Circumcision or Not? A Matter of Personal Preference

For a woman looking for a sensitive man, an uncircumcised partner has one advantage: his penis will probably be more responsive because of the foreskin that covers its tip. Called a prepuce, the foreskin is removed in some males during circumcision. Over time, however, the circumcised penis loses some sensitivity as it rubs unprotected against a man's underwear all day. Does that bode badly for the love lives of men who were stripped of their foreskin?

Not so fast ... The question of whether circumcision is beneficial or bad news for a man's sex life — and his health — is still fodder for debate.

Circumcision — A Question of Culture

The Bible says "And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you" (Genesis 17:11). In the Jewish culture, as well as the Muslim one, boy babies are circumcised as a religious rite. Today, however, some 85 percent of males — regardless of religious orientation — are circumcised in the United States, according to a new edition of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, by David Reuben, M.D. (New York: HarperCollins, c1999). In Europe, by contrast, only about 10 percent of male babies have their foreskin removed.

The five- to 10-minute surgery is usually performed within the first weeks after birth. It's common to have several days of discomfort after circumcision. But complications, such as bleeding and infection, are rare, with the risk increasing after the age of two months and remaining higher in older boys and men, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Possible origins of the practice, according to sociologists and anthropologists, include hygiene, ethnic belonging, attractiveness to the opposite sex and/or increase in sexual pleasure. Some of these reasons are still cited today — 3,000 years after this most widely practiced of surgeries was first described in the Bible.

Circumcision — Good News and Bad While the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn't consider circumcision to be medically necessary, there are some medical reasons for performing one. Those include preventing recurring infections of the head of the penis, avoiding obstruction of urine flow that can result when the prepuce's opening narrows, and preventing a tight prepuce from retracting over the glans. Also, circumcision may reduce the incidence of penile cancer (a very rare condition).

Even barring these considerations, infections, including urinary tract infections in infants, are less common in a circumcised penis. That's because a circumcised penis is easier to keep clean. (By pulling back the uncircumcised foreskin and cleaning carefully, a man can reduce the formation of smegma, a cottage cheese-like substance that can lead to a foul odor and infection).