Circumcision may cut AIDS risk

By Sabin Russell

By Salon Staff
July 6, 2000 11:28PM (UTC)
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Some researchers have advocated circumcision as a method of AIDS prevention. However, not everyone agrees that the evidence is convincing. There are many confounding factors in the studies that have not been looked at, and some studies have even come to the opposite conclusion. See the Circumcision Information and Resource Pages for more details.


It was claimed that the inner foreskin is a "prime receptor site" for HIV because it contains Langerhans cells. Langerhans cells are part of the immune system. They are believed to play a role in HIV infection. In fact, there are Langerhans cells throughout the skin, everywhere on the body. The evidence that the inner foreskin is particularly more susceptible to HIV is scant. That theory was first proposed a few years ago by Gerald N. Weiss in a book he published himself. Weiss is a well-known promoter of circumcision. In fact there is very little, if any, hard scientific evidence that the foreskin is the primary site for HIV infection.

Most important is the question of personal choice. If circumcision reduces the risk of HIV infection, then it might be chosen by some people who made the decision to participate in risky sexual practices. However, those who chose to be monogamous or to always wear condoms would not be at risk regardless of whether they were circumcised. Some of us feel that circumcision should be up to each individual man himself, and the choice should be made in conjunction with other personal choices regarding his sexual behavior.

-- Geoffrey T. Falk


The findings re circumcision and AIDS are on a par with Peter Duesberg's and others' contention that HIV has nothing to do with AIDS. At $5.40 a clip, why isn't the money being spent on drugs for treating AIDS?

-- Martin Palmer, M.D.

Since introducing the joys of a curtailed penis into the English-speaking world during the late 1900s, the circumcision lobby has touted its favorite amputation to cure everything from premature ejaculation to alcoholism, asthma, curvature of the spine, enuresis, epilepsy, elephantiasis, gout, headache, hernia, hydrocephalus, insanity, kidney disease, rectal prolapse and rheumatism. Whatever the most dreaded disease of any age may be, these relentless folk will haul out reams of evidence that their favorite amputation will cure it. AIDS is simply the latest in a long line of illnesses claimed to succumb to penile pruning.


If Russell had not been beholden to the Kaisers (whose hospitals have a decided vested economic motive in keeping circumcision alive) and had spent nearly as much time with those who are fluent in the reasons to leave babies whole and intact as he did speaking with those who have a religious, cultural or economic bias in favor of amputating normal, healthy, functional tissue from the genitals of infants, his article would have been much more professional. He would have discovered that America has one of the highest circumcision rates in the world and also the highest incidence of HIV infection of any industrialized country. Clearly, cutting off the most sexually sensitive and useful part of the American penis, despite the African "studies" coming from the circumcision cabal, has done little to curtail AIDS in this country. Nor has it done much to curtail the dreaded disease in Ethiopia or South Africa, both with very high circumcision and HIV rates.

-- Jerald Foster


Male circumcision is primarily a Judeo-Christian religious ritual. For centuries, religiously-biased "scientists" have been trying (so far unsuccessfully) to justify foreskin amputation, their "covenant with God," for a variety of medical reasons. They should instead focus on one of the clear and obvious reasons behind the AIDS epidemic in Africa -- female genital mutilation.

In Africa, millions of women's genitals are routinely and ritually cut up, in a practice that is called circumcision, but in reality is actually mutilation and amputation. The mutilations are often done in non-sterile conditions, with dirty, potentially AIDS-tainted knives, bits of glass or even tin. In some cases, the procedure entails cutting and scraping off the entire external labia and sexual organs.

Mutilated women are extremely vulnerable to transmission of the AIDS virus at any point in their sexual lives from the time of initial mutilation to the birth of their children.


There is no delicate way to put this: Some of these women are sewn up so tight after mutilation that, when married, their husbands must repeatedly employ brute force or even knives to facilitate sexual penetration. This causes bleeding and open genital wounds, which we have been assured by researchers is the highest risk factor in contracting AIDS. If husbands, culturally encouraged to promiscuity (with or without their foreskin), have contracted the AIDS virus, it is reasonable to assume these men will invariably pass that same virus to their "circumcised" and bleeding wives (and subsequent children).

-- SuZett Estell

Sabin Russell's excellent article is a refreshing change from the many in the past that pandered to the anti-circumcision cult. With the evidence so strongly in favor of circumcision as a weapon against HIV, it is unconscionable that the anticircumcision activists -- such as NOCIRC -- continue to mislead the unwitting public with their rhetoric. Though not to be relied on solely as an AIDS preventive, nevertheless by choosing circumcision for their boys, parents can provide an additional measure of protection against this global scourge as well as conferring other benefits such as protection against ulcerative STDs, penile cancer, UTIs, balanoposthitis, phimosis, etc.


-- S.A. Bailis

Salon Staff

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