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Study: Circumcision does not dull sensation

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Published: 27 Jul 2007

McGill researchers using the latest technology may have finally debunked the enduring belief that circumcised men experience reduced sexual sensation compared to those who are uncircumcised.

McGill researchers use videos, high-tech sensors to measure arousal

McGill researchers using the latest technology may have finally debunked the enduring belief that circumcised men experience reduced sexual sensation compared to those who are uncircumcised.

"It was interesting how well-accepted this notion was, despite the fact that there was no empirical basis for it," said Kimberly Payne, PhD, the article's principal author.

The study, published in the May issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine, consisted of genital sensory testing conducted on circumcised and uncircumcised volunteer participants between the ages of 18 and 45. Both groups were tested during states of sexual arousal and non-arousal, and results showed no difference between the two groups in genital sensitivity to touch or pain.

Research involving direct measurement of penile sensation had previously only been undertaken in groups of sexually functional and dysfunctional men and never in sexually aroused subjects, said Payne, so there was no data about how arousal affected sensation in the general population. To address these issues, the test participants were fitted with DVD goggles and placed behind privacy curtains to reduce extraneous stimulation, while alternately viewing erotic and non-erotic control films. At the same time, tiny disposable filaments were applied to different areas on the penis and forearm at five-second intervals to measure sensation. "There had been self-report studies in the past, where questionnaires were given to people," said Payne. "However, we wanted to focus on producing some observable, measurable data."

In response to the erotic stimulus, both groups evidenced a significant increase in penile temperature, which correlated highly with subjective reports of sexual arousal. Uncircumcised men had significantly lower penile temperature than circumcised men, and evidenced a larger increase in penile temperature with sexual arousal. No differences in genital sensitivity were found between the circumcised and uncircumcised groups.

Payne, now a clinical psychologist in Ottawa, Ontario, conducted the study as an adjunct to her doctoral research while working under the supervision of Dr. Yitzchak (Irv) Binik, Professor of Psychology at McGill University and Director of the Sex and Couple Therapy Service at the McGill University Health Centre/Royal Victoria Hospital. Binik is was co-author of the study, along with graduate students Lea Thaler and Tuuli Kukkonen and Dr. Serge Carrier of the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal.

Payne cautioned that though the study's results are very promising, they are still preliminary and do not necessarily resolve many of the longstanding controversies surrounding circumcision. "This study only measures one sensation, so it questions the held notions, but it does not refute the idea that there may be some differences at some level. No one can deny the anatomical differences between a circumcised and uncircumcised penis."

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Contact: Mark Shainblum
Organization: McGill University
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Office Phone: 514-398-2189
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