I know that guys who haven’t been snipped hate to hear this, but a new study in South Africa might make you want to revisit the subject of circumcision in terms of HIV, HPV, genital warts, etc. (and make women check out prospective partners a little more closely). The study shows that circumcision reduces the risk of contracting HIV by 76 percent.
76 percent. WOW. And of course, if you don’t get HIV, you’re not going to pass it along to your partner(s), either.
While it’s hard to say whether those statistics would hold up in the US, where life, health and risks are different, it’s hard to imagine that circumcision could make less than a very worthwhile difference in transmission rates. And it’s not just a matter of cleanliness. The cells in the foreskin are particularly vulnerable to viruses.
Oh, and then there’s the nasty subject of genital warts. Circumcision cuts (sorry) that chance by 28-34 percent, too, according to another randomized trial in Africa.
HPV? Not so much. One study found a 27.9% prevalence of high-risk HPV genotypes in uncircumcised males and only an 18.0% prevalence in circumcised males. Their female partners’ risk was 38.7% (uncircumcised partner) and 27.8% (circumcised partner) and it is, of course, impossible to know which way the infection went. But that’s still significant, either as an adjunct to the HPV vaccine series—whether Gardasil or Cervarix—or as part of a well-thought out strategy to lower risk.
As reported by Michael Smith for MedPage Today: “The procedure offers limited protection against most high-risk types, (researchers) noted, while the HPV vaccine is highly effective, but only against a limited number of genotypes. "The two interventions are likely to have important synergistic effects," they concluded.
The odd thing is that Medicaid, which serves some of our most vulnerable populations, doesn’t pay for circumcision in 16 states, and yet the US is currently paying for males to get circumcised in Swaziland to the total tune of $30 million. Talk about “things that make you go hmmmmmmm…”
The current pro-Gardasil campaign has perhaps made many people lose sight of the fact that there’s a heck of a lot worse things out there than HPV. With rates of women getting their annual check-ups already dropping in Australia, where Gardasil has been provided free by the national health system, it’s clear that the vaccine carries a subconscious feeling of… phew, I’m safe from STDs.
You’re not. Whether you choose Gardasil or not, just remember that a multi-pronged (sorry again) approach to sexual health is crucial. Keep your immune system healthy (get enough sleep and enough veggies and fruits, quit smoking etc.), use condoms (which will help against HPV and HIV but won't eliminate the risk, particularly for HPV), and apply the infamous Seinfeld “sponge-worthy” criteria to potential partners (is he/she really worth it?).
And guys, it’s up to you. If you’re not circumcised, think about it for your sake and your partner’s sake. Would you do it? If not, why not?