Circumcision is a hotly debated sexual health issue, and now the CDC says benefits outweigh risks. But does the procedure impact your sex life?
Circumcision—it’s one of the most hotly debated sexual health issues in the medical community. In part that’s because in this country, and other developed countries, there isn’t any clear benefit to circumcise or not to circumcise, says Karen Boyle, M.D., director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Chesapeake Urology Associates in Baltimore. In other words, since HIV hasn’t reached epidemic status in the States (circumcision is a tool for AIDS prevention in other parts of the world), the circumcision debate often boils down to sexual pleasure and hygiene. But does going foreskin-free affect pleasure—for the man or woman? Is being “cut” really cleaner? Read on for an expert take on the issue.
We know circumcision doesn’t affect male sexual drive or functioning, says Boyle. (In fact, a recent Danish study found that guys' odds of premature ejaculation or erectile trouble weren't affected by their circumcision status.) But circumcision does remove up to half of the skin on a penis—so he loses “fine-touch neuroreceptors,” which are highly responsive to light touch, according to researchers from Korea. In fact, a Michigan State University study found that the most sensitive part of a circumcised guy’s penis is his circumcision scar. A possible explanation: After circumcision, “the penis has to protect itself—like growing a callus on your foot, but to a lesser extent,” says Darius Paduch, M.D., Ph.D., a urologist and male sexual medicine specialist at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. This means nerve endings are further from the surface—and therefore, may be less responsive.
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Risk of Infection
When a guy is uncircumcised, moisture can get trapped between his penis and his foreskin, creating the ideal environment for bacteria to incubate. “Female sex partners of uncircumcised men are at increased risk of bacterial vaginosis,” says Supriya Mehta, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Guys who aren’t circumcised may also be more likely to pass along any infections they have, including yeast infections, UTIs, and STDs (particularly HPV and HIV).
Just as it can be tough to keep all the folds of your vulva clean, it’s can be difficult to keep an uncircumcised penis fresh 100 percent of the time. “Although most men that are uncircumcised do a very good job cleaning below the foreskin, it’s more of a task for them,” says Boyle. As a result, “some women may feel ‘cleaner’ with a man who’s circumcised. That could enhance a woman’s sexual function, just because she feels less likely to get an infection,” says gynecologist Alyssa Dweck, M.D. In fact, women who experience a boost in pleasure after their partners get circumcised often credit the change to an increase in cleanliness. In other words, they enjoy sex more because they’re less worried about STDs, not because of any actual anatomical difference, says Mehta.
There’s no clear-cut answer how circumcision affects female pleasure. One recent study from Denmark found that women with circumcised spouses were twice as likely to report dissatisfaction in the sack than those with uncircumcised hubbies. (But other studies have shown the opposite.) One way his foreskin can be a tool for your pleasure: When an uncircumcised guy’s foreskin retracts, it may bunch up around the base of his penis, providing a little extra friction against your clitoris, says Paduch. “This is going to play a role [in pleasure] for women who have the clitoral pattern of arousal,” he says.
Women with circumcised partners are three times more likely to experience sexual pain than ladies with uncircumcised spouses, the study from Denmark found. “The uncircumcised penis is much glossier, a more velvety feel,” says Paduch. “So for women who aren’t lubricating well, they mave much less discomfort having sex with a guy who is uncircumcised.” He adds that guys who have their foreskin intact require lubricant far less frequently during sex and masturbation, since the skin of their penis in naturally slicker.