What to Know About Sex with Circumcised vs. Uncircumcised Penises
The circumcised vs. uncircumcised penis debate has been the center of conversation at every slumber party since middle school — and now experts are weighing in.
Are uncircumcised people more sensitive? Are circumcised penises cleaner? When it comes to circumcision, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. (Speaking of fiction —is it possible to break a penis?) Even among the pros, the circumcised vs. uncircumcised debate is a hotly contested sexual health issue. (To be clear, we're talking about male circumcision; female circumcision gets a hard no from all respectable experts.)
In part, that's because in this country, and other developed countries, there isn't any clear benefit to be circumcised vs. uncircumcised, says Karen Boyle, M.D., director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Chesapeake Urology Associates in Baltimore. The procedure, which is often a religious ritual for some families, is fairly common for newborn boys in certain parts of the world including in the U.S. While circumcision is a tool for AIDS prevention in other parts of the world, in the U.S., where HIV isn't at epidemic status, the circumcised vs. uncircumcised debate often boils down to how it affects factors such as sexual pleasure and general hygiene.
Ahead, experts weigh in on the circumcised vs. uncircumcised penis conversation.
Circumcised vs. Uncircumcised: Male Sensitivity
First thing's first: what does circumcised mean? And what does uncircumcised mean? ICYDK, circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin, the tissue covering the head of the penis, according to the Mayo Clinic. Circumcision removes up to half of the skin on a penis, skin that likely contained "fine-touch neuroreceptors," which are highly responsive to light touch, according to research.
In fact, a Michigan State University study found that the most sensitive part of a circumcised penis the 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 New York-based urologist and male sexual medicine specialist. This means nerve endings on a circumcised (vs. uncircumcised) penis are further from the surface — and therefore, might be less responsive.
And regardless of what you've heard about circumcised vs. uncircumcised penises, circumcision doesn't affect male sexual drive or functioning, says Dr. Boyle. In fact, a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that the odds of premature ejaculation or erectile trouble weren't affected by their circumcision status.
Wondering how to tell if someone is circumcised? The whole sans-extra-skin should give it away; without the foreskin, the head of the circumcised (vs. uncircumcised) penis is exposed when flaccid and erect.
Circumcised vs. Uncircumcised: Female Pleasure During Sex
Okay, so uncircumcised people may have a slight advantage in the sensitivity and pleasure department. But if you're wondering how sex with circumcised vs. uncircumcised partners compares from the female perspective, there's no clear-cut (no pun intended) answer to how circumcision affects pleasure. One study from Denmark found that people with circumcised spouses were twice as likely to report dissatisfaction in the sack than those with uncircumcised partners — but other studies have shown the opposite.
It's true that when an uncircumcised penis's foreskin retracts, it may bunch up around the base of the penis, providing a little extra friction against your clitoris, says Dr. Paduch. "This is going to play a role [in pleasure] for women who have the clitoral pattern of arousal," he says. (To be fair, your partner could more than make up for the lack of foreskin by using their fingers, a couple's vibrator, or these sex positions for clitoral stimulation.)
Circumcised vs. Uncircumcised: Female Pain During Sex
While the amount of pleasure may be up for discussion in the circumcised vs. uncircumcised debate, women with partners who have a circumcised penis are also three times more likely to experience sexual pain than those with uncircumcised spouses, the study from Denmark found. "The uncircumcised penis is much glossier, a more velvety feel," says Dr. Paduch. "So for women who aren't lubricating well, they have much less discomfort having sex with someone who is uncircumcised." He adds that people who have their foreskin intact require lubricant far less frequently during sex and masturbation since the skin of their penis is naturally slicker. (Wait, what is a foreskin? Think of it as the penis version of a clitoral hood — after all, penises and clitorises have some seriously surprisingly anatomical similarities.)
Circumcised vs. Uncircumcised: Cleanliness
Just as it can be tough to keep all the folds of your vulva clean (though these down-there grooming guidelines can help), it can be difficult to keep an uncircumcised penis fresh 100 percent of the time. "Although most people that are uncircumcised do a very good job cleaning below the foreskin, it's more of a task for them," says Dr. Boyle. As a result, "some women may feel 'cleaner' with someone who's circumcised," says gynecologist Alyssa Dweck, M.D.
In fact, people with vulvas 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 hung up on hygiene, not because of any actual anatomical difference, says Supriya Mehta, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In the cleanliness category of the circumcised vs. uncircumcised debate, it all boils down to how thorough of wash uncircumcised people give themselves in the shower.
Circumcised vs. Uncircumcised: Risk of Infection
Going along with the cleanliness factor, when someone is uncircumcised, moisture can get trapped between the penis and the foreskin, creating the ideal environment for bacteria to incubate. "Female sex partners of uncircumcised men are at increased risk of bacterial vaginosis," says Mehta. People 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). (Done with the circumcised vs. uncircumcised debate but still have penis-related questions? This guide can help.)