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Circumcision is the removal of the prepuce, or foreskin, covering the glans penis, or the tip of the organ.  Some archaeologists believe that circumcision as a ceremonial or religious practice has been around for about 15,000 years. Jews typically circumcise baby boys when they are eight days old, and Muslims circumcise male offspring sometime between seven days after birth and puberty.In the United States, circumcision used to be recommended as a method of ensuring pleasure for the female partner in sexual intercourse. The glans penis becomes less sensitive during sexual intercourse than in foreplay, while the sensitivity of the skin around stays the same. It was thought that a man who had been circumcised would take longer to achieve satisfaction during vaginal intercourse, increasing the satisfaction of his partner.

Fewer and fewer males, however, are being automatically circumcised. They only undergo the procedure when a medical or personal reason calls for it. The most common medical reason for circumcision in a mature male is phimosis, in which the foreskin cannot be retracted to keep the glans penis, or tip of the penis, clean. Inability to cleanse the glans penis can result in a painful condition known as balanitis, a skin infection localized to the tip of the penis. There are some other reasons for adult circumcision, including:

  • Bowen disease. Even though the inside of the foreskin doesn't get sun exposure, some men develop skin cancer, necessitating treatment by circumcision.
  • Paraphimosis. Sometimes a man cannot retract his foreskin back over the glans penis, and the skin loses circulation. Emergency circumcision can be necessary to prevent gangrene.
  • Condyloma, or genital warts. Caused by exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV), genital warts growing under the prepuce cannot be treated without removing the foreskin.
  • Disease prevention. Men are less likely to contract HIV if they have been circumcised. In some African populations, entire villages undergo circumcision as part of an effort to reduce HIV transmission. (These efforts have not been entirely successful.)

But the most common medical reason for adult circumcision is that a young man has reached the age of 17 or 18 and never has been able to retract his foreskin satisfactorily for hygiene and it is interfering with sex. Most commonly the young man is ashamed or embarrassed about the appearance of his penis and has had limited sexual experience. Circumcision boosts sexual confidence in these young males, but it can also bring previously unknown issues to light. Circumcision may not be the entire answer for sexual concerns.

Circumcision has an effect on the sensitivity of the glans penis, but it makes the glans both more and less sensitive to different sensations. The newly exposed glans will be less sensitive during masturbation or sexual intercourse. It will be more sensitive to changes in temperature whether or not the man is engaged in sex.

There are 10 times as many nerve endings sensitive to heat and cold on the glans penis as there were on the foreskin. Before circumcision, the foreskin protected the glans from changes in temperature. After circumcision, hot or cold showers can cause a new and extreme sensation that is particularly uncomfortable while the stitches for the procedure are still in place. The glans is also more sensitive to pain that other areas of skin on the body, except during sexual arousal.

Why should the glans become less sensitive when the penis is erect? The explanation is that it grows in size, so pain and temperature receptors are spaced farther apart, and less of the surface of the glans is sensitive to pain, temperature,and pressure changes. After the skin below the glans has healed after the procedure, sexual excitement is what will reduce pain and temperature sensitivity in the now-exposed glans. Making sure it's played with at the right time reduces sensitivity, and, yes, that actually does mean sexually.

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