An Australian Survey
Conducted by James Badger
Preface added by CIRCLIST Editor:
Fieldwork date: 1988 and 1989.
Fieldwork location: Australia (nationwide, magazine-based, 1988) and Family Planning Clinics (Sydney, NSW, 1989).
Security against malicious multiple responses: Excellent.
Sample bias: Some bias towards the "sexually aware male", especially in respect of the magazine-derived responses.
Ethics Committee approval: Yes, by the Family Planning Association of New South Wales.
The original report of this survey was published in the Australian edition of Forum, Volume 2, no.12, 1989. Forum is a publication intended for a lay readership, hence the use of informal language. A subsequent re-run of substantially the same questionnaire, conducted as an internet-based survey in 1995, yielded much the same results despite the pronounced shift in the geographical location of the majority of respondents.
Distribution of the Questionnaire
The questionnaire was published twice in Forum and also put out for a week or two in the Sydney clinics of the Family Planning Association of NSW. This resulted in copies being passed around in all sorts of ways. For example, one batch was received from the staffroom of a Queensland High School (well done, but why didn’t you pass it to the pupils as well?) and one which had been faxed across Sydney before being filled in.
All told we had 180 replies, 79 from men and 101 from women. The ages of the men ranged from under 15 to over 60, and of the women from 15-20 to over 60. As Fig. 1 shows, most of the men (82%) were in the 20-50 age range, with 33% aged from 30 to 40. The women were younger, mostly aged from 20-40 (86%) with the 20-30 age range (51%) easily the largest single group.
Fig.1 : Age and gender of respondents to the questionnaire.
Of the men, 70% were circumcised and 30% were not. The figures for the current or most recent lover of the women tallied closely with this - 68% circumcised and 31% natural. (These are not the same men - only 20% of the forms came in as 'his and hers' reports). We can therefore suggest with some degree of confidence that around 70% of Australian males of sexually active age have been circumcised. This is a rather lower proportion than many people have assumed - perhaps because other commentators have forgotten that many Australians were born overseas, often in countries were circumcision is uncommon. By no means all of that 70% were circumcised as babies. In fact only 52% of the men left the maternity hospital as 'roundheads'; the other 18% were done later. 2 were circumcised between 5 and 10, one between 15 and 20, and 10 (18% of all the circumcised males) as adults; one man didn’t tick any box for this question. Some of the men circumcised as adults gave the exact age and they covered a wide range, from 28 to 60.
Not unnaturally, many (50%) of those circumcised as infants did not know the reason why they had been done. 5% were circumcised for religious reasons, while 33% cited hygiene. One added “Everybody was then” while another noted “Routine social reasons”. (Incidentally, the statement “Everyone was then” doesn’t stand up - there were no significant differences in the proportions of circumcised and uncircumcised in any of the age groups of this study). Appearance was given as the reason for one of the childhood operations, while the other cited hygiene. Of the adult cases, 4 quoted medical necessity while the others cited hygiene, appearance and unspecified other reasons.
Quite a few men wrote in comments implying that women knew little or nothing about what a natural, uncut penis was like: “With the scarcity of mature foreskins... many Australian women must be as ignorant as their circumcised husbands or lovers and sometimes more so.” Not so, however; only 20% of our sample had only had circumcised lovers. A mere 3% had experienced only uncircumcised men, while 74% had enjoyed both types of penis. 2% did not know whether their lovers had been circumcised or not. Of that 74%, several said that they had had more experience with circumcised cocks, but that is only to be expected since the circumcised sort is twice as common. It is clear, therefore, that most of the women in our survey had actual experience on which to base their opinions.
The Natural Penis
“I really resent the calling of a man who has a natural penis with a foreskin... 'uncircumcised' as if it was something that had to be done!” was the (very reasonable) comment of one correspondent. What does an adult, natural, penis look like? Most respondents, both circumcised and natural, filled in the appropriate sections of the form, so we can get a fairly clear picture of the most common appearance of, and the range of variation in, both types of penis. First of all, when erect a natural penis generally has a bare, fully-exposed knob. 59% of the natural cocks matched this description, while 25% were partly covered, and 18% were fully clothed with skin. None had any surplus skin hanging over the end. There was a wider range of variation when soft, which is not surprising - most erect penises are fairly similar in size, give or take an inch, but the amount they shrink when soft is highly variable. Commonly the knob was fully covered but no more (45%), but quite a few had surplus skin which bunched up in front of the glans (32%). 9% had the glans half-covered when soft, while 14% were fully exposed. One could say that the 'typical' natural cock had the glans just covered when soft, and fully exposed when erect - though this in fact describes only 27% of our sample. 50% had the glans no more than just covered when soft, and fully exposed when erect.
Five of the men who had been circumcised as adults also gave details of their state before the operation, and most had longer than average foreskins. Only one fitted the 'norm', with his knob just covered when soft and uncovered when hard. The other four all had skin which bunched up when soft, and were at least partly covered when erect; one still had a bunch of skin in front when hard. Overall, then, it seems that those who are circumcised as adults tend to be, but are not exclusively, those with longer foreskins.
None of our respondents had any serious difficulty in retracting their foreskins - at least by the age at which they filled in the form. Nor was there any difference between those who were subsequently circumcised and those who stayed natural. The vast majority - 77% - reported that their skins retracted at a touch, while 23% said that they had to be pulled back. None had foreskins which were difficult or impossible to retract. One man had the interesting combination of an exposed knob when erect and a foreskin which needed to be pulled back - one can imagine the irresistible force of the erection finally conquering the tight prepuce and slowly and inevitably stripping it back across the glans.
