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The Male Herbal
Health Care for Men and Boys
James Green, Herbalist
The Male Herbal, Crossing Press/Freedom, CA 95019 (1991)
[To order this book, visit NOHARMM's Online Bookstore]
(Excerpts from pages 115-118, including development
and care of the intact penis
and natural remedies for penile irritations and infections.)
NOTE: Links with a right-facing blue arrow will take you off this site.
Circumcision - Common form of disregard for men's rights
In the United States, a new parent's mandatory first question in male child-care is still, "Should we leave him intact?"
Other questions parents possibly ask at this time are: Do we want our boy to look different in the locker room? After all, shouldn't he look like his dad or his brothers? Why does he have a foreskin anyway? What does it do there? Is having a foreskin clean or healthy? Won't it hurt my son to have part of his penis cut off? But questions all too seldom asked are: Why do they strap the baby's arms and legs to a board to perform this "painless" surgery? Aren't there inherent risks with genital surgery like there are in all other kinds of surgery; risks such as hemorrhage, major infection, possibly a child left with a deformed glans or a deformed meatus (opening) which is left too small? Might circumcision possibly hinder my boy's adult sexuality and his feelings about the safety of life and treatment by other human beings?
As I write this section, I feel anger rising inside. Anger at the system that intimidated my parents to proceed with this, in my opinion, senseless and risky mutilation. I feel indignant displeasure (another way of saying resentment) for the collusion of physicians and my (ill informed) parents which made that decision for me, abusing my rights and destroying my birthright with irreversible genital surgery. I do know that if I had been asked at the time of my birth (or any time thereafter), if I wanted my foreskin removed, and I had arrived from the womb fluent in the language the adults were speaking, I would have firmly crossed my chubby little legs and said without any hesitation, "You must be joking, forget it! Get me out of this hospital!"
In (western) history, male genital surgery began in the English speaking countries in the late 1800s to prevent masturbation, which the elders of the day had agreed caused blindness and disease. This initial cultural ignorance has perpetuated the practice of circumcision via the western medical profession ever since. Today the U.S. holds the bizarre status as the only nation left on the globe which still practices routine non-religious, non-medical circumcision. It's my guess that it is probably a lucrative surgical practice, or it would have been removed from the hospital routine long ago. The annual cost of circumcision in the U.S. is estimated at $200 million, but the tides are changing, and third-party payers have begun to reclassify circumcision as cosmetic surgery and are refusing to pay for it. It's looking like insurance companies and accountants will ultimately keep males intact.
The state of mind that suggests
routine circumcision on baby males... to avoid
possible infection might also consider removing a young girl's... labia... or breasts
so that she will never have any trouble with them...
Every generation of doctor has found a new excuse for circumcision. Today's foremost speculation that routine circumcision could reduce urinary-tract infection, venereal disease or prevent infection to the AIDS virus is absurd. More than 95% of male children never experience urinary-tract infection regardless of the presence or absence of a foreskin, and 60% to 90% of men in Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco and New York infected with AIDS were circumcised at birth. The state of mind that suggests routine circumcision on baby males as a non-religious ritual to avoid possible infection might also consider removing a young girl's (or an adult woman's) clitoris, labia or later her breasts so that she will never have any trouble with them, or it might suggest pulling out the teeth so they won't decay. Obviously it's not that simple. Why cut off a male's foreskin based upon a similar rationale?
Approximately 80% of the world's male population remains intact, not circumcised. Due to enlightened, self-educated parents who question the need to subject their sons to the pain of the surgical procedure, the circumcision rate in the U.S. is constantly decreasing. By 1986 about 45% of newborn males left American hospitals whole and intact. This means that about half of the males in high school locker rooms will look different than the other half. So, an intact foreskin is no longer a young boy's psychological/social problem. [NOHARMM comment: There is no scientific evidence that this ever was a real problem.]
The steps involved in male genital surgery go as follows:
The baby is removed from parents
The male baby's arms and legs are strapped to a board to prevent movement
The genitals are scrubbed and prepared for surgery
The foreskin (the prepuce) is torn from the glans (head) of the penis to which it is normally attached to protect this internal organ (the glans) from feces, urine, diaper irritation (later from burns, fingernails, dirt, fly-zippers, jungle and forest undergrowth, etc.).
After tearing the foreskin from the glans it is slit lengthwise, allowing insertion of the circumcision instrument which cuts off the foreskin.
This is usually done without anesthesia due to the physiological risk of anesthetics to the baby. Historically those same elders (the masturbation authorities) conveniently decided that babies felt no pain due to their immature nervous systems. I assume this is similar to the pain they also wouldn't feel if they were abused somewhere outside the operating room. Parents and scientific studies have soundly disproved this theory and have proven this traumatic procedure is undeniably physically painful and psychologically stressful to the newborn boy.
