Gad Saad Ph.D.

Homo Consumericus

Male Circumcision and Quality of Sex Life (For Both Sexes)

To Circumcise or Not To Circumcise: That is the Question

Posted Feb 07, 2012

I recently wrote a post on the use of vibrators by American women (see here). In today's post, I continue with the phallic theme but tackle the actual organ rather than its sex toy representation (see here and here for two of my other posts that deal with the human penis). Specifically, I discuss a recent study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology that investigated possible links between male circumcision and various metrics of the quality of one's sex life (for both men and women). Prior to delving into the study, I'd like to briefly cover a few issues dealing with male circumcision. The topic is a highly contentious one in that some view it as a religiously mandated ritual (e.g., Jews and Moslems) while others construe it as barbaric act of genital mutilation that has no place in modern society. I should mention that one of my fellow PT bloggers, Dr. Darcia Narvaez, has recently posted a series of articles critical of male circumcision (see here for one such post). Also, some readers might remember the anti-circumcision activist group that sought recently to have residents of San Francisco vote on whether male circumcision should be banned within the city's limits. A judge has since decided that this measure had to be removed from the ballot (see here).

Notwithstanding the divine explanation for male circumcision, are there more "earthly" explanations to explain such a ritual? Evolutionary scientists have indeed proposed a highly plausible argument to explain the prevalence of this ritual across several cultural and religious traditions. The argument utilizes a principle in biology known as costly signaling, namely in order for a signal to be an honest one it needs to be costly (otherwise dupers could imitate it easily; think of the burdensome tail of the peacock). In the context of male circumcision, this is a highly costly signal to demonstrate one's allegiance and belongingness to a group (cf. Sosis, 2004). Having your son's genitalia surgically altered is a highly honest signal of your commitment to the group. To all parents who've had their eight-day old son go through the procedure, you would likely agree with the veracity of this theory!

Returning to the study to be discussed in today's post, Morten Frisch, Morten Lindholm, and Morten Grønbæk (how often does it happen that the three authors of a paper share the same first name!?) administered a large survey to Danish individuals (n = 5,552) to investigate the link between male circumcision and various aspects of their sex lives (e.g., number of lifetime sexual partners, lack of sexual desire, difficulty achieving orgasm, pain during intercourse, etc.). The results were then compared for the circumcised and uncircumcised men, as well as for women who had long-term partners who were either circumcised or not. Here are the key statistically significant findings:

Men's data

Number of reported sexual partners: greater for circumcised men (38% reported having ten or more partners versus 28% for uncircumcised men)

Frequency of orgasm difficulties: greater for circumcised men (almost three times as much; 11% for the circumcised versus 4% for the uncircumcised)

Women's data

Frequency of incomplete sexual needs fulfillment: Greater for women with circumcised men (38%) as compared to those with uncircumcised men (28%)

Frequency of orgasm difficulties: Greater for women with circumcised men (19%) as compared to those with uncircumcised men (14%)

Dyspareunia (pain during intercourse): Greater for women with circumcised men (12%) as compared to those with uncircumcised men (3%)

The authors provided few physiological-based explanations for the findings other than the fact that circumcision reduces penile sensitivity (and hence might explain the greater difficulty of circumcised men to achieve orgasm).

Bottom line: Based on this study, it would appear that for some men and women, male circumcisions are a hindrance to sexual pleasure.

What do you think of these findings?

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