Some physicians argue that male circumcision should be a routine procedure because it can help fight the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Not only does circumcision reduce men’s odds of contracting STIs, they say, but it also lowers women’s risk of contracting STIs and developing cervical cancer.
But is male circumcision really that effective when it comes to protecting sexual health?
I explored this question in a recent column over at Men’s Health. I began by reviewing what the research says about foreskin removal and male sexual health, and the results just aren’t very clear-cut. For example, studies have shown some protective benefits for heterosexual men in Africa, particularly with respect to HIV. However, these same benefits have yet to be shown for men of other sexualities in other cultural contexts, such as the United States, where rates of HIV are far lower to begin with and where it’s easier to access safer-sex tools.
I also reviewed what the research says about male circumcision and women’s sexual health, and the research there suggests that the primary benefit seems to be in terms of lower risk of HPV and cervical cancer. However, the risk reduction is nowhere near the level that can be achieved through vaccination against HPV. In fact, some studies have shown that the HPV vaccine is linked to a reduction of up to 90% in the prevalence of cervical disease in young women, which tells us that vaccination—not male circumcision—is really the key to protecting women’s sexual health.
Check out the full article in Men’s Health for more on what the research says, as well as an analysis of whether “health benefits” is even a good argument to make in favor of routine male circumcision. As I argue, it has the potential to backfire and result in some unintended consequences.
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