Many years ago, I had an unforgettable conversation with a friend who’d relocated overseas. She told me that she’d slept with her first uncircumcised man - a good looking European, like in the movies. “Does it feel different?” I asked naively. Her response was simple and direct: “Best sex of my life.”
Circumcision, knows as Brit Mila, has been part of Jewish tradition since antiquity. The subject is repeatedly debated from religious and health aspects, while secular parents often face the to-cut-or-not-to-cut dilemma. But no one ever talks about how it affects sex.
Does one tiny little piece of skin change sexual sensation? Does it affect sex and relationships? Maybe there’s no connection at all and that friend of mine just had good sex with a great partner. A number of men (under assumed names) agreed to talk to tell us more.
“A lot of girls I’ve dated told me that it’s a 180° difference. I’m not saying that because I’m so good in bed.” Ron, 33, single from Tel Aviv claims. "There’s a physiological explanation.”
Is there a physiological explanation?
“When you have sex with a foreskin, there’s a lot more moisture. On a circumcised man, the head is wider than the penis itself, so it clears away some of the lubricating fluids, so it's drier and the sex isn’t as enjoyable."
Ron made Aliyah in 1995, aged almost seven. “My mother said that we were Jews and it wasn’t good for us to be among Gentiles.” I didn’t know the difference between a Jew and a Gentile. We didn’t lead a Jewish life in any way. I’m still not sure I understand the difference,” he laughs.
"In Georgia, I didn’t face any problems as a Jew. If anything, it’s been harder to be a Jew here mainly because of what I now know Judaism expects me to do, like laying tefillin, keeping Shabbat and all the rest of it. If I lay tefillin, what would I get out of that? I don’t feel I want to, so should I force myself? It saddens me to say that my connecting to Judaism hasn’t gone smoothly – unlike my parents who accepted our Aliyah with admirable optimism.”
Why didn’t your parents give you a Brit Mila after you made Aliyah?
“Maybe when the subject came up, my parents didn’t want to put me through such an ordeal at that age. I’ve no idea. I’ve never asked them. It doesn’t really bother me, but I know some women are put off by the fact that I’m not circumcised.”
Define “put off”
“We’re in bed naked and things are heating up and they look and say, “Hey, why does it look weird?” Followed by, “So you’re not Jewish?” I think, in Israel, it’s more about being Jewish. I don’t think a woman cares whether her boyfriend has a foreskin or not. That’s a minor issue. Quite the opposite. I think a foreskin makes the sex better. I once went out with a girl who told me she found that the foreskin going up and down was a turn-on, that the movement really did it for her and it made her orgasm quickly. But I do know for some Israeli women it’s important that their partner should have a foreskin, and that’s completely legitimate.”
“Most women don’t even notice”
For Andrey, 26, a medical student from Ashdod, it’s very different. He made Aliyah to Be'er Sheva from Belarus with his family at the age of five. A Brit Mila for him wasn’t important and he treats the matter with ease, saying that being uncircumcised has never made him feel uncomfortable.
“I’m a very open person. In the military, the first time in the communal showers, I shouted out, 'Who wants to see an unchopped penis?' Everyone burst out laughing – and they were curious too. It’s about attitude. Most of the women I’ve slept with haven’t even noticed. I do remember when I was younger wondering what was wrong, and why was mine different. I think the first time most people see their friends’ penises is in the army, when you have a certain degree of maturity.”
“I don’t remember. It wasn’t something anyone talked about. The subject never came up at school. The one thing they did make fun of was my accent, because it’s very heavy, but over the years, I’ve gotten over it. At Ulpan [an Israeli study center for newcomers], I even learned how to cover it up. “
How was your first time?
“Wow… that’s going back… I was sixteen. We were at her house. Because we were so embarrassed, she didn’t look at my penis so much, and it was new for both of us. I’m pretty sure she didn’t know anything about it. In my early 20s, I remember the first woman I slept with asking me why I wasn’t circumcised. I told her that I was Jewish, except for the Brit Mila part and she was cool with it. “
Do you think it affects meeting girls or having sex?
