See the world as it is, not how it confirms our assumptions.

From the Washington Post article I mentioned in yesterday’s entry, this:

The young and hip at ground zero of the AIDS epidemic meet, drink and pair off under the knowing gaze of bartender Brian Khumalo. Sometimes they first buy a three-pack of condoms from the box he keeps by the liquor, sometimes not.

Night after night they return for the carefree, beery vibe, with the same partners or new ones, creating a web of sexual interaction. A growing number of studies single out such behavior — in which men and women maintain two or more ongoing relationships — as the most powerful force propelling a killer disease through a vulnerable continent.

This new understanding of how the AIDS virus attacks individuals and their societies helps explain why the disease has devastated southern Africa while sparing other places. It also suggests how the region’s AIDS programs, which have struggled to prevent new infections even as treatment for the disease has become more widely available, might save far more lives: by discouraging sexual networks.

I want to pound my head on my keyboard. Education and behavioral changes are the answer? Who would’ve thunk it? Until societies address these real issues, promoting circumcision will not achieve the significant success now touted. That exacerbates the violation being committed against children. Once societies address these issues, any alleged benefits of circumcision will not be sufficient to excuse the violation.

Still, it’s easier to run with what is accepted than what is valid:

A second key factor helping the virus spread through southern Africa is low rates of circumcision. Before European colonialists arrived, most tribes in the region removed the foreskins of teenage boys during manhood rituals. Those rites, which were discouraged by missionaries and other Westerners who regarded them as primitive, have gradually declined as the region rapidly modernized.

Essentially, it’s our fault. We stopped them from being smart. Please. Before we get to that, we should analyze how “key” this second factor really is.

Dozens of studies, including three experimental trials conducted in Africa in recent years, show that circumcised men are much less likely to contract HIV because the most easily infected cells have been removed.

Those men are less likely to contract HIV within the short time frame covered by the studies before the researchers decided that circumcision is wonderful and should be offered to all men. No long-term research has been done, other than the very big, albeit unscientific, circumcision experiment carried out by American parents. Why focus on that and the easy comparison to Europe’s infection rate among mostly intact males when we can instead blame the African HIV epidemic on those Europeans? Ugh.

These factors, researchers say, explain how North Africa, where Muslim societies require circumcision and strongly discourage sex outside monogamous and polygamous marriages, has largely avoided AIDS. They also explain why the epidemic is far more severe south of the Sahara, where webs of multiple sex partners are more common, researchers say.

West Africa has been partially protected by its high rates of circumcision, but in southern and eastern Africa — which have both low rates of circumcision and high rates of multiple sex partners — the AIDS epidemic became the most deadly in the world.

The same logic that suggests circumcision as a viable HIV prevention strategy would also suggest that all societies should convert to Islam. It only depends on how far you want to go beyond the actual cause. This simply reveals the difference between people who believe circumcision prevents HIV infection and people who know that circumcision may only delay HIV infection, should the circumcised male engage in irresponsible behavior. That’s the true scenario where we can assess “other things being equal”.

6 thoughts on “See the world as it is, not how it confirms our assumptions.”

  1. which have both low rates of circumcision and high rates of multiple sex partners
    I love how monogamy, etc. get second billing. I seem to remember learning that condom use and number of partners were the BIG factors. Sharing drug needles was a distant third that us fifteen year olds couldn’t really relate to.
    Circumcision was never mentioned. Never. Not once.
    Why is it now number one on the list, with things like condoms and monogamy on the back burner? Is it religious influence?
    I ask this seriously, as it seems to be an ongoing theme, and you are apparently better read on the subject than I.

