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Nunberg, H. (1947). Circumcision and Problems of Bisexuality. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 28:145-179.

(1947). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 28:145-179

Circumcision and Problems of Bisexuality

Herman Nunberg


Freud says that the deepest roots of the castration complex reach 'bedrock' where psychology rests on biological foundations. Homosexuality which constantly crosses the path of heterosexuality, complicating and yet in its struggle enriching the life of man may be distinguished as one of its biological foundations.

Among the most significant of the numerous manifestations of the castration complex are doubts of one's own sex or of another's, and fears of being of the opposite sex. Dissatisfaction with the sex bestowed by nature is widespread among primitive as well as among highly civilized peoples. It has found expression in the various forms of circumcision, practised by savages and ancient Egyptians, still adhered to, for religious reasons by Jews and Mahomedans, and performed in Anglo-Saxon countries to-day, allegedly for hygienic reasons.

As early as 1912 Freud recognized the inner relationship between circumcision and castration, and Theodor Reik, in his excellent study of the puberty rites of primitives, proved that circumcision represents symbolic castration, its underlying motive being prevention of incest. By means of these rites the boy is declared a man, introduced into the community of men, and granted sexual license with non-incestuous objects.

Why injury to the penis should make a man more masculine is not quite clear. The explanation that the initiation ties up homosexual libido and also facilitates identification with the father, is undoubtedly valid. It is equally true that the initiation releases heterosexual libido caused by the boy's separation from his mother and his longing for her. Both these changes in the distribution of the libido foster the masculinity of the initiated boy.


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