Although none of the men in our survey had difficulty in pulling their skin back, quite a few women had had boyfriends with this problem. All told 10% of the women with experience of natural cocks had at some stage had a man who found it difficult to retract his prepuce. Most seemed to cope with the situation - only a quarter of them reported that it caused difficulties in their relationship. Another, while not finding it a problem herself, added that “A prior relationship told him to do it [get circumcised] or leave!”.
The age at which the foreskin could first be retracted was quite varied. 50% of those who answered this question had been able to pull it back as long as they could remember, while another 15% had got it back before age 10. Most of the rest (30%) had succeeded before puberty. A couple of men (one subsequently circumcised) only managed to retract after puberty (by which time the need to do so is getting urgent!). The age of first retraction showed no relationship at all to the ease of retraction once it had been accomplished.
Two men (both subsequently circumcised) had at some stage suffered from paraphimosis - a tight foreskin which became stuck in the retracted position. This can have quite serious consequences, and while the figure is small, it suggests that paraphimosis could occur in up to 5% of those who are not circumcised before puberty. One man wrote in about a foreskin problem which was not covered in the survey, a too-short frenulum (the web of skin below the glans). While he could retract the skin behind the knob, the frenulum then stopped it going any further, so that it remained bunched up behind. (Medical books suggest that this problem is not uncommon). In his case the problem solved itself when his first sexual encounters stretched and tore it a little so that the skin could go back freely. If this does not happen a doctor can make the small nick necessary to solve the problem with minimal fuss and inconvenience.
The Circumcised Penis
The typical Aussie circumcised penis has a fairly radical cut, with the skin stretched tight on the shaft when erect. 72% of the circumcised males ticked this description as best fitting them, while 26% still had some mobile skin. Only one man had more free skin than this - even when erect, his skin sometimes partly covered the knob. When soft the circumcised cocks present quite a wide range of appearances. The commonest style (46%) has skin mobile but not bunched up, while 30% have skin which bunches up behind the knob. 15% have the knob partly covered, while at the other extreme 9% have the skin on the shaft stretched tight even when soft. Overall, the typical penis has some mobile skin when soft and the skin stretched tight when hard - this describes 45% of all the circumcised members and no other category comes close. The next most common types were skin bunched up when soft and still mobile when erect (15%), and skin bunched when soft but stretched tight when erect (13%). One man had some mobile skin both soft and erect, implying a penis which didn’t shrink much when flaccid, while at the other extreme two men had skin partly covering the glans when soft and stretched tight when hard. Of course, the dividing line between mobile and tight skin is to some extent subjective, and even allowing for differences in expansion ratio it is hard to believe that their skin was quite as tight as that of the men who had no mobile skin even when soft.
Another feature which a couple of contributors commented on was the position of the scar. One had it close behind the glans, while the other’s as 25mm back from it. It is evident that there is quite a range of circumcision styles among different practitioners, with variation in the amount of inner skin left as well as in the overall amount of skin removed. Given that 14% of natural cocks have a bare knob even when soft, while 15% of the circumcised ones are partly covered, it becomes less surprising that a couple of women did not know whether their men had been circumcised or not.
Quite a lot of circumcised men - 20% - were dissatisfied with the way they had been cut. The response from women was similar - 20% had had a circumcised lover who had been badly cut. (Of course, most women would have had more than one circumcised lover.) Not all these complaints were major ones, however - one man specifically said “This is a VERY minor dissatisfaction” - and the majority were nevertheless glad to be circumcised.
Many of the grounds for complaint referred to the owner’s personal wishes rather than any faults that would be recognised by a medical examination. Four men ticked “Not enough skin removed”. Three of these had skin which was mobile when erect - presumably they would have liked it to be tight. The fourth had skin which partly covered the glans even when hard, and his comment was “Wants about 2" more skin off”. In his case there were clearly more objective grounds for complaint, but again it may be partly a question of aspiration. He was circumcised between 5 and 10 years old, and it would seem that he was given a 'partial' or 'palliative' circumcision in which essentially only the constriction is removed, with little extra skin. Such an operation is quite common on children of that age in England and some European countries, the intention being to make the skin loose and mobile rather than to remove it, but it seems to be little practised in Australia. It would be simple enough to have a second operation performed to remove more skin - but in this case the major complaint seemed to be coming not from the owner of the penis but his wife, whose viewpoint was “There shouldn’t be any loose skin left on a fully circumcised penis”.
At the other end of the scale, four men complained of having had too much skin removed. One of them had by Australian standards a rather moderate circumcision - the skin was still mobile when erect, just as with three men who wished they had had more taken off! His accompanying letter, though, made it clear that he really didn’t want to be circumcised at all. Two of the others had skin which was tight both soft and erect, so their complaint had more basis, though other men were very happy with penises meeting this description. One had a further problem which he described as “Skin was cut lengthwise underneath and skin removed. Shows clear signs of stitches”. No technique of circumcision I know of involves such a cut, and I wonder if perhaps he had had additional surgery, as an infant, to repair some congenital defect.
Four complained of unsightly scars: “Radical circumcision, large dark brown scar, very little foreskin left”, “A jagged and irregular scar. A lover once commented that 'They must have made a real mess of you'”. Two had excess skin at one point - “not cut evenly”, as one put it. The cases of scarring and uneven cutting certainly seem genuine instances of bad circumcisions, albeit not disastrous ones. One man reported more extensive problems - as well as 'Unsightly scar' and 'Too much skin removed' he also ticked 'Damage to the glans' and 'Damage to the shaft' but he did not give details.
