Monday, August 24, 2009

Cuts Both Ways

There are times when I feel like I’ve said all that can possibly be said. I’ve written this blog for so many years now on so many topics near and dear to my heart that there is absolutely nothing more for me to say. And then I read something or talk to someone and realize there are whole worlds I haven’t even thought of writing about!

Today I read this article in the New York Times regarding male circumcision and how, due to studies that show men who are cut have a lower risk for HIV, public health officials are considering recommending this procedure to be routinely performed on male infants in the United States. While I’m all in favour of cutting down HIV transmissions, this is a flawed solution to a more complicated problem.

First of all, this study, done in African countries hit hard by AIDS, only focused on male to female relationships. And as we all know, not all men are the same! While admittedly the majority are lady lovers, there has always been a group of men that are exclusively into other guys. And let's not forget that another group are “equal opportunists”!

So while "het" circumcised populations are 60% less likely to become infected with HIV, "there is little to no evidence that circumcision protects men who have sex with men from infection," where the risk is actually at its highest.

Secondly, being circumcised only REDUCES the risk, it doesn't prevent it. I am concerned that some men would get the idea that they are “safe” because they are cut and only choose to have sex with other men who are also cut. They might even disregard all the years of progress and work done by prevention agencies to promote the use of condoms and the kinds of sex that is low-to-no risk. Furthermore there is no evidence that being circumcised reduces the risk of infecting the woman in a heterosexual realtionship. So instead of helping, I fear the use of circumcision as an HIV preventative tool would exacerbate the epidemic in North America even further.

Thirdly, I personally think male circumcision in the majority of cases is a frivolous cosmetic surgery. Think about it. All men are created with foreskin, it’s a natural part of the penis. Unless you are Jewish, there is nothing in the Bible saying this foreskin is bad. Perhaps in the day and age when people didn’t shower as frequently as we do now, it was more hygienic. And (I have no way of knowing this, but..) I would argue that, since the foreskin contains nerve endings and also covers the penis, that men who are uncut would experience far more sensation during sex. In Canada and many places in the States, government insurance plans do not cover this unnecessary medical procedure.

I’m often surprised at the arguments for circumcision. My mother said that they wanted us to look like our father, as if we would have had opportunities to compare! I’ve blocked out any and all sightings from my memory! The argument for tradition doesn’t fly with me either. My brother and I still have our tonsils because by the time we were born, removing them wasn’t deemed medically beneficial like it was for our folks. I suppose perhaps a case could be made that one would look different from the others in the school locker-room but I honestly don’t recall noticing (or, believe or not, looking)! I just wanted to do my thing and get out of there as soon as possible!

With the risk of botched circumcisions and numerous complications on top of it being unnecessary in the first place, I think most parents would be better off letting the child decide when he grows up to have that procedure done. Why subject infants, only a few days old, to needless pain, when there are tonnes of young men who willingly consent to painful cosmetic operations like nose alterations, tattoos or piercings? Why try and “fix” what wasn’t broken in the first place?


Anonymous said...

Great post. This is something I deal with on a daily basis at work! I hate having the discussion because I am supposed to be unbiased when transmitting my information to clients and its really hard!!!


rheadeja said...


Though, I have finally given up - I fully expressed my bias.

Thanks for a great post!


kat said...

ok i hope you're far enough away from the american political circus to find this funny- the far-right "birther" crew is now asking for evidence that obama is circumcised to prove that he was, in fact, born in the USA. i guess they think the procedure is already standard...


Michelle said...

Dan, thanks for your thoughts on this. I've been thinking about this issue lately just in case I have a little male growing in my belly. I have to say, I consider the procedure genital mutilation!