Introduction: The question of whether removal of sensory receptors in the prepuce by circumcision affects sensitivity and/or sexual pleasure is often debated.
Aims: To examine histological correlates relevant to penile sensitivity and sexual pleasure.
Methods: Systematic review of the scientific literature on penile structures that might affect sensitivity and sexual sensation. Articles were included if they contained original data on human male penile histology or anatomy. Individual articles, including reference lists, were evaluated. They were then considered in relation to physiological data from articles retrieved by a previous systematic review.
Results: We retrieved 41 publications on penile structure. Considered in the light of 12 reporting physiological measurements, our evaluation finds that sexual response is unlikely to involve Meissner's corpuscles, whose density in the prepuce diminishes at the time of life when male sexual activity is increasing. Free nerve endings also show no correlation with sexual response. Because tactile sensitivity of the glans decreases with sexual arousal, it is unrelated to sexual sensation. Thermal sensitivity seems part of the reward mechanism of intercourse. Vibrational sensitivity is not related to circumcision status. Observations that penile sexual sensation is higher post circumcision are consistent with greater access of genital corpuscles to sexual stimuli after removal of the prepuce. This is based on the distribution of these corpuscles (which are located in the glans) and, in uncircumcised men, the position of the retracted prepuce during intercourse, rather than any change in the number of genital corpuscles. The scientific literature suggests that any sexual effect of circumcised men may depend solely on exposure of the glans and not on the absence of the prepuce.
Conclusion: Based on histological findings and correlates of sexual function, loss of the prepuce by circumcision would appear to have no adverse effect on sexual pleasure. Our evaluation supports overall findings from physiological measurements and survey data.
Keywords: Circumcision; Free Nerve Endings; Genital Corpuscles; Glans Penis; Male Sexual Pleasure; Meissner’s Corpuscles; Neurophysiology; Orgasm; Penile Sensation; Prepuce; Sexual Satisfaction.