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Landmark Study: Circumcision Doesn’t Reduce Sexual Pleasure

Will European health officials take note?

Yair Rosenberg
December 09, 2013
Billboard in Swaziland promoting circumcision for AIDS prevention.(International Women's Health Coalition/Flickr)
Billboard in Swaziland promoting circumcision for AIDS prevention.(International Women's Health Coalition/Flickr)

Across Europe, pushes to ban circumcision have rested on its supposedly deleterious effects on a child’s body, and lack of demonstrable benefits. Anne Lindboe, Sweden’s child welfare adviser, has gone so far as to label the practice “violence against children,” claiming that parents who perform it do so out of “ignorance.” She and her counterparts in Denmark and Finland have classified child circumcision as a “human rights violation” and called for it to be criminalized. A German court similarly banned the procedure on the grounds that it caused “bodily harm.” The only problem with these stances? They completely contradict everything science has found about circumcision’s impact on children’s health.

Tablet readers already know that the NIH, WHO and American Academy of Pediatrics all endorse circumcision for its documented health benefits, particularly its ability to halve the risk of contracting HIV through heterosexual intercourse. As Eric Goosby, the U.S. AIDS coordinator put it, “Male circumcision is a highly significant, lifetime intervention. It is the gift that keeps on giving. It makes sense to put extraordinary resources into it.” But what about circumcision’s alleged negative consequences? Doesn’t the procedure permanently reduce sexual pleasure? Not at all. A landmark peer-reviewed study just published by researchers at the University of Sydney puts this myth to rest.

“The highest-quality studies suggest that medical male circumcision has no adverse effect on sexual function, sensitivity, sexual sensation, or satisfaction,” Professor Brian Morris told The Daily Mail. Morris and his co-author looked at 36 studies covering 40,473 men, half circumcised and half not. They ranked each in terms of scientific rigor and quality, according to accepted official guidelines. And they found that circumcision “had no overall adverse effect on penile sensitivity, sexual arousal, sexual sensation, erectile function, premature ejaculation, duration of intercourse, orgasm difficulties, sexual satisfaction, pleasure, or pain during penetration.” Indeed, after 24 months, 99.9 percent of men were satisfied with their circumcisions–and 72 percent said sensitivity had increased.

Morris told The Daily Mail that he saw his study disproving circumcision’s adverse effects as complementary to those showing its benefits. “The health benefits of male circumcision have been well documented, including substantially lower risks of HIV and other viral and some bacterial sexually transmitted infections,” he said. “It also lowers rates of penile cancer and possibly prostate cancer – and women whose partners are circumcised have lower rates of cervical cancer and infections such as HPV and chlamydia.”

Yet the findings of science have done little thus far to deter Europeans politicians and health officials from seeking to criminalize circumcision, and labeling those who practice it “ignorant” and “barbaric.” It remains to be seen if this study will alter their course.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.