The first time I saw a sexual partner naked who had an uncircumcised penis, I just stared at it.
I’d had sexual experiences before, but not like this. I noticed the difference immediately. How could I not? I was looking at extra skin in places I’d never seen it before. I had no idea what to do — and I felt too awkward to even ask.
In western culture, someone who’s born with a penis will often have that extra bit of foreskin snipped off in the hospital, soon after they’re born — otherwise known as circumcision.
And though it’s a widely common practice, especially in the United States, there are plenty of folks who live life uncircumcised, and just as many who are uncomfortable and even fearful about that fact.
As a heterosexual American woman and a friend to others who prefer a partner with a penis, I can confirm that I know other Americans who have a fear of the uncircumcised. Never having encountered someone with foreskin made me nervous about coming across an uncircumcised man — and I know my friends were nervous as well.
But where does this fear come from, and how should it be dealt with? Well, let’s take a closer look.
According to health professionals, the main benefits of circumcision are said to include increased levels of hygiene and decreased risk of issues like urinary tract infections, penile cancer, and any possible long-term effects from encounters with STIs. Though the validity of some of these benefits has been debated over the years.
I believe that there are likely minimal health benefits to circumcision in the western world. You may see a slight decrease in UTI risk for boys under 2 years old, and though rates of penile cancer are likely slightly lower in the circumcised population, the disease is so rare that drawing a statistical conclusion from this information is difficult. Circumcision may likely have a benefit in HIV endemic populations (sub-Saharan Africa, etc.) in terms of reduced risk of transmission. In America, circumcision is largely a cosmetic or religious procedure.
Certain cultures practice circumcision for religious reasons. In Judaism, for example, removing the foreskin on a penis is seen as the physical representation of the covenant between God and the Biblical prophet Abraham. The removal of the foreskin is celebrated in a ritual called a Bris. It’s performed by a rabbi and witnessed by friends and family.
For people who practice the faith of Islam, it’s written in the Sunnah (the prophet Muhammad’s recorded words) that it is a “law for men” to be circumcised. For them, the practice is used to promote cleanliness. Muslims must wash before praying by removing the foreskin, a place where urine can get trapped — it makes the preliminary cleansing ritual easier and more efficient.
Circumcision by global numbers
As of 2016’s Population Health Metrics, circumcision was found to be most prevalent in the country of Morocco — with an estimation of 99.9 percent of its population with penises being circumcised. On the other side of the spectrum, countries like Panama, Ireland, and Venezuela aren’t so quick to cut — with each carrying an estimation of less than 1 percent circumcised population.
Right in the middle are countries like Albania at 47.70 percent, Fiji at 55 percent and Lebanon at 59.70 percent. The United States sits at an estimated 80.50 percent of its population who are circumcised.
Grant it, in the American bubble, most everything about our bodies is thrown under a microscope. While women are expected to weigh 115 pounds and still sport double d’s and a Kim Kardashian-sized butt, the focus for men starts with abs and ends with an unrealistic standard for penis size.
Whether or not a person with a penis identifies as male, they still often face the scrutiny and pressure to adhere to the American preference in favor of circumcision.
While there is certainly some truth behind the reasons healthcare professionals promote circumcision, there are a great deal of myths floating around about foreskin.
Myth #1: Foreskin isn’t clean
One myth about foreskin is that it’s simply not clean, and people walking around with it are collecting extra bacteria. The truth is there’s nothing unclean about foreskin as long as the owner of it washes it regularly, just like any other part of your body. While skin infections can happen for a number of reasons, the same can be said for your armpits, anus, and any other sensitive skin area that’s often covered.
Myth #2: That smelly white stuff on foreskin is a sign of infection
Some also believe that uncircumcised penises get very smelly smegma (the thick, white substance that collects under the foreskin). Smegma is actually produced by both female and male genitalia during reproductive years. It’s made of sebum and skin cells that lubricate your sex organs. Smegma and its smell are completely normal and doesn’t cause cancer or any other health problems.
Myth #3: Foreskin makes sex less pleasurable
Beyond some of the health questions that may pop up, some people might think that an uncircumcised penis doesn’t perform as well in the bedroom. While sexual experience is ultimately judged on a personal level (and people with foreskin have reported high sensitivity to touch), there’s no evidence that says the presence of foreskin or lack thereof has any consistent impact on the pleasure scale across the board.
Myths like these and others can go a long way toward disparaging people with uncircumcised penises, as well as negatively influencing any of their future sexual partners.
Most sexually active persons will acknowledge that they want to be good in bed — not just receive pleasure, but give it as well. But when there’s only one type of penis that’s considered normal by cultural standards, it leaves the door open for more unnecessary scrutiny and judgement — which could actually impact sexual experience.
I’m not the type to dive deep into something new without a manual, and my first sexual experience with a man with foreskin perfectly outlines why I need training wheels.
While preforming oral sex on my uncircumcised partner, I ripped his foreskin. Yes, you read the right, I ripped his foreskin. Even with a mouth full of spit, I ripped it. No amount of lube could have prevented this mishap. I couldn’t see what had happened, obviously. Only his sharp hiss of pain and the physical distance he immediately put between us told me it was bad.
He explained the pain as feeling like there was a teeny tiny glass shard embedded in his foreskin. I felt awful and extremely embarrassed, but he told me it happens all the time — that it’s a part of his body that comes with a learning curve for new partners.
From that point on, he made it clear to me how to touch his penis in a way that brought him pleasure. He told me what to do and what not to do.
While I could share that information step-by-step, it’s not the kind of info that would be helpful for everyone. Just like other preferences of life, everyone has explored themselves enough to know what gets them to the big O. And the beauty of it is, there’s no one route that fits all.
The secret to satisfaction
The key to succeeding in most sexual experiences with a partner (whether they’re circumcised or not) is simple: communication.
To get over any fear you might have, it’s especially important to speak up and not go in blind. You need to ask what makes them feel good and what doesn’t, and tell them the same from your perspective. There’s a reason why it’s called having a partner: You have to rely on each other to succeed.
Whether you are experimenting sexually or find yourself in unexpected or uncharted territory, it’s normal to have a little trepidation. There will often be some fear around what we don’t understand or have never experienced. Just make sure you know the truth before deciding to move forward or not.
By opening yourself up and mixing communication in with your foreplay (or foreskin), you might just be able to debunk the myths that forge foreskin fear.
Lindsay Lopatinsky is an Atlanta based writer and content creator. She is a BFA graduate from Pratt Institute and is currently working in her MFA at Emerson College. You can find more of her opinions and pictures of her husky on Twitter.