The pros and cons of circumcision are being hotly debated in the U.S. right now. So who delivers better sex: circumcised guys or uncircumcised guys? Shape investigates.
Are uncircumcised guys more sensitive? Are circumcised penises cleaner? When it comes to circumcision, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. Even among the pros, circumcision is a hotly debated 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 circumcise or not to circumcise men, says Karen Boyle, M.D., director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Chesapeake Urology Associates in Baltimore. 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 circumcision debate often boils down to how it affects factors like sexual pleasure and general hygiene. This is what the experts have to say about the pros and cons of the practice.
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 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 NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. This means nerve endings are further from the surface—and therefore, may be less responsive. Point—uncircumcised guys. And regardless of what you've heard, circumcision doesn't affect male sexual drive or functioning, says Dr. Boyle. In fact, a recent Danish study found that guys' odds of premature ejaculation or erectile trouble weren't affected by their circumcision status. (Add that to the list of five sex rumors to stop believing.)
Okay, so uncircumcised guys may have a slight advantage. What about their GFs? Unfortunately, there's no clear-cut answer about 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. It's true that 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 Dr. Paduch. "This is going to play a role [in pleasure] for women who have the clitoral pattern of arousal," he says. But to be fair, a cut guy could more than make up for the lack by using his fingers or a couple's vibe.
Pleasure is something of a draw, but 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 Dr. Paduch. "So for women who aren't lubricating well, they have 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 is naturally slicker. (All that seems to indicate that a woman with a circumcised partner could cut her risk of pain by lubing up.)
Just as it can be tough to keep all the folds of your vulva clean (though these six down-there grooming rules can help), it 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 Dr. Boyle. As a result, "some women may feel 'cleaner' with a man who's circumcised. That could enhance a woman's sexual function," 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 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.
Risk of Infection
Going along with the cleanliness factor, 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 Mehta. 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).