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The 16 Foreskin Functions - a critical analysis

November 22, 2017

Updated February 22, 2022 The 16 Foreskin Functions - what are they? Anti-circumcision activists claim that the foreskin provides 16 essential functions. They say that circumcision eliminates these irreplaceable functions, rendering a man physically harmed and sexually crippled. Intactivists claim that anyone unaware of these functions is ignorant of the incredible value of the foreskin! Woe to any doctor or nurse who cannot recite the list of valuable foreskin benefits!

One of our first actions on our Facebook page was to publish a weekly series on the 16 Functions of the Foreskin. We devoted a post to analyzing each function. Where possible, we used explanations provided by leading intactivists to understand a function and its value. We've compiled the entire series here for easy reference. The entries are updated and include links to studies, articles, and other sources.


The argument goes as follows: During the normal, flaccid state the glans of an uncircumcised man is covered by the foreskin. As sexual arousal begins the foreskin will retract to expose his glans. When a partner sees the glans, she knows that the man is aroused. By contrast the glans of a circumcised man is always exposed, regardless of whether or not he is sexually aroused. Therefore a partner cannot determine just by seeing the glans whether the man is aroused.

This “function” is laughably ridiculous. With one ironic exception [1][2] we are unaware of any culture - even among the most foreskin-friendly countries on earth - where glans visibility is considered a sign of sexual arousal. An erection is the universally recognized sign of male sexual arousal. An erection is the sign irrespective of a man’s circumcision status. And an observer can detect an erection regardless of whether the man is naked or fully clothed. Any additional “sign” would be redundant.

[1] Richie Gupta et al; "A Novel Procedure of Prepuce Reconstruction Contomized to the Religious Needs of Some Individuals"; Indian Journal of Plastic Surgery; April 2021. "There are many religious groups [in India] who need to shun all material objects including clothing. Any interaction ... must be in cloth-less state. Many of the group members have a congentally short prepuce, leaving a portion of glans exposed, or have undergone circumcision in childhood in villages for unknown indications. Among these groups, such a condition is an ineligibility. One such religious group approached the authors to device [sic] a procedure, which would enable them to achieve complete glans penis coverage at all times."

[2] Gupta; email to Andrew Gross; July 29, 2021. Gupta explained that to begin his religious journey, a member must be complete in all physical aspects. Lacking even a finger would be a disqualification. Ethical considerations prevented Gupta from naming the group, but it is probably the Digambara monks that belong to a sect of Jainism known as the sky-clad. Members are forbidden to engage in sexual activities. A visible glans might be mistaken as a disqualifying sign of sexual arousal - not a foreskin function or benefit.


An anti-circumcision website explained that the foreskin, "rich in blood vessels that bring heat to the tissues ... protects the less vascular glans against frostbite." [1] The website cited a journal entry by Antarctic explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who explained that,

" private parts were nipped and swelled up. When I mentioned this to Mike, it turned out he was having the same problem only worse, with a blistered end. He was circumcised and therefore, in effect, had one less layer of insulation. I made a note of this factor in terms of selecting future candidates for polar expeditions." [2]

There is no apparent awareness among circumcision opponents of the implausibility of this "function."

Incidents of severe frostbite are rare. A 2009 study by Mäkinen reported that the annual incidence of severe frostbite in men in Finland was 1.6%. Men were more likely than women to suffer severe frostbite based on "employment in certain industries, high physical strain, and weekly cold exposure at work." [3]

A 2006 article in a science journal reports many cases of severe frostbite in men serving in harsh weather conditions in the Finnish military. [4] We were unable to find ANY study that mentioned frostbite of the glans or listed circumcision among the risk factors. Severe frostbite is so rare in the United States that with no standardized reporting system, it's difficult to get a definitive number on the frequency among American males.

Let's assume that the Fiennes quote is true and accurate. While it's possible that the foreskin lessened the swelling of his penis, it didn't prevent injury. And we don't know whether Fiennes wore additional protection than his partner. We don't know whether Mike spent more time outside their shelter. And even if all other factors were identical for both, the comparison involves just two men living in a rare, severe environment, and cannot be extrapolated to the general population. [5]

Moreover, in case the man were unprotected, the foreskin would suffer the same or more serious frostbite than the glans. If you’re the one-in-a-billion man on earth who will spend months traveling on foot in Antarctica - then you may benefit from having a foreskin. If you’re not an Antarctic explorer, your glans will probably be fine as long as you’re not a long-term outdoor nudist in winter. [6]

A polar explorer is unlikely to have access to warm running water for washing. An uncircumcised man may run into hygiene issues, which would cancel any benefit of a tiny extra layer of insulation. The idea that the foreskin must be treated as sacred - because a baby may become a polar explorer lacking adequate protection from the elements, and that circumcision will be the reason why he gets frostbite - is so ludicrous that we can only laugh at this entry on the list.