A relatively more humane home circumcision ritual, the Brit Milah, is practiced in the Jewish tradition. I'm told that the infant is given a cloth to suck on, which has been soaked in sweet wine, probably experiencing his first high since floating in the womb. The baby is held on his father's lap and the cutting is done in the presence of loved ones and friends with a celebration afterwards. I'm told the baby barely cries, if at all, but I find that difficult to imagine.
It might be of interest to us "normal" males who have been circumcised, to learn that the foreskin is (was) laden with sensitive nerve endings which enhance the sexual experience. Furthermore, this foreskin is intended to protect the delicate glans (designed to be an internal organ with a protective hood) which is extremely high in nerve endings, keeping it warm and moist, so that the glans won't become dry, thick and hard, thereby losing some sensitivity for sexual experience.
"I was observing the young infants having a sexual experience."
During one of my seminars on male health-care, a female nurse who had observed a number of circumcisions shared a story with us. She noted that frequently, while a female nurse scrubbed and prepared male infants' genitals for surgery, the babies' penises became erect. It dawned on her that, "I was observing the young infants having a sexual experience." And that soon following this erotic experience and fondling by female hands the male child experienced sudden traumatic pain and psychological stress. Her question was, "What effect might this have the male's ability to feel trust and spontaneity with females in future sexual experiences and intimate relationships?" Who knows? I'd venture a personal guess that it doesn't help much. In studies of neonatal and birth-time consciousness it is found that babies possess a high degree of awareness. So when, after the profound experience of birth, a male child's penis is handled by a nurse preparing him for genital surgery, soon after which he experiences severe pain, the juxtaposition of these programs may have direct relation to some circumcised men's general lack of trust in any relationship and specific anxiety in sexual relationship with women.
For those who would like to know more about the divinely inspired function of intact foreskin in male lives, I must tell you, it is difficult to find any insightful, in-depth information about the anatomy and physiology of male organs. The brightest, most informative source of information on this issue that I have located is the National Organization of Information Resource Centers, P.O. Box 2512, San Anselmo, CA 94979, (415) 488-9883. This is a health group organized by health professionals and physicians to provide parents with information on the benefits of "intactness." They make available newsletters, video tapes and other publications on neonatal circumcision and penis health-care.
The penises of those baby boys who escape the hospital with foreskin intact are not home safe yet. The head of the penis and the foreskin develop as one structure. What is physiologically normal in boy infancy is for the foreskin to adhere to the glans of the penis. This design keeps the urine, feces and various other diaper debris and rashes off of the glans. It, in fact, protects the penis from infection and keeps the opening of the penis adequate. That's why we have our little prepuces given to us at such a young age. If left alone, the foreskin comes loose on its own and then for the rest of our lives protects our glans from a variety of predators and mishaps. The ill-advised (most doctors in the U.S. tell parents to pull back the foreskin and wash the penis daily) attempts to draw the foreskin back before it is ready to come loose causes it to tear from the glans, causing pain, irritation and possible infection.
Health-care of an intact penis
Gentle knowledgeable care of a brand new intact penis is that special, extra little task parents of a new boys are asked to perform. The following insights and guidelines for this loving parental duty are quoted directly from literature which is compassionately distributed by the National Organization of Information Resource Centers:
"The foreskin of an infant should never be retracted because it is attached to the glans. Separation of these two structures occurs gradually during childhood and the age at which a boy will be able to retract his foreskin is different for each child. This process should never be hurried! Forcing the foreskin to retract will cause pain, bleeding and possibly infection and adhesion.
"Phimosis is the name given to an unretractable foreskin. This normally exists in almost all newborn babies and in some men throughout adulthood. It rarely causes problems. However, should painful erection occur, gentle stretching of the foreskin opening will, in time, allow for retractability. To remove the important protective foreskin with circumcision is seldom necessary to correct phimosis."
"The natural shedding of skin cells from the foreskin lining and the glans helps in the process of separation of these two structures. The cells which have been shed form a substance known as infant smegma. The baby's body effectively discharges this harmless material which can then be wiped from the tip of the foreskin during the bath. External washing with a very mild soap and water is all that is required to maintain adequate hygiene."
"During puberty, sebaceous glands begin to function, secreting an oily substance. This additional product in adult smegma protects and lubricates the glans. At this time a male simply retracts the foreskin and cleans to prevent accumulation of smegma."
If your little boy's prepuce is prematurely torn from the glans and irritation or infection occurs in this area, or if irritation occurs in this area on any male child (or adult), sprinkle on a mixture of powdered Golden Seal, Comfrey and Slippery Elm. Use equal parts of each herb. Distribute some of this mixture in the diaper (or jockey shorts) as well. It will be very helpful to wash the infected area frequently with a tea made of the same herbs, using 2 parts Comfrey, 1 part Golden Seal, 1 part Slippery Elm. If the infection lingers, give a tincture or tea of:
Echinacea 3 parts (anti-microbial/immune enhancing)
Marshmallow Root 2 parts (soothing demulcent/healing)
Catnip 1 part (fever cooling/nervine)
Fennel 1 part (assists digestion/ relaxing/pleasant flavor)
Golden Seal 1/2 part (anti-microbial)
This will help relax him and help his natural immune system eliminate the infection.