Some women commented on the problems they had encountered. One was worried by a very radical cut: “It seemed too 'tight' as if too much skin had been cut off”. She answered 'NO' to 'did it cause difficulties' but added “though I felt rather anxious and careful of it”. Another described what sounds like a clear case of a botched job: “Had 2 holes at his head of penis and bad scarring”. Overall, circumcision problems seemed not to adversely affect relationships too much - while 20% of women had encountered badly cut cocks, only 3% said that it made a difference to their relationship.
Feelings about Circumcision - The Male Viewpoint
Circumcision is a topic which few men feel neutral about. Only 11% answered that they didn’t care either way. Naturals were more likely to feel this way - 21% of them, in fact, as opposed to 8% of the circumcised men. Most men were happy to be the way they were - 75% of the roundheads and 67% of the cavaliers responded this way, and three-quarters ticked the "Very glad" option rather than "On balance" in each case. 18% of the circumcised men would rather not have been, while 14% of the uncircumcised men wished they had been cut. In latter case the "Very much" response was in a minority, but then, those who felt most strongly about it had already had it done! Nevertheless 13% of the remaining 'cavaliers' said that they intended to get circumcised.
Fig.2 : How do 'roundheads' feel about being circumcised?
We must remember that one third of those who had not been circumcised as infants or children had already chosen to get themselves done (only a third of them on medical grounds). All of these were, subsequently, glad that they had been cut. Taking this into account, we could say that 32% of those who were uncircumcised at the age of 15 wished that they had been done. On this basis, then, it appears that circumcision clearly enjoys a much higher approval rating among Australian males. And, indeed, large numbers of natural Australians are 'voting with their penis' and getting themselves circumcised. At least it is relatively easy for them to make this choice - things are more difficult for the circumcised male who is unhappy with his lot.
Fig.3 : How do 'natural' men feel about having a foreskin?
(Men who are still uncircumcised)
Feelings were quite strong among the minority who were unhappy with their present state. One of the circumcised men wrote: “I have always deeply resented being circumcised... nothing I have read or found out... has removed that resentment”. Another wrote: “There is still quite a lot of skin left on my penis and when wearing underpants (ie except at night) it is far more comfortable to have the skin pulled over the end. In fact it is uncomfortable to have the end uncovered... I would do anything not to be circumcised.” On the other side, from one who passionately wished he had been circumcised: “It has been a life-long wish of mine to be circumcised, and it has caused me tremendous anxiety, personally and with all the women I have slept with... Nearly all my sexual fantasies, whilst masturbating, revolve around circumcision... I don’t know whether this desire to be circumcised is a sick thought...”. Well, of course it isn’t a sick thought - most of the male population in Australia is circumcised, so there are obviously an awful lot of perfectly normal people out there who think that circumcision is better!
Fig.4 : How do 'natural' men feel about having a foreskin?
(All men who answered, including those later circumcised)
There were quite a few circumcised males who, while totally happy with their lot, nevertheless speculated what it might be like to have the other sort of cock: “Wonder what it would be like with a foreskin. May be a case of wanting what one has not got.” and, from another: “Occasionally I imagine I am uncircumcised while masturbating - it makes me very horny. Basically I’d like to try it for a week and then decide.”. Sorry, but I don’t think that’s possible!
Several described childhood experiences in which they found out about the other sort of penis.
“I remember the first time I felt an uncircumcised cock (my cousin’s) it was erect but the glans was completely covered. I was amazed that you could so easily slide this skin way down the shaft and it would spring back into place when you let go.”
“I remember being quite shocked at about age 12 to see a naked man walking around a Surfer’s Paradise changing room obviously quite comfortable with foreskin intact! I couldn’t understand how such a mysterious object worked... A year or two later at school I found myself with a couple of uncircumcised friends. [One] became as curious about me as I was about him... he had a tight foreskin and was not able to draw it back when erect. I still didn’t understand how a normal foreskin slid back... [but] I did find out just how easy it is to masturbate an uncircumcised penis whereas he found it very difficult with the skin I had remaining to give me satisfaction.”
“I can remember those embarrassing days in school changerooms when most boys I saw were circumcised barring myself and one or two others.”
Just how deep this last hangup can go is shown by the strange and tragic case of Frank Vitkovic, the Queen Street mass murderer (Sydney Morning Herald, Oct 8, 1988). His suicide note to his parents said, in the first paragraph: “The seeds of doom were planted very early - as early as eight years of age, several incidents hurt and changed me so much that there was no hope of being the same. I carried that with me. All these past 14 years or so.”
To find the meaning of this cryptic comment we must turn to his diary: “When I was eight years old some boys looked at my penis in the change room. Look at Frank’s, his is different. It was a turning point in my childhood. Up till then I felt normal but after that I felt like the odd man out. Even in the toilet line they’d look at my penis as if to say what the hell is that. I do have a long foreskin. Then I realised they all didn’t have any. I guess my hang-up started from that age - eight. I knew from about 12 that normal sex was not possible for me. I avoided girls completely until I was 19.”
We can never know, of course, whether he would have found something else to be hung-up about if he hadn’t had that particular problem, but it does indicate just how strong, and how self-destructive, a boy’s negative feelings about his penis can be.