A Finnish skier suffered a frozen penis while competing at the 2022 Winter Olympics in China. Apparently his foreskin failed to protect Remi Lindholm's penis from the effects of the 1F/-17c conditions. [7] Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, reportedly wrote in his memoir that a 2011 trip to the North Pole taught him that "it’s absolutely true that the chance of getting penile frostbite is much greater if you’re not circumcised..." [8]

[1] James Ketter; "I researched foreskin! ... Did you really?"; Saving Our Sons; October 2014

[2] Fiennes, Ranulf; "Mind over Matter: The Epic Crossing of the Antarctic Continent"; Mandarin; p 75; 1993 [3] Mäkinen TM; "Occurrence of frostbite in the general population - work-related and individual factors"; Scand J Work Environ Health; October 2009 [4] Juopperi, Kimmo; "The occurrence of frostbite and its risk factors in adolescents and young adults"; International Journal of Circumpolar Health; 2006 [5] Modern technology is now used to travel to the Antarctic bases. [6] Melanie Lindwall Schaab of Circumcision Facts and Science wrote this paragraph.


The fabulous foreskin delivers all-weather protection. It shields the rugged male genitals from the bitter cold of the Arctic tundra and the unrelenting heat of the Sahara desert.

In addition to having no actual support in scientific literature, this "function" seems illogical and hypocritical.

For one thing, the glans becomes pigmented after circumcision, so it's not because of a lack of pigmentation that the foreskin would prevent sunburn. It's because the foreskin covers the glans like a sock. But if the foreskin were to prevent the glans from becoming sunburn, it stands to reason that the foreskin itself would get burned. And if the foreskin were the most sensitive part of a man's genitals - as intactivists claim - it would be excruciatingly painful for that sensitive part to get sunburned.

Furthermore, if a circumcised penis got sunburned, it wouldn't affect his ability to clean his genitals. But if an uncircumcised man got sunburned on his foreskin, the foreskin would become swollen and extremely painful to touch, making it more difficult to retract for cleaning. And the inflammation of the foreskin would be predisposed to infection.

The truth is that most circumcised men don't burn their glans because they aren't foolish enough to expose themselves for a significant period of time on a sunny day. Shorts or a swimsuit will provide plenty of protection for the private parts. Nude sunbathers should check with a dermatologist regarding the use of sunblock products on certain body parts. It probably isn't a good idea to spend a long time sunbathing in the nude. You don't want to increase your risk of melanoma, particularly in the pubic region.


In the foreskin, there are lysosomes that kill bacteria. However, in spite of this fact, uncircumcised males acquire more bacterial infections than circumcised males. [1]

The foreskin also contains white blood cells. However, HIV specifically attacks white blood cells, so their presence makes a man at greater risk of contracting HIV. [1]

Several studies show that the foreskin is prone to infection. There is evidence that the warm, moist space under the foreskin becomes colonized by bacteria associated with UTIs [2], and one study shows that circumcision changes the microbiome of the glans by reducing harmful anaerobic bacteria. [3]

So it’s more accurate to look at the lysosomes as a stop-gap measure against infection, not an actual infection prevention. Lysosomes in the foreskin provide a pyrrhic benefit whose value is negated by the increased overall risk of infection.

NOTE: Melanie Lindwall Schaab of Circumcision Facts and Scence contributed to this post

[1] For a list of studies, see Summary of Circumcision Research at

[2] Irkilata L.; "Preputial bacterial colonisation in uncircumcised male children: Is it related to phimosis?"; JPMA; 2016


PART 1: Protects against contamination and UTIs

We embarked on an elaborate scavenger hunt to uncover the source for this protective function. The starting point was a 2009 article posted on a popular anti-circumcision website. The article states:

“The foreskin contains muscle fibers arranged in a whorl to form a sphincter at the tip of the foreskin. The sphincter holds the foreskin protectively closed except when the child urinates and the pressure of the urine stream forces the sphincter to open, allowing outflow of the urine. Then the sphincter closes again and prevents entry of foreign matter, such as fecal material that contains bacteria. The sphincter of the foreskin keeps contaminants away from the urethra and is added protection against UTI.” [1]

