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Why Masters & Johnson's 1966
Circumcision Study is Flawed
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Little research exists regarding the sexual impact of infant circumcision on men. A 1966 study by Masters and Johnson1 sought to disprove a then-common myth that the circumcised glans was more sensitive than the glans of an intact penis. Finding "no clinically significant difference," this study is often cited to support the presumed sensory equality of circumcised and intact penises.
Their limited study, however, tested only for exteroceptive and light tactile discrimination on the ventral and dorsal sides of the penile shaft and glans. New research has determined that nearly all of the fine-touch receptors in the penis are in the ridged band of the foreskin.2
There are virtually no fine touch receptors in the penile glans3 and the only part of the male body with less fine-touch receptivity than the glans is the heel of the foot.4 This inappropriate testing performed by Masters & Johnson can be likened to performing hearing tests on cataract patients. Their research is not useful for determining differences in penile sensibility between circumcised and intact men.
Furthermore, it is not known how, or if, stimulation was standardized, whether the mucosal inner prepuce and frenulum of intact subjects were tested, or whether any intact subjects habitually kept their prepuces retracted (producing keratinization).
Mere ability of circumcised and intact men to detect light tactile stimulation, however, does not reveal quality of perception or differences in sensual and pleasure components of response.
NOHARMMs preliminary poll is apparently the first to systematically survey men about the ways that childhood circumcision affects their sensual response and sexual well-being. The sexual consequences reported by respondents included:
progressive sensory deficit in the glans (61%) often causing sexual dysfunctions, including erectile problems, ejaculatory difficulties, and/or anorgasmia;
extraordinary stimulation required for orgasm (40%) many respondents reported that vaginal sex provided inadequate stimulation for pleasure and/or orgasm;
Non-physiological sexual dysfunctions from emotional distress.
These findings are consistent with Moneys report of erotogenic consequences of adult circumcision5. Outcomes included loss of proprioceptive stretch receptors of the prepuce and frenulum, diminished erotosexual response, increased penile pain, and changes in masturbatory technique. Money noted, "Cosmetics become a problem when the body image becomes involved, and that may affect the entire sense of well-being, work capability included, as well as erotosexual bonding and family life."
While Masters and Johnson found that the circumcised penis is not more sensitive than the intact penis, Awakenings6 respondents indicate that it may be less so.
1. Masters WH, Johnson VE. Human Sexual Response. Boston: Little, Brown & Co 1966:189-91
2. Taylor J, Lockwood AP, Taylor AJ. The prepuce: specialized mucosa of the penis and its loss to circumcision. British Journal of Urology, 1996; 77: 291-5
3. Halata Z, Munger BL. The neuroanatomical basis for the protopathic sensibility of the human glans penis. Brain Research, 1986; 371: 205-30
4. von Frey M. Beitraege zur Physiologie des Schmerzsinns. Zweite Mitt. Akad. Wiss. Leipzig Math. Naturwiss. Kl Berlin 1984; 46: 283-96
5. Money J, Davison J. Adult Penile Circumcision: Erotosexual and Cosmetic Sequelae. Journal of Sex Research (19), August, 1983:289-92
6. Hammond, T. Long-term consequences of neonatal circumcision: A preliminary poll of circumcised males. Sexual Mutilations: A Human Tragedy, New York: Plenum, 1997:125-9
A more scientific refutation of Masters & Johnson: Circumcision Cuts Penis Sensitivity BJU International 2007
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Last updated: 20 February, 2004
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