The Science Of Your Junk

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 27 2012 @ 1:51pm

The American Academy of Pediatrics is now pro male genital mutilation [NYT]. Full report here. Yair Rosenberg celebrates:

The importance of this cannot be overstated. The AAP is a driving force behind health policy in America, and the experts involved in its new statement are already going on record in major media outlets to advocate that circumcision be covered on public health plans like Medicaid. The statement solidifies the scientific consensus behind the advisability of infant male circumcision (noting that complications are more likely to arise when the procedure is performed later in life) and places the traditional practice squarely within the realm of sound medical science.

The main advantage of permanently mutilating the infant penis is that studies claim to have shown that the subsequent scar tissue helps prevent HIV-infection from woman to man in heterosexual sex. This is a major issue in Africa, but is far less common in the US. Some details from the NYT:

Circumcision does not appear to reduce H.I.V. transmission among men who have sex with men, Dr. Diekema said. "The degree of benefit, or degree of impact, in a place like the U.S. will clearly be smaller than in a place like Africa," he said. Two studies have found that circumcision actually increases the risk of H.I.V. infection among sexually active men and women, the academy noted.

Other studies have linked male circumcision to lower rates of infection with human papillomavirus and herpes simplex Type 2. But male circumcision is not associated with lower rates of gonorrhea or chlamydia, and evidence for protection against syphilis is weak, the review said.

The Times also estimates that around 117 infant boys die in mutilation procedures in the US per year. So mercifully, the report is not as clear-cut as Rosenberg wants it to be. It doesn't mandate routine circumcision as has happened in the past – instead placing it clearly as an elective procedure to be decided by the parents. That would still mean millions of human beings involuntarily mutilated in ways that dull their sexual sensitivity for a small gain in not getting HIV from a woman – proven only in Africa under radically different circumstances.

I remain of the view that this is best decided by the human being whose body is being permanently mutilated – before he becomes sexually active. But the religious and cultural traditions are too deep to be banned in a free society. My goal is simply to raise awareness of this residual barbarism and its minimal benefits. Fortunately the numbers are dropping:

[R]oughly 79 percent of newborn boys had their biologically bestowed foreskins snipped and discarded like toenails [in the '70s and '80s]. Through the 90s, it seemed, America was averse to foreskin. In one famous Seinfeld episode, Elaine turned her nose up at the thought of an uncircumcised pecker, complaining that it "lacked personality" and "looked like a Martian." But rates had begun a freefall in the late 80s, due in part to the growing population of immigrant Hispanics who are less likely to circumcise their children, according to a 2007 CDC study. By 1999, the frequency had dipped to 63 percent—the same year the AAP, in its previous policy report, voiced a neutral stance on the procedure’s health benefits. Eighteen states have since eliminated Medicaid coverage for circumcision, a change that both the AAP and John Hopkins researchers say has largely contributed to an even further dip in the rate of the procedure. Today, fewer than 55 percent of newborn boys go under the knife.