LOS ANGELES—If you thought the debate over female reproductive health issues was polarizing, wait until the national conversation veers toward men and male circumcision, and talk of child sex abuse and genital mutilation starts filling the airwaves. Oh yes, it's going to get quickly nasty... and violent.
Still, a recent study that found that males who are circumcised before their first sexual experience are statistically less likely to get prostate cancer may actually raise the question whether the prectice should be legally required or at least officially recommended by groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, which is currently reviewing its neutral stance following the release of the study's results.
According to The Conversation, "Researchers who analyzed medical information from 3,399 men (1,754 with prostate cancer and 1,645 without), found that those who had been circumcised before their first sexual intercourse were 12% less likely to develop non-aggressive prostate cancer and 18% less likely to develop aggressive prostate cancer."
This is just the latest study showing the health benefits of male circumcision. A 2011 study by the University of Sydney based on data gathered over two decades concluded, "Adverse effects [from male circumcision] are uncommon (<1%), and virtually all are minor and easily treated. For maximum benefits, safety, convenience and cost savings, MC should be performed in infancy and with local anesthesia.
"A risk-benefit analysis shows benefits exceed risks by a large margin," it continued, adding, "Over their lifetime up to half of uncircumcised males will suffer a medical condition as a result of retaining their foreskin. The ethics of infant MC and childhood vaccination are comparable. Our analysis finds MC is beneficial, safe and cost-effective, and should optimally be performed in infancy. In the interests of public health and individual well-being, adequate parental education, and steps to facilitate access and affordability should be encouraged in developed countries."
The benefits did not just accrue to males, either. "In women,," the Sydney study found, "circumcision of the male partner protects against HPV, HSV-2, cervical cancer, bacterial vaginosis, and possibly Chlamydia."
Needless to say, not all health professionals agree. The Conversation also included comments by Greg Boyle, Bond University Professor of Psychology, who takes an opposite position, declaring, "As compared with genitally intact men, circumcised men reported significantly elevated levels of negative feelings and emotions related to being circumcised. Circumcised men also expressed significantly greater dissatisfaction with their sex lives than did genitally intact men.”
The Sydney study utterly refutes that, stating, "MC has no adverse effect on sexual function, sensitivity, penile sensation or satisfaction and may enhance the male sexual experience," but there we are. The battle lines have been drawn. And who will make that ultimate decision for the little boy baby, anyway? Mom or dad?
Or will AHF's Michael Weinstein weigh in on this subject, as well, and maybe bring the citizenry of Los Angeles in on the question, too? After all, if the health benefits of a circumcised penis are so clear, shouldn't all male babies be forced to undergo the procedure and all porn performers forced to be circumcised in order to send the right message that safe sex means using (a condom) and losing (the foreskin)?
Religion will have a lot to say on this one, too. Boy, will it. For just a glimpse of where that part of the conversation will go, a section of Arthur Goldwag's interesting post yesterday on Salon.com gives an idea.
Meanwhile, it looks as if fewer babies are being circumcised in the U.S. According to amednews.com, "The proportion of newborn boys circumcised in U.S. community hospitals is at its lowest level, 54.5%, since the federal government starting tracking the statistic in 1993. The rate has fallen from its peak of 62.7% in 1999, when the American Academy of Pediatrics adopted a neutral position on the procedure."These figures do not take into account circumcisions done in doctor's offices or as part of a private religious ceremony, but do indicate a trend.
The reason for the decrease in the practice, according to Dr. Douglas S. Diekema, director of education at the Seattle Children's Hospital Treuman Katz Center for Pediatric Bioethics, can be traced to increased public opposition to circumcision over the last decade.
"The rise of the anti-circumcision groups on the Internet is another influence," he said. "That's a voice that's very loud and very prevalent on the blogs. Every news article on circumcision that appears prompts hundreds of comments and blog responses, and parents read those things."
Dr. Diekema is a member of the academy's Task Force on Circumcision that is re-examining its current neutral policy in light of the new research. Assuming the academy revises its official recommendation, expect a hue and cry to ensue. It wasn't that long ago, don't forget, that a judge had to keep an initiative off the ballot in San Francisco that would have criminalized circumcision.