Feelings about Circumcision - The Female Viewpoint
One of the questions in the Men’s questionnaire was "Do you think that women generally prefer a circumcised/ uncircumcised penis..". The answers to this were interesting. Of those who answered it, 36% simply ticked don’t know. 30% thought that they had no general preference, but almost as many, 29%, thought that they generally preferred circumcised men. Only 6% (mostly uncircumcised) thought that they preferred natural males. The belief that there is a preference for 'roundheads' was held by both circumcised and uncircumcised males - but is there any basis for it?
It rapidly became clear from the women’s questionnaire that there is no overall consensus view. Quite a lot (approximately 23%) clearly preferred circumcision, ticking the "Circumcised" box for just about every option, while others (around 9%) vehemently opposed it, often in strong language:
“I feel male circumcision is as bad as female, it’s just... more socially acceptable because of Western religious traditions.”
“If I like or love a man I accept his body as it is - but actually circumcision really revolts me.”
Another group (about 7%) were very determinedly neutral, and made it clear that whether a man’s cock was cut or natural made absolutely no difference to them.
The remainder - that is, around 60% of the sample - had opinions which were much more mixed, liking some things about circumcised cocks, while preferring the natural style in other ways.
The clean-cut look scored heavily for appearance, with 63% saying that a circumcised penis looked more attractive - “Circumcised looks better” as one put it. Only 21% favoured the natural look, but again it brought forth some vehement comments - “Prefer uncircumcised in all cases because the sight of a mutilated penis makes me feel sick. Till I got used to it I found it quite distracting - it could really put me off.”! The remainder gave no preference - “Different” was one comment.
Circumcision won out again on hygiene, but by a much narrower margin - 46% thought it was more hygienic, while 38% thought it was not. Many commented that it depended on male cleanliness:
“..circumcision is only more hygienic if the male doesn’t wash... and if he doesn’t wash I don’t think I’d fancy him anyway.”
Some voiced specific concerns:
“A circumcised lover once informed me that women married to uncircumcised men have a higher rate of cervical cancer - so this fact always worries me about uncircumcised men.” [CIRCLIST Editor’s note: At the time the evidence for this was deemed rather dubious, but a causal link has now been found.]
"Is it different applying a condom to a circumcised or uncircumcised penis [for] safe sex?"
Quite independently a male respondent offered the advice “Retract foreskin when putting on a condom”. Since you should always be erect before putting on a condom this goes without saying for most uncircumcised men, and there really is no difference otherwise.
49% said that it made no difference when touching a penis whether it was circumcised or not, but 25% preferred to touch a circumcised cock. 13% did not like touching 'roundheads' - “too sensitive”, said one - and preferred the natural penis. However, when it came to doing more than just touching, and actually bringing a man off by hand, the natural penis scored heavily. Of those who had experienced both sorts, 44% said that it was easier to masturbate a man with a foreskin. “Manual sex on an uncircumcised penis is much easier!!” - “much easier with uncircumcised” - “The only difference between uncirc. and circ. is that it is easier to give hand jobs to uncirc.” 26% said there was no difference, and only 17% preferred to play with a roundhead. Given that most women would have had more experience with circumcised cocks, this amounts to a very strong vote for the natural penis.
When it came to oral sex, though, the position was reversed. While 43% said it made no difference, 36% would prefer to put a circumcised penis in their mouth, and only 11% an uncircumcised one; 2% would not put any penis in their mouth. Of those who had tried both sorts, 40% preferred a circumcised penis for oral sex, the same proportion had no preference, and only 11% preferred a foreskin. This didn’t seem to have much bearing on what their lovers actually got, however. Only a small number of men ticked 'Often' for oral sex and there was a clear predominance of circumcised cocks in this group, but the much larger group who ticked 'sometimes' contained cut and uncut members in the same proportion as the overall sample.
For conventional penis-in-vagina sex, most women who had tried both had no preference - 53% ticked this box, while 19% preferred circumcised and 17% uncircumcised. And very few thought that either sort made better lovers - 64% of all women thought that there was no difference, while 9% thought that natural males were better, and 6% voted for circumcised ones. This aspect is discussed more fully in a later section.
The question "All other things being equal, would the penis of your ideal lover be circumcised or uncircumcised" was intended to elicit an overall preference. "If you could have the lover of your dreams, but it was your choice whether his cock had a foreskin or not, which would you choose?"
However, some felt that they had to be loyal to their current man and specify his type of penis - “Only because my current boyfriend is circumcised” said one respondent, who ticked "Circumcised" but clearly preferred the natural look in all her other answers. Other women made it clear that they had no feelings about the matter (“Doesn’t enter consideration”, said one). Nevertheless, the majority of women did express a preference, and 39% voted for the clean-cut look with 22% favouring the natural state.
Those who preferred circumcised males had generally got them - only 4 women whose ideal was circumcision had uncircumcised partners. Two of these admitted to privately wishing their man was circumcised (perhaps significantly, neither of these was in a permanent relationship with her lover) and one had asked him to get circumcised. By contrast, 40% of those whose ideal was the natural penis had circumcised lovers, and nearly half of those had privately wished that their man had not been done, though only one had actually told him so.
Two women who ticked "Don’t know" for their ideal had nevertheless told uncut lovers that they wished they had been circumcised, while one women who strongly favoured circumcision admitted to having told her circumcised boyfriend that she wished he hadn’t been, because “When feeling kinky [I] would like to play with a foreskin.”! I don’t quite see what is kinky about playing with a foreskin, but I’m afraid there is no way you can have your favourite penis both ways!
