There's plenty of debate about male circumcision, but as far as sexual partners are concerned, it doesn't really matter whether a man's foreskin has been surgically removed or is intact, a new study shows.
Researchers at Queen's University surveyed 196 people in sexual relationships with men, including women and men, and found that in spite of their reported preferences, they were very satisfied with their partners' circumcision status and overwhelmingly did not wish for anything different.
"Although people notice [whether a man is circumcised or not], at the end of the day, it doesn't seem to have a really big impact on their sexual lives," says Jennifer Bossio, lead author of the study and a PhD candidate in the university's department of psychology.
The study, published online on July 9 in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, found men and women held different views about circumcision.
Female participants reported a slight preference for circumcised partners for certain sex acts and regarded circumcised penises more positively, believing them to be more hygienic, more attractive and in line with social norms.
By contrast, male respondents strongly preferred partners with intact penises for all sexual activities, and held more positive beliefs about intact penises, the study said.
Despite these stated preferences, the presence or absence of a man's foreskin had little impact on his partner's sexual function, including desire, arousal, ability to orgasm and satisfaction.
Women with uncircumcised partners reported higher levels of sexual satisfaction than did women with circumcised partners, though Bossio noted it's unclear whether there's a statistically significant difference.
The debate on circumcision, which is performed typically on newborns, has escalated since the American Academy of Pediatrics revised its policy statement in 2012 to say the "preventive health benefits of elective circumcision of male newborns outweigh the risks of the procedure."
It noted the benefits of circumcision included a significantly reduced risk of urinary tract infections in infancy and of later spreading sexually transmitted infections.
The Canadian Paediatric Society, meanwhile, maintains its 1996 position statement that circumcision of newborns should not be routinely performed, although it is expected to release an updated statement by the end of this year.
While much research has focused on the health implications of circumcision, the Queen's University study – albeit with a relatively small sample size – helps shed some light on the lesser examined impact of the presence or absence of foreskin on men's sex lives and those of their partners.
Emphasizing her research team takes no sides in the circumcision debate, Bossio noted the new findings may offer reassurance for all men, as far as how they're regarded in the bedroom.
"Even if a woman … really prefers a circumcised penis and she gets into a relationship with a man who's not circumcised, at the end of the day, I don't think he has much to worry about," she says.
"Women and men, they tend to be really, really happy with their partner's circumcision status, regardless of what that is."