Western History of Male Infibulation (Piercing of the Foreskin)

(Editor’s note: This article was first published on October 17, 2001, in The Point, the publication of the Association of Professional Piercers. Since part of BME’s mandate is to create as comprehensive and well rounded an archive of body modification as possible, we feel these are important additions.

Paul King, the article’s author, has given BME permission to publish a series of articles he wrote for The Point that explore the anthropological history behind many modern piercings. This is the first in that series.)

Male infibulation involves pulling the foreskin of the penis over the glans and piercing the foreskin through both sides, vertically or horizontally. In theory, this type of foreskin piercing secures the prepuce like a hood over the glans, making arousal painful and erection impossible. The procedure was usually performed with needle followed by thread until healed, at which point a ring or fibula pin would be directly inserted. (Sometimes, the “jewelry” would be inserted immediately after or as part of the piercing process.)

Ironically, in recent times the male foreskin piercing is usually performed to enhance aesthetics and pleasure. Most modern piercers find that typical foreskin piercings heal more quickly and with fewer complications when using barbells instead of rings.

Clear records of male infibulation can be found from twelfth century B.C.E. through fourth century C.E., then again from the seventeenth century C.E. until present. The practice seems to have fallen out of vogue for about 1,300 years in between; scanning western literature during that period, no references to the practice have been found. Then, in the latter part of 1715, Onania was published in London, and set into motion the journey of masturbation into the dark ages; this was “Patient Zero” in all religious rhetoric on the evils of “self-pollution.” The pamphlet (and the doctoral essays in the following generations that quoted from it) set the misconceptions that masturbation was injurious and evil and had to be stopped by whatever means — including piercing. The author remains anonymous.

Remember: The Arabs, Greeks and Romans were not prudes. They infibulated not for fear of sin, but out of superstition and control. They believed young singers’ voices could be kept pure and unchanged, that athletes and gladiators performed better chaste and, of course, slaves’ sex members needed to be controlled for breeding, protection from STDs, and the safety of non-slave women.

It seems that the resurgence of infibulation was most widely practiced in Germany around the end of the eighteenth century. Doctors Campe and Vogel felt piercing the flesh of the foreskin and, once healed, installing an iron ring was appropriate for “difficult cases.” Keep in mind, that these operations were performed non-consensually on children.

A few scientific heretics first appeared around 1875. They thought the evils of masturbation were exaggerated and that the medical operations were barbaric and ultimately ineffective. There were those whose rhetoric clung to the past, such as Freud and the Catholic Church. Then, however, the final nail was hammered in with the Kinsey Report of 1948, showing 92 percent of the population masturbated, thus closing the door on recorded incidences of medical infibulation in the western world. It is known that piercing continued in the SM (sado-masochistic) underground but, since SM was still considered a mental illness and illegal, records remain illusive.

As a footnote, it would seem logical that the “Prince Albert” was first practiced as a form of infibulation on circumcised men, however a clear cut example, describing the practice or of the use of the name Prince Albert, has not been traced prior to The Art of Pierced Penises and Decorative Tattoos by Doug Malloy. So far, American books on the history of circumcision (where the operation is widely practiced) have yielded no concrete references. Exploration of LGBT archives and the Leather Archives in Chicago — a museum dedicated to the Leather and SM communities — should be under taken for possible references prior to the 1970s. The smoking gun is out there — it just hasn’t been found.

A General Time Line

Twelfth century B.C.E.: Per Mensius, infibulation was at least in practice to the time of the siege of Troy. Chastity Safeguards by Anonymous.

Up to fourth century C.E.: Fragmented accounts given in the second century and after by Celsus and Oribasius, giving descriptions of the reasons and operation. Male Infibulation by Dingwall M.A.

Seventeenth century: Surgeon, Dionis, describes the “bouclement de garcons” (the male ring) piercing chastity during the reign of Louis XIV, written beginning of eighteenth century. Male Infibulation by Dingwall M.A.

Eighteenth century: Doctors such as Campe, Jaeger and Vogel support infibulation as a means to stop masturbation. Male Infibulation by Dingwall M.A.

1822: A detailed account of Dr. Marx’s encounter with a patient who had been infibulated several times appears in the Gazette de Sante.

1876-1892: Dr. Yellowees declared that he performed infibulation operations by passing metal safety pins through the foreskin. Masturbation, The History of a Great Terror by Jean Stengers and Anne Van Neck.

1910: “Self pollution: When everything else fails, we have no hesitation in recommending surgical treatment. This is of various kinds, from repeated blistering to that ancient operation which Latin writers tell was practiced upon singers of the Roman stage, called infibulation.” Know Thyself: Nature’s Secrets Revealed by Bishop Fallows and Dr. Truitt.

1926: Regarding prevention of masturbation: “Other physicians perforate the foreskin and introduce a ring.” The Sexual Life of Our Time by I. Bloch, M.D.

