How Freud circumvented the subject of circumcision

Freud deemed circumcision was a symbolic substitute for castration, the latter being carried out of fathers’ jealousy and cruelty in prehistoric times. He considered that circumcision was a remnant of the fathers’ punishment in primitive societies and that it testified submission to their will.[i] In other words, fathers impose their leading sexual role in the family on their sons by circumcising them because their unconscious minds are imprinted with the fear of castration. Fathers demonstrate power to their new-borns and who the boss in the bed is because they have inherited a fear of being dominated. They use circumcision as a preventive punishment and humiliation because they are born apprehensive, overly jealous and possessive.

Freud admits that the circumcising fathers are sexually frustrated. However, instead of to look for a concrete cause for their frustration he attributes it to past events outside their lifespan and to the cruel nature of sexuality. He circumvented the possibility that circumcision has a psychosexual impact. A father is not to be blamed for his sexual frustration but his predecessors and fierceness of sexuality. In this way Freud freed fathers from responsibility for their frustrations and circumcising disposition. Mysterious are the abstract ways of circumcision-influenced spirituality. In any case, the lack of prepuce seems to leave one ignorant of its effects.

Compulsory circumcision cannot indicate submission. Yet, punishment of infants bears no meaning to them. Even when they grow up they are not going to feel humiliated where circumcision is the norm. The circumcising fathers punish their sons in vain. It seems that they circumcise for their own sake but without knowing this.

Note that the uses of circumcision such as penalty and showing submission that Freud mentioned are entirely inapplicable to neonatal circumcision. This implies that Jewish pedocircumcision is less humiliating and less primitive and leaves room for thought that it may be even dignifying and progressive. Intentionally or not Freud skilfully circumvented the issue of Jewish circumcision. Unfortunately, for some reason his followers did the same.[ii]

Freud assumed that circumcision is only a remnant of the cruel prehistoric castration that remains implanted in the unconscious. It is a reverberation of past cruelty that is now lost and exists only in the unconscious memory. Thus, the fear of castration that once produced the castration anxiety we have inherited now finds its symbolic and harmless expression in the otherwise meaningless habit of circumcision. Freud ambiguously implied that circumcision is a useful relic: it relieves the unconscious of its prehistoric burden without having mental effects of its own. This view even infers that circumcision is psychologically beneficial as it discharges the sexual frustration of the castration anxiety. So circumcision eventually mitigates the castration anxiety and facilitates its successful resolution.

The very attitude of Freud to the castration complex is ambiguous. On the one hand castration is barbaric and dreadful. On the other hand castration anxiety is constructive because sexuality is destructive and the fear of castration restricts it. Thus sexual frustration and castration anxiety are distressing but are helpful and obligatory in sexual maturation. The same abstruse evaluation may be deduced also for circumcision: it harmlessly reduces a useful frustration. Similarly to any circumcised he had mixed feelings about circumcision and suppression of sexuality.

Fear of castration or simply fear of sexuality?

Castration has been used for enslaving, humiliation, extermination, punishment, prevention and is still used for suppressing the sex-drive of sex offenders. Religions also used castration as a method for religious sublimation. Choirs of castrati hypnotized the believers in cathedrals of Roman Catholic Church or entertained audiences in operas. Castration, however, has never been widespread due to obvious reasons. Castrates are childless so any disposition to castration is genetically uninheritable. For that reason it is very objectionable that the fear of castration has been implanted in human unconsciousness during primeval ages. Therefore only psychosocial factors can transfer a disposition to castration from one generation to the next.

We are forced to assume that the fear of castration is not embedded in the unconscious from prehistoric times. If castration anxiety really exists it must be imprinted during the individual life. We are not born with fear of castration but somehow acquire it. However, since castration is very rare a mass imprinting[iii] fear of it is quite improbable. On the other hand the sexual frustrations that are considered indicative of castration anxiety are real and ubiquitous. They must be habitually caused and must relate to suppression of sexuality. The physical and mental suppression of sexuality imposed by circumcision and religious moral are real and widespread factors that we cannot ignore. They are the ideal candidates for agents of sexual frustration that Freud ascribed to fear of castration. So we arrive at the quite trivial conclusion that the true cause for the repression of sexual desires is simply their bodily and mental suppression. The fact that psychoanalysis searched for the roots of sexual dissatisfaction elsewhere only confirms this. The victim of an emotional deficiency is the last one to know it.

Since castration is not imprinted in the unconscious, circumcision cannot be a symbolic substitute for it. It follows that circumcision is a partial castration, such that does not impair reproduction. It is circumcision and anti-sex religious morals that underlie the sexual frustrations that psychoanalysis blames on an inborn disposition to fear of castration. From these two, neurophysiological intervention must be the more powerful suppressor than fear. The true name of the castration anxiety is the Circumcision syndrome, we may say.

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