July 19, 2006

The first cut is the cruellest

I heard this the other morning on the radio and I thought, what's wrong with this picture?:
Circumcision may offer Africa AIDS hope
Procedure linked to much lower rate of new HIV infections

French and South African AIDS researchers have called an early halt to a study of adult male circumcision to reduce HIV infection after initial results reportedly showed that men who had the procedure dramatically lowered their risk of contracting the virus. [...]
The hope is that, lacking a vaccine, the nearly 5 million new HIV infections occurring each year could be slowed by circumcision, the surgical removal of the foreskin -- a simple, low-cost and permanent medical intervention that is a common but controversial cultural practice in much of the world. [...]
Laboratory studies have found that the foreskin is rich in white blood cells, which are favored targets of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. So the theory is that men who are uncircumcised are much more likely to contract the virus during sex with an infected woman, and that the epidemic spreads when these newly infected men have sex with other women within their network of sexual partners.
From: SFGate.com

Male circumcision, just like its female counterpart, is child abuse and should only be carried out if there is risk of infection and a threat to the boys' health. In all other circumstances it should be a consensual decision by an adult man - and his alone. If you agree with all this, it must disturb you too that the medical fraternity is backing the cutters again (in earlier, unenlightened times, circumcision has always been linked to dodgy claims by medicalists and religionists, be it to identify your religion or to prevent masturbation, so no change there).
I have little quibble with the science involved, such as the susceptibility of the foreskin to HIV infection. But I think the policy responses they want to derive from it miss the point if this vulnerability is used to justify circumcision: it may give cut guys a false sense of protection against HIV knowing their knobs are less suspectible to HIV than uncut ones, and lead to less condom use which puts them and their partners at greater risk.
My point is that it really doesn't matter whether you are intact or cut if you want to avoid catching HIV. You just have to always practice safe sex.
Promoting the mutilation of males may thus even lead to the opposite of what you want to achieve in HIV prevention. And this would be criminally negligent.
I have never met an uncut guy who didn't like his foreskin, and have never met a cut guy who doesn't have some subconscious sense of loss.
The clue is that circumcision is always promoted by circumcised guys. Envy is a strong emotion.

The anti-circumcision campaign is here.

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