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November 18, 2010

Why are we so scared of a little foreskin?

We love to read women's magazines while we travel (obviously) so we picked up a copy of the November 2010 issue of Glamour while we were in fVegas. One particular headline had caught my eye -

Of course, I was skeptical.... Glamour is going to explain his entire naked body to me? When I flipped to page 144, this is what I found:
His Naked Body Quirks Explained
What to do when he looks a little...unusual
One ball, three nipples and a crooked you-know-what? (OK, laugh a little) -- it happens! Billy Goldberg, M.D., and Mark Leyner, authors of Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex?: More Questions You'd Only Ask a Doctor After Your Third Whiskey Sour, tell us women how to, um, handle anything.
This quickie from Glamour [read the full 'article' online here] gives women advice on how to 'handle' various 'body quirks' such as a crooked penis, a third nipple, a 'uniball' (i.e., one testicle) and... a foreskin? Huh? Since when is having an intact foreskin a 'quirk'? Not that the other three things are necessarily problems or issues either, but there's just something extra weird about describing a penis that hasn't been mutilated as 'unusual' or 'quirky'.

The actual write-up they gave the 'uncircumcised penis' wasn't too bad. It was, for the most part, void of some of the usual 'anti-foreskin' sentiments that certain magazines love to express. (Ahem, New York.)
So he's got an uncircumcised penis...
For those who are accustomed to a sharpened pencil, there should be nothing alarming about the penis au naturel. Some studies have found that uncircumcised guys may be more likely to give you an STD, but many men and women argue that foreskin enchances sexual pleasure.And then there are those who think there's not a big difference. Ultimately, you want to be with a man who's comfortable in his own skin - or lack thereof. And whatever it looks like, put a condom on it!
It's not exactly perfect of course. They're still perpetuating the unproven claim that uncircumcised men are more likely to contract HIV (which is based mainly on studies done in Sub-Saharan Africa and may have little bearing on circumcision in the U.S.) and the 'pros' basically amount to 'it might make sex better... maybe'. But overall, it wasn't too bad and we like that they encouraged safe sex regardless of whether he's cut or uncut.

But I still just have to wonder why exactly does a penis in its natural form require explanation? It's not just Glamour that thinks so. Cosmopolitan has also tackled this topic in their Sex Q&A:
My guy isn't circumcised
Q: I've just started dating a guy who's uncircumcised. I've never encountered this before. What should I expect, and are there any special tips I should know? [Get Cosmo's answer, it's not bad.]
A: When your guy's penis is flaccid, a nerve-packed sheath of skin, known as the foreskin, covers and protects the head (glans). When erect, the foreskin retracts, and some or all of the glans becomes exposed. A circumcised penis is accustomed to 24/7 exposure and may toughen over time as a result of brushing against the fabric of underwear or pants. An uncircumcised member, on the other hand, may be more sensitive to touch because it's usually under wraps.
If your man indicates that his penis needs a little more TLC, use water-based lube when stimulating him manually and go easy on him. You'll send him over the erotic edge during oral sex if you insert the tip of your tongue underneath his foreskin and swirl it in a circular motion. And you can maximize the sensation he feels when using a condom by making sure the foreskin is completely pulled back before rolling on the rubber.
If you find that he's overly sensitive, let him direct the action. If he knows you are eager to please him, he will be just as eager to educate you.
 The part that stands out to me in the question is "I've never encountered this before." I don't know if it's just because I've had more sex than some people (maybe) or that I just read about sex more than some people (probably) but the idea that a foreskin is strange and confusing baffles me. Let's check out the stats: According to the World Health Organization approximately one-third of males worldwide were circumcised by adulthood in 2008 and 56.1% of boys in the United States were in 2006, based on statistics from the National Hospital Discharge Survey. In the U.S. your chances of coming across an intact foreskin are pretty much almost as good as coming across a circumcised one. 

And the numbers appear to be on the decline... in part due to the fact that there's little-to-no medical reason to recommend it. (See our last post on the subject Sexual Mutilation or Routine Medical Procedure?)

So why all the fuss? Why is this phenomenon of having an intact foreskin considered 'unusual' or 'quirky' when almost half of the males in the United States have one? We hate to ever say anything good about these women's magazines but their advice isn't so bad... It's not a terrible idea for women to know how to... um, handle a penis with an intact foreskin, especially since they're apparently becoming increasingly more commonplace in the U.S. (There's certainly no limit to the amount of print that Cosmo&Friends give to the circumcised penis.)