If this suggests that nobody should take everything their lover says too seriously, the responses to the question "Have you ever told a man you prefer..." make this point even more strongly. 27% had told a man that they preferred the clean-cut look, while 13% had said they preferred it natural, but 6% had said both things (one hopes to different men). There is obviously a large component of tact (or even flattery) here, and the men’s questionnaire showed the same thing - men had been told that their penis was the sort their lady favoured much more often then they had been told the reverse.
The Medical Aspect
Proponents of circumcision commonly allege that it reduces the incidence of venereal disease, while its opponents assert that there is no firm evidence to support this idea. [CIRCLIST Editor’s note: Remember once again the date when this survey was conducted. ] 25% of our respondents had suffered from one or more sexually transmitted disease; some wrote in 'No' or 'None' to indicate that they had not, while others left it blank (we did not wish to force an answer to this one). Homosexual men were more likely to have suffered from STDs than those who were straight or bisexual. Non-specific urethritis (NSU) was the most common STD (10%) with genital warts second (9%) and herpes next (6%). There were no cases of syphilis, and gonorrhea and unspecified others had each affected 5%.
Correlating these with circumcision was a little tricky, since those cut as adults could have suffered either before or after (some said; most didn’t). We tried two approaches. Looking simply at those who are now circumcised or not, it seemed that circumcised men were over-represented in the STD statistics. We tried instead comparing those circumcised before age 15 (there wouldn’t be too many cases of STDs before that age) with the rest. This time, the uncircumcised/adult circumcised group was over-represented. The simplest conclusion is that some of those circumcised as adults had suffered from STDs before the operation, and some after, and that there is no correlation between circumcision and such diseases.
The picture was quite different when we looked at urogenital problems which were not sexually transmitted. Many of those who were circumcised as adults indicated that they had suffered from such problems before circumcision, so we compared those who were circumcised as infants or children with those who were not. Overall these urogenital problems were 5 times as common in those who were not circumcised at a young age. Urinary tract infections were four times as prevalent, and balanitis (inflammation of the glans) five times as common. Only two men (both gonorrhea sufferers) reported difficulty in urinating, and 'other' problems were evenly spread.
It is clear that circumcision really does drastically reduce the susceptibility to such infections, and for many this was a good reason for getting circumcised. “The reason for the operation was a long history of periodic inflammation despite daily washing underneath the foreskin. Particularly, if I could not wash for a day or two it was guaranteed to get infected.” “[Before circumcision] I suffered from thrush during the summer time.” Some preferred to remain uncut in spite of suffering such problems “From... marriage (long ago) infection of the penile glans invariably followed sexual intercourse” wrote one man, who nevertheless elected to keep his foreskin.
Sex - For Better or Worse
The most loaded question in the whole circumcision debate is the effect it may or may not have on sexual performance and enjoyment. Many wild and fanciful ideas have been bandied around on both sides, but this survey has thrown up some clear - and perhaps surprising - information. The sexual activities of our respondents are graphed in Fig. 5, which shows that the vast majority had sex once a week or more, but less than once a day. The women were more sexually active than the men, but that can probably be accounted for by the different age distribution (Fig. 1). On average, circumcised and uncircumcised men had sex equally often, but more uncircumcised men were at the two extremes of activity and fewer in the middle. All the figures in this section relate to men and women who gave their sexual preferences as heterosexual or bisexual - all those whose preferences were predominantly or exclusively gay said that they currently had no heterosexual activity.
Fig.5 : Frequency of heterosexual intercourse.
49% of the men and 40% of the women were married or in de-facto relationships. 12% of the women were living with boyfriends, but only one man said he was living with a girlfriend (perhaps in a man’s view she becomes a de-facto once she moves in). 18% of the men, and 40% of the women, had regular girlfriends/boyfriends, while 25% of the men (a third of them gay) and only 7% of the women had no regular partner. Men and women who were just living together had sex most often, followed closely by married couples then those with regular lovers. Those without regular lovers had sex much less frequently - and this was the only group in which the men had it more often than the women.
Premature ejaculation and sensitivity
A few years back, one of the regular claims of the proponents of circumcision was that it made the glans less sensitive and so reduced the likelihood of premature ejaculation. Well, does it, and will it? We asked women who had experience of both which sort was more sensitive; 51% felt that there was no difference, while 26% thought that natural knobs were more sensitive and 23% that circumcised ones were. This shows that in the opinion of those best qualified to judge there is overall no significant difference - and perhaps also that there is quite a bit of individual variation between knobs.
Fig.6 : Incidence of Premature Ejaculation.
On the question of premature ejaculation, 49% of women thought that there was no difference, while 8% thought that circumcised men were more likely to shoot too soon, and 4% that natural men were. (The remainder did not know). Here, though, we also have direct evidence from the men’s reports. Only one man ticked that it happened often, while 17% ticked 'Sometimes' and 25% 'Rarely', but as the graph (Fig. 3) shows, there was a noticeable tendency for it to happen more often to circumcised men - the exact reverse of popular legend.
We also asked the question "Do you fail to come...?" - the male sexual problem nobody talks about. Again this was not a major problem overall, though one or two men wrote in about the trouble it was causing them. There was a very clear correlation here: those who were circumcised as infants were noticeably less likely to suffer from retarded ejaculation. Those circumcised later gave much the same answers as uncircumcised men. These results are summarised in Figure 4. 23% of those circumcised after infancy or not at all answered 'Sometimes', as against 14% of the infant circumcisions. At the other end of the scale, 49% of those done as babies answered 'Never', as opposed to 39% of the other group.