So we're looking for a series of muscle fibers that act as a sphincter. The article cited a 1998 article published in a British medical journal, authored by a trio of academics whose names we recognized as scholars with a long trail of anti-circumcision advocacy. According to the authors, “The sphincter action of the preputial orifice functions like a one way valve, blocking the entry of contaminants while allowing the passage of urine.” [2]

To support this assertion, the 1998 article cited two other articles: one in a 1980 Indian medical journal, the other in a 1916 American medical journal. The 1980 article describes the structure of the foreskin, but does not indicate that the foreskin contains or functions as a sphincter or a one-way valve. Nor does the article suggest that the foreskin acts to protect the urethra from contamination, infection, or complications. [3]

The 1916 article describes the dartos fascia based on examinations of ten foreskin specimens. The author didn’t detect a sphincter, but referred to a passage from a 1902 medical book. “Woolsey remarks that the dartos fibers at the end of the prepuce are circularly arranged, forming a kind of sphincter. There was no special collection of fibers such as might be thought to indicate a sphincter in any of the specimens I examined, but the sphincteric possibilities of any part of the preputial portion of the muscle cannot be denied.” [4]

Searching the internet we were fortunate to locate a scanned copy of the 1902 Woolsey book. The key passage was hidden deep within a detailed description of the male urethra and external genitals. “At the end of the prepuce the muscular fibers are arranged circularly, forming a kind of sphincter.” The author did not indicate that these fibers provide any protective function for the urethra. Interestingly, he reported that the foreskin is responsible for inflammation and other penile complications. And he noted that some cases of phimosis “require circumcision” as the appropriate treatment. [5]

So the promised reward for our trek resembled the illusive treasure at the end of the rainbow; these sources provided no evidence that the foreskin protects the urethra against infections. On the contrary, several studies show that uncircumcised boys have more urinary tract infections than circumcised boys. Although the foreskin can be tightly fused to the glans, bacteria, viruses, and yeast can and do infiltrate the space between the foreskin and the glans. In comparative studies, uncircumcised boys consistently have more UTI-causing microorganisms than circumcised boys. [6]

PART 2: Protects against meatal stenosis [7]

Meatal stenosis is the narrowing of the urethral opening. Estimates for the frequency of this complication vary by orders of magnitude. Circumcision opponents typically cherry-pick studies with the highest rates, and ignore others. The study with the largest sample size found about 80 cases per million in circumcised boys, and 71 per million in uncircumcised boys in the first 6 months of life. The rate is less than 0.05 % risk for boys up to three years. [8]

The cause of meatal stenosis is currently uncertain. Theoretical causes in the circumcised male include irritation from the ammonia (in urine) in the diaper, resulting in meatitis, resulting in meatal stenosis; congenital meatal stenosis resulting in meatitis; abrasions; and diet (Belman et al, 1978). However, ammoniacal dermatitis and meatitis are more common in uncircumcised males.

One study suggested that meatal stenosis occurs symptomatically in 3-8% of circumcised boys. A 2015 study found that only half of symptomatic cases will require treatment (i.e., 1.5-4% of circumcised boys may require treatment). Furthermore, severe complications of meatal stenosis are extremely rare (Godley et al, 2015).

The idea that meatal stenosis is more common in circumcised boys is based on studies like one by Robert Van Howe, a physician with an extensive background promoting an anti-circumcision agenda. Van Howe’s study lacked a sufficient number of uncircumcised boys to obtain a statistically significant result. On the other hand, one study found that applying petroleum jelly to the penis following circumcision reduced the meatal stenosis incidence from 6% to 0% (Bazmamoun, Ghorbanpour, & Mousavi-Bahar, 2008), which seems to suggest that circumcision may indeed play a role.

In any case, meatal stenosis is a simple problem to fix.

The bottom line is that the available evidence doesn’t support this “function,” as circumcised boys generally have lower rate of complications of the urethra than their uncircumcised peers.

[1] “How the Foreskin Protects Against UTI”; Peaceful Parenting; December 2009 [2] Fleiss, P, Hodges, F, Van Howe, R; “Immunological functions of the human prepuce”; Sexually Transmmitted Infections, Volume 74, Number 5, pp 364-367, October 1998 [3] “Human prepuce: some aspects of structure and function”; Indian Journal of Surgery; Volume 44: Pages 134-137, 1980 [4] “Surgery, Gynecology, and Obstetrics”; Volume 23, Number 2, pp 177-181; August 1916 [5] Woolsey, George; Applied Surgical Anatomy, pp 406-407; 1902. [6] Tuesday Topic: Circumcision Reduces UTIs Week 01; Circumcision Facts and Science; August 30, 2016

[7] Melanie Lindwall Schaab of Circumcision Facts and Science contributed to this section.


