More Evidence for Scientific Caution

This is the last one for the day, I promise.

Earlier today I asked whether or not new findings on HIV prevention might generate an “Oops?” from circumcision advocates. I’ll ask again:

Men with HIV who get circumcised hoping they will be less likely to transmit the AIDS virus may have a greater-than-normal risk of infecting their partners if they resume sexual activity too soon after the operation.

That observation — drawn from preliminary analysis of a study in Uganda — threatens to complicate efforts to tout circumcision as a new weapon against HIV in Africa.

The men in question already had HIV when circumcised. There should be no surprise that they can infect their female partners. Perhaps it’s surprising that the risk is greater than normal, but the bottom line is that the eventuality of infection is a given. Circumcision will only delay the inevitable. This coincides with the truth that responsible, safe sex practices are the only prevention, whether the individuals involved are intact or circumcised, HIV-positive or HIV-negative.

Instead, we’re left with this sentiment┬╣:

Specifically, it suggests that public health campaigns promoting circumcision must also include messages, directed principally at women, warning of the extreme hazard of intercourse with HIV-positive men who have just had the procedure.

There were obvious reasons not to rush head-first, unthinking into promoting circumcision before these findings. Researchers, politicians, and parents didn’t want to hear this before. Will they now, even though these efforts should’ve been seen as complicated from the beginning, with adequate restraint applied?

┬╣ Full Disclosure: I exchanged e-mails with the reporter for this story, David Brown, after he wrote a story on circumcision and HIV prevention in August. We had a brief exchange, but my questions were inadequately addressed. Our disagreement partially focused on this statement about the educational approach needed. From that article:

It would also require drawing a clear distinction between that procedure and the misleadingly named “female circumcision,” a form of ritual mutilation with no medical benefit.

The FGM issue is more complex than the simple view that women are mutilated to damage their sexuality while men are mutilated to provide them with medical benefits. That begs addressing the specific issue of male circumcision with a skeptical eye. Instead, he seemed to approach the complex ethical and scientific aspects of male circumcision with the same faulty assumptions accepted by society in general, even when the facts we discussed contradicted his statements. This is not surprising, but it’s also not advisable for a reporter, in my opinion.

3 thoughts on “More Evidence for Scientific Caution”

  1. “It would also require drawing a clear distinction between that procedure and the misleadingly named ‘female circumcision’, a form of ritual mutilation with no medical benefit.”
    Female circumcision (a clitorectomy) is indeed misleadingly named, but so is male circumcision (a posthectomy). If they’re really concerned about misleading people, then they should stop using the silly biblical term “circumcision” for BOTH procedures and start referring to them by their respective medically correct designations.
    By the way, how can anyone definitively state that female circumcision has no medical “benefit” (in the perverse sense intended by circumcision advocates) when there haven’t been any scientific investigations that have examined this question, eh?

  2. Your last question is the approach I take when challenging such nonsense. There have been nowhere near the studies done on girls that have been done on boys. If we’re going to dismiss the procedure on medical grounds, we should study it. But the mere thought of studying it is offensive to most people.

  3. “But the mere thought of studying it is offensive to most people.”
    Tough titty.
    Study it exhaustively (labial excision, in particular, since this procedure is more comparable to cutting off a boy’s foreskin) as was done with male circumcision or stop claiming it has no medical “benefit”.
    Can’t have it both ways.

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