Circumcision and becoming a man

This afternoon, while riding a jeep from Padre Faura to Espana under an afternoon temperature of 35 degrees Centigrade, something ordinary occurred that reminded me of a beyond-the-ordinary event that occurred around twelve years ago. That event gave me a sneak preview of what to expect as I entered the series of rites of passage a Filipino boy has to go through before becoming a real man.



A family of four rode the jeep when it passed by a government health clinic along Taft Avenue. The family was composed of a father sporting a proud, almost airy, expression; a mother with the undeniable know-it-all character most mothers have; and their two sons who are roughly ten to thirteen years old walking carefully and wearing over-sized shorts while holding the front portion of their shorts in an odd manner. In rural Philippines as well as in some poor areas of Manila, this sight of young boys wearing baggy shorts is common during the months of April and May when school closes therefore giving young boys enough time to recover from this simple surgery called circumcision but almost universally called in the Philippines as ‘tuli’.

I had mine when I was twelve years old; it was the summer of 1997. A week before the operation, my father advised me to clean myself, and if possible, spend time taking a bath by soaking myself in lukewarm water for half an hour everyday until the day. That day, my father brought me to a government clinic in the poblacion, around four kilometers from where we live. We were greeted by a market-like atmosphere of young boys with their father, sometimes also with their mothers, waiting in line for their turn to undergo an operation that will ultimately make real men out of them.

In the Philippines the operation is almost a routine in the general male population. While it is related with religion for Jews and some Christians, in the Philippines circumcision is a social activity that signifies the first step in the long process of becoming a man. Boys are made to feel the pressure by their friends and male relatives to undergo the operation. Although the benefits of the surgery have not been very convincing, a lot of myths have been made up to support the conduct of the surgery. It is said that boys will grow faster when they are circumcised; an uncircumcised man will not be able to impregnate a woman; circumcised men are more virile; etc.

The methods of the operation range from those conducted in private clinics in urban areas to the cruder and more dangerous ‘paltak’ where a village healer cuts the foreskin using a very sharp knife with just one blow, relying so much on a hit or miss.

It was an unforgettable day for me, and so was for my father. I am his eldest son, the first one he accompanied in this very important part of growing up for Filipino men. I tried as hard as I could not to show fear because I did not want to disappoint my father. But I knew I disappointed him when I went out of the clinic after my operation was done looking like I was about to pass out; I sensed it in the way he looked at me. He never talked to me during the entire time we were riding a tricycle back home. I eventually realized that it was my natural reaction whenever I lose an amount of blood. And whenever he told the story about that day he never failed to mention how I looked like I was about to faint.

I followed his advice on how to clean wound. He taught me how to gather young leaves of guava tree, boil them, and wash the wound using the water from boiled guava leaves. But I did not allow him to see my wound. I feigned independence in order to prove him that I was already a real man who could do things without his help. My wound got infected a week after, but I did not call his attention, instead I read the medical self-help book my mother bought on how to properly clean the area and how to use tincture of iodine as antiseptic. After a month and a half, I was completely recovered and healed.

It was an experience that caused a rift between my father and me. It took me a time to forget that look on his face that day when I almost passed out.

All those years, I was haunted by my father’s disappointed look that made me forget how proud he was that day bringing his first-born son to that small government health center in Polomolok, South Cotabato for his entrance to manhood and, most especially, adulthood.

I know I need not prove to him my manhood, nor to anyone else.

I smiled when I saw the two boys carefully avoiding the shorts they wore to touch their wounds from the circumcision; and their parents, with pride in their voice and saying it loudly for all the passengers to hear, advising them what do.

I smiled because I also experienced the same hard and painful process of becoming a man in the Philippines, and along the way understanding my own father.

18 thoughts on “Circumcision and becoming a man”

  1. this one i agree. the choice must be given to the man whether he wants to be circumcised or otherwise.