The three items on the list beginning with Function #11 can be condensed into a single function: protect the glans. Circumcision opponents seem to be fixated on the number 16 for some reason. A second list of fabulous foreskin functions (which we'll analyze next year) also has 16 items. So whoever created this list may have felt the need to expand “protecting the glans” into three distinct bullet points.

Be that as it may, we found no evidence to prove the validity of this function. Few studies exist that compare the nerves of the glans that provide erotic pleasure for neonatally-circumcised men with the corresponding nerves in the glans of uncircumcised men. [1] Bossio compared glans sensitivity and reported her conclusions:

“This study provides no evidence that neonatal circumcision decreases penile sensitivity, and no evidence that the exposed glans penis in circumcised men becomes less sensitive over time... If differences in sexual functioning or sexual dysfunction are related to circumcision status, these differences are not likely the result of changes in penile sensitivity resulting from neonatal circumcision.” [2]

The authors recommended additional research to determine the effect of circumcision on glans sensitivity and male sexual pleasure. Until such research is presented and evaluated, the claim that circumcision harms the nerves of the glans has no scientific basis.

[1] In a 2007 Sorrells study, the uncircumcised men were younger and from different ethnic backgrounds than the circumcised men. And the authors admitted that their survey was plagued by self-selection bias. A 2007 Payne study used a small sample size (40 men, half of whom were circumcised) and did not indicate whether the subjects were circumcised during infancy.

[2] Bossio, Jennifer; "Examining Sexual Correlates of Neonatal Circumcision in Adult Men"; Queen’s University; 2015


This is the second of three consecutive functions that should be combined into a single function: “protects the glans.”

The foreskin forms a physical barrier to things like sticks and thorns that would harm the glans. It’s true that the foreskin protects the glans from injury when a boy is naked and running through the underbrush. It's quite possible that for primitive men, the foreskin may have served a valuable purpose protecting the glans from foliage. However, this protection is hardly relevant in modern societies in which men wear undergarments.

The foreskin, in fact, may be more prone to injury than the glans. Uncircumcised boys are significantly more likely to experience zipper injuries than their circumcised peers. And some couples have reported foreskin injuries during sexual intercourse. Any protective function for the glans would be negated by injury to the foreskin itself.

NOTE: Melanie Lindwall Schaab of Circumcision Facts and Science composed this post.


Those who tout this function seem to think that the moist environment in an ​​uncircumcised penis provides lubrication to better facilitate vaginal intercourse. According to O'Hara, “the skin of the circumcised penis rubs against the vaginal wall, increasing friction, abrasion and the need for artificial lubrication.” [1] However the survey on which the study was based was fraught with methodological flaws and bias. [2] Bossio reported that women with circumcised and uncircumcised partners “did not differ significantly on their self-reported responses ... measuring ... vaginal lubrication ... or lubrication ... or pain with penetrative intercourse.” [3]

Intactivists seem to be confused over the difference between a dry organ and one that is dried out. Dry means free from moisture. A ​​dry penis is a good thing, as harmful bacteria thrive in a moist environment. Urologist Dr. George Lee explained that "the moist glans of the penis can create the ideal environment for pathogens to incubate, making it susceptible to infections. This may include bacteria, fungus and sexually transmitted infections such as herpes and HIV.” [4]

Keratinization - dried out - refers to a thickened skin. The only study on keratinization found no difference between circumcised and uncircumcised men. [5] Although the glans does become dry after circumcision, this condition doesn’t appear to affect sexual sensation and function. It’s been demonstrated that a dry glans is less susceptible to infection than a wet glans, even with good hygiene. [6] [7] [8] (There is speculation that this is the reason that uncircumcised men in certain cultures routinely wear their foreskins pulled back to expose and dry the glans.)

Thus we are unable to verify a benefit of having a glans that is soft and moist.

NOTE: Melanie Lindwall Schaab of Circumcision Facts and Scence contributed to this post.

[1] Ohara, K and O’Hara J; “The effect of male circumcision on the sexual enjoyment of the female partner”; BJU International, pp 79-84; January 1999

[2] Gross, Andrew; “Sex as the researcher intended it"; Circumcision Choice; September 17, 2016 NOTE: The author is an admin of this website.

