Neonatal Circumcision Does Not Reduce Sensitivity in Men

Ricki Lewis, PhD

April 18, 2016

Circumcised and uncircumcised men are sensitive in the same parts of the penis and under the same types of stimulation, according to a study published online December 24, 2015, in the Journal of Urology.

"This study indicates that neonatal circumcision is not associated with changes in penile sensitivity and provides preliminary evidence to suggest that the foreskin is not the most sensitive part of the penis," lead author Jennifer Bossio, PhD candidate in Clinical Psychology of the Department of Psychology, Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada, said in a journal press release.

The American Academy of Pediatrics supports routine circumcision of newborn males; the Canadian Pediatric Society does not. Such recommendations are largely concerned with risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, not differences in sensation between neonatally circumcised men and "intact" men.

The idea that removing the glans penis sacrifices some sensitivity is widely held, yet understudied, according to the authors. They hypothesized that claims of decreased penile sensitivity after circumcision might reflect keratinization of the exposed glans penis. They also questioned whether the foreskin is more sensitive than other parts of the organ because of greater innervation.

The researchers used quantitative sensory testing on 62 men aged 18 through 37 years, 30 of whom were circumcised, 32 of whom were not. The authors assessed pain, tactile detection, warmth detection, and heat pain thresholds at a control site on the forearm and on the glans penis, the midline shaft, proximal to midline shaft, and foreskin. The order of testing sites was randomized.

Past research on penile sensitivity has focused on the sensation of touch, whereas pain, warmth detection, and heat pain stimuli are important to include because they are more likely to activate the nerve fibers that provide sensations of sexual pleasure, the researchers write. They used modified von Frey filaments to assess tactile and pain thresholds and a thermal sensory analyzer to measure warmth detection and heat pain thresholds.

The results indicate no differences in all four types of sensitivity between the circumcised and "intact" participants, countering the keratinization hypothesis. The findings are consistent with a separate study that detected no keratinization of circumcised penises of corpses.

The foreskin demonstrated similar sensitivity as the forearm for all stimulus types, yet the glans penis and midline shaft were more sensitive to pain stimuli than the forearm. Therefore, the foreskin may not be the most sensitive part of the member, despite the lore. This part was, however, more sensitive to tactile stimulation. However, the high density of Meissner's corpuscles in the foreskin may explain the sensitivity to tactile stimulation, the researchers write.

"Findings from the current sample of men indicate that neonatal circumcision is not associated with decreased penile sensitivity in adulthood compared to men who have never undergone the procedure," the researchers conclude.

In addition, the authors used the International Index of Erectile Functioning 15-item measure for 4 weeks to assess self-reported intercourse satisfaction, orgasmic function, sexual desire, and overall satisfaction. The two groups of participants did not differ on these measures.

Limitations of the study include small sample size (not sufficiently powered to support pain and warmth sensation) and not exploring men's perceptions of sexual arousal, pleasure, or sexual function.

The researchers have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

J Urol. Published online December 24, 2015. Abstract

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