Is there really a difference?

The main difference between a circumcised (cut) and uncircumcised (uncut) penis is the presence of foreskin around the head of the penis.

Although it really comes down to personal preference, the presence — or lack thereof — of foreskin does have some impact on your hygiene and overall health.

Read on to learn more about how circumcision can affect the appearance of your penis, sexual function, and more.

1. Does it affect penis size?

Uncircumcised (Uncut): A foreskin can make your penis look slightly bulkier when it’s flaccid. During an erection, the foreskin retracts and almost disappears, so it won’t affect how big your penis looks when it’s erect.

Circumcised (Cut): Your penis size is based on your genes, environment, and overall health. All determine the phenotype, or physical expression, of your penis. Penis size is also based on blood flow to the penile tissues. Removing a layer of skin tissue — the foreskin — doesn’t have any impact on other penile tissues or how big your penis appears when erect. However, it may have slightly less “bulk” when it’s flaccid.

2. Does it affect the overall appearance?

Uncut: In an uncut penis, the foreskin drapes over the head (glans) of the penis like a hood when you’re not erect. The penis head largely isn’t visible. When you’re erect, the foreskin retracts and exposes the glans. The foreskin usually looks bunched up.

Cut: In a cut penis, the foreskin is absent. This leaves the glans out in the open at all times, whether you’re erect or not. You may notice a slight difference in skin texture where the foreskin was removed. The skin closer to your body may feel tougher and thicker, and skin closer to the glans may be thinner and more sensitive.

3. Does it affect your approach to hygiene?

Uncut: An uncut penis requires some extra attention to hygiene. If you don’t regularly clean under the foreskin, bacteria, dead skin cells, and oil can cause smegma to build up.

Smegma can make your penis smell and even lead to glans and foreskin inflammation (balanitis). This can make pulling back your foreskin difficult or impossible. If this happens, it’s known as phimosis. Phimosis and balanitis can both require medical attention if left untreated.

Cut: A cut penis doesn’t require additional hygiene. Just make sure you wash it regularly when you bathe. However, your penile skin may be more likely to get dry, chafed, or irritated without the foreskin. You can help prevent this by wearing loose-fitting underwear and avoiding tight pants.

4. Does it affect sexual sensitivity?

Uncut: One 2016 study found that for uncut penises, the foreskin was the part of the penis most sensitive to stimulation by touch. However, the study clarifies that this doesn’t mean that your experience of pleasure during sex is any different whether you’re cut or uncut.

Cut: A 2011 study claims that men with cut penises self-reported more “orgasm difficulties.” But a 2012 response to the study calls this claim into question. The authors point out that the 2011 study showed no direct link between circumcision and sexual satisfaction and highlighted several factors that could have skewed the study’s results.

5. Does it affect lubrication?

Uncut: The foreskin provides natural lubrication to the penis. But there’s no conclusive evidence that being cut will require extra lubrication for the same amount of sexual satisfaction than those who are uncut experience.

Cut: Being cut may mean that you occasionally need extra lube when lubrication is necessary, such as during anal sex. But no evidence suggests any difference in penis health or sexual satisfaction without the natural lubrication provided by the foreskin.

6. Does it affect sperm production or overall fertility?

Uncut: Being uncut doesn't have any direct effect on your fertility. Sperm production is based in the testicles, not the penis. Your diet, lifestyle, and overall health have a much larger impact on your fertility.

Cut: Being cut eliminates almost any risk of phimosis and balanitis. These can both cause inflammation and infections.

7. Does it affect your risk of infection?

Uncut: Ample evidence shows that being uncut increases your risk of developing a urinary tract infection (UTI), mostly in the first year of life. Smegma buildup can also increase infection risks that lead to phimosis and balanitis. Practicing good hygiene can help prevent these infections.

Cut: Cut men may have a reduced risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like genital herpes. They’re also 50 to 60 percent less likely to contract human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from female partners. There isn’t comparable evidence to support or deny this decreased risk in men who have sex with men.

8. Does it affect your risk of penile cancer?

Uncut: Uncut men are generally at a higher risk of developing penile cancer because they’re more prone to smegma and phimosis. These are both risk factors for penile cancer. Uncut men can reduce their risk almost entirely by maintaining good penis hygiene.

Cut: Despite shaky research to the contrary, women whose partners are cut are no less likely to develop cervical cancer. The main risk factor for cervical cancer is human papillomavirus (HPV), which has no link to being cut. One study does suggest that circumcised men are less likely to develop HPV, but no research conclusively shows that being cut reduces the risk of spreading HPV to a female partner.

The bottom line

Being cut or uncut doesn’t have enough impact on your risk for most conditions to universally recommend the procedure. It doesn’t affect your overall sexual health.

The major difference is that if you’re uncut, you’ll need to wash regularly under the foreskin to reduce your risk for infection and other conditions. Taking steps to reduce your risk of sexually transmitted infections, such as using condoms, is important regardless of whether you’re circumcised.