The effect of male circumcision on the sexual enjoyment of the female partner

posted in: Journal Articles | 0

[Note: this article is not family-friendly and may be upsetting to some readers. Frank descriptions of intimate experiences are included.]

Corrected OCR follows. PDF is the recommended reading format (see above).


BJU INTERNATIONAL, Volume 83, Supplement 1, Pages 79-84,
January 1, 1999.



Male circumcision, the most commonly performed surgery in the USA, removes 33 – 50% of the penile skin, as well as nearly all of the penile fine touch neuroreceptors [1]. To date no study has investigated whether this dramatic alteration in the male genitalia affects the sexual pleasure experienced by the female partner or whether a woman can physically discern the difference between a penis with a foreskin. The impact that male circumcision has on the overall sexual experience for either partner is unknown.

Just as female circumcision was advocated in some Muslim and African countries to control women’s sexuality, so too was male circumcision introduced into English-speaking countries in the late 1800s as a method of treating and preventing masturbation [2]. While there has been debate over whether circumcision affects the sexual sensations of the penis, there have been few relevant studies. Four men circumcised in adulthood reported decreased sensitivity [3]. Writing under a pseudonym, a physician circumcised as an adult argued that the loss of sensitivity he experienced was favourable, as it gave him more control over his orgasms [4]. Another man circumcised as an adult lamented that the decrease in sensation could be equated with seeing in monochrome rather than in colour.

Laumann et al. [5] found that circumcised men had different sexual practices from genitally altered men. Circumcised men were more likely to masturbate, to engage in heterosexual anal and oral sex, and to engage in homosexual anal sex. In the male rat, removal of the penile sheath markedly interferes with normal penile reflexes and copulation. When circumcised rats were paired with sexually experienced females, they had more difficulty obtaining an erection, more difficulty inserting the penis into the vagina, and required more mounts to inseminate than did unaltered males [6]. Preputial secretions in mice and rats are a strong attractant for female mice and rats [7-11], and may provoke the onset of oestrus in mature females [12].

There may be a histological explanation for these findings. The tip of the foreskin, and some or all of the frenulum, are routinely removed as part of circumcision. This tissue contains a high concentration of the nerve endings that sense fine touch [1]. After circumcision, the surface of the glans thickens like a callus. The glans is innervated by free nerve endings that can only sense deep pressure and pain. [13]. Over 30 years ago, Masters and Johnson, using undocumented methodology, tested the sensitivity of the glans in men with and without foreskins and found no difference [14]. The absence of fine-touch receptors in the glans could explain their findings, as Masters and Johnson may have been measuring the wrong variable. Without knowing what was measured or how, these results constitute little more than anecdotal evidence. A study from Iowa in the late 1980s [15] found that young mothers (who had recently given birth to sons) preferred intercourse with a circumcised man; however, the importance of this study is compromised, as only 16.5% of the women surveyed had sexual experience with both circumcised and intact men. The study results may reflect the tendency of people to choose the familiar and shun the unfamiliar. In a survey conducted on the Internet, circumcised men were significantly more likely to use additional artificial lubricants during sexual activity (odds ratio, OR = 5.64, 95% CI = 3.65 – 8.71) [16].

The 12th century physician and rabbi Moses Maimonides advocated male circumcision for its ability to curb a man’s sexual appetite [17]. Further, he implied that it could also affect a woman’s sexuality, indicating that once a woman had taken a lover who was not circumcised, it was very hard for her to give him up. The impact of male circumcision on the sexual pleasure experienced by both males and females is largely unstudied. While the brain is often cited as the primary ‘sexual’ organ, what impact does surgical alteration of the male genitalia have for both partners? Based on anecdotal reports, a survey was developed to determine the effect of male circumcision on a woman’s ability to achieve vaginal orgasm (both single and multiple), to maintain adequate vaginal secretions, to develop vaginal discomfort, to enjoy coitus and to develop an intimate relationship with her partner. This review presents the findings of a survey of women who have had sexual partners both with and without foreskins, and reports their experiences.