“I’ve never felt the need to tell a girl before we meet because for me it’s not a big deal. Maybe for others it is. I don’t’ see any reason to talk about it in the early stages. I’d say 15% of the women I’ve slept with have asked me why my penis looks different. I tell her and we move on. I tell her it’s not contagious, it’s a foreskin.”
But you understand the reservations?
“Yes, it’s about the Jewish religion. My family isn’t religious. I define myself as secular and so do my parents. I could have had it done as a medical procedure at a hospital at any stage in my life, but I’ve never felt the need. As I’m not looking to settle down and have a family, for me it’s not an issue. A girl who’s looking to settle down wouldn’t want to be with me. I don’t feel I’m not Jewish enough because I’m not circumcised.”
Impact on sexual development
Dan, 24, from Or Yehuda moved to Israel with his family from Novosibrisk, Russia. He tells us that his parents’ decision to not circumcise him when he was a baby greatly affected his masculinity.
“We didn’t make Aliyah for Zionist reasons. We came because of the welfare benefits. I’m sure my parents would never admit it. There was talk about how it was safer and better for Jews here. At the time, the regime in Russia didn’t have to do much to make families leave.
“I have an engrained memory of going with my mother to register at the Aliyah office and the clerk asking my name. When we told her, the clerk suggested we write something more Israeli. I saw how upset my mother was – like they were forcing Israeliness on us. There’s a good chance that there’s a direct connection between this incident and mother not wanting me to have a Brit Mila. I know she didn’t want to make compromises for Judaism. “
And were compromises made?
"My sexual development was very much influenced by not having a Brit Mila like everyone else. I lacked confidence. I became addicted to porn because I was too embarrassed to tell girls I wasn’t circumcised. It was fear and shame. I don’t know exactly. I don’t remember when the subject came up, but at some stage when I was a child, I realized that my penis was different to everyone else’s. I’m now in a relationship and it’s all good, but it had an enormous effect on me. I think it’s a cultic ceremony that injures the body. Maybe these are my parent’s ideas. It’s definitely damaged me.”
Do you have any positive memories about sex?
"In high school, I had a group of Russian friends. We had our own hobbies, language and customs. Novi God and all that. It made us outsiders a bit. I had a Russian girlfriend at the time. It didn’t bother me the first time because I knew she’d understand, but I was very afraid of sleeping with Israeli girls later on. It was a real challenge.”
What were you fears about sleeping with Israeli girls?
“I was afraid they’d find out I’m different. Within the Russian community, it was OK. I was comfortable, but the moment I was out of the Russian aquarium, I was a shy and scared little goldfish. It also indirectly affected my masculinity. I think in porn, I felt a sense of belonging because it's from overseas and most of the men are uncircumcised, so I was more comfortable. Now, I‘m content with the situation. I’m even pleased that my parents made the decision they did, but I feel I didn’t really sexually experience my teenage years properly, at least not with Israeli girls.”
"Military doesn't like those who stand out"
Many immigrants did have a Brit Mila after arriving in Israel, however, including Ori, 36, from Kiriyat Tivon who’s pleased he did.
Ori was born in Ukraine and moved to Israel when he was six. “When we’d been in Israel a few months, my mother made me an appointment at Laniado Hospital in Netanya. I don’t think I had a choice in the matter. It must have been a collective thing in the 1990s because I remember in the next room there was a guy in his 20s also from the Soviet Union. It was part of the Russian Aliyah experience. It was also part of the experience of 'becoming Israeli.'
"My father said it was better to get it over with because in the army they don’t like things that are out of the ordinary. I still remember the pain of the bandages being removed. I think the Brit finalized my Aliyah process.”
Looking back, do you regret having a Brit Mila?
“Quite the opposite. I’m very pleased about it. I see no reason not to do it. It’s also more hygienic. As an adult, I’ve met a few men who aren’t circumcised, and you instantly feel uncomfortable – like when I’m in a public bathroom and an uncircumcised friend comes in.
"When we were children, they’d make fun of boys who weren’t circumcised. I’ve always been happy that I’m like everyone else and I have no regrets. I’m now married. We have three healthy sons and they all had their Brit Mila when they were eight days old. My wife and I feel it’s best that way.”