Why we’re covering this: There’s long been disagreement over whether circumcision is cruel or kind in regards to health and sexual pleasure; some “intactivists” have even sought to ban circumcision. This study continues the debate with new findings, a debate which affects the lives of the world’s 3,477,829,638 men.
A recent study published in The Journal of Urology concludes that foreskin does not significantly add to a person’s sexual pleasure, but the study’s methodology leaves its findings doubtful.
Canadian researchers touched the penises of 62 men — 32 were circumcised, 30 were not, all were between the ages of 18 to 37. They touched the penises in three different areas: on the underside of the shaft, the underside of the urethra, and on the top of the glans (the head). Circumcised men received an additional touch on the top of their glans with their foreskin rolled over it.
The researchers used different tools to measure each man’s sensitivity to increasing amounts of heat, pain and touch. The study found that while uncircumcised men reported the most stimulation on their foreskin, the sensation was comparable to other parts of their penis. Overall, the study found little difference in the sensations reported between cut and uncut men; both sets of men also reported having an overall satisfactory sex life.
But before anyone concludes that there’s no difference in sensation between cut and uncut men, we should point out that the study itself has several design flaws.
As Brian Resnick at Vox points out, the study participants were all volunteers who got paid $75 and even the lead researcher admitted “that people who sign up for sexuality studies may not be perfectly representative of the population.” Resnick also mentions that “the study is also limited by a small sample size. Research papers ideally have 200 participants, not 60.” The Canadian researchers’ findings also contradict the findings of previous studies.
Lastly, heat and touch aren’t the most important physical sensations during sex: lubrication, friction and tugging all play big parts as well. Sexual stimulation can be difficult to measure because they either rely on either subjective participant feedback — when two guys say something feels “good”, it doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing. Such studies also typically rely on measures of blood flow to the penis, a measure of arousal that doesn’t always equal physical pleasure.
The study’s researchers concluded, “Future research should consider the direct link between penile sensitivity and the perception of pleasure/sensation.” Indeed, until we can find a better way to measure activity within the brain’s pleasure centers during isolated types of sexual stimulation, the great cut vs. uncut debate will rage on.