What I object to is the characterization of the intact penis as something weird or confusing or icky. It's not. It's the way the penis was meant to be. We don't need to be so scared of a little foreskin! That's not saying that a circumcised penis is necessarily weird or icky either, but just that all penis is good.


Marcy said...

"and 56.1% of boys in the United States were [circumcised] in 2006, based on statistics from the National Hospital Discharge Survey"

That's for babies *born* in 2006, right? I don't have numbers, but it feels like in our generation of grown men (20's and up) in the US, the percentage of circumcised men is *much* higher. One of the most common arguments I hear from men for circumcising their boys is how they remembered the poor, lonely uncut guy in the high school locker room getting made fun of, and not wanting to subject their kids to the same ridicule (seeing as currently only 30% of US babies are getting cut, it'll be the other way around by the time these kids grow up...).

Thankfully, again, since so many more babies are being left intact now, as they grow the stigma around a natural penis will go away, and they will actually become the new norm.

Leila said...

While the circ rate was 56% in 2006, go back to when men who are adults now were born and you'll see a different picture. Check this chart of 20th Century Circumcision rates especially the bottom chart of percentages as of the year 2000. By doing the math on ages, you'll see that still roughly 70% of men who are of age to be having sex now are cut. It's not going to be a 50/50 thing for another fifteen years, at least. And of course, women who've dated mainly or exclusively within Jewish or Muslim circles are unlikely to have come across any intact men at all.

Vidor said...

This blog entry would be easier to take seriously if it wasn't pretending that the link between circumcision and STD prevention isn't real.

Tiger said...

I didn't realize circumcision was so common. I thought it was something that was rare outside of the Jewish community.

Nank said...

Although I like my boys young, I try to stay above the 21 mark - you know, so I can get 'em drunk, I looked at the chart that Leila referenced and it looks like 74% circumcised between 1985 and 1990. In the years before that it was even higher. Not sure about the rest of the country but here in the midwest I'll bet the rate was higher than other areas so I've only run into a couple un-ones. Have to say....I like 'em. Don't understand why in the world anyone would be so cruel to their kids. Besides the pain, they'll have much less pleasure sexually for the rest of their lives. Pity.
STDs are typically only an issue if you don't wrap it and you're at risk cut or uncut if you don't.

Reba said...

As other posters have noted, it's disingenuous to cite global circumcision statistics and a 2006 U.S. circumcision stat to make the claim that a sexually active adult in the US has a 50-50 chance of having a partner with an intact foreskin. The majority of males born in the 60s, 70s, and 80s in the U.S. were circumcised; from that perspective, encountering an intact foreskin on an adult male in the U.S. is unusual.

Neptune said...

The majority of *white* AMERICAN males born in the post WWII era through gen-y were circ'd. Not my guy --who didn't know he was uncirc'd till I told him (there's social pressure for you), but I digress. It's been a mostly judeo-christian thing for the past two generations, but that's changing. These ladies who haven't met an uncirc'd guy, I dare say, should try some more flavors from the baskin robbins of life. N'est-ce pas?

Richard Kopf said...

One of the reasons that I'm thankful that I wasn't born in the USA is simply this - almost automatic circumcision, at least when I was an infant. Fortunately, this was not the case where I was born. I consider circumcision without compelling medical reasons to be simply mutilation. And I agree. The idea that there is something unusal about not being circumcised is weird. No other word for it. And the STD issue is a irrelevant. Practising normal hygiene puts an end to that.

Anonymous said...

"... all penis is good"

Ooh, I'm getting the horn already.

Colin said...

Neptune is right to emphasize that it's *white* American boys who are routinely circumcised. Luckily for them, black and Mexican babies don't typically have this unnecessary procedure covered by insurance—and thus are left intact.
For white baby boys, the default is to bill for circumcision. My brother asked NOT to have the procedure done to his son. It wasn't. But the bill had it itemized! Cha-ching!

Marika said...

While it should in no way be viewed as an "abnormality," the fact it is very easy to date and have sex with a lot of guys without coming across a single one who hadn't been circumcised.

