Check out the debate on circumcision over at Abiola’s blog. A few comments….
Update: Here are two articles from The New York Times archive that might interest readers (you have to pay to get the full article): Study Is Adding to Doubts About Circumcision, Low Rate Of AIDS Virus In Philippines Is a Puzzle.
1) The new studies that show correlations between circumcision in Third World nations & lower HIV incidence seem to make a probable conection (ie; comparisons across many regions tend to show this trend, eg; Luo in Kenya & Zulus in South Africa are uncircumcised and have higher rates of HIV vs. their circumcised neighbors, the same comparison works in Southeast with Filipinos vs. Thais or South Asia with Hindus vs. Muslims).
2) This does not map well to the context of the First World. The United States does not have the lowest rates of HIV infection in the First World, rather, it seems to have the highest, despite Continental Europeans being uncircumcised. Canadians seem somewhere in the middle, as are their circumcision rates (see here). An important point is that you need to do studies that look at differences between circumcised and uncircumcised within a nation, though in places like Sweden, it seems probable that all the individuals who are circumcised would be Muslim, adding an important selection bias to the “circumcised” sample. In any case, the HIV infection rate among native Swedes is so low as to make it a moot point (also, you can look at Asia, where Japan & South Korea have the same HIV rates though Japanese are not usually circumcised and South Koreans are).
3) Re: Sweden, this nations has been used as an exemplar in refuting the contention that uncircumcised males cause greater rates of cervical cancer in their partners. This conclusion was based on comparisons between Jewish males and “host” populations and Muslims & Hindus in India. Sweden though does not have higher rates of cervical cancer than the United States-again, showing the importance of context, to these statistics. In a First World nation educational campaigns would probably be as successful as something like circumcision.
4) Having reviewed the literature before, it seems plausible, though not proven, to me, that some pleasure might be lost when the foreskin is lost. There are some a priori considerations, after all, if you remove nerve-dense tissue, what are the most obvious implications? That being said, the human mind is flexible, and it might be able to take into account the difference in nerve endings. This is a place where anecdotal evidence is really profuse-and people can take assertions personally. Let’s see some studies (controlling for variables) on orgasm rates for circumcised & uncircumcised men and their partners.
5) There is also the ethical consideration on circumcision being almost irreversible, and involuntarily imposed on an infant. Unfortunately for our species, ethics is always a heated & subjective area to tread….
6) Cultural biases are important hear. As I’ve noted on Abiola’s blog, in South Asia circumcision & Islam are very close connected. Filipinos & South Koreans have become a generally circucmised population in connection with their recent Americanization because of their lack of cultural bias in either direction, but Hindu populations might be more averse given the historic assocation of circumcision with Islam. To be circumcised might be taken to be by some more naive individuals as becoming a Muslim. The same considerations crop up in Africa where uncircumcised groups like the Zulus in South Africa take the lack of the practice as a distinction between them and the Xhosas (Shaka Zulu had the proto-Zulu Nguni peoples under his control abandon the practice). Cultural bias can also come in the form of Jewish-gentile relations, as some Jewish groups worry about anti-Semitism in anti-circumcision movements, and I have even read an article arguing that the decline of the practice (slow but steady) in American males might lead to an upsurge in anti-Semitism as gentiles & Jews become physically distinct once more. Personally, I don’t find mitigating anti-Semitism a valid reason for continuation of circumcision, but then, I’m not Jewish (one could assert that Jews could abandon the practice if minimizing physical differences is the concern, similarly with Muslim minorities in Europe-and with Islam, the practice is culturally, not religiously (Koranic), sanctioned).
P.S. any rabi pro or anti cutting posts will be deleted, this is a heated topic and gets out of control quickly.
Posted by razib at 04:54 AM