Whether or not to circumcise your baby boy is a personal, cultural, and even an ethical decision for some people. Whatever your stance, new evidence suggests that the small the foreskin the lower the chances of contracting HIV. And what's smaller than no foreskin at all?
The Science of Circumcision and AIDS
Dr. Godfrey Kigozi of Johns Hopkins University's Rakai Health Sciences Program in Uganda explains how circumcision protects men after studying 965 men in Uganda (okay — Uganda, I know — but still). None of the men were infected with AIDS at the start of Kigozi’s study, but by the end the ones with larger foreskins were more likely to have become infected with HIV.
"Mean foreskin surface area was significantly higher among men who acquired HIV," they wrote in the journal AIDS.
The report goes on to state that removal of the foreskin by circumcision does not completely prevent infection but reduces the risk. The foreskin is believed to contain dendritic cells, which may enable the AIDS virus to enter the body.
The Science of Circumcision at My House
When we made the circumcision decision at my house it had nothing to do with science or AIDS. It had to do with simple personal hygiene and, well — aesthetics. Had I not lived in Seattle at the time, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Yes, snip it, by all means. However, when you’re an open-minded woman toying with the idea of not getting the epidural and a militant anti-circumcision advocate makes a teary-eyed plea to your childbirth education class about the horrors of slicing off a piece of your baby boy’s penis — you pay attention.
A choice had to be made. Of course I didn’t want to traumatize my son, but would he really remember the pain? Was it really mutilation as the impassioned opponents called it? And what would it look like, all that extra skin hanging off the end. I mean, the pictures in the Preserve-the-Foreskin flyers were as close as I’d ever been to one — a foreskin that is. My husband and I discussed whether to preserve the child as God had sent him into this world, or make the easy decision.
Like I said, it came down to hygiene. Ultimately I left the decision to my husband because I knew when the time came for serious foreskin care, I was not willing to teach my boy how to work through all those extra steps. Turns out, neither was my husband. Nor did he want to have the conversation about why Junior’s didn’t look like Daddy’s.
And now, thankfully, we have the full measure of Ugandan science behind us.
What tips the scales one way or another for you?