Now, I don't know the ESC's histories, but you guys live in New York, which is a huge melting pot of races, ethnicities, religions, and national origins. In the northwest there is a lot less diversity on all those counts, and circ rates in this area are significantly higher than the rest of the country. A girl (or gay/bi man) living in one of these states, especially if she only dated within her general demographic but even if she didn't, could easy date a large number of guys without coming across a single intact, natural penis.

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify - the statistics were just meant to show that circumcision is not as common as magazines imply and is currently on the decline. (The worldwide stats are for adult men though.) We weren't suggesting that you'd be sleeping with the specific 'males' from that statistic, lol.

We didn't actually say that you're chances of coming across an intact penis during sex were almost as good as coming across a circumcised penis... We were only pointing out that almost 44% of boys are not being circumcised in the U.S. Considering that the worldwide rates are even lower and many people in the U.S. today weren't born here, the chances that a male living in the U.S. has an intact penis are pretty good.

I'm not suggesting that it's unusual for someone to go their whole lives without seeing one up close in the flesh... My point is that it's not unusual to have an intact foreskin either. But these magazines keep implying that it is.

Vidor: We never said that the link between circumcision and STD prevention wasn't "real". Only that it's unproven and it's disingenuous to use studies done on adult circumcision in sub-Saharan Africa to make the claim that neonatal circumcision in the U.S. has a huge effect on the U.S. HIV rate. Especially since it's important to get tested and have safe sex regardless of whether the guy has a foreskin or not.

Anonymous said...

I love to suck on some foreskin. Nom nom nom nom nom.

consa said...

The fraction of middle class white men born between 1940 and 1980 in the maternity wards of USA urban hospitals, who were circumcised when they were 1-2 days old, is very very high, probably over 95%. Nobody knows for sure why this happened. Obgyns were trained to circumcise baby boys; we honestly don't know why. We do know that during the first half of last century, routine infant circumcision (RIC) became the fashion throughout the English speaking world. RIC is not an American peculiarity. Its persistence in the 21st century is.

Hospitals billed health insurers for RIC, who paid without question. When Medicaid was set up in the 1960s, it too paid for RIC. So in the 1970s and 80s, RIC became common in the AA demographic. Latinos, and Americans whose ancestors immigrated to the USA after WWII, have yet to come the American circumcision party.

Data from HHS reveal that over the past 30-40 years, the circumcision rate has been highest in the midwest and the upper South. RIC is now a minority practice west of the Rockies.

I am an intact baby boomer, and I can assure you that while growing up, I saw all of 5-6 intact johnsons in locker rooms and while pissing outdoors. Another very curious fact is that I heard no bawdy talk of circumcision or the lack thereof until I was in college. The word "foreskin" was not part of sex talk 40-50 years ago, and very seldom appeared in print. I am fully convinced that the vast majority of my contemporaries of both genders did not know what the word meant.

I have concluded that the vast majority of boys I grew up with were told nothing about having been circumcised at birth. A half or more century ago, circumcision was very seldom mentioned in print. The practice was justified by little than the assertion that the natural penis is unsanitary.

Last century, of all the men who modeled for Playgirl, only a half dozen of them were intact. The typical mainstream white American women grew up with circed brothers. Every baby boy whose diaper she changed was circed. Every guy she dated was circed. Millions of demure baby boom women have never seen an image of a natural penis, much less ever been intimate with one. Hence I am not at all surprised to read that many American women find the natural penis bizarre, even off-putting.

The USA is changing. 35-45% of men born in the past 25 years are intact. Most of all there is the internet. Any young woman can study images of hundreds of natural penises in the privacy of her home office or dorm room. There are 20 second videos demonstrating foreskin retraction. The internet is doing much to reduce American genital provinciality, at least among those under 30. No need to traffic in porn sites; just go to Wikimedia Commons.

When it comes to the natural penis, American women are all over the map, from disgusted to very much turned on. I have a sense, however, that a growing fraction of smart articulate women under 30 are foreskin accepting. See, for example, the blogging and vlogging of Rachel Rabbit White or Laci Green. The founder of sex positive feminism, Betty Dodson who is nearly 85 and has been intimate with hundreds of men, revealed in 2009 that she prefers that her partners be intact. The Great Cyberwhore, the secular Jew Nina Hartley, speaks well of natural men.