Fig.7 : Incidence of Retarded Ejaculation.
What can be the explanation for this? Perhaps at the very early age when boys first learn that it feels good to play with the penis (long before they start actually masturbating) circumcised boys learn about the pleasant sensation of stimulating the glans. Foreskins are usually pretty all-enveloping at that age, so boys with one just play with the skin. The pleasure response that roundheads learn so early is directly useful when it comes to making love, whereas the one that cavaliers have developed must be unlearned; they have to adapt to a different stimulus.
Did the earth move?
Does circumcision make any difference to the enjoyment of intercourse, for the man or the woman? Some circumcised men feel that they are missing out on something: “.. a circumcised man’s potential for enjoyment is limited. My own (circumcised) penis has insufficient sensitivity for full enjoyment of some activities.” (On all the evidence, his penis would have been no more sensitive had the foreskin been left - they really do vary!) A woman was even more emphatic: “Circumcised men at 45-50 years old have lost all penis sensitivity and are unable to get an erection... both husband and wife suffer from frustration...”. (Again, the evidence is very much against her - in our sample circumcised men over 50 had sex just as frequently as uncircumcised.)
We asked the men "Do you think sex is more satisfactory for...". Of those who answered, 43% didn’t know, while 22% thought there was no difference. 14% (all circumcised) thought it was better without a foreskin, while 20% (three quarters of them uncircumcised) thought it was better with one. At first glance this is a pretty even vote, but if we look at those who are in a position to know, we get a very clear answer. ALL of the heterosexual men who were circumcised after the age of 15, and therefore had presumably had tried it both ways, answered that sex was better with a circumcised cock. “In total, sex is more enjoyable with a bare knob” wrote one, while another gave more details: “The operation had no effect on the ease of orgasm... However it had a considerable effect on the feel of intercourse. My foreskin was probably a bit longer than average and did not roll back automatically with an erection. Thus during intercourse the foreskin would roll on and off the glans and I was having sex with the foreskin rather than the vagina. Aesthetically sex was better afterwards.”
Fig.8 : Who orgasms first? (Women’s responses).
Women were asked whether there was any difference in stimulation between the two types of cocks. An overwhelming majority (75%) said that they were indistinguishable once they were inside. Among those who could detect a difference opinions were about evenly divided as to which sort (if either) gave more stimulation. “The knob feels rougher on vagina” said one, who got more stimulation from a bare knob. Another, who came more easily with a natural penis, said “Technique differs”, implying that circumcised and natural males made love in different ways. On the related question "Do you come more easily with .." there was again an overwhelming vote for 'No difference" - 85% voted this way with the remainder split both ways. Many women commented that reaching orgasm had little to do with the feeling of the penis inside them: “I come more from genital stimulation, not from the penis in me...”.
Even so, there may be more to it than that. A man's penis may affect his lovemaking in more complex ways than just the amount of friction it generates in the vagina. When we look at the actual answers about sexual response some patterns start to emerge. As Fig X shows, women were much more likely to reach a simultaneous climax with circumcised lovers than with uncircumcised, while at the other extreme women with uncircumcised lovers were three times as likely to fail to reach orgasm. The other options -before and after - are a bit more complex since many women ticked both - “[we] take turns at coming first” as one woman explained. Overall, circumcised lovers were a bit more likely to come before their partners, and uncircumcised ones after. The men were asked a related question - how often their partners reached orgasm. Fig 9 shows the results: three times as many circumcised men as naturals ticked "Always" while the proportions were exactly reversed for "Sometimes". So, even though few individual women thought so, looking at a large sample in this way we can see that women do in fact tend to have more satisfactory sex with circumcised men than with uncircumcised.
Fig.9 : Does your partner climax? (Men’s responses).
Is there any simple explanation for this rather surprising result? It seems most unlikely that it has anything to do with the effect of the penis in the vagina, given the responses to that question. One woman made a comment which could go some way towards explaining it: “There is a bit of a cultural divide... men from middle-class white Anglo-Celtic families... are likely to be circumcised whereas 'ethnic' working class men are less likely to be. Cultural backgrounds and attitudes may influence sexual styles... 'being a good lover' etc.” Another possible factor could be the enjoyment which the man gets from sex. If, as those who have tried it both ways maintain, intercourse is better for the circumcised man, perhaps he is worrying less about his own satisfaction and can pay more attention to his lady’s needs?
Fig.10 : Male demand for sex.
As a footnote to this, women with uncircumcised lovers were much more likely to report that their lovers wanted more sex than they did (and much less likely to report the opposite) than those whose lovers were circumcised (Fig. 7). Both groups made love equally frequently, so perhaps increased satisfaction makes the partners of circumcised men want it more?
6% of our sample described themselves as exclusively gay, and a further 5% as predominantly gay. 8% were bisexual and 5% heterosexual but with some homosexual leanings. A further 8% were exclusively heterosexual but had had some gay experiences in the past - this is a common part of growing up for most boys, and the true figure would probably be higher. All told, then, about a third of the men admitted to some homosexual experience, and just over a quarter gave details in the 'Gay Sex' section.