[3] Bossio, Jennifer et al; “You either have it or you don’t; The impact of male circumcision status on sexual partners”; Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality; 2015

[4] Lee, George, “To cut or not to cut?”; The Star Online; November 20, 2016

[5] Szabo, R and Short, R; “How does male circumcision protect against HIV infection?”; BMJ; 2000

[6] Krueger, H., & Osborn, L.; “Effects of hygiene among the uncircumcised”; The Journal of Family Practice; 1986

[7] O’Farrell, et al; . (2006). “Association between HIV and subpreputial penile wetness in uncircumcised men in South Africa”; Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, pp 69–77; 2006

[8] O’Farrell, N et al (2007). “Low prevalence of penile wetness among male sexually transmitted infection clinic attendees in London”; Sexually Transmitted Diseases, pp 408–409; 2007


This function is a little confusing, as we aren’t sure what is the purpose of containing semen. We'll consider a couple of possible interpretations.

Foreskin promoters lecture us that condoms, not circumcision, provide protection. It's our understanding that the condom's raison d'être is to contain the semen - in order to prevent pregnancy and transmission of infections. So why would the foreskin also be needed to contain the semen? Is that an extra measure in case the condom breaks?

Other points: If it's enclosed inside the condom, how can the foreskin provide a seal against the vaginal wall? And if a man isn't wearing a condom during vaginal sex, then presumably infection isn't a concern, and pregnancy is an acceptable possibility. So what's the target which the semen need to be prevented from reaching?

Perhaps this is simply a misunderstanding of the function. Perhaps during unprotected sex, the foreskin acts as a goaltender, keeping the semen in play in order to increase the chances of conception. Alas, we were unable to find a study that compares the fertility rate of circumcised and uncircumcised men of similar demographics. And containing semen would be detrimental to certain alternative sexual practices (which we won’t discuss here.)

On a related note, we’ve come across the claim that circumcision decreases the fertility rate by reducing the sperm count. The reasoning: The temperature of a circumcised penis is higher than that of an uncircumcised penis. The flaccid penis rests on or by the testicles. The warmer the penis, the warmer the testicles will become, damaging the sperm. [1] Yet Muslims and Orthodox Jews, two groups that tend to produce large families, are the leaders among all demographic groups in terms of circumcision prevalence. That would suggest that circumcision has no significant effect on procreation.

[1] Von Newmann, Georg; "Does Circumcision Decrease the Fertility of Sperm in the Male?"; Ezine; January 24, 2010


Smegma was a pleasant hobbit who was transformed by a balanitis ​infection into a gaunt, slimy, nasty creature with a murderous obsession for a band of jewelry...

Whoops! That's Sméagol from The Lord of the Rings.

Smegma is a combination of dead skin cells, body oils, and moisture that collects beneath the foreskin. This crusty substance typically emits an unpleasant odor. It’s often referred to by the derogatory slang “dick cheese.” According to one source smegma “helps ensure that the foreskin can easily slide on and off the glans, or head, of the penis without irritation.” [1]

Smegma is associated with certain infections. A buildup of smegma can cause balanitis. And smegma is more common in men with phimosis, which can lead to penile cancer. [2]

Foreskin advocates downplay the possibility of infections, saying that smegma can be easily removed with regular cleaning. Unfortunately it’s often easier said than done. While it’s certainly true that a boy can be taught proper hygiene, many boys don't take hygiene seriously and don't clean themselves regularly. (Even adult men are notoriously lazy about cleanliness. Despite the health risks, a British study showed that 63% of men didn’t wash their hands after using a public toilet.) [3] Anecdotal evidence suggests that even when a man does clean thoroughly under his foreskin, a foul odor often persists.

Circumcision opponents seem to have a schizophrenic relationship with smegma. On the one hand they dismiss it as easily removed with proper hygiene. On the other hand, here we see that they claim that smegma provides an essential function as a lubricant. We observed with Function #9 that the female partner provides the lubrication for smooth penetration, and a moist genital area attracts infections.

So which is it? Should smegma be stored or removed? Confused intactivists can’t seem to make up their minds.

[1] Cara, Ed; "Just What Is Smegma And Why Does It Make Us Cringe?"; Medical Daily; May 21, 2015 [2] "What Are the Risk Factors For Penile Cancer?"; American Cancer Society; Revised October 19, 2017 [3] Ferris, Izzy; "Majority of men don't wash hands after using toilet study finds - as expert warns over spread of bugs"; Mirror; September 23, 2015


What the heck is a pheromone, what does it do, and why should you care?


