Last updated on 22nd December 2006Although many earlier misconceptions about the foreskin have been dispelled since Douglas Gairdner published a paper in 1949 showing that infantile phimosis was not an abnormality, the claim that circumcision has no effect, one way or the other, on the sexual performance of the adult male still persists.
The claim of "no effect" was quoted as recently as February 2002 in the American Association of Family Physicians' Policy Statement and by several well known personalities including Desmond Morris in Babywatching, and Miriam Stoppard in her Agony Aunt column in The Mirror. On 18th April 2005 she said that �Circumcision has no effect on sexual ability or performance.�
A paper presented at a meeting of the American Urological Association in Chicago on April 29, 2003. makes the same claim, when it concluded after a comparative analysis between uncircumcised and circumcised men that there are no significant differences in penile sensation between these men with respect to vibration, spatial perception, pressure, warm and cold thermal thresholds in both patients with and without erectile dysfunction.
Central to Intactivist claims about foreskin function in sex is the work of Taylor Lockwood and Taylor, demonstrating that the foreskin itself is richly innervated with Meissner corpuscles, which are sensitive to light touch which make the foreskin's sensitivity comparable to that of the fingertips or the lips. However, a trawl through historical medical literature highlights the fact that the claim that circumcision does not make any difference to sensation or function is a new claim that seems to have sprouted since the Taylor Lockwood and Taylor article was published in 1996.
The fact that circumcision does make a difference was highlighted in Medical News as far back as 1900. Our London Letter. Medical World 1900).vol.77:pp.707-8 says the following �Finally, circumcision probably tends to increase the power of sexual control. The only physiological advantage which the prepuce can be supposed to confer is that of maintaining the penis in a condition susceptible to more acute sensation than would otherwise exist. It may increase the pleasure of intercourse and the impulse to it: but these are advantages which in the present state of society can well be spared. If in their loss increase in sexual control should result, one should be thankful.�
In the same year the following appeared in The Lancet, vol. 2 (29 Dec. 1900): pp.1869-1871, E. Harding Freeland, Circumcision as a Preventative of Syphilis and Other Disorders,. �It has been urged as an argument against the universal adoption of circumcision that the removal of the protective covering of the glans tends to dull the sensitivity of that exquisitly sensitive structure and thereby diminishes sexual appetite and the pleasurable effects of coitus. Granted that this be true, my answer is that, whatever may have been the case in days gone by, sensuality in our time needs neither whip nor spur, but would be all the better for a little more judicious use of curb and bearing-rein.�
To complete the trio confirming the sensations in the foreskin, in 1901 Ernest G. Mark, Circumcision, American Practitioner and News, vol. 31 (1901): p. 231. said �Another advantage of circumcision... is the lessened liability to masturbation. A long foreskin is irritating per se, as it necessitates more manipulation of the parts in bathing... This leads the child to handle the parts, and as a rule, pleasurable sensations are elicited from the extremely sensitive mucous membrane, with resultant manipulation and masturbation. The exposure of the glans penis following circumcision ... lessens the sensitiveness of the organ... It therefore lies with the physician, the family adviser in affairs of hygiene and medical, to urge its acceptance."
Fast forward to 1915 where in Benefits of Circumcision. Medical World, (1915) Vol.33. p.434. L.W. Wuesthoff, MD advised �Circumcision not only reduces the irritability of the child's penis, but also the so-called passion of which so many married men are so extremely proud, to the detriment of their wives and their married life. Many youthful rapes could be prevented, many separations, and divorces also, and many an unhappy marriage improved if this unnatural passion was cut down by a timely circumcision.�
In 1917 in an updated version of "The People's Home Library", A Library of Three Practical books by Published by R.C Barnum Company both boys are girls were treated equally when the following advice was given to parents:
�Circumcison and Operation on Clitoris. Circumcision is the removal of the foreskin in the male. Sometimes the hood of the clitoris of the female needs to be cut down or drawn back. Sometime the foreskin or the hood of the clitoris is so tight as to cause irritation and keep the passions excited and perhaps they are a cause for masturbation. When such is the case these operations should be performed. Parents should carefully looks after these condtions as they, instead of a depraved mind, are the causes of many immmoral practices. Every parent should see to it that these operations are performed, if it is necessary, and it very frequently is. How often we see the little ones rubbing their private parts. Whenever a child is seen doing this the chances are that they are either unclean or need one of the above operations. Do not let the child become an involuntary masturbator through your neglect.�
And finally, in 1935 the appropriately named R.W. Cockshut writing in the British Medical Journal, Vol.2 (1935): p.764.offers the following uplifting spiritual advice �I suggest that all male children should be circumcised. This is "against nature", but that is exactly the reason why it should be done. Nature intends that the adolescent male shall copulate as often and as promiscuously as possible, and to that end covers the sensitive glans so that it shall be ever ready to receive stimuli. Civilization, on the contrary, requires chastity, and the glans of the circumcised rapidly assumes a leathery texture less sensitive than skin. Thus the adolescent has his attention drawn to his penis much less often. I am convinced that masturbation is much less common in the circumcised. With these considerations in view it does not seem apt to argue that God knows best how to make little boys.