Examining Penile Sensitivity in Neonatally Circumcised and Intact Men Using Quantitative Sensory Testing

J Urol. 2016 Jun;195(6):1848-53. doi: 10.1016/j.juro.2015.12.080. Epub 2015 Dec 25.


Purpose: Little is known about the long-term implications of neonatal circumcision on the penile sensitivity of adult men, despite recent public policy endorsing the procedure in the United States. In the current study we assessed penile sensitivity in adult men by comparing peripheral nerve function of the penis across circumcision status.

Materials and methods: A total of 62 men (age 18 to 37 years, mean 24.2, SD 5.1) completed study procedures (30 circumcised, 32 intact). Quantitative sensory testing protocols were used to assess touch and pain thresholds (modified von Frey filaments) and warmth detection and heat pain thresholds (a thermal analyzer) at a control site (forearm) and 3 to 4 penile sites (glans penis, midline shaft, proximal to midline shaft and foreskin, if present).

Results: Penile sensitivity did not differ across circumcision status for any stimulus type or penile site. The foreskin of intact men was more sensitive to tactile stimulation than the other penile sites, but this finding did not extend to any other stimuli (where foreskin sensitivity was comparable to the other sites tested).

Conclusions: Findings suggest that minimal long-term implications for penile sensitivity exist as a result of the surgical excision of the foreskin during neonatal circumcision. Additionally, this study challenges past research suggesting that the foreskin is the most sensitive part of the adult penis. Future research should consider the direct link between penile sensitivity and the perception of pleasure/sensation. Results are relevant to policy makers, parents of male children and the general public.

Keywords: circumcision, male; infant, newborn; penis; sensation; sensory thresholds.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Circumcision, Male / adverse effects*
  • Circumcision, Male / methods
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Neurologic Examination / methods
  • Penis / physiology*
  • Sensation / physiology*
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology*
  • Young Adult