Humans possess arousal-stimulating chemical messengers. The term pheromone is derived from two Greek words: pherein, which means to transfer; and hormon, which means to excite. When released some of the pheromones become sexual stimulants to attract members of the opposite sex. The chemicals “signal sexual desire, sexual readiness, hormone levels, fertility and the deepest emotions.” [1]

It turns out that smegma contains pheromones. So there you have it. This essential and irreplaceable foreskin function is to produce a scent to arousal sexual partners. Right?

Well, not exactly. It turns out that pheromones are secreted by several areas of the body. These include the skin, sweat glands, and saliva. Men primarily release pheromones through their skin and hair. Surprisingly, even urine contains pheromones. So circumcised men are not lacking these aromatic stimulants.

We were unable to locate any research studying whether circumcision has any significant effect on the level of pheromones that are released and that a woman would perceive through her sense of smell. A prominent anti-circumcision website even admitted that “the effect of their absence on human sexuality has never been studied.” [2] So there’s no evidence that circumcision would affect the release of a significant amount of sexual stimulants to attract female partners.

[2] “Foreskin and its 16 Functions; Not 'Just Skin'”; Saving Our Sons; September 2015


Whoever composed this list may have set a goal to create a nice even number of items. He may have conceived of this entry when he had exhausted all other possibilities. That’s the only explanation we have for the existence of this “function.”

Circumcision usually removes the excess foreskin and leaves ample skin to properly cover the shaft. Most circumcised men have ample mobility in the skin covering the shaft.

This “function” suggests that foreskin provides some sort of functional or protective benefit to the shaft during an erection. Despite an internet search we were unable to locate any source that would explain such a benefit. We have no choice but to conclude that #5 is not a serious entry on the list of Fabulous Foreskin Functions.


In a 1999 article Kristen O’Hara explained that when the uncircumcised penis

thrusts in the vagina, it does not slide, but rather glides on its own ‘bedding’ of movable skin, in much the same way that a turtle’s neck glides in and out of the folded layers of skin surrounding it. The underlying corpus cavernosa and corpus spongiosum [erectile tissues that are filled with blood during an erection] slide within the penile skin, while the skin juxtaposed against the vaginal wall moves very little. This sheath-within-a-sheath alignment allows penile movement, and vaginal and penile stimulation with minimal friction or loss of secretions.” [1]

O’Hara failed to provide any citation for this description, and the article was based on her survey that violated several methodology standards. [2]

She included anecdotal comments from some of her respondents, who reported that sex was more pleasurable with uncircumcised partners. One woman’s sexual experience, however, cannot be applied to every other woman. Many women have reported that circumcised partners provided equal or superior pleasure. For example…

“Being with an uncircumcised man was uncomfortable. Being with a circumcised man it was easier; his ‘head’ rubs against my g spot better… The foreskin is useless to me.”

“When my ex was thrusting in and out, his penis would naturally go in and out of the foreskin which was securely planted in my vagina. Therefore you only get half the thrust sensation.”

“Uncut feels like a spear stabbing me. Plus I've been with larger then average men (8+ inches) – and the ones that were cut were pleasurable. The uncut man felt like he was assaulting my cervix because he couldn't tell when to stop pushing in.” [3]

Bossio reported that women with circumcised and uncircumcised partners “did not differ significantly on their self-reported responses to ... experiences of sexual arousal, vaginal lubrication, orgasm, or pain with penetrative intercourse.” [4]

The bottom line is that foreskin can help or hinder a partner's sexual pleasure. In most cases, however, it has no significant effect.

[1] Ohara, K and O’Hara J; “The effect of male circumcision on the sexual enjoyment of the female partner”; BJU International, pp 79-84; January 1999

[2] Gross, Andrew; “Sex as the researcher intended it" - Appendix A; Circumcision Choice; Updated April 14, 2018 NOTE: The author is an admin of this website.

[3] Ibid, Appendix A, pp 5-7

[4] Bossio, Jennifer et al; “You either have it or you don’t: The impact of male circumcision status on sexual partners”; Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality; 2015


A 2008 parenting book explained this function, using the precise wording. “The glans covered by a foreskin has a natural moist lubrication thought to have a beneficial effect to women during sexual intercourse by providing a moist gliding action that lubricates the vagina and prevents dyspareunia (painful intercourse.) The penis with an uncovered glans is dry because the foreskin serves to keep the glans moist, which is the natural state.” [1] The author did not provide any citations to support her assertion.

