Being a sex columnist, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at the range of topics that randomly pop up when I’m in a crowd. But I have no idea where the word “circumcision” came into anything I said. Honest. Just because I like to say the word “penis” doesn’t mean I want to know about snipping one.

Regardless, somehow that’s where a conversation I had while on Spring Break went. A friend of mine, it turns out, is an anti-circumcision advocate.

This is honestly not a topic that I had previously given a lot of thought. I’ve never even seen an actual uncircumcised penis. From what I had been told, circumcision makes the penis cleaner and safer from infections.

This is what a lot of people in this country are told, apparently. At least 60 percent of adult males are circumcised in the United States, most while they’re infants. For many parents, circumcising their sons is a matter of health; for others, circumcision has religious significance as well.

The practice itself seems to be almost as old as history. Egyptian mummies that are 6,000 years old have been found with what seem to be circumcised penises. The Hebrew people have similarly been snipping off the foreskins of their infant boys for thousands of years.

If it’s so old a practice, with so many benefits, why be against it? Who would want to be around a smelly, smegma-encrusted piece of meat?

It’s images like this that have scared people into getting their kids circumcised. On the contrary, though, an “intact” penis can be just as clean as any stripped penis – and more sensitive, too.

The removal of the foreskin is intended mainly to prevent the buildup of smegma (a mixture of penile gland secretions and dead skin cells) and forestall bacterial growth, but the operation itself may cause the very problems it means to do away with. Numerous complications can arise from the circumcision, especially on a battleground as small as an infant’s penis. A botched job can cause malformation of the penis, hemorrhaging, even death. Even if the operation is successful, in a diaper, the wound is open to contact with feces and a greater chance of infection.

Smegma itself has an important purpose: both as lubricant and to prevent bacterial buildup. The secretion that makes up smegma keeps the glans of the penis moist and reduces friction during intercourse. A man’s penis doesn’t even produce much of this secretion in infancy – the glands become more active once puberty hits and reach peak production when the guy is in his 20s and 30s. Thus, fears that a child would be unable to keep his penis sufficiently clean without circumcision are unfounded.

Cleaning beneath the foreskin itself isn’t all that difficult, as I’m sure all the intact men on campus know. The foreskin is easily pulled back, and only a regular rinsing with water is needed to keep it clean. Because smegma is produced with or without the foreskin, a circumcised penis needs just as much cleaning as an uncircumcised one.

Also, the foreskin, when left intact, has a high concentration of nerve endings – one of the highest concentrations in the body. Men who get circumcised later in life report a drop in penile sensitivity and sexual receptivity. Those circumcised since infancy may in fact have even less sensitivity than those circumcised later in life because the skin of the glans may toughen with exposure.

Personally, as a woman, I wouldn’t know the difference. I doubt that many women would. Penises – circumcised and otherwise – can be beautiful things, as long as you keep them clean and watch where you stick them.

Daily Nexus features editor Sarah Kent wouldn’t mind having an uncircumcised penis, as long as it wasn’t attached to her. Send her your sex ideas, comments and questions to <>.