  2. My serious answer is that it starts with anti-male sentiment. The comparison to FGM is the proof. Try to make the logical connection that cutting a child’s genitals is the same whether the child is male or female. The most common response you’ll get is a reflexive “they’re not the same”. Press for an explanation and eventually some form of “men impose FGM on women to control the woman’s sexuality.” Even when it’s demonstrably true that the reasons given are the same, or that women impose FGM on girls in many cultures, it’s still about the oppression of women. Men aren’t oppressed.
    Except they are in this context. But people won’t be convinced of that because of good intentions. The sentiment against FGM is countered by the knowledge that parents who circumcise their sons generally do so with good intentions. To many people, that’s enough.
    Those good intentions are based on a flawed, incomplete understanding of the foreskin. That’s why something like “useless flap of skin” or redundant appears in defending circumcision as insignificant. Our society hasn’t learned that the foreskin has functions both biological and sexual.
    Given this, parents decide that circumcision has no drawbacks. The foreskin can only cause future problems. The father is generally content with his status, so the parents project onto their son that he’ll be happy with it. Our society is not organized to respect the individual, no matter how much we promote that as what America is. It’s what it’s supposed to be, but it’s not reality now.
    Also, I think there’s a condescending belief that Africans aren’t capable of making responsible choices. That coincides with the belief that little boys won’t clean themselves well enough, so the foreskin is only a place to carry potential disease. Basic stereotypes without any thought that there might be more to truth.
    That’s the not-really short answer. Does that make sense?

  3. Every newspaper article being written about the AIDS epidemic now has at least one anti-foreskin/pro-circumcision comment gratuitously inserted into it. Have you noticed this?

  4. I’ve definitely noticed it. It fits into the “balanced” reporting theory. They don’t provide a quote saying that some people find smoking enjoyable in stories reporting on proposed smoking bans. Reality should be the exact opposite.

  5. So what I’m getting from you is (among other things):
    Circumcision is the “new fad” prevention method, and has the added benefit of requiring no responsible choices from any African males.
    Combine that with a perception that circumcision is benign, and it becomes the low cost, most “bang for the buck”, first line of defense.
    That sound about right?
    Most of your answer dwells on the different perceptions of FGM vs MGM. Those are more cultural issues, and don’t really answer the question as to why circumcision is suddenly the most prominant “solution”. The question was more directed at reports, teaching curriculum and media releases than actual practice. Couldn’t quite understand why circumcision almost always seems to be listed first.

  6. Now I better understand your question. Circumcision is number one in lists, I think, because it’s accepted and this “benefit” is new. I wouldn’t phrase it as “circumcision is the ‘new fad’ prevention method.” Instead, I’d say that “HIV is the new fad justification for what people want to do anyway.”
    It’s the message for the perceived short attention span. Education takes time and requires effort every time. A one-time surgical procedure lasts forever.
    Essentially, follow the money. Media sells what people want to hear as much as factually possible. In this case, the early reports match what people want to hear, and they haven’t heard this before. They’ve heard safe sex repeatedly. They’ll stick around for something new.
    With research, much of the funding comes from the U.S. government. The U.S. government supports circumcision. It will pay to find new benefits. Researchers will look for them.
    Insurance companies will pay for a circumcision because it’s a one-time expenditure, whereas an intact foreskin provides the chance of multiple expenditures over time. This is now compounded by the fear of paying for HIV/AIDS treatment if a boy stays intact, I imagine. Some insurance companies don’t subscribe to this any more, but many do.
    Just for kicks, the next time you’re in a bookstore, take a look at an anatomy book. Count the number of foreskin depictions and references versus the number of circumcised depictions and references. The books are getting better, but they still lag and pretend that the circumcised penis is normal. Doctors simply weren’t taught to worry about the foreskin. Remove it and move on.
    I’m involved in a back-and-forth right now where we’re talking about lifetime risk versus benefit. Teaching curriculum’s discuss that and determine that circumcision is better because it does no harm.
    That’s long-winded and I’ve probably missed your question again. I think the short-answer is two things: follow the money and promoting circumcision confirms existing views with new benefits. If nothing else, these reports tell people something they can do to protect others, rather than hoping others protect themselves.

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