The decision to circumcise a child is one that some parents take very seriously. If they don't have a clear belief based on culture or religion, they may turn to the research, which offers conflicting reports about the potential benefits and dangers of circumcision. One consideration that is increasingly making it into the mix for parents who care about sexual health, is whether or not circumcising a child will have a negative effect on their adult sex life.
This is also a question that is of interest to grown men who may have been circumcised as children, or who may now be considering circumcision.
But it's a tough question to answer. For one thing, there aren't a lot of comparison groups to use, and even when you can compare, it's so hard to isolate being circumcised as the reason for a difference in giving or receiving sexual pleasure.
For another, it's a difficult question to answer without a clear definition of what we mean by sexual pleasure. If we mean physical sensitivity, then we can turn to the circumcision research that focuses on what effect circumcision has on physical sexual sensitivity. But that research only gives us part of the picture, since physical sensitivity is not the same thing as the experience of sexual pleasure. Physical sensitivity refers to the observable ways your body responds to external stimulation. Sexual pleasure and sexual satisfaction refers to the way you subjectively experience that stimulation. Sexual pleasure includes physical psychological, emotional, and at times spiritual experiences.
Research provides insight, but no easy answers to these questions. Consider some findings from several studies comparing circumcised and uncircumcised men on measures of sexual pleasure and satisfaction:
- A study involving several thousand men in Uganda circumcised as adults found that circumcision did not impact sexual satisfaction or pain during or after intercourse.
- In the only national probability sample in the United States to examine circumcision and sex, researchers found that circumcised men were less likely to experience sexual dysfunction than uncircumcised men.
- A poll conducted by an anti-circumcision organization (whose methods for recruiting subjects were not reported) found that 61% of men who were circumcised as infants reported decreased sensation over time.
- A survey of 139 women recruited through an anti-circumcision newsletter asked women about premature ejaculation; those women who preferred circumcised partners reported that uncircumcised partners were more likely to premature ejaculate but when all the women's responses were taken into account the data indicated that it was circumcised men who were more likely to premature ejaculate.
- In another study which asked women about their male partners, 71% of women preferred circumcised penises to uncircumcised ones when it came to engaging in sexual activities.
- In one study of women in Denmark, those women with circumcised partners were more likely to report feeling sexually dissatisfied. In another study in Mexico, no difference was found in terms of sexual satisfaction for partners.
- Two articles published in the same issue of The Journal of Urology that measured adult men before and after circumcision on sexual ratings arrived at very different results. One study found no reduction in satisfaction with erections while the other study reported a significant reduction in satisfaction with erections after circumcision. Neither study found an overall change in sexual satisfaction after adult circumcision.
So does circumcision make sex better, worse, or the same? It is reasonable to assume that being circumcised would play some part in how you experience sex, but I would like to propose that there are other factors that have a larger impact on the chances that as an adult you will easily be able to give and receive sexual pleasure. Some of those factors have to do with the way we raise sexually healthy children. Some of them are out of everyone's control.
As far as partners are concerned, it is true that partners prefer different penises for all sorts of reasons, including size, shape, and circumcised or uncircumcised. It is important to know that there are people with both preferences, and you do not need to feel lacking, if you are lacking a foreskin (nor do you need to feel strange if you have one, and are living amongst people who do not).
Collins, S., Upshaw, J., Rutchik, S., et. al. "Effects of Circumcision on Male Sexual Function: Debunking a Myth?" The Journal of Urology Volume 167. Issue 5 (2002): 2111-2112.
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 Volume 167. Issue 5 (2002): 2113-2116.
Hammond, T. "A Preliminary Poll of Men Circumcised in Infancy or Childhood" BJU International Volume 83. Supplement 1 (1999): 85-92.
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.
Laumann, E.O., Masi, C.M., and Zuckerman, E.W. "Circumcision in the United States: Prevalence, Prophylactic Effects, and Sexual Practice" Journal of the American Medical Association Volume 277. Issue 13 (1997): 1052-1057.
Williamson, M.L. and Williamson, P.S "Women's Preference for Penile Circumcision in Sexual Partners." Journal of Sex Education and Therapy Volume 14. Issue 2 (1988): 8-12.