Two patients reveal what it was really like.
By Colleen de Bellefonds
Ever wondered if sex feels better for men who have their foreskin than those who don’t? If you were circumcised at birth, it's impossible to tell how the procedure shaped your sex life-you don't know your penis any other way. But the sexual experiences of men who were circumcised as adults could shed light on the ongoing debate around circumcision.
The heated debate around whether or not circumcision is necessary hinges on two arguments. There’s the case for health, which says that circumcision appears to slightly reduce the very low risk of penile cancer, as well as HIV and sexually transmitted infections. (Ultimately, the American Academy of Pediatrics says these health benefits outweigh the risks, but they’re not great enough to recommend circumcision for all baby boys.)
Then there’s the case for sexual pleasure, which says that removing the foreskin might compromise penile function and sensation. Pro-circumcision groups also argue that the surgery is painful and risky, and boys should be able to make their own choice later in life.
But how does circumcision really affect your sex life?
Circumcision and Sexual Sensation
The foreskin has the most nerve endings of any part of the penis, says Amin Herati, M.D., a urologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine who specializes in adult circumcision. And the skin on the head of the penis does become thicker after circumcision due to increased friction. That’s made some men concerned that the procedure might decrease sensitivity and pleasure in their penis.
Extensive studies, however, have found that circumcision has no effect on the sensation or function of the penis, says Herati. He notes that research has shown circumcision can’t fix premature ejaculation by making men’s hypersensitive penises less sensitive. "The larger nerve fibers responsible for sexual function are at a deeper level" than the skin that’s cut during circumcision, he says.
To date, Herati says no patient has ever told him that circumcision affected his sex life. Men who’ve had the procedure later in life agree.
James* chose to get circumcised last fall at the age of 28 because his frenulum(the skin connecting the foreskin to the penis) was sometimes sore after sex. He was awake during the procedure, which he had at The Urology Place.
“I have had migraines that hurt worse,” says James, who took over-the-counter meds to relieve the pain. Within two weeks, he was healed and ready for sex. Neither James nor his wife noticed any differences in their sex life after the procedure. He says his circumcised penis feels more sensitive. “Now there’s more feeling of the vagina during intercourse, instead of the foreskin sliding back and forth over the head,” says James.
For some men, circumcision actually reduces pain and increases pleasure during sex. Sam*, a patient of Herati’s, had a condition known as phimosis, where tight foreskin can’t retract over the penis. In the two years before the surgery, sex was increasingly painful.
"The breaking point was when I felt deterred from having sex," says Sam. Last summer, in his late 30s, Sam was circumcised; like James, he was awake during the procedure. Post-surgery swelling lasted about eight weeks, and there was discomfort as he got used to the head of his penis being exposed to clothes. “It was surreal, to some degree, because I was an adult male getting used to having a 'new' penis," he says.
After circumcision, Sam says sex was pleasurable again. “I was surprised and heartened by the genuine support I received from women who knew I had the procedure," he says. "I had the feeling they couldn't wait to be the first to ‘try it.’… Sex has been wonderful, both in terms of sensation and not worrying in the back of my mind that I could experience pain or discomfort."
“I do miss having an uncircumcised penis, because it was more unusual and unique in a way," he adds. "But I'd give up novelty for function.”
How Adult circumcision is done
If you’re among the roughly 40 percent of American men who aren’t circumcised at birth, you might have considered making the cut. According to Herati, most men who are over 50 get circumcised mostly to fix a condition called balanitis, or inflammation of the head of the penis that scars foreskin so it can’t retract. Younger men most often come because they’re self-conscious about having a foreskin. “They think looking more ‘normal’ with a circumcised penis would give them more self-confidence,” says Herati.
As an adult, you can choose to either be awake with local anesthesia in the clinic, which takes about 45 minutes to an hour, or you can go under with general anesthesia, which takes 30 to 45 minutes. A doctor makes two incisions, one above and one below the foreskin. Once the skin is removed, the two sides are sewn back together. “The foreskin does have the most nerve sensation of all the penis, but when we block that with lidocaine men are very comfortable,” says Herati. You’ll likely be sore for four to five days and shouldn’t have sex for about a month. “Then it’s business back to usual,” says Herati.
Complications of adult circumcision
Complications (usually pain, minor bleeding, or infection) happen in just 1 to 2 percent of all circumcisions, says Herati, although risk is slightly higher in adults than newborns, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Very rarely, too much or too little foreskin is removed, or the remaining foreskin attaches to the tip of the penis. Surgery can address these problems.