So I'm talking with a good friend of mine who happens to be gay. Somehow we get into a discussion about foreskins, which neither of us have. He says that in his experience with penises, adding, if you want to know about penises talk to a gay guy, the enjoyment of having the foreskin rubbed over the glans far exceeds the pleasure he has noted both for himself and with other circumcised guys.
Not true, I say, citing a paper I read with great relief a few years ago in, I think, the Journal of Sexual Medicine. Continuing with an air of confidence, which actually related to my unwillingness to consider that in being circumcised I had lost something, I added that the study, which looked at nerve conduction and sensitivity to a variety of stimuli on the glans - found no difference. So having read this, I never gave it another thought.
In fact, I had to restrain myself when a Muslim couple told me that despite their families disapproval, they had decided not to circumcise their son. Hmmmm, I wondered, without mentioning this, about how the son would feel when he saw that his penis looked different. I remembered a 19 year old I had seen, who was Jewish, and whose hippie parents refused to circumcise him. He hated this, had to explain to his friends, and felt self conscious. The only concern I had thinking about circumcisions in general was that too much skin would be taken off. Also, I remember a moil, who was a woman urologist with a French manicure, seeming to do it so rapidly that I was sure the glans fell off onto the table.
Back to my friend: He said that the circumcised guys he had sex with all seemed to have too much skin removed. He felt it applied to him too. So that with an erection the shaft skin was too tight and there was none extra to slide over the glans. He noticed the considerable pleasure previous partners experienced when the foreskin was moved up and down over the glans.
I could not get this discussion out of my mind, (and no, this was not castration anxiety, it was anxiety about less pleasure.) and began an investigation of the whole issue, and the extent of my total ignorance about the foreskin amazed me. Oh of course, I remember the joke about the guy who made his foreskin into a wallet and when he rubbed it, it turned into a briefcase. But other than that - a big blank.
So this is what I have learned:
1. The foreskin is a significant element of sexual feelings. Removing it would be analogous to removing the clitoral hood.
2. The foreskin is attached to the glans at birth and does not retract until the boy is about 10 years old. In the newborn, the foreskin serves some protection against infection from fecal material in the diaper. I shuddered when I recalled the moil's sticking an instrument under the foreskin, as I now understood it, to separate it from the glans. And the issue my friend raised about 'too much skin' being removed seemed much more real. Circumcisions these days are done with some metal 'dome' placed over the glans and then something like a cigar cutter quickly slid around it. No one has ever mentioned to me that any thought was given to 'how much foreskin do you remove?'
3. The inner part of the foreskin is a mucosal surface. There is a junction between the inner surface of the foreskin and the outer surface which resembles the junction on the lips. The 'seen' part of the lips is skin, and there is a junction with the inner area of the mouth which is mucosa. Mucosas, or is it mucosae are moist. (Again like the junction between the eyelid and the inner part which is also a mucosa.) As this relates to the penis - there is a natural lubricant where the foreskin slides over the glans.
While talking about this sliding action, during intercourse, the foreskin can move back and forth with thrusting, covering and then exposing the glans. Now this seemed to make sense. I have recommended 'pleasure-plus' condoms which are supposed to provide a more sensation that others. The shape is different, being snug around the base of the penis, and ballooning out over the glans, allowing the latex to slide back and forth thereby increasing sensation. Sound like an artificial foreskin ??
4. The ridge band is an area of elastic tissue, richly supplied with Meissner's corpuscles; millions of nerve endings which provide a great deal of sexual sensation. The ridge band, when looked at under a microscope, is like the bellows of an accordion. When the foreskin is pulled over the glans, this stretching gets these nerve endings to 'fire' and results in, apparently, intense pleasure. (This explained the observation my friend had made in stimulating his partners.) The ridge band ---- I had never heard of this.
In fact, I don't recall any discussion in medical school about the cell structure of the foreskin - ever! The astounding thing to me was the idea that the glans was much less sensitive compared with the stretching of the ridge band. I had always glibly said that 'the glans is the most sensitive area of the penis. The observation has been made that using lube when masturbating increased sensation.
