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12 September 2005
Circumcision: The Unkindest Cut?
by George Atkinson

Circumcision has become something of a hot topic in recent times, with research showing that circumcised men were less at risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) like HIV. It now seems that, in some quarters, opinions about circumcision have gone full-circle back to earlier times. In the 60s, statistics show that around 90 percent of boys were circumcised in the United States. In the 70s, however, circumcision fell out of favor, and the medical consensus was that it was best to leave the penis intact. Nowadays, only 60 percent of infant males have their foreskins removed for reasons other than religious tradition.

While the link between circumcision and a lower risk of HIV is yet to be fully established, there are other sexual health indicators that seem to show circumcision as a viable procedure. Most of these indicators concern inflammation and infection of the penis.

Inflammation of the glans (referred to as balanitis) is twice as common in uncircumcised boys and five times as common in uncircumcised adults.

Urinary tract infections also appear to be substantially more common in uncircumcised boys. But while the figures may sound alarming, it's important to remember that these statistics are from comparative studies. Consequently, there isn't sufficient evidence yet for physicians to start recommending circumcision. And with good reason, as it should be relatively simple to avoid inflammations and infections by simply paying more attention to the daily cleansing of the uncircumcised penis. Men with an intact foreskin should take special care to move it up and down and clean it inside the covered area to avoid odors and bacterial build-up.

But circumcision isn't just about sexual health. It's also about male sexuality. Uncircumcised men say their penis retains its sensitivity to a far greater extent. The flip-side to this though, is that they also may be more likely to orgasm prematurely. From the women's point of view, opinions differ significantly. One study showed that 70 percent of the female respondents preferred sex with "natural men" as they thrust more lightly. The women said that they preferred the way the uncircumcised penis "caressed" the clitoris. "I have to say that uncircumcised is better because there is more variation. Playing with the skin is like an added benefit," said one of the women. But some of the detractors said they preferred a circumcised penis as it moved inside them with less friction.

Women's thoughts on oral sex were almost the complete opposite of their opinions on sexual intercourse. One respondent who preferred circumcised men said, "Cleanliness is important because the penis tastes, smells, and looks more appealing. Sexual activity is more enjoyable with a man who is circumcised, because the results of bathing last for a longer time."

One area of concern for some uncircumcised men with large foreskins is the difficulty in finding correctly fitted condoms. The foreskin can sometimes prevent the condom fitting properly and the condom can peel off during penetrative sexual activity. Men in this group need to take special care when choosing condoms, ensuring a proper fit is achieved.

So, to circumcise or leave intact? Until more compelling evidence becomes available showing circumcision to be of benefit to male sexual health, it looks like there are good arguments for leaving the penis intact. And when it comes to sexual pleasure, it seems to be a matter of personal taste. Vive la difference!




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