Women having sexual experience with both circumcised and anatomically complete partners were recruited through classified advertisements in magazines and an announcement in an anti-circumcision newletter. Respondents to the advertisements were mailed a survey to complete and return, the comments then compiled and the responses analysed statistically. The survey is continuing and this article reports the preliminary results.

Of the 284 surveys, 139 were completed and returned; no attempts were made to characterize the demographic details of those who did not respond. The women completing the surveys were aware that their responses and comments could later be published anonymously in a forthcoming book. The survey included 40 questions; the results were analysed for age, number of lifetime partners, preputial status of the most recent partner, preference for vaginal orgasms (as defined below) and their preference for a circumcised or intact penis. Multiple choice answers were assigned numeric values, i.e. ‘increased’, ‘stayed about the same’ and ‘lessened’ of 1,0, and -1 respectively. Likewise, questions with answers of ‘mostly yes’, ‘mostly no’, ‘rarely’ and ‘never’ were assigned values of 3, 2, 1 and 0.

The survey defined ‘vaginal orgasm’ as ‘an orgasm that occurs during intercourse, brought about by your partner’s penis and pelvic movements and body contact, along with your own body’s pelvic movements, with no simultaneous stimulation of the clitoris by the hands’. Premature ejaculation was defined as the man ‘usually (50 -100% of the time) has had his orgasm within 2 -3 minutes after insertion’. The survey included three sets of responses for the respondents to rate their sexual experiences with their circumcised and unaltered male partners; the questions and possible responses are listed in Appendix 1. Comparisons between responses are expressed as the OR and 95% CI.


Note: The results of this survey are somewhat obscurely stated. This survey surveyed 138 women. Of that group 20 (14.5%) preferred non-intact circumcised sexual partners while 118 or (85.5%) preferred intact non-circumcised sexual partners.

Of the 139 surveys returned, one considered a man who was undergoing foreskin restoration as having a foreskin; this survey was excluded from analysis. Not all questions were answered by all respondents. Contradictory answers showed that not all respondents understood the questions; the responses and unanswered questions were excluded from the analysis. The demographic profile of the respondents is shown in Table 1.

Table 1 The demographics of the respondents
Variable Mean/median number
Mean (SD) age (years) 37.3 (9.2)
Number of partners;
Mean (SD) 14.7 (11.2)
Median (SD)
Preferred vaginal orgasm 71
Preferred position for attaining
vaginal orgasm;
woman on top 54
man on top 54
rear entry 4
no preference 9
Comparisons of experiences with circumcised or intact males are shown in tables 2 and 3. With their circumcised partners, women were more likely not to have a vaginal orgasm (4.62, 3.69-5.80). Conversely, women were more likely to have a vaginal orgasm with an unaltered partner. Their circumcised partners were more likely to have premature ejaculation (1.82, 1.45-2.27). Women were also more likely to state that they had had vaginal discomfort with a circumcised partner either often (19.89, 5.98-66.22) or occasionally (7.00, 3.83-12.79) as opposed to rarely or never. More women reported that they never achieved orgasm with circumcised partners (2.25, 1.13-4.50) than with their unaltered partners. Also, they were more likely to report never having had a multiple orgasm with their circumcised partners (2.25, 1.13-4.50). They were also more likely to report never having had a multiple orgasm with their circumcised partners (2.22, 1.36-3.63). They were also more likely to report that vaginal secretions lessened as coitus progressed with their circumcised partners (16.75, 6.88-40.77).

During prolonged intercourse with their circumcised partners, women were less likely to ‘really get into it’ and more likely to ‘want to get it over with’ (23.32, 11.24-48.39). On the other hand, with their unaltered partners, the reverse was true, they were less likely to ‘want to get it over with’ and considerably more likely to ‘really get into it.’