One study found that circumcised men engaged in a wider array of sexual behavior, so one would expect that circumcised men would have more sexual injuries. However other studies suggest that uncircumcised men are more likely to experience sexual injuries and therefore painful intercourse. Two randomized control studies found that circumcision reduces pain in intercourse. [2] [3] Two other studies (of lower quality) found no significant difference. [4] [5]

The more a woman is sexually aroused, the more moisture in her vagina. Sufficient time spent on foreplay is what protects against painful intercourse.

(Melanie Lindwall Schaab of Circumcision Facts and Science contributed significantly to this post.)

[1] Orshan, Susan A; “Essentials of Maternity, Newborn, and Women’s Health Nursing”; Wolters Kluwer Health Inc; 2008; p 233


Colorado nurse Gillian Longley, an anti-circumcision leader, explained this function:

“Friction from the vaginal walls holds the skin of the penis relatively stable, allowing the shaft of the penis to glide in and out of its own skin sheath with the motions of intercourse, instead of rubbing back and forth directly against the vaginal wall. This gliding, non-abrasive movement makes intercourse more comfortable for both partners (O'Hara & O'Hara, 1999; Scott, 1999). The mobility of the intact penile skin also plays a facilitating role in foreplay, masturbation, and insertion of the penis (Kim & Pang, 2007; Taves, 2002). One physician described the latter function in this way: Penetration in the circumcised man has been compared to thrusting the foot into a sock held open at the top, while, on the other hand, in the intact counterpart it has been likened to slipping the foot into a sock that has been previously rolled up (Morgan, 1965)." [1]

Let’s take a look at the five studies that Longley cited. O'HARA [2] violated standard survey methodology throughout. The survey was conducted over a period of several years. Respondents were recruited via an ad placed in an anti-circumcision newsletter. Survey questions featured prejudicial terms and were structured to elicit responses favoring uncircumcised sex. Some questions were added or reworded during the survey period. [3]

SCOTT [4] claimed that circumcision hinders the capacity of a penis to enter and glide inside a vagina. “The unique ability of the penis to glide in and out of itself is dependent on a complete penile integument. The diminution of this integument limits or precludes the important role of penile skin mobility in sexual foreplay.” Notwithstanding the lexiphanic language [5], Scott failed to provide any citations or other evidence for his statement.

KIM [6] did not discuss the effect of circumcision on penile mobility. Kim surveyed men circumcised as adults and cannot address the effects of infant circumcision on sexual function. And Kim didn’t distinguish between men circumcised to treat a medical condition and those circumcised for elective reasons. Men circumcised for medical reasons might have other factors that contribute to a decrease in sexual function.

TAVES [7] cut a quarter-sized hole in the bottom of a Styrofoam cup to simulate a vaginal opening. He mounted the cup on a diet scale to measure the force that a circumcised man and an uncircumcised man would use to enter a partner's vagina. Taves penetrated the hole with his erect penis alternately with his glans exposed, and with his foreskin covering the glans. He concluded that uncircumcised men use ten times less force to enter a female partner than their circumcised peers. Essentially the researcher had sex with a Styrofoam cup. We’re left speechless over the realization that this bizarre experiment is given any serious consideration. Longley's citation of Taves is a striking demonstration of the haphazard scholarship exhibited by anti-circumcision academics blind to their own confirmation bias. [8]

MORGAN [9] claimed that the uncircumcised penis penetrates smoothly and without friction, while the circumcised penis causes friction between the glans and the vagina. Morgan provided no evidence to support his assertion. And we’re puzzled at the idea that friction is a bad thing. We submit that sex without friction would be terrible.

Indeed, some partners appear to be unsatisfied with a lower level of friction. One woman explained that when her partner "was thrusting in and out, his penis would naturally go in and out of the foreskin which was securely planted in my vagina. Therefore you only get half the thrust sensation." [3]

Finally, as we noted above, Bossio found that circumcision is unlikely to affect vaginal intercourse. Bossio reported that women with circumcised and uncircumcised partners “did not differ significantly on their self-reported responses to ... experiences of sexual arousal, vaginal lubrication, orgasm, or pain with penetrative intercourse." [10]

[1] Longley GE, “Framing the foreskin: A content analysis of circumcision information handouts for expectant parents”; University of Colorado, Denver; 2009

[2] Ohara, K and O’Hara J; “The effect of male circumcision on the sexual enjoyment of the female partner”; BJU International, pp 79-84; January 1999

[3] Gross, Andrew; “Sex as the researcher intended it"; Circumcision Choice; September 7, 2016 NOTE: The author is an admin of this website.

