Mar 242004
Authors: Lindsay Robinson

If fewer men were circumcised, the rate of sexually transmitted

diseases and unplanned pregnancies might decrease, some awareness

groups say.

Their assertion is that uncircumcised men are more likely to

wear condoms because they possess more sexually sensitive


Some studies suggest that roughly 50 percent of the penis’s

erogenous tissue is cut away during circumcision. Circumcision is

the process of removing the foreskin of the penis, which naturally

covers the glans, or head.

“It’s incontestable that you lose a lot of sensitive tissue,

because (after the foreskin is removed) the glans then develops its

own protective layer of cells which further desensitizes it,” said

Dan Leatherman, a local advocate for the National Circumcision

Information Organization.

Leatherman said that since a large amount of sensory tissue is

taken from the penis during the procedure, circumcised men might be

reluctant to cover up their already desensitized erogenous tissue

with a layer of latex.

He said the area of erogenous skin removed from an infant’s

penis is about the size of a quarter. However, once the penis is

fully developed, the missing tissue would be around the size of a


Jacqueline Voss, a senior psychologist at the University

Counseling Center who also teaches Psychology of Human Sexuality

classes, disagreed with the theory. She said removing foreskin does

not have any direct effect on future sexual satisfaction.

“They’ve done studies on sexual responsivity, ability to

ejaculate and sexual enjoyment, and found no difference in

uncircumcised and circumcised men,” she said.

Leatherman cites evidence that in Japan and areas of Europe,

where the circumcision rate is low, STDs and unplanned pregnancies

are far less common than in the United States.

“It’s known that condoms are used in Europe and Japan a lot

more,” Leatherman said.

According to a posting by Craig Shoemaker of University of

California-Davis Medical Center on UpToDate, an online resource

available to physicians, the rate of circumcision in the United

Kingdom is just 24 percent.

The current American college generation was born at a time when

95 percent of infant males were circumcised, Shoemaker wrote.

Voss said the claim that uncircumcised men are more likely to

wear condoms is not backed up by any scientific proof.

“There’s no evidence one way or the other,” she said. “The

likeliness of wearing a condom is based on admitting you’re at risk

for an unwanted infection.”

Shoemaker suggested that everyday choices are more influential

than circumcision in overall sexual health.

“Lifestyle choices are probably much more important than

circumcision status, in relation to STD, hygiene, penile irritation

and cancer,” he said.

While circumcision is not a medical necessity as once thought,

it does have some proven benefits. It can reduce urinary tract

infections and certain types cancer, as well as the risk for

cervical cancer in a female partner. It also may help prevent the

transmission of certain STDs.

However, the diseases that circumcision is said to prevent are

often not prevalent in the countries where circumcision is less


“In a lot of cultures, males are not traditionally circumcised

and you don’t find higher rates of sexually transmitted infections

in those cultures,” Voss said.

In 1971, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared there was

no medical reason to perform circumcision. However, it recently

reversed the statement in light of findings that circumcision may

help prevent HIV transmission.

“A study found that uncircumcised males have a higher risk of

contracting and transmitting HIV,” Voss said. “The virus stays

alive longer under the foreskin.”

Voss said the circumcision trend, which peaked in the late 1970s

and early 1980s, has declined in recent years, but it will likely

rise again due to HIV risk.

Circumcision became popular in America just more than a century

ago, in the early 1900s. Prior to that time, it had been conducted

primarily for religious or historical reasons or as a rite of


Some say the practice became popular in the United States

because early doctors hoped to prevent masturbation by reducing the

penis’ sexual sensitivity and knowingly manufactured some of the

supposed health benefits.

“It was basically because of anti-sexual and anti-pleasure

attitude,” Leatherman said. “They thought that circumcision would

prevent masturbation and there were all kinds of diseases they

claimed circumcision would prevent.”

By the time it was shown that circumcision did not prevent many

of the diseases, early 20th century doctors claimed, it had become

a societal norm in the United States and continued for aesthetic

and cultural reasons.

“In this country, it’s been done for cosmetic reasons, so your

little boy looks the same as the other little boys in the locker

room,” Voss said.

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