The latest research on the pros and cons of circumcision shows it has no health benefits but it may enhance a man’s sex life.
Circumcised men experience less sexual dysfunction as they age and engage in “a more highly elaborated set of sexual practices” than uncircumcised men, according to University of Chicago researchers.
Chief among those practices are oral sex and masturbation - ironically, the very behavior sexually repressed Victorians hoped to discourage with circumcision.
“There doesn’t seem to be a powerful medical or health reason to do it,” said sociologist Edward Laumann, lead author of the study appearing in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association. “But (reducing) sexual dysfunction might be one reason.”
Circumcision, the surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis, is enormously popular in the United States despite perennial debate over the practice.
Nearly 80 percent of American newborn males undergo the procedure, down from a peak of 85 percent in 1965. While Jews and Muslims perform circumcision for religious reasons, most Americans simply prefer it.
Debate continues because some studies have found the procedure reduces urinary tract infections and venereal diseases, while other studies have found it does not. Some anti-circumcision groups also contend it impairs sexual function.
Unlike previous investigations that focused on selected groups of men, the new study is the first to be based on a random national sample. It analyzed data from 1,410 men, ages 18 to 59, surveyed in 1992 by the National Health and Social Life Survey.
Among the findings:
77 percent of the U.S.-born men were circumcised compared with only 42 percent of men born outside this country.
81 percent of white men, 65 percent of black men and 54 percent of Hispanic men were circumcised.
Circumcision does not reduce diseases or infections. Indeed, chlamydia, a venereal disease, was reported by 26 circumcised men but by none of the uncircumcised men.
Among circumcised men, 80 percent had had oral sex at some point and 47 percent had masturbated at least monthly in the past year. For uncircumcised men, the comparative figures were 65 percent and 34 percent.
While 45 percent of the men reported at least two months of sexual dysfunction in the past year, circumcised men - especially older ones - reported fewer problems.
It’s not clear, Laumann said, why circumcision may broaden sexual practices and reduce sexual difficulties.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.