[4] Scott, Steve; “The Anatomy and physiology of the human prepuce”; “Male and Female Circumcision”, edited by Denniston et al, 1999

[5] Lexiphanic means using words that are difficult for ordinary understanding.

[6] Kim, D. and Pang, M., "The Effect of Male Circumcision on Sexuality"; BJU International 99 (2007): 619-22

[7] Taves, Donald; "The Intromission Function of the Foreskin"; Med Hypotheses; 2002 [8] Gross, Andrew; "The Styrofoam Vagina"; Circumcision Choice; Updated May 15, 2018 [9] Morgan, W.K.C. “The Rape of the Phallus”; Journal of the American Medical Association; 1965

[10] Bossio, Jennifer et al; “You either have it or you don’t: The impact of male circumcision status on sexual partners”; Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality; 2015


The ridged band refers to the very tip of the foreskin. Researcher John Taylor claimed to have

found more nerves in the ridged band (sometimes referred to as “Taylor’s band”) than in the rest of the foreskin. However other researchers have not verified this observation. Taylor was firmly against circumcision, and he failed to provide any numbers or raw data or sufficiently define the term “ridged band.” So it’s difficult to know whether his claim is true, how much of a difference there is, and whether it has any significant effect on sexual pleasure.

Meissner’s corpuscles are a type of nerve that is specific to fine touch sensation. Let’s think about the type of touch involved in sexual intercourse. Is it fine touch or a firmer touch? A 2015 literature review found that temperature is the most significant sensation for sexual function in the male. Fine touch plays very little role in sexual intercourse. [1] That’s one reason why it’s odd to reference Meissner’s corpuscles.

However, it’s even odder when one looks at the density and size of Meissner’s corpuscles. A higher concentration and larger size indicates greater sensitivity. Lower density and smaller size indicates less sensitivity. One study ranked eight glabrous (hairless) sites in terms of sensitivity. From most sensitive to least sensitive, they were: fingertips, palm of hand, sole of foot, lips, front of the forearm, top of the hand, top of the foot, and foreskin. When comparing these sites, the foreskin was found to have the lowest density and the smallest size of Meissner’s corpuscles, meaning it is the least sensitive to fine touch. [2]

So Meissner’s corpuscles do not provide an indication of sexual sensitivity. Furthermore, intactivists often claim that the glans has fewer Meissner’s corpuscles than the foreskin. We found no studies that compared the foreskins and the glans of healthy men. Even if true, it would make no difference because fine touch plays very little role in sexual sensitivity.

(Melanie Lindwall Schaab of Circumcision Advantages and Benefits, provided the content for this post, which was slightly edited.)

[1] Cox, G., et al; “Histological correlates of penile sexual sensation: Does circumcision make a difference?”; Sexual Medicine; April 23, 2015

[2] Bhat, G. M., et al; “Density and structural variations of Meissner’s corpuscles at different sites in human glabrous skin”; Journal of the Anatomical Society of India; 2008 – accessible at


As far as we’re aware this is the first published critical analysis of the celebrated 16 Functions of the Foreskin list.

While the journey was quite time-consuming, we enjoyed several colorful adventures along the way. For one analysis, we embarked on a trail through five different articles that led back to a 1902 book that didn’t support the claimed function, but ironically cited circumcision as a medical treatment. For another function, the trail included a bizarre experiment in which the researcher had sex with a Styrofoam cup.

All in all, we reviewed 30 studies, including 13 cited in support of the claimed functions. We also reviewed 5 science-based articles. We showed that 5 functions are based on deficient or non-existent evidence, while 2 functions aren’t supported by the evidence that is cited. Science-based studies contracted 4 functions. No explanation was found for 3 functions to explain how they benefit men. And 3 other functions are of little or no value to men who wear clothing in modern civilizations.

This is not the end of the matter. Intactivists have created additional lists of 16 Foreskin Functions. For now we’ll take a well-deserved break. And then later this year we’ll begin an analysis of a more "official," substantive, and documented list of functions that is posted on a prominent anti-circumcision website.

We remain grateful to Melanie Lindwall Schaab of Circumcision Facts and Science for her significant contributions to this series.


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