All but one of the men who were predominantly or exclusively gay were circumcised. This does not imply that circumcision tends to predispose men to homosexuality - only 50% were done as infants (the same as for our sample as a whole) - but rather that gay men are more likely to get circumcised. Half of those done as adults gave the reason as medical necessity, so the main reason is probably that gay men are more likely than straight to get the sort of infections for which circumcision is commonly recommended.
Most gay men had had both sorts of partners; a few had had only roundheads, none only naturals. Only a third thought that gay men had a general preference, and most of those thought that it was for circumcision. In fact most of the men expressed a preference, and a large majority favoured circumcised partners. Those who preferred natural partners often seemed to enjoy particularly the fact that they were different from themselves: “I find uncircumcised lovers to be fascinating because they are so interestingly different.”. Another waxed lyrical about it: “The sliding back of a foreskin to uncover a red-purple knob, wet and slippery, is very attractive, sexy and a turn- on.” (Either he was remembering early juvenile experiences or he’d had a partner with an unusually long skin).
Just over half said that they would perform the same sex acts with either sort of partner, though one qualified it with “Same acts, maybe different techniques.” The remainder would do different things - one said bluntly “No oral with an uncut - it’s filthy” !
One respondent sent in an interesting extract from a 1933 sex manual 'The mastery of sex through psychology and religion' by L.D. Weatherhead (Student Christian Movement Press, Sydney) “All men seriously troubled by masturbation should take medical advice as to whether the small operation of circumcision is not advisable.” Such opinions were widely promulgated around the turn of the century, but by 1933 they would have seemed to most authorities as pretty old-fashioned - not to say far-fetched.
Like any other rational man of the 1980s, I would have said it was ridiculous to suggest that circumcision would make any difference to how often men or boys masturbated - but the figures were unambiguous. Circumcised men masturbate less than uncircumcised ones. The histogram (Figure 11) shows this quite clearly.
We looked to see if some other factor was involved - age perhaps. But there was no difference in average age between the cavaliers and roundheads, and the proportions were pretty constant through all the age groups. Overall there was no difference in how often they had intercourse, either. One factor did show a difference - a greater proportion of circumcised men were married (which itself poses an interesting question) and married men definitely tended to masturbate less than unmarried. This does not seem sufficient to explain the figures, especially as natural married men still masturbated more than circumcised ones.
Fig.11 : Frequency of male masturbation.
Certainly some roundheads thought that masturbation might be easier with a skin - “Masturbation may have been more pleasant with one.” Those who were cut as adults didn’t agree: “I am now very happily circumcised. Since the operation I enjoy masturbation and sex in general a lot more.” Nevertheless, most women found it easier to masturbate a natural cock, so there may be something in it. Let us have a look at how the two groups preferred to do it.
74% of the circumcised men masturbated using a lubricant, and for most of them it was their sole method. Most of these spread their attention over the whole penis, but about a quarter concentrated on the knob. 30% masturbated by moving the skin up and down, but only 21% used this technique exclusively. There was only a slight correlation with the type of circumcision - many men with tightly-stretched skin still masturbated by moving it, though this method was a bit more popular with a more mobile skin. 8% masturbated by rubbing the knob or the whole organ without a lubricant. Some reported that while moving the skin was inconvenient, it was the only way they could achieve satisfaction: “I have only enough skin left to just come over the rim of the glans if gripped in just the right way and it’s always difficult for someone else to do, male or female... Lubricants have a dulling effect yet when I come the sensation is too much... a less satisfying result than using the skin.” One man, circumcised at age 28 and now over 40, took a while to change his style to adapt to his new circumstances - he now uses a lubricant on the knob but “Until a few years ago I moved skin without lubricant”. Another regretted the necessity of using a lubricant: “As masturbation of an erect circumcised penis requires lubrication to be effective, and lubricants tend to be messy... manual sex play is restricted. A certain amount of dry masturbation is pleasant but after 30 seconds or so it becomes either painful or boring.”
Almost all the uncircumcised men masturbated by moving the skin, though 13% also sometimes used a lubricant; only one man used this technique exclusively. The most popular motion was the 'long stroke', bringing the skin back and forth over the knob; over 50% did this. One mentioned sitting hunched in order to have enough free skin to be able to manage it. Not surprisingly, those who kept the skin forward while manipulating it tended to be men with long foreskins, while those who left it back had short ones.
So there are certainly differences in technique, and these may help to account for the differences in frequency. Significantly, roundheads who used lubricants masturbated less than those who moved the skin. Perhaps the added complication of finding - and cleaning up - a lubricant restricts the opportunities for a quick wank. On the other hand, since roundheads please, and are wanted by, their women more, and possibly get more satisfaction from intercourse, perhaps they have less need to do it by themselves.
Circumcision of sons
29 of the men in our sample, and 24 of the women, had sons. Seven of these were husband-and-wife responses, so all told 46 families with sons were represented. Of these 25 were circumcised, and 21 not. Only one family had both circumcised and natural boys; an accompanying note explained this was because the uncircumcised child was: “Adopted recently at 14 months old - will be [circumcised] by the time you get this form”. Younger women were more likely to have uncircumcised sons, presumably reflecting the trend away from circumcision, though the difference was not overwhelming. There was no difference in age between the fathers of circumcised or uncircumcised sons.
