mochapixie (mochapixie) wrote in sex_onthebrain,

A new study suggests that male circumcision puts women at lower risk for contracting HIV.

The study, which looked at more than 300 Ugandan couples in which the man infected the woman, found that 299 women contracted HIV from uncircumcised partners while only 44 were infected by circumcised men.

Sounds clear then, right? Except that they don't indicate how many men in the sample were circumcised. Is this simply a matter of probability? If most of the men in the study are uncircumcised, it would logically follow that more women would contract the virus from uncircumcised than from circumcised men.

Interestingly, while circumcision is popular in the rest of Africa, in Uganda it is practiced by only a small minority of people. That being the case, women could be less likely to contract HIV from a circumcised man because there are fewer of them around, rather than because of any inherent benefit in the circumcision itself. Not as exciting a conclusion, but equally valid.

Some of what they conclude even sounds like a throw back to the popular western notion that men with a foreskin are unclean dangerous. According to researchers, the cells of the foreskin's inner lining bind to HIV more easily and can contain more of the virus than the outer layer of the foreskin. The doctors warn, however, that the removal of foreskin might simply reduce the degree of exposure to HIV for the sexual partner -- not remove the risk entirely. Might? I'd say that, if it truly has any effect, it is clearly only a matter of degree. It's not as if removing the foreskin instantly creates some sort of anti-HIV forcefield. Everything with HIV is a matter of degree. If you have sex with an infected person, you're at risk. How much risk can vary, but there's always risk.

The thing that really gets me is this: they're arguing that circumcision prevents the spread of HIV because HIV viruses cannot stick to the circumcised head as easily as to the uncircumcised head. And fine, maybe that's true. But one of the reasons that women are at greater risk for contracting HIV than men is that during unprotected sex the man ejaculates in the woman's vagina leaving a deposit of semen which contains the HIV virus. That fluid remains inside the woman giving the viruses ample time and a happy environment in which to infect the woman. That is still going to happen with circumcised men. It's hard to imagine that the small deposit of virus under the foreskin could possibly be more dangerous than the very noticeable ejaculate.

It's been suggested that circumcision decreases men's risk of contracting HIV. This logically follows because during sex the foreskin pulls back and the head of the penis is in contact with vaginal fluids. When the man pulls out, the foreskin moves back to cover the head, catching some of that virus containing fluid underneath the head and providing an opportunity for infection that would not have existed if he had no foreskin.

This new study is trying to extend that research to make circumcision beneficial to women as well. If what they suggest is true, we will have discovered one more way to help prevent the spread of HIV. Unfortunately, the results that they are currently presenting do not explicitly lead to the conclusions that they've drawn. I'm interested, but I'm not hopping right on their train.

Study: Male circumcision may protect women from AIDS
Museveni 'to ban' circumcision
Study Links Male Circumcision To Woman's HIV Risk
Tags: aids, circumcision, hiv
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