Uncircumcised penises don’t look or function all that differently from circumcised penises, but some men — particularly some American men — act like foreskin is strange and unfamiliar. So in an effort to help better acquaint men — both “cut” and “uncut” — with penises unlike their own, we’ve rounded up 10 interesting and educational circumcision facts.
Here are 10 circumcision facts you may not have known:
1. The Numbers
An estimated 30% of men around the world are circumcised, mostly because many Jewish and Muslim men are required to do so by their faith. In America, though, 81% of all men are circumcised.
2. The American Origins of Circumcision
Circumcision began in American medicine around the mid-1800s as a pseudoscientific way to reduce boyhood masturbation. By the start of the 1900s, anti-circumcision “intactivist” Georganne Chapin says, “Circumcision was a status symbol, showing that families had enough money for their sons to be born in hospitals.”
3. Circumcision May Cut STI Rates …
The World Health Organization (WHO) has linked circumcision to slightly lower rates of HIV transmission and lower incidences of genital herpes, penile cancer and cervical cancer in sexual partners. Despite that, the American Academy of Pediatrics says the medical benefits of circumcision are insufficient to recommend it for all male infants.
4. … But Foreskin Doesn’t Equal More STIs
A 1999 literature review of 100 medical articles connecting circumcision to STIs found that studies linking the two didn’t factor into the equation the number of sexual partners or other factors like race, age, socio-economic status, level of education, frequency of sexual contact or previous STIs. That is, foreskin is a poor indicator of one’s likelihood to contract or transmit an STI.
5. A Painful Rite of Passage
Ethnographic studies show that many pre-colonial African warrior tribes circumcised their adolescent boys as a rite of passage into adulthood. The public rituals asked the young men to honor their families and male elders by not reacting to the pain. Afterwards, the men bathed in rivers to help stop the pain, but no anesthetics were involved.
6. Why Circumcision Is Less Common in the United Kingdom
Circumcision became less popular in the U.K. after World War II because the National Health Service refused to pay for circumcisions, calling it an unnecessary procedure. However, Chapin says, the procedure remains popular in America’s privatized healthcare system because it allows doctors to bill for an additional surgery.
7. Not All Foreskins Retract
Men who can’t retract their foreskins might have phimosis, a potentially painful condition where the foreskin’s opening is too narrow to retract fully over the head of the penis. Phimosis can be treated with circumcision, surgery to widen the foreskin opening or with exercises meant to stretch the foreskin.
8. One Anti-Circumcision Argument
A number of “intactivists” claim that circumcision deprives boys of sexual pleasure later in life. One such intactivist says that a fully adult foreskin has about 15 square inches full of over 20,000 nerve endings (half the number found in the clitoris).
9. A Cut in Pleasure?
A 2016 study couldn’t conclude whether uncircumcised men feel more tactile sensations than circumcised guys. However, the study also had a very small sample size (hardly representative of the public at large) and depended on participants to self-report their responses to heat, pain and touch on the penis rather than direct sexual stimulation.
10. Taking Back What’s Yours
Some circumcised men try to “re-grow” their foreskins by taping the skin in the shaft of their penises to small dumbbell-shaped weights weighing approximately a few ounces. The elongation process take about 18 months to complete and is mostly painless. The “new” foreskin (which is really just stretched skin) resembles the appearance of foreskin and reportedly stays stretched for life.