcised. The doctors who do it claim it's for reasons of hygiene. In other words, they don't trust men to wash their willies.

Most of these "medical" circumcisions are done without anaesthetic, the baby screaming, its legs strapped to a table; more like a ritual than modern medicine. Perhaps the doctors feel sanctioned by five thousand years of religious custom. But what a daft custom it is.

The religious sects who practise it worship a God they believe is omnipotent. Yet they rate him so poorly on penis design they feel the need to cut bits off before it's ready for use, which doesn't sound very worshipful. If I were God I'd feel pretty miffed, but at least it gives Foreskin Man something to do.

But really, this isn't my battle. Apart from an instinctive distrust of anything connected to religion, I don't have much of an opinion on circumcision; I'm just pleased it never happened to me. Yet although my foreskin has given me pleasure for as long as I can remember, I've rarely heard a circumcised man complain about not having one. I've always presumed, where penises are concerned, what you have is what you come to love.

For most men, their penis is an inseparable friend - their partner in crime, their alter ego, even their raison d'être. During the course of the day, safely trousered, it gets touched, adjusted, stroked and patted. When it's taken out for a pee it's given a friendly shake afterwards. And of course, there are the more exciting times.

With all this camaraderie between a man and his penis, it seems absurd to think it won't get properly cared for. Of course it will. It'll be washed, loved and cherished. Every man does that for his penis. If hygiene were the real motive, there'd be no reason for those American doctors to be doing all that circumcising.

On this side of the Atlantic, it seems that men get a thumbs up on penis hygiene. Very few baby boys are circumcised except for religious reasons. The general attitude to circumcision is much like mine, "Just don't do it to me". And this summer, while Americans were debating the rights and wrongs of banning it, people in Britain were more interested in preventing a cull of badgers.

One benefit of this British lack of concern is that circumcision has never attracted government interference. Parents have the right to decide, and the vast majority opt for leaving their baby boys au naturel. Which might yield an unexpected bonus.

Because at a time when some people want greater discipline in the home, while others are demanding the abolition of smacking, it could be useful for parents to keep a reserve punishment up their sleeve. "Johnny! Stop that at once or daddy will cut off the end of your willie."

Quick Johnny! Time to call Foreskin Man!