When the women were divided into those older or younger than 40 years, the older women were more likely to rate their frequency of orgasm as higher with an unaltered partner (Z=2.04, P=0.02). Women 29 years or younger were more likely to prefer orally induced orgasms (2.61, 1.14-5.97), while women over 40 years preferred vaginally induced orgasms more than those aged10 were more likely to have orgasms with their circumcised partners than those with fewer partners, but still less frequent orgasms than they had with their unaltered partners. Women who preferred a circumcised partner overall were more likely to have had …

Table 2 Ratings of experiences with circumcised men compared with normal men (uncircumcised). All difference were significant at P4 partners (7.26, 4.46-11.83), >10 partners (5.83, 4.02-8.48), and >20 partners (4.16, 2.48-6.98). The high incidence of lifetime partners is a consequence of the inclusion criteria for the present study. If a woman were to randomly find partners among American sexually active males, 70-90% of whom are circumcised, 3-7 partners would be needed for a woman to have an even chance of having had both a circumcised and unaltered male partner. However, women do not procure their sexual partners randomly. Most sexual partners are found within a fairly close social network [22]. Likewise, circumcision does not occur randomly; within some of these networks, circumcision rates can approach 100%. For a woman to have a sexual partner with an anatomically complete penis involves having partners outside her immediate social network, which is uncommon. For these reasons, a median number of partners of 10 is not unexpected.

While this study shows clearly that women prefer the surgically unaltered penis, it does have shortcomings. The respondents were not selected randomly and several were recruited using a newsletter of an anti-circumcision organization. However, when the responses from respondents gathered from the mailing list of the anti-circumcision organization were compared with those of the other respondents, there were no differences. This selection bias may be compensated to the degree that each respondent acted as her own control, using her subjective criteria on both types of penises. The findings cannot be completely attributed to selection bias.

In asking women to evaluate their experience based on all of their lifetime sexual partners, there may be an element of recall bias, but the circumcision status of the most current sexual partner did not alter the findings. Because the surveys were not completed ‘face-to-face’, not all questions were completed by all respondents. There were also several other questions that were misunderstood by the respondents, but these were only a very small proportion of the respondents. Women who preferred vaginal orgasms had a strong preference for unaltered partners. Women who preferred circumcised partners were half as likely to prefer vaginal orgasms, but there were too few women preferring circumcised partners to make any valid statistical claims. This would suggest that the foreskin makes the most positive impact during vaginal intercourse.

Another weakness of the survey is its preoccupation with vaginal intercourse. Several respondents commented that the foreskin also makes a difference in foreplay and fellatio. Although this was not directly measured, some respondents commented that unaltered men appeared to enjoy coitus more than their circumcised couterparts. The lower rates of fellatio, masturbation and anal sex among unaltered men [5] suggests that unaltered men may find coitus more satisfying [20].

Clearly, the anatomically complete penis offers a more rewarding experience for the female partner during coitus. While this study has some obvious methodological flaws, all the differences cannot be attributed to them. It is important that these findings be confirmed by a prospective study of a randomly selected population of women with experience with both types of men. It would be useful to examine the role of the foreskin in other sexual activities. Because these findings are of interest, the negative effect of circumcision on the sexual enjoyment of the female partner needs to be part of any discussions providing ‘informed consent’ before circumcision.


