Dear Level

What Women Really Think About Circumcision

Cut. Uncut. We love them all. Most of us, anyway.

My Facebook comments are in shambles. And it’s all your fault.

You see, as I sat down to write this week’s Dear Level column, I had a realization: I’ve never seen an uncircumcised penis. Sure, I’ve heard all about them, and I get the general gist. A penis with its head covered, yes? I’m struggling to create a mental image. I just know there’s some foreskin involved.

After a search on Google Images, I realized I have very likely seen an uncut penis — when at attention, there’s not much difference between that and one that is circumcised. I probably wouldn’t have noticed one way or another. (Flaccid is another story, though; there’s definitely a shar-pei-like quality to the hooded skin.)

Around the world, circumcision is vanishing. In fact, in many Caribbean countries, the numbers are close to zero.

This rabbit hole brought me to Facebook, my favorite way to crowdsource opinions on the love and sex topics covered in this column. (Think about it: I know the people, I can usually vouch for their truthfulness, and they’re a lot less likely to flood my mentions with porn.) Turns out, circumcision is the most polarizing topic since I wrote about booty play. Some people were arguing whether the practice should even be done at all, which is a different story entirely — but as it pertains to preference, women seem to favor a circumcised penis just a bit more than one that is uncut, seemingly because it’s what they’re more familiar with.

Here’s a comment that pretty much echoes all the others:

It doesn’t matter — and I’ve had experience with both. I didn’t know for quite some time into our relationship that one guy wasn’t circumcised because initially our meetings were just sex appointments and he was always ready to go!

Hygiene first and foremost is preferred; cosmetically speaking, uncircumcised is just better to look at (while flaccid, that is) so that would be my only reason for a preference.

Beyond aesthetics, hygiene is a huge factor in people’s feelings. Uncircumcised men have to be taught early on to keep the area under their foreskin clean. The reason being is smegma, one of those words that sounds exactly like what it is: the secretion beneath a man’s foreskin. Without proper cleanliness, the smegma can smell — or worse, harden.

If you’re American and above age 40, chances are you’re likely circumcised, as the practice was widely practiced in the 1970s. In the decades since, though circumcision rates have continually decreased. Today, only half of American boys are circumcised. And around the world, circumcision is vanishing. Outside of countries and cultures in which circumcision is part of a tradition or religious ceremony — as in Islam and Judaism — the practice is fast disappearing. In fact, in many Caribbean countries, the numbers are close to zero.

Generation X is likely the last generation to be circumcised en masse, and that shows in American cultural attitudes toward the practice. In 1988, a survey showed that 90% of polled women said circumcised penises look better than uncircumcised penises, while 92% described them as cleaner, and 85% said they’re more pleasant to touch. But that was more than 30 years ago — and while there are still stigmas (and, unfortunately, smegma), many of my current-day friends were indifferent. None suggested they’d ask an uncut partner to have the procedure done.

And yet, there are men who are opting to be circumcised as an adult. Some for religious and cultural reasons, some because studies show it can lower the risk of contracting HIV in certain populations, some because they just want to look like everyone else in the locker room.

So listen up, rare American Gen X uncircumcised person — or slightly less rare millennial. If you want to get that operation, go for it. Just do it for your own reasons. (Health experts are divided on whether the thousands of nerve endings you lose in the process reduce sexual pleasure.) But us women? Most of us are totally fine with your penis as is, hooded or not. We just want your penis to be clean and presentable. When it’s erect, you all fit right in. Seriously.

Aliya S. King is an author, freelance writer and editor.

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