Sexology

Circumcision’s effects on sexuality

In men

The foreskin comprises the mobile component or “moving parts” of the penis. During erection it unrolls to replace the shaft skin with specialised tissue.

The inner foreskin contains estrogen receptors and specialised nerve endings (Meissner’s corpuscles), though the effects of their removal on men’s sexuality remain unclear and hotly debated. Studies have reported a wide range of findings, from diminished sensitivity and pleasure to equal or enhanced pleasure and performance.

Outside of the academic literature, grassroots projects have demonstrated the existence of foreskin orgasms, and that a considerable number of men believe they were sexually harmed by circumcision.

Our findings

In our sample, immediate responses to sexual performance after circumcision varied too widely to draw any meaningful conclusion, likely due to the novelty of being newly circumcised. Long-term reactions were consistent and negative. A common complaint was delayed ejaculation due to sensitivity loss. (A prior study by VMMC proponents construed this effect as a benefit – “prolonged intercourse” – rather than a form of sexual damage.) Sexual compulsivity after circumcision was frequently reported; it is unclear whether this effect was due to circumcision itself or perceptions of HIV immunity from the procedure. Three reports of botched circumcisions or permanent sexual disfigurations emerged in our sample.

In women

Disclaimer:  The VMMC Experience Project rejects campaigns that target women to pressure or coerce their partners into circumcision, and reminds women that the procedure could significantly increase their HIV risk if sex is resumed within two months of surgery. We emphasise that partner preference is not a sufficient reason to pursue any personal body modification.


The male and female genitals are products of co-evolution. The foreskin mitigates vaginal friction by retracting to cushion the hooked end of the coronal ridge (photo below). Without the foreskin’s cushioning, the exposed ridge may scrape the vaginal walls, causing dryness and abrasion. Keratinisation (callousing) may further increase abrasion. Some women report sexual pain and related difficulties from male circumcision while others prefer circumcised men for hygienic and cultural reasons — reasons cited in both male and female circumcising societies.

Our findings

We did not find any pattern in women’s circumcision preference in our sample, possibly due to limitations of our questionnaire. However, significant male behavioural differences were reported. Sex workers emphasised that circumcised men were less likely or unlikely to use condoms. A connection was also made between circumcision and “rough sex” or “forced sex.” Both women and men reported an upsurge in sexual violence against women following VMMC; more research is urgently needed in this area.

Recommendations

From these results, we recommend: (1) increasing the body of sexology research around VMMC; (2) tailoring anti-rape campaigns to address the impact of VMMC; (3) boosting related outreach programmes for both women and men; and (4) providing artificial lubrication to men who have lost their lubricating function to circumcision — this will reduce vaginal abrasion and subsequent HIV transmission to women.

Related: See our page on keratinisation.