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Does Circumcision Impact Physical Sexual Sensitivity?

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Does Circumcision Impact Physical Sexual Sensitivity?
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There's no question that circumcision changes physical sensitivity in the penis. By definition, circumcision is the cutting away of all or at least some of the foreskin, a part of the body that is rich with nerve endings. Circumcision also impacts the anatomy of the penis, and has a corresponding impact on penile sensation.

But if you are most interested in how being circumcised might change your experience of sexual pleasure the answer becomes harder to pin down.

A 2007 study funded by an organization which opposes circumcision, and published in the peer-reviewed journal BJU International, did find a difference in fine touch sensitivity between men who were circumcised and those who were uncircumcised (such that circumcised men had less sensitivity to fine touch in all but one area of the penis).

This same study also compared the sensitivity thresholds at various points on the penis and concluded that the most sensitive part of the uncircumcised penis was more sensitive than the most sensitive parts of the circumcised penis. The authors argue that the parts of the penis removed by circumcision represent the most sensitive parts of the penis. These findings, while far from conclusive, need to be considered.

In more recent 2013 study, published in the same journal, 1,369 men were asked to rate penile sensitivity in both the head (glans) and the shaft, across four dimensions: sexual pleasure, discomfort/pain, orgasm intensity, and effort required to achieve orgasm when stimulated by themselves or partners. The study, which was conducted as an online survey, found that circumcised men rated their own sexual pleasure and orgasm intensity lower than uncircumcised men, and more of them reported discomfort and "unusual sensations". In concrete terms the differences were minor (for example the difference of 0.27 of a point on the five point scale) but they were statistically significant.

At the same time we need to ask what the relationship is between sensitivity and pleasure. Does someone who feels more necessarily feel better? Does it matter what the 'more' is that they are feeling? Measurable sensation in a clinical context (which, by the way, often involves a pin prick) is hardly the same as sexual stimulation or sexual pleasure. Knowing the density of nerve endings in the penis is one way to measure sexual sensitivity, but what do men say when asked about the impact of circumcision on their sex lives? In other words, if there is a loss of sensitivity, do they feel it sexually?

Most men are unable to answer this question because most of them are circumcised before they are sexually active. So there's no point of comparison. Nonetheless researchers have considered circumcision as a variable when surveying men and their partners about sexual satisfaction. Findings differ, and studies that exist are rare enough that there's no cumulative body of work. One study of heterosexual men and their partners found that on most counts there was no difference in sexual satisfaction, but that 10 of the 95 circumcised men in the study did report 'frequent' difficulty with orgasm, and that women partners of circumcised men were slightly more likely to report pain during intercourse and incomplete sexual satisfaction. Of course it's impossible to know whether this is caused by circumcision.

There have been a few studies that used men who were circumcised as adults, asking them to evaluate elements of their sexual satisfaction before and after their circumcision. A few of these studies have indicated that sexual pleasure and satisfaction increases following circumcision. There are many factors to consider here though, including the reason for the circumcision, the amount of counseling a man may have received in the process, and whether or not the impact is primarily psychological.

The bottom line: It seems safe to say that circumcision impacts the physical sensitivity of the penis, but the extent to which this reduction in sensitivity is experienced as a problem or a loss for men is unclear. In practice, most men who are circumcised still find the head of the penis to be an extremely sensitive part of the body when compared to, say, their forearm. And from the research that’s available, they don’t seem to experience it as sexual loss.

Sources:

Bronselaer, G. A., Schober, J. M., Meyer-Bahlburg, H. F.L., T'Sjoen, G., Vlietinck, R. and Hoebeke, P. B. "Male Circumcision Decreases Penile Sensitivity as Measured in a Large Cohort". BJU International. (2013) doi: 10.1111/j.1464-410X.2012.11761.x

Fink, K.S., Carson, C.C., DeVellis, R.F. “Adult Circumcision Outcomes Study: Effect on Erectile Function, Penile Sensitivity, Sexual Activity and Satisfaction” The Journal of Urology Vol. 167, Issue 5 (2002): 2113-2116.

Frisch, M., Lindholm, M., Gronbaek, M. "Male Circumcision and Sexual Function in Men and Women: A Survey-based, Cross-sectional Study in Denmark" International Journal of Epidemiology Vol. 40 (2011): 1367 - 1381.

Gemmell, T., & Boyle, G. J. “Neonatal circumcision: Its long-term harmful effects.” Understanding Circumcision: A Multi-disciplinary Approach to a Multi-dimensional Problem. Eds. G. C. Denniston, F. M. Hodges, & M. F. Milos. New York: Kluwer/Plenum, 2001. pp.241–252.

Kigozi, G., Watya, S., Polis, C.B., et al. “The Effect of Male Circumcision on Sexual Satisfaction and Function, Results from a Randomized Trial of Male Circumcision for Human Immunodeficiency Virus Prevention, Rakai, Uganda” BJU International Vol. 101, No. 1 (2008): 65-70.

Masood, S., Patel, H.R.H., Himpson, R.C., et. al. “Penile sensitivity and sexual satisfaction after circumcision: are we informing men correctly?” Urologia Internationalis Vol. 75 Iss. 1 (2005): 62-66.

Morris, B.J., Waskett, J.H., Gray, R.H. "Does Sexual Function Survey in Denmark Offer Any Support for Male Circumcision Having an Adverse Effect?" International Journal of Epidemiology Vol. 40 (2011): Published online ahead of print, November 28, 2011.

Sorrells, M.L., Snyder, J.L., Reiss, M.D., et. al. “Fine-touch Pressure Thresholds in the Adult Penis.” BJU International Volume 99 (2007): 864-869.

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