Article By Meagan Drillinger And Melanie Curry
~ FEBRUARY 2023 ~
For decades, circumcision was something of a given in the United States.
The procedure, which entails removing the foreskin (the sheath of skin around the head of the penis) was considered a standard procedure for babies assigned male at birth, regardless of their cultural or religious background, with doctors citing its health and hygiene benefits.
But recently, circumcision has been on the decline. Between 1979 and 2010, the national rate of newborn circumcision in the U.S. dropped from 64.5% to 58.3%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (That’s still much higher than the world average, with researchers estimating that 37-39% of men are circumcised, globally.) The recent reveal from Prince Harry that he and Prince William are in fact circumcised has also gotten people debating the benefits of getting snipped or not. There was some speculation that Harry’s bout with a frostbitten penis could have been avoided if he’d been circumcised, which experts refuted.
The truth is that circumcision isn’t a necessary procedure for a penis-owner to live a happy and healthy life, says urologist Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt. Let’s dig deeper into everything there is to know about circumcised vs. uncircumcised penises.
Circumcised vs. Uncircumcised: What’s the difference?
“Functionally, there are no major differences” between a circumcised and uncircumcised penis, Brahmbhatt says.
However, removing the foreskin creates an aesthetic difference between a circumcised and uncircumcised penis, particularly when the penis isn’t erect. “Physically, there is a stark difference in how the penis looks when flaccid,” Brahmbhatt explains.
“On an [uncircumcised] penis, you will likely not see the head of the glans or the opening of the urethra. In a properly circumcised penis, the glans and urethral opening are clearly visible.”
What are the health benefits and safety concerns associated with circumcision?
To a degree, the consensus in the medical community is still that circumcision does slightly reduce the risks of certain UTIs and STIs. “The overall risk of urinary tract infections in males is low, but these infections are more common in uncircumcised males,” Brahmbhatt says. “Severe infections early in life can lead to kidney problems later on. “As for STIs,“Circumcised men might have a lower risk of certain sexually transmitted infections, including HIV,” Brahmbhatt says. “Still, safe sexual practices remain essential.”
Additionally, a new small study found that circumcision may alter the penis microbiome, meaning it can change the presence and composition of naturally occurring bacteria and fungi. These bacterial and fungal communities have been linked to STIs and inflammation, which suggests that if it’s compromised via circumcision, your susceptibility to STIs and inflammation will likely go down.
In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement saying that notwithstanding the potential rare complications of circumcision, including bleeding, infection, and (shudder) penile necrosis, “the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks.”
But over the years, emerging research has thrown some of the stated benefits of circumcision into question. For instance, while some studies of African men indicated that circumcision could reduce the risk of HIV transmission by as much as 60 percent, “the research design was inherently flawed—[they] only examined the health behaviors of heterosexual men, and the results cannot be generalized across cultures,” says sex therapist Kimberly Jackson, LCSW.
That’s why more and more parents are choosing to forego the procedure, and some doctors are refusing to perform it.
“I have not performed a circumcision since 1994,” says Steven Dorfman, MD, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco. “It is a cruel, unnecessary and…substandard practice which belongs in the history books, not in the hospital or the clinic.”
There is even an entire movement—“Intactivism“—devoted to propagating the idea that male circumcision is a cruel and barbaric practice.
Are circumcised penises more hygienic?
As to the question of whether circumcision is more hygienic than being uncut, it is true that guys who are uncut do have to contend with smegma, an odorless (and harmless) cheese-like substance underneath the foreskin. But washing underneath the foreskin daily and rinsing the head of the penis can easily remedy that issue.
Does being circumcised reduce sexual sensation?
For many people, this is the million-dollar question: does circumcision reduce penile sensitivity?
Some health experts claim that circumcision can reduce sexual sensation, as the procedure removes thousands of nerve endings in the penis. In fact, a 2007 study found that the glans of the uncircumcised penis was more sensitive to light touch than the glans of a circumcised penis.
“It is also thought that the extra skin adds more friction and stimulation to the clitoris during penetration (both get extra pleasure!), and causes increased sensation to the glans as well,” says sexual health counselor Aleece Fosnight, MSPAS, PA-C, CSC, CSE.
That said, “studies show that there is no significant change in sensation in adult men who undergo circumcision,” says Dr. Alex Shteynshlyuger, director of urology at New York Urology Specialists. A 2016 study confirmed this, finding that men who were circumcised experienced the same level of sexual pleasure as men who were not.
Does being circumcised make it easier/harder to get someone pregnant?
Fear not: The foreskin has no bearing on your swimmers. Circumcision does not alter the rate of pregnancy, Brahmbhatt says.
Do people prefer uncircumcised penises?
Although the research on the health and sexual benefits of circumcision is mixed, some parents still would prefer to circumcise their kids for aesthetic reasons — i.e., because they don’t want their sons to feel weird next to the other kids in the locker room. And some guys still do think that their sexual partners prefer circumcised penises to uncircumcised ones.
But when it comes down to it, that’s probably not the case. While there are few surveys indicating what people’s preferences are, a lot of people really don’t care if their sexual partners are circumcised or not — especially as more and more parents choose not to circumcise their kids.
“I don’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter to me. Plus, I’m not everyone’s idea of ‘perfect’ down there, either.” says Maria*, 38. Karina*, 26, agrees: “I don’t care one way or the other so long as it’s clean and disease-free.