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For every woman who's loved a boy or birthed one: What to know about foreskins

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

Even if you don't have a penis, you may have to make important decisions for them

Let's play a fun game, well-loved by health writers everywhere! I call it "Science experiment or just another fun Saturday night?" Basically, you have to read the description — 62 brave souls offer up their penises to be prodded by various tools to assess sensitivity to touch, pain and heat — and decide whether or not a scientific method is involved. In this case, the answer is yes. Ah, science, you weirdos.

Recently a group of researchers decided to test the idea that circumcision reduces penis sensitivity and therefore reduces sexual pleasure. So, they did what any reasonable person would do and rounded up a bunch of dudes, both cut and uncut, and told them to drop trou so they could poke their privates to see how sensitive they really are.

They were testing the "keratinization hypothesis" that postulates that men who are circumcised have less sensitivity because without their little hoods, the glans (or tip) of the penis develops a hard outer coating, or callous, to protect it. After shocking, burning and poking the men's members, however, the scientists proclaimed in a study published in The Journal of Urology this myth totally debunked.

"There’s a lot of popular folklore that circumcised penises are less sensitive, but this study points to the fact that it might not be the case," reported lead author Jennifer Bossio, a PhD student in psychology. "Circumcision is not associated with changes in penile sensitivity," she said, adding that the foreskin is not the most sensitive part of the penis anyhow.

While this one question may be settled, it adds more fuel to the fire of controversy surrounding circumcision, or the process of cutting off a male's foreskin. As the world decries female genital mutilation, and rightly so, as it's a brutal practice that maims and kills hundreds of thousands of girls every year, surprisingly more and more health professionals are coming out in support of male circumcision.

The American Academy of Pediatrics endorses it for babies, writing, "The health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks." The Centers for Disease Control is also totally onboard with the snipping, adding that it has great benefits for adult men, too, and has advised counseling males of all ages about considering the elective surgery. And lest you think it's just docs in the U.S., the World Health Organization also issued a (very long) statement saying that circumcision done properly can be beneficial, most notably as a AIDS/HIV prevention tool, and should not be discouraged.

The consensus of the medical profession definitely seems to be that male circumcision is a positive thing. According to the CDC's summary, it reduces the risk that a man will acquire HIV from an infected female partner and also lowers the risk of other STDs, penile cancer and infant urinary tract infections. For the female partners of the circumcised men, it reduces the risk of cervical cancer, genital ulceration, bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis and human papillomavirus HPV).

The procedure itself is very safe, with the CDC specifying that although male circumcision has risks, including pain, bleeding and infection, more serious complications are rare.

Not everyone is a fan, however. Some doctors have understandably expressed concern over advocating that a perfectly healthy person get a perfectly healthy part of their body cut off. And I can tell you that as a mother of three boys, that decision between letting my beautifully perfect babies sleep, safe and warm in their new world, or awakening them to the pain and blood of mortality in their first few days of life, feels immense, regardless of what all the medical opinions say.

Whatever your decision, know that the penis does require some special care and handling. If you do decide to go the circumcision route, it's pretty simple: Make sure the area is kept clean and covered loosely with the diaper while it heals. You can put some vaseline or antibiotic ointment on the wound to prevent it from sticking to the diaper. If you decide to leave the foreskin intact, make sure to wash it gently to clean out any smegma, or debris, that may have gotten trapped underneath. Do not ever forcibly retract the foreskin, as that can cause tearing and bleeding.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to a personal choice and hopefully one that the man himself or the parents can make and feel good about.

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