Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Circumcision: the Best Defense?

This is a weird story, for a number of reasons:

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 study's preliminary results, disclosed Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal, showed that circumcision reduced the risk of contracting HIV by 70 percent -- a level of protection far better than the 30 percent risk reduction set as a target for an AIDS vaccine.

According to the newspaper account, the study under way in Orange Farm township, South Africa, was stopped because the results were so favorable. It was deemed unethical to continue the trial after an early peek at data showed that the uncircumcised men were so much more likely to become infected.

Why do scientific ethics trump a potentially life-saving discovery? Especially if it's not true that circumcision reduces the risk of AIDS transmission. People could be unnecessarily having their peepees trimmed. And if it is true, these people are going to have some splainin' to do.

I enjoy the Penn & Teller show Bullshit although it is often sloppy and incomplete, and one of their most disappointing shows yet was the one about circumcision. Although they made a decent case that it's a pretty nasty thing to do to a child fresh from the womb (they played audio of a baby screaming during a circumcision, which can best be described as heartbreaking), but I didn't find the "you'll get more sensation with an intact foreskin" argument terribly persuasive. If print and internet ads are any indication, lack of sensitivity isn't the problem for most men, and sex is as much mental as anything else. And the anti-circumcision activists seemed like exactly the kind of people Bullshit would usually take apart and ridicule, especially the one who sued his mother's OB and made a pile of cash, and is now encouraging circumcised men to attach weights to the skin on their penises to stretch a new foreskin out of nowhere. Creepy.

Here is a pro-circumcision site for comparison to the NOCIRC link above. Not sure if any of it is true, but if the AIDS story is true, that pretty much trumps all other considerations.

UPDATE: Right after I finished this post, I read this on the anti-anti circumcision site I posted at the end:

Allegation 7: Circumcision is to blame for many social and psychological problems in adult males.

I'm generally reluctant to attribute people's problems to childhood events, and frankly I'm not at all sure that experiencing large amounts of short-term pain early in life isn't a good thing since it teaches your body how to manage such pain. What do you think?

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