Following are two remedies (taken from The New Healing Yourself by Joy Gardner) which are also effective for treating an irritated or infected foreskin.
Cornstarch Soak. Dilute 1 tablespoon of cornstarch in 1/4 cup warm water. Soak a small clean white cotton cloth in this solution. (I suggest adding 1 drop of lavender essential oil to this mixture). Apply gently to the foreskin for 12 to 2 minutes. Repeat this 3 times a day. The swelling should diminish the first day and should disappear completely in a day or two.
Cider vinegar. Dilute 1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar in 1/4 cup warm water (with 1 drop lavender essential oil) and apply as above.
Penis Soaks - The P.S. of couples' mutual health-care
This technique for male hygiene and external herbal therapy was originated and is strongly suggested by a clinical herbal therapist named Cascade Anderson-Geller. One can think of this as a male (reverse) douche to be used if you itch, after making love, or any other time you suspect a problem. It is also a practical method for administering herbal washes to a little boy who is troubled by irritation of the penis or the foreskin, if you can get him to quit giggling about the process long enough to do it. Without question, it is most important for a man whose female partner may have a vaginal malady to use these penis soaks. Many of these vaginal/uterine infections such as gardnerella (also called hemophilus), trichomonas, monilia (yeast or candida infections), chlamydia, venereal warts and cystitis or urethritis are transmitted or reinfected by the male member during sexual intercourse. The micro-organisms are passed back and forth between partners to the chagrin of both, especially the female. Most often the male, because he doesn't offer as perfect a breeding arena, doesn't experience the same symptoms as intensely and uncomfortably as the female. At the same time, both partners must work to bolster their immune systems.
Without question, it is most
important for a man whose female partner may have
a vaginal malady to use these penis soaks.
To perform a penis soak simply hold a (tall, medium or short) drinking glass filled with a strong infusion or decoction of appropriate herbs and hang in there for about 5-10 minutes. (If your foreskin has already not been sent to prepuce heaven, retract the foreskin throughout the soak). The tea should be as warm as possible. It is helpful to include the testicles in the soak too, so you might graduate to a vase or a jar as a container. An alternative method is the common sitz bath, filling a small basin or plastic tub with the warm herb tea and sitting in it. This is probably more trouble to prepare, but it is comfortable and frees both hands, so you can read a magazine, shave or adjust the VCR while you're sitting there.
In general, I recommend using combinations of the strong aromatic herbs for this male herbal soak, such as equal parts of Yarrow, Sage Lavender and Chaparral. If you use pure essential oils for health-care, you can include in the soak 1 to 2 drops of one or a combination of the following essential oils: Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), Lavender (Lavendula vera) and Bergamot (Citrus bergamia). Disperse the oils well, soak for 5-10 minutes at least, but preferably 2-3 times a day. I know that the thought of hanging into a vessel of herb tea does not immediately strike one with the most manly of images. I can relate to your resistance and appreciate the visual hilarity of the adventure. However, when communicable infection is involved between caring lovers, each partner has a responsibility to the mutual care. No matter how absurd the image of this therapy strikes you, in times when your female partner is stressed with recurring vaginal infection, discomfort and pain, the most chivalrous act is daily hygienic penis soak until the cycle of reinfection has been stopped. Keep in mind that this will not only help your female partner, but it will also enhance your relationship and ultimately hasten and improve your sexual reunion. Words of love are merely promises.
When doctors aren't sure what specific name to give a woman's vaginal infection, they call it "non-specific vaginitis," and they usually prescribe some brand of antibiotic. After this doesn't work, and often as a result, a yeast bloom has manifested to accompany the original infection, many women seek the help of an herbalist. I give this female douche formula to you because it is helpful for the male partner to use it for a penis soak or in a sitz bath concurrently with the female's self-care. It will help you both become more comfortable and much happier, sooner. For this male consideration (exceeded only by shaving before making love) your female partner will bless you. This douche recipe has given blessed relief:
Chaparral 2 parts (anti-oxidant/anti-microbial)
Oak Bark 2 parts (astringent)
Marshmallow Root 1 part (soothing demulcent)
Periwinkle fresh if available, 4 parts (tonic/astringent)
Yarrow 1 part (anti-microbial)
Strain the tea through cotton muslin cloth and douche (penis soak) 2-3 times a day. Hot tea reduces the itch, so make the douche as hot as is comfortable. As we are all learning, it always takes two to solve problems between partners.
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Last updated: 22 February, 2008
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