Thursday, April 17, 2008

About a penis: To cut or not to cut

Local author and filmmaker Paul Festa's experience in an S.F. circumcision study has Violet Blue examining a sensitive debate

Violet Blue, special to SF Gate

Thursday, April 17, 2008
When my longtime friend and writing colleague (and local filmmaker) Paul Festa took the stage for the "Best Sex Writing 2008" (Cleis Press) reading featuring West Coast authors, I was prepared to giggle at whatever he was reading. After all, this was the guy who made an incident-gone-wrong hook-up with an unnamed gay Hollywood actor at the Castro Theatre into a comi-tragedy in his "Best Sex Writing 2005" debut.

From his essay "How Insensitive," Festa began:

"Late in the summer of 2005, I visited a nondescript medical office in San Francisco's fog belt, lay down on an examination table, and had eleven regions of my penis poked by various gauges of monofilament. It wasn't quite what I'd envisioned when I signed up for the Penile Sensitivity Touch-Test Evaluation Study — "Touch Test" had conjured something a little sexier than a retired MD coming at me with medical-grade fishing line. But by the age of 35, the human penis is nothing if not well schooled in disappointment, and so, for the good of science, I went through with the exam.

"The science in this case concerned one of the most controversial and common medical procedures practiced in the West: circumcision of the penis. The study, published in the April 2007 BJU International (the former British Journal of Urology) under the title "Fine Touch Pressure Thresholds in the Adult Penis," is the latest research salvo on the war for the neonatal foreskin."

Some people did laugh at the first bit, and it was impossible not to chuckle at the mention of "BJU International" (a profitable porn blog waiting to happen if the URL isn't already, ahem, choked with offerings). And I'll admit that my mind ran immediately in the other gender direction of Festa's unrequited hot sensitivity touch fantasy, imagining myself with a hot UCSF boy in scrubs and gloves, feigning ignorance at which area of the clitoris is most responsive to sensation. But circumcision, and the decisions around it, has become a depressing and disturbing world war of dick politics, debate and sometimes conflicting data.

For instance, the Wikipedia article on male circumcision (NSFW) is locked and editing is disabled due to vandalism. While presenting information from the World Health Organization, UNAIDS and the Centers for Disease Control, it also presents articles by both Circumcision Information and Resource Page (CIRP, anti-circumcision) and the Circumcision Reference Library (CIRCS, pro-circumcision). It seems that no matter where you stand on foreskin, someone's going to be really mad at you for either standing on their foreskin, or enraged about health considerations, hygiene, the procedure itself, consent and ethics, and last but not least, the sexual effects of circumcision.

Circumcision isn't standard operating practice (that's weenie SOP) in most parts of the world. However dear readers, seeing an uncut cock in good old American porn is becoming more common as routine infant circumcision in the United States is becoming more of a question than a given — not just from the debates, but due to an increasingly vocal male populace who aren't cool with having their bodies altered before they could consent. More than just telling you that uncut penis does not necessarily equal European porn, I'm saying that it's not just parents and health orgs raising heated questions about it. A lot of grown-up guys are openly wondering if something's ... missing from their sex lives.

Most circumcised male foreskins are fairly mobile when the penis is erect, but may be too tight to slide up to, or around the head of the penis. That's one major difference in understanding pleasure principle differentials between cut and uncut men. Uncircumcised men have a "turtleneck" of skin richly endowed with nerve endings inside a thin, slippery mucosal layer that covers the unerect penis and slides back to reveal the tip when the member is at fill tilt, so to speak. This layer of skin can be pretty movable and slidey at most stages of arousal, and is basically the uncut penis' own pre-loaded sex toy.

It's those nerve endings that everyone's wondering about. While working at a sex toy store, selling sex toys for boys and condoms alike, I'd routinely get questions about what sex toys might be better or more fun for uncircumcised men, and what condoms were recommended for those with intact foreskins. The overview of advice and recommendations we'd give was that because the head of the uncircumcised penis is often described as more sensitive than the shaft, some toys might feel more intense.

We were going on our training, guidance from health professionals and our extended education — but also relied heavily on the feedback of male customers. Some male masturbation sleeves, for instance, have a rougher texture inside than others and this can feel irritating to uncut men, or just really intense — and that's not to say that some men won't like the intensity of the feeling. For the most part, we'd explain, male sex toys are fairly universal in application, just different in experience.

Our uncut customers would report back to us and inform our experience: We discovered that lots of uncircumcised guys really liked the newer condoms with wide pouches — like the Inspiral and Pleasure Plus lines. By the same token, circumcised men really liked these condoms more than most, too — but our uncircumcised patrons told us often enough that they had to make sure there was enough lubricant inside the condom tip because the extra sensitivity the condoms provide both partners would leave the guys feeling the burn — literally — after extended use.

Near the end of his essay Festa asks:

"I've heard people complain that their intact partners were too quick to orgasm, or were so sensitive they could barely be touched by another person. These are problems I'm not happy to share. So what are we, what I'm calling the silent and ambivalent circumcised majority, really missing?"

As a sex educator I can describe it to you, but as a girl I can't ever really know — and possibly, neither can the cut or the uncut. All I can do is to ask you to please not step on the foreskin. Unless he asks you really nicely.

Get your copy of the outstanding nonfiction anthology "Best Sex Writing 2008" by Rachel Kramer Bussel (rachelkramerbussel.com) at your outlet of choice; you can support local indie publisher Cleis Press by ordering it direct from the publisher's Web site. Full disclosure: One of my columns, "Kink.com and Porn Hysteria: The Lie of Unbiased Reporting" was honorably selected for inclusion in the collection.
Violet Blue

Violet Blue is author and editor of nearly two dozen sexual health books and erotica collections. She is a professional sex educator, lecturer, podcaster, blogger, vlogger, porn/erotica reviewer and machine artist. She has written for outlets ranging from Forbes.com to O, The Oprah Magazine.

Violet is also a fetish model, a member of Survival Research Labs, an author at Metblogs San Francisco; girl friday contributor at Fleshbot.com, a San Francisco native and a Forbes Web Celeb. Her tech site is Techyum; her audio and e-books are at Digita Publications.

For more information and links to Web sites discussed in Open Source Sex, go to Violet Blue's Web site, tinynibbles.com.

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2008/04/17/violetblue.DTL

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