One of the world’s oldest recorded surgical procedures, the history of circumcision can be traced back back over 15,000 years.
What’s not particularly clear is why it began. One theory is that it began as a way of permanently marking captured soldiers as slaves. Confusingly, there’s evidence that the practice emerged in different cultures and geographic regions — Sudan and Ethiopia, Indigenous Australians and Polynesians, and the Aztec and Mayan peoples.
It seems to have been the cultural practices that evolved from the civilisations of Sudan and Ethiopia that has had the most lasting impact — influencing the Ancient Egyptians and the Semites, and subsequently being adopted by both the Jewish and Muslim faiths.
It was in the 19th century that the practice of circumcising of infant males dramatically increased. British and American doctors began advocating circumcision as a deterrent to masturbation.
This recommendation was subsequently revised in the late 20th century, but the practice continues despite there being no health benefits and the potential for psychological and physical damage to circumcised boys.
The map below illustrates the geographic spread of circumcision.
The colour code maps the percentage of males that are circumcised. The dark blue is the lowest percentage, the red is the highest percentage.