Do you remember where we left off last week? I'd wanted to write about the now semirecent research on circumcision and sensitivity, but I spent so much time patting Another Concerned Penis Owner on the, uh, head, about harboring what was probably too much bitterness about having been clipped as a kid that I ran out of space and time. I really wanted to get to the experiment results that were bouncing around the Internet back in the spring, and here's our chance.
The article was published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in May. You can see it at tinyurl.com/yo32c7 or I can abstract the abstract for you, like this: There has been research done on sexual sensation in circed and uncirced men, but none, the authors say, on men who were aroused at the time of measurement, which they think is pretty important. They had the subjects watch sex flicks and nonsex flicks, and they tested for pain and touch sensitivity on "the penile shaft, the glans penis, and the volar surface of the forearm." They determined levels of sexual arousal by thermal imaging, which is kind of cool and reminds me slightly of the time I bought K a remote-sensing thermometer for his birthday. It looks like a gun and has a laser sight, which are always fun things, and we took it to a bar and annoyed people all night by announcing the temperature of random beverages and body parts. From across the room! Like magic! Perhaps you had to have been there.
The results (straight from the abstract): "In response to the erotic stimulus, both groups evidenced a significant increase in penile temperature, which correlated highly with subjective reports of sexual arousal. Uncircumcised men had significantly lower penile temperature than circumcised men, and evidenced a larger increase in penile temperature with sexual arousal. No differences in genital sensitivity were found between the uncircumcised and circumcised groups. Uncircumcised men were less sensitive to touch on the forearm than circumcised men. A decrease in overall touch sensitivity was observed in both groups with exposure to the erotic film as compared with either baseline or control stimulus film conditions. No significant effect was found for pain sensitivity."
In this study at least (it was small but doesn't, to be fair, seem to be the kind of research that requires a huge cohort to shake out the noise and find something statistically significant), there was no difference in touch sensitivity on the penis, although there was a marked one in temperature, for whatever that's worth (the uncut men were cooler and got hotter). I don't know what to make of the fact that the uncut group was also more sensitive to being tapped on the arm. The most interesting fact to emerge from this particular study, though, is that sensitivity decreases as arousal increases. This is the exact experience that many women report, anecdotally at least, but not something you hear men complaining about nor their partners observing. Here it is, though, straight from the lab.
So what are we to make of the study's central finding, which would imply that the perceived loss caused by routine circumcision is possibly not worth all the Sturm und Drang and gnashing and wailing, not to mention the freaky little devices for hauling the leftovers up over the tippy-tip like a cowl-neck sweater? Well, this is just one little study, and there are others purporting to reach different conclusions (although the one that shows major loss of sensation in circed men was done following adult circumcision, which is just not at all the same thing).