by Madeline Haller

November 27, 2021 010:30 am EST

Could your circumcision cause erectile dysfunction? It just might, according to a new study published in the International Journal of Men’s Health.

Decades ago, doctors would sometimes refer men to a psychologist because erectile dysfunction was often thought to be something “in his head” Fortunately we now know that physical issues are usually behind not being able to get it up.

Erectile dysfunction (ED) occurs when a man has ongoing problems getting and keeping an erection during sex. It can happen occasionally, or all of the time. You might have a strong sex drive, but your body that won’t respond. Many times, there is a physical cause to the problem.

Researchers surveyed 300 men and found that circumcised men had a 4.5 times greater chance of suffering from erectile dysfunction than uncircumcised guys.

One reason: Circumcised penises can experience up to a 75 percent reduction in sensitivity compared to non-snipped members, according to a study published in the British Journal of Urology International.

Circumcision and Erectile Dysfunction

A major factor that contributes to that loss of sensitivity is the severing of the perineal nerve—a nerve located on the underside of the penis that is responsible for the majority of sexual sensory input, explains Dan Bollinger, study author and director of the International Coalition for Genital Integrity.

Circumcision scars have been shown to contain damaged nerve fibers which do not allow for normal sensations. Studies have found that this neural damage to the penis results in degeneration of the sexual nerves all the way back to the spinal cord. This happens because the damages nerve endings no longer send signals, essentially causing atrophy. The nerves in the foreskin apparently provide an impulse to aid erection. These studies have shown that circumcision has long been associated with some increased incidence of impotence.

Factors Other Than Circumcision Can Also Cause Sexual Dysfunction

Keep the findings in perspective, though. This was only a survey, so some of the men could be fibbing. And there are numerous other factors that contribute to ED.

Erectile dysfunction does become more common as men get older. For men by age 40, abut 20% of men age 40 will experience ED.  But the number rises to 40% of men by age 70. This doesn’t mean growing older is the end of your sex life. Fortunately, these days doctors can treat ED with medication. However, age isn’t the only cause.

“Diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, cigarette smoking, and poor diet—these are all going to affect you and your chances of ED more than being circumcised will,” says Judd Moul, M.D., professor and Chief of the Division of Urologic Surgery at Duke University Medical Center.

Bring up your concerns at your next doctor’s visit, Dr. Moul recommends. “Erectile dysfunction is so much more common than men realize, and it can be very easily fixed by making a few lifestyle changes or getting on a medication.”

Originally published November 2, 2011 (updated)