When discussing masturbation with my male patients I routinely ask whether they use lube, but have never asked whether or not they are circumcised. In my last column in the newsletter I described two men who had sexual difficulties which related to their foreskins. It took me forever to understand what was going on until I finally asked about circumcision. They were both uncircumcised and had some anatomical problems related to their foreskins.
5. There was some mentioning in a number of online discussions that when adult men had been circumcised they noted decreased pleasure which sometimes resulted in delayed orgasm. Reason FOR doing it ranged from about 'he won't look like his father'. Often the response was -- what about other physical characteristic where he might not look like his father. And it ignored the opportunities to talk with a child about his penis, and educating him about 'difference'.
Seems that it could be easy to say - we decided to leave you penis the same as when you were born because this covering can keep your penis warm - or something like that. Then there is the 'lowered risk of penile cancer'. Here I am still at sea - I don't know the statistics. But in my years I've encountered one man who had penile cancer ----- and, he was circumcised.
What about HPV - you ask. Well - you got me there. I don't know.
And then the issue of AIDS. Well I think one has to differentiate between cultures and locations. Clearly the incidence of AIDS in Africa has been out of control, whereas in this country it has been going down.
One last thing. The Torah portion for my Barmitzvah, which I sang perfectly (or so I'm told) and which I never translated into English, was about Abraham taking Isaac up the mountain where they both (and this is the literal Hebrew translation) cut off the 'meat of their penises!!'
Derek I LOVE you for posting this!
Thank you for thinking, questioning and writing about this brutal attack on the male sex organ and then putting it out to your list-serve. I hope you have read my essay titled: "Mothers Don't Circumcise Your Baby Boys." Gay men have been at the forefront of banning circumcision and also restoring the foreskin that grows in numbers every day.
Since most women grow up with the idea of having as few sex partners as possible before they find Mr. Right, many don't experience penetration sex with both types of penises. Fortunately for me, America's sexual revolution of the late sixties and seventies gave me the opportunity to have sexual experiences with many different sizes and shapes of penises as well as cut and intact men. While both types appear similar when erect as the foreskin gets retracted, the glans penis is quite different. The intact glans is pink, shiny and moist while the cut glans is dry with a different rough texture altogether. And the gliding sensation during penetration is also very different and far more sensuous than the fast friction that most cut penises seem to need.
I took a lot of heat when D&R posted my essay, especially my speculation that the pain and extreme suffering of baby boys prepared them for war. The fact that America, Africa and Middle Eastern countries most consistently perform this horrendous ritual, it figures that Catholics, Jews and Muslims are more prone to violence as adults. History seems to prove this if we would just pay attention.
When doctors say it's nothing and a baby won't remember the pain, I'm sorry but I adhere to Wilhelm Reich's theory that pain gets stored in our muscle memory and affects our entire beings as adults. Several years later and my belief has expanded to include circumcision results in the many sexual problems that men have in getting erect and maintaining an erection during partner sex.
But then what do I know after a lifetime of having sex with men?! As a self proclaimed sexual anthropologist, similar to Margaret Meade who lived with the people she studied, I had sexual intercourse with countless men throughout America and Europe from 1967 to 1980. AIDS ended casual sex and feminism began to shift my interests over to teaching women about orgasm beginning with the second half of the seventies. At 84 I'm still teaching. The need is so great I have just re-introduced my Bodysex Workshops again as well as maintaining a private practice.
My recent 10 year live-in relationship with young Eric was some of the best partner sex I've ever experienced and he was circumcised. He was also devoted to using an excessive amount of massage oil for everything sexual. Eric grew up without viewing porn and had a very gentle stroke when he masturbated. My point here is that any circumcised man can also be a good lover but he must devote some time and effort to learning about female sexuality to discover what most women enjoy.
I have always honored our connection Derek. You claim to have leaned much from me and now you have given me hope for academics. Perhaps they can break free from their theories and stilted research of ridiculous endless questionnaires where people constantly go along to get along and finally climb down from those musty Ivory Towers. Welcome to Mother Earth Derek.
Your friend and colleague,