Sex and Circumcision: A Healthy Decision?
By Theresa Matos
Every year, in the United States and world wide, 13.3 million males are circumcised. Circumcision refers to the surgical removal of the foreskin. There are many reasons for circumcision such as medical, cultural, or religious beliefs. Due to the fact that a number of beliefs surround the issue of circumcision, it is often not discussed or talked about. As with anything that is unknown or foreign to people, myths and stories about uncircumcised penises are frequently abound. Figuring out how circumcision impacts sexual intercourse is a complicated subject, and it often depends on one’s knowledge and preferences. Nevertheless, before making assumptions about how circumcised penises compare to uncircumcised penises and how circumcision affects sexual intercourse, one should fully understand the difference between the two.
Differences Between a Circumcised Penis & Uncircumcised Penis
The main difference between a circumcised and uncircumcised penis is the foreskin (i.e., an extremely sensitive thin layer of skin which has many nerve endings and covers the end of an uncircumcised penis like a sleeve). When an uncircumcised male is erect the foreskin normally retracts over the shaft of the penis thus exposing the head of the penis. Once the foreskin is retracted it visually appears quite similar to a circumcised penis.
The retracted foreskin acts like a lubricant or a sleeve during sexual intercourse, oral sex, and masturbation. When an uncircumcised male thrusts his penis, the foreskin glides up and down the shaft of the penis. During intercourse, oral sex, and masturbation with an uncircumcised penis, the outer penile skin is gripped, and the penis glides back and forth inside its own skin. This minimizes friction and works as a lubricant.
A circumcised penis refers to a penis that has had its foreskin surgically removed. Similarly, during intercourse with a circumcised penis, the skin on shaft of the penis rubs back and forth against the partner’s genitals. However, some research has shown that circumcised males may need additional lubrication when engaging in sexual intercourse because the foreskin is no longer intact and the penis does not have the lubricant effect that foreskin provides.
Sexual Sensitivity and Circumcision
In a study conducted by Payne et al. (2007) on the Sensation and Sexual Arousal in Circumcised and Uncircumcised Men “no differences in genital sensitivity were found between the uncircumcised and circumcised groups.” Yet, there is also research that argues that circumcision does impact sensitivity. A 2007 study published in the journal BJU International, found that “the glans of the circumcised penis is less sensitive to fine touch than the glans of the uncircumcised penis.” Nonetheless, the above research does not conclusively indicate that uncircumcised males have more penis sensitivity during sex than circumcised males. Considering the nature of arguments on both sides of the sensitivity issue, it is plausible to say that circumcision may impact the physical sensitivity of the penis. However, the extent to which sensitivity is affected and experienced is unclear. What is clear is that many circumcised and uncircumcised males maintain that the head of the penis is a particularly sensitive part of the body when compared to other parts of the body such as the forearm.
Does Circumcision Affect Sexual Satisfaction or Sexual Function?
Again personal preference and health can impact how and/or if circumcision will affect sexual satisfaction and sexual function. There are individuals who prefer to be sexually involved with uncircumcised males, and there are also individuals who prefer to be involved with circumcised males. Research studies have shown that both uncircumcised and circumcised males are equally sexually satisfied and can sexually function equally. A study conducted in 2008 in Uganda on the effect of male circumcision on sexual satisfaction and function found that most of the men in both the circumcised and uncircumcised groups had no problems with their sexual satisfaction and sexual function. The researchers further concluded that “adult male circumcision does not adversely affect sexual satisfaction or clinically significant function in men.”
Succinctly, it is important to remember that both circumcised and uncircumcised men should practice safer sex (e.g., using condoms) in order to reduce their risk for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. When using a condom, an uncircumcised male should remember to pull the foreskin back before putting a condom on.