Taylor JR, Lockwood AP, Taylor AJ. The prepuce: specialized mucosa of the penis and its loss to circumision. Br J Urol 1996; 77: 291-5
Hodges F. A short history of the institutionalization of involuntary sexual mutilation in the United States. In: Denniston GC, Milos MF, eds. Sexual Mutilation: A Human Tragedy. New York: Plenum Press, 1997: 17-40
Money J, Davison J. Adult penile circumcision: erotosexual and cosmetic sequelae. J Sex Res 1983; 19:289-92
Valentine RB. Adult circumcision: a personal report. Med Aspects Hum Sex 1974; 8: 31-35
Laumann EO, Masi CM, Zuckerman EW. Circumcision in the United States: prevalence, prophylactic effects, and sexual practices. JAMA 1997; 277: 1052-7
Lumia AR, Sachs BD, Meisel RL. Sexual reflexes in male rats: restoration by ejaculation following suppression by penile sheath removal. Physiol Behav 1979; 23: 273-7
Caroom D, Bronson FH. Responsiveness of female mice to preputial attractant: effects of sexual experience and ovarian hormones. Physiol Behav 1971; 7: 659-62
Orsulak PJ, Gawienowski AM. Olfactory preferences in the rat preputial gland. Biol Reprod 1972;6:219-23
Hucklebridge FH, Nowell NW, Woulters A. A relation between social experience and preputial gland function in the albino mouse. J Endoc 1972; 55: 219-23
Ninomiya K, Kimura T. Male odors that influence the preference of female mice: roles of urinary and preputial factors. Physiol Behav 1988; 44: 791-5 [PubMed] Ninomiya K, Brown RE. Removal of the preputial glands alters the individual odors of male MHC-congenic mice and the preference of females for these odors. Physiol Behav 1995; 58: 191-4
Chipmann RK, Albrecht ED. The relationship of the male preputial glands to the acceleration of oestrus in the laboratory mouse. J Reproduct Fert 1974; 38: 91-6
Halata Z, Munger BL. The neuroanatomical basis for the protopathic sensibility of the human glans penis. Brain Res 1986; 371:205-30
Masters W, Johnson V. Human Sexual Response. Boston, MA: Little Brown & Co 1966
Williamson ML, Williamson PS. Women’s preference for penile circumcision in sexual partners. J Sex Educ Therapy 1988; 14: 8-12
Epps GMR, Morgan D, Dolezal Zelzer D. Personal attitudes toward circumcision. October 1997
Moses Maimonides. (1135-1204). The Guide for the Perplexed. New York: Dover Publications 1956: 378.
Cold CJ. Taylor JR. The prepuce. BJU Int 1999 1999; 83 (Suppl. 1): 34-44
Cold CJ, Tarara RP. Penile and clitoral prepuce mucocutaneous receptors in Macaca mulata. Vet Pathol 1997; 34: 506.
Van Howe RS, Cold C. Advantages and disadvantages of neonatal circumcision. JAMA 1997; 278: 203
Hughes GK. Circumcision–another look. Ohio Med 1990; 86: 92
Laumann EO, Gagnon JH, Michael RT, Michaels S. The Social Organization of Sexuality, Sexual Practices in the United States. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press 1994


K. O’Hara, BS.
J. O’Hara.
Correspondence: Kristen O’Hara, PO Box 764, Hudson, Ma, USA 01749

Appendix 1

Questions asked in the survey to assess the level of intimacy.

Set 1

During or after most intercourse, have you noticed yourself having any of the feelings listed below?

sexually violated
emotionally aggravated
a general ‘out of sync’ feeling
he cared very little about my sexual satisfaction
except for my vagina, he didn’t seem to know I was there
bitchy, argumentative
we had two separate experiences (no feeling of sexual unison)
our thrusting rhythms were ‘out of sync’
felt like I was being used as a masturbating object
incomplete as a woman
I’m glad it’s over
None of the above
Set 2

During intercourse with most (circumcised/natural) men, do any of these thoughts generally cross your mind?

he seems to be distanced from what I’m feeling
my mind wanders to other things
he seems to be working too hard at it
he seems to concentrated on his sexual needs more than mine
he seems to have to work too hard at achieving his orgasm
I seem to be becoming disinterested
my vagina doesn’t seem to be enjoying this
sometimes when he really gets pumping, I’m afraid it’s going to start hurting me
we seem to be engaging in two separate experiences
I feel wide awake, ‘on alert’
a general feeling of discontentment
None of the above
Set 3

How would you describe your general feelings after having sex with most (circumcised/natural) men?

a feeling of relaxation
a feeling of being at peace with myself and my surroundings
a sense of human warmth and closeness to my partner
a sense of completeness and wholeness as a woman
a wonderful positive-feeling afterglow
‘gee, that was really great’
‘what a lover’
None of the above