My usual disclaimer: I am not an anthropologist. From time to time, there will be errors. Please be understanding and forth coming if you have information you would like to share.

Please consider buying a membership to BME so we can continue bringing you articles like this one.



This entry was posted in APP by Paul King. Bookmark the permalink.

About Paul King

Paul King is a Professional Body Piercer (since 1991) and an enthusiast before that! He is Gauntlet trained and certified with a one and half year apprenticeship under Elayne Angel. He worked in all three former Gauntlet locations, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco and was store manager of LA and NYC. In 1996 Jim Ward, Founder of Gauntlet, awarded Paul King with the honorary title of Master Piercer. He apprenticed many Piercers for Gauntlet as well as co-taught Gauntlet Training seminars. Paul King has lectured at Universities, (including San Francisco State, SF Academy of Art and Skyline College), and the Association of Professional Piercers, (APP), on various aspects of body piercing. He is an avid traveler, collector and layman anthropologist. In 1999 Paul King and Grant Dempsey partnered to create Cold Steel America, two tattooing and piercing shops in San Francisco. He is an active member of the Association of Professional Piercers. He successfully completed a three year elected board member position for the APP. In 2007 he received the APP’s President’s Award for contributions to the Piercing Industry. He currently serves the APP again as the appointed Treasurer. Please visit his website at http://store.ebay.com/Rituals-of-Life to view photos of travels, tribal piercing and tattooing artifacts. He can also be found at www.myspace.com/paulrking He loves to guest lecture, so just ask!

10 thoughts on “Western History of Male Infibulation (Piercing of the Foreskin)

  1. hhmm the piercing is actually quite likeable until the point of painful erections…that doesn’t sound fun

  2. Does anyone know where I could pick up a copy of The Art of Pierced Penises and Decorative Tattoos ?

  3. Unfortunately Doug Malloy’s book is BEYOND out of print. I’ve only known of one person who had a copy and he can’t find it now. (Even Jim Ward doesn’t have a copy).

    IT was however printed in the first edition of Bunkhouse magazine, a gay men’s mag of the 70′s…you might be able to track one down?

    warmly
    paul king

  4. Umm… Dear Dreamy Paul King ™..
    I have a copy of The Art of Pierced Penises and Decorative Tattoos at my lovely Xanadont Estate…
    If you want to come over and look at it, I’m sure I could arrange it.
    And by it, I mean the book. Not… you know.. my weenie.

  5. I have a copy of The Art of Pierced Penises and Decorative Tattoos.
    If I recall, I purchased it in sometime between 1988 and 1990 off the “closeout” rack at an adult book shop in Chicago while I was in town visiting relatives. At the time, I was about 25, living in Washington DC and one of the original members of The Black Rose fetish group when it was first started in 1987(originally as People Exchanging Power). I had and still have an interest in a variety of alternative pursuits and was so intrigued when I picked up this small soft cover “booklet” that I absolutely had to purchase the one and only copy off a rack in the dingy, seedy porn store I was exploring as a result of my blossoming fetish interests. Purchasing this book was so memorable to me that I can still visualize the grimy old rack I found it on and the books position on it. I was compelled to buy it, despite the fact that I am heterosexually oriented man who to this day has no piercings or tattoos on my own body. I do, however, have great appreciation for both the beauty of the art and the personal impact and significance that body modification has for so many, both the pierced and persons such as myself. They extreme nature of both the text and the photos became a foundational part of my journey in becoming a progressively more accepting, understanding and open minded person. I’m not sure why I only decided to google the title tonight, after almost 25 years of having this book in my possession, but I was moved enough by Jim Ward’s knowledgeable account of Mr. Simonton’s life to want to share my experience with and the impact this short, obscure, work has had on me. I have always been a liberal minded, try-sexual, accepting person, but this book showed me for the first time the extreme, for lack of a better word, lengths that a person could go in both desire and in vivo execution in a way that was informative, educational, and downright “matter of fact”. In my view, it is not in any way pornographic in character. The work makes a neophyte to the fetish world want to turn away, as well as turn & scrutinize every page, simultaneously making one squirm and piquing one’s interest. I would love to hear from others for whom this “rarity” has also had import and I hope to share this work online soon, so more people can experience it and not just read descriptions of it. It is definitely not high art and my praises for it should not be mistaken as such, but for me, and I suspect for others, it has been significant in both my personal psycho-sexual development and in the historical context of the alternative lifestyle movement .

    I am currently liquidating most of my personal possessions as part of my leaving the business world and continuing my commitment to helping others in these difficult times through a non-profit organization I founded last year. As such, I would love to sell my copy to a generous person to whom it would matter that the funds would be supporting a good cause and who also might choose to publish online(or assist me in doing so) a scanned copy of the work so that it may be shared by all who seek it out. Screw the copyrights I guess, and say hello to Pirate Bay!

Leave a Reply