  2. People tend to prefer what they are used to, but cutting a baby or small boy on the basis of what a hypothetical partner, years later, will prefer, raises serious ethical issues. If a man wants to get himself cut to please a real partner, good luck to him, but second-guessing him is as likely to get it wrong as right.

  3. really? the percentage of those who are circumcised is believable, but the preference part, is a bit questionable. i know of no survey regarding people’s preference for those men who have prepuce.

  4. In fact, 90% to 94% of boys of all ages 0-100 years old and above are intact or not circumcised, permanently and apparently, including intact adult American and Filipino boys and women or gaymen worldwide prefers more with intact boys than the cut peers.

  5. Barry and David: It’s not enough to say “reduces the risk” without knowing how big the risk was to start with and how much the reduction is. Turns out it would take hundreds of circumcisions in the developed world to prevent one HIV transmission – IF the three African studies are correct. HIV can be better prevented by other means, and another study suggests that circumcising men INcreases the risk to women, but they stopped the study before they could be sure.

    The HPV studies are very dubious – the main one really compared different countries, and was based on the circumcision/HPV status of SIX men, not statistically compelling. No direct connection to cervical cancer has been established.

    Factor in the inevitable harms and possible risks of circumcision (up to and including death) and the case isn’t nearly so strong.

    “Neonatal circumcision – done mostly in the US – is much easier than circumcision at older ages.” Yeah, because you can’t strap grown men down and just do it…. It’s also much easier to get wrong, because the baby is so small – like writing on a balloon, it’s better to wait till it’s reached its full size.

  6. Circumcision reduces risk of getting HIV/AIDS, and also human papilloma virus (HPV). Reducing infection of HPV means that it protects men’s partners from cervical cancer. Neonatal circumcision – done mostly in the US – is much easier than circumcision at older ages.

  7. There is solid evidence that circumcision reduces the risk of acquiring AIDS. This alone should be enough to warrant its practice.

  8. Well true. I agree with some of your arguments because if I were given a chance I would’ve chosen not to undergo the operation.

    But let me point out that calling the Philippines PI (short for Philippine Islands is politically incorrect). Thanks for reading, though.

  9. Provoking Debate just doesn’t get it. Saying in this lie – As you know, there is growing medical evidence that male circumcision benefits not only the male. Wrong answer, there is no growing evidence at all. Truth is just the reverse is true, leaving the foreskin alone is a real benefit, giving better sexual pleasure to the man and doing what nature designed it to to, protect the head of the penis. Another lie – the Phillipines is ahead of the rest of the world in promoting universal circumcision. Again wrong answer. The PI is falling further behind the civilized world in continuing their barbaric and old wives tale of the need for circ on young boys. If circ is so good, why do we not circ all young females? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Anyone who has seen the results of circ on PI boys knows they have been scared for life, sloppy skin cuts, misaligned skin, sudden change from dark to light, skin bridges, on and on and on. All not needed if the PI would just join the civilized world and ban useless circumcision. When will this happen?

  10. ako naman, kinder pa lang yata ako nang magpatuli, sobrang aga talaga. ewan ko ba sa mga magulang ko. pero ayos naman. hindi ko na nga maalala kung paano ko hinarap yung pagkakatuli na yun.

  11. Nice story. As you know, there is growing medical evidence that male circumcision benefits not only the male, but also his female partners. I often think that the Phillipines is ahead of the rest of the world in promoting universal circumcision — even if not always for the right reasons.

  12. Seven out of ten men in the world are not circumcised, including world leaders (and most soccer stars). Are they any less of men? Neither of those two boys looks at all happy to have undergone his “rite of passage”. Is it not time to challenge the whole painful, bloody and unnecessary business? One doctor has taken up the challenge, at .

    Circumcision is of no religious value to Christians: Gal. 5:2 “If you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing” and the Catholic church officially condemns it.

    An ugly side to it is the ridicule heaped on the boys and men lucky enough to remain supót. They have now begun a support group at .

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