Upbeat news for circumcised men and circumcision-wary parents: The procedure does not reduce penile sensitivity in adulthood, according to a study in the Journal of Urology of 62 men, ages 18 to 37, half of whom were circumcised. It’s been thought (but not well tested) that removal of the foreskin causes the skin of the exposed glans (the rounded head) to become hardened and thus less sensitive; removing the foreskin is also said to affect sensitivity since it has a lot of nerve endings.
Researchers objectively measured tactile, pain, and warmth thresholds at specific points on the penis and found no differences with respect to circumcision status. Self-reported sexual functioning did not differ between the circumcised and uncircumcised men either.
Circumcision is hotly debated, with research confirming health benefits—that it protects against some sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV), balanitis (inflammation of the head of the penis, often due to poor hygiene), and penile cancer. Opponents counter that it is “barbaric” and painful, and that it affects sexual response and pleasure.
The strength of the current study is that it included “measures that are likely more relevant to sexual pleasure (that is, thermal detection, pain threshold) than fine-touch pressure thresholds alone.” A limitation is that it didn’t address perceptions of sexual sensation and pleasure. And it’s not possible to compare differences in sensation between men who have an intact foreskin and those who don’t know what it feels like to have one. Still, as the paper concluded, “neonatal circumcision is not associated with changes in penile sensitivity.”
Also see Does Circumcision Make the Cut?