© kairoinfo4u/FlickrA wall carving from the Tomb of Ankhmahor in Saqqara, Egypt, possibly depicting male circumcision. It’s one of the world’s oldest surgeries and remains one of the most common procedures today.
FOR YEARS, Ron Low took pride in his ability to give his wife multiple orgasms in a single sexual encounter. This was possible, in part, because his erections lasted up to an hour. By the age of 38, though, he found himself wishing he could climax sooner. After one particularly unsatisfying night with his wife, he turned to the internet, where he soon found information that persuaded him that his troubles had a clear explanation: His penis was circumcised.
"I was missing the capability to experience the sexual sensations to the fullness that nature has seemingly designed us for," Low recently told Undark in an email. In the early days of his research, he found material suggesting that circumcision affects penile sensitivity and sex. Then he discovered forums where circumcised men were discussing techniques for regrowing the foreskin.
Soon, Low was taking steps to reverse the surgery that had been performed on him as an infant — too young, he pointed out, to give informed consent.
Some men, meanwhile, have had a different journey. Lee Caddick was not circumcised as a child. He decided to get the procedure at age 48, after decades of suffering from a too-tight foreskin that made erections and sex both painful and embarrassing. Growing up in England, there had been few opportunities to talk earnestly about penises and sexual function. "I wish I had got it done earlier," he said. "It might have made a big difference in my life."
Male circumcision is one of the world's oldest surgeries and remains one of the most common procedures today. It involves the removal of all or part of the foreskin, known as the prepuce, and can be carried out at any age for religious, medical, or other reasons. Rates of the procedure vary widely by country: from 71 percent of males in the United States to 21 percent in the United Kingdom, from 92 percent in Israel to less than 1 percent in Ireland, according to a 2016 estimate
.Some religions practice infant circumcision,
but in the U.S., religious reasons account for just a tiny percentage of all newborns who get circumcised. Most parents arrange for their child to have the procedure for medical reasons. The American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, currently states
that families should be given access to the surgery, on the grounds that it may reduce the risk of acquiring certain infections. Complications are infrequent and generally minor, according to the AAP, particularly when the procedure is performed on newborns.Yet the AAP did not issue a blanket recommendation, stating that the procedure's "health benefits are not great enough" to warrant one.
In fact, claims that circumcision improves health are increasingly the subject of heated, and occasionally acrimonious, debate.
When Andrew Freedman, a California-based pediatric urologist, agreed to contribute to the AAP's policy statement, a friend who had worked on the previous task force warned him against it. The topic was too fraught.
"He said, 'Don't do it. You'll get death threats.'"
The friend was not far off, Freedman said. After the policy statement was released, angry messages flooded his inbox: "Twenty thousand people sent me emails suggesting I get cancer and die," he recalled.
That anger stemmed in part from the fact that circumcision's medical benefits are not clear-cut. And for many men, being circumcised — or, for that matter, being uncircumcised — is not merely a question of medicine, but one of aesthetics, consent, bodily autonomy, and sexual pleasure.
"There's a lot of mythology around it," said Caddick, referring to circumcision's influence on sex. "You know, there are people who say their orgasms are more intense, which I think could be true. And there are other people who say you lose like 90 percent of your sensitivity." Scholarly research, it turns out, supports Caddick's impression that men's experiences with circumcision and sexual function vary widely.
"I think everybody's experience is different," he said.