Foreskin and Sensitivity to Stimulation
This week, a new and poorly interpreted study by Bossio et al.1 about the sensitivity of circumcised vs. intact penises has been circulating and, once again, people are falling for the clickbait debate about foreskin without actually reading the study.
What headlines say:
“Study Suggests Getting Circumcised Doesn’t Make Your Wiener Less Sensitive After All”
What the study actually says:
62 men (18-37 years old, average 24) had their penises assessed for touch, pressure pain, and heat pain thresholds. This was measured at 3 or 4 penile sites. The 4th site was the foreskin, if present. The study itself says, “The foreskin of intact men was more sensitive to tactile stimulation than the other penile sites, but not other stimuli.” As well, there was significantly greater warmth sensitivity at the foreskin than at the glans.
Why it’s important to inspect the methodology more closely:
This study claims to refute the previous studies that suggested that uncut dicks are more sensitive. However, this study and those studies are focusing on different types of sensitivity.
Let’s break down problems more specifically:
1.) The headline focused mostly on pain tolerance with pressure and heat, but when people talk about the sensitivity of foreskin, they’re usually talking about fine touch.
There are a fuckton of nerve endings and many types of touch receptors in the foreskin, but the most notable is the concentration of Meissner’s corpuscles, which specialize in fine touch, such as the precision your palms and fingertips are able to feel.
Of course, the foreskin has heat and pressure receptors too, but those things alone aren’t what make the foreskin special. Fine touch is. And, lo and behold, the study agrees that foreskin is more sensitive to tactile stimulation and fine touch.
2.) The study ran the tests on the foreskin, but not necessarily the most sensitive part of the foreskin specifically.
The erogenous nerve ending bundles (fine touch receptors and pressure receptors alike) are the most highly concentrated in:
- the ridged band
- the mucosal tissue on the inside of the foreskin
- the frenulum that attaches the foreskin to the underside of the penis
The rest of the foreskin is mostly skin that provides a protective function. So, for all I know, they probably skipped over the most sensitive part when testing the sensitivity of the foreskin.
3.) The glans of a circumcised penis keratinizes / thickens and dries up over time.
The average age of the men in the study was 24. Of course there’s not going to be much of a difference in the 18 or 24-year-olds here, but there might be a difference if we compared more men in their 30s and 40s.
4.) The data saying that foreskin isn’t as sensitive to pain doesn’t translate neatly to real life.
I understand that the point of science is to get objective data, and focus on what can be measured. However, response to pain when being prodded doesn’t necessarily correspond to how sensitivity affects sexual pleasure.
Men who have circumcisions as adults have a before-and-after comparison of how sensitivity affects sex itself. While their stories serve as only anecdotal evidence, they’re just as relevant to the topic of pleasure, if not more than the specific methodology tested in this paper.
Tl;dr I don’t think this study really proved anything new.
The headlines took the findings out of context and the interpretation of the study was flawed. It actually in part agreed with the previous finding by Sorrells et al. I wasn’t the only person to point this out.
After all the news buzz, other researchers wrote letters to the editor of the journal, refuting the findings. These researchers include Danish epidemiologist and sexologist Morten Frisch, as well as R. Van Howe and M. Milos, et al. from the Department of Pediatrics at Central Michigan University College of Medicine.
I would say that you don’t have to take just my word for it, but the study and the letters to the editor aren’t easily accessible if you don’t have a university or institution login. However, as always, I encourage you to base your conclusions on more than solely clickbait.