Addendum: Medical Benefits to Male Circumcision

You can almost imagine it saying “Please sir, please don’t cut me off!”

In the wake of my groundbreaking, wonderful, infallible post on male genital mutilation, various kind readers have emphasised the medical benefits of circumcision to me as query or counterargument. They are summarised here and I am not denying them. I am denying the right to perform such actions on infants, and comparisons to inoculation.

There’s an awful lot of conflicting data there, and not being a scientist, let alone one specialising in that area, I’d hesitate to draw conclusions. It’d be easy to cherrypick examples that helped my case (e.g. that the STI-prevention seems to only help men having sex with women, not protecting women having sex with men or men having sex with men; that 100 circumcisions would prevent only one Urinary Tract Infection; that complications arising from circumcisions might outweigh the projected health benefits) but I wouldn’t stoop that low, would I?

No. A broad brush stroke seems to show i) male circumcision has a positive (as in ‘good’) effect on some STI transmission rates, but also ii) major organisations such as WHO, UNAIDS and CDC both note risks, and point out that no amount of circumcision will eradicate such diseases. They emphasise better sexual education, and condom use. So do I. Most of the countries worst affected by AIDS have terrible education systems, massive inequality, cultural/religious taboos regarding contraception, and basic medical misunderstandings. For example, some tribal areas of South Africa believe that vaccines and medicines are actually the cause of diseases being deliberately spread by genocidal white doctors. Fuck.

Which brings me back to informed choice. In countries where there is a significant HIV (or other STI) risk, I’m perfectly happy for circumcision to be a medical option. For say, boys aged 11+. Not for babies. Baby boys (by and large) don’t have sex, and if they do, whether they’re circumcised appears to be the least of their problems. Certainly, baby boys in countries where circumcision is near-routinely justified on cosmetic and medical grounds (i.e. USA) are at virtually the same risk as those in developed countries threatened with religious-based circumcision. They have no choice in the irreversible decision to lop off the tips of their willies.

So I’d argue that in neither 3rd nor 1st world should circumcision be the first-option choice. Bearing in mind the invasive, painful and irreversible nature of the surgery, and the risks, it seems both more humane and (possibly) more efficient to emphasise hygiene, contraceptive promotion and safe sex education.

Hurrah for foreskins!

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