Who decides whether a boy should be cut, and why? Several (male) respondents felt that women were responsible: “Fathers don’t really care... it’s the mothers who... put pressure on doctors to have their sons circumcised”; “[I] believe women circumcise their sons as a subconscious way of exerting their power over men... the majority of circumcisions were performed at the insistence of women rather than men.” The figures do not support this idea at all. 45% of the men with circumcised sons said that the decision was a joint one, while almost all the men whose sons were left natural said it was a mutual decision (though one or two admitted that if they decision had been entirely theirs they would have had them done). 30% of men with circumcised sons said that the decision was their own while only half that number said that the decision was the mothers. Among the women with circumcised sons, one third said the decision was joint, one third said it was theirs and a quarter put the responsibility on the father. Again, most of those with natural sons reported a joint decision, but one said the choice was hers, and another the father’s (which she opposed, and intended to reverse).
So both parents generally participate in this decision, and when they differ it is just as likely to be the father who favours circumcision. But what is the basis for their decision? Particularly in the case of the men, it is far from clear. Circumcised men more commonly had circumcised sons, while natural men were equally divided. But natural men, who were very happy to have a foreskin, often chose to have their sons circumcised, while circumcised men who were happy with their state often chose not to. Women’s choices often seemed more straightforward. Those whose ideal was the natural penis all chose to leave their sons natural, while all but two of those ideal cock was clean-cut had had their sons done - and both those two intended to get it done. Overall, though, it seems that the decision is a complex interplay between personal preference and prevailing fashion. Religion was the quoted reason in one case - the reasons otherwise were uniformly hygiene and appearance, often together.
Some gave specific reasons. For circumcision: “Wife is circumcised herself and believes all men and women should be done (circumcised)”. “To reduce cervical cancer in his partner”. “Will never be troubled by phimosis, balanitis etc. Less likely to contract VD or herpes. Handsome, trouble-free penis for the rest of his life. Circumcised penis also gets a little more erect and grows bigger if circumcised in babyhood.” (While some of these claims are undeniable, others seem a little far- fetched!). Opposing circumcision, some cited the risk of damage: “As a midwife I saw too many mangled penises done by GPs and in one hospital horrible mutilation done by Jewish lay(?) folk as a religious rite.” One woman, whose answers all strongly favoured circumcision, nevertheless opposed her son’s circumcision “so as not to hurt the infant”.
There were three rather troubling cases where the decision was made by a doctor against the parents’ wishes. One couple reported that (48 years ago) their son was operated on without their consent: “Doctor’s decision, not ours - we were not consulted (1941)”. Two women, more recently, had doctors refuse to circumcise their sons: “The obstetrician refused my request for my son to be circumcised... my son’s paediatrician [also] refused.”. I discussed these cases with a doctor who has experience in the field. She was horrified by the first case. and suggested that a lawsuit could have been in order (though in the prevailing climate of opinion in 1941 the doctor could probably have claimed it would have been negligent of him not to circumcise). The doctors who refused to cut were, she felt, behaving most unethically. In her view it was quite permissible for a doctor to refuse to carry out a procedure to which he was opposed, but in such a situation the ethical course was then to refer the patient to another doctor who did not share his prejudice.
Nearly a quarter of the parents of circumcised boys had some complaints about the way it had been done, with too much removed, too little removed and excess skin at one place all featuring equally. There was just one case of an unsightly scar. A quarter of those with uncircumcised sons were worried about their boys’ foreskins being too long or too tight, but few seemed to be planning circumcision in the near future for this reason.
What of those who so far have no sons? Would they want their boys left natural, or cut? So far as the men were concerned, the split was exactly 50/50 among those who expressed an opinion. The women, though, more often would their sons left natural - the voting was roughly 60/40 in favour of the natural state. Essentially the women’s viewpoint seemed to break down that those who favoured circumcision would want their boys done, but those who didn’t care either way would want them left alone - which is logical enough.
What emerges overall from our survey? Some of its findings are very much what would have been expected, others are more surprising, and some are so startling that they are bound to stir up a bit of controversy.
One certain thing is that there are no absolutes. Every majority viewpoint had a substantial minority expressing the opposite view - often vociferously. Keeping this very much in mind, let us have a look at the major conclusions.
Most natural cocks have a bare knob when erect, just like circumcised ones, but the latter generally have the skin on the shaft stretched more or less tight. These knobs do not vary in sensitivity - or rather, differences in sensitivity have nothing to do with circumcision. Contrary to popular folklore, circumcised men are slightly more prone to premature ejaculation; on the other hand they are less prone to retarded ejaculation. Whether or not it has anything to do with the preceding, circumcised men (on average) satisfy their ladies better sexually, and their partners want sex more often. They also masturbate less often than uncircumcised men, and using different techniques.
Contrary to the beliefs of many men, the vast majority of women had experienced both types of penis. Some strongly preferred roundheads, while a smaller number favoured cavaliers equally strongly. The majority seemed willing to accept whichever type their lover possessed, and make the most of the specific opportunities it presented - clean-cut knobs were favoured for oral sex, an intact skin for hand jobs.
Given this range of opinion among potential partners, one might expect that no men would have cause to be dissatisfied with the state of their cock, circumcised or not. Even foreskins which are so tight that retraction is difficult seem to cause few problems in relationships, from the woman’s point of view. And, indeed, the majority are content to be the way they are, with circumcision receiving an overall higher approval rating. However, there are quite a few men who are dissatisfied with their lot and want to be the other way - sometimes passionately. Almost a third of those who reached adulthood with a foreskin had since had it removed, and a further 10% intended to follow suit.
What of the next generation? The sons of our respondents were 55% circumcised, 45% natural. If those with no sons stick to their current intentions (and it is a big if) the figures would be almost exactly reversed for the next crop.
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