Circumcision and STDs

Penelope James Health Guide
  • In recent news, researchers from Uganda and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine have found an interesting correlation between circumcision and STDs.  After previously discovering that the rate of HIV infection dramatically decreased for the almost 2,000 Ugandan men – from a random group of 4,000 – who underwent circumcision for the study, the same researchers decided to evaluate their samples in regards to three other STDs: herpes, HPV, and syphilis.  What they found was that for those who had been circumcised, the rate of herpes decreased by a quarter, HPV decreased by a third, but the rate of syphilis was the same.

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    Scientists attribute these findings to the fact that the foreskin is a moist, mucosal surface (much like a woman’s vagina), making it a fertile breeding ground for viral infections.  By removing the foreskin there may be less risk of viruses sticking to the penis and replicating in its warm, moist environment.  I think it’s interesting to note that syphilis, a bacterial infection, is not affected by the removal of foreskin, which means that an uncircumcised penis, though more prone to viral infections, is no more affected by bacteria than a circumcised penis.  I am surprised because I thought bacteria would have the same reaction as viruses.


    So now the question is: Should the health care industry put pressure on parents to have their sons circumcised?  I am all for reducing the spread of STDs, especially HIV and HPV (which can lead to cancer).  However, I still believe that circumcision should be the choice of the parents, or the boy/man himself, and not mandatory.  Although there are more reasons to have a boy circumcised than not, I think it is perfectly acceptable for someone to not want his/her child to get circumcised.  After all, the foreskin is a natural part of the body and it is no more conducive to STD infection than a woman’s genitals.  (For the record I am completely against what is considered "female circumcision".)    


    Expecting mothers should be given all the proper information regarding the benefits and risks of circumcision before making a decision.  In addition, currently Medicaid and other insurance carriers in several states of the US do not cover the costs of circumcision.  I think it’s important that everyone has access to the procedure, regardless of health insurance plans or social status.  If this access were offered, we could give a better chance at good health to those who are born with an economic disadvantage. 


    Ultimately, I hope that this study doesn’t give people the impression that circumcision is a form of protection.  It is merely an extra precaution one may take to help prevent the infection of some STDs, but it should not take the place of condoms, carefulness, and common sense. 


    What do you think about circumcision?  Do you think it should be mandatory, for the benefit of both